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How to Draft a Simple Chemise

sleeve width
The easiest way I've found to sort out how wide a sleeve should be is to loop a tape measure loosely around my arm until it looks like the right size for the period and character. Do this with your arm held out to the side, or you won't be able to really see what's going on. A mirror is a help, as well.
starting line
Start with a line. As with the body of the chemise, this first line will be placed on the fold when cut.
sleeve length
On this first line, measure and mark the length of your sleeve. For a full sleeve chemise, this measurement should be no less than your shoulder to wrist distance, and no greater than your shoulder to fingertip distance.

Ok, that was less than precise – this is really more of an art than a science, no matter how hard the Victorians tried to quantify everything.  Here’s a sneaky trick: if you want a chemise sleeve to look very full, you make it a little longer than you need it.  That gives you that romantic I-just-have-so-much-sleeve-I-don’t0know-what-to-do-with-myself effect.  But you don’t want to end up with so much sleeve that you can’t use your hands, either, so it’s important not to make the sleeve longer than the entirety of your arm.  If you’re planning this for a specific era where chemise sleeves were poofed out of slits in the sleeves of the outer garment, you might want to make the chemise sleeves longer.  Just be mindful of the danger of looking like a child raiding an adult’s wardrobe…

Also, you might have noticed that I’m drafting the sleeve slightly different to how I drafted the body.  The truth is, there’s more than one way to do things…  Some people like to start with a corner and draft out from there, some like to start with a line, heck, sometimes I start in the middle.  If one or the other method seems more intuitive to you, just use that one.

sleeve width
Measure out 1/2 of your sleeve width from your original line. Complete the rectangle by drawing a second vertical line at this point.
removing armscye bulk
Optional: if you took a corner off of the chemise body to reduce the armscye bulk, you should do the same thing to the sleeve. Ideally, these triangles should be identical.
seam allowances and markings
As before, we want to add seam allowances, mark that this is a sleeve, note the edge that goes on the fold, remind ourselves to cut two, etc.
The finished chemise
A simple chemise, sewn with drawstrings at the cuffs and neck.
square necked chemise
If we sew it a little differently, this pattern can make us a square necked chemise.
And that is the doll-sized version of my favorite festive peasant chemise. It bears no resemblance to actual historical fact, but I can tie it up at the shoulder on a hot day, and a lot of people seem to mistake it for something they remember seeing somewhere, in some book, maybe, but it certainly looks familiar. It's a little Disney like that....

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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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