This next article is for those young ladies who would like to improve on their 18th century wardrobe and do not want to appear....well, shiftless.

Making a shift from start to finish

By Rebecca Wiese
(First published in the GA CoHT newsletter August 2004)

A shift is an "under dress" made from white linen mostly and cotton muslin later on. The sleeves reach just below your elbow and the hem comes to your knee. There is a drawstring neck. The shift is worn under everything else and protects the rest of your clothes from sweat, etc. And it is worn for a nightgown..

To make your shift, measure from the top of your shoulder to your knee and multiply that by 2 and add a hem, usually 1 or 2" (This is A). Then measure the widest part of your torso or hips, divided by two and add 6 inches (this is B). Next cut a rectangle this big.
Fold the length in half _ that's the length of the fabric that reaches from your shoulders to your knees, and it is half as wide as your body. The folded edge will be for your shoulders and neck.

Fold the width in half. The fabric should be folded in quarters.
Now, measure across the back of your shoulders, divided by 2 and add a seam allowance (This is C). Measure C from the fold toward the outside edge and mark it. Then draw a line from the mark to the bottom outside corner, cut along the line and keep these triangles.
Cut a hole for your head at the corner.
Turn the triangles upside down and sew them to the sides of your shift. You have to "fell" these seams. To fell a seam, you put one edge 1/4" higher than the other and sew running stitches along where you want your seam to be, then turn it under, and sew running stitches down over the fold so it's nice and neat. This way, it won't itch or hurt you.
This is how you do "Felled Seams"
Now you have to make the sleeves! Measure from your shoulder to your elbow and add 1 " (This is D) and around your bicep and add 3" (this is E). Make 2 rectangles this big.

And next you have to make a gusset so that your sleeves aren't too tight. The gussets are easy, because they are just 4" squares.

Now you have to sew the gussets to the sleeves. Sew one edge of the square onto one of the D sides of your sleeve at the corner. Then, sew the side that's at right angles to it to the other side and sew the arm seam up. All of these seam need to be felled too so they don't hurt.

Now, you might want to sew the bottom of your sleeve, and maybe add a drawstring to it so you can tighten it.
Then, you have to match up the top of the sleeve with the top of the shoulder and the other two parts of the gusset with the sides of your shift and sew it all together. Remember to sew felled seams.

You have to sew a hem onto the bottom of your shift and sew a casing on the neck for a drawstring, but then you are all done!!!

I have two shifts I made from this pattern and they are wonderful!

And while you make your shift, you can also "make shift" (that means to "make do"). My first shift was made from an old sheet!

Here are some other instructions and more information on women's shifts.

And some more instructions if you want them.

Here's a link to more information about women's clothing in the 18th century

And here's a link to how to wear 18th century women's clothes