Basic chemise / shift for a doll

I haven’t been entirely idle the last few months — I’ve started stitching together the units for my second Penrose tile quilt, and I’ve been doing dressmaking for dolls.

Basic chemise
Basic chemise

I started making an English gown for Marie-Grace and decided that I ought to make her a chemise to go under it. Since I was watching DVDs in the evenings I also decided that I would make it by hand. I haven’t sorted out my new printer yet so I wasn’t able to print out a pattern but I figured I could use her measurements and do a basic shift, which is a T-shape with added gores and small square gussets under the arms. You can see the general idea here.

Oh, how wrong I was. I mean, I finished it, but there were so many mis-steps along the way, it’s ridiculous. First and foremost: the fabric I chose was cheesecloth as it’s the thinnest and softest fabric I have. I wasn’t prepared for the stretchiness — it moves. A lot. Pins shifted very easily so most of the seams and hems were basted before I stitched them, hence it took about four times longer than I had anticipated.

I drew the pattern on parchment (which I use for all my patterns) and cut it out with scissors rather than a rotary cutter. Then I discarded the pattern and drew the rectangle directly on fabric instead. I also cut a couple more small rectangles to extend the sleeves but ended up not using them. I cut the gores and pinned them to the sides. The underarm gusset squares were cut from the neckhole and set aside.

I stitched the shoulder seams using a fine backstitch and then overcast them. That and the final hem are about the only things that were done right without any incidents.

I stitched the gores along one side and overcast them. When I went to press them and stitch the side seams together I found I’d stitched the gores to the wrong side of the fabric. I unpicked them and after looking at the shreds that remained I figured I could live without the gores if I trimmed the side seams to have a shallower angle.

I next went to stitch the gussets in place but couldn’t find them (I still can’t). Oh well, I told myself, she’s a doll, she isn’t going to be swinging her arms a lot. I stitched the side seams in place, adding a short angled portion at the underarm. I over cast the seam, snipping the corner under the arm (this also went well).

I was going to use polycotton bias around the neck but it was too much of a contrast so I went with a one-inch strip of cheesecloth doubled over instead. I stitched a small buttonhole for the ribbons and then attached it to the shift … the wrong side of the shift. The trouble with backstitch is that it’s a pain to unpick, especially when you’re using a fine silk thread. Still, I got it undone eventually and re-stitched it to the correct side. Given that it’s now six thicknesses of cheesecloth, it’s understandably a bit thicker than I wanted.

Sleeve trim
Sleeve trim

I turned over the sleeve hem once and covered it with lace trim on the wrong side, using backstitch. The stitching didn’t show much on the right side but that’s because of the coarse weave of the cheesecloth — I don’t think I could get away with it on voile or lawn, but I’ll experiment.

Hemming the bottom was tedious but uneventful. It has scalloped a little but not enough to bother me.

I bought some 3mm white ribbon and threaded it through the buttonhole and around the casing using a very small safety pin — I would never have managed with a bodkin. The pin caught in one of the shoulder seams but I was able to wiggle it through eventually. The ribbon is a bit stiff for this scale, though, and I should have taken the effort to make a cord from cotton floss.

The end result is … well, it’s acceptable, I guess, and I’m sure it’s adequate for a poor person, but it’s not a chemise that a gentlewoman would wear. I would still have used it underneath the English gown but as it turned out I couldn’t get the bodice sleeves over it so it wasn’t used in the final ensemble.

If I make another chemise I’ll try and find a very fine lawn or batiste (I do have voile but even that is a little too thick). I’ll also try using a fine lace strip as both casing and trim around the neckline in order to reduce bulk.

Lessons learned:
1. Cheesecloth isn’t really appropriate for clothing at any scale.
2. If you have small pattern pieces, put them in a bag or container so you don’t lose them.
3. Make sure you attach pieces to the correct side of the fabric. If in doubt, baste and check before backstitching and overcasting (why do I still have to remind myself of this after fifty years of sewing?).
4. Stitch down any seams that will be inside a casing.
5. Use cotton embroidery floss (plaited or twisted) as cording rather than ribbon.