Making a 16th Century Chemise

I wish I had something more exciting to post today, but it’s come to the point where I have to blog about the most boring aspect of this costume: The chemise (also called a “Shift” and “Smock” in the 1500s).

The title is kind of misleading, due to certain circumstances I didn’t end up doing any research prior to making this. I used this blog post as a reference point and made everything up. Which is a shame because there are some really gorgeous shifts from the 1500s and 1600s.

Embroidery was such a big part of everyday dress and the undergarments were no exception. The blackwork embroidery often seen on shifts was so delicate and lovely. Over the last few days i’ve put more effort into researching them and they can be stunning garments while still being practical. Making a more elaborate one is now on my list of eventual historical sewing goals!

But this chemise in particular isn’t going to be seen at all. Not even the neck or cuffs. The only purpose of it is to provide a layer between my skin and the bodies, and to keep the kirtle/dress/sleeves clean. So it’s about as plain as you can make a garment.

I ended up flat drafting the pattern, two panels make up the body of the garment (one at the front one at the back) and it has gathered sleeves with cuffs that lace closed. I feel a bit silly about drafting this since my additional research led me to realize I have several historically accurate patterns hidden in Janet Arnold’s books which I own. Damn.

Anyway! Here is the pattern, this is the front panel. The neckline was based off the pattern of the pair of bodies with a few adjustments.


And the back panel. Both of these need to be cut on a folded edge.


These are the sleeves, cuff, and collar facing.


Step one was cutting everything out. I used cotton gauze which I had purchased at Joanns, which isn’t very accurate but I LOVE the texture and weight of this fabric. It’s an absolute dream to work with and I would definitely use it for more undergarments in the future.

When everything was cut out I started working on the front panel. The front got slashed a few inches down the center and I pinned the edges over.


Then the edges got stitched down.


I cut out rectangles of the gauze and turned the edges inward. Then those were whip stitched surrounding the slash to reinforce the edges.


 I moved on to the back panel, which is gathered at the neck. I actually misread the pattern I made and gathered it down to four inches instead of eight. I didn’t realize the mistake until I was a little farther along but luckily I was able to fix it without any problem!


Then I sewed the shoulder seam, which secures the straps to the back panel.


Now the neckline was ready to have the facing added. The top edge will be encased in a seam but the lower edge had to be folded over and finished by hand.


I attached the top edge of the facing into the neckline by machine, sewing it the typical “right sides together” way. But I stitched the lower edge by hand to avoid having any visible top stitching.

When the facing was sewn in I did up the side seams. I used french seams to encase the raw edges even though this fabric doesn’t fray much. I also hemmed the bottom edge by turning the edge over a half inch and used basting stitches to secure it. Then I turned the hem in a little more than an inch and whip stitched it in place.

Lastly I sewed eyelets down the slashed front.


And then it was time for sleeves! The sleeves on this are really quite simple, they are loose and gathered so fit isn’t really an issue which makes them a lot easier.

After cutting them out I gathered the lowed edge by hand. I think this edge was gathered down to six inches including seam allowance because I have weirdly small wrists.


I turned the bottom three inches of the edges inward. When the side seam is done up i’ll leave the bottom few inches open to allow my hand to slip through and it’s easier to finish that edge before sewing the seam.

Then I attached the cuffs. These are just small rectangles with the edges turned over. After they were sewn on I used even smaller rectangles to line them.


Then the side seams got done up with french seams, as I mentioned earlier I left the bottom few inches open.


Then they got sewn on to the body of the chemise. Lastly I stitched eyelets onto each side of the cuffs and it was done! Overall I really like this, it was easy to make, kind of fun, and turned out pretty well. Certainly a much better end result than my pair of bodies and farthingale!




Thanks for reading! That’s the end of my tudor undergarments so now I can move on to more exciting things. Hopefully the next post will be more interesting, I think it will have something to do with the kirtle that goes with this project.

Making a Spanish Farthingale

The making of a set of tudor undergarments continues! My first post in this series talked about making a pair of bodies and can be read here. This time i’ll be delving into the process of making a spanish farthingale. This project was one that required a lot of fiddling and several moments where I nearly gave up before making peace with it. Somehow I ended up being happy with the end result, even though it’s kind of an ugly beast.

