It is amazing that these little garments were about 10 years in the making. I was so nervous about messing up that it delayed me from completing them for a long time. I started the chemise in 2010 and completed it in the fall of 2012. I’ve since made one in a week, easily, as a birthday gift for a friend, so I hope you won’t be intimidated if you ever want to make one! The stays were begun in 2013 and completed in 2018 for my local JASNA chapter’s annual Jane Austen Birthday Tea.
Time Frame: 2010-2012 for the chemise and 2013-2018 for the short stays.
Fabric (Chemise): 100% lightweight cotton, probably a batiste.
Notions (Chemise): 100% polyester ribbon, all-purpose thread.
Fabric (Stays): Outer fabric was a printed quilting cotton from stash, interlining was a grey cotton twill, also from stash. Lining fabric is 100% cotton muslin.
Notions (Stays): All-purpose thread and a heavier-weight carpet-button thread for the hand-stitched boning channels and eyelets, both from stash. Reed boning came from my basket-weaving stash. Lacing is modern lacing,to be replaced eventually.
Cost: All purchased materials were from JoAnn Fabrics. It was so long ago that I no longer know the cost for them.
- I took in some width in the back and some width from the side seams as well.
- Much of the sewing is machine-done, although I did some handstitching.
- I think the lace on the bottom of the chemise was my idea back when I made it, not a pattern suggestion. I might remove it in future as I don’t recall lace on chemise hems being a thing in this period, and certainly not polyester lace. Chemises underwent heavy-duty laundering, so if they did have lace it would have had to be removed and reattached each time.
- I did not use historically accurate fabrics for the stays, at the time I was trying to be thrifty and use what I had on hand.
- The current lacing is modern, I need to make more historically accurate ones.
- The fit is not perfect, but overall it was a good learning experience. Mostly I wish that the straps sat on my shoulders better (the issue is more noticeable in the front view than the back view).
- The instructions recommend that the gussets should be hand-stitched in. After doing one hand-stitched (left side) and one machine-stitched (right side) I agree with this. It gives you a lot more control over something with a very tiny seam allowance and awkward corners.
- As for the chemise, I know better now than to make it out of such a lightweight material, as the channeling for the ribbon has already frayed out in several places. I also suspect that when I repaired it once, the ribbon got caught in the sewing thread, as it now gathers awkwardly.
- You might also have noticed some yellowing near the boning channels…unfortunately I had to wash my stays after I found mold growing in the closet where I had been storing them. The reed stained the fabric when it got wet.
Questions and Thoughts for Future Sewing
- I’d be curious to see how this chemise makes up in linen, which was generally a less fashionable material at the time but more sturdy.
- Eventually I’d like to make a pair of Laughing Moon’s longer empire era stays and see how the fit differs. These are comfortable enough, but the stay strap situation prevents proper dancing moves.
- Did they have gathered drawstring or shortened chemise sleeves for use with ballgowns and shorter-sleeved dresses?