Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's Underneath: Half-Boned Stays c. 1760

The last layer underneath my 1750 Court Gown is a set of stays (more photos here):

Yes, I KNOW the lowest layer should be a shift...I don't have's on the list...I'll get to it eventually!!!

Front laced stays are not common, but not unheard of. My old stays lace in back only, and are fully boned, so this was an attempt to do something completely different. Front lacing really does make putting this on super easy.

I started with the Butterick pattern, 4254, because the shape of the pieces are, essentially, documentable. I suspect this pattern is based on an illustration in Norah Waugh's Corsets & Crinolines but I don't have the book handy, and can't check.

Aside from the the approximate correct shape of the pattern pieces, the pattern was BAD. It had the typical "Big 3" problem, in that for my measurements it expects to be worn with back edges touching. The bigger problem, though, was that it's extremely short. My body runs a tiny bit short from bust to waist to hip, and it was waaay to short for me. I started with one size smaller than the pattern recommended, added length, removed tabs, moved the shoulder's not really the same pattern anymore. I went through three mockups (and one expert fitting consultation) before I was satisfied.

It's made of two layers of linen canvas, heavily starched, and one layer of what I think is an upholstery linen (it's quite thick ).To get the look of hand-stitched channels, I used a heavy linen thread on the exterior (35/2 from Burnley and Trowbridge), lighter cotton thread for the bobbin. I used the same heavy linen thread for the eyelets.The boning is "artificial whalebone" (aka German Plastic).

The binding is natural pigskin.

Since I'm teaching a class on lucet weaving at Costume College this year, I felt I had to put rubber to the road, so the speak. So, the straps and front of the stays are laced with standard lucet cord, made from cotton crochet cord, and the back is laced with double lucet cord. I think the cord is certainly sturdy enough for this application...I just need to get all the stretch out.

I feel like I've been making these stays for 10 years...that's when I bought the tomato red linen that makes up the exterior. They have, of course, evolved in those years (for instance, I had originally planned to hand stitch the whole thing, and Butterick 4254 didn't even exist back then) and despite making the first mock-up two years ago, it took me until March of this year to actually CUT the red linen. Costumer's sewing block? Nah, I've just had so many other things to do, and have a great set of stays already...but the old stays has issues...hence, new stays!


  1. Pretty, pretty work! I love the pattern's overall geometric look, especially the triangles-within-triangles effect! So happy I found your blog yesterday, even though it's causing me to totally rethink the stays I have coming down the pike :D Thank you for sharing your project on-line

  2. Thanks, Eleanor! There is so much variation in stays, just go with what makes you happy!

  3. When you say that the linen you used in your stays is heavily starched, I'm assuming you used powdered starch instead of spray, right? Did you starch before you cut, after you sewed, before you sewed? I'm trying to figure the best way to do the same to my linen and just wanted some advice. I love the workmanship shown in your photos - amazing! I'm in the process of planning my third set of stays and want them to be the best they can be. I wasn't able to do the stays sew-along with Burnley and Trowbridge, but am researching as much as I can using Google and Pinterest, which is how I found your blog. I also plan to spend more time reading your articles, since you explain things so well. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for your kind words! And sorry that I'm not much of a blogger. My creative output has been less lately, and my verbal output even more so.

      Here are some thoughts on starching. Starch after washing and before you cut. Once washed, linen acts a bit like seersucker: it's puckery and wants to crawl off your cutting table. Also, once it's made up it'll "grow" while worn, and result in a garment that is bigger than you had intended.

      I've used both spray starch and homemade starch (powdered corn starch in water). Spray starch is maybe a little less messy, but when you're starching yardage it can get a bit pricey. Both methods will make a mess of your iron and ironing board! So be prepared to use pressing cloths, like, a lot of them. I'd use muslin that can just go into the wash afterwards. While you're pressing you should also try to straighten out the grain of the fabric.

      If you go the powdered starch route, just watch for lumps of starch, which can burn when ironed. Sifting the starch while you're mixing it in the water helps, but doesn't entirely eliminate the lumps. I pick them off the fabric as I'm pressing.

      Speaking of burning, you might want to press outside or at least by an open window. Don't ask me how many times I've set off my fire alarm.

      Best of luck! Stay making is challenging but very satisfying, one you see yourself in that oh-so-typical 18th century silhouette.