The purpose of this guide is to walk you, step by step, through making your shift. I'm deliberately writing and illustrating every stage, because this is likely to be the first garment you make. I hope it's clear; if you have any queries at all then please do email me. My contact email is tucked away towards the bottom of 'stuff about me'.
This section started off as one page. But it was getting longer and longer, so I'm subdividing it down. This page serves as an introduction as well as showing how to start drafting a pattern. If you'd rather, you can click on to the construction notes for....
Before you cut out anything it's vitally important you prewash and iron your fabric. The idea is to subject it to worse than it'll experience in use, to get all the shrinkage done before you cut it out. If you don't do this your shift will shrink horribly on washing, and all your hard work will be wasted.
The first thing you'll need is a pattern. I hope you'll find this one pretty comprehensive but, if you'd like an alternative view, there are a couple of other options. There's one in the costuming notes and the Elizabethan Costume Page has a smock pattern generator. I've never used it, but the pattern it drafted from my measurements seemed pretty good, although the very clear instructions that go with it are geared towards machine-sewing. Since you should be handsewing at least the visible parts of the shift, I'd suggest following the costume notes or this page in assembling it, so you don't introduce unwanted anachronisms.
Making Your Own Pattern
Your shift is made out of these bits:
When it comes to cutting out don't position your pieces like that on the fabric. If you do you'll waste half of it! Instead, try and figure out the most efficient arrangement.
Note for men: You don't need the triangular side gores (D). Your shirt does need a collar and cuffs, so they're not optional. I'll cover how to cut and attatch them later.
Measuring the Pieces: Seam Allowance
Whenever you sew anything, some of the fabric is lost in the seam. That's called the seam allowance. How much you lose depends on how small and neat your seams are, how thick the fabric is, and whether you want to stash some extra fabric there so you can let the garment out later. So you'll need to make your shift pieces a bit larger than your measurements, to allow for the seam allowance. I normally allow an inch and a half.
Measuring the Pieces: The Body
The body piece is a rectangle runs from the hem at the front, up and over your shoulders and down to the hem at the back. That's one long piece of cloth.
To make it you need two measurements. Measure from your shoulder to where you want the hem to be. I'd recommend somewhere from below the knee to the middle of the shin. That way you're decent if you want to dash to the loo in the early hours and you don't have to worry about revealing too much if your petticoat flys up on the saturday night Ceilidh. Note that measurement and double it - that's how long your rectangle needs to be. I'm 5'6" and my rectangle is 92" long. If yours is similar you've probably measured the right thing.
Get a tape measure and put it around your body at chest level. Loosen it until it seems about as full as you want the body of your shift to be. Note the measurement and divide it by two. That's how wide your rectangle needs to be. Don't forget to include the seam allowance. My final measurement is twenty inches - yours should be similar
Note for men: Measure the body width in the same way. Your shirt should be shorter than a shift, however, coming to about mid-thigh.
Measuring the Pieces: Sleeves
Sleeves, too, are made up of a rectangle. Measure from shoulder to wrist: that's the length of the rectangle. Put a loop of tape measure around your arm and adjust it til you're happy with the fullness (if you're not sure, use the sleeve on a modern shirt as a guide). That's the width of your rectangle. The pin in the tapemeasure is there just to free up a hand for the camera.
Not forgetting seam allowance, cut out two of these.
Cut out two squares with sides of 6".
We'll cut out the triangular side gores and the collar and cuffs, if you decide to use them, later.