HSF #1: The Make Do Shift

The first challenge of the Historical Sew Fortnightly (HSF) 2014 is Make Do And Mend. At the start of January, none of my in-progress projects qualified, unfortunately, and while I wanted to get started on the right foot for the HSF 2014 and not miss the challenge, I also didn’t want to make something just to make something. I don’t need more stuff with no purpose and it’s hard to stay motivated on a project if you’re doing it “just because.” So I racked my brain trying to think of what would work for the challenge and be useful, without taking too much time. I settled on the idea of turning a gifted partially finished linen man’s shirt into an 18th century shift suitable for the mid-to-late 18th century. That just happens to be the period my 18th century court gown will be from at some point this year. Useful! I made an 18th century shift a few years ago, but it’s actually late 18th century/Regency, with short sleeves, which really isn’t appropriate for the rest of the century. This new shift will sort of work for the entire century, though the sleeves aren’t really full enough to be entirely accurate for the first half.

IMG_0672

1750-1790 shift

All of the seams are flat felled. The neck is narrow hemmed. It’s pretty accurate, though I did have to add center front and center back seams, which is not usual for these garments. Those seams are due to the fact that the shift was super wide after I cut it out because I had to deal with the neck opening of the partially sewn shirt, and that was gathered into the neck, so was super full. There was just way more fabric than was needed, so I seamed it and kept the extra with the other scraps I had. I’m sure they’ll get used someday! It’s very nice, light linen.

The facts:

Fabric: Linen reused from a partially completed man’s 18th century shirt.

Pattern: I used Mara Riley’s 18th century shift draft to cut my pieces, though I had to make some adjustments given that I didn’t start with fabric yardage.

Year: Loosely 1750-1790.

Notions: Thread.

How historically accurate?: It’s 100% hand sewn using 18th century stitches and cut in the manner of an 18th century shift, so lots of points for that. I probably should loose a few points for using polyester thread. The only other odd thing is that I have seams up center front and center back, but they did piece a lot in the 18th century, so it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility, given that this challenge is Make Do and Mend. I give it 90%.

Hours to complete: 10-15 maybe? I didn’t really keep track.

First worn: By the hanger. I probably won’t wear this until I have more things to wear with it!

Total cost: Free!

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2 responses to “HSF #1: The Make Do Shift

  1. Now I’m curious, and I’ve always wondered, what do you mean by 18th century stitches? I’ve not hand sewn much, usually by machine, and I have wondered what a dressmaker would do from another century to quickly make a gown. When I’ve had to hand sew an item I’ve used a back stitch, a running stitch, or something like a blanket stitch. None of these seem like what they would use, and I’ve not been priviliged enough to ever study museum pieces (I wish)!! Is there a resource you can point me to that would answer the question with pictures? I am familiar with embroidery stitches also, but didn’t think those would be useful in construction of a garment.

    • Hi Ruth,

      18th century stitches include the running stitch, back stitch, whip stitch, and a mysterious stitch called le point a rabattre sous la main (if you google search that there are lovely blog posts out there that explain it). Seams were sometimes butted, or flat felled, or top stitched, or sewn normally, with right sides together. The stitches that you’ve mentioned using sound like they’re in line with what seamstresses would have used in the past. I can’t point you to a specific source for pictures, unfortunately.

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