Making a pair of Bodies

My first “The making of” post for this year! I think it has been over a month since I’ve done one of these, which is crazy! I have quite a few things in progress right now, and two dresses i’ve completed, but I thought I would start with I finished yesterday: A pair of bodies.

As I mentioned in my last two posts, i’m going to be making a tudor ensemble! It will consist of a chemise, a pair of bodies, a hip roll, a farthingale, kirtle, sleeves, and a dress. I decided to start with the pair of bodies first, then built up and under from them.

“Bodies” were the 16th century equivalent of stays or corsets. A stiff foundation garment to give your body support and to create a conical shape, which was all the rage in the mid 1500s.

My pair of bodies isn’t meant to be seen, which is good because visually it didn’t turn out very well!! Like most of my attempts at foundation garments, it was a not complete success. But they fit, and are functional, which is more than I can say for some of my creations!

The pattern i’m using is from Norah Waugh’s “Corsets and Crinolines”. This pattern is labeled as being from the early 1600s, but i’ve seen very similar ones used for recreations from the mid 1500s, so i’ve decided to use it for just that!


For materials I decided to use a hand embroidered linen napkin. I was given this a while ago and it was either embroidered by my grandmother or great grandmother many years ago. It is very pretty but stained and a little worse for wear, so I decided to repurpose it!

I’m using yellow thread for the boning channels, plastic boning, a canvas base, and green broadcloth for lining and bias tape.


I copied the pattern from the book, then altered it a lot. I let it out almost two inches, changed the straps a bit, and made it longer in the waist. The tabs had to be adjusted as well.

Eventually my pattern looked like this!


I cut everything out from the canvas first.


Then drew out all the boning channels with pen. I also marked out where padding would go in the bust.


I used the canvas as a base to cut out the top material. I tried to get this as symmetrical as possible – I thought I did an okay job, but it was almost a half inch off, boo.


I stitched all the boning channels and ended up with this mess! You can’t backstitch with these things so all the threads have to be tied off and buried by hand.


The fabric puckered really badly but it (luckily) ironed out with a bit of water.


Unfortunately without me realizing the top layer of fabric slipped, and the pattern slid up half an inch on one side. Which makes the pattern difference almost one inch, since I cut them unevenly as well. It is my own fault for not checking the front of the garment between stitching, but still, i’m annoyed!

Here one side has the threads buried – can you tell which one I didn’t iron?


Here all the pieces are just before adding boning! I was pretty pleased with how it was coming along, despite the embroidery not really lining up…


Then disaster struck. I was using a purple sharpie to mark the boning lengths and a little spot got onto the front of the fabric. I, oh so cleverly, jumped into action and dabbed at it with alcohol which faded the mark completely! Unfortunately the alcohol lifted all the pen ink I used to mark the boning channels. Within minutes my tiny sharpie mark had turned into this…


I scrubbed at it with dish soap and a toothbrush. I tried a bleach pen too, and it just made things wore. This was really frustrating, even though this garment won’t be seen I was trying hard to make it look pretty.

On the bright side, this has taught me a valuable lesson: Never use ink on a garment again. I don’t wash my dresses since they don’t get much wear, and it honestly never occurred to me that detergent or alcohol or potentially even water would lift the ink and damage something beyond repair.

I tend to use pen since I don’t  mind permanent markings on the interior of things and it doesn’t tug at fabric the way chalk and pencils do. But after this is experience i’m going back to wax/chalk pencils because I don’t want this to EVER happen again!

For salvaging the garment, I attempted to put patches over the mark, but the patches had raised edges which could create bumps and make the dress worn over it look a little lumpy. Which I definitely didn’t want.


I tried patching it with muslin, but the ink stain showed through, and I couldn’t patch it with the linen because it frays too much. I ended up using a scrap of cotton sateen, trimmed the edges with pinking shears, and fused it over the spot. A few people suggested I dye the whole garment blue, or to add a patch on the other side, but both of those things felt wrong to me. I don’t think a mistake should effect your entire project, so I covered it and moved on!

I made bias tape from green broadcloth and stitched it on by hand.


Before attaching the bias tape to the top layer, I padded the bust with some quilt batting.


Then added the bias tape.


I cut out the pattern from green cotton and assembled it. This is the lining.


I sewed on the tabs and then pinned the lining in place.


And whip stitched that in place.


Then it was time for eyelets! I haven’t sewn a bunch of eyelets in a while, and after trying to do fifteen in a single evening my fingers were not happy with me. It took a few days, but I got them all done!





It definitely isn’t the prettiest thing i’ve ever made, but it is functional, and when it comes to foundation garments that is the most important thing!

Here is how it looks worn.

