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How to Sew an Elizabethan Shift


Or at least, how I did so. I made a black dress that was slightly generic; depending on what I wore with it, it could look middle class English, Italian, Flemish, and maybe German if I make the right accessories.  An all purpose, late period, common kirtle thing.  And I was very proud of it when I finished it.  But then I realized that I needed a proper shift/smock/chemise to go underneath it.  Oh noes!  Fortunately, I had plenty of white, light weight fabric (ewww, cotton, I know) , and a free afternoon to whip something up.

So first you start out with your piece of fabric.  Mine is twice my height (from shoulder to ground), and looks like it goes from elbow to elbow in this picture.  I cut a long shallow hole in the top for the neck hole. 100_1649 Might not be easy to see here, but I cut it down the middle in the front.  It is a pretty deep cut, almost to my belly button.  Making a fish face is not required, but it helps. 100_1650 I sewed up the hem on the opening in the front.  This is almost entirely machine sewn due to time.  I can do a sexy hand sewn version later. 100_1652 Next, I am about to start gathering the neckline so it can fit in the collar.  I set up the machine to do long stitches, instead of the tiny stitches you might usually use. 100_1653 I sewed two lines along the whole length of the collar, trying to keep them even.  Make sure to leave long enough strings to hold onto on both ends. 100_1658 Now find the top two, or bottom two strings.  Looks like I have the bottom two in the picture.  Grab them and pull!  But gently or you'll break the thread.  And that would be sad and unfortunate.  :(  Slowly pull and awesome gathers will appear.  Try to make them even across the whole neckline, you don't want a super gathered part on one side, and the other with no gathers at all.  Make the neckline small enough to match your collar piece. 100_1659 Speaking of which, the top rectangle below is my collar pattern.  The long strip beneath it is what's going to be the ruffle of super awesome.  It is three/four times longer than the collar. 100_1660 Fold the long ruffle bit in half and iron it flat.  I love ironing things as I go, it makes life easier. 100_1661 Sew two lines down the length of the ruffle, just like the neckline.  Pull the strings at the end until you have gathers. 100_1667 Remember that the ruffle should be just a tiny bit smaller than the collar (due to the seam allowance on each end). 100_1669 I have sewed the ruffle to the collar.  I tried to stitch as close to the inner row of  gathered stitches as I could, without going over.  The collar consists of two outer layers of white, and an inner layer of canvas.  I thought that the stiff canvas would make the collar stand up better, and in retrospect, it does stand up nicely, but isn't really necessary, and I wouldn't do it again. 100_1670 It is looking pretty collar like, with the ruffle of awesomeness.

100_1672 100_1673 Then sew the collar to the gathered neckline!  Only sew one side of it. 100_1675 See how one bit is attached, and the upper part isn't?  That will be handsewn down later. 100_1676 100_1677 Pin the open half of the collar down if you like.  It might make it easier to sew later. 100_1678 Attach the sleeves!  They are long enough that they go all the way to my fingertips.  It is just a rectangle, no fancy shapes or anything. 100_1683 The sleeves are going to be gathered into cuffs.  I am leaving a little split in the sleeve where I open and close the cuff.  I hemmed up the area that the split will be later. 100_1680 And once again, gather the end of the sleeves like we already did. 100_1681 I am trying to get an idea of how tight I want the cuffs to be.  Once I find a satisfactory size, I cut it to size. 100_1682 Sew the cuff to the gathered end of the sleeve. 100_1684 Then fold it over in half and sew it closed on the other side of the cuff.  I should have hand sewn this part two, but I wasn't in the mood to do so here.  But I might still take out the machine stitches yet, and properly handsew the seam there.  Or maybe not. 100_1685 Now might be a good time to sew up the long seam up the body, and down the sleeve.  I did not include any gores in this shift, I didn't really think it needed it.  I did french seams on the shoulder and side, so there are no exposed edges anywhere.  Very nifty. Oh noes!  Why are you so angry machine? 100_1686 I fix the silly tension and hem up the bottom of the shift. 100_1687 I suppose I finally get around to finishing the collar.  It's just a tiny whip stitch. 100_1688 Sew hooks or buttons, or lacing holes, or whatever you want on the collar and cuffs so you can close them in some way.  I didn't really like the hooks after wearing this a few times, so I started replacing them with strings to tie.  I'm not finished yet, otherwise I would have included it in here. 100_1699 And done!  Now you can dance around and feel pretty. 100_1689 You might be wondering why I made such a huge opening in the front.  I don't know why.  It just sounded like a good idea at the time. 100_1693 I love the puffy cuff, and the frilly collar of awesome. (I somehow managed to sew the eye and hook on one sleeve backwards.  That's why it is rolled up in the pictures, lol.  Just think of it as an example of how the sleeves would look if you were one of those working class Italian women, lots of them have rolled up sleeves.)

The entry has been moved/backed up to my MorganDonner.com site! Go check it out along with my newest projects.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
spunkybluegrl
Oct. 28th, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC)
Girl, you never cease to amaze me with your awesome knack for looking at pictures and figuring out how to do things. Great job!
@~>~~
morgandonner
Oct. 29th, 2010 12:30 am (UTC)
And you always give me such nice comments, they make me smile :)
ashokakoy
Oct. 23rd, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC)
You rock
This post helped me so much, and you are so funny too! I laughed so hard at the "oh noes, machine, why are you mad at me?"
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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