Shift

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Completion Rating
This article's completion rating is 2 out of 5. Article structure and content is subject to change as data is still being collected.

A Shift is the garment worn next to the skin underneath the dress.

Shift Material

Linen

Art

  • In Anglo-Saxon manuscripts shifts are often left white possibly signifying that they were made of linen. [OWEN-CROCKER 2004]:p.218

Literature
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Archaeology

  • Birka, Sweden (C9th-10th) 61 graves containing bleached or white linen shifts. Hägg categorises these into two categories, smooth and pleated [HAGG 1986]

Discussion
In both types of shift, though far more common in the pleated shift, the neck hole was slit and fastened with a small round brooch or, more rarely, with a small penannular. The datable graves from Birka containing remnants of shifts show a trend where the smooth linen shift becomes less popular in the C10th (JBS) while the pleated shift becomes more so (HAGG 1986). The datable graves from Birka containing remnants of shifts show an increase in the number of pleated shifts in the later stages of the site (JBS) (HAGG 1986).

Wool

Art
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Literature
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Archaeology
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Discussion
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Style

Smooth Linen

Art
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Literature
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Archaeology

  • Birka, Sweden (C9th-10th) 28 of the 61 linen shifts found were classified as smooth [HAGG 1986]

Discussion
Hägg suggests that the shift was made from a single piece of linen with a central hole for the head, not dissimilar to a poncho. It appears that fragments from different parts of the garment were made of the same cloth, unlike some over-garments. The datable graves from Birka containing remnants of shifts show a trend where the smooth linen shift becomes less popular in the C10th (JBS) while the pleated shift becomes more so [HAGG 1986].


Pleated Linen

Art
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Literature
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Archaeology

  • Birka, Sweden (C9th-10th) 33 of the 61 linen shifts found were classified as pleated [HAGG 1986]

Discussion
Although Hägg counts 33 pleated shifts from Birka, Geijer only lists five graves (BJ 517, 950, 980, 1062, 1084). [GEIJER 1938] Where metal objects have preserved the cloth in different places along the body they show that this type of shift was pleated at the top (found in the oval brooches) and the waist (found on the links of a chain worn around the waist) and had many folds, but no pleats, further down the skirt (found on knives and scissors). Tools which according to the grave plan were near the arms, suggest this garment had long sleeves. The pleated shift probably had its origins in the Slavic area and was adopted in Birka between the ÄBS and the JBS. The datable graves from Birka containing remnants of shifts show an increase in the number of pleated shifts in the later stages of the site (JBS) [HAGG 1986].
The pleating was achieved by the plissé method. This is done by drawing the cloth together by a thread sewn in a running stitch through the cloth. Then the cloth was soaked and stretched. [OWEN-CROCKER 2004]:p.218 [GEIJER 1938]:p.87-88


Sleevless

Art

  • Luna MS Cotton Bv f.47r
  • Evangeliar (Codex purpureus), Munchen Staatsbibliothek Cod lat. 23 632, f.24v. 9thC Germany. The child murders, showing the mothers with sleevless shifts, with deep front splits at the neck.

Literature
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Archaeology

  • Birka, Sweden (----) 28 smooth linen shifts interpreted as not having sleeves [HAGG 1986]

Discussion
Owen-Crocker discusses the garment worn by Luna in MS Cotton BV as an over dress. [OWEN-CROCKER 2004]:p.213 However it is possible that it is a shift that is depicted. Earlier dresses are tight to the sleeve and do not show emerging shifts at the wrist. For this kind of dress a sleeveless shift would work fine.
Hägg suggests that the smooth linen shifts found in Birka were worn like a poncho, a simple length of linen with a hole in the centre for the head. This would imply they were sleeveless [HAGG 1986].
In a world where linen is relatively expensive but desirable for use as a washable under-garment, omitting the sleeves would seem like a sensible option.

Tight, rucked sleeves

Art

  • One image from the Benedictional of St Aethelwold f.64v depicts a woman with apparently separate shift sleeves.

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Visible short (above ankle) shift [POOR]

Art

  • Woman on horse - some Viking stone?, interpreted to be a short shift [EWING 2007]

Literature
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Decoration

Bleached or Natural cloth

Art
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Literature
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Archaeology

  • Birka, Sweden (----) In Birka all fragments of linen assumed to be under shifts are of a light colour, either natural or white. [HAGG 1986]:p.61

Discussion
Although some dyed and patterned linen was found at Birka it appears to have been used for the hangerocks or as decoration [HAGG 1986]:p.61

Dyed Cloth

Art
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Literature
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Archaeology

  • Birka, Sweden (----) In Birka all fragments of linen assumed to be under shifts are of a light colour, either natural or white. (HAGG 1986, p.61)

Discussion
Although some dyed and patterned linen was found at Birka it appears to have been used for the hangerocks or as decoration (HAGG 1986, p.61).



Embroidery

Art
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Archaeology
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Fastenings

Small neck brooches

For more information see Small neck brooches.

Art
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Literature
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Archaeology

  • Birka, Sweden (----) some found with linen shifts.

Discussion
In Birka both the smooth but far more commonly in the pleated shift, the neck hole was slit and fastened with a small round brooch or, more rarely, with a small penannular.
In the area around the Baltic Sea small penannulars were sometimes used for the same purpose [GRAHAM-CAMPBELL 1980]:p.29


References

Geijer, Agnes (1938) Birka III - Die Textilfunde Aus den Grabern. [The Textile finds from the Graves] Birka, Kungliga Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien [GEIJER 1938] ^ 1 2 *
Graham-Campbell, James (ed.) (1980) Viking Artefacts, A Select Catalogue. British Museum Publications [GRAHAM-CAMPBELL 1980] ^ *
Hagg, Inga (1986) 'Die Tracht'. In Arwidsson, Greta (ed.) (1986) Birka II:2 Systematische Analysen der Graberfunde. [Systematic Analysis of the Graves Findings] Birka, Kungliga Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien: II:2 [HAGG 1986] ^ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 *
Owen-Crocker, Gale R. (2004) Dress in Anglo-Saxon England. 2nd ed. The Boydell Press. [OWEN-CROCKER 2004] ^ 1 2 3 *