There are two main types of farthingales, the most famous are French, or Great farthingales which look like big wheels. Spanish Farthingales came a little earlier, and look a lot less silly. They are a specifically shaped hoop skirt that resembles a cone with a flat front, which is what I need for my tudor ensemble.

I own a book (“The Tudor Tailor”) which a spanish farthingale pattern in it – this seems to be the go-to for a lot of historical seamstresses but the end result doesn’t have the exaggerated silhouette that I’ve seen in so many paintings. So I decided to not use that pattern, and instead I followed the instructions posted here.

The pattern featured in that tutorial was made for someone ten inches shorter for me with a much smaller frame. I wanted mine to be proportional so I made my panels a bit wider. Here are some doodles I made before starting – I didn’t end up following them all, but I found drawing it out was easier than frequently referencing the tutorial.


I decided to use polyester taffeta for this project, with cotton sateen boning channels. I wouldn’t recommend either of these fabrics for a farthingale, they did work but the end result isn’t the prettiest or most practical. Cotton or linen would be MUCH better with twill tape as boning channels.

First I cut two pieces of fabric that were twenty six inches wide and ninety four inches long.


One piece was immediately cut in half to make up two twenty six by forty seven inch pieces. These will be used to create the gored panels later on. The remaining piece of fabric got folded in half and will eventually be used for the front and back panels.

DSC_2204The folded piece of material also got  cut in half. Instead of being precise rectangles they have slightly rounded edges to create a smoother hem.

The two twenty six by forty seven inch pieces got cut on a diagonal, one being slightly larger than the other. This is all covered in the tutorial I linked at the start!


I assembled it like the tutorial said – I did goof up and ended up sewing the back gored panels from bottom to top, so I had to trim a few inches from the top instead of at the hem. This means my hem will be a little larger than it should be, but I’m okay with that since I wanted a larger than average bottom hoop.



Construction was actually surprisingly easy – lots of straight half inch seams. I made things a little harder for myself by making every seam a french seam, but I don’t regret it because polyester taffeta frays SO MUCH, it needed to be contained.


I got the front and back completely assembled before I ran into my first problem – and it’s a doozy. Because I made the pattern bigger the diagonal seams were much longer than they should be. For the side seams you have to attach a diagonal cut piece of fabric to a forty seven inch piece of fabric.

Which would be fine, but my diagonal piece of fabric was fifty three inches long, a six inch difference!


I had to lop six inches off my front panel. If I had been smart I would have added a six inch panel to the back and called it done, but that didn’t occur to me. Instead I cut off six inches from the front panel and big shock – my farthingale ended up six inches too short. Damn.

I continued with construction anyway, I sort of just hoped it would work itself out. I mean it could totally grow overnight! Or I could shrink! Miracles do happen!

After assembly was done you could kind of see the shape – I ended up trimming the hem to be smoother shortly after taking this photo.


I turned the hem up a half inch.


And then it was time for boning channels! I chose to make my own from cotton sateen, which will be bad in the long run since cotton sateen can stretch. But so far it’s been a couple weeks and I haven’t noticed any stretching, so hopefully this will be okay for a while longer!

I cut strips that were a little less than two inches wide and turned the edges inward – the same method you use for making bias tape!


I used chalk to mark the lines where the channels would go. The lines were drawn seven inches apart so there ends up being a little more than six inches between each bone. This is far apart by farthingale standards, but i’m tall, so I think it was a good decision.


Each channel got pinned on and stitched down one at a time. I made the bright decision to wear shorts while working on this and my legs were a scratched up mess after – it’s such a big skirt and the dozens of pins make it deadly.

(Not really, but it’s close.)

Here is what it looked like with all the boning channels sewn! They are actually pretty sloppily done. I injured a toe on my right foot a day before starting this project which left me unable to use the pedal. I ended up controlling the pedal with my left foot and I don’t have nearly the speed control, so it was kind of a disaster!


With the channels done I turned to figuring out the closure. Since my bodies close up the back I decided to do the same with the farthingale. I regret this since I later wanted to add a bum pad, which is difficult to do with a back closure. A front closure would have been much better in my situation but oh well, you live and learn!

