A Toddler Boy's Wardrobe



The Shift


There are very few surviving children's shifts. This one is based in part on a specimen in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which was adapted from an infant shirt (CWF catalog # G 1991-106, child's shift worn by Mary Compton, Middlesex NJ c. 1808, cf. What Clothes Reveal p.189). It is also based in part on a c. 1800 shift for an older child which is in the collection of the New Hampshire Historical Society (1997.016.05). In general a toddler shift would be sized to fit the toddler but constructed like an adult woman's shift.


Child's shift at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston
http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/childs-shift-326004

The pattern diagram calls for long narrow gores at the side seam, as in a woman's shift. This is how the CWF extant original was made. You may eliminate that seam and cut the shift body as one A-line piece if you wish to streamline the construction process.




In the interests of ease of construction, I have also left the shift sleeves without any gathers at the shoulder and without cuffs. You may add cuffs if you wish. Measure your child around the crook of their elbow. Cut two cuffs that will finish to be that length by ½" wide, and don't forget to add seam allowances. (So, for example, if your child's elbow is 7" around, you will want to cut his cuffs 8" x 2".) Stroke gather the end of each sleeve to a cuff, as described here: http://sharonburnston.com/shifts_strokegathers.html. Make a tiny buttonhole in each end of each cuff, thread a 6" or 7" length of ⅛" ribbon through the buttonholes and tie each cuff closed with a small bow.






A word about the shift neckline. It should finish at about 21", which is just big enough to go on and off easily over the head of an average toddler. Be sure you are adding your seam allowance toward the inside of the neck hole, so that when you cut out the neck, it is smaller than you want it to be when hemmed. If after all, you mess up and make the neckline too large, don't fret. Simply find a blunt-end tapestry needle and use it as a small bodkin to run a cord into the neck hem for a drawstring. Use the narrow hem as a casing, so the cord doesn't show at all except where it ties at center front. For the cord, use cotton crochet cord, perle cotton, or a heavy linen thread (size 20/2), whatever fits. Know that the shift now has an adjustable neckline and know also that you are by no means the first person to have made this mistake and this adaptation.





Toddler Shift


** NOTE: Click on cutting diagram image for view in a PDF.**


Cutting diagram shown with NO seam allowances included. Add ½" seam allowances all around. Each square of the grid = 1".

1. Shift is cut from ¾ yard of fine white linen 54" wide. White cotton batiste may also be used.

2. Side gores are indicated. These may be omitted for the sake of simplifying the sewing, and the shift body cut as an A-line instead. If making the gores, cut them off the upper half of side seams, reverse and sew to lower half of shift-body. Sew with a ½" seam allowance, in running-back stitch, then trim seam, fold under and flat-fell with slip-stitch. Do this for all 4 gores.

3. Mark and cut out shift neckline, being sure when cutting it out to make the opening *smaller* to allow for a hem. If in doubt as to size, cut neckline opening even smaller, try on, and adjust to suit your own child's needs. Turn under smallest possible hem and slip-stitch. Set shift body aside.

4. Pin side seam of a sleeve, leaving 2½" open at one end for underarm gusset. Sew side seam of sleeve with a ½" seam allowance, in running-back stitch, then trim seam, fold under and flat-fell with slip-stitch. Repeat for other sleeve.

5. Insert one corner of gusset into 2½" opening left for it in #4. Pin and sew 2 sides of gusset into sleeve. Sew with a ½" seam allowance, in running-back stitch, then trim seam, fold under and flat-fell with slip-stitch. Repeat for other sleeve.

6. Fold shift-body so it is 24" long, and mark each side of shift-body 7 ½" down from the fold. Sew side seams of shift-body from this point to the bottom, sewing with a ½" seam allowance, in running-back stitch. Then trim seam, fold under and flat-fell with slip-stitch.

7. One sleeve/gusset unit is attached to each side of shift-body by inserting into 7 ½" opening left in #6. Press or finger-press a ½" seam allowance in the shift-body and insert top of sleeve. Seam is sewn from outside in slip-stitch.

8. Turn to inside. Raw edges of each sleeve and gusset seam allowance are sewn to shift body in a flat felled seam.

9. Turn under small hem at bottom edge of shift, and slip-stitch.

10. You may add cuffs if you wish. Measure your child around the crook of their elbow. Cut two cuffs that will finish to be that length by ½" wide, and don't forget to add seam allowances. (So, for example, if your child's elbow is 7" around, you will want to cut his cuffs 8" x 2".) Stroke gather the end of each sleeve to a cuff, as described here: http://sharonburnston.com/shifts_strokegathers.html. Make a tiny buttonhole in each end of each cuff, thread a 6" or 7" length of 1/8" ribbon through the buttonholes and tie each cuff closed with a small bow.

© Sharon Ann Burnston 2015


  1. Introduction
  2. Shift
  3. Petticoat
  4. Robe or Gown, and Sash
  5. Shoes and Stockings
  6. Simple Cap
  7. Cold Weather Clothing
  8. Yardage to Buy
  9. List of Documented Links


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