Monday, September 5, 2011

Mrs. Hancock's Hurricane Shift

Miss Hancock models her almost completed shift.
Mrs. Hancock

Remember that hurricane last weekend? I set the goal to make a "hurricane shift", that is I tried to create a baby shift before the end of the storm. I wasn't entirely successful, but I was able to complete it fairly quickly...

I borrowed from research at and the V&A's Dictionary of Children's Clothes: 1700s to Present (p.270)I know that children's shifts were essentially the same as mommy shifts, so I didn't use a pattern.

The storm's winds started in my section of southern New England on Saturday evening and lasted about 24 hours. I lost power on Sunday morning and it wasn't restored until Monday evening so I'm counting that in my timeline here. Sew I started the project Saturday evening. (Sorry, I like bad puns.)

Saturday Evening

Miss Hancock currently wears the 12 month size in Carters brand clothes and she will transition to the 18 month size this fall. I used one of her 18 month onsie / pant outfits to approximate measurements...

I measured this slightly larger size from the shoulder to the elbow...
...and from the shoulder to the knee to guesstimate the shift's measurements.
 I cut a piece of fabric for the body and sleeves, and started flat felling the side seams so that... Saturday evening as the sun was setting,  I was well on my way with this project. 
By the time I went to bed Saturday night, I had finished the side seams and had started hemming the skirt.


Sunday: one sleeve attached, the other pinned in place
By Sunday evening I had completed the following:

  • the sleeves were sewn
  • one sleeve was attached (with the cute little gussets) 
  • and the skirt's hem was complete. 


On Monday I realized I had incorrectly sewn the first sleeve and gusset. I ripped that out and reset it, and then correctly attached the other sleeve.

I also added two drawstrings...

In the first drawstring, I simply turned down the hem at the neckline and added two eyelets. 
For the second drawstring at the sleeves, I used some fabric scraps to create a casing. As you can see above, this scrap wasn't long enough so I pieced it together. 
Later in the Week...

When Miss Hancock tried on the shift I realized that I made it waaaaay too long. This shouldn't have been a surprise since the measurements were based on the size that's larger than what she currently wears. She will be walking soon so this length just won't work.

Back to the workroom. When she was wearing the shift, I noted where her knee was. I used this length to trim several inches off the skirt and rehemmed it.

This resulted in the boxy and rather awkward looking shift pictured above. It's done. It's doable for a working class impression, though I don't think it's my best effort.

Besides taking better measurements so that my shift has the right triangle shape, areas for improvement include:

  • Primary Sources. I relied upon secondary sources because I couldn't find primary sources. I plan on making her a spring shift (which she'll wear to the summer event) and hope to find a) an extant garment to work from or b) 18th century documentation in writing (maybe something like the 1789 Instructions for Cutting Out Apparel for the Poor but published two decades earlier).
  • Better fabric. I choose the softest linen from my stash but forgot that it doesn't have a tight weave. As you can see in the picture below, it pulls very easily. I had planned on embroidering her initials at the front of the neckline and "12-18 months" to represent the size at the inside back of the neck (like a modern tag) but that just wasn't feasible. (Yes I realize embroidering the size is not accurate, it would be for my future reference since I plan on making her many shifts as she grows.) 
As you can see, this linen doesn't have a tight weave and leaves little marks from the stitches. 
Lastly I was concerned that maybe I tackled this project too quickly. Shifts are garments that receive much wear and laundering. It took me months to make my shift as I tried to finely and neatly sew the stitches. But in this case, I was focused on completing the project as fast as possible. 

In the Diary of Anna Green Winslow: A Boston School Gift of 1771 (Applewood Books), she writes on December 24th, "I began a shift at home yesterday for myself, it is pretty forward" (p10). Then on December 28th she writes, "Last evening a little after 5 o'clock I finished my shift. I spent the evening at Mrs. Soley's. I began my shift at 12 o'clock last monday, have read my bible every day this week & wrote every day save one" (12). 

So (sew?) I feel justified that Miss Hancock's shift will do. 

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