The Cognitive Shift, or 18th Century SHIFTS,
WHAT I KNOW AND HOW I LEARNED IT
© Sharon Ann Burnston 2005, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018


Introduction
Choosing Suitable Materials
Cut and Construction
Patterns You Can Use
How to Fit a Shift to Your Body
Shift Neckline Woes
Sewing the Shift
Stroke Gathers
Ruffles
Monogramming a Shift
FAQs
Replica Shift


PATTERNS YOU CAN USE

Except for those stylistic changes in sleeve and neckline shapes, the 18th c. American shifts I have been able to study show a remarkable consistency of cut and construction.

This cutting diagram gives the essential information for making a shift for the Rev War period. This pattern is a synthesis, derived from several originals I have studied.


click on individual images for larger view.


But for those who want to replicate an actual object, here is the pattern I took from the shift in my collection. It is dated 1752, and has Connecticut provenance.


click on individual images for larger view.



Anyone who wishes to create a late century shift can find good cutting diagrams in Fitting & Proper (p. 46) or in Costume CloseUp (p. 59).

Before you go to cut out your linen, there are a few things I would like to say about cutting out. Of course you will know to cut away a long triangle from the upper half of the shift body so that you can pivot it around and sew it to the lower half to complete the A-line of the shift body. Here is where that good selvedge is most important. By putting the selvedges together and doing a neat, small whipstitch, and then pulling the seam open, "popping" the butted selvedges flat with your thumbnail, you can create a seam so flat that you'll never feel it, and so neat that it can be difficult to find. This is how center seam sheets were made, and this is how the gores were sewn onto the shift body. If you haven't got that precious selvedge, you cannot do this. The best you can do is to make as small and neat a flat felled seam as you can. Sewing the flat felled side seams of the shift will be more difficult to negotiate around the flat felled gore seams, but we have to do the best we can without the optimal materials.

Another observation I would like to make about cutting out has to do with economy, utilizing every scrap of linen most efficiently.

Here is a diagram from the ground breaking Cut My Cote by Dorothy K. Burnham, showing how she imagined a late 18th c. shift would have been cut from 30" wide linen.


click on image for larger view.

And this is how I always did it. Until one day it dawned on me that if I were very careful, and cut out the neck hole with barely a 1/4" seam allowance so as to turn a 1/8" hem, I would be left with a scrap from which I might be able to just manage to cut the two underarm gussets. So I tried it:

Imagine my surprise to discover, the next time I looked in Instructions for Cutting Out Apparel for the Poor, this:

It says "The gussets out of the bosom." Eureka, my "discovery" is documented. And now that cryptic little sentence makes sense! The text goes on to say "The piece to bind the sleeves comes out of the cutting of the back and the bottom of the bosom, when the gussets are cut out." In other words, hang onto those scraps, because there is a purpose for which you might want to use them later.

To be honest, this works only after you have made enough shifts that you know exactly what size and shape neck hole, or "bosom", you wish to cut. But once you do, it's a very period way to save fabric.



Introduction
Choosing Suitable Materials
Cut and Construction
Patterns You Can Use
How to Fit a Shift to Your Body
Shift Neckline Woes
Sewing the Shift
Stroke Gathers
Ruffles
Monogramming a Shift
FAQs
Replica Shift
Home
Home


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