Making an Elizabethan Chemise

The instructions below were put together by Lisa Robertson (aka Avelina Falconieri di Firenze), owner of Argent Flame Costuming, and produce the type of chemise she makes for her clients. NOTE: The webpage link I had for Argent Flame Costuming has become defunct. If you know the current URL for this site, please let me know.

The easiest way to make a chemise is, surprisingly enough, to follow this diagram and these instructions. You will need:

(even though most period chemises were gathered to a cuff, this way is easiest for even a beginning sewer.)

The front and back pieces need to be the same length, from your shoulder to knee, calf, or ankle; and they should be the full width of the fabric, usually 45 inches wide, for fullness. The sleeves should be your arm length plus approximately 8 inches--for the fold over of the wrist casing and so the sleeve will be long enough if you have the neckline high. The length of the A to B line cut diagonally needs to be at least 9 inches long. I place a 6x6x9" 90 degree triangle at the corner of the fabric and draw a diagonal line along the long side of the triangle. You can adjust to fit a larger body, but this one works well for almost everyone.

Once you have cut out the pieces, fold over about an inch along the top of each one (along the A to A line) and press. This will be the casing for the ribbon at the neckline, and it is easier to do this first. Sew down the folded over part, turning under the raw edge. Leave the ends open. Press it all flat.

Now sew a sleeve to the front piece, along the A to B line. Sew on the other sleeve. Sew the back to the sleeves, also along the A to B line. Make sure you do not sew the casings shut. Press open these seams (or, if you are using a serger, press them to one side).

Sew the underarm seams, that is, the front to the back. Match up the B points and start from there, going from B to the hem, and from B to the wrist hem. It is okay if the hems don't match because you can trim them later. Press again.

If you are sewing a casing on the wrist just fold over about an inch, press, sew, and press, like you did for the neckline. If you want to put on cuffs, gather the wrists to the length of the cuff. Sew the sleeve to the cuff, right sides together. Sew the sides of the cuff, flip over to the inside, and press. With a whip stitch, sew the inside of the cuff to the sleeve, tucking the raw edges inside the cuff.

Hem the bottom, turning under how ever much you need, and sew. Then press the whole thing. With a safety pin, thread a long length of ribbon through the neck casing. It should be long enough so you can loosen the neck enough to slip it over your head and have enough to tie without the ends getting lost inside. If you have a casing for the wrists, add ribbon to them. If you have cuffs, sew on a button and a button loop or sew on whatever type of closure you want. There is your chemise!

After making several of these for my clients, I have found this is the most painless way, and involves hardly any measuring. You can get all kinds of linen at Mill End Store in Portland, OR 503/786-1234 retail. I have a wholesale sources, but one must be in a business related to textiles and buy at least 25 yards of one thing at once.

© Lisa Robertson (