Category Archives: 18th Century

Outfit Planning – Time to Cut the Expensive Silk!

FWAP – Fabric With A Plan

Figuring what to make out of what fabric is another one of those things that is hard to explain.  Sometimes I just know what I want to make as soon as I see a piece of fabric.  Other times I buy the fabric with one or more ideas in mind, and it changes over time.  It might end up making something totally different out of it than what I planned, especially if a new event comes over the horizon and I need to make something I was not originally planning to make. 

So I have – as part of my sewing Kanban process – a FWAP list.  I have had these two large pieces of silk for some years now and have waffled back and forth over the exact type of 18th century gowns to make out of them.  The main question being, robe a la francaise (sack gown) or robe a la anglaise (fitted back).  I know in both cases I wants stomacher gowns as I do not have a silk stomacher gown right now.  The two fabrics are:

Pink Baranzelli 100% Silk Lisere Fabric

And

Burgundy 100% Silk Schumacher Brocade Fabric

So how does one decide?  Well first I thought: maximum flexibility.  I bought both of these fabrics on Ebay at a steep discount, but the pink stripe lisere was FAR more expensive.  So I want as much flexibility with that as possible.  So first lets think about how many different things it will match.

A single 18th century gown can be paired with a different petticoat and different accessories to create many different looks.  A stomacher gown can also have multiple stomachers, and will still fit you if you gain or lose weight as the fix it more flexible.  Planning ahead for this can save you a lot of money.  Instead of making an entire new outfit, just make a new petticoat or stomacher!

The pink in this silk is VERY hard to match.  I bought numerous swatches over the four or five years it has been in my stash and of all of them, nothing matched except for this one 5 yard piece of silk satin ribbon.  It matches a few different greens due to the variation in colors in the floral stripe.  I found a nice piece of trim that looks similar to period fly trim on Etsy:

Green Silk Satin Ribbon, Pink Silk Satin Ribbon, Green Faux Fly Trim

Here it is with a couple different colors of green ribbon from the stash:

Antique Olive Green Rusching Ribbon, Dark Olive Silk Satin Ribbon, Green Quilted Silk.

But honestly I like the lighter green in the first picture better.  It also goes well with this piece of quilted green silk, which would give it a silk petticoat for a different look:

Green quilted silk,  olive green rusching ribbon, olive green silk satin ribbon, green silk satin ribbon, pink silk satin ribbon, green faux fly fringe trim.

It will also work with my existing green silk petticoat:

And someday, something new and blue.

So really this fabric has a lot of options for different petticoats and stomachers to give it great flexibility.  It could have a stomacher with decreasing size bows out of either ribbon (or both) in addition to a self fabric one, and a compere stomacher (buttoning up the front).  So I have decided to make it as a robe a la anglaise as this style is also more flexible, and depending on what skirt supports I wear with it and what accessories I can make this gown work for any time from about 1750 – 1780’s.  But the primary target will be 1760’s.  I have a little less than 12 yards of it so that should be plenty for the gown trimmed out with box pleated trim and a petticoat with a wide box pleated ruffle around the bottom.  Something like this:

18th Century Gown from Met Museum

And this:

Gown from Philadelphia Museum of Art

So now looking at the burgundy silk – I have 15 yards of it and it was far less expensive.  So there is enough to make a very fancy sack gown that fits over wider panners.  It also looks great with gold trim, and could also be worn with the same green quilted silk petticoat, ironically enough.  But it looks its best with gold trim:

Burgundy silk with green quilted silk, green silk ribbons, and various types of gold trim.  It looks better with the dark olive ribbons.

So something like this:

Robe à la française, 1760’s France, Museo de la Moda

And this:

Gown MFA Boston

I should also clarify it took me a while to make these decisions.  It is better not to rush, to take time and lay the fabric out with various trims and other fabrics, and order swatches from the internet for additional fabrics and trims that might work.  As a general rule, don’t cut into expensive fabric until you have sat with the decision for some time and feel at peace with your choice.

I will make up the pink lisere first as I have had it a long time and want to finally wear it!

Battle Of The Stays: RESULTS!

Phew that took a long time!  The worst part of making stays?  Binding.  Ugh took forever!  But they are finally done and photographed.  Photographing them was almost as much work as making them.  The photos were taken in two different sessions with helpers and with a selfie stick, so the hair and chemise change sometimes.  I learned a lot about how to do (mediocre) photo shoots though!  But here it is – a comparison between four different 18th century stays patterns.