I slashed the back open and sewed bias tape onto the opening, then stitched the end up in a tapered seam.


I made a waistband too, it’s two inches wide and made from leftover taffeta. The taffeta was stiff enough that I didn’t choose to use interfacing or anything.


I gathered the top of the skirt and stitched into onto the waistband. The seam was a mess so I encased it in matching bias tape.


Now it was time to try it on the dress form – without boning it looked really sad!


Unfortunately with boning it looked even worse. I measured the boning channels and cut my hooping wire to be the same length. I tipped the wire with tape and threaded them through the channels.

I didn’t get the desired effect. Instead I ended up with this can shaped disaster.


I removed several inches from the top three bones and ended up with much better results. The silhouette was surprisingly good but from the front it had a  terrible shape – almost like a “C”. It was very narrow and not as wide as it needed to be.


The bottom hoop didn’t sit evenly either…it’s was kind of a mess! I fiddled a lot more with the hoop sizes but ultimately decided regathering the top would help with the shape and fix the narrow front.

Which it did, the front looked way better. But with the newly added gathers to the front the farthingale tipped forward which is the exact opposite of what I wanted.


Luckily someone very clever on tumblr suggested weighting the front, which was brilliant! Now the hoop is flat but wide at the front and slopes down and out at the back. Perfect.

Since I was finally happy with the shape I moved on to the finishings. The waistband got reattached and I made a six inch ruffle from leftover taffeta with hopes it would fix the length problem.


They definitely helped, but the ruffle doesn’t hold it’s shape the way hooping wire does. So the skirt will have a slight tendency to cave in at the bottom which is frustrating.

I used scissors and a binder clip as a stand in weight since I didn’t have a proper one haha.


I also made a bum pad – which was on my dress form for all the above pictures. This is supposed to help tip the skirt backward but I don’t think it helped that much.

I made it from cotton sateen and stuffed it with quilt batting scraps. The edge was finished with bias tape and two snaps to attach it to the farthingale.


I secured the hooping in place (to make sure they don’t shift too much) by stitching through them with cord. The cord knots on the interior of the farthingale. This only works with hooping wire that’s pressed between layers of buckram, since you can stitch through buckram.


I also finished the interior of the waistband with bias tape, since I didn’t do that after regathering the top.


And l I stitched on two snaps to secure the bum pad. Not very pretty stitching on any of this – I was kind of over the project at this point.


The main closure for the farthingale are two eyelets. Once those were sewn it was officially done!


I ended up creating pockets out of cotton sateen for the weights, I stuffed one with metal cameo frames from an old costume and the other is a heavy as hell spool of beading wire. Not the most professional solution!

Both pouches are sewn into the interior center front. I have one on the second hoop and another on the fourth hoop to get the desired effect. This picture was taken before I sewed them to the inside.

I was worried this would make the front too flat, but I actually really like how it looks with my kirtle over it! I can also remove one of the weights later on to soften the shape.



here it is being worn over a chemise.


And this is it paired with my pair of bodies and kirtle. The kirtle was drafted to fit over the unweighted farthingale, so the skirt hangs a little long in the front and a little short in the sides. But i’m not too bothered by that – i’m honestly just happy the shape looks good!


What a project – lots of frustrations and I felt like it was going to end in failure. But it actually turned out pretty okay! I think I would like to make another farthingale someday. Now that I have a good idea of the shape I like and how to construct one. I think making another one would be much faster, easier, and yield better results.

Thanks for reading! And I hope you are all enjoying the holiday, or at the very least having a nice weekend!

Making a 16th Century Kirtle, Part One

A couple weeks ago I posted about making a set of bodies, which are the first piece I needed for my 16th century ensemble. There are a few other undergarments required for this project (a bum pad, chemise, and farthingale) but I felt like writing about something more exciting: The kirtle bodice.

In the 1500s kirtles were a dress worn over the chemise and petticoats. Sometimes the kirtle would have a support structure, other times it would be worn over bodies. If you weren’t very wealthy the kirtle could be a stand alone dress, but for 16th century royalty they were used as an underdress, which is the function mine will have. It will be made partially from silk, partially from polyester taffeta, and in the end you will only see the collar and front of the kirtle peeking out through the dress.

