Sunday, July 13, 2008


Since the shift is the main item of an 18th century woman's fashion, I'll begin there.  It was not only worn under day wear to keep the outer clothing clean, but as a nightgown as well.  The only time you took off a shift was to put on a clean one!  They were always made out of linen.  The finer the linen, the more expensive.  Keep in mind how sensitive your skin is, since we aren't used to wearing rough clothing!  I recommend 6 oz. or less unless it's tightly woven, then up to 8 oz. is fine.  Now, how much do you need?  Really it depends on you and the width of your fabric.  The traditional way to cut a shift, shown below, is to take a full length and cut a hole in it.  Now, their fabric was always less than 45" wide, so they couldn't do the halves side by side.  You probably can.  Just make sure the width of the fabric is comfortably more than your widest part.  Make sure to read through the instructions before cutting, you have many options!  So, here's one of the basic ways to cut a shift:
*mind seam allowances!!
Width: Usually either full width of fabric or half.
Length:  From shoulder to at least knee.
Skirt gores:  About half the length and as wide as you like.
Sleeves:  Loose around arm unless last quarter of century, then comfortably fitted.  Gathered to armscye.  Should reach past elbows comfortably.  
Sleeve gores:  About 4"x4"
Neck hole:  Leave at least 4" of shoulder and the back should be 3" above front.  Best to mark on you keeping in mind it gathers up later.
Neck ruffle:  Optional.  The best formula for length is 1.5 times and about 2.5 inches finished.

Once you have the pieces cut, assembly is fairly simple.  If you aren't trying to be completely accurate you can finish the edges and seam it all together.  Otherwise take the time to french seam, flat fell, or use a mantua makers stitch (right to right edge and fold 1/4" twice then slip stitch through both layers).  Around the neck you will make a channel using twill tape.  Either fold the ends under and butt them CF or stitch two small eyelets CF.  If you decide to add a neck ruffle, here would be the place to stick it in.  The sleeves give you options as well.  Assuming you have looser sleeves you can place the channel at the end or add a 1/2" wide buttoned cuff.  You'll finish the hem and possibly raw sleeves with a roll hem.
Here is an image of the shift I made:

Notice the differences between it and the pattern I drew?  First, mine tapers at the body top.  My fabric was wide enough compared to me that I was able to cut the gores from the top half and apply them to the bottom.  Perfectly allowed if you want to save fabric and have enough width.  My sleeves are fitted tighter, so they aren't gathered in.  I also have shoulder seams.

Since this is my first experience with instructions, please feel free to give recommendations or talk about problems.  I'm sure there's something I missed!


Annabelle said...

Just thought I would let you know, even though this is an older tutorial, that it was idiot-proof and I was able to make almost a duplicate of yours! I put a picture up of it on my journal and made sure to credit you as a resource :)

ColeV said...

Thank you!! Glad I could help!