I had a bit of a break from talking to you all as I had to get the chemise done! I figured you would understand that I waned to work on doing the thing rather than writing about doing the thing.
So I got it finished last night and I am really pleased with it, it’s absolutely massive and it makes me feel like a princess on the run from her evil nemesis when I wear it which is perfect.
To make it I followed a sort of Frankenstein-ed together pattern that I made up from places on the internet.
First I cut two rectangles from my linen (kindly gifted to me last year for my birthday from my mum) these rectangles were selvedge to selvedge and about as long as I would need to get from my shoulders to my ankles, plus some seam allowance. Then I did a double flip hem to the bottom of each rectangle and just folded over once at the top. This was because the hem was going to be flapping around uncovered, while I had ideas for the top.
After this I go started on the sleeves, this was another strip cut from the selvedge to selvedge, but this time it was the length of my arm from shoulder to mid hand. I wanted it to be plenty floofy so I didn’t cut it off any shorter. The fabric is about five feet across so the sleeve width is about two and a half feet, which is a pretty good length for Renaissance sleeves. It was funny because the shape of them really messed with my head. I have been working with 1890s sleeves recently, which are massive up at the top and then fitted around the wrist so my brain just couldn’t understand what I was looking at.
Because of how I had cut them I had one selvedge edge running down one of the long sides and three live edges, which were already beginning to fray when I got to them.
So I started off by doing a double fold hem at the top and bottom, aka the shoulder and the cuff. The linen folds very nicely so it doesn’t add bulk but keeps it all nice and tidy. Then I stared at the last unfinished edge for a bit. I did consider leaving it and then when I got the sleeves sewn onto the main body I could use the selvedge to cover them in a sort of hodgepodge french seam, but honestly the brain power required to think about flipping things this way and that and sewing them together right or wrong side together just did my head in and so after a few hours of mulling it over I just decided to do another two fold hem finish there too.
Is it the proper way to finish things? No probably not, but the selvedge on this fabric is quite stiff and hard to sew through so I felt like it was easier and saved me from having to stab through it a bunch of times and hurt my hands, so it worked out in the end.
All those bits finished (literally) I needed to sew them together. This should have been really easy, all I really needed to do was mark out a regular amount of cross over and sew the corners together, but I still managed to mess it up by getting my insides and outsides mixed up. So I had to do a bit of unpicking.
But that was actually done pretty quickly, even though I did back stitch the entire way. I did not want these shoulder seams to fall apart!
After that it was the long seams. This took forever. I switched to running back stitch for this, doing lots of little stitches in a row and then a back stitch every so often to give a bit of extra sturdiness to it. It was pretty mindless work, so I got to watch lots of Youtube while I was doing it, which was pretty good. The funny bit is that I don’t have much to say about it but it was probably the majority of the work for the chemise so this report is going to feel a little unbalanced.
After all the long seams were done I had what looked like a shift, but absolutely flipping enormous. Selvedge to selvedge on the front and back panels meant that the whole thing ten feet around and it was sooo much fabric to have piled up.
Which of course meant it was time to do something fiddly.
Before I had cut the giant panels for my front and back I had cut four strips of fabric to use as binding, this was just straight binding I didn’t have the fabric or the spoons to start trying to do bias binding. These strips were pretty massive at four inches across but there was a method to my madness, I needed a drawstring to fit through!
At least that was the plan, finish the edges and get a drawstring channel out of it in one go. And technically yes that is what I got , but not in the ordinary way. Or at least not in the just do a binding then stick a ribbon through it and draw it closed way. Because I started pinning the binding onto that neckline and I hated it. I am not very good at binding to begin with and this linen was not cooperating. So I changed tack.
And did a little bit of practising.
I cut one of my strips in half so that it could work for the cuffs (my maths here was very technical, I knew that the sleeves had been cut from selvedge to selvedge with a slice down the middle, so I used the same method to mathematically draw out how much cuff binding would be needed) but rather than using them like binding I neatened up the ends and flipped them inside out and sewed up the long end, basically turning each of them into a two and a half foot tube. This was pretty easy. Turning these tubes inside out was less easy and involved a lot of whipping them about in the hopes of making the bunched up fabric move along the tube.
So I had two tubes the same length of my cuffs, can you see where this is going? I then sewed the tubes onto the cuffs and had some pretty decent drawstring tubes to stick a ribbon through and tie up. I felt very proud of myself.
And then I had to do the neckline.
The neckline, I must remind you all, that was about twelve and a half feet. Obviously the strips I had were not going to make it all the way around by themselves, so I sewed two and a half of them together. The last half I set aside for later projects. And then I had to sew a twelve and a half foot long snake of fabric together. It took a lot of time, I think at least one day’s sewing time was spent on that alone. I don’t sew all day, but it’s still a pretty hefty chunk of time to use for one very small bit of a project.
