Marathon of cutting and beginning of sewing this afternoon! I used the measurements, diagrams, and extant garment described in Linda Baumgarten's Costume Close-up to create the shift.
The extant garment, as pictured here, is pretty fascinating--it's not the grandiose, beautiful gowns pictured far more commonly in books and websites devoted to historical clothing, but its utilitarian facets, such as teensy stitches and meticulously placed reinforcing pieces, are incredible for anyone interested in historical sewing.
You'll notice it's not the full-sleeved, voluminous version seen in some prints and artwork, such as the unstayed prostitute in Hogarth's Progress of the Rake (below). This is because shifts slimmed a bit toward the end of the century, and because I intend to wear this one under tight-sleeved gowns and am getting tired of arm-bunching from full shift sleeves.
Baumgarten's cutting diagram is much cleaner than mine was last week, so you can see how the shift is cut out of one long rectangle and then pieced together.
Eighteenth-century linen was woven in standard widths, so shifts were made from lengths of the standard width. Today's fabric is much wider than eighteenth century fabrics generally were--7/8 (or 7/8 of a yard) was a common width, while 54"-60" is common today. So I cut a length of modern linen in half to create two strips that could be cut per the diagram above.
I'm not sure how common my cutting method is, so I thought I'd share it. I picked it up from watching Amish ladies at the Amish department store (yes, there is such a thing) near my hometown. They would mark the length for the fabric, then pull a thread to denote a cutting line. Not sure if this is because it yeilds a more precise cutting line than an inset metal table guide, or if it's because inset metal table guides are considered too fancy and modern for the Amish. Regardless, it's a great trick for producing a straight line at home.
Once I had my 30" width pieces, I cut the body, side gores, sleeves, and gussets from the length as shown in the diagram, and here:
I did not include the reinforcing pieces. For one, I'm using modern construction and seaming techniques rather than the period lapped seams that would lend themselves to this addition. For another, my shifts aren't worn daily, and don't get steaming baths in lye soap over and again, so won't take the beating that the originals would have.
Once all the pieces were cut, I would have been ready to sew...if Homer the Cat of Enormous Bulk hadn't decided to settle down on top of the sewing machine.
Sewing Escapades and a Malfunction...Next Time!
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