Eleonora's Chemise

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While the construction of bodices, skirts, corsets and stockings seems to have evolved into more complicated shapes, the chemise seems to have retained it's simplistic construction of rectangular piecing, with changes only to the design elements as the 16th c wore on. Most italian chemises that exist today date from the late 1500's and early 1600's. While the diversity of the decorations may indicate region, most examples have a few common elements. Shaped decolleage, gussets, and generous, highly decorated sleeves. Chemises were made by all classes of woman in the home, however, Frick, in her book, "Dressing Renaissance Florence" indicated that the practice of sending out personal linens to be made by nuns or the camiciai (unskilled, often underprivileged women working outside the regulation of the guild structure) was quite common in Florentine Renaissance. Traditionally, these women would have been commissioned to make tablecloths, bed sheets, pillowslips, towels, chemises... anything washable. The Medici archive has an entry listing payment by a servant of Cosimo for the construction of camica's for both himself and Eleonora by the nuns of San Paolo in 1542. There is a further entry on the same day for thread for the nuns as well, presumably to aid in said construction.

Bronzino's portrait reveals a great deal about Eleonora's chemise. The sleeves are gathered into the shoulder seen by the puffs of chemise showing through the sleeve head and shoulder of the gown. There is a square, ungathered neckline with white on black embroidery with a "lazy S" design. The wrists were ungathered and hung loose decorated by a black on white embroidery also in a "lazy S" pattern. The chemise sleeves were generous enough to be pulled through the overgown sleeves in little puffs to accent the overall effect of the gown. The chemise is not opaque, rather very solidly white. The fabric is assumed to be linen, and the entry in the Medici archives would seem to support this.

The construction:

I chose to use 2 examples of existing chemises of late period Italian origin. Example 1 demonstrates the fabric layout for a chemise as conjectured in "Dress in Italian Painting", and example 2 is used for its shoulder construction method. However, I modified both of these designs for comfort and fit. Most period linen widths at this time were around 28-45".

(Here is the pattern layout)

I started by taking my model, and measuring her armseye, neckline, and arm length. This gave me all the measurements I needed to make the chemise with all the sleeve fullness desired for the look.

(show picture of pattern layout here)

After cutting the fabric, I turned the neckline twice and sewed it down with a hemstitch by hand.

(show pic here)

Next, I gathered the top of the sleeve by hand and sewed it down to the shoulder head by backstitch, and covered it with linen bias tape in a hem stitch. I did the same to the other sleeve.

(show pic here)

I then sewed the sleeve from the wrist up to the sleeve top, and down the side of the body with backstitch.

(show pic here)

I left a hand's length from the bottom of the body unsewn for more movement, folding the edges over twice and hem stitching it into place.

(show pic here)

I proceeded to hem the bottom of the body with a hemming stitch.

(show pic here)

I decided at this point to attach the black band of embroidery to the neckline with black thread in a blind stitch. This Embroidery is a negative example of a "lazy S" pattern seen in the period Italian embroidery book "Esemplario", by Niccolo Zoppino in 1532.

(show pic here) (show book here)

Although Bronzino was a detailed artist, there were not enough details about the chemise sleeve embroidery to know if the chemise was a rolled, solid black hem or a generous hem, over which the embroidery was made. I chose in the end to couch a silk crewel thread to the end of the sleeve, making a generous hem in hemming stitch over which the black embroidery was completed. It is the proper version of the "lazy S" seen in Esemplario.

(show pic here)

After all the handstiching and embroidery, the finished chemise was photographed on the model:




Bronzino, "Eleonora di Toledo and Son" 1545
Dress in Italian Painting 1460-1500
Cut my Cote
Old Lace
Esemplario, 1532
http://realmofvenus.renaissancewoman.net/wardrobe/extcam1.htm Extant Camica's of Italy

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This website is the created authorship of Brandy Dickson, also known in the SCA as Lady Desamona Villani. Copyrighted 2004-2008. Any questions or comments about the construction or contents of this website can be directed to her.