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.
I 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).
The 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.
I 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.
When 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.
There 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 . . .
. . . 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.
Use 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.
Pin the sleeve into the dress, pulling out the excess fabric that will be trimmed.
Trim the excess, sew the sleeves in (I did French seams), hem, and voila! Add some petticoats and a pretty sash and you are set.
UPDATE: 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.
Here is a sneak preview of the silk overlayer I am in the process of draping, along with a temporary belt.
I 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/
I am happy to provide all patterns and tutorials for for free on my blog. It is absolutely optional, but if you would like to donate towards my domain registration and the data costs of hosting the many photos on my site, consider buying me a “coffee”: https://ko-fi.com/freshfrippery. Thank you!
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!
Don’t be modest Gina! You have more talent and experience than I do. And a chemise dress is really supposed to be simple!
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!
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. =)
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!!!
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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.
Thank you for the channel suggestions Ivlia! I agree YouTube can be a nice source of information. If you make a chemise with this tutorial I’d love to see it!
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Oh my gosh! I’m so glad I stumbled across this particular blog. I have the start of a chemise de la reine using the laughing moon pattern and I’ve been stuck on the shoulders for about 2 years now?? I can’t wait to go home and undo it all and start again! This makes SO much more sense! Thank you!!
Hi Samantha, I’m glad I could help you out! It always makes me happy to hear when someone found one of my tutorials useful. Good luck to you!
First of all, this is a little late to be posting a comment, but the is SO helpful, I saw diagrams of chemise gowns but they all made me a bit nervous! I was wondering how you decided on three 55” wide panels, my measurements in stays are a 34.5 inch bust and a 30.5 inch waist and I already know my panel length. I have to be Marie Antoinette in her infamous portrait for an event, do you have any tips? Thank you so much!
Hi Kamy, I used 55″ panels because that’s the width of the fabric I bought, and it worked out! Your measurements are just 2 inches larger than mine, so I think you will be fine using the same size or just a little bit larger.
Sorry for such a late reply, but thanks! That makes this a bit easier for me 🙂
What an accomplished seamstress you are, indeed!!! I’m just amazed by your work! I only
wish I could do as well, when could sew.
I have so many ailments now, foremost being seizures and arthritic shoulder. My range of motion is slow on improvement because I tend to keep re injuring it.
I would love to commission you to make it for me!
Would you consider such a thing? Please do! Please think on it and get back to me!! My measurements are as follows: underbreast 22,and waist 45,I’m 5’6” tall.
Hi Jennie, thank you for your kind comments! I work full time and have a child, so I am not taking any commissions at this time. However, I have a friend that I can recommend to you. I’ll send you an email with her information.
Hello, thank you for sharing your pattern. I have a few questions. I was wondering if you could explain using the second diagram (anchor points one) where you pinned the straps? And could you give a little more detail or sketch how you attached the sleeves? I wanted fitted and I looks like I am trying to attach them to wings. Finally, did you make a colonial petticoat out of the same material to wear over the underdress and then tie the sash around the waist? Thank you in advance for your help.
Hi Deni. The anchor points vary depending on your body shape. The shoulder straps go on where your bra straps would go. I recommend using a dress form or having a friend pin them while you are wearing the dress to make sure they are in the right place. The dress is gathered so you distribute the fabric around the arms to your sleeves and it will depend on how wide they are. (The “wings” are just to show how much extra fabric there is). I made a petticoat but I recommend using a more substantial cotton instead of the thin voile in order to have structure.
So do you apply the shoulder straps to the dress after it is gathered at the neck? Or do I attach it next to the 12″ gap?
You gather the dress first so that you can put it on, but adjust it with the drawstring if needed.
I love this, what is the seam allowance and the ribbon width you used?
I don’t have the dress any more but if I remember correctly it was a 1/2 inch seam allowance and 1/4 inch ribbon.
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Hi I love this! I started a mock up with an old sheet and have a few questions that I hope you can help with .How does the area where the drawstring come out get finished? How to attach straps do you just sew them straight down like a patch pocket? And is the channeling just the whole top area folded down and sewing channels into or are they made separately and put on . Sorry I am trying to figure out without help and just can’t grasp.
Hi, for the ends of the channel you fold in the raw edges and hand-stitch them down. You can do the straps a few ways: sew them on top of the dress with the stitches going through to the dress, or hide the strap inside and sew the edges of the strap to the dress. For the neck channel you fold down. For the waist channel you use a wider ribbon that is separate and sewn on.