I am a modern size 14/16 so this gives a good idea how these patterns will look on  the average lady of today.  Compared to the standard measurements of these patterns, I am slightly longer waisted between waist and bust, and slightly shorter waisted from bust to hip (details like that matter when making corsets).  My waist is wider than the assumed waist on the patterns because I am apple shaped, so I sized the pattern using bust size.  I am reduced three inches which is about the maximum for most 18th century stays.  They are not really designed for tight lacing.

High Level Comparisons

Stays: Larkin & Smith, Reconstruction History Front & Back Lacing, Reconstructing History 1790’s, JP Ryan Diderot Stays

Contestant # 1  Larkin & Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

I have worn these to several events and they are VERY comfortable!  Great for most of the 18th century, these will get you through both the French & Indian and Rev war (unless you are going super high style, then use the Contestant #4 JP Ryan stays).  These are easy to get on and off and give me a nice (as can be expected) figure.  The inner layers are cotton canvas and the outer covering is red silk; construction notes can be found here.  This pair is boned with synthetic whalebone, which is very light weight and thin.  It was also very easy to work with.  I highly recommend this pattern if this is your first pair of stays or if you only plan to make one pair.  The pattern is worth its weight in gold just for the amazing instructions!  Once you go through them, you can use the method on any pair of stays, including diagrams from costume books.  They are easy to fit, and stays without shoulder straps are easier to move around in.  Front lacing makes it so much easier to put them on and take them off by yourself.  Most of us don’t have ladies maids so this is an important consideration.  Here is how they turned out:

Front of red silk Larkin & Smith Stays – I thought about binding them in black but ended up using self fabric.  I like the black lacing which I used because I could not find ribbon in the right color.  Red is red, right?  Not!

Back of red silk Larkin & Smith Stays

Side of red silk Larkin & Smith Stays – pretty straight in front despite fat gut assuming you stand correctly and don’t try to be a fucking fashion model.  These stays have excellent tummy control!

Full side view red silk Larkin & Smith stays – standing straighter.  Boobs look better because I am using a cheat – stick a rolled up pair of socks under each boob.  Not kidding!  Makes a huge difference!  Apples on a tray, people!

Contestant # 2  Reconstructing History Front and Back Lacing Stays

Reconstructing History Stays

This pair of stays is longer than the others, and is boned with reed.  The reed is thicker than the synthetic whalebone, but interestingly my waist measurement ends up exactly the same in this one as the Larkin & Smith stays above.  Go figure!  The bust is two inches smaller as it is a much more long, narrow stay.  Perfect for the first quarter of the 18th century, and surprisingly comfortable!  I was not sure about the reed but it worked out quite well.  My only recommendation is to use steel bones on either sides of the eyelets both front and back.  I did use them in the back, but not in the front.  I could hear them complaining as I laced it up and I had to be careful to tighten it gradually or the reed would have snapped.  The inside layers are cotton canvas and the outer fabric is blue silk brocade.  Construction notes are here.  This pattern has great bang for your buck as you get four different stay designs, including the rare 1790’s stay (Contestant #3 below).  Drum roll please ….

Reconstructing History Blue Silk Brocade Stays Front – no room for “boob socks” in this long lean stay.  They pop out pretty good on their own.

Reconstructing History Blue Silk Brocade Stays Back – sorry this one came loose in back but I was too exhausted by this point to care.  It does lace evenly when one is not being lazy.

Reconstructing History Blue Silk Brocade Stays Side

Reconstructing History Blue Silk Brocade Stays Side – curving out at the bottom due to fat gut, but has a pretty straight line from waist to bust, where it shows.

Contestant # 3  Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays

Reconstructing History 1790’s Wide Front Stays

These are one of the two pairs of half boned stays, and for half boned stays I use spring steel boning.  The unique thing about these stays is the very wide front.  This is to help create the wide pooched out front bodices of the 1790’s.  They are also much shorter than the other three pair, so they are not as flattering by themselves.  However I do believe they will create the perfect silhouette for the 1790’s, which is not about looking thin!  They are lined with cotton canvas and the other covering is white silk taffeta.  As I plan to wear them under a chemise a la reine I wanted to stick with white that will not show through the thin fabric of the dress.  I cheated and used metal eyelets with cross lacing on these, because I was afraid they would be hard to lace up on me otherwise.  I also discovered that it does much better if I leave off the bottom three eyelets.  I cannot remember if I copied the eyelet placement from the pattern, but most likely not.  You really only need the eyelets to go down a couple of inches below the waist, and the ends – which are really tabs – know what to do.  Construction notes are here.  Without further ado ….

Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays Front Close Up

Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays Full Length

Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays Side – front pooching nicely.  Stuff a fluffy kerchief down the front and yur done.

Reconstructing History Wide Front 1790s Stays Back

Contestant # 4  JP Ryan Half Boned Diderot Stays

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

This pair of stays is also half boned, and therefore boned with spring steel.  It has cotton canvas as the lining and green silk taffeta for the cover.  Interestingly this pattern has slightly different pieces for the outer layer, but they do fit together correctly.  I love the shape of these stays!  One of the differences between stays in the earlier part of the 18th century vs. stays from the latter quarter is the shape of the front.  Earlier stays have a conical front, that is a straight line from the waist to the top of the bust (tends to curve out a bit at the bottom on me, due to fat gut).  Starting around 1780, the stays began to curve outward from the waist to the bust.  This is most extreme in the example above but this pair is also cut that way, and is perfect for the 1780’s and into the 1790’s (before waistlines started to rise).  They are very comfortable, but somewhat challenging to get on and off by yourself, but it can be done.  I love how long and slimming they are!  They are good at what they do – I feel like I am wearing a lard tutu as it squashes all that fat downwards with great efficiency.  Don’t need as big a bum roll!  I had some fun with this one and the new selfie stick.  Pardon the side shot glasses – I just could not get a decent side view without being able to see.  Construction notes are here.  Last one!

JP Ryan Diderot Green Silk Stays Front

JP Ryan Diderot Green Silk Stays Front with Selfie Stick – you can’t see the lard tutu surprisingly.

JP Ryan Diderot Green Silk Stays Side

JP Ryan Diderot Green Silk Stays Back – lacing nice and even steven.

So there you have it!  Which one is your favorite?

 

18th Century Gown En Fourreau Back Tutorial

Getting a nice looking en fourreau back is one of the most noticeable struggles when sewing an 18th century gown.  Like it or not, you will be judged on the back!  For most of the 18th century, the robe a l’anglaise, English gown, or English nightgown was cut with a one piece back.  The back is then pleated onto the lining, usually in 4 pleats that taper in towards the waistline.  These pleats must be hand tacked to the lining before the sides of the gown are sewn.

I recently made up two test dresses to fit two different patterns that are on the market right now.  The first is Larkin & Smith English Gown:

 

Larkin and Smith English Gown Pattern

Larkin and Smith English Gown Pattern

I have to say this pattern has THE BEST instructions I have ever seen in a pattern, historical or otherwise.  It is like getting a workshop in a pattern!

The other pattern is Reconstructing History’s Open Robe Anglais pattern:

RH822 – OPEN ROBE ANGLAIS WITH POLONAISE OPTION

RH822 – OPEN ROBE ANGLAIS WITH POLONAISE OPTION

This pattern has some unique features that are not available in other 18th century costume patterns, such as the robings and bottom center fronts that nearly meet.  This is PERFECT for early 18th century – 1740’s (think Outlander) and I don’t think there is any other pattern out there that has these features.  The sleeves are also very wide, suitable for early 18th century.  If you want to make a gown for 1750’s or 1760’s (or later) use a sleeve from a different pattern – I used JP Ryan’s English Nightgown as I already have that pattern fit to myself.  Interestingly, the pleating template for this gown’s back is more suitable for 1770’s-1780’s and I will explain why in a moment, just stick with me here.  It is hard to make one pattern to cover every little style change over the course of 80 years, so you have to know the style changes and know what time period you want to recreate, and mix and match patterns accordingly.

The pleating pattern from Larkin & Smith is spot on for mid 18th century.

Why?

My research in online images from museum costume collections (The Met Museum and Victoria & Albert primarily) and the opinions of many other experienced 18th century seamstresses is this: the width of the pleats for both the robe a l’anglaise / English Gown and robe a la francaise (Sacque Gown) became more narrow as the century progressed.  This includes both the pleats in the back – en fourreau back and watteau pleats – and the pleats in the skirts.  That said, the size of the skirt pleats is wider depending on how heavy the fabric is.  Wool or heavy brocade is around an inch while chintz gowns are more like 3/4 inch and then thin silk taffeta gowns of the later 18th century can be as small as 1/4 inch.  However, the fabrics also tended to get lighter as the century wore on, although much older fabric was also remade to update the look.  So this trend isn’t 100% – it is just a guideline.  Here are some illustrations:

Saques were pretty much out of style by the 1780's but were still worn for court functions.

