1750 Underpinnings

Gabriela in chemise, stays and petticoat
1750 Underpinnings modelled by Gabriela 1 (America Girl)
Note: I didn’t see the scratches on her face until I was working on the photos. I have some fine sandpaper so I’ll buff them out.
Also, my apologies for being a day late — I was catlapped by Verya and by the time she left me I was too tired to complete all the editing.

T&A 1750 Underpinnings
For this outfit I used 18th Century Underpinnings by Thimbles and Acorns. The chemise in Swiss batiste cotton was described in the previous post. For the stays I adjusted the boning channels (see below). The petticoat was quilted and made with one tie at the back rather than two at the sides. For the panniers I lengthened the top of the hooped section in an attempt to make them a little more vertical at the hip.

Fabric & notions:
Stays: a very old quilting print backed with cream cotton drill for the stays — the print is anachronistic but this was my first try at stays so I didn’t want to use “good” fabric. For the boning I cut up a clamshell pack that originally housed a crochet hook (waste not want not!), which allowed me to cut 1/8″ bones. I used purchased cotton bias binding for the edging on the stays, and crimson ribbon for the shoulder ties and the lacing.

Petticoat: the same cotton print, white flannelette filling, white cotton muslin for the backing and six white metal eyes for lacing.

Panniers: white polyester cotton with polyester bias binding for the hoop channels. I used ¼” strips of clamshell plastic for the hoops.
Gabriela in chemise
Gabriela is wearing the batiste chemise that I described in the last post. The white ticket around her leg is my new way of labelling the dolls (since the pinned cards were always getting lost).


Petticoat front
I used the same cotton print for the skirt as I used for the stays — still a little anachronistic but it looks fine from a distance. I cut the fabric 25″ long for a 2:1 reduction at the waist.

The “batting” is a single layer of white cotton flannelette and the lining is cotton muslin. The flannelette stopped at 1½” inches from the waist seam line and then the lining was folded over the top and felled down with an invisible stitch — I needn’t have bothered with that bit, actually, as the fabric is held down by the quilting. At the bottom edge, the flannelette stopped at the seam line and I trimmed the muslin to the same point. The hem was a double turned quarter inch that was basted into place to protect the raw edges while quilting.
Petticoat quilting
The design at the hem (four parallel rows and a single chain) was done by hand in backstitch over four nights and then the diamond pattern was stitched by machine because I didn’t want to spend a whole month on it. Unfortunately I was marking the lines quite late one evening while watching a DVD so I made a couple of mistakes, which you can see quite clearly on the reverse (blue arrows). This meant that I didn’t have one long uninterrupted line of stitching but several shorter lines, so more ends to knot and bury. I also made one mistake while stitching and went down to the second parallel line instead of turning at the first (red arrow). Luckily the print is busy enough that the errors aren’t visible from the outside.

I worked two rows of gathering stitches along the top, just above and below the stitching line. Unfortunately I used white polyester thread which meant that I wasn’t able to see the stitches to make them parallel, so the gathers aren’t particularly neat. On the other hand, I was able to leave both rows of stitching in place rather than removing them and they don’t show.

I cut the waistband 2½” wide so that it could be worn under the stays without revealing the chemise underneath and also so that it could be placed lower on the hips if it’s being used as an underskirt. Before pinning the gathers to the waistband I double-turned the seam allowance at the centre-back opening (which I had cut at 1/2″ precisely for this reason) and felled it down.
Stitching the petticoat waistband
Rather than stitching a standard seam (which would require stitching twice to catch all the folds, as I have had to do in the past) I used a Victorian technique as shown by various costume YouTubers — I pressed both the outside and inside seam allowances down on the waistband and applied them over the gathers, making sure to catch every fold.
Verya helping me make the petticoat
Just for a change, this is a photo of Verya “helping” me attach the waistband (it’s usually Vanima but she’s down by my ankles — you can catch a glimpse of her at top right).

