Thursday, June 30, 2011

Regency Shift/Chemise pattern

“ladies used to wear shifts; they now are called chemises: shoes are turned into sandals, stays are corsets, a girdle is a zone, a band for the head is a diadem, a gown is a robe,” quote by Althea Fanshawe  in 1806

 Well I made my pattern and I made a mock up and now it is ready to share with you!
First off this is not a pattern fro the Historical Accuracy snobs. If you want complete historical accuracy, go buy a pattern from one of the well known pattern companies.

This pattern is one that I personally developed based heavily off of Museum of Fine Arts Boston 99.664.51 and by looking at the instructions in The Ladies Economical Assistant (1808) by Kannik's Korner and The Workwoman's Guide (1838-40) and many other shifts and period diagrams for shifts.

This pattern is multi-sized, but has not been tested for all sizes. Read more bellow

First off the chart
You want to use white linen or cotton. Linen was apparently used more in period, but cotton was also used. Cotton can be found for less than the cost of linen today. Yardage given are the minimun, if you buy this amount at the fabric store you may find that it shrinks too much, so buy a little over. (You are likely to be making more than just on shift though, many of you will also be making a shirt or apron or cap, not to mention lining the bodice of a dress. White cotton or linen is useful!)

Prewash your fabric to shrink it. Wash and dry on the hottest setting you would ever wash it on, then next time do it on a cooler setting. Remember the dryer is the hardest on our clothes, line drying is easier on the clothes, the pocketbook and the environment.

Straighten your fabric. for instructions on this, see here.

First step is to make a template for the neckline
According to the size you are making, draw a rectangle the length of the width of the neckline and the width of the depth of the front neckline. So If you are making the size B you would draw a rectangle 9” by 6 ½”. Round the corners using a circle of about 3” diameter (look in your pantry for canned food!) and round off the bottom corners.
Cut your template out. Now this is the template for the front neck. To use it for the back neck fold over 2  ½” from the top. If you are making several different sizes, be sure to mark your pattern pieces with their size!

Now cut two widths for the body length.
Period cutting method. This will leave you with extra square bits of cloth, rather than triangles. (Squares may be more useful) will require more seams.
Sew them together along one selvage. using a seam that is just inside the neat selvage, this will vary depending on fabrics from 1/8" to 3/8" you can leave the seam as is or fold it over and fell it.
Now make one inch in from one selvage. On the bottom, mark the width of the gore plus one inch. This is the gore that will get sewn on to the other side.
Cut out the front body by marking the width at shoulders and hem.
Cut out the back body by marking the width at shoulders, cut straight from there. Attach the gore with a flat felled seam. The pieces of the selvages should wind up on the back. I have seen period shifts with seams that do not match, it’s okay. But if it bugs you, use the modern cutting method as long as your fabric is wide enough for the hem in your size.
Cut out the neck.
You now have a strip of left over fabric from which to cut your sleeves and gussets, use your fabric to the best use!

If instead you wish to cut your pattern in a more modern way, you can have a fold at the shoulder. in this case, your body length will be doubled that given in the chart minus 1" and your shoulder width will be about 1/4" wider at the center. This will leave you with some triangle shaped pieces, but you won't have a seam at random in the back section.

Another option, if your size and fabric width allow it, si to cut the back as a rectangle and the two gores on either side of the front. for this to work, your fabric must be at least 2" wider than the width of hem in your size.

Okay now that we have covered just a few of the cutting options. (Oh yes there are more, for example if the width of your fabric is longer than the body length you can cut it out that way too! which is actually what I did with mine.)

Sewing directions based on the first cutting option

We will use the Flat Felled seam exclusively for all construction except the hem, cuff and neckline.
First step is to sew the gore on to the body back Sew at the ½” seam allowance just as you normally would.
Then trim the seam on the BODY side to half the width and fold over the gore to the body and flat fell it.
Next is the shoulder seams. I like to fell them towards the back.

Now put away the body and let’s work on the sleeves.
First we sew the gusset to one narrow side of the sleeve.

Then to the other.

Next is the remainder of the sleeve seam.
Now we start the felling process. First we trim one side of the sleeve seam allowance all the way off, the other side we only trim it at the gusset. On the side that is not trimmed, it needs to be sniped at the gusset point to the stitching line.

Fold over the sleeve seam and fell that first.

Then fold over the gusset and fell that. The point of the gusset should be right on the original stitching line. You will have to ease it a bit at the point.

I like to mirror my sleeve felling direction, but it isn’t a big issue so don’t worry about it if they are going the same direction.
Next is the hem of the sleeve. If you want to have a drawstring in the cuff, like Met 2009.300.392, work two eyelets by hand in the top of the sleeve, so you can thread a drawstring through the sleeve after the hem has been made.
Hem your sleeve by turning up ¼” then folding it over again ¼”
The gusset as seen from the outside

Now that we have our sleeves made it is time to put them into the body. Lay the sleeves on a table and then lay the body, folded on the shoulder line (original seam, not the felled line) 1” bellow the fold of the sleeve.
Pin together at the gusset.

Measure the distance between the shoulder seam and the gusset, pin at the halfway point.
This is the section of the sleeve that will get gathered in. Put pins in both sides of the sleeve and the body, for alignment.
Run two gathering stitches at ¼” and ¾” from the cut edge on the sleeve between these pins. Pin the sleeve, right sides together into the body. Pin at the center of the sleeve/shoulder seam too. Pull up the gatherings stitches.

Now sew the sleeves in from gusset point, all around and back to the gusset point. Do not remove gathering stitches just yet.
Then sew the side body seam.
Now it is time to fell this side. Trim the body all around the sleeve and gusset and down one side.
Fell the side seam first, then the sleeve portion. Be careful over the gathered section.
This is the same process as we did for inserting the gusset into the sleeve. But since the sleeve is closed no I suggest you fold the gusset over then start stitching just before the point of the gusset and go all the way around the arm.

Next is the hem, which is rather easy, so I probably don't need to explain it.

Last is the neckline. Unless you plan on only wearing high-necked gowns I suggest to wait on this last step until you have your stays/corset finished, possibly your gown mostly finished as well. You do not want the neckline of your shift/chemise to be seen from under the gown neckline.

You will need to make two small eyelets at the center front neckline for the drawstring before you finish the neckline. I like to do the neckline by hand as I feel I have better control doing the narrow hem over the curves.

And there you have it! An easy regency undergarment you can make in a day. It also makes a lovely nightgown for the summer when made in linen!


  1. Thank you for sharing this. I'm not sure how much historical authenticity snobs would have to snipe about this, since you based it on period resources. The concept of making economical use of the fabric was period. It would be very easy to adjust the pattern slightly so that the gores were cut separately if desired.

  2. This post was reposted by Bras Blog - (They stole one of mine, so I decideed to go through and look at what else they might have stolen.) You might want to tell them to take it down!

  3. Thank you for sharing, I've made one based on your pattern and turns out great!