Sacques were pretty much out of style by the 1780’s but were still worn for court functions well into the early 1800’s.

And here is a comparison for the English Gowns:

English gowns were in style for nearly the entire 18th century, with pleats and fabric weight getting lighter as the century wore on.

English gowns were in style for nearly the entire 18th century, with pleats and fabric weight getting lighter as the century wore on.

By the 1780’s some gowns were being made with separate gowns and skirts, often with a deep V in the center back.  It is not easy to tell from a full length photo if the gown has very tiny pleats that face the CB, as the yellow example above has, or if the skirt and gown are separate pieces entirely:

Same yellow gown on the left compared to a gown with a separate bodice and skirt. Hard to tell!

Same yellow gown on the left compared to a gown with a separate bodice and skirt. Hard to tell!

But close up, they are not the same!

But close up, they are not the same!  You can see the seam coming down the center back of the purple stripe gown with no pleats.

Having done the research, on to the sewing!

The Red Dress was inspired by this:

Original red print gown from Victoria & Albert.

Original red print gown from Victoria & Albert.

I just lucked into some dark red print cotton while shopping on Etsy one day, and decided to make this.  The original is a wool/silk blend, but my dress is cotton.  I used the Reconstructing History pattern for this because it has both the narrow center front and the one piece front – the shoulder strap is cut out with the front, and it only has one seam where it joins the back.  There is less margin for fitting this way but I found it was pretty easy to fit just tweeking the back seams.  I did not have enough fabric to make a petticoat, so the petticoat and stomacher are made from cream colored cotton matelasse.

For the second dress I used a dark purple fabric with a small woven stripe in it – it is a cotton / linen blend.  In 18th century terms this fabric was known as fustian.  I did have enough fabric for a petticoat front (the back being made from a similar colored linen) but I wore it first with a stomacher and petticoat made from linen embroidered with a pattern that imitates tambour embroidery.

The Larkin & Smith pattern instructions tell you to use pins to mark the pleats, and then remove the template without moving the pins, but I have used tailor’s chalk for marking these pleats for years without any problems.  Just to be on the safe side, I put the line just slightly on the underside of the pleat, and overlap the second line enough to hide the chalk, if there is any left by the time I am done handling it.  Use whichever method works best for you.

So the first thing I did was sew the center back seams per the pattern instructions, and then lay the pleating template from each on top, and marked the pleats.  Then using my fingers, I finger press the fold line for each pleat.

Pinch, pinch those pleats in!

Pinch, pinch those pleats in!

Here is one pleat pinned, one pinched.

Here is one pleat pinned, one pinched.

Pin those bad boys down, just over the chalk lines!

Pin those bad boys down, just over the chalk lines!

Both purple and red gowns with all four pleats pinned down. The pleats on the red dress are VERY close together - only about 1/8 inch apart. This is a more narrow pleating style from the third quarter of the 18th century.

Both purple and red gowns with all four pleats pinned down. The pleats on the red dress are VERY close together – only about 1/8 inch apart. This is a more narrow pleating style from the third quarter of the 18th century.

Once the pleats are all pinned in, it is time to fit to the back lining.  You want to sew the back lining together at the center back, but not at the side seams or the shoulder strap.  Line them up with the center backs together.  It helps to stick a pin up inside the seams to match them perfectly, then pin in place.

Pinning with center back seams aligned.

Pinning with center back seams aligned.

Once they are pinned the next step is to “stitch in the ditch”, meaning sew the back and lining together through the center back seams.  Sewing it this way will make the seam invisible.  Do this before beginning to stitch the pleats down, or you risk having the lining shift on you.

Stitch in ditch is invisible on the front - use thread that matches your fabric.

Stitch in ditch is invisible on the front – use thread that matches your fabric.

Dark thread will show on the lining side.

Dark thread will show on the lining side.

Now we are ready for the real fun, sewing the pleats down!  First smooth the lining down and pin it through both layers in a few places to prevent shifting.  You can use a running stitch to secure the pleats, but I prefer to use a narrow prick stitch.  I find it is nearly invisible if done carefully enough.  If you are really accurate and not as worried about authenticity, you can machine top stitch the pleats down 1/16 of an inch from the edge.  But I don’t recommend it.  Stop stitching just below the waistline.  This is indicated on the pattern(s).

To do the prick stitch, come up through from the back so you are just barely catching the edge of the pleat, and then go down just over the edge of the pleat:

Swing pleats with prick stitch.