Once the first (outside) seam was done I added a 3/4″ strip of cotton batting so that there wouldn’t be a sudden difference in thickness above the seam allowances, stitched the ends closed and then secured the inside of the waistband to the inside gathers. I found that even though there was a 1½” distance between the waistband and the batting, the stiffness of the quilted portion made it very difficult to pin, baste and stitch at the waist. There are four rows of stitches along the waistband (done by machine) to hold the batting in place.
Petticoat back
I didn’t enclose a tape but attached metal eyes along the edges for lacing (again, a little anachronistic but I didn’t think that I could stitch neat eyelets through batting).

Since I had already finished the edges I wasn’t able to sew the back seam in the usual way. Instead I whip-stitched the seam closed and opened it out gently once finished. You can barely see the stitches from the right side even with magnification and I didn’t bother to take a photo. Once that was done I undid the basting around the hem and fell-stitched it in place.

Stays front
Stays flat
Stays inside view
The first step (stitching the bottom hem) was done by hand but then I switched to machine for the rest of it as the cotton drill was a little stiff and my hands were hurting.
Stays revised boning channels
One thing that struck me as I was tracing the stays pattern was that the channels on the back piece of the pattern don’t make sense — there isn’t enough room for the 1/4″ bone to pass under the armscye, even allowing for the fact that there is no top seam. Also, on checking the photos in the pattern, the boning in the garment does not match the boning in the pattern. Having already made up my mind to use 1/8″ bones instead of 1/4″, I re-drew the channels, using an HB pencil. The centre front remained the same (3/8″ channel for a 1/4″ strip) but all the other channels were redrafted to 1/4″ for a 1/8″ strip. These channels ended up being a little large but trying to mark and/or cut 3/16″ was way too much hassle.
Stays front inside
Stays front strap inside
To reduce bulk along the top edge I used a Hong Kong finish (also anachronistic) — the bias was pressed open, turned over the edge, stitched down from the front and then trimmed. I’m sorry about the photo quality – I was trying to use the macro function and it never turns out well, but at least you can see the stitching.
Stays front strap
Stitching around the rounded ends of the shoulder straps was extremely difficult but I was pleased to see that it doesn’t look too bad from the outside. And yes, that is a very pretty eyelet, if I do say so myself.

Finishing the stays was delayed for a couple of weeks while I tried to find my eyelet punch, but eventually I gave in and stitched them by hand using a tailor’s awl to make the holes (I ended up buying a new punch once the lockdown was over and then found the original behind a chair).
Stays lacing
I started off by using 3 mm crimson satin ribbon for the lacing. All the ends were wrapped with polyester thread and then sealed with fabric glue to prevent fraying. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough length and when I went to get more I couldn’t find where I’d put it, so the stays are laced in white for now. I also made a small mistake in the lacing which I didn’t pick up until I was cropping the photo, but I’m not re-doing it.

For my first attempt I used homespun (because it was cheap and I had plenty of it) and commercial quarter-inch boning but it was a disaster — the homespun was too loose and the boning too stiff.
Gabriela panniers
For the second attempt I used polycotton (65% polyester. 35% cotton) from Lincraft. I stay-stitched along all the seam lines by machine and finished the seam allowances before stitching the channels and seams. I also used 1/4″ strips of clamshell plastic instead of commercial boning and I stitched the seams between the channels on the second side before inserting the bones.
Panniers 1
Panniers 2
The bones hold the shape when not under any pressure, but I’m not sure that they will hold up a skirt. The waist channel proved to be too small for 6 mm cotton tape so I used 3 mm white satin ribbon instead — it’s the same as the ribbon at the neck of the chemise so it doesn’t look out of place.

Stays look pretty good. They aren’t meant to compress as tightly as the 19th century corset, but I was able to pull Gabriela’s torso in a little — about half an inch. I’m not sure how the eyelets will stand up to that sort of tension, though.

