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How to Sew a Simple Chemise with Drawstring Neck and Cuffs

Sewing a chemise can be as simple, or as difficult, as you want it to be. This is one of the simplest versions. Combined with your Simple Chemise Pattern, these sewing directions are all you need to produce a chemise. Well, I mean, you’ll need some fabric, too, and some thread and a sewing machine would be awfully handy, but you get the idea. Shall we?During this demo, I use the following skills:

  1. Zig-Zag Edges
  2. Hairline Seam

If you're working to human size, use these instead:
  1. Zig-Zag Edges
  2. French Seam

Please note: I’m using fully finished seams because, outside of Dollandia, chemises get washed. Ideally, they get washed a lot. I want to protect my seams from degrading in the wash. I’m using a similar, smaller technique to sew for dolls because I like the pain the way it looks. I’m a very hyphenated little girl sometimes….

The simple chemise pattern.
Start with your simple chemise pattern. Cut out the pieces along the seam allowance and fold lines.
laying out the body
Place the Body piece of the pattern on fabric that has been folded in half. The long edge of the piece, marked 'fold' should be placed exactly on the folded edge. Pin in place.
cutting the body piece
Cut the fabric along the edges of the pattern piece. Take your time - you can only sew as well as you cut.
cutting the sleeves
Do the same with the sleeve pieces. Remember, you need 2 each of the body and sleeve.
pinning the body pieces
Unfold each of the body pieces, and pin them together at each side (from armscye notch to bottom).
The body, sewn at sides
Sew the side seams at the designated seam allowance. Turn the body right side out. I've used hairline seams here, but you could just use a straight stitch (read: normal) seam.

Next: the sleeves….

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  1. Murlean
    Murlean October 30, 2010

    Good Afternoon,

    I was surfing the net when I found your site on Google. I was wondering if you have any tips for me. I have sewn by hand before, but still am at the beginner level.
    I am wanting to make a Celtic Chemise (not sure what the difference is) but I do know that they look comfy, I am tired of these short nightgowns and am wanting something very loose and comfy. I decided to make my own after browsing through the local wal-mart. I chose the chemise because it looks simple enough to just make in one day.

    I find the pictures and instructions from your site to be very helpful, but I am not exactly sure as to how to convert this to “human size” as you call it. Exactly how many yards of fabric and what other supplies will I need (I’m doing this by hand-still saving up for a sewing machine). Any information you can disclose will be helpful. Thanks so much and nice job with the costumes.

  2. Murlean
    Murlean October 30, 2010

    Uh, Sorry I forgot to ask these questions.
    Instead of the drawstring, is it possible to replace that with elastic and just replace that with the ribbon once the elastic gives? If so, how do I make the necessary modifications?
    Thanks again.

  3. missa
    missa October 31, 2010

    Hi, Murlean,
    I’m glad you’ve found the site helpful. You’re totally right in thinking that this type of chemise is a perfect beginner project. Did you read the patterning instructions at http://localhost/~mailtest/sempstress/demo/how-to-draft-a-simple-chemise/ ?
    I can’t tell you exactly how much fabric you will need – that depends on your size and how long you want to make the chemise. 3-4 yards is a good guess for a hip-length chemise for an average size. Since you’re handsewing, you will need your fabric, thread, the elastic you want to use (1/4″ wide will do), pins and needles, and a scissors. Additionally, to make the pattern you’ll need a pencil, measuring tape, and paper (left-over wrapping paper works well).
    Converting the drawstrings to elastic is very easy – simply thread elastic through the channels, adjust until it’s comfy, and sew the ends of the elastic together. (Overlap them by about an inch.)
    If you’re looking for step-by-step instructions with a full supply list and accurate yardages for fabric and notions, you might be best off with a commercial pattern. There are a lot of chemise and nightgown patterns in patternbooks – check the costume and sleepwear sections!

  4. AbsolutelyHelplessAnnie
    AbsolutelyHelplessAnnie January 18, 2021

    Hello! Just stumbled across this, so apologies if it’s written elsewhere and I just didn’t see. I’m wanting to make a chemise to go under an overdress, one that I could wear over the shoulders or off the shoulder and around the top of the arms if that makes sense? Would this pattern work for that? If so, how much extra should be accounted for pulling off the shoulder?

    • missa
      missa January 26, 2021

      Hi, Annie – Yes, this pattern should work. The drafting directions end up with 2x fullness around the body, and sleeves sized to suit your arm and the period (specific, I know!). To make sure it will fit off the shoulder, use a bra/sports bra, or tank top as a guide. Measure from the inside of the front strap to the inside of the back strap. The neckline edge of your sleeve will need to be at least that big. For most eras, I would take that measurement and add at least 50% fullness (multiply measurement by 1.5) so there’s a little gathering when it’s pulled down.

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