The finished Regency chemisette worn over a petticoat and stays
Costume,  Historical Costuming

I made a … Hand Embroidered a Frilly Regency Chemisette

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The next part of my #RelaxedRegency outfit is complete. This Regency chemisette is based on one in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1 and is part of my 1820s Little Dorrit costume.

I had already made all the basic undergarments for the project which you can read about here. But I want this decorative collar to be more of a focal point for this outfit.  

Chemisette Video:

The Fabric:

Cotton fabrics can be so confusing because depending on where you are in the world, and what time period you’re looking at, they all have different names. Janet Arnold described this chemisette as being made of cambric, which I know as chambray. That’s quite a heavy fabric for a garment as lightweight as a chemisette so surely that can’t be right? 

Thankfully, you can look at the original garment that Arnold used for her pattern on the National Trust online collection:

As you can see, the chemisette is actually sheer, which chambray/cambric is definitely not. So in the end I decided to use a muslin. That is muslin by its UK definition, as in as close to the traditional muslin fabric of Bangladesh as we can get in the post-colonial era. Here’s a link to a smiliar fabric to the one I ended up using:*

The Chemisette Pattern:

I scaled up the pattern from the book and being an unfitted garment I didn’t need to alter the size of the pattern at all. There were only four pieces, front, back, collar and frill. If you’re new to these gridded patterns I highly recommend starting with one of the chemisette patterns for practice before tackling one of the more complicated ones.

The front cover of Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 1

As always with Janet Arnold the pattern left a little to be desired. The balance, or truing, of the pattern wasn’t great and there was some information missing about how and where the collar attached to the body of the chemisette. The edge of the frill is attached to the neck of the chemisette itself on the original, but I didn’t realise this until it was too late. Oh well.

The Embroidery Pattern:

I knew I wanted to include motifs inspired by Little Dorrit as this costume was part of the Foundations Revealed competition. The theme this year was Once Upon a Time and the costumes had to be inspired by a character from a book. I had already decided to make this 1820s outfit so I had to retrofit it to the theme and so this became a Little Dorrit Costume.

Little Dorrit is about the financial ups and downs of the Dorrit family. The family starts out in debtor’s prison but then comes into some money, only to lose it all again and end up back in the prison. For my embroidery I included motifs to reflect this. I used a chain stitch in a scallop motif to represent the ups and downs of the Dorrit family’s fortunes and alternating manacles and pound signs to represent their alternating wealth and imprisonment. I practiced some open work embroidery with these big locks, again to symbolise the prison. 

A series of scrolling embroidery designs taken from a Regency era needlework book
The Regency designs from 1824 that inspired my own design. Source:

I used a variety of embroidery stitches to create the motifs. The manacles were made using bullion knots and french knots for the chains and the pound signs were worked in back stitch. All the other parts of the design were worked in satin stitch which was really difficult to tension correctly on this very delicate muslin. 

A close up of the chemisette showing the embroidery

The Construction

I sewed the chemisette entirely by hand using historically accurate hand stitches. I relied heavily on the fantastic tutorials from Burnley and Trowbridge on YouTube which you can find here

Next, I joined the seams at the shoulder with a mantua makers seam. Then I hemmed all the edges of the chemisette with a rolled hem. This actually turned out to be a mistake as the centre front edge should have had a wider hem. You can see this on the original.

The edge of the frill should have had an embroidered edge but I did a sample of this and the weight of the embroidery thread just made the muslin fray. So I just pinked the frill and coated the edges in fray check. 

Close up of the frill around the back neck of the collar


The frill was attached to the embroidered collar with whip gathers, again I followed the tutorial from Burnley and Trowbridge. 

Then in a moment of madness I actually sewed the collar onto the body of the chemisette wrong side out. The shoulder seam allowances and hems are on the outside of the garment not the inside. D’oh. You can just about see the hem on the left hand side of the photo is showing on the outside.

I decided against unpicking it as the muslin was so delicate I would ruin the collar I had spent hours embroidering.

The Finished Chemisette

The chemisette worn over the finished costume

The finished chemisette

In the end I’m really pleased with my finished chemisette, in spite of my mistakes. I think it gives a wonderfully frilly, delicate feel to this outfit. I especially love the way it looks with the purple of the finished dress poking through. But more on that another time!


Claude x