A swiss waist

Way back in July 2012, when I got excited about swiss waists and what makes a swiss waist different from an underbust corset, I actually started making a swiss waist.

It even got worn by a model, not quite done, over my chemise a la reine, for a talk at a steampunk convention (ah Steampunk, such a great cover for a multitude of un-historicisms!)

And then I got really, really busy, and the swiss waist got shoved to the bottom of the PHD (as in, project half done, not the indefinitely postponed degree I may one day pursue…) pile.

With the HSF Terminology challenge coming up, I remembered my swiss waist, and that all it really needed to be finished was two more hand-worked eyelets.



Well….you know me. Here is my swiss waist. The front, with lacing: Reproduction swiss waist thedreamstress.com And the unlaced back: Reproduction swiss waist thedreamstress.com My main inspiration was this swiss waist.  I really liked the uber-curvy swoops of the silhouette.  I wasn’t so keen on the shoulder straps though, so skipped them, because there are enough swiss waists with shoulder straps that are clearly not part of the integral cut that I figured I could always add them later.  Halfway through, I decided I didn’t like the pleated trim on the inspiration, so I left that off as well.

In the end, I ended up with a fairly simple swiss waist:

Reproduction swiss waist thedreamstress.com

Reproduction swiss waist thedreamstress.com
And in the end, it’s just not right.

I mean, it’s a proper swiss waist: hand done eyelets, almost no outside stitching, turnings instead of bindings.

Reproduction swiss waist thedreamstress.com

But the shape?  Just not doing it for me.

Reproduction swiss waist thedreamstress.com

The back point is definitely too long, and the swoops just don’t look right.  I suspect skipping the sleeve straps wasn’t the best idea.

Reproduction swiss waist thedreamstress.com

Who knows though, I might like it a LOT more over an actual 1860s blouse and skirt.  Which I don’t really have (at least not of the type I’d want to put a swiss waist over).  So for now, I’m going to call it done.  And when I do have a blouse and skirt and can see what it actually looks like, then I’ll re-assess.  And maybe I’ll add straps and ruffles and do some re-shaping.  Or just make another one ;-)

The Challenge: #16 Terminology

Fabric: 1/2 of a recycled obi worth of black silk satin ($5 for the whole obi)), 1/2ish metre of cotton support fabric.

Pattern: My own

Year: 1860-65

Notions: cotton thread, plastic boning.

How historically accurate is it?: About 90%.  The materials are about as close as you could get today (plastic boning included), and all the techniques match those on period swiss waists.  The interior finishing isn’t quite right, and the overall look isn’t quite making it.

Hours to complete: Probably about 7, but I don’t remember anymore.

First worn: Unfinished, by a model who wasn’t quite the right size for it, in October 2012.  Finished, not yet, and not for a while.

Total cost: Under $5.

And (of course), most importantly:
Does Felicity approve?  She wants to sleep on it.  I don’t want her to sleep on it.  She’s grumpy.

A simple Regency chemise

One of my goals for the Historical Sew Fortnightly, both 2013 & 2014, has been to expand my Regency wardrobe.

So far, progress has been slow.  I’ve made mitts, and my 1813 Kashmiri dress is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but my wrap corset a la paresseus is a disappointment on.

But look, now I finally have a proper chemise, so I can stop wearing my 1880s ones under my Regency dresses!

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com

(and I just feel the URGENT need to point out here that I’m wearing a bra, camisole, knickers, tap pants, and a slip under the chemise, so any weird shadows in the photo are JUST weird shadows!)

It’s entirely hand sewn, in a lightweight (not quite handkerchief weight) linen I picked up at Fabric-a-Brac for $5.

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com

The chemise is classic fabric-saving geometric construction: one rectangle for the body, little rectangles for the sleeves, the extra fabric cut into long triangles to add width to the chemise, and square gussets under the arms to help with movement.

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com

All the seams are flat felled, to reinforce them and hide any raw edges.  There is something so wonderfully satisfying about hand sewing flat felled seams on nice linen!

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com

I’ve been working on this for months, just as my bit of handsewing when there was nothing else on, but the vast majority of it got finished on a midwinter trip down to Nelson to visit my in-laws, where I sewed between rounds of scrabble and jenga.

