09 March 2015

New 19th Century Stays...and a Stays Secret

Please excuse the coffee stain.
New early 19th century stays! They're far from perfect, but they're a million times better than what I've worn for the last year.

This is my third attempt at early 19th century stays. (You can read about Attempt #2 here.) I used the Laughing Moon Regency Corset pattern in the theatrical version, because I wanted to make something quickly that would create a better shape. I used the pattern for cutting guidance, but the directions mystified me. I didn't follow them.

As you can kind of tell, I made the lining on the front and back, to create support for the eyelets/lacing and the busk, but not on the sides. The inside seams are flat felled and partly machine sewn. It's 3/4 handsewn, 1/4 machine sewn. I didn't choose the best fabric, the weave of this linen-cotton is a bit loose. I expect it won't hold up for years, but this experiment was more about fitting.
Being short waisted, standard busks are too long. Thankfully Red Threaded on Etsy makes an affordable custom busk and speedy shipping.

The edges are bound with cotton tape. I machine sewed little side tucks when fudging with fitting...which probably wasn't necessary.
Pas mal.
Pas bien.
Mais pas mal.
The single layer of linen/cotton on the side is really evident here...
...and here.
I saved the bust gusset fitting for last, which was the trickiest part. After an hour of gusset fiddling, and pin stabbing, I discovered that I could improve the fit by pinching the seam under the gusset (as seen with the sloppy whip stitches at the gusset's lower point) which created a little support and push--but it's not quite right.

It shouldn't be a surprise that gussets are so tricky. Finding a well fitting modern bra is hard. A seamstress class in constructing undergarments is looking especially appealing! 
In terms of fitting the back lacing...
...the seams seem too close together, but I have a feeling that's how the pattern was designed.

On the scale of Good, Better, Best, these are somewhere between Good and Better. There are fitting issues to overcome, like growing a third arm to help when fitting them on myself, and pattern revisions I would favor.

When sewing these stays, I was amazed by how quickly they came together. My 18th century stays took about three months, these took two weeks.

I couldn't help but wonder what the late 18th century staymaker thought when this new style took precedence over fully boned stays. Was he tired of the years/decades of sewing boning channels and happy to have a change of pace? Was he frustrated that he had spent much of his career perfecting the knowledge of fitting a garment that had become a defunct fashion? Or was he up for the challenge of crafting this new shape for young ladies?
For anyone who has read, or scrolled, this far, what's my secret? What have I been wearing over the last year? Get ready to laugh...

...this is it! Yes it's a little embarrassing but:
a) It cost $10 (including the shipping) as it came straight from a factory in China via ebay.
b) It created the right shape.
c) It helped me focus on making better gowns, the part of the ensemble people actually see.
It's not about the destination, it's about the journey. What fun would it be if there wasn't any challenge behind the research, interpretation and construction...and coming up with creative solutions?


  1. I just read Stays and Body Image London in by Lynn Sorge-English and her theory is that staymaking slowly became a woman's rade by the end of the 18th Century and that is one reason to why stays changed so drastically. Women making clothes for women and actually taking notice of how a woman's body looks like. :)

    1. Oh interesting! I have wanted to read that book. I heard the author speak at a conference a few years ago...but I can't remember what she said about this topic. Thanks for filling me in!

  2. Pas mal, indeed! And yes, it is about the journey, since we are (thankfully) not making stays in the early 19th century.

    You might consider cotton coutil for another pair. My chopped & dropped pair were made from linen coutil, which I can no longer find. The pair I am currently making are constructed from this sturdy fabric: http://corsetmaking.com/category/corset-coutil.html. So far so good so slow.



    1. Thanks for the cotton link! I just got a sturdy cotton from Artee that seems decent...I'll try to bring it Thursday. Your new stays are going to be great!


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