18th Century Shift

Hello again lovelies!

I’m hoping that for most of the country the snow has finally melted and Spring has sprung! Here in North Carolina we went straight from the 50s and 60s into the 80s. So for us, summer is already upon us.

With April though comes the wonderful Fort Frederick Market Fair held in Big Pool, Maryland. Once a year, this small French and Indian War era fort transforms into one of the largest 18th century market fairs on the east coast (the country? not sure…) and is such a blast to attend.  My father and I have been going since I was a young girl, and I dreamed of one day owning a pretty dress and actually having a reason to spend so much money on accessories, fabric, buttons, ribbons, patterns, etc.  One thing that I love is that I’m able to see in person things I’ve been wanting and I even get to talk to the merchant and/ or maker and ask questions.  This process is much harder online. This year I came prepared with a budget, a list of things I needed, and if possible a few extra things I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. Day One of Market Fair? The whole thing was blown out of the water.


Anyways, I bought some beautiful stuff, met a few people I’ve connected with online, and ultimately had an amazing time. I always camp out with my dad the whole weekend, so I didn’t take many pictures to preserve my phone battery and to just unwind and enjoy. But check out my instagram to see a few I did take and the items I got!

Now on to actual sewing!

Point of this mini-rant is that I needed a new shift for Market Fair. Since I’m working on my hand sewing and this is a pretty basic but necessary undergarment, it was the logical next step. Truth time…I don’t dress out very often anymore, and I have been using the same shift since I was 12 years old. No lie. It still fit fine but had wide sleeves and was started to show its wear. Definitely time for a new one.

The horror!!

I used the American Duchess Simplicity Pattern #8579. I had tried to draft my own shift before and it went horribly wrong, so I thought I would play it safe for this first go round. Very easy pattern to follow, nice and basic, and gave good instructions. However, their instructions are not historically accurate, so I only followed them partly. I’ll note what I did differently below.


I used a linen/ cotton blend purchased at my local JoAnn Fabrics. I figured this attempt wouldn’t be 100% perfect so I wanted to practice with something light, semi-accurate, and most importantly cheap. I also used silk #30 thread purchased from Britex.


It was pretty straightforward. I cut out the pieces and attached the side gussets first creating some volume at the bottom.

Instead of the standard seams the pattern suggested, I used flat-felled seams instead. This is a more historically accurate way that encased the raw edge to prevent fraying. (See my previous blog post on the different types of stitches to see what I mean)

Cutting out the pattern and attaching side gussets
IMG_3952 (1)
The beginning of a flat-felled seam. Press open, fold the extra fabric under and hem stitch to secure to the fabric.
Like so…

I have to admit, I didn’t take a lot of pictures during construction since it was simply the same two stitches over and over again. I used a back-stitch to secure the sleeves together and to the arm hole. Again pretty basic and easy.

And them I hemmed the bottom with a hem stitch, and used a narrow hem for the sleeves and neckline.

IMG_4125 (1)
I love hem stitches for some reason. So calming…
Narrow hem around the neck curve

And voila! Completed!


Apparently when making a shift it is super common to have the neckline come out a little too large (at least that what it seemed like when I asked for opinions!) and mine wanted to slide off the shoulders a tad.  Even with stays on, it wasn’t comfortable enough for my liking. It sat like this until Fort Fred when in my frenzy of last-minute sewing I made a channel for a draw string neckline. It wasn’t ideal and the ribbon I used was a little too large, but live and learn I guess!

A little rushed, but it did the trick!

I’m glad I ended up sticking with the cheaper fabric, because there are definitely some adjustments that need to be done for next time. And since construction I’ve learned of an amazing website and resource, Sharon Burnston. I’m sure many of you are familiar with her if you’ve done historic sewing in the past, and while I had heard the name I never knew how in-depth her website and resources were! So definitely check her out and next time we can make amazing, accurate, well-fitting shifts together!

One more picture of me wearing the shift with the drawn neckline and my recently completed 18th century stays…coming soon!!


Until next time lovelies

❤ Caitlin


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