Sunday, 11 January 2009

A Chemise for the Austrian Dresses - initial planning

The calf length Austrian dresses have revealed a deficiency in my wardrobe - all my chemises have hems that are well above the ankle, but the style requires a floor length chemise. So it's time to make a new chemise.

First I guess I need to analyse the style. Browsing through my posts on Germanic dress, and particularly Austrian dress, and looked at what was visible of the garment below the dress.
All were white or other pale colours likely to be meant to represent undyed or bleached linen. This could be a layer between the chemise (body layer) and the dress, but to me this seems superfluous - chemises were generally linen because this could be washed and bleached more often, with the chemise absorbing sweat and thus protecting the more expensive dress - why would an intermediate layer recreate these characteristics of the chemise? It could be a fashion that evolved out of visible chemises, making them more elaborate mock chemises, and adding areal chemise underneath, but I'm going to use Occam's razor and assume the visible layer is just a chemise.

So the chemise is visible in two places only - the hemline and the sleeves. The sleeves that are visible are quite tight to the forearm, ending at the wrist. Some are smooth, some wrinkled, and a few have a band of trim at the wrist. The hemlines are floor length or just a whisker above, and fall in many folds. No decoration is visible on the hem of the chemise.

My construction plans

This doesn't give many clues to go by, but if we assume that chemises followed the general lines of other garments of the day, particularly albs (which are a kind of clerical undergarment), then we have a couple of cuts that could be used. There is the version with a square body and gussets or there is the body that is slanted to allow sleeves to make self gussets. I choose the earlier version as I'm more accustomed to it.

Sleeves in this model are a long tube from the end of the gusset down. I'll fit the end to the forearm as I have done for earlier versions. I think I may make a modest wrinkle in the sleeves. A long wrinkly sleeve like on my old court chemise can be a little awkward to get in and out of, but I'd like to have a little wrinkling. So perhaps 1m long - halfway between an unwrinkled sleeve and the extent of wrinkles on my previous court chemise. Initially I'll leave the cuff untrimmed, but I may add trim later, especially to reinforce the stress point of the cuff - but I don't want to delay making the chemise to wait for appropriate trim to be made/acquired.

Several albs use methods of pleating in side gores into the body of the garment which creates sudden flaring at the hip. I think this will probably be needed to create enough fullness of the skirts to create the required number of folds. A couple of these albs use a technique called Italian shirring (I am told) to pleat gores into side seams. this creates a lovely pattern with the very small pleats, which should sit fairly flat. "The art of manipulating fabric" says that Italian shirring (shirred Italian smocking) shirring encourages the fabric to fall in very full folds - which is precisely the look I wish to achieve - the skirts on these Austrian chemises are actually quite tight to the body when you look closely, and the closer the chemise sits, the less fabric I require to make lots of folds. I would like to use Italian shirring to pleat in my gores if i have time to do so. I'm still not sure exactly what shape gores that are Italian shirred should be, but I plan to experiment and find out. I'm guessing a trapezoid.

If the side gores don't provide enough folds in the front, then I will add some front gores as well.

Here's how I envision it looking:

And a cutting plan for that:
I'm not yet sure what hte top width of the trapezoid should be - I need to try some test pleating.

Materials and seams
From what material should the garment be made? That's an easy answer - linen. That's what overwhelmingly all the high class undergarments are made of. I've got some mystery fabric that I think is linen, and I've had such trouble finding assured linen cheap that I'm desperate enough to use the "probably linen" fabric.

Thread? Again linen, for the same reasons, as well as practical one - wool is too weak and will snap, and silk too strong and will often snap the threads in the linen fabric (no the same does not apply to embroidery, where the fabric isn't under stress). I've some lace making thread, in 60/2 size, which has done nicely on previous chemises, and will do nicely on this one.

Finally seams. There is one technique which is used very commonly on linen textiles in the medieval period - the run and fell seam. It is much more common than other techniques, and for good reason - it is tough, easy, requires a smaller seam allowance, and is quick to sew by hand. Why would I want to use anything else?

So I guess it's time to wash and cut some fabric!

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