I did some work on the pattern for my 1830s/40s shift/chemise today, based on the Workwoman’s Guide instructions from 1838.
I decided that instead of reproducing the Workwoman’s shift exactly, I wanted to alter the instructions slightly to copy a shift identical to the pattern below, an 1835 shift from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London:
First, I read the Workwoman’s Guide instructions, which are in yards and “nails,” an antiquated measurement that is about the size of an index finger from the tip to the largest knuckle, aka 2.25”. There are 16 nails in a yard (36”). I translated all the nails/yards measurements to inches, to get an idea of the size of the various pattern pieces I would need to cut out.
I decided to make the second-smallest size. Interestingly the Workwoman’s Guide lists the sizes from the largest to the smallest. What a change in perspective from today!
I then cut out small pieces of extra fabric, to mock-up how the shift would go together (note: pieces are not to scale):
Here you can see the gores that are cut out from the top of the shift, which are sewn to the bottom to make a triangular/polygon type of shape.
The Workwoman’s Guide helpfully gives the measurements for the shoulder straps. I decided that rather than follow the WG’s instructions to make a single piece of fabric into a shift, I would alter the pattern to include separate shoulder straps, sewn onto the straight seam at the bosom and back. I also decided to make the sleeves puffy and sewn to a band at the cuffs (band not present in the model below), rather than straight sleeves like in the Workwoman’s shift.
You can see how it all fits together:
Below I’m sewing on the last part, the gores underneath the sleeves:
And the pattern-mockup is finished. Now I’ll go about making a human-sized, hand-sewn version (without all the raw edges ;) !
Whenever I’m making a pattern from measurements only, I always find it’s easier to work out the confusion in half-scale, or even quarter-scale. Easier to work with, easier to sew, etc. You can use this technique to do flat pattern-making from any standard book you’d find in fashion school. It saves a lot of money on fabric! Then, when you have the pattern figured out and you understand it all, you can make it in a bigger size and make only minor adjustments.
Next up: sewing the real thing!