30 June 2013

Shift Work

Making a shift isn't as glamorous as making a gown, or even stays, and I've procrastinated making a new one for as long as possible. The time came this past spring when I had to confront the fact that the my old shift needed to retire and I needed to sew a new one.

For this project, I didn't use a pattern or do any research to prepare. (I had a child-free afternoon to cut fabric and wanted to make the most of that rare opportunity.) So I used my general knowledge of shift construction to get started--which I don't exactly recommend.

 Cutting the neckline, which, in my haste to get started, was cut too deeply.

Making the plackets from the neckline scrap fabric. One of those gussets has 
a green popsicle stain because my toddler thought it was a napkin!

Because this is such a transportable project, and the linen is so easy to work with, I found the sewing aspect to be really fun and that it moved along quickly...

...until it was time to set in the sleeve. I was so focused on moving forward, I didn't take a few minutes to make sure I was moving forward correctly--and I made severeal repeated mistakes. The first time I flat felled the seam on the wrong side so the side that should be hidden was on the outside. The second time I sewed it correctly but it wasn't centered and it was off by 3+ inches (see the photo below). The 3rd time I made the same mistake as the 1st time. DUH! Needless to say the fourth time I sewed that sucker, it was right. 

As frustrating and time consuming as that part was, my main struggle was finishing the sleeves. I knew I wanted to (attempt to) make beautiful stroke gathers along the edge, as discussed in Sharon's shift directions here. As you'll see in the next few photos, I think they came out OK...

...except for the fact that there was hardly enough sleeve fabric to fit around my arm.

I had cut the fabric so it would be my size, but I didn't take into account that the stroke gathers create such a nice "poof" and would require twice as much fabric to fit accordingly. Oh shi(f)t! Being limited on extra fabric, and I knew that this project holds other mistakes that I can't fix (like the neckline), I compromised: I finished the edge as if there were stroke gathers though it's really just flat. While it's not period correct, I think it's better than my last shift where there's no placket and the sleeves are simply turned under like the early 19th century shift in Costume Close-Up.

As a finishing touch, I embroidered the initials "PW" representing the woman I interpret.

Here are some photos of the final product...

It's far from a period-correct reproduction, but this "shift work" is a step in the right direction and, as always, a fun learning process. For more shift resources, check out:


  1. I recently made my first shift too, and just like you I did not use a pattern! And also just like you, I cut my neckline way too deep, whoops! Now my sleeves fall off of my shoulders all the time, do you have any tricks for dealing with that problem?

    1. Hi Loni, I haven't worn it yet but if I find that I have the same issue, which I anticipate, and I can find a solution (besides making it a drawstring) I'll let you know!


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