Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Challenge: "Procrastination" Infant Chemises

The hardest thing about the january challenge was firstly, picking WHICH procrastinated project to do, and second, finding time to do it around all the other backed up sewing that is not historical in nature. I ended up deciding to do these infant chemises partially because I new they wouldn't take forever, and partially because the handwork is something I can do while lieing down with a head cold over the weekend.

I always wanted to make pretty infant things for a baby. When Ladybug was born I was so overwhelmed by being a new parent I did almost no sewing. Then the two boys came and somehow it just never happened. Then Kitten was on the way, and I was determined to make her at least a few pretty things. I started researching last fall, and promptly got sucked down a rabbit hole. I eventually came across Cassels Household Guide which gave illustrated instructions for sewing a babies layette. I was immediately hooked. How fascinating to try and follow period instructions to sew the garments! Then I was so sick at the end of my pregnancy that I did almost literally nothing.

Now with Christmas past and Kitten two months old, I am finally getting ahead of the mundane things like knitting mittens and hats and mending pants, enough to do sewing that's not entirely immediately neccesary.

Cassels household guide comes in the origninal version, dated 1869, and in a revised updated version, which I couldn't find a date for, although it is referenced as circa 1880. The updated version has slightly different, and less specific instructions for sewing an infants chemise, so I decided to go with the earlier version, which was more specific about construction.

 This is the starting point. You take a piece of fine cotton 28 inches wide, measure out from the center 6 1/2 inches in both dirctions, mark, and fold on the marks. Then you carefully measure and mark two slanted lines, and cut them, and cut down the folds for the armholes. the triangular bits are run and felled across the top for the sleeves, and then the "flaps" and sleeves are very finely hemmed, running a small gusset or buttonhole stitching where the flaps meet the sleeve, and then the bottom is hemmed...... Anyone else confused about the "flaps?"

 Thank goodness I was able to find this extant piece from the wisconson historical society, which was dated for the correct period and made in the same way. It appears that the flaps were just left to hang forward and back while the chemise wraps around the child.
 I made up the first one out of cotton batiste. The household guide calls for cotton lawn. This is very close, and I already had it on hand. I carefully turned a small hem all around the neckline, and whipstitched it down, buttonhole stitching between the flaps and the sleeves. I also had to run a hem at the edges of the closure, since i couldn't cut the garment selvedge to selvedge like the original was, as my fabric is more than 28 inches wide. When I tried it on kitten, it worked amazingly well, except I was unhappy with how bulky the small turned hems seemed.

 A little online sluething turned up a better way to hand roll a very tiny hem. You iron down about an eight of an inch, then run a fine ladder stitch over it, and draw it tight. The result is a very beautiful delicate edging with almost invisible stitching. Beautiful, and no more work than turning and whipstitching. I did the whole second chemise like this.
 Finished Chemises, from the front. The bottom one is the first I made, I covered my awkward hem with narrow cotton lace trim from my stash of vintage trims. Very similar to the trim on the extant garment. I made the second chemise with sleeves, sleeves were included both in the extant garment, and in the instructions in the revised household guide. They are contrived with a self gusset, and then french seamed in very finely. The second chemise is trimmed around the neck with a very simple tatted lace edging. Also from my vintage stash. Everything on these little shirts was sewn by hand. The household guide advises that although many people feel that sewing for babies should be done by hand exclusively, modern sewing machines make so fine a stitch that the results are equally nice. Honestly though, for these little chemises, all the work is in the hemming, and even with a rolled hem foot that would be almost impossible on the machine.

the little garments finished from the back. There is no fastening, but since they are intended to be worn under a flannel, which ties about the body, they need none, since the flannel should hold them in place. It's a clever design. soft against the babies skin, and keeping the flannel clear of body oils where it's worn snugly, but so short as to be clear of the diaper area, and therefore unlikely to need changing partway through the day!

I am curious about the construction with the hanging flaps though. It seems that it would have been equally easy to cut them off and just hem the neckline square. I've been trying to think of some practical reason for leaving them, but for the moment have come up with nothing.

I will likely make a few more little chemises, either in this pattern or copying another historical garment. The household guide reccomends that an infant have at least six, and that seems like a very reasonable number even to this modern mama.
gratitous baby photo. It's hard to get an accurately representative
picture of this wiggly little thing!

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