Friday, January 5, 2018

A Cotton Voile Camicia for Hot Weather

I have a lot of mobility and other health issues which can make dressing in late-period attire harder than it has to be. Putting on gowns with attached or pre-tied sleeves can be a real drama for me, especially if my camicia is particularly full. Recently, I had a challenging event coming up, and I had lent a friend my narrow sleeve camicia, so I was in a bit of a bind.

I raided my stash for some very fine voile (it was going to be hot, and heat tends to affect me very badly. Wise heads out there are probably wondering at this point why I haven't changed my persona to early period Roman.....) Luckily, I had some voile, and I cut it into the usual rectangles and triangles patterns  which I have explored earlier on the blog.

Image result for broider me bethan + chemise
The rough chemise pattern that I follow

Image from: .html

This cutting technique is accurate for many garments over hundreds of years (with some variations on size of pieces and gathering and finishing techniques.) It probably remained popular because it is simple and wastes almost no fabric, which would be ideal when fabric was hugely expensive and/or laboriously handwoven.

Because my hands are bad at the moment, I machine sewed the majority of the seams, leaving small gaps where the gores meet that I could neatly hand finish. This was to make sure the edges met up properly and the stitching was neat. I would have liked to turn all the seam edges under and whip them down for durability, but I did not have enough time, so that will be an ongoing project. I used selvages as edges where I could, and used a zigzag machine stitch on any raw edges for strength in the mean-time. Of course, in the sixteenth century, a fine linen such as handkerchief weight linen would probably have been used for this type of undergarment, but budget and availability make that option impossible for me at the moment, so cotton has to do.

I put some gathering stitches in around the neckline (basically just long running stitches done with durable thread) and gathered the neckline up, trying it on to adjust the width. At this point I measured the length band I thought I would need to keep the neckline at the desired width. I planned to use bias tape to finish the neck edge.

Once I started working on the neck edge, I realised that I didn't have enough wide bias tape (called 'hem bias tape' here). I didn't have time to make my own and wasn't well enough to go out and buy a packet, so I made do with what I had. I had the remnants of an old cotton quilt cover that I bought from a thrift store and used to make a nice soft round necked smock early in 2017. I cut a long strip four times the width that I needed. I ironed it in half and then tucked the raw edges up into the centre fold and ironed again. This gave me a nice soft but firm band.

I also decided that I didn't like the way the gathers looked, so I pulled them out and changed to small pleats. I divided the neckline edge into four even sections and then just pinned and adjusted the pleats by eye so that the neckline looked (reasonably!) even, and was the desired size.

Next I sewed the front edge of the neckband on with tiny whip stitches. Once the band was on (and I had tried it on to make sure the size was correct,) I ran a line of green embroidery floss along the edge in running stitch.) No-one will see the edge, but I liked the look of the tiny bit of decoration. It also makes it easier to find the correct camicia or smock when you are looking through a pile of underpinnings. I left the sleeve edges undecorated because the fabric is very fine and the stitches and knots would show through if I rolled up my sleeves.

Once the decoration was done, I finished of the reverse side of the neck edge, whipping it down with tiny hand stitches again and being careful not to let them show through on the front edge.

I found that when I wore the camicia, the neckband feel forward a little. This is due to the band not being cut on the bias and the two differing weights of fabrics. It is still wearable, and doesn't do it quite as much once I have a pair or bodies/stays on over the top. Next time I would probably but some little tucks on the inside of the band to hold it in more if the band was not cut on the bias.

Over the next weeks (realistically, probably months), I will continue sewing down the seams on the inside for durability. I have worn it twice in hot weather and I am glad I went to the trouble of trying the voile. I will certainly make more in this fabric. They probably won't last for years because it is a delicate fabric, but it is worth the time for a bit of heat relief. Heat relief is a prime concern at this time of year - where I am is predicted to hit 43 degrees Celsius tomorrow.

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