Swing pleats with prick stitch.

Move down 1/8 of an inch, rinse, lather, and repeat.  I do not tie off between each stitch.  When the pleats are sewn down, they look like this on the inside:

Since the red dress pleats were only 1/8 apart, I sewed both pleats at the same time. This clearly shows how much wider the purple pleats are.

Since the red dress pleats were only 1/8 apart, I sewed both pleats at the same time. This clearly shows how much wider the purple pleats are.

Next, trim the fabric along the top and sides so the match the lining.  Cut a slightly upward sloping line for top of the skirt panel.  Bigger side hoops or pads = more drastic upward slope.  The length of the sides of your two skirt panels should match the length of the side back skirt panels.  Your pocket slits will be in these seams.

Inside of gowns with pleats done.

Inside of gowns with pleats done.

Outside of gowns with pleats done.

Outside of gowns with pleats done.

Note: Only cut about 1/2 inch in along the bottom of each side of the lining.  This will allow you to sew the side seams.  Once the side seams are sewn, sew the skirt fronts to the skirt backs and put in the pocket slits.  At that point, it is safe to trim the rest of the bottom lining, to just slightly under the back pleat on each side.  Now you are ready to pleat the skirt and attach to the bodice!

Note 2: If I had this to do over, I would make the back of the red lining shorter below the waistline.  This deep V would look great with a separate skirt and bodice, but the extreme slope of the back skirt top edge that resulted from this made it REALLY difficult to pleat nicely to the bodice.  Note for next time!

I will try to get better photos of the completed dresses next time, but here are two photos of the completed gowns:

Purple Fustian Gown at Ft Ligonier Days with my good friend Sally (in a silk sacque jacket).

Purple Fustian Gown at Ft Ligonier Days with my good friend Sally (in a silk sacque jacket).

Red Print 1760's Gown

Red Print 1760’s Gown

Battle of the Stays: Contestant #2 Reconstructing History Front and Back Lacing Stays in Light Blue and Gold Brocade

RH Stays_

I also did a mock up of these stays, as they needed a bit of tweeking to fit me.  I made them longer overall, and I had to do some fiddling to get the tabs somewhat even especially using the front lacing option.  There are fewer pieces than the Larkin & Smith stays and none of them have curved 3D boning channels.  That said, I assembled them exactly the same as the previous post.

For these stays I will be using reed boning.  It is shown below on the right in comparison to a piece of synthetic whalebone:

Synthetic Whalebone vs Cane Boning

Synthetic Whalebone vs Cane Boning

The boning is a little thicker than the synthetic whalebone and a little harder to slide into the boning channels.  It does look interesting as it is rounder and has more texture.  It will be interesting to see how it wears in comparison to the synthetic whalebone.

The difference in construction comes at the assembly stage.  Sewing all of the pieces together using a hand whip stitch is a PITA!  So for this pair, I decided to try it using the machine.  So I lined up the pieces, front sides together, but instead of whip stitching I used a 3.5mm machine zig zag stitch – I like how this turned out!  It is much more even than the hand whip stitch so it will be easier to cover with trim.

This is much easier with zig zag ...

This is much easier with zig zag …

Binding is also somewhat simplified, at least for the top of the stays and stomacher – using the cane instead of the reed.  The reed can be sewn through, using a strong enough needle and going very slowly:

Binding the stomacher by machine - the inside will be sewn down by hand.

Binding the stomacher by machine – the inside will be sewn down by hand.  Don’t try this with synthetic whalebone!

Stomacher with binding, ready for hand finishing.

Stomacher with binding, ready for hand finishing.

Let then hand sewing commence!  At this posting, the stomacher and top binding is done.  Binding the bottom, with all the tabs, takes forever but I will do my best to finish this while it is still 2016 and conclude the Battle of the Stays!

Adjustable Side Length Petticoat Tutorial

As many costumers will tell you, looking at original garments is the best form of learning and inspiration there is.  While studying 18th century gowns I found this really interesting example of an 18th century petticoat with adjustable sides.  This will allow the petticoat to be worn with different sized hooped petticoats, side hoops, hip pads, or bum roll.  Given than petticoats often due double duty with several different outfits, this is a really great feature.  So I decided to figure out how to replicate this.  Here is the original gown:

Blue Robe à la Française at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1760 - 1770

Blue Robe à la Française at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1760 – 1770

Bless whomever took these photos, they included a closeup of the construction details of the petticoat!

