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

MONOGRAMMING A SHIFT

While not every surviving 18th century shift was marked with initials, many were, and it's a nice, period-correct way to personalize yours. Since all 18th c. shifts look more or less alike, it was useful to mark them with the owner's initials, and sometimes with a number. When a number accompanied the initials, it was there to distinguish each shift in a set from its mates.

Through the 18th c., the monogram was worked in cross-stitch in black silk thread at the center-front, just below the neckline of the shift. This remains fairly consistent until the end of the century. Around 1800, the style of monogramming trends towards the use of red cotton thread, still worked in cross-stitch at the CF neck.

The cross stitches were worked in a single strand of 2-ply thread, and each cross stitch covered two threads across and two threads up and down. The letters of the cross-stitch or "marking stitch" alphabets varied in some details.

Here is an alphabet and numbers as printed in The Family's Best Companion, which was included as part of The Instructor, or Young Man's Best Companion, by George Fisher, London 1763, pp 361-362. (Thank you to Ruth Hodges for finding it!)

The best way to view the referenced pages is to use the left and right arrows at the top right of the viewer.



In the interest of making these easier to read, here they are right side up!





However these are not necessarily the usual form of the letters seen on surviving underwear and marking samplers in America. So I have compiled for you one typical American marking-stitch alphabet which is suitable to the last quarter of the 18th century. It is derived from a variety of "marking stitch" samplers which were worked by New England school girls c. 1770-1800 to help them learn this useful household skill.



Click images for full size view.

    

In this alphabet, you will notice that J and U are missing; they were apparently regarded as variants of I and V respectively, so that if there were a person named Jane Underhill, she would have marked her shift with "I V". J and U as we know them are present in the English 1763 alphabet chart, but they do not make their appearance in American marking stitch samplers until about 1800. You will also notice that M, N, Q, and a few of the other letters retain a somewhat archaic form. This is how they appear in the American samplers and on American underwear, but you may use a more modern letter style as seen on Fisher's chart if you wish.




Closeup of monogram on 1752 CT shift, worked in black silk thread, now oxidized to brown.


Here is an online example:
Sampler; Rhode Island, 1791, Alphabet Bands, Center House Scene with Couple, 12 inch

When you embroider initials on your own shift, you will need to choose a thread that is compatible with the thread count and thickness that your fabric is woven from. This could be anything from silk sewing thread for a very fine linen, up to buttonhole twist if your shift body is very coarse. You won't need much, maybe a yard or so for each letter or number. The ideal would be a vegetable dyed black two-ply silk, and that is actually available. Here is one possibility, from Aurora Silk, that Lauren Walker suggested to me.

http://www.aurorasilk.com/silk_yarns/fine_2-ply.html

However, it comes in 1000 yard skeins, which will allow you to monogram about 300 or more shifts or shirts. If you don't plan to make that many, and can't find another nine or ten friends who'd like to split the skein with you, then here's another option, vegetable dyed silk embroidery floss from Treenway Silks (suggested by Ruth Hodges); it's their Harmony floss in a very dark gray. It comes in a more manageable 10 yard skein, and you can split it to use as many or as few strands as suit the weave of your fabric.

http://www.treenwaysilks.com/product.php?product=1673


ONE LAST THOUGHT, DATING BY MONOGRAMS

One of the things I was able to notice after I had examined a sufficient number of original shifts is that where and how the marking is placed was another feature that changed in a consistent pattern over time. Through the 18th c., the monogram was worked in cross-stitch in black silk thread at the center-front, just below the neckline of the shift. This remains fairly consistent until the end of the century. Around 1800, the style of monogramming trends towards red cotton thread, still worked in cross-stitch at the CF neck. Subsequently, in the early 1800's, some people are marking their shifts in black ink, on one side of the body approximately where the gore begins, and often with the owner's full name written in script. Other people are still embroidering monograms in red cotton, but now these are worked in satin stitch and the letters are in a script or blackletter style. I am still working to refine more precisely the dates at which these changes occur. But already I am finding this relative chronology of shift marking styles to be a useful aid in dating shifts, especially when used in combination with the stylistic changes in sleeve shape and neckline shape. It is also useful when attempting to date the simple shifts which come out of 19th c. Pennsylvania rural communities and similar places, and which are sometimes misdated as 18th c. garments.



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

Home
Home


Website Copyright © 2002 - 2017 by Sharon Ann Burnston
Web site designed by Sandy Cheney