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Linen shift or chemise from Karen Augusta, c. 1780-1800. Used with permission.
Origin: United States

Materials: Plain homespun natural linen, dark brown embroidery thread.

Labels: Embroidered cross-stitch lettering, "S + L"; Script, written in ink, "Betsey Emery".

Measurements: Sh-Sh, 28"; B, 63"; Slv L, 11"; Hem C, 86"; L, 49.5".

Comments by Karen Augusta: Prior to 1800 the loose fitting, knee-length cotton or linen garment a woman put on before anything else was commonly called a "shift". After 1800, "chemise" became the accepted term. The shift/chemise was very versatile. It was worn under the corset as it was the easier garment to launder. The same chemise that a woman wore all day might also be worn to bed at night. Standard period construction details: French seams, incredibly tiny, precise hand-stitching, underarm gussets, and all pieces cut square except the long inverted V inserts (for fullness at the hem). The linen is medium weight and glorious! I was puzzled by the lack of a draw string at the neckline and huge size of this shift, so I asked costume historian Nancy Rexford to examine it. Nancy had this to say, "I can't explain it, but the shifts of this type I find don't have a drawstring at the neckline. They're like yours. The closest example I can find is one at Northampton that belonged to the daughter of a woman who married in 1799.....Your example certainly must have belonged to a big lady. While shifts are generally roomy, this one is downright drafty."



Note: This shift is now owned by Kathleen A. T. Newman.

Copyright Notice: The Author of this work retains full copyright for the written material on this page. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Copyright 2003, M. E. Riley