Blue Robe à la Française at The Metropolitan Museum of Art showing construction details of petticoat.

Blue Robe à la Française at The Metropolitan Museum of Art showing construction details of petticoat.

There are quite a few take aways from this photo:

  1. They used blue linen for the upper part of the back panel – a great thing to do to save expensive fabric.  This will not work for a later century dress worn  retroussee (looped up in back) but it is a wonderful hack for gowns mid century or earlier.
  2. The pocket slits are finished with a running stitch.
  3. The waistband is narrow and fastens on the side with a hook and eye.  Hooks and eyes were around in the 18th century (and indeed much earlier) but they are not the first thing we think of for 18th century petticoat closures.  Most of us are accustomed to having them tie in the front and back.  With 18th century originals one must always keep in mind that the Victorians loved to alter these garments and recycle them for fancy dress occasions, but blowing this up very large it doesn’t appear to me that the waistband has been altered.  It looks like the back is made from the same linen as the back panel, and the front is made from the same silk that was used to trim the gown.  It is likely there is an identical fastening on the other side, but we don’t know for sure from the picture.
  4. The skirt in the front and back is sewn into the waistband, but the sides are narrow hemmed and have a drawstring.  The change happens approximately where the skirt support meets the hip.
  5. The drawstrings emerge from either side of the pocket slit.
  6. After putting the petticoat on, the sides can be drawn in or let out to make them hem  horizontal.

I planned two petticoats to be worn with several different mid century and later gowns, so they will be my guinea pigs in working out the details of this waist treatment.  One is embroidered linen that looks like tambour, and the other is cotton matelasse.  Cotton matelasse is a woven fabric with texture that is a pretty good fake for quilted fabric, so many of us use it to make “faux” quilted petticoats.  I used the Charleston Oyster colorway, the maker is Pindler & Pindler, from The Online Fabric Store:

Pindler & Pindler Cotton Matelasse in Charleston Oyster

Pindler & Pindler Cotton Matelasse in Charleston Oyster

This type of fabric is also available from big box stores like Jo Ann Fabrics, but the patters are less elaborate and they tend to have some synthetic content.  But I have used them before with perfectly acceptable results.  The Pindler & Pindler is 100% cotton but is more expensive than Jo Ann’s.

You really don’t need a pattern to make a petticoat!  The main measurement you need is how long you want the petticoat to be in front, which will of course depend on how tall you are (with shoes) and how long you want it to be.  18th Century petticoats can be anywhere from ankle length to mid calf.  Work and everyday petticoats would be shorter than formal gown petticoats.  To this measurement add the hem at the bottom (I used a 1 1/2″ hem) and 1/2″ seam allowance at the top, AND extra length for the sides and backs.  I have found that 3″ is enough to accommodate the underpinnings I wear.  So that is 35″ (my finished front length) plus 1.5″ hem plus .5″ seam allowance plus 3″ for the back is 40″.  Unless the fabric is really narrow (less than 45″) I use 2 lengths of fabric, so I cut 2 panels of fabric 40″ long.

Next, fold the front panel in half and scoop out 3″ from the center front TOP, tapering to nothing at the sides.  This keeps the pattern of the fabric straight along the hem.

Next, sew the two sides seams leaving about 8″ for the pocket slits on each side, and hem the bottom of the skirt.  Now you have a big tube, all ready for pleating.  Pleat the center front and center back to the approximate point where your skirt widening device (bum roll, hip pad, etc) meets your leg:

Using the perfect pleater to measure pleats.

Using the perfect pleater to measure pleats.  I love this thing!

Cotton matelasse skirt pleated.

Cotton matelasse skirt pleated.

Now sew the pleats down using the 1/2″ seam allowance:

Sew 'um down!

Sew ‘um down!

Here is the linen petticoat with the pleats sewn down:

Linen petticoat with pleats sewn at 1/2" seam allowance. Pardon cat foot.

Linen petticoat with pleats sewn at 1/2″ seam allowance. Pardon cat foot.

And the rest of the cat ….

Big Mr Red kitty working hard.

Big Mr Red kitty working hard.

Then I made a cut 1/2″ in right next to the pleated section.  This will allow me to turn down the seam allowance and make a casing for the drawstrings on the sides:

Clip the seam allowance right next to the pleated section on each side. That is 4 clips per petticoat.

Clip the seam allowance right next to the pleated section on each side. That is 4 clips per petticoat.

