16th c. Under Layers: A Couple of Supportive Underdresses and an Unterhemd (err Camicia or Chemise?)

Right after I added the shirt, testing the fit.

As I mentioned in my Blue and Burgundy Wool Gown article, I made another underdress with less footprint than my brown underdress. I made this in January 2023. I captured much of the technique and info about how I created it in the Blue 16th c. Southern German Gown article. 

To create this under-gown, I patterned it using the brown underdress. I used mid-weight linen leftovers I had sitting around(IL019 5.3 oz per sq. yard) for the bodice and a lighter weight for the skirt. I had some 4-ish oz per sq. yard shirt weight left over from another project. I traced the bodice of the brown gown onto the paper. Then I laid out the paper pattern, used a pen to make a new arm scythe opening and shoulder strap, reduced the width, and lowered the chest. I went with a seam down the back due to the size of the linen scraps I had on hand. I used three layers of linen for the bodice so it would be firm enough to provide some shape. I used a sewing machine on the straight seams and hand-stitched everything else. I went with spiral-spaced hand-sewn eyelets, which worked out well.

It was a ton of eyelets…

I love this underdress; it fits wonderfully! The Burgundy and blue dress looks great with it, and it works as an excellent bottom layer. One oops-sy, I used some yellow tracing wax paper and a pounce wheel and stained the fabric. There are some slight yellow dot lines here or there. Make sure to scroll down to see the black one!

Cutting out the layers of the bodice.
All finished, I’m really happy with the fit.
The back has a bit of an angle, it really helps to keep the shoulder straps up.

I have several high-neck shirts (halshemden) but did not have a functional low-cut smock to wear as a cool base layer. This style has many names depending on the 16th-century geographic region of interest: Germany – unterhemd, Italy – Camicia, England – Chemise; different names but similar in construction. I’ve been thinking about switching to partlets to make some fancy collars instead of whole shirts, so I plan to make several of these.

Linen rectangles and squares all cut out and ready to sew.

I had some gauze linen (IL030 2.8 oz per square yard) on hand; it was already pre-washed and air dried. So, I steam-ironed it and got started with the rectangles. I have made a lot of shirts and smocks, and I knew what measurements I wanted to work with to achieve a close enough fit, leaving a lot of room. There is no pattern per se, I figured out the measurements and cut.

For the sleeve rectangle, for the width, I went with the circumference of the largest part of my arm plus 4 inches. I went with my arm length from the shoulder to the wrist plus 2 inches for the lengths. For the body rectangle, I went with the broadest measurement of my body, divided it, and then added 2 inches. I went with the length measurement from just above my chest to the knee. It gets in the way if it is too long, and it is hard to adjust if it is too short. For the gusset squares, I went smaller than I do for the high neck shirts, just 3 by 3 inches. I then cut a long strip 2 inches wide for the neckband. I just measured along the fabric and pulled the threads at the desired measurement; for the width of the garment, I’d pull a weft thread and cut along the line, and for the length, I pulled the warp threads, I just cut along the line created as I pull. This is the best way to go when cutting shirts with the rectangle pattern; they come out nice and straight, and the seams and hem are always perfect.

The 3 inch seam at the top of the sleeve where it meets the body.

I start by sewing the very top of the sleeve rectangle to the body rectangle. I machine stitched about 3 inches down, leaving the rest for the gore to finish out into the armpit. I then set the gore in the articulation of front and back body/arm seam, after finish out the gore, sew the sleeve and side seams of the body. I left about a 10 inch side slit on each side.

The gore set with the machine.

I then flat-felled all the seams. I cut one of seam allowances shorter than the other, then wrap the longer seam allowance around it. Then I pressed it down using a “bone folder” tool to press a nice crease. I also double-folded and creased a 1/4-inch hem on all the unfinished edges of the arm, body, and slit. I then stitched ( I use a stitch I call a hem stitch, but I have also seen it called a fell stitch) it all down using waxed linen thread. If you haven’t sewn with linen hand-sewing thread and beeswax, I highly recommend it. It makes a huge difference. Also nice needles like Bohin make a big difference.

I call a hem stitch, but I have also seen it called a fell stitch.
I’m very happy with the hems, they look nice and crisp.
The flat felled seams of the gore.
All hemmed and flat felled, ready for the collar band.
Pleated top sewn into the pressed collar band.

Next, I ran a large basting stitch around the collar’s raw edge about 1/2 inch below the raw edge. I used one continuous thread around and pulled the thread to create pleats. I then tried it on and adjusted the thread tighter until I was happy with the size of the neck opening. I measured the circumference and used this to get the neckband ready. I think it was like 20″ inches; I wanted to leave enough room that the shirt dipped below the outer garment if needed or I could pull it up if worn solo. I cut the band, allowing a little overlap to close the seam, and double-folded it like double-folded bias tape, then pressed it. Then, I sandwiched the pleated neck into the band and stitched it together. When I was done with the neckband, I decided to add some backstitch embroidery in the form of a simple outline stitch in black.

Fun little outline stitch embroidery around the collar band.
All finished!

I’m thrilled with the way the unterhemd turned out. It was a fun, quick project, and there were a couple of events I went to that were too hot, so I opted to run around in my undergarments, which was perfect for that.

I love the fit.
The back looks pretty good too!

Sandwiching the inner layer to the outer, I call this a fell stitch, but I’ve herd it called other things.

I liked the white one so much I wanted a black one. A side experiment was also to test eyelets in the supportive underdress to attach a brustfleck down the road. I constructed it very similarly to the white; however, I went longer with the bodice as I plan to use this under a longer-waisted gown I’m working on. Ultimately, I made a mistake; I used linen mixed with rayon. The end product, although very pretty and functional, is too hot; it traps that heat like suranwrap. Not a good idea for an under layer. I don’t have black linen scrap lying around like I do white, so I went to my local box store on a whim, as this was an impulse project. When it cools off, maybe it will be viable.

Trying on with the unterhemd, I’m happy with the fit.
Testing the bodice before I put on the skirt, this is a bit longer in the waist than usual.
I quickly pleated the top of the skirt with some shallow knife pleats.
Skirt is attached and the 500 million eyelets sewn.

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