Fabric for a Renaissance Scottish Chemise?

by Susan
(Las Vegas, NV, USA)

Earasaid example 1

Earasaid example 1

Hello, I am making a chemise to wear as part of my outfit for Renaissance Faires and Celtic/Scottish Festivals. I will be wearing the chamise-skirt-bodice combination with my Scottish arasaid. I have 3 questions:

1) I plan to use linen for the chemise, skirt, and bodice. My question is - for the chemise, should I use handkerchief weight linen, or what is described on many sites as "medium weight"?

I am leaning toward handkerchief linen, but my "character" will not be a particularly wealthy woman.

2) Also, should I be using a bleached linen (which shows on websites as a very light creamy tan color, not bright white, or a natural linen (tan/light brown)?

My earasaid is made from a tartan that is described as "Ancient Hunting," and includes a thin WHITE stipe.

3) I've seen images of a few skirts that seem to have some sort of petticoat worn with them. Maybe not this year, but for sure next, I would like to make a petticoat. There are several designs I've seen that look appropriate - long full skirt with a few rows of ruffles sewn along the lower part. Would this be appropriate?

My desire is to be as historically accurate as is reasonably possible. For example, much of my stitching will be by hand - but probably not all. My bodice lacing holes will be hand made, plus at least all the other visible stitching. No zippers or elastic. Etc.

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Jul 30, 2023
Renaissance linen weights
by: Bess

Dear Susan,

Thank you for some intriguing questions. You state that your character will not be a particularly wealthy woman, but you do not note whether your chemise will be for a lower or middle-class woman, say a merchant's wife.

It is possible to get a pretty good bleach on linen using urea from urine, so a crisp white would not be out of bounds for a middle-class chemise, nor would a merchant-class woman be unable to afford handkerchief weight linen. The pictures provided are quite mixed in terms of class, and also cut. They are also very Victorian (19th Century) in their viewpoint on styles, because this is when the artwork was done.

If you want to go for accuracy, it could be good to find Renaissance depictions of Scotswomen from illuminated manuscripts and other art sources. Have you looked at the Web Gallery of Art at http://www.wga.hu ? Is there a specific date or date range that you are trying to depict? This will make a difference to your choice of cut for the chemise and for the petticoat as well.

A poorer class woman is likely to wear a heavier weight linen than a merchant or middle-class person, and she might not have been able to afford the level of bleaching required for a crisp white chemise, either. She may well have retted and spun the flax for her chemise herself, or within her community of skills. Only the lowliest would have worn unbleached linen.

I hope you find what you need, and all the best for your next Renaissance Faire!

- Bess.

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