I also got to sew somewhere quite exciting that used to be my most productive sewing place, but is now impossible except on tiny planes between obscure destinations (and even then I make sure to have my threads pre-cut, pack my scissors in my stowed luggage, and to use a needle I am willing to relinquish if the flight attendant isn’t sure it’s allowed).

Sewing a regency chemise, thedreamstress.com

To figure out the neckline, I put the chemise under the 1813 Kashmiri dress and copied out the neckline: low and square in front, dipped and round in back.

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com

The chemise was finished well in time for the Under $10 challenge, and I got some quick documentary shots of it on Isabelle to post in the challenge album, but I just haven’t had the time to get photographs of me in it (and also, it’s been cold, and wearing only a chemise as outerwear when it is cold isn’t much fun).

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com


This weekend I sucked it up and put on the chemise, and my corset a la paresseus, and a new pair of Under $10 stockings, and posed in the bedroom.

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com

Unfortunately the wrap corset isn’t improving with time (sometimes I find I like initially disappointing projects much better the second or third wear), either in comfort, or in how it supports my bust.  C’est la vie.  Someone else will just have to wear it for me.

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com


It’s still a really interesting garment, and at least I am very happy with the new chemise.

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com


It fits just as I want it to, front and back, and the new (as in, not usually seen in earlier 18th century chemises) drawstring neckline provides just the right amount of snugging in.  I hadn’t originally intended to use a drawstring neckline, as there are plenty of examples of Regency chemises without them, but it was just a wee bit too open without it.

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com

The Challenge: Under $10

Fabric: 1.5m of lightweight linen (found at at fabric fair for $5, and I’ve got a 30cm or so of it left)

Pattern: None, based on period examples

Year: 1795-1825

Notions: linen thread, cotton tape

How historically accurate is it?: 95.99% – almost as close as you could get with a modern recreation. Excepting the bias drawstring binding, the materials are virtually indistinguishable in fibre, weave, hand etc, the pattern is period, and the construction techniques all match those seen on period examples.

Hours to complete: Lots. Maybe 8? I’m a slow hand sewer, and worked on this while doing other things.

First worn: For the photoshoot

Total cost: $5 (about US$3.5)

And most importantly…

Does Felicity Approve?:

I think we can give this a wholehearted yes:

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com

Linen Regency chemise thedreamstress.com

Rate the Dress: Plaid for outdoor pursuits in the 1890s

Last week I showed you an 1860s ballgown in very large scale pale green plaid.  Your opinions ranged from wholehearted approval, to feeling that the proportions between the plaid and the trim were just a little bit off, to one lonely unenthusiastic meh.  While most of you did like it and felt it evoked lovely images of Little Women, Balmoral and Gone with the Wind, there was something about the dress that kept many voters from fully committing to a round number: I’ve never had such a swathe of score.5 ratings!  The final tally was 8.7 out of 10.

This week we’re sticking with plaid, but moving on to the theme of The Great Outdoors, as I show you a walking suit in rust coloured wool with plaid silk taffeta.  With it’s practical dark hues, menswear inspired false shirtfront and faux bolero, and restrained ornamentation it’s very different in mood to last week’s ballgown:

The ensemble is described as a walking suit, but someone at the Mint Museum clearly had fun when they came to dress the mannequin for the photo.  “Hmmm…walking is a bit boring, and we have those antique skates, what if we make it a skating suit? ”  “Oooh, yes, and then she’s going to need that cute skirt-picky-upy gizmo that we have!” “And serious gloves.”  “Of course!  And then she should wear that little velvet toque with the funny puff too”. “But then it looks weird with no hair!” “Ummm…just wrap a scarf around it to hide that and hold it all on?”  “Perfect!”  “I don’t know…it’s missing something…”  “Oooooh!  I know!  Those 19th century sunglasses!”  “Yes!  Just the thing!  And then she can hang the silver sunglass case off her belt!”

(Is that even what that silver thing is?  I don’t recognise it and am just guessing here).

What do you think?  Does the whole thing say chic, cosy, elegant outerwear with a twist, or is it just wacky?

Rate the Dress on a Scale of 1 to 10

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Leimomi Oakes is the Dreamstress, a textile historian, seamstress, designer, speaker and museum professional. Leimomi is available for educational and entertaining presentations, textile and fashion advice, special commissions and events. Click to learn more

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