In the few short years I have been doing costumed interpretation and living history, I have made three shifts and four shirts and am making up a fifth shirt, with a possible sixth needing to be made, as well as four aprons. I’m not crazy, I just sew that way…for three people (one still growing) who dress for the decades between 1763 and 1812.
There are several annoying factors when sewing historic clothing with modern materials– mostly that the modern materials aren’t quite right, and can be quite wrong. As Sharon Burnston explains on her website, much of this has to do with selvedges— which are not hard, and rarely tucked, now. The other trouble is width: many fabrics now come 54 to 60 inches wide, which means that you have to cut them down when making shift.
There is a solution: hand-woven, period-correct linen, available now by subscription from Justin Squizzero [email to order: justin(dot)levi(at)ymail(dot) com].
Mr Squizzero will weave both plain and check to the width you want: 3/4 (27″), 7/8 (31.5″) and yard (36″) widths, perfectly correct for period clothing.
The prices are $130/yard for plain bleached, $160/yard for checks– and what checks! Indigo dyed blue and white check in a pattern documented to New England at the turn of the 19th century? Oh, yes, please: I must save my allowance and sew only from my stash.
Although we debated fabric weights this past weekend, here’s what I think, and have found through wearing: shirts for soldiers and artisans– but not the elite–can certainly be made of the white and the check; I would made a shift from the white, but I prefer how my heavier shift body feels and behaves under stays. The check would be ideal, too, for an apron, which would require only one yard.
If you’re wearing a coat made from $120/yard wool dyed with documented colors, shouldn’t you wear the most correct shirt possible underneath? Entirely hand-woven (and hand-dyed in the case of the checks), you’re buying art– but isn’t that what you’re making and creating when you hand-sew your clothes and step into the past?