Next, fold the seam allowance for the side casings down and sew to create the casing for the drawstrings.  Since my fabric is very thick, I zig-zagged the raw edges and just turned it down once.  If your fabric is medium or light thickness you can turn down 1/4″ twice to make a neater casing.

Turn down seam allowance for drawstring casings.

Turn down seam allowance for drawstring casings.

Sew casing for drawstring.

Sew casing for drawstring.

Next I threaded some narrow 1/4″ grosgrain ribbon through each casing and stitched it down firmly where the casing ends and the waistband begins.

Inserting the drawstring.

Inserting the drawstring.

Since I am using a 3/4″ linen tape for the wasitband, I trimmed the seam allowance down to 1/4″.

Trim that bad boy down to 1/4".

Trim that bad boy down to 1/4″.

Time to apply the waistband!  If you are not using a finished tape, sew the waistband on normally.  Since I am using the tape, I sewed the tape to the back side first, then the front, so that errant seam lines would not show on the front.  This can also be applied by hand for a truly authentic finish.

Applying the cotton tape waistband.

Applying the cotton tape waistband.

I did not put a hook and eye on both sides, so the right side just has the waistband sewn in half where the casing begins.

Right side with no closure.

Right side with no closure.

On the left side, I turned the ends of the casing in 1/4″ and sewed them together:

Fastening side of the waistband (left side) with raw ends turned under.

Fastening side of the waistband (left side) with raw ends turned under.

Completed left side fastening of waistband.

Completed left side fastening of waistband.

Finally, I sewed a hook and eye on the left side.  Gathering up and tying the side casings, it looks like the original!

Completed closure, left side.

Completed closure, left side.

 

Battle of the Stays: Contestant # 1 Larkin & Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays in Red Silk Taffeta

 

Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

For this pair of stays I did do a mockup – the style is very different from stays I have made in the past.  I just did a single layer of cotton drill (canvas) with the front panel sewn in and lacing tape sewn to the back.  The fit was overall pretty good.

The basic construction of these is as follows.  For each piece, you trace it onto the fabric and cut AROUND the piece, leaving about an inch extra on all sides.  Both the left and right sides are provided – even though they are mirror images – but this actually does help keep things straight.  You need 2 layers of interlining fabric for each piece (that would be 4 layers if cutting without the left/right pieces) and one covering of fashion fabric for each piece (2 if cutting without left/right pieces).  I cut them out 2 layers at a time, tracing onto the top layer only.  Then you sew the boning channels, trim the interlining fabric, insert the bones, and press the cover fabric to the back.  Tack the excess fabric down and the pieces are ready to be whip stitched together.

Here we go through all the steps on the first piece, the stomacher.  The 2 layers of interlining and cover fabric have been roughly cut out – you can see the line that is the edge of the piece in the photo below.  To determine where to sew the boning channels, I measured and drew a light pencil line down the very center on the back side.  Since the boning channels will show on this pair of stays, I am using red thread but sewing from the back side of the interlining.  It really helps to have a sewing machine where the bobbin and top side stitches both look equally nice when doing this!

Sewing boning channels on the back side of the stomacher.

Sewing boning channels on the back side of the stomacher.

In my stash of sewing machine feet I have an edge stitch foot that is exactly 3/8 inch from the center needle position.  This is the perfect size for 1/4 inch boning.  Still, always do a test channel on scrap fabric to make sure first.  As you can see above, the edge of the foot runs along the previous channel.  Fill the entire piece with boning channels.  Now it is ready for boning:

Boning being inserted.

Boning being inserted.

For this pair of stays I used a new product, synthetic whalebone.  It is plastic boning created to imitate the whalebone used in original stays, and is available from Larkin and Smith.  It can be cut with a pair of wire cutters – it is a bit stiff for scissors.  I like that it is about as flat as a piece of metal boning, so it will not add much to your waist circumference.  Here is a picture of a piece of the synthetic whalebone and a piece of cane boning:

Synthetic Whalebone vs Cane Boning

Synthetic Whalebone vs Cane Boning

When all of the channels are boned, trim the interlining back to the cut lines.

Boning channels sewn, and interlining trimmed to cut lines. It is ready for the boning to be inserted.

Boning in, and interlining trimmed to cut lines.

Front view

Front view after boning .

After boning has been cut and inserted into all full width boning channels, the extra cover fabric is pressed to the inside, and then tacked down.

Cover fabric pressed to the back.

Cover fabric pressed to the back.

Viola! Ready to be bound and have the lining tacked in.

