C18th Stays

Yes, I know I’m not doing this in the right order… I should really begin by making a smock, but I’m also impatient, and would rather make the exciting things! I had heard that Redthreaded are brilliant when it comes to corset patterns, so rather than drafting my own, I decided to use their pattern instead. I do have the resources to draft it myself, but ready made patterns feel safer. And it came with instructions! This wasn’t necessarily to my advantage…

Stays pattern laid on the floor with mustard yellow cotton drill, a roll of plastic boning, sand coloured bias binding, and corset lacing.

I had the cotton drill in my stash, but the rest of the notions came from Vena Cava Design, who (along with Sew Curvy) seem to be the main corsetry suppliers in the UK. Even though we were in lockdown at the time(the joys of 2020!), the supplies came really quickly! The pattern in the picture is a photocopy of the first one I printed off – temperamental technology is the bane of my life – I should have realised I wanted a second copy to scribble all over when the printer was working! Anyway…

I am incredibly bad at making mock-ups before diving head first into a project, but am trying to get better at it. I made this mock-up of the stays pattern in the final fabric, figuring that it was more likely to need to go smaller than bigger. I wasn’t entirely optimistic, since I have very little bust, and not a lot to squidge at the waist, which means that standard sized stays don’t fit brilliantly, and I can’t have as much waist reduction as some pattern drafting books seem to think I should have. I’ve made a set of C18th stays before, but they… didn’t go brilliantly. I might do a post on things I’ve learned from past projects, now I think about it. Would that be of interest?

Back to the topic at hand! The mock up was (funnily enough) bigger than I would have liked in certain areas, but I was able to shrink it down at the side seams without too much apparent hassle.

C18th Stays mockup in mustard yellow cotton drill.

As you can see from the multiple lines of stitching here, it had to be taken in quite a bit to get it to fit, especially around the bust. I don’t blame the pattern for that though – I’m not exactly standard proportions! Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of me trying the mock up on, but I’m sure I’ll get better at taking more relevant pictures with practice.

After this I skipped to making the boned stomacher that goes in the front of the stays for them to lace over – it felt like it would be easier than sorting out the lining.

I by no means have the neatest machine stitching in the world, but I wanted to finish it quickly. One of these days I’ll try making some stays by hand, but not yet. I used synthetic baleen, which was just like using cable ties except it’s so much easier to cut to the right length! For extra stiffness, I used a layer of buckram between the cotton drill outer and the linen lining, though I don’t know how much of an effed this had.

The main advantage of the buckram is that it’s slightly see through, so it was really easy to mark the boning channels on with a pencil and then sew along them. I know they don’t look the neatest, but they function, and no one’s going to see them (except anyone reading this, obviously…).

I didn’t have a wider piece of boning to use at the centre, so used several pieces of narrower boning, figuring that it would have the same effect. It… doesn’t exactly… They all tend to bunch up when I’m wearing it, but it doesn’t really matter too much in terms of comfort or shape – it just looks a bit odd.

To bone and line the stays, I made things a little more complicated for myself than I really needed to… Rather than unpick the mock up so that the interlining and lining could be cut to the right shapes, I decided to leave it all sewn together, and trace the shapes onto the buckram to use as pattern pieces. Not unpicking the lining also meant that I couldn’t follow the instructions included in the pattern, where the stays are flatlined, but I’m very rarely any good at following instructions either…

I then traced the boning channels through the buckram, and sewed them all (again, not terribly neatly), and added the boning. I added the lining last. I’ve no idea if it’s a proper way of lining something, but I sewed each bit of lining so that it overlaps the last, so there are no raw edges showing, while at the same time attaching it to the rest of the stays at the top and bottom and along all the seams. Now, with all the boning in, I figured it’d be a good idea to check they fitted properly again, before going through all the work of binding and eyelets.

It worked! I’m cone shaped! You can probably see the weird bunching in the middle of the stomacher – don’t be like me. Make sure you have all the right materials to hand. Anyway, in full knowledge that it fitted and was comfortable, I began the long process of binding and eyelets. Rather than do all of one and then all of the other, I alternated between the two so that I could get bored of one and still be productive by doing the other.

Binding is incredibly fiddly when going round tabs, which is part of the reason I decided to do it by hand rather than try and follow the instructions for machine sewing it. I prefer hand sewing to using a machine, and find it far easier to make things neat that way, even if it is slower. It’s also closer to the way in which it was originally made.

By swapping between the binding and the eyelets (which are so much easier when I have access to a proper awl!), I managed to finish them fairly quickly. I was also helped by the fact that I used the shoulder straps made of twill tape – something I learned from this American Duchess video (about 10 minutes in, if anyone’s interested). I should really have timed myself, but because I’m constantly picking up and putting down my sewing in between doing other things, it makes it quite difficult to estimate how long things really take. At any rate, I’m quite pleased with the result! On to the pocket hoops