Making a chemise using a free 1897 pattern from the Voice of Fashion
There are many free late 19th-century fashion magazines available online and I love to browse them for ideas. A few weeks ago I stumbled on this Winter 1897 Voice of Fashion magazine with a pretty chemise pattern. The chemise has a bit unusual shape with puffed sleeves, so I wanted to try making it. Of course, no instructions were given, so figuring out how the pattern went together wasn’t easy!
Above is everything the magazine gave me. There was one error in the scale pattern. One of the measurements give didn’t really make sense, so I had to use my imagination. (I don’t remember which of the numbers it was but it will be obvious as it changes the look of the pattern piece in question.) As the pattern pieces are laid out a bit weird way, here are some explanatory images.
Interpreting the chemise pattern
The front yoke looks like this when turned the right way around. I marked the centre front and the grainline in red:
The back is already in the right direction but the sleeves gave me a headache. Finally, I think I did the puffed sleeve wrong but here is how I think I should have done it:
So, the straight edge goes to the shoulder. The triangular part at the bottom forms the armpit gusset that allows for movement. I marked with arrows the important alignment points: the point where the yoke ends matches with the corner on the sleeve pattern. On the opposite side of the sleeve the second arrow marks the spot where the side seam ends and the armhole opening begins. The gathered edges are marked with a dashed line.
The only bit that I couldn’t really figure out was the sleeve band. I didn’t want to have an extra seam at the top of the arm but that part of the pattern was curving slightly. I straightened it out and cut it on the fold where the red dashed line is in the picture above. Then, the pattern was way wider than the sleeve band in the example picture. It would make sense to fold it along the green dashed line to the inside of the sleeve and stitch it in place. However, if this was the idea, why isn’t the sleeve band symmetric along the green axis? If you understand what was the original idea, please comment below! I finally pretended that the piece had a four-way symmetry and just sewed it on that way and it worked.
After drawing the pattern on a pattern paper, I cut it out and pinned it on my dressform to check the fit. It was fairly close but I did take a little out from the centre front and the back and change the shoulder slope a bit.
I decided to use an old white bedsheet as a fabric as it was close to the fabric that was originally used for chemises and free, as I got it from a friend. Unfortunately, I couldn’t use the lace on the sheet as it was too short for the hem. I cut all the pieces on the fold. The original pattern seems to have buttons at the centre front but the chemise doesn’t need them as it is loose enough to slide in without any opening.
The project gave me a good chance to practice sewing with my new (old) Singer 15 treadle that I have been restoring. It still needs some work but I can already use it for sewing. I didn’t pursue historical accuracy, though, and finished the seams mostly with my serger/overlocker.
To finish the neckline and the hem, I added some lace.
The finished 1897 chemise
Here is how the chemise turned out.
I find the narrow armholes a bit weird. The gusset add quite a bit fabric fabric that bunches into the armpit. However, I think it is meant to be this way as it does allow a large range of movement and protects the outer garments from sweat.
The front of the skirt has a bit too much fabric that bunches up at the bottom of the yoke. I think that it would be a good idea to lower the upper edge of the skirt about an inch at the centre front. Not that it matters so much as the whole chemise is invisible under the outer garments.
Here is the chemise from the back:
I think it looks super cute!
One other thing that I’d change is to add a bit more room for my shoulders. I already changed the shoulder slope a bit but obviously not enough. Besides my shoulders reach into the puffed sleeve and those too should be made slightly bigger.
Here is how the chemise worn with a corset from the same time period:
Anyway, this was an interesting project and made a cute little chemise. In fact, if made out of patterned cotton and worn with a belt, this would make a perfect summer dress!
Thank you for reading and see you soon! Happy sewing!
I made this pattern spring 2020. You’re the only other person I’ve found who’s made it. I had a lot of problems figuring out how the sleeves went too, but as it was the very first pattern I’ve ever worked with I thought it was just me!! I ended up making many of the same changes that you did- including widening the back yoke. I still don’t like how the fabric bunches up under the arms, but also thought it would make a cute summer dress. I still haven’t hemmed mine yet as I want to try putting a few rows of pin tucks at the bottom.
I now believe that for the sleeve cuff the seam was supposed to be at the top to reduce bulk underarm. Apparently it is something that Victorians did. Still, I don’t think it really matters the way the sleeve bunches at the armpit. Perhaps it was meant to absorb sweat and this protect the outer garments. Good for jumping into sewing with a pattern like this! I would have given up very quickly had I not had my sewing experience!