Making Half-Boned Stays, 1776

So I guess this counts as another Stay Study post! But I’ve decided to drop that title since I failed miserably at keeping up with that series. It was supposed to be a study of stay patterns from the book “Corsets and Crinolines” by Norah Waugh, with the final project being a fully boned set of 18th century stays. But that didn’t happen and I haven’t even mentioned the series for a whole year. Oops!

But this post is about making a set of stays from the book “Corsets and Crinolines”!

I’m making these stays for an 18th century ensemble that I’ve had in the works for the last few weeks. I already posted about making a shift for this project, and this is the next layer! I decided to base my pattern off of the one shown below.

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I copied that pattern onto paper and made a few alterations. I added a half inch to the back, and a quarter inch to the front. I also took it in a little at the bust and removed the horizontal bones. I realize those add extra support to the bust but I didn’t think they were necessary for my body shape. After making a mock up I chose to lower the neckline as well.

The alterations were really minor, other than being slightly to small this pattern is pretty much perfect for me.

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I traced the pattern onto twill canvas (a cheaper alternative to coutil) and added half inch seam allowance around the outline. I used the twill pieces as a guide to cut out the front layer of fabric, which in this case was lightweight muslin. I added seam allowances to the muslin too, so the muslin layer ended up being a bit larger than the twill layer.

Then I marked all the boning channels with a colored pencil and pinned the layers together.

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And it was time to stitch all the boning channels! I used a beige colored thread because I was running out of ivory.

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When the boning channels were sewn I went ahead and added the boning. I used a mixture of flat steel bones and plastic boning, with the steel bones placed at the center front, center back, and sides. Only one of the diagonal boning channels has steel in it.

I tipped the metal bones the way I usually do, with athletic tape dipped in nailpolish!

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Then the seams were “bound” which means the seam allowance was turned inward and sewn down with a whip stitch. This is why I cut the muslin layer to have larger seams. The muslin can wrap over the twill seam allowance to create a finished edge with less bulk…which sounds very confusing but makes sense during the process!

The finished edges were stitched together with heavy duty upholstery thread.

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Here you can see what the bound seams look like on the inside. At this point I trimmed all the edges and covered them with bias tape binding.  I managed to get really smooth curve on the top edge, but I wasn’t so lucky on the lower edge.

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The lower edge has tabs. Tabs are horrible things which I hadn’t encountered before. I knew they wouldn’t be fun to finish, but they ended up being way worse than I had expected.

I waited until all the other edges were finished before cutting them out to prevent any fraying.

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I pinned and sewed bias tape to the front edge, then turned it under and sewed it to the underside. I gathered all the sharp curves because I figured I could get smooth edges that way. I was wrong!

My biggest problem was not looking at how other people do binding. I realize now that most people use really small binding (a quarter of an inch wide) and mine was twice that width. When the binding is very thin you don’t have to gather it over curves, so looks much smoother.

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But I persevered! They don’t look very pretty, but they are functional! At least I’ll know how to do a better job next time.

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In the photos above you can see the eyelet holes are marked, which should be a clear hint about the next step! The back edges were turned over and sewn down. Then the eyelets were punched out with grommet pliers, made larger with an awl, and stitched.

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And it was time for the final step: lining! The lining was cut using the same pattern. All the edges got turned over and pinned down at once. Usually I try to attach my lining in sections to avoid having a million pins in a garment at once, but this time it was unavoidable.

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But I managed to stitch it down without pricking myself to much. Okay, that is a lie. I pricked myself a lot. But I didn’t get any blood on the stays!

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So that’s it! They are done! I’m pretty happy with these because they actually fit. My last two attempts at making stays ended up in the trash – one was uneven and too long in the waist, the other was too big and never got finished. So this being functional is a huge improvement haha.

And even though they aren’t the prettiest thing in the world, all the things I don’t like about them can be resolved if I make another set. So I feel like I learned a lot!

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Here they are worn – I took these kind of quickly and didn’t end up with a front on shot, which is dumb. But there will be more photos taken of these at some point, i’m sure.

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There are about four inches open in the back when laced to the point where they are supportive. Which is perfect! It also means I could lace it a little tighter if I was aiming for any waist reduction, or if the stays stretch over time. In this picture they are laced the modern way instead of the historically correct spiral lacing. I find it a lot harder to get an even gap with spiral lacing which is why I did it this way.

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I think that’s everything! Thanks for reading!

