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

Introduction
Choosing Suitable Materials
Cut and Construction
Custom Fitting Your Shift
Shift Neckline Woes
Sewing the Shift
Stroke Gathers
Ruffles
Monogramming A Shift
FAQs
Replica Shift


HOW TO CUSTOM FIT A SHIFT TO YOUR BODY

What if you are not a standard sized person and the standard sized shift patterns aren't going to fit you. Where and how do you adjust them?

  1. Length. This is easy. The finished shift should hit you about mid calf. You can make it a bit shorter, but not more than an inch or two. It should still cover your knee cap after all your other clothing layers are on, and these will pull the shift up, so don't make it too short. Once you have decided on the length you want, this is the time to mark the halfway point of each side edge so you know how to lay out the side gores.
  2. Shoulder width. The shift should have a slightly dropped shoulder line. So measure from your shoulder point to shoulder point across your back, and add to this 2" to 4" to give you a shoulder line that will drop 1" to 2" off your actual shoulders. Then add whatever seam allowance you need. So for example if your shoulders are 20" across, you will want a finished width of 22-24", and once you've added your seam allowances, you'll be cutting it out at a width of 23-25".
  3. Sleeve length. The sleeves need to have a little bit of extra length so they will "blouse", and also so you can easily bend your elbow. If you measure from your bony shoulder point to your bony elbow point and make that your finished sleeve length (adding your seam allowances to that), it should work out okay, because the dropped shoulder line will be giving you some extra length for the "blousing" fullness. Despite the extra length, the sleeve cuff needs to sit at the crook of your elbow. For this to happen, the cuff needs to be made snug enough that it cannot slip any further down your arm.
  4. Sleeve width. This needs to be proportional to the sleeve length, and depends on what part of the 18th c your shift is intended for. For a c 1700-1750 shift, the sleeve should be twice as wide as it is long. For a c 1770's shift, the sleeve should be cut as a square, making it as wide as it is long. After c 1780, sleeves start to narrow. By the 1790's they are hardly any bigger than your largest upper arm measurement.
  5. Bust/hip/body width. This is the tricky one. The width of your shift body panel is determined by several factors-the width of fabric you start with, your shoulder width which determines how wide will be the gores you'll be cutting away and pivoting around to add to the hem, and last but not least, the size of the underarm gussets. Some of it also has to do with your personal preferences. Do you need your shift roomy for a working class portrayal with lots of walking, stooping, lifting, and other range of motion, or do you mostly stand, sit, and look upper-class pretty? Do you prefer a shift as full as a nightgown, or one as slim as a slip?

Remember that in period, fabrics were woven to be made into shifts, and the narrowest width sold was roughly 27", while the widest was roughly 40". You shouldn't need anything narrower or wider than that.

The only place where your fabric width is the actual width of the finished shift is at the point where the top of the side gore ends. (The shift is an A line, so above that it's narrower and below that it's wider.) On most people this is approximately hip height. So one way to figure the correct width of the piece you should be starting with is to take your full hip measurement, divide in half, and add a minimum of 4" for wearing ease plus another 1" for seam allowance. For example if your hips are 40", you can cut your shift from a piece as narrow as 25". Theoretically, that is. However, as stated above, 27" was more usual and probably a better idea, or else you'll have side gores not worth bothering with, and possibly a hem circumference not wide enough for ease in walking.

But what if you are unusually full busted? In that case you should start with a wider panel, one that is sized to accommodate your bust measurement rather than your hip measurement. But there are a few extra things to remember. Remember that the shift is narrower above the hips because of the removal of the side gores to create the A line. Also remember that the underarm gussets add width at precisely the point where the bust line needs width. And the shape of the gores you remove is also affected by the width of your shoulders. For a full bust, you may want more of a dropped shoulder (2" rather than 1") which will make the gores a bit narrower and leave a little bit more fabric in the upper body. You may also want to consider making the underarm gusset just a bit larger, adding, say, ½" to each dimension of the square (5 ½" instead of 5"), to give you a little more width under the arms. Every alteration you make affects other aspects of the fit. If you are a very different size or shape than "average", then you might seriously consider making a muslin mockup to test out all these variables and see how they affect your final fit. At any rate, a shift is a very forgiving garment, so as long as the neckline fits and the shoulders and sleeves fit, then the rest of it will probably be okay.



Introduction
Choosing Suitable Materials
Cut and Construction
Custom Fitting Your Shift
Shift Neckline Woes
Sewing the Shift
Stroke Gathers
Ruffles
Monogramming A Shift
FAQs
Replica Shift

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