Summary: I chose to make two new Elizabethan shirts in October 2006, one for Alan for use at SCA events and Jamestown, and also one for Aedan to sit his Pelican vigil in. I used white linen and other materials, silk ribbon and linen thread, already at hand to create both.
Evidence: There are a few surviving shirts, high necked smocks or night shirts from this period. Most plain shirts were no doubt used up, or sold to second hand shops to then be passed on in the used clothing market until they were naught but scraps. Thankfully there are some that were decorated with embroidery, thus making them more likely to be kept, cared for and passed down. Such shirts are the Wadham College shift, the Warwick shirt, a man's shirt c. 1580 and a woman's smock c. 1610 in the Costume Museum of Bath, and a woman's smock dated c. 1630 in the V&A. While valuable resources to the embroider, they also give us patterns for typical shirt construction of the time, including key elements such as the underarm gussets and neck gussets, as well as pleating for the sleeves, and often the body of the garment to the collar.
Materials and Construction: I used materials already in my sewing stash to create both shirts. I started by washing 5 yards of white linen, I think in the 3.5 oz weight, and digging out my paper copy of Grace Gamble's shirt construction pattern, linked below. I cut out both shirts at once, laying out the body, sleeves, and smaller pieces as per Grace's instructions and my fabric width. I then followed her instructions to create both shirts, one after the other.
Here is a picture of the second finished shirt with lines drawn on it to clearly mark out the seams and pattern pieces. I've learned through making this shirt a few times that the neck gussets are important to make the shirt fit smoothly under a doublet but not pull too much. I've always had to add in a few small pleats to the body of the fabric to make it fit to the collar.
Grace cuts her underarm gussets directly onto the body, giving more width to the chest measurement without having to add in side gores. This particular piece of construction I haven't found in existing shirts, and is a bit fiddly to construct on the sewing machine, but does give a nice fit under the arms. If you are unwilling to try this part of Grace's pattern it can easily be substituted for a regular square underarm gusset and flare the body out from the shoulders to give additional width to the shirt if needed.
Finishing details: I've used a few different types of materials for the ties at the cuffs and neck. On my older shift, I used modern candle wicking purchased from a craft store. On Aedan's shirt, I used fine silk ribbons, 7mm wide, two on each side, or four to a closure. On this shirt I used ties of fingerloop braiding that I had made from 30/3 white linen thread. They are made in the flat braid style of five bowes. I've never had any problems with the ties coming undone on their own with either of these materials.
The neck and cuff ruffles are made of a folded pleated band, making them thicker, but also with no raw edges to finish. I've never used a facing on the neck opening of the shirt, instead simply putting in a small rolled hem, carefully button-hole stitched at the bottom of the opening.
Morgan, Laura. An Elizabethan Shirt Instruction by Grace Gamble [Article], The Oak, Issue #10. Retrieved online at: http://www.houseffg.org/resources/Elizabethan_Shirt.pdf
Mellin, Laura. A Reproduction of the Wadham College Shift c. 1600. [Article] ©2007. Retrieved online at: http://extremecostuming.com/reproductions/thewadhamshift.html
Mellin, Laura. Patched, Scratched, and Mis-matched: Secondhand clothes in Elizabethan London. [Article] ©2000. Retrieved online at: http://www.extremecostuming.com/articles/secondhandclothes.html
Photos of extant shirts and smocks are available online from the Elizabethan Costume Page
Elizabethan Costume at the Costume Museum of Bath: http://www.elizabethancostume.net/bath/
Shirts and Smocks at the V&A Museum: http://www.elizabethancostume.net/va/smocks.html