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Easy Chemise Dress (with Instructions)

I have nearly completed the cotton voile underdress for my sheer striped gown inspired by the “Portrait of a Lady with a Book, Next to a River Source” by Antoine Vestier. I still have to hem the bottom and sleeves, but I will wait to do that until I’ve finished the overdress. I have a bum pad (not shown), but I still need to work on some petticoats to give the skirt some floof.

IMG_3975I spent some time studying the Nora Waugh pattern, and many costuming blogs (with their very helpful construction techniques!) but in the end, decided to drape my own using my own adapted method. I think that if I used a proper pattern the dress could have been a little more polished, but for an underdress I am perfectly happy with the result. Plus it was very easy!

I used 3 panels of 55 inch wide cotton voile, purchased from Fabric Wholesale Direct, via their eBay store. I sewed them together at the selvedges, forming a giant rectangle. I rolled the top edge down to form a channel for gathering. I left 12 inch gaps at the seams, where the arm holes would eventually be. (My panels were also 55 inch tall. I am 5’6″, and wanted the hem short enough for dancing. If you are taller or want a floor-length dress your panels should be longer).

IMG_3991The Nora Waugh pattern has dips cut out for the neckline, but I decided to have gravity take care of the scoop in the neckline for me, which you will see when it is gathered). I inserted ribbon into the channels and gathered them.

At this point it is useful to pin this a dress form (or have a friend help you) so you can know how tightly to gather the middle panel. It will be about the width of your shoulder blades once it is fully gathered. (You can also sew the gathered edge down to another strip of fabric for extra security). At that point you will cut of the excess ribbon and sew the ends down to secure them at the anchor points indicated on the picture below. Each of the side panels will have one free ribbon end, which you will use to close the neckline each time you wear the dress.

IMG_3992I cut two bands for the shoulder straps. They are about 10 inches long and 3 inches wide, with a curve on one side, but the dimensions will depend on your height. (You also lose a little length in the straps if you sew them with the ends tucked in and hidden like I did). Once I gathered the top of the dress I pinned the straps on and tested the fit before sewing them down. The straps are lined in linen for extra strength.

IMG_3923When the straps are sewn on you will have something that looks like a sleeveless tube dress that is open in the front. Pull the ribbons in the side panels to close the top, and you will have a curved neckline.

IMG_3940There is excess fabric in the sides because the underarm holes have not been cut yet. (I did that after pinning sleeves on to fit). However, if you tie a sash on the middle you will see a chemise dress starting to take shape! The picture below is the dress shown inside out because . . .

IMG_3941. . . if you take a string and wrap it around the middle you can use a pen to mark where you should put in another channel for the waist.

IMG_3942Use the marked lines as a guide to sew down a wider ribbon, and then use that as channel for another ribbon that will be used to gather the waist when you put the dress on. I sewed the front of the side panels together starting several inches down from the waist. (The many gathers of the fabric will keep the top of the dress closed).

For the sleeves I borrowed a sleeve pattern I drafted from another dress I made. If you can’t draft your own, any tight-fitting sleeve will do. If you don’t want a fitted sleeve that’s even easier! Sew a big tube and gather it into the sleeve head and at various points to make a puffy elbow-length sleeve common in the earlier style of gowns.

IMG_3949Pin the sleeve into the dress, pulling out the excess fabric that will be trimmed.

IMG_3954Trim the excess, sew the sleeves in (I did French seams), hem, and voila! Add some petticoats and a pretty sash and you are set.

IMG_3975UPDATE: Now that I have a sash, here are some pictures of the finished cotton dress with a small bum pad and petticoat. (I plan to make another petticoat and possibly a slightly more padded bum). The sash is about 5 yards of moire ribbon, wrapped around the waist 3 times and tied into a bow.

IMG_4178 IMG_4180 IMG_4174Here is a sneak preview of the silk overlayer I am in the process of draping, along with a temporary belt.

IMG_3980I hope this tutorial made sense. I welcome any comments and questions.

You can see the finished dresses worn here: https://freshfrippery.com/2015/04/25/chemise-a-la-reine-and-girls-in-white-dresses-with-blue-satin-sashes/

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9 responses »

  1. Ok…so, I need your address so I can send you my fabric so you can make this for me!! It looks so intimidating!!! I’m hyperventilating just thinking about it! This is going to be beyond fabulous!
    Blessings!
    g

    Reply
    • Don’t be modest Gina! You have more talent and experience than I do. And a chemise dress is really supposed to be simple!

      Reply
      • Oh please believe me when I say that what you have done totally and completely makes my brain hurt. Give me a pattern! YES!!! I can morph it and make it look totally different….Lay a piece of fabric out and do what you did with the “gather here and her and here and leave this space open for the arm…” Yaaaaaa…that’s when my brain explodes and leaks out my ears. I so admire those of you who can do stuff like that. The only think I have done like that is my corded petticoat and another one for the 1830s dresses. I did manage to self draft the back bustling for my 1886 sailor dress, but that took yards and yards of fabric and a major migraine when I was done! hahahahaha!! Self drafting….Nope!!! No way!!! You are a rock star!

        Reply
        • Gina, you make me sound more competent than I am! I normally stick to pre-made patterns as well. I can’t draft anything complicated! This one is more like gathering than real tailoring. =)

          Reply
          • Well, after seeing the finished produce, you are quite competent in my book! I can do gathering, so will have to visit this page and pepper you with many questions when I start to make my own dress!!!

            Reply
  2. Pingback: Chemise a la Reine (And Girls in White Dresses with Blue Satin Sashes!) | Fresh Frippery

  3. Pingback: 1840s Fan Front Dress at Dickens Fair | Fresh Frippery

  4. Anyone who really likes the above pattern (as I do and intend to try out for myself) but isn’t sure about drafting the pattern try looking on youtube for instructions on pattern drafting. I have found some of the Indian channels give the best instructions (Amazing Womens World, Savi’s Fashion Studio for example). I have gone from being unable to sew without a purchased pattern to drafting my own patterns to fit me, mainly without darts because they were invented later in period than I make clothing for, but at last I can draft my own patterns to fit me. I cannot recommend it enough, and this newly gained knowledge will help me to make the above dress as well.

    Reply

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