Petticoat. The petticoat fits well but is very stiff (and could almost double for a French farthingale). The quilting is hard to see (I had to use a strong sidelight) but at least there is no visible stitch line around the top of the batting.

Panniers. The panniers sit a little bit higher on the hips than I expected, especially since I had added a little length to the upright portion, but a lot of that is the underskirt. I’m not sure how well they will stand up to any sort of load as the clamshell plastic is very soft, but I think I can get around that if I stuff them with Polyfil.

Lessons Learned:
1. Cotton drill is too thick to stitch by hand.
2. Commercial cotton bias binding is too coarse for a visible edging (the polycotton bias is much better but also much harder to stitch through).
3. Boning is extremely stiff and difficult to manage at this scale, while clamshell plastic is good at this scale for non-force-bearing curves but not if any force has to be exerted.
4. Quilted petticoats should be cut a maximum of 1.5 x waist circumference.
5. Flannelette is a bit stiff for quilting an underskirt, but I think it will be very good for stiffening or quilting around a hem.

Notes for future versions:
1. Try a thin wool batting for a quilted petticoat – although technically thicker, it compresses well and will drape more easily.
2. Use a densely woven bias strip for the trim of the stays. I may even sacrifice some poplin and make my own, since I use a lot of white bias binding.
3. Use boning/zip ties for stays and clamshell plastic (perhaps doubled) for panniers.
4. Cut the panniers with a half-inch seam to allow a double-turned edge finish in the upper part.
5. Stay-stitch all the seams before putting anything together. It might also be useful to darn the areas at the ends of the boning channels to reduce the chance of the boning poking through.
6. Reinforce the seams at the bottom of the upright portion as this will be under a lot of tension once the boning is in.

Three Chemises

Three chemises
Chemises modelled by Australian Girl Matilda, American Girl Samantha and Our Generation Sage.

This was originally going to be part of the 1750 underpinnings post but when I ended up making three versions I decided they needed their own post. The stays, petticoat and panniers will be posted tomorrow.

T&A 1750 Underpinnings
For this outfit I used 18th Century Underpinnings by Thimbles and Acorns. The chemises were made without significant alterations to the pattern but I did make some changes to the way the garments were constructed.

Fabric & notions:
Version 1: cotton voile
Version 2: Swiss cotton batiste, rayon lace
Version 3: cotton muslin, rayon lace.

All stitching was by hand, using 100 wt silk thread for the seams and some of the seam finishes. Single strand white embroidery floss and 50 wt coton à broder were also used for some seam finishes.
Voile, muslin and batiste, showing transparency
As you can see, there is some difference in fabric transparency: from the top they are the voile, the muslin and the batiste (1, 3 and 2 below).

Version 1: voile
Voile chemise, modelled by Matilda (Australian Girl)
Voile chemise, inside view
Construction was fairly simple as the body was one piece with a shaped neck facing. All the sewing was by hand, which went fairly quickly, but I definitely need more practice sewing buttonholes. I made pleats rather than gathers to reduce the sleeve fullness at the wrists but forgot to add pleats to the shoulder edges so the sleeve opening is much larger than it ought to be. This was a lucky mistake as Matilda’s hands are a bit larger than Samantha’s and Sage’s and she only just fit through the cuffs. Edges were overcast with cotton floss. I used 6 mm cotton tape for the drawstring at the neck.

Version 2: batiste
Batiste chemise modelled by Samantha (American Girl)
Square gussets
Batiste chemise, inside view
Because I only had 50 cm of the batiste I split the pattern into a front and a back and added shoulder seams. I also cut 1½” square gussets instead of the larger half-square triangles (the squares looked more authentic but were a lot harder to sew). Instead of overcasting I decided to trim one seam allowance to 1/8″ and fold the other over it, but the fabric frayed and some parts around the gussets and top of the sleeves were very difficult.
Lace buttonhole

For the neckline and cuffs I used some soft rayon lace and sewed it over the single-turned 1/4″ edge which both protected the raw edge and formed a casing. This worked very well and I’ll used this technique again for future chemises. And yes, you can sew a buttonhole in lace — I put some PVA glue outside the buttonhole outline, went three rounds with a running stitch, cut the opening and then went three times around with blanket stitch. I threaded 3 mm ribbon through the neckline and two lengths of hat elastic at the cuffs (not authentic but I didn’t want ties at the wrists).

