modern shift/chemise

one of my recent hand sewing projects was a modern version of a women’s chemise or shift. shifts or chemises were a kind of undergarment worn by women probably since the middle ages or even earlier. they ususally were made from linen, hand sewn (of course) and the piece of clothing that was worn directly on the skin. it was the piece of clothing that could be washed easily, much easier than all the layers worn over a chemise, like stays, petticoats, bedgowns/shortgowns, aprons, etc.

construction-wise they were ususally quite simple, often made from triangles and rectangles of fabric. i own a hand sewn chemise that was made sometime in the 1920ies, which i had bought because of the many parts that had been mended. i don’t know how this piece came to be in the 1920ies, as women’s underwear had already changed by then and chemises fell out of fashion. this is an image (taken by johanna of la grosse toile who i bought this piece from) of my chemise, meant to be used in workshops to showcase mending techniques through the ages:

because i meant to use it as a demonstration piece, i never actually had tried it on or worn it. recently though, i tried it on and found out it did not only fit really well, it was also really comfortable. i was out of a sewing project at that time and my fingers were badly in need of something to sew, so i though why not make the female counterpart to my modern regency shirt; a chemise made from a modern fabric to be worn as a comfortable summer dress.

i roughly took the pattern from the historic chemise and also followed most of the original construction. just like in the orginal, all seams are felled. the things i changed are the neck drawstring tunnel (the original has a tape sewn on on the wrong side as drawstring tunnel) – i hemmed the neck opening and used the hem as drawstring tunnel with a line of top stitching added for more stability – plus i added pockets.

this was really a quick and easy sewing project, especially as no translation from a machine sewing pattern to hand sewing was needed. two triangular pieces for the chemise, plus the sleeves, two pockets (i copied the rough shape off of pockets of another skirt), done. i used merchant & mills hand woven ikat fabric.

now really all i need are some warm days, so i can finally wear this dress.

modern regency shirt dress

my latest hand sewing project was a shirt dress made the way men’s shirts were made around the 1800s. i wanted to use the same construction with a modern fabric to make an everyday wearable garment.

the original plan was to make this shirt dress from linen, but as i didn’t have a fitting weight of vintage linen at home, instead of buying new fabric, i searched for something else instead. i found a set of vintage cotton bed linens, most likely weaved in austria, that looked like it could work and i could imagine myself wearing it.

what intrigued me about the shirt construction is that these shirts are made entirely out of square pieces of fabric. this means that there are no or almost no off-cuts, so no fabric waste is left. nowadays we would call this zero waste, but not so long ago, fabric was so valuable and expensive, people would natrually construct their clothes in a way to not waste any of the fabric. this was no fashion trend or anything, it was just sensible.

the way these shirts were made also meant they would adapt their fit quite easily for differently shaped bodies. they were not exactly one size, but a body was definitely allowed to change its shape and the garment would still fit.

and they were incredibly sturdy, so a shirt could take a lot of wear and still be intact or mendable. the parts that take the most strain are strengthened in various ways.

all in all, a very clever and sensible approach to making clothing, even though today’s fashion industry wants us to believe differently.

i shared most of the steps of how to make a shirt like this over at instagram in a highlight: -> regency shirt

oh, and a bee came to visit when we were taking photos:

it’s a really comfortable piece to wear, either with jeans or leggins/tights, or once it’s warmer simply as dress. i might make another one at some point, now that i have an idea about the general construction. also, if anyone has questions and wants to make their own, i’m always happy to answer questions and support to the best of my abilities.

the whole piece is entirely hand stitched.

all photos by @orcoyoyo