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How to Draft a Simple Chemise

This is a very simple chemise pattern.  It won’t win you any points for historical authenticity, but it’s a really great, “feel good” sort of introduction to pattern drafting. Historically, linen items (including chemises and smocks) were made by home seamstresses because of their relatively simple cut and construction.  To draft a simple chemise, you really only need to be able to sort out a couple of rectangles.All truth told, I don’t usually make a pattern for these – I just measure and cut. Well, except when I’m feeling really lazy, and then I sort of eyeball and rip. (I really am this bad…)  So, without further ado, the draft goes like this:

You will need the following measurements:
  1. Full Hip, Front/Back Full Hip
  2. Bust, Front/Back Bust
perpendicular lines
We're starting with the body of the chemise. It will be a large rectangle, so we start by drawing two lines squarely perpendicular to each other. I could probably use the corner of the page, but there are limits to even my laziness...
drawing out the width of the body
Decide which is larger: your bust or your hips. Using the larger of the two, draw out 1/2 of that measure along the top line. This is the width of the chemise.

What?  Wait! Why only half?! When we sew the chemise, we’re going to cut this on a folded piece of fabric.  Additionally, we’re going to cut it twice – once for the back and once for the front.  Ultimately, we’ll end up with twice the body’s widest measure for the width of our chemise.  (Of course, for a human, you could just use two lengths of 45″ wide fabric and it should do unless you’re super-ultra-skinny.  If you’re that thin, though, you should probably be eating instead of sewing….)

The length of the chemise
Measure out the length of the chemise along the side line. The length should be no shorter than the distance from your shoulder to your full hip, and no longer than shoulder to ankle. Complete the rectangle by drawing lines out from these last two marks.

Some people believe that all chemises should be ankle length, and quite a lot of surviving examples from the sixteenth century on (and visual references in earlier paintings) supports this idea.  However, I find a chemise that long to be an absolute horror to walk in – it twists all around my ankles, and I feel like I’m being attacked by bedsheets all day.  For myself, I generally make my chemises to the high hip.  (Of course, I also wear some really outrageous bloomers to avoid the obvious modesty issue.)  Since my doll doesn’t walk or talk, she gets no vote and a longer chemise.

Optional: this is completely inauthentic, but to reduce bulk under the arm I knock off an upper corner. I'm taking a 1/2" long (hypotenuse) triangle off of my pattern piece here. For a human, I use a 2-3" triangle.
seam allowances and markings
Now we add all the information we'll need when we sew this: the edge that will be cut on the fold is indicated, and seam allowances are added to every edge that is not cut on a fold. The piece is labelled (what is it, who is it for), and we note that we'll need to cut two of them.

That all might seem a little OCD, but it’s very important.  Chemise patterns aren’t something you change up a lot, so there’s a very real possibility you’ll be looking at this thing in a year, wondering how you made it last time.  I also date patterns, especially anything fitted (like corsets), so I can guess whether or not I’m the same size now as I was when I made the darn thing.  If only my dress form would gain and lose weight with me, life would be so much easier…. But she lies.
Next: drafting the sleeves….

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  1. Jessica
    Jessica March 19, 2013

    i came across your patter during a Google search, and found it an easy step by step instruction! my husband and i go to rendezvous and choose to focus on the 1760-1840 period and i strive to make all our own clothes (i also quilt a great deal), and while i agree that its not 100% accurate; its close enough that few would even notice!! i hadn’t thought about the triangles at the ‘pit’ area but i now that i see it i wonder why i never thought of it!! thanks for posting!!!

  2. MARIA
    MARIA May 28, 2020

    Wow was the skinny girls should eat not see comment really necessary? Tutorial is perfect, but literally every time I go to reference this, I’m like oh ya don’t forget this tutorial isn’t for you!

    • missa
      missa May 30, 2020

      Hi, Maria – it wasn’t necessary, it was an attempt at humor. It sounds like i struck a nerve. That was not my intent, and I do regret that my clumsy joke offended you.
      I sew for all sizes, literally from 1/6 scale dolls to multiple plus-size humans. I don’t intend to limit the use of these tutorials to people of specific sizes or shapes. I hope you are able to find a resource that works better for your needs.
      Peace and love.

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