Attempting to Make a Robe l’Anglaise, Part One

 This project has been an adventure. And when I say adventure I actually mean a hellish experience that didn’t go the way it should have and turned out quite poorly.

The main inspiration for this project was this dress. I love the stripes, floral accents, and unique cut of the bodice. As soon as I saw it I wanted to make something similar, and eventually I found some gold and red striped fabric at joanns which I thought suited the project nicely.

Now what went wrong: I actually started this dress months ago, I drafted and fitted the pattern, made a mock up, and even began cutting out the bodice before setting it aside and working on other things. When I picked up the project this month I had assumed my original pattern was fine.

Not so much. At the time I started the pattern I knew nothing about 18th century fashion (I honestly still don’t know much) and the bodice was over two inches too long in the waist. I didn’t realize this until AFTER I had assembled my bodice and sewn in all the boning. Every piece of boning had to be pulled out and retipped.

If that wasn’t troublesome enough I also forgot that 18th century bodices are usually bound together over lining, which makes the pieces look very smooth. I assembled the bodice the “modern” way and the end result was really bad…wrinkles everywhere!

The fabric was also  too thick and a relatively loose weave which made lining things up really difficult. And of course the fabric weight added a lot of bulk to the finished garment…

Overall i’m really unhappy with the end result, but I did learn a lot and if I attempted to remake this dress it would turn out MUCH better. Hopefully I can put my new knowledge to the test on a future 18th century court attire project!

With that block of text over, here is how I made the bodice.

This was the pattern I based mine off of, it’s from Janet Arnolds patterns of fashion book. I traced the pattern and then altered it to fit me.

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This is what my mock up (from many months ago) looks like. At the time I thought it was perfect but looking back I see soo much wrong with it.

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That mock up translated into this bodice pattern.

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I used this pattern to cut out the back and front panels. Since I wanted all  my stripes to line up I very carefully pinned my fabric until both sides matched up.

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Problem number one appeared at this point since I didn’t cut the front panels on a sharp enough angle. I ended up trashing these later on.

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Luckily the back panels turned out okay!

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I hand basted these together to make sure the stripes lined up, then machine stitched them. The end result was pretty fantastic in the terms of matching stripes.

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Now onto what I’ve done recently! I wanted to take the pattern in a little, add more boning channels, and change the seaming so I ended up remaking my pattern. This is what the new pattern looks like – I really wish I had made a mock up before settling on this. If I could go back in time I would do things so differently!

The back panels did stay the same size and shape so I could use the pieces I had already cut.

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The new bodice pieces looked like this!

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Then assembly officially started. Sewing this bodice together was really slow because I was aiming for perfect symmetry.

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The front edges got turned over a half inch.

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And the side seams got done up as well. At this point I tried the bodice on and wasn’t thrilled with how it looked or fit so I took it in a half inch at each side. I was happier with it after that and figured once the edges were hemmed the length would be okay.

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Then the bodice lining was assembled. The lining is made from two layers of cotton twill. I drew out and sewed all the boning channels before assembling the garment.

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Assembled lining pre-boning.

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I used steel boning for this, all the edges were rounded with a dremel tool then the tips were encased in athletic tape and dipped in nail polish.

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I labeled all the boning and boning channels with letters so it would  be easy to match them up later on.

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Once all the boning was added I sewed up the bottom edge and tried it on. That was when I realized it was really, really off. I ended up trimming one and a half inches off the lower edge and a half inch off the top. Since both edges are made up of curves raising them that much was nearly impossible to do.

I managed, but it doesn’t look pretty. Once the lining was “finished” I sewed eyelets into the front and tried it on. It’s still too long in the waist but it was impossible to raise it anymore without recutting the pattern…which I didn’t have enough fabric to do.

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It was a struggle to get the lining sewn to the top layer of fabric, but I managed! Once it was pinned I whip stitched around each edge to secure it in place.

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Hooks were sewn into the front as well. I ended up getting a lot of gaping at the front which I fixed by sewing in four more hooks.

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Here is the finished bodice before adding the extra hooks. With the added hooks the strips line up a lot better. Overall It’s not a complete disaster but it should be a lot better than it is. What a bummer!

At least I can say I learned a lot throughout the process…

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The next post will talk about the sleeves, skirt, and detail work.

Thanks for reading!

18th Century Underskirt, Yellow Sateen

This is the second and final project in my 18th century October series. I’d hoped to make a menswear ensemble too but that didn’t end up happening, and this dress is to blame! It ended up being way more detailed and time costuming than I had expected.