I didn’t enjoy hand sewing with this nearly as much as I expected to. The fibres are very fine but the weave is relatively loose (which I guess I should have anticipated from the transparency). It was quite slippery, requiring careful pinning, and it frayed very quickly. I also found that the 1/4″ seam allowance was too small to allow trimming and turning a fell seam comfortably — in some places only two or three threads remained intact.

Version 3: muslin
Muslin chemise modelled by Sage (Our Generation)
Musline chemise seam finishes
Muslin chemise, inside view
I wanted to see if was possible to finish all the edges before sewing the seams but I didn’t have enough batiste so I used muslin for the third version. I traced new versions of the patterns and trimmed them to the sewing line, then added 3/8″ seam allowances when cutting, except for the neck opening and facing, the bottom ends of the sleeves and the cuffs, all of which had the usual 1/4″ (you can see some of the marking around the neck facing as I made a mistake and had to draw the seamlines twice – it will wash out). The hem was pinned up first and then the shoulder seams were turned and stitched. After that, all remaining seams apart from the neckline, sleeve bottoms and cuffs were double turned and secured with a running stitch in white coton à broder.
Muslin gussets detail
I whip-stitched the seams which went a lot faster than I had anticipated, but the gussets proved difficult — I had cut them as triangles, as the pattern dictated, but the small size and acute angles made it very difficult to achieve a consistent finished size while covering the corners — you can see how blocky and awkward they look in the detail picture. The lower ends of the sleeves were pleated and then the cuffs were attached with a fell stitch on both sides, which I have found is more accurate than a normal seam. For the hem I turned up 1/4″ to the outside and covered it with rayon lace — the lace is more open than I usually use for this technique and I should have double-turned the hem first, but so far there aren’t any loose threads protruding. For the drawstring I used 6 mm cotton tape again but whipstitched it so that it became a long narrow tube. I think it looks a little more in scale than leaving it at 6 mm.

After some consideration I decided that the best fabric for this pattern was the muslin. The batiste is the lightest and most transparent, but was very slippery and difficult to handle. The voile was the “heaviest” and most opaque but was acceptable for 18th century and will be ideal for more robust 14th-17th century shifts. The muslin is only slightly less translucent than the batiste and was much easier to handle — and since it’s also less than a quarter the cost of the batiste I think this will be my fabric of choice for any future 18th-19th century chemise. I definitely liked the little bit of extra definition at the neck when I used lace for the casing (in the batiste chemise), so that will be something I continue to use.

The easiest construction method was to follow the pattern directions and finish the seams after sewing (duh!); however this led to much fraying in both voile and batiste versions. Finishing the seams immediately after cutting and before sewing seams reduced the fraying and was generally successful except at the gussets, where it was difficult to achieve the correct shape and dimensions. I have three possible solutions for this issue:
1. Revert back to square gussets;
2. Retain the triangle gussets but don’t worry about protruding corners on the long sides until after the side seams have been stitched; or
3. Delete the gussets entirely, since the sleeve opening is large enough without them and dolls are rarely posed with their arms above their heads.
Whichever method I use, I will have to reduce the “gathering” on the sleeve as the armscye beyond the gussets is a little tight on the batiste and muslin versions.

As for fit, the chemise pattern is designed to be very loose, and although I’ve had problems with fitting American Girl patterns to Australian Girl dolls in the past, Chemise V1 fitted Matilda quite well (the sleeves are a little shorter but not so much that it looks awkward).

Incidentally, I like the combination of finished seams + whip stitch so much that I have since used it on two human garments (which will be posted in due course).