Hyde Hall Planning: 1830s Chemises

The chemise is the first thing you put on, so it's the first garment I'll be discussing.

As in other eras, the chemise was used as an underlayer to soak up the wearer's oils and sweat and protect the rest of the clothing. Throughout history, they have tended to be pretty shapeless, but there are typically various features that reflect contemporary fashion. In this period, that typically means higher and wider necklines, and short but full sleeves.


This period marks the early years of the Industrial Revolution, and the transition from linen to cotton as the basic utility fabric. Linen required a significant investment of time for processing (you have to let the harvested plant sit around in water for weeks to rot the stems and loosen the fibers), while cotton could be cleaned, carded, and spun pretty much immediately, which is part of the reason for this transition.

Both linen and cotton were used for undergarments at this time. The Workwoman's Guide, first published in 1838, says that: "Shifts are generally made of fine Irish linen or calico for the upper classes, and of stout linen or strong but soft calico for poor children." ("Shift" was also still in common use, with "chemise" making the transition from refined to neutral, marked to unmarked.) You can therefore use whichever you prefer/can afford. Generally, you sew with a linen thread if you are using linen, and cotton thread if you're using cotton.

I would not recommend using polyester or a poly blend. They will make you very hot and trap your sweat against your body instead of soaking it in. Even cheap Sew Essentials muslin is a better choice.

Pattern (feel free to pin this on Pinterest!)

(1 square = 1 inch; no seam allowances or hems included)

In cutting out this pattern, you want four yoke pieces (or, if you want, you can put the center back seam on a fold and just cut out two), two sleeves, two body pieces, and two godets.

Cut the slit in the top of one of the body pieces, which is now your front. Hem the sides of the slit narrowly. Sew the sides of the body from the bottom up to the marks.

If you cut out four yoke halves, sew two pairs together at the center back seam. In either case, set them together, right side to right side, and sew around the curved neckline edge and down the front edges. Leave wrong side out.

Sew the sleeve seam for about two inches from the bottom, so that there is a 5" opening left. Set one corner of the godet into the opening and sew each side coming from that corner to each side of the opening. (This is ... very hard to explain in words. I plan to make a YouTube video soon exploring my copy of this chemise and it should help, for anyone who hasn't made an eighteenth-century-style shift before.) Fell the seam to protect the raw edges.

Gather the top edge of the sleeve as sewn. Then set the sleeve and godet into the body above the mark, and sew them in. Fell the side seams.

Run gathering stitches along the top edges of the body, in front and in back. Place the right side of one layer of the yoke to the right side of the body, lining up the hemmed slit with the sewn front edges of the yoke, the side labeled "sleeve head" with the top of the sleeve, and the center back seam with the center back of the back body. Pull the gathering stitches so that the body pieces fit the yoke, and sew the body and sleeve to that one yoke layer (which is now the outer layer).

Turn the yoke right side out and press. Turn up the bottom of the other yoke layer (the inner layer) by whatever seam allowance you used on the outer one and press or pin. Whipstitch that layer to the inside of the body and sleeve.

Congratulations, you're practically done! Hem the edges of the sleeves and the bottom of the body. Put a box pleat into the bottom of the sleeve where shown, and whip it down on the edge of the hem. Sew a buttonhole on one side of the yoke where shown, through all layers, and then sew a button on the other side.

You're done! Enjoy your chemise!


  1. Thank you for sharing this pattern! I am trying to wrap my head around the sleeve godet thing - they way I understand it, the godet is like an underarm gusset, so you set it into the armscye to sit more or less under your armpit, is that correct? I think the reason I’m confused is the word “godet.” I guess I’ve only seen that used (as a relative newbie seamstress) to mean the piece of fabric that makes a skirt flare out at the bottom. So I initially thought it was to make the sleeve flare out.

    Like many creative people, I’m quite visually oriented, so I think a very simple little sketch (perhaps less laborious than making a video!) would help me a lot.

    1. Sorry for the confusion! I was taught that gore = a trapezoidal piece as used in a flared skirt, gusset = an insert sewn on two opposite sides and free on the other two (as in underwear), and godet = an insert sewn on all four sides. If you've ever made an 18th century shift, this is the same process. The square is used to allow more movement to the arm. Carolyn Dowdell has a great post on shift construction here that may help: https://brocadegoddess.wordpress.com/linen-shift/

  2. I'm trying this pattern now and I think that the sleeve pattern must be wrong. In your video you say you think you gathered it too much but even if you don't gather it at all, there is no way it's big enough to fit the rest of the pieces and/or a human shoulder. I think it should probably be about double the long dimension.

    1. I think her pattern is correct. The godet adds to it and I can get my arm through as is perfectly well.


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