Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shifty Business Part 1--Cutting

On How to Cut a Shift, and other cutting tricks that may prove useful to the historically sartiorally inclined.

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!
Interested? Like what you see? Enter to win a shift or shirt of your very own to begin, expand, or inspire your own historical wardrobe!


Nicole MacDonald said...

Yep. In awe again. the amount of research you put into your work is totally inspiring, I love watching it :)

Kat Zhang said...

I so wish I had the patience for this sort of thing. I love the idea of sewing--of making something utilitarian and beautiful come out of cloth. But the actual sewing part may be too much for my limited attention span ;P

Lua said...

And once again, I’m astonished! :) You are such a great artist Rowenna, the amount of time & effort you give and the research you do is amazing. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like once you’re finished, you know, when your cat allows you to start sewing! :)

dolleygurl said...

My sewing prowess includes sewing on buttons and fixing tears in my dog's toys - and that's about it. So I am amazed by these projects! Thanks for sharing.

GentlewomanThief said...

Looking great so far. Thanks so much for sharing your research and process - it's really interesting and informative to see! I didn't know about the reinforcing pieces before. And I'm glad you said that about the sleeves - mine has quite narrow sleeves simply because I thought wider sleeves would bunch under a tighter-fitting outer sleeve, though I had no idea whether it was accurate at the time.

That cutting method is really useful, too - I have read about it, but I haven't tried it yet... I'll have to give it a go!

Rowenna said...

Nicole--Thanks! I love the whole process, from research to final product, so it's fun!

Kat--you should give it a try sometime, you might surprise yourself :) There are some great simple patterns out there...and the best part is, if you mess up, you just take the stitches out and try again :)

Lua--Thanks! Homer always manages to sit on whatever I'm working on. If he could fit on my laptop he'd be sitting on it now.

Dolley--Ironically, I take forever to get to mending and replacing're probably ahead of me there!

GWT--Glad this was useful! Seems to me that sleeves got tighter toward the end of the century, necessitating slimmer shift sleeves, but I only have my (likely limited) observation to back that up.

Leah Marie Brown said...

I am in awe as well.

Rowenna said...

Thanks, Leah!