Viola! Ready to be bound and have the lining tacked in.

The same basic steps apply to the other pieces, with two unique differences.  Both the side front and back pieces will have eyelets, so for these pieces, be sure to leave enough cover fabric to press inside over the entire eyelet area.  The lining should not extend into the eyelets.

Here are the side fronts with that first channel unsewn - once that interlining is trimmed, I can fold it and sew.

Here are the side fronts with that first channel unsewn – once that interlining is trimmed, I can fold it and sew.

I saved the first boning channel to be sewn after this strip of fabric was pressed to the inside.  This helps hold the first bone in place.  The edges of this piece will be hidden under the lining, which will come up to the line where the eyelets begin.

Side Front - leave enough cover fabric to press behind the channel for the eyelets.

Side Front with interlining cut along front edge – leave enough cover fabric to press behind the channel for the eyelets.

The other odd piece is the side back, which appears to be curved.  What happens is when you insert straight boning into this piece, it causes the piece to flair out nicely over the hips.  It was a little tricky to map out these boning channels.  Here is how I did it, so that it looks like the illustration in the booklet.

Measure the center of the piece, and draw a light pencil line 3/16 inch on either side – so that the boning channel is running down the very center:

First channel drawn, each line 3/16 inch from the center.

First channel drawn, each line 3/16 inch from the center.

Sew it!

Sew it with the cover fabric in place!

Next I measured how many 3/8 inch channels will fit along the narrow top of the piece, and marked the far edge boning lines to be sewn.  These channels need to be curved, so marking this first curved seam line is important to getting the others sewn in:

Outside channel sewn.

Outside channel sewn.

Then I started sewing 3/8 channels along that curved line using my sewing machine foot as a guide.

Remainder of curved channels sewn.

Remainder of curved channels sewn.

All that remains is to sew straight channels from the bottom up to fill in the spaces on the bottom between the straight channel and the curved channels.

The eyelets for the lacing in the front and back I did per the post How To Make Machine Thread Eyelets.

Time for assembly.  Whew!

How To Make Machine Thread Eyelets

Metal eyelets did not appear until the second quarter of the 19th century – before that, eyelets were hand sewn with thread.  Here is a great tutorial on making hand sewn thread eyelets.

However if you are like me, you are always looking for ways to use technology to make this easier and faster.  I discovered this great accessory for my sewing machine that allows me to make thread eyelets.  This product is for Husqvarna Viking but I would be surprised if similar accessories are not available for other sewing machine companies, especially more expensive brands like Babylock, Pfaff, etc.

Husqvarna Viking Eyelet Plate

Husqvarna Viking Eyelet Plate

Here is the eyelet plate installed on my Husqvarna Designer Diamond.  It comes in 4mm and 6 mm sizes – I find the 4mm to be the best size for corset eyelets.  When using the eyelet plate, the feed dogs must be lowered in the machine’s settings.

Eyelet plate installed and ready to go. Note you must remove the ankle or it will lower and prevent you from being able to turn the fabric.

Eyelet plate installed and ready to go. Note you may need to remove the ankle so that it does not prevent you from being able to turn the fabric.  One of my machines works fine with the ankle on, the other does not.  Go figure.

In a nutshell, you are going to set the machine to a basic zig zag stitch and then rotate the fabric around the eyelet plate as you sew.  The width of the zig zag stitch can vary depending on how thick the fabric is.  I always do a test eyelet on scrap fabric from the project first, but usually the stitch width is between 4 and 4.5mm.

First, mark the placements of your eyelets.  This can be done with a regular ruler, or with an expanding ruler (one of my favorite tools):

Marking eyelet placement with an expanding ruler.

Marking eyelet placement with an expanding ruler (it is also great for marking button placement).

For the examples I am using green thread on white fabric to make it easier to see, but in practice you would use thread to match the fabric.

Next, using an awl, work a hole in the fabric for the eyelet, just big enough to fit around the eyelet plate:

Hole made just large enough to fit around the eyelet plate on the machine.

Hole made just large enough to fit around the eyelet plate on the machine.

Now begin sewing – slowly!  I usually go around the hole quickly as a first pass, and then go around a second time more slowly to fill in.  But in this example I just began sewing so that it is easier to see how the thread is sewn around the eyelet hole:

Rotate the fabric around the eyelet plate while sewing with a zig zag stitch.

Rotate the fabric around the eyelet plate while sewing with a zig zag stitch.

Eyelet has been sewn all the way around.

Eyelet has been sewn all the way around.