(Without a chemise, because I haven’t made one yet)


Now I just have to make the understructure for the skirt, the chemise, kirtle, sleeves, dress and headpiece. Yikes. It is kind of scary to think that this was one of the easiest pieces of the set and gave me so many problems! Hopefully I ran into all my problems on this piece, and everything else will be easy.

Thanks for reading!

Stay Study – Project One

I’ve started a new series, because apparently I don’t have enough things in progress already! This one is a little different from everything i’ve done before, and i’m very excited about it.

I’ve always been sort of fascinated with sets of 17th and 18th century stays and bodies, so much so that last year I bought a first edition copy of “Corsets and Crinolines” by Norah Waugh. It’s a really amazing reference, and i’ve spent days reading through it and studying patterns and information included.

But up until now I’ve had a few things stopping me from making anything from this book. The first is that the patterns really scare me. Stays can require sewing over two hundred boning channels, and if any of them are misplaced, sewn crookedly, or just a quarter inch off it can ruin the shape and wearability of the garment.

The second is that they require so many techniques that are foreign to me. Stays don’t have seam allowances, they are all hand bound together. They have hand embroidered eyelets, cross cut boning, curved bindings and lot’s of other tricky things I don’t have any experience doing.

And the final thing is that I couldn’t figure out which one to make. I really like, and think I would get use out of a lot of the designs in this book – it’s impossible to pick one!

Last week I sat down and looked through the book again, and realized that I would never magically acquire the proper experiences to make anything from this book. To learn the techniques needed to make a set of stays, I would actually have to make one.

And since I couldn’t just pick one – Why not make a few? Starting with some of the easier designs and building up to a fully boned set of stays.

I’m calling this the “Stay Study” even though two of these projects aren’t technically in that category. These predate that term and would usually be called a pair of bodies, since they were made from two main pieces  (though I have heard them called “Renaissance stays” before).

The goal is to complete four stay-related projects from this book, and I’ll document the process here! I’m going to aim for every other week updates, but I’m making no promises. In the end I just want to learn as much as I can, and i’m not going to rush that!

I’m also not making these in a historically correct way – I’m using plastic boning, twill, and machine sewing my boning channels. If you are  looking for historically accurate recreations, this is NOT the right blog for you!

This is the first project I decided to take on.

DSC_3993I started by scaling the pattern to be full size, then made it a little bit larger. Due to lack of information on these garments (which are talked about significantly less often then regular stays) I wasn’t completely sure how they should fit. I ended up leaving a 1.5″ gap at the front.


Then I marked the boning channels and eyelet holes onto the material I had cut for the lacing panels.

I used a layer of heavy duty twill sandwiched between two layers of muslin.

DSC_3903I sewed over all my markings and trimmed the edges with pinking sheers so they wouldn’t fray.


I embroidered the eyelet holes – which was less challenging then I had expected! I might go back and reinforce these with more thread later on (because I didn’t do that great of a job) but for now they are fine.

I also made a bit of home made half inch bias tape which was sewn around each panel.


Once that was done, they looked like this!


Which meant it was time to move on to the body of the garment. I repeated the process of marking out all the boning channels onto the twill. I also left a one inch “seam” allowance on each side.


I sandwiched the marked panels between muslin.


And sewed around them.


And then the sewing of boning channels began! This wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had thought. You just have to go slow and follow the lines.It’s when I rushed, or got distracted that I made mistakes.


Adding the boning was the most enjoyable part for me. I cut each length and then filed the ends so they weren’t sharp.


I wish I could say these pieces were finished – but they were far from it. Each piece needed to have the edges bound.



Bound edges are done by turning over the seam allowances (twice) and stitching them down. Then the bound edges are stitched together to hold the garment together.

To do this properly I purchased some heavy duty upholstery thread – the cotton thread I usually use would have snapped in an instant!


And this is what the back panel looked like! Four of the edges are bound and two of them are stitched together.


Not the prettiest stitching in the world, but I think I will get better at it.


I repeated this process on the side/front panels as well. Then I added more home made bias tape to the curved edge.


Once that was finished and all the pieces were sewn together it looked like this!


I just had to bind the bottom edge, sew the shoulder seams together,  and sew on the lacing panels.



For the shoulder seams I used a cross stitch. The insides ended up looking really messy, so I sewed a small panel of lining over them.


And I was finished! Overall it has a lot of issues and ugly hand sewn bits, but I learned a ton (which was the point) so I’m happy with it. It’s also a lot more durable and comfortable then I had expected – I honestly have bras that are far more uncomfortable then this.

I did forget to order the right lacing for this, the one i’m using now is too thin and if I pull it tightly i’ll wrisk tearing the eyelets. I’m confident I can lace it in another inch if I had the correct mm of cording.


So that’s that. I think my next project from the book will be the Neuberg bodies, but I may decide to take on the more challenging partially boned stays next, hmm…

Thanks for reading!