Underwear in linen – you can always use another one. Here is an easy and basic tutorial about how to make your own. I use prewashed white or natural linen fabric, about 150 cm in width. You need about 2 meters for a shift for size small to medium. If you are tall, take another 50-60 cm. If you need a bigger size or want the shift to be long and full, take 3 meters of fabric (or draw out the pattern pieces on paper first.)
Before you start:
Soak the fabric in water for a couple of hours, then prewash in 40-60 degrees C. Zigzaging the edges before washing will prevent fraying. Hang dry linen, and iron it on high heat after it is dry. Now you are ready to sew, without having to worry about the garment shrinking during washing.
Take your measures:
- Length of shift/shirt + 3 cm seam allowance (SA).
- Width of shift (around your chest or your widest part of your upper body) + 6 % for movement.
- Width of armholes + some cm for movement. Compare with a modern shirt that fits you.
- Length of the arm, from shoulder to wrist.
After measuring yourself; draw out the pieces you need on paper with the measurements you got. This is my layout with pattern pieces; front, back, two sleeves, two sleeve gussets, two side gores (one is split in two). Add seam allowance (SA) 1-1,5 cm on each side, 2 cm at hems (sleeve wrist, neck-line, bottom hem).
I cut out my neckline at once, but you can start with a narrow neck-hole of around 18 cm width, sew your shift together and then try it on to adjust the neckline to your taste. Note that I also cut out my armholes on the body pieces; around 4-6 cm on the shoulders and then in a straight line down. This makes the shift lay better on my shoulders.
Draw the pieces on fabric:
When everything has been drafted on paper with measurement+ SA added, it is easier to transfer it all to the fabric. Draft the pieces out on your linen, starting with front and back pieces, sleeves, then side gores and sleeve gussets (if you want any). I draft my side gores around 40-60 cm wide but use the fabric you have and adjust to your size (xs-small=minimum 40 cm, medium=min 50 cm, large= min 60 cm etc.)
If you are going to sew everything on the machine, start with a zig-zag or serger around all fabric edges. This is important so the fabric wont fray and fall apart when wearing and washing.
If you sew your shift by hand, start with assembling the pieces, and then finish off the edges. Backstitches for assembling, and whipstitch down SA and double folded edges are durable and historically accurate.
After this, it is time to sew the pieces together. Start with the sleeves + sleeve gussets and then assemble the split side-gore. Next step is to sew the side-gores to the sides of the front piece. I always pin the pieces first, on a flat surface.
Sew the pieces together, and press the SA to each side with an iron, or by hand. Repeat these step after every seam, and it will be easier to sew the crossing seams nicely and make the seams look better.
Sew the shoulders together. When these are done, lay the garment out on a flat surface, with the right side up, and put the sleeves on top of the garment right side down and pin the sleeves to the armholes. (You don’t need to do a fitted sleeve on this item, just sew the sleeves in place as a regular flat seam.) The middle of the sleeve should meet the shoulder seam, continue to sew along the sleeve until you reach the gusset, sew this in place but leave 1 cm open at the edge.
Pin the side seams and sleeves together. I start sewing from the wrist, along the sleeve to the start of the gusset. Then I sew the gusset in place from the sleeve to the armhole, fasten the thread, change directions and sew the gusset to the armhole and down towards the side gussets.
When sewing the area around the sleeve gussets you might find it a bit bulky. Don’t be afraid to finish your seam, cut the threads and then change direction or the way the fabric run on the machine (or in your hand). Pinning or basting before sewing is also a great help. Remember your SA on the gusset; leave 1-1,5 cm open at the edges of the seams to make it fit. Make it as easy as possible for you at every step and you will find it much more fun!
When your garment is assembled, try it on to adjust the neckline and the length of the sleeves if necessary, and then finish the hems by hand. The easiest way to do this in a historical way, is to fold the hemline twice and whip stitch it down (this will keep the fabric from fraying, or hide your zig zag stitch). I use waxed linen thread in the same tone as the fabric, which makes for a descreet seam.
Good luck sewing!
Check out my shirt tutorial for help on how to sew a linen garment by hand.