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

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

SEWING THE SHIFT

So, to make up the shift, follow the directions on the cutting diagram. Here is a slightly expanded version:

  1. Cut out the neck hole of your choice, leaving a 1/4" seam allowance. Hem the neck edge with a 1/8" hem using a tiny slipstitch. Set aside the cut out piece to be used for the underarm gussets. Cut off gores as shown, reverse and sew to bottom edges of shift body. If you have usable selvedges, sew at the very edge with a tiny butted whipstitch. If not, sew with a 1/2" seam allowance, in running backstitch, then trim seam, fold under and flat fell with a slipstitch. Do this for all 4 gores. Set shift body aside.
  2. Pin side seam of a sleeve, leaving 4 1/2" open at one end for gusset and 3" at other end for placket. Sew side seams as pinned, with a 1/2" seam allowance, in running backstitch, then trim seam, fold under and flat fell with slipstitch. Repeat for other sleeve. If you have a usable selvedge, use it for the top layer of your flat felled seam, and you won't have to fold it under when felling the seam.
  3. Turn under edges of placket into tiny turned hems and slipstitch, enclosing all raw edges.
  4. Insert one corner of 5" square underarm gusset into 4 1/2" opening left for it in #2. Pin and sew 2 sides of gusset into sleeve. Sew with a 1/2" seam allowance, in running backstitch, then trim seam, fold under and flat fell with slipstitch. Repeat for other sleeve.
  5. Using heavier thread, sew 2 parallel lines of running stitch along placket end of sleeve and draw up into stroke gathers. Adjust to 10" or to fit your arm. Repeat at gusset end of sleeve, drawing up stroke gathers to 13". Repeat for other sleeve.
  6. Press under 1/2" around all edges of one cuff. Pin cuff to placket end of sleeve, wrong sides together and right sides showing. From the right side, sew cuff to sleeve with slipstitch, picking up one stroke gather with each stitch. Sew short ends of cuff. Pin other long edge, turning under so all raw edges are enclosed. Slipstitch, picking up one stroke gather with each stitch. Topstitch along both long edges of cuff with tiny backstitch.
  7. Fold shift body so it is 46" long, and mark each side of shift body 10 1/2" down from the fold. Sew side seams of shift body from this point to the bottom, sewing with a 1/2" seam allowance, in running backstitch. Then trim seam, fold under and flat fell with slipstitch.
  8. One sleeve gusset unit is attached to each side of shift body by inserting into 10 1/2" opening left in #7. Press or finger press a 1/2" seam allowance in the shift body and insert stroke gathered top of sleeve. Seam is sewn from outside in slipstitch, picking up one stroke gather with each stitch. Slipstitch gussets so they are flat (no gathers).
  9. Turn to inside. Raw edges of each gusset's seam allowance are slipstitched to shift body. They can also be flat felled. Raw edges of each sleeve's seam allowance is overcast, and caught to shift body at every fifth stitch.
  10. Turn under small hem at bottom edge of shift, and slipstitch.
  11. If you did not already do so in step #1, cut out the shift neckline of your choice. If in doubt as to size, cut neckline smaller, try on, and adjust to suit your own stays and gowns. Turn under smallest possible hem (roughly 1/8") and slipstitch.
  12. At each end of each cuff, cut and work a buttonhole 1/2" long. Use ribbons or "sleeve links" to fasten the cuffs.

These directions contain some technical terms which may be unfamiliar to some of you.
I assume you know what a flat felled seam is, and how to sew one by hand.
I assume you know what a butted whipstitch is, and how to utilize this stitch when joining two good selvedges.
But you may not be familiar with stroke gathers.

Observant readers will have noticed that all raw edges are finished with hems or flat felled seams, except for the seam joining the gathered sleeve head to the shift body. On this seam, the raw edges are merely caught down with a slipstitch which is none too closely spaced. This is how the original c. 1752 shift in my collection is made, and I have seen other original shifts made the same way. However I have also seen original 18th c. shifts on which this seam is faced with a narrow strip of straight grain self-fabric. Here is where you utilize those scraps which were left over when you cut out the underarm gussets from the "bosom", that piece which came out of the neck hole. In order to do this, you may have to adjust the gathers as you are making the shift sleeves, so that they are concentrated at the top of the sleeve, otherwise your scraps may not be long enough to cover the gathered area. But, assuming that the scrap is long enough, (or, if you wish, you can use some other scrap of linen), simply square it off at the ends, press under a small seam allowance, and apply it as a patch on the inside of the shift, so that one long edge of it aligns with the line of the seam joining the gathered sleeve to the shift body and the rest of it lies over the raw edge of the gathers. It needs to be long enough to cover the gathered area, and no wider than 1 1/2". Pin this patch, or more properly this facing, so that it lies neatly and flat, and so that it covers all the raw edges of the gathered portion of your sleeve head, and slipstitch it down around all four sides. If you choose to do this, you will not need to slipstitch the raw edge of the gathers as described in #9. Repeat for the other sleeve.

So far, no mention has been made of ruffles. If you want them on your shift, please read the discussion on ruffles.

I would like to add that in the course of my research I was surprised to see a significant number of shifts with sleeves made of finer fabric than the body of the shift. Sometimes the sleeves were made of fine bleached lawn while the body was of a distinctly heavier unbleached linen. It is not always clear whether these are replacement sleeves, but I believe that at least some of them are original to the garment, a way of using a finer fabric only in the place where it would show.


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

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