UFO turned Italian chemise stop-gap

Finished camica. Photo taken after event so I look a bit ragged, hence the blurred face!

Finished camicia. Photo taken after event so I look a bit ragged, hence the blurred face!

For my Italian Renaissance costume (and, luckily in a case of excellent timing, the first challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly (prev. Fortnightly) for 2015) I needed a camicia – a chemise/shift/smock – the layer closest to the body which protects the “nice” clothes from body oils & sweat, as well protects the skin from irritations from those “nice” clothes. When the gowns are hand-beaded and covered in real metals for trim… tossing them in the laundry isn’t really much of an option!

Unfortunately, I started a bit late working on the project to have it in time for when I really wanted it. I wanted to finish (at least part way) the bodice of my underdress (Gamurra) before cutting the camicia, in order to get the right kind of neckline. I REALLY wanted to have just that slight bit of camicia showing at the top of the neckline, rather than seeing loads of white fabric under my red gown. This meant that I hemmed and hawed for a while about what I wanted to make my camicia out of. In my stash I already had:

  • Cotton batiste – fine cotton is a historically accurate option for this garment, but with so many layers, I was hoping for a fiber that would be a bit more comfortable in terms of heat.
  • Linen – I already had some white linen in my stash, which is the fiber content I had in mind, but this yardage is probably about 4 oz/yard – much heavier than I’d like. I was concerned it wouldn’t “poof” out of the sleeves the way I had in mind.

My other options were to order fabric. I chose between:

  • Fabric-store.com’s linen gauze – at 2.8 oz/yard I thought it would be lovely, but there were some really strong opinions for and against using it, and since I’d never seen yardage in person, I was a bit nervous about pinning my plans on something that some people were so strongly against.
  • Fabric-store.com’s handkerchief-weight linen – at 3.5 oz/yard I thought might actually be too heavy. I had ordered some colour swatches to see which one I’d like best, but was waiting a realllly long time for them. (Along with some other swatches…)

Finally I relented, and decided to order the handkerchief-weight linen in Optic White. However while waiting for it to arrive, I was getting really nervous about my looming deadline and I decided to look at my unfinished projects (aka a “UFO”) – one of which was a generic chemise I had never finished.

Raglan sleeve pattern for a camicia from the kostym.cz website.

I had originally started this chemise using lightweight cotton batiste, using the raglan sleeve pattern layout like that one from the kostym.cz website. However I opted to band the neckline with a flat band, and gathered the fabric into the band – and when I put it on, the fit of the sleeves was just so ~wrong~. I couldn’t stand it, so I had never finished it.

Jen Thompson’s camicia pattern

For my camicia, I ended up taking most of it apart – keeping a few of the serged seams – and went for construction more like Jen Thompson’s pattern layout. (But not exactly, since I was working with what I had rather than cutting it from yardage.) I trimmed down the sleeves from the original in length and width (after putting my fancy sleeves on over top and finding there was way too much material in the camicia for a comfortable fit) and did a narrow hem on both. I left the serged edge on the hem, since this will never, ever be seen… and I wanted to put my energies to other parts of the costume instead for the time being. Even as I was making it, I considered this camicia to be a stop-gap… a temporary measure so I could have ~something~, in case I didn’t get the shipment of linen in time to make something.

A bit of embellishment

Even though this was just a ‘first draft’ of my camicia, I wanted to embellish it just a bit -but simply, without spending TOO much time on it.

A few samples and variations for embellishments.

A few samples and variations for embellishments.

From left to right, I :

  • couched red pearl cotton to the edge of a narrow hem
  • couched red pearl cotton to the edge of a narrow hem, and then gathered the fabric with a stitching line just below the edge
  • used a black thread to roll a narrow hem on the white fabric
  • used red thread in the spool, and white thread in the bobbin to do a narrow rolled hem on the white fabric

I decided I far preferred the couching, and so machine-couched embroidery cord to the sleeves (blackwork was popular in Florence in the late 15th Century, and this is nothing like that, but at least the colours are right!), as well as at the neckline. I couched wide over another cord for a neckline which created a gathered neckline, though even as I was doing it, I was unsure about this. Again… temporary measure.


For the neckline I sewed with white thread – I far preferred sewing with black thread as I did on the sleeves however.


 Historical Sew Monthly (prev. Fortnightly)

black thread couching on sleeve edge

black thread couching on sleeve edge

The Challenge: January – Foundations: make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.

Fabric: 100% cotton batiste

Pattern: Roughly from Jen Thompson’s pattern

Year: 1480s (good for several different time periods and locations however)

Notions: thread, DMC pearl cotton #5 in black

How historically accurate is it? There are several different styles of camicia speculated from artwork and the minimal extant examples from other parts of the world. I suspect the pattern is pretty accurate, the fabric content is accurate, the embellishment content is wrong,  but the construction and embellishment method is totally inaccurate.

Hours to complete: I don’t recall how long it took me to start this project. When I decided to take it apart and re-use it, it probably took me another 4-6 hours in bits and pieces.

First worn: Montengarde 12th Night & Investiture

Total cost: No real cost as everything was already on hand. The batiste was probably anywhere from 6-12$/meter, and there’s about 3 meters I’m guessing. The floss was a few dollars, though I only used a few meters of that too.

One comment on “UFO turned Italian chemise stop-gap

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.