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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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Once that was done, they looked like this!

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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.

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I sandwiched the marked panels between muslin.

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And sewed around them.

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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.

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

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

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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!