Finishing the neckline - the square neck
Note for men: this is not an acceptable option for you - your shirt must have a collar.Slip the shift back on and mark a rectangle the size you want your neck-hole to be. Use a pencil, not a pen, to mark the rectangle, as a pencil will come off in the wash! The commonest mistake at this stage is to make it too big; that's salvagable, but it's a shame. Remember these points:
To give an idea, the opening of the shift pictured in the what to wear section is 8 1/2 inches wide by 6 1/2 inches deep. So the hole I cut was at least an inch smaller than that, in all directions.
Take the shift off again, eyeball your pencil line and redraw it somewhat neater. It's always hard to draw a straight line round the back of your neck! Check that the distance from the shoulder seams is the same on left and right, and that the front edge is horizontal. Then, very carefully, cut a rectangular opening an inch or so inside your pencil line, rounding the corners slightly. Turning a small hem, finish this opening. You'll need to ease it around the corners, but it is doable.
If you find that you've made the neckline too big, then the fix is to place a couple of discrete pleats to reduce it to the right size. If you make these even on left and right, it'll look intentional!
Hem the bottom of the shift, if you haven't already, and put it back on. Go and preen infront of the mirror. You've made your first piece of clothing: enjoy it!
Finishing the neckline - the collar
Note for men: Your shirt must have a collar. Either of the two styles detailed below are acceptable.
This neckline is a little more awkward to sew, and substantially more tricky to describe, than the square neck. I'll do my best, but I'm going to have to do a certain amount of doubling back with this, so I'd recommended reading the whole section and making sure the rough idea is fixed in your mind, before getting started.
Broadly, making a collar is a similar process to setting a cuff in that, in both cases, a raw edge is tucked inside a folded strip. And, as with the cuff, the first stage is to get your measurements. You need a rectangle, width three times your desired collar measurement (typically a similar width to your cuffs) and length the desired collar length plus a bit for the fold. This can be figured out by sticking a tape-measure, dog-collar fashion, around your neck (remembering to allow room to breathe) or by eye-balling a modern shirt. To give an idea, I make my boy-friend's 15 inches long; mine are a little less.
There are basically two styles of collared shifts, both of which are illustrated well here. Basically the difference is this: one has a neckhole the same distance round as the collar is long, so the shift doesn't need to be gathered to fit. The second has a much larger hole which, like a cuff, is gathered or pleated into the band. Choose which you will (although the latter won't work on a shift with a very tight body) but be warned: the one time I tried to do a gathered neckline I looked like someone had stuffed me in a sack and tied it up round my neck with a bit of string. Desperately unflattering!
The first stage is to cut out the neck-band, then fold, refold and iron it in exactly the same way as the cuff.
The next stage is to cut out the neckline. Start small, on the basis you can always make it bigger. The broad shape is a squidged circle, off-set from the midline of the shift, because your neck comes forward out of your shoulders, with a straight line running vertically down the shift-front. If you're doing an ungathered neckline then this circle is small - a CD is 15 inches in diameter, so you certainly want it no bigger than this. It needs to be bigger for the gathered version, of course but, again, start small and work your way up. The length of the vertical is variable: in most period examples it's long enough to allow easy access for breast-feeding. Unless this is important for you, I'd recommend making it rather shorter, to preserve decency when you're wearing nothing over it. I work on 6-7 inches being about right. Again, start small and enlarge if need be.
I've illustrated the approx shape in the sketch to the right. The red line represents the midline of the fabric, running from shoulder to shoulder, so you can see how off-set the neck opening needs to be.
Looking at the shape of the shift, you may be able to see a problem. It will only fit someone with absolutely level shoulders which are the same with where the arm joins as they are near the neck. I don't know about you, but I've never seen anyone that shape! Modern shirts have a sloping shoulder-line to compensate for this. Tudor ones don't - the fix is different.
This stage isn't strictly neccessary, and it is fiddly, but it does make the shift fit better over that awkard shoulder area and will tend to stop the shift from tearing over time where it meets the collar.
This, of course, will make your neck-opening a little bigger, which is why I suggested reading all the way through before cutting anything.
The next stage is to hem the vertical slit. Hemming should be second nature by now, so I'm not going to patronise you by putting up a photo. The only tricky bit is working your way around the point. Leave the edge of the circular opening raw.
Finally, attatch the collar to the neck-hole in exactly the same manner as the cuff was attatched to the sleeve end, by first sewing one side down, folding it over, and sewing the other. I find it easiest to pin the center of the collar to the center back of the shirts, pin the quarter points, and then hide any excess in between. If your opening is a little big, then often the easiest way to lose an inch or so it to put in a pleat at the centre back. If you're gathering, again, it's easiest to get the fabric distributed evenly if the centre back and quarter points are pinned.
Shift collars close in exactly the same way as cuffs: ties either go through eyelets or are sewn in. Again, buttons are not okay.
The only thing that's left is to hem the shift, if you haven't already, and you're done!Back to sewing the sleeves.