Turning it inside out was actually quite fun. I had worked out a bit of a method by this point, and I was just glad to be doing something other than sewing, so I stuck a podcast on the Hanseatic League on (the podcast is actually about the World of Darkness but they include interesting medieval setting ideas) I’ll include a link here for it, and set to work. This also involved a lot of waving the fabric around and whipping it to try and move the bunched upfabric blockage along the tube. Luckily because the tube was quite wide (4 inches if you recall) there was enough space for me to hook my finger down it and draw out some fabric a bit at a time, but once the last bit had disappeared up inside of itself the quickest way was to just to whip it so that the force of that movement and gravity will shove the fabric along. Every so often you need to do a bit of unblocking, but honestly each whipping motion got the fabric to move along at least an inch or so and that was a lot faster than pinching little bits out and pulling them through.
Anyway, I eventually had a giant fabric tube and the only thing I had left to do was sew that tube onto the top of my shift. This also took forever. I decided to use some thicker thread for this, so it took more effort to sew, but hopefully this will mean that it won’t come undone any time soon and I can trust it not to fall apart. The thread I used is actually embroidery thread, but it is while cotton so I don’t think anyone is going to particularly notice.
And then, and then I had a mostly finished chemise. All I had to do was thread the ribbons through to draw it up and it was all done.
The cuffs went fine, I borrowed a stitch holder (basically a blunt safety pin) from my knitting enthusiast mum, tied the ribbon on and threaded them through the cuffs. Not a problem at all, I tied them loosely so they wouldn’t fall out again before I had a chance to try it on and turned to the collar.
This was less easy. I think the main reason is the size, it is massive, but also the ribbon is expected to hold it into shape here. Just to give a bit more description, the way the fabric lies, it goes straight from side to side across the chest and back, but the sleeve heads are the shoulders and the ribbon is basically all that is holding that in the correct place. And the second I tried to move it around and get it to the right amount of gathers in the right place, the ribbon slipped away inside and I haven’t seen it since. I can just about make it out through the linen if I hold it up to the light, but no that ribbon is not coming out to play any time soon.
In the end I got some macrame twine I had bought for doing a set of corded Regency stays and used that. I think the added resistance from the surface of the twine works well against the fabric and helps it to actually hold a shape, rather than just slipping around.
Trying it on again I tied the twine into a knot at the front and I am happy to say that I have finished the damn thing.
Oh my gosh this thing was a trial.
It’s not even that there was that much to do, it was just that so much of it was straight lines and long seams so if felt like it was taking forever and ever to do. Plus I pre-finished as much of it as possible at the beginning so I was working on it for quite a while.
But it is done and now all I have to do is work out what sort of things need to be done to make it extra extra perfect. The obvious thing is to attach some beads or something to the collar ties to stop them disappearing up inside the collar channel. I don’t quite know how I would go about doing that, I do have some beads that I could use but the size they would have to be to avoid getting lost up there would make them incredibly awkward for having on a piece of what is essentially underwear. So I might have to keep it as it is and just have it knotted in front for now.
The other thing is to bring up the hem a bit. This isn’t super urgent, the chemise sits on top of my feet quite nicely, but I do feel like if I want to wear this to LARP, and festival LARPs like Empire in particular, I am going to have to bring it up quite a lot. For one thing the dresses I tend to wear in the fields at Empire are calf length and the chemise would show a heck of a lot under that. I still really like it, but n damp fields with lots of mud the length of my dress will have to be a thing I pay attention to. I don’t want to have a chemise that is covered in mud at the hem after all!
But I think that can wait until after the Vampire LARP in February that I am planning on wearing this to. That event is happening inside a house and so I won’t have to worry so much about mud or tripping. I still might have to bring it up a little bit to make going up stairs easier, bu it certainly won’t need as much as it would to make it field safe.
Aside from all that practical stuff I have also been thinking about some decidedly unpractical adornments for the chemise. Quite often these items were embroidered with white, black, or red work. These were tiny and complicated designs done in a single colour of thread and showed off against the white of the linen, I would really like to do something along these lines, but maybe not to the all encompassing luxury that is shown in the portraits of Tudor and Elizabethan aristocrats. One of the things I have thought about doing is a teeny weeny apple and serpent design, because that blends quite well into the two LARPs I want to wear it to. One is the vampire LARP where I will be playing a character codenamed the Gorgon, so snakes. While at Empire I also playa snakey themed character, and apples are part of the iconography of my nation the Marches. So maybe I’ll sneak in a little serpent and apple of Eden symbolism. It would definitely be something that would get a good girl in trouble in the Tudor period, but luckily I’m not playing a good girl in that period.
Yeah, the more I think about it the more I want to lean into playing an evil adjacent character. Not completely, muhahahah evil. But someone who will always put themselves first and not even consider the alternative. And I play a good character at Empire mostly because I find it easier, comfier, to play a good character over a long time and I want to play that character for a long time.
Deinara, my Vampire, is only going to be played over a single weekend and so I can stretch myself more easily. Also the game will have a lot of work shops at the beginning to ease everyone into it and get people into character. That is one thing that I wish Empire would do a bit more of because you are kind of thrown in at the deep end.
Anyway, suffice to say I am busy, I am thinking back and forth on many things, I am getting things done, I will see you next time I have an update.
Stay safe out there,