Since I’ve now bought more fabric than needed for Daughter’s dress, and can’t make it yet anyway, I thought I’d practice by making something for myself.
Naturally, that means starting with the shift.
I had that striped linen left from before, only used to attempt a blackwork manuka. I bought another half metre of it – given it’s about 3m wide, the price isn’t as extortionate as it would be otherwise – and am now in the process of making a shift for myself, to the same pattern as Daughter’s.
The only difference from Daughter’s pattern, apart from size, is that I want a high collar.
The smock pattern generator at elizabethancostume.net (“Drea’s”) only covers square-necked smocks, so no luck there.
The Tudor Tailor, a copy of which I finally bought from the authors (to save myself accruing yet more overdue fines for it at the library), has men’s shirts and women’s smocks. The women’s smock has a high collar option, but is made to a slightly different pattern to Drea’s (the shoulders are cut in at the same angle as the gores).
So, I went looking online to see what I could find there, and encountered a conundrum. Men’s shirts are all made with neck gussets. Some women have included neck gussets, and some haven’t. The Tudor Tailor women’s pattern doesn’t include neck gussets, and goes for a rounded cut neckline. The women’s smock in the museum at Bath apparently does (I can’t find any detailed photos online), though they’re not obvious in this reproduction:
as does the one at the Victoria and Albert
The V&A smock appears to have a straight-cut neckline; the reproduction Bath looks like it’s rounded.
I consulted the good folk at the Elizabethan Costuming group on facebook, and they also endorsed the use of neck gussets.
I like the voice of experience, so my next question was: What size should they be? I suspect that the 2″ sided right-angled triangles in The Tudor Tailor men’s smock would be too big for a fine-boned frame like mine.
Time to try a “toile” or “muslin” as a test. I got a bit of the Sally Army sheet set, and cut a slit in the middle and down the front of a guess at the appropriate length – subsequent reading tells me the front slit should be longer, to reach about my breast-bone.
I then put it over my head as is, to see the result.
(Apologies for the blurring in the first photo)
1. As you can hopefully see (despite the blurring. Son was somewhat unenthusiastic about acting as photographer) it doesn’t sit well. It is about two cm wider on each side than the finished shoulder width of the actual shirt, but still, those shoulders clearly want to stick up rather than sitting along the shoulder line, so that’s one thing to deal with.
2. When the neck is closed, it sits high on the throat – it really wants to sit higher still than in the photo, as visible in the creases coming out from the side of the cut, but the width of the cut prevents it.
3. The side view shows just how poorly the whole thing works. It’s the old Cartesian problem: how to get straight surfaces to adequately match a curved surface.
4. If it were a different project, a solution might be found through something like this (or the alternative, which is taking fabric out at the shoulder line), but that’s not going to work with this project.
None of these photos on their own helped me much with the question of how big to make the gussets, but they did give time for my brain to perculate, and I came up with the following:
If I measure my neck around, it comes to 36cm. That should be 18cm at front and 18cm at back, but I suspect there’s more at the front really, and indeed when I measure from one side to the other across the back it’s more like 16cm, which leaves 20cm at the front.
If I look in the mirror and measure the straight horizontal distance from one side of my neck to the other, it’s 13cm.
Back neck: 16cm – 13cm=3cm, /2 (to see how much each side)=1.5cm
Front neck: 20cm – 13cm=7cm, /2=3.5cm
So I think ideally the gusset would provide an extra 1.5cm each side at the back, and an extra 3.5cm at the front, for a total of 5cm each side (or 2″ in imperials).
However, I doubt it’s possible with my limited skills to arrange it so the gusset width sits more at the front than the back. Also, the front “corners” are going to need to be cut away somewhat so that they sit against my neck and not against my throat – I don’t know that gussets would change that problem.
And even if the width (or rather, that side of the triangle) is correct (dubious), it still doesn’t tell me how long to make the other two (identical) sides.
Time for some more guesswork.
The Tudor Tailor women’s pattern takes a curve out at the back (1″ less at the centre back) to is 3.75″ from the centre. If I draw that on the toile I can see it would take the total measurement of the back of the neck to – wait for it – 16cm. The front is cut down 2″, making the total front neck measurement… 20cm.
This is such a tidy match that I think I’m going to have to try it. ….
And indeed, it suddenly sits a whole lot better.
However, I think some small gussets would still be a good idea, mostly because although it sits better now, I realise that it’s going to need at least a little seam allowance at the front for the hem on the front slit. That’s going to pull the sides in by about 1cm each side. Though I suspect a better way to deal with that is to put a little pleat in the back to match the seam allowance at the front, and move the side seams out a cm on each side.