Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Chemise: Just a Slip of a Thing?

Emma called me to the bower to show me how nicely her gussets and felled seams turned out on her chemise sewing project. I had to ask her for definitions of them both. After I saw them, I did a little research on my own and ended up reading about armor.<

contented sigh>

Then I found the word "gusset" in this quote from Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native:

Gorget, gusset, basinet, cuirass, gauntlet, sleeve, all alike in the view of these feminine eyes were practicable spaces whereon to sew scraps of fluttering colour.

I think I want to be a research librarian when I grow up.

In the meanwhile, I'm going to repeat "scraps of fluttering colour" to myself at least once a day. As Anne of Green Gables would say, there's a lot of "scope for the imagination" there.

Back to the gusset. My old Webster's dictionary says that in the Hardy quote, a gusset is a piece of chain mail or a metal plate protecting the opening of a joint in a suit of armor. The Middle English form of the word was guschet, the Old French, gousset. In the chemise that Emma is working on, it is a diamond-shaped piece of fabric inserted under the arm to make the rectangular sleeve pieces fit better. The gusset makes it roomier and stronger.

I really like the word, "chemise". It sounds elegant. However, I thought that it meant the same thing as what I normally call a "slip". I referred back to the Webster's and found that it is not so. A "slip" does not have sleeves.

The left side shows what the gusset seams look like before being felled. The right side felled seams are pinned, ready to sew. A neckline drawstring will gather the fabric and make it adjustable to fit different dress necklines.

The felled seam is accomplished by turning under and sewing down flat the raw edge of the seam, making it 1/4" wide. This is done to keep the fabric from fraying, adding to the durability. The pattern notes say that the chemise should last three years and that a lady's wardrobe should include at least three of these essential undergarments.


Emily G. said...

I despise flat-felled seams. I had cut out the same chemise Emma has about two years ago. I only felled half of the seams before I gave up. I got it back out and finished it last week. Now I have to make more of them durned things. Does Emma enjoy felling seams?
And gussets-don't get me started on those. The stays I am working on contain eight of them, four bust and four hip gussets. They are really annoying to insert.

Wendy Haught said...


I know that Emma likes the finished look of the felled seams. I don't know if she likes doing them.

She just set up a Google account. I'll tell her to post a response comment.

The stays sound like a nightmare. I'm glad I don't sew. Kind of.

Emily G. said...

I like the look of the felled seams, and I've no doubt they're very durable. I just don't like making them.

I am actually excited about my stays, though they will entail a lot of work. I think they're going to be very comfortable.

Something I thought of after I commented earlier-there are such things as sleeveless chemises. So maybe slip is just a more modern word-I think cotton when I think chemise and nylon when I think slip.

Wendy Haught said...

Thanks for bringing the sleeveless chemises to my attention. I should have done more research!

Emma said that she is excited that you made a chemise and are working on stays. She said that she really likes the gussets and the felled seams but doesn't know how much she will like them by the time she finishes this chemise. She may not want to do anymore. She thinks the gussets and the felled seams are very time consuming.

Anonymous said...

Tell Emma I said HI. I love seeing her at her machine. (I somehow feel responsible for it) Bernina makes a great Felling foot (well, they make 2 get the wider one. Foot No. 71) It makes the job so much easier.
Judy G.

Wendy Haught said...


Emma says, "Hi!" back. She laughed when you said that you feel responsible for her machine.
I laugh every time I remember you pulling me aside at your bias binding and finishings class and telling me, "Emma's machine is a piece of c_ _p." We shall be eternally grateful that you scouted out the used Bernina for her. It has made all the difference.

Thanks especially for the hot tip on the felling foot. It may make the difference in whether she gets three chemises done.

Wendy Haught said...


Emma wanted me to add that she has two High Fashion Fabrics gift cards. If you're coming back to Texas anytime soon, you two could have a great outing together!