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How to Sew a Simple Chemise with Drawstring Neck and Cuffs

bottom of sleeve
The bottom of the sleeve has a nasty unfinished cut.
zig-zagged sleeve
Finish this by running a line of zig-zag stitch over the edge of the sleeve.
sewing sleeve drawstring casing
With the sleeve inside-out, fold the bottom of the sleeve up by the amount of seam allowance indicated on your pattern piece - 1/2" for humans, 1/4" for dolls. Sew this channel down with a straight stitch.
finished sleeve bottom
The finished drawstring casing, seen with the sleeve inside-out. Remember, you always want the ugly to stay on the inside...

Now we want to make the neck edge look like the sleeve edge...

zig-zag the neck
Zig-zag over the edge of the neck.
creating the neck drawstring
Turn the neck seam allowance to the inside of the chemise and stitch it down. This will be a little tricky when you go from the body pieces to the sleeve pieces. Just go slow. Some people like to pin or press this first.
finished neck casing
The finished neck casing. You can follow the same steps at the bottom of the chemise to finish the hem, or use a rolled hem.

Now, you might be wondering how the drawstring is going to get into those casings, since we didn’t so much leave a hole.  Here’s one of my favorite sneaky tricks…  In most cases, if you use a thin enough cord threaded on to a yarn needle, you can just push the needle into the casing and tug the cord behind it.  It will part the threads of the chemise fabric slightly, making it’s own little eyelet (without stitches around it, of course).  Yes, if you were doing everything right you could put eyelets in to the body and sleeves just past the seam allowance before you turned the edge back to make the casing.  Since this whole pattern is a bit of a cheat, I didn’t feel the need to go the extra mile on authenticity. ;)

perl cotton
We're using cotton perl embroidery floss for the cords. It's a good size, and it ties a tight knot which is very important for this purpose.
inserting cording into neck channel
Thread the cotton perl onto a blunt tipped yarn needle. Starting at the center front of the chemise, poke the needle into the drawstring channel. Work the needle through the channel, pulling the cord through with it.

finishing the neck
When you've gotten all the way around the neck channel, poke the needle back out a little ways (1/8" for dolls, 1/2" for humans) from the original starting point.
sleeve drawstrings
Repeat this process for the sleeve drawstrings. Tie knots at the ends of all drawstrings, so they can't pull back into the channels and get lost.
The finished chemise
To wear this chemise, use the neck drawstring to control the size of the neck opening. Ideally, it should sit just inside your bodice neckline.

The only problem I’ve found with wearing a chemise made this way is that sometimes you try to put your arms in the sleeves, and it just doesn’t work.  This happens when the body of the chemise is taking up most of the drawstring, so there’s a lot of gathering at the top of the sleeve and not a lot of sleeve head for your arm to go into.  The solution to this is to redistribute the gathers so that there’s more cord over the shoulder area.  This sounds easy, but is terrifically difficult when you’re stuck half way inside the chemise when you notice the problem….

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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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