The Camicia

The camicia [also known as a smock, shift, or chemise depending on where you hail from] is the basic undergarment for women of this time period and afterwards. Since washing techniques during these times were harsh and only suitable for hard-wearing fabrics, it was absolutely necessary to have some sort of barrier to keep that silk dress from smelling and staining. The camicia acted as the only layer protecting the rest of the garment from the wearer’s naturally occurring body oils, odors, and sweat.

[Watch this to get a general idea of what laundry was like in Tudor England. I shudder to think of what would happen to a silk or velvet gown if it went through that process.]

What sets the Italian camicia apart from their English smock/shift counterpart is the construction. How they are put together allows for large differences in style to appear. The camicia is known for its signature low and wide neckline that incorporates the top of the sleeves, thus shaping them. This neckline is then gathered or pleated or pleated and then gathered until it fits the widest part of the wearers shoulders.

Another signature of the camicia is the long and very full sleeves that, surprisingly to some, do not have cuffs. It is arguable to say that later on in the period the sleeves became less full to accommodate the narrower sleeve style that had come into fashion.

My camicia is a rather pathetic attempt, but it was made using period construction techniques. It took less than a day’s worth of time to make from start to finish but that is only because I used the sewing machine to sew it together. Only the neckline was sewn by hand in order to secure the knife pleats and to run and secure the gathering stitches.

I previously had plans to make it out of panels  as seen in extant examples and in sketches; but with time dwindling down, I simply combined the width of all three panels [28″ each x 3 = 84″] and tore the piece from a length of bleached muslin that was 120″ wide. The extra 36″ was used to make the sleeves. 8″ square gores were made from the leftovers after cutting the sleeves to length – my wrist.

In total the camicia was made from a little over 2 yards of 120″ wide fabric.

Now for pictures!

[And yes, before you say anything, my edges were left raw. By accident! And my laziness is preventing me from doing anything about it.]



Camicia - Worn

The sleeves have no special shaping to keep them on the shoulders.  By pleating the top, the shaping necessary is created. However, the sleeves are ‘teetering’ on the edge of my shoulders, waiting to be kept in place by the straps on the bodice. Any major movements and they slip off.

Camicia - Unfinished Neckline

A fuzzy shot of the ‘gather-pleating’. Only the front and back pieces were gathered after being pleated. The armholes would have become too tight if I were to run the gathering thread through the top of the sleeves.

Camicia - Gore

You can barely see the gores, but they are there! They play an intricate role in the camicia design. It allows for a wider range of motion as well as creates a place for your arm to go once the sleeve tops have been pleated. If they weren’t there, the armholes would have been a very snug fit.

Camicia - Full

It doesn’t drape too well on the hanger does it? Yikes.

Camicia - Cuffs

No, this not a friendly shot of my non-existent cleavage, just a photo to show the cuffless sleeves.

Camicia - Basic Pattern


This is a rough paint sketch of how everything fits together. What I forgot to show here is how the sleeves are offset with the body – bumped slightly higher – to prevent a neckline that ‘falls apart’ and sags at the edges.

Final thoughts: 

Another attempt needs to be made. This could be considered a decent mock-up at best [ironic since it is made of muslin]. Next time I’ll add the insertion stitches I didn’t have time for and a pair of sleeves that are maybe twice as full as these.


Amnesia by Nitrous Oxide

J’ai Envie de Toi by Armin Van Buuren & Gaia

Nothing (93 Returning Mix) by Ferry Corsten


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