Step one was drafting the pattern. I used the pattern for the pair of bodies I made as a base, then altered it to have a higher neckline, side openings, and a much shorter front. I also switched it so the straps connected at the front instead of tying on the shoulder.

I made a few mock ups before finalizing the pattern – you can see all the stages it went through!



Since I was working with limited amounts of silk, I decided to make the majority of the garment from polyester taffeta and only have the collar be made from silk. This technique was shown in the book “The Tudor Tailor” and I thought it was very clever!

Here are all the pieces cut out.


I used interfacing on the collar portions to add a bit of stiffness, which should help when beading it later on.


Then the pieces were sewn together.


I turned the side edges over and added two pieces of boning, spaced a half inch apart on each side. These provide support for the eyelets. I also stitched a half inch away from the edge at the top and bottom of the garment, these serve as a guideline for where to turn the edge over.


The edges got turned over and stitched down by hand.


Then I cut out the lining – the lining was cut as two pieces instead of four, since I had plenty of fabric to make it all one piece.


Before sewing in the lining I added a some lace (like a lot of the lace i’ve used recently, it was from my grandmothers stash) around the neckline.Then the lining got stitched in, also by hand.


And I did up the side seams with eyelets!


At this point I decided to try it on. And that’s when I realized things weren’t going as well as I thought. The ease of my final, interfaced fabrics was much different than the cotton I used for the mock up. And I feel really super extra dumb that this happened because one of my new years resolutions was to be more careful about the fit.

It was too small at the sides, but the biggest problem was the straps being an inch too short and the neckline not being wide enough. The kirtles in the mid 1500s would often rest so far on the shoulders they almost look like they are going to fall off! (Seen here)

I didn’t want mine to be that dramatic…but the proportions of this bodice were definitely too far off to be salvageable. I would have had to add extra material at the center front and at the shoulders. There is no way to make that look good.

So despite my hours of pattern drafting and hand sewing I threw the bodice away.

I tried to get a photo first, but it was impossible to even get it on properly.

Photo on 2-3-15 at 10.35 AM #2

So that brings me to bodice attempt number two! The key changes here are that I made the neckline almost an inch wider and added more space to the side seams.

To fix my strap troubles I cut them as part of the front bodice panel and added an extra half inch in the center of them. To make sure they would still be long enough (even if the fabric becomes stiffer with the lace and beading added) I left a one and a half inch seam allowance at the back. That better be enough!

On top of that I was also pleasantly surprised to find after cutting the kirtle skirt I had enough material leftover to cut the entire kirtle bodice from silk! Unfortunately the front and back panels aren’t cut on the same grain line, but it’s better than having it from two separate fabrics.

Here is the first try on – they were actually too big! I ended up stitching a quarter inch seam up the center back and took them in a quarter inch on the sides, so the whole bodice became over an inch smaller.

Photo on 2-3-15 at 10.33 AM

When all the alterations were done I stitched boning into the side edges, and stitched a half inch away from the boning to create a guideline for my eyelets. I did a really poor job stitching these, so it’s a good thing they will get ripped out later!

I also turned all the edges over by a half inch.


I sewed lace around the neckline and recut the lining. It got stitched in the same way it was on the first bodice. I left the bottom edge of the lining open so the skirt can be attached later on.


That’s it for this post! This bodice is far from finished. It will eventually have elaborate beading at the neckline, but i’ll save that for another post.

Thanks for reading!

Making a pair of Bodies

My first “The making of” post for this year! I think it has been over a month since I’ve done one of these, which is crazy! I have quite a few things in progress right now, and two dresses i’ve completed, but I thought I would start with I finished yesterday: A pair of bodies.

As I mentioned in my last two posts, i’m going to be making a tudor ensemble! It will consist of a chemise, a pair of bodies, a hip roll, a farthingale, kirtle, sleeves, and a dress. I decided to start with the pair of bodies first, then built up and under from them.

“Bodies” were the 16th century equivalent of stays or corsets. A stiff foundation garment to give your body support and to create a conical shape, which was all the rage in the mid 1500s.

My pair of bodies isn’t meant to be seen, which is good because visually it didn’t turn out very well!! Like most of my attempts at foundation garments, it was a not complete success. But they fit, and are functional, which is more than I can say for some of my creations!

The pattern i’m using is from Norah Waugh’s “Corsets and Crinolines”. This pattern is labeled as being from the early 1600s, but i’ve seen very similar ones used for recreations from the mid 1500s, so i’ve decided to use it for just that!


For materials I decided to use a hand embroidered linen napkin. I was given this a while ago and it was either embroidered by my grandmother or great grandmother many years ago. It is very pretty but stained and a little worse for wear, so I decided to repurpose it!

I’m using yellow thread for the boning channels, plastic boning, a canvas base, and green broadcloth for lining and bias tape.


I copied the pattern from the book, then altered it a lot. I let it out almost two inches, changed the straps a bit, and made it longer in the waist. The tabs had to be adjusted as well.

Eventually my pattern looked like this!


I cut everything out from the canvas first.


Then drew out all the boning channels with pen. I also marked out where padding would go in the bust.


I used the canvas as a base to cut out the top material. I tried to get this as symmetrical as possible – I thought I did an okay job, but it was almost a half inch off, boo.


I stitched all the boning channels and ended up with this mess! You can’t backstitch with these things so all the threads have to be tied off and buried by hand.


The fabric puckered really badly but it (luckily) ironed out with a bit of water.


Unfortunately without me realizing the top layer of fabric slipped, and the pattern slid up half an inch on one side. Which makes the pattern difference almost one inch, since I cut them unevenly as well. It is my own fault for not checking the front of the garment between stitching, but still, i’m annoyed!

Here one side has the threads buried – can you tell which one I didn’t iron?


Here all the pieces are just before adding boning! I was pretty pleased with how it was coming along, despite the embroidery not really lining up…


Then disaster struck. I was using a purple sharpie to mark the boning lengths and a little spot got onto the front of the fabric. I, oh so cleverly, jumped into action and dabbed at it with alcohol which faded the mark completely! Unfortunately the alcohol lifted all the pen ink I used to mark the boning channels. Within minutes my tiny sharpie mark had turned into this…


I scrubbed at it with dish soap and a toothbrush. I tried a bleach pen too, and it just made things wore. This was really frustrating, even though this garment won’t be seen I was trying hard to make it look pretty.

On the bright side, this has taught me a valuable lesson: Never use ink on a garment again. I don’t wash my dresses since they don’t get much wear, and it honestly never occurred to me that detergent or alcohol or potentially even water would lift the ink and damage something beyond repair.

I tend to use pen since I don’t  mind permanent markings on the interior of things and it doesn’t tug at fabric the way chalk and pencils do. But after this is experience i’m going back to wax/chalk pencils because I don’t want this to EVER happen again!

For salvaging the garment, I attempted to put patches over the mark, but the patches had raised edges which could create bumps and make the dress worn over it look a little lumpy. Which I definitely didn’t want.


I tried patching it with muslin, but the ink stain showed through, and I couldn’t patch it with the linen because it frays too much. I ended up using a scrap of cotton sateen, trimmed the edges with pinking shears, and fused it over the spot. A few people suggested I dye the whole garment blue, or to add a patch on the other side, but both of those things felt wrong to me. I don’t think a mistake should effect your entire project, so I covered it and moved on!

I made bias tape from green broadcloth and stitched it on by hand.


Before attaching the bias tape to the top layer, I padded the bust with some quilt batting.


Then added the bias tape.


I cut out the pattern from green cotton and assembled it. This is the lining.


I sewed on the tabs and then pinned the lining in place.


And whip stitched that in place.


Then it was time for eyelets! I haven’t sewn a bunch of eyelets in a while, and after trying to do fifteen in a single evening my fingers were not happy with me. It took a few days, but I got them all done!





It definitely isn’t the prettiest thing i’ve ever made, but it is functional, and when it comes to foundation garments that is the most important thing!

Here is how it looks worn.

(Without a chemise, because I haven’t made one yet)


Now I just have to make the understructure for the skirt, the chemise, kirtle, sleeves, dress and headpiece. Yikes. It is kind of scary to think that this was one of the easiest pieces of the set and gave me so many problems! Hopefully I ran into all my problems on this piece, and everything else will be easy.

Thanks for reading!