An easy and genius way to turn handkerchiefs into an airy lace top – the Edwardian handkerchief camisole is perfect for hot summer days!
In the Edwardian era, the handkerchief camisole was of course part of the lingerie, but today you can wear it as pretty lace top! The Edwardian handkerchief camisole is easy and fast to make – no pattern (or fitting) needed. And another bonus point: Because the handkerchiefs are already hemmed, there’s only minimal sewing required!
‘The handkerchief bodice can be put together […] without the trouble of cutting out a pattern in the ordinary way. […] A dainty and inexpensive piece of lingerie that can be made both easily and quickly’. (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)
Handkerchief To Top Refashion – Edwardian Handkerchief Camisole
2 or 3 handkerchiefs – depending on the size of your handkerchiefs
silk or satin ribbon
The Edwardian Handkerchief Camisole
‘Handkerchiefs have been converted into pretty [corset] covers […] and as they are a great deal more serviceable deserve to be more popular.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)
‘The dainty girl who loves pretty things will be overjoyed with the pretty little camisole which is made out of two fancy handkerchiefs, some beading and Valenciennes insertion, and two or three yards of baby ribbon; a little Valenciennes lace edging is also needed, says a fashion note.’ (Los Angeles Herald, 1908)
What Handkerchiefs Should I Use?
For the Edwardian handkerchief camisole, you can use plain, white cotton handkerchiefs, handkerchiefs with white work embroidery or a lace border, and even all-lace handkerchiefs.
On my instagram account @lina_sewhistorically I shared these 6 different antique Edwardian handkerchief camisoles.
‘Do not choose linen handkerchiefs, but lawn or muslin, as they are much softer. […] Some may think there is a clumsiness about a garment that is not gored to the waist, but the softness of the handkerchiefs prevents their looking in the least bulky.’ (1908 source) ‘The handkerchief must have a plain border, but there may be all sorts of monograms and raised work in the corners and about the border; in fact, the more, the prettier and the more elaborate the cover.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)
‘A very pretty underslip for wearing with a transparent evening blouse can be made from this pattern with silk Maltese or real lace handkerchiefs. With very choice kerchiefs of fine old lace, it is even possible on these lines to make a very effective over-blouse upon a tight foundation of silk or net.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)
Related: Drawn Thread Work – Lace Tutorial
Two Or Three Handkerchiefs?
‘When they are cut in two and the insertion is added, it takes but two fairsized ones, but when the linen is used by itself and they are made plenty full it takes three.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)
Handkerchief Camisole With 3 Handkerchiefs
‘Here is a way in which a dainty and useful little camisole can easily be fashioned from three pretty kerchiefs.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)
8 yards narrow lace insertion
3 yards lace edging
a few yards colored ribbon
Cut The Handkerchiefs
‘Before setting to work to make the bodice, the handkerchiefs should be folded from corner to corner, and pressed with a moderately hot iron to ensure a perfectly straight line across the centre. This must be cut through with a pair of scissors so that each handkerchief is divided into two equal triangular portions.
Pin It To A Piece Of Paper
The pieces can then be arranged in readiness for putting together, and it is a good plan to pin them in the required position on the background of a large sheet of paper. The side sections must be placed so that the embroidered edges will come on the outside. The centre pieces are arranged at an angle to form an embroidered V back and front […]
Lace Insertion & Sleeves
The whole bodice is joined together with insertion, and strips of the necessary length to connect the back and front to the side pieces can be cut and tacked in position. These can be carried right over from the back to the front, thus fixing the two portions together, and forming the sleeve without the necessity of a seam on the shoulder. However, if preferred, the sleeve band can be fixed afterwards and neatly sewn down to the bodice with little mitred points.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)
The Shoulder Straps
‘The shoulder straps depend entirely upon the whim of the maker. A piece of insertion bound with lace on two sides is fluffy and pretty, and it washes well, but ribbon adds a dash of color and is infinitely less work to put on the first time, and the maker, as a rule, troubles her head but little about the numerous times the ribbon will have to be ripped off and sewed on again when it goes to the laundry.’ (San Francisco Call, 1903)
Related: Antique Edwardian Lace Slip
Tip: The closure isn’t really necessary because the handkerchief camisole slips easily over the head. I made my handkerchief camisole without a closure.
‘On the left side of the front, the embroidered edge should be left unjoined to the insertion, as the bodice will fasten here. The tiniest pearl buttons should be used for the purpose.
When all the sections are fastened together, the bodice may be fitted on the person for whom it is intended, as the back and front will probably need to be taken into tiny gathers, according to the width required.
The Lace Yoke
When these are made, the yokes, formed of strips of insertion joined neatly together, should be sewn in position, all the raw edges being turned slightly over to the right side and hidden under the insertion borders.
Related: How To Make An Edwardian Lace Yoke
Eyelet Lace Trim
An edging of dainty lace will form an effective finish for the top of the camisole and round the sleeve bands. A pattern should be selected with eyelet-holes for the purpose of threading with bebe ribbon, as this will serve the double end of giving a pretty effect and drawing up the camisole.
The insertion chosen may also be one which will take a running of ribbon, and it may be threaded up and down the joins. The bottom of the camisole is completed by sewing a strip of insertion under the broidery points, so that it forms a hem to hold a ribbon or tape’. (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)
Handkerchief Camisole With 2 Handkerchiefs
2 handkerchiefs – about 13″ square
2 1/2 yards lace insertion
4 1/2 yards lace edging
20″ bias binding
4 yards ribbon
Cut & Join The Handkerchiefs
‘Both handkerchiefs must be cut in half diagonally; then one diagonal is cut diagonally again. Now join these diagonals with lace insertion […]
Now measure 9 inches from the front and scoop out armholes, as indicated in the diagram, and put a strip of tape – about 8 – 9 inches – to go over the arm. This will strengthen the armhole, which is apt to be week if only lace is used. Finish off the armhole by binding with tape and edging with lace.
Finish With Eyelet Lace
Now make a small hem at the top and bottom of the handkerchief strip, or it is daintier if the raw edges are just rolled over and the lace insertion whipped on, for a lace insertion with holes for threading ribbon through must be sewn on to the top and over the armholes all along, and also all along the bottom to draw it in to the waist.
Then a lace edging is put on all along this insertion and also down the fronts, which need whipping or hemming. These fronts are, of course, on the cross, owing to the way the handkerchiefs have to be cut; and so they must be strengthened to wash and wear well. The best way, therefore, is to turn down the hems with tape, which keeps them perfectly firm. Run bebe ribbon through the holes in the insertion, and the little garment is finished.’ (1908 source)
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