Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Shifts, Selvages and Interpretive Tool

Dearest Friends,
As I mentioned in my last post, when it comes to making shifts it's all about the selvage! The vintage linen that I'm using for my shift is 36" wide,  so cutting out a 30" wide shift leaves a long 6" strip with a wonderful selvage.  I guess I could use the entire 36" width for my shift, but it would really be too big for me.  But what I can do, is use the 6" strip for its selvage so all my gores will have selvage on one edge, making flat felling the intersection of side seams and the top of the gores less of a mess.

So what makes a good selvage? Hard to find these days.  Here are two from vintage linens and here is one that is typical of most of the on-line linen available. As you can see, the on-line linen has holes in it and has a frayed edge.  This is pretty typical, unfortunately, and sometimes when you find a clean edge, it has a colored thread through it.  Aaargh! But don't give up, there are good sources out there, but they are not cheap.  Don't be afraid to spend a couple extra bucks on a garment that will get lots of wear. It will pay you back.
Close-up of selvage from vintage linen

Close-up of selvage from vintage linen - this one is gorgeous!

Close-up of selvage from linen purchased from a popular on-line store
Because this is an undergarment, shifts are usually not an item that reenactresses like to spend lots of time on.  Many women end up buying very coarse linen or cotton shifts with ill-fitting necks and sleeves from sutlers, and this is reasonable when you are getting started.

However, if you are serious about this hobby, I would encourage you to make your first shift. It's a wonderful practice piece for learning basic hand sewing techniques, it will fit better than anything you can buy from one of the large sutlers, but most of all, it's a great interpretive tool. Even if you don't have the confidence to talk to a tourist about a battle, for example, you can always talk to them about how you hand sewed your shift, how your stitches got better over time, how long it took, how you pulled a thread to cut your linen.  You'd be surprised how a newbie can impress just about any tourist with that information!  This is an item you will wear every time you put on your 18th century kit, so make a good shift, it will serve you well in more ways than one!

Your humble and obedient servant,
Mrs. S

P.S. At some point you will forget to pack your shift.  Don't panic, find a tee shift (that you don't mind sacrificing) cut out the neck - since it is a knit, it won't unravel and .... Voila! Emergency shift stand-in.

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