Today i’ll be talking about the long process of making a pale yellow underskirt. This piece is really just an accessory, the real star is a striped Robe a l’anglaise which will be worn overtop.

For this project i’m using a lovely red and yellow striped upholstery fabric and a yellow twill sateen. I also ended up using ivory tulle as an overlay and several hundred pearls for decoration. Despite searching everywhere for a fabric that matches the yellow tone in my striped material I couldn’t find anything. Fabric is either too yellow, or not yellow enough, or too dark!

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I ended up using yellow twill (which doesn’t actually match) and adding a tulle overlay to create texture and hopefully desaturate the color enough to make them match. It didn’t work, but hey, I tried!

I started by cutting out the skirt. The skirt has two main pieces, an upper section, and a lower section. I lost my measurement sheet so I can’t tell you the dimensions of these, but they were both rectangles. One was three yards long and the other way six yards long. The six yard piece was much thinner since it creates the ruffle at the bottom of this  skirt.

This is the upper part of the skirt.

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I cut tulle that was the same size and basted it on with very large stitches. I didn’t have a large enough desk to lay this out all the way so the process was very slow.

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The six yard strip was made of three pieces which were sewn together with french seams.

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Then I repeated the process used on the upper section of the skirt and hand basted tulle overtop.

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Then it was time for hemming! I decided that I should hem everything by hand, because thats the sort of stupid decision that I make on a regular basis. I actually like hemming things by hand, but this ended up being super tedious since I did it all in one sitting.

The bottom edge of my six yard strip has a three quarter inch rolled hem that was whip stitched in place

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The top has a quarter inch rolled hem which was also whip stitched in place.

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Then I  hand the thing down until it was three yards long. I divided the fabric into four fifty four inch sections and made sure each section was gathered down to twenty seven inches. I probably should have used smaller sections to ensure the gathers are even, but this worked pretty well.

I made two rows of gathers to create a smoother surface to sew my pearls onto.

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My ruffle got set aside and it was time to focus on the upper section of the skirt. Before I could do much with it I needed to make the waistband. The waistband was also a rectangle of twill fabric, but I reinforced it with a lightweight interfacing.

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I folded the strip in half and sewed the edges together with the “right sides together” method, then top stitched around each edge.

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The last step was sewing a button hole and attaching a button! I originally made covered buttons with matching fabric, but they ended up being too big.

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I gathered the top of my skirt until it was the right length, then stitched it onto the waistband.

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I folded a strip of leftover fabric into something resembling bias tape and used that to seal off the edges. I also tacked this to the skirt so it would stay facing down.

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At this point my skirt looked like this, which was pretty disappointing considering how long I had spent on it.

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The next step was sewing on the ruffle, I used my machine for this because it would be hidden by pearls later on.

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After attaching the ruffle and building up my dress form with the proper petticoats this looked a LOT better!

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Then it was time for the detail work. I ordered a heap of glass pearls from etsy in colors that matched my striped fabric. Unfortunately they only had ten strands of red 6mm pearls in stock, and I needed twelve.

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I decided to leave a twenty four inch gap free of pearls in the back of the skirt. This part will be hidden by the overskirt and leave me with enough pearls to use them the way I had planned. But it did look sort of stupid having this empty space on the skirt, so I decided to make tulle flowers to cover the gap.

I made these from tulle strips. I folded the strips into loops and wrapped thread around the bottom of each loop. Once I had five or six loops I stitched them together in the center to create something that resembles a flower.

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To jazz them up a bit I added pearls to the centers.

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Then it was time to sew pearls onto the skirt! I did this one by one and it took a really long time since I had over 500 to attach. I haven’t really done something like this before and it was surprisingly soothing, like hemming but with a much prettier end result!

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Once I finished sewing on all the pearls it was time to add my flowers!

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When that was done I did up the back of the skirt with a french seam.

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I left a six inch gap at the top of the skirt and rolled the raw edge inward twice to create a finished edge. Usually I would use snaps or hooks to keep this shut but since this is an underskirt I decided to leave it open.

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There was an ugly flowerless gap where the seam was, but luckily I saved a few tulle flowers which I sewed on after the seam was done up. So everything looks flowery and lovely!

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And the skirt was complete! I made this over the course of a week but there was so much hand sewing involved that it felt much longer.

In the end I’m really pleased with how it turned out, the whole project went smoothly. Even though it’s a simple design that’s something to be grateful for, mistakes are all the more noticeable on simple projects!

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Thanks for reading!

Making a Structured Chemise a la Reine, Part One

Today i’m starting a new series. This series actually started on October 1st when I began working on this dress, I just haven’t talked about it until today.

I’ve come up with the idea to pair centuries of fashion with months, then focus on that time period all month long. This month is “18th Century October” and if all goes well I’ll try to do “19th Century November”

My goal for this month is to make two dresses. But i’m hoping to make a frock coat too.

Dress number one is a really inaccurate Chemise a la Reine. These are usually loose garments made from very lightweight muslin or cotton, they are built like chemises (made from large rectangles), and tie at the waist and sleeves to create body definition. They usually had a drawstring at the neck and ties up the front or back.

I’ve wanted to make one for a long time. Just because I like the story behind how they came to exist. Unfortunately I didn’t have the materials on hand, or the ability to get them any time soon – finding light enough weight muslin is surprisingly difficult!

So I decided to make a more structured version out of fabrics I had around. Structured versions of the Chemise a la Reine did exist, but certainly not to this extent. I am completely aware this is horribly inaccurate and i’m sorry to anyone who is offended by it! Hopefully I can make a more accurate version in the future.

For this dress i’m using five yards of white polyester shantung and a half yard of blue silk taffeta, which makes the overall cost for this project around $20.

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Today i’ll be talking about making the sleeves and skirt, a little backwards from how I usually do it but for this dress I actually started with the skirt and sleeves!

The skirt is one very large rectangle, it was 58″ by 126″.

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I originally did a half inch rolled hem. I decided on this because I thought this fabric was only 56″ wide which didn’t give me much room for a hem!

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Of course after I spent over two hours hemming it by hand I realized the mistake, my fabric was actually 58 inches wide! A few days later I stitched it up to be two and a half inches shorter.

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On another note, I have NEVER pricked myself so many times when working on a costume, even when hemming I kept jabbing my thumb! The same thing happened when I was sewing the lining in.

Of course this has nothing to do with my hand sewing ability, and everything to do with the fact I was working with white fabric. White fabric loves to get stained. I kept my workspace really clean to avoid any staining, which is why the fabric kept making me prick myself.

That’s just how white fabric works.

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Anyway! Then the skirt was gathered down to be twenty eight inches at the waist, I left one inch on each side free of gathers so I could do the back up with a french seam. Polyester shantung frays a lot so this was pretty much my only option.

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Here it is draped over my dress form. I used a small bumroll, a quilted petticoat (gathered at the top), and a tulle/cotton (a-line) petticoat to achieve this shape. I’m so happy with it, it’s got a lot of volume without being too much.

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That was pretty much it for the skirt, so it’s time to talk about the sleeves! I made a pattern that looks like this, it’s a slightly altered rectangle that is thirty three inches wide at the largest point.

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The fabric versions looked like this! I drew lines in the center where they had to be gathered down.

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The sleeves were also gathered at the wrist, and later on I’ll gather the tops. Once inch of material was left ungathered because i’ll also be sewing these up with a french seam.

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Once that was done I made the “ties” from blue taffeta. Since this is an inaccurate structured version these aren’t actually ties, they are sewn directly on.

Each one was cut to be one inch wide, then the edges were folded over and ironed down to create a half inch wide band.

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These got sewn on with tiny stitches, silk taffeta puckers like crazy, as you can see below. But when worn these bands look smooth and lovely!

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Then the tops of each sleeve were gathered.

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And then it was time to add the cuffs. These were made from two inch wide strips of shantung. I folded the raw edges towards the center, pressed them in place, then pressed the finished edges together. This created half inch wide strips with two finished edges…the same way double fold bias tape is made!

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These also got sewn on with very tiny stitches!

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The sleeves weren’t done yet, the tops were still pretty ugly and frayed a lot. To fix that I made more bias tape from shantung and sewed that on to hide the raw edge.

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All that was left was to sew up the seam! These were supposed to be french seams but I goofed up and sewed them like regular seams (right sides together) then trimmed the edge before realizing I had done it wrong.

Shantung frays too much for me to rip the stitches out, so I sewed another seam a half inch further in and covered the raw edge with bias tape.

And no one will ever have to know about the mistake….

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Here are the finished sleeves!

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Next week i’ll talk about making the bodice and stitching it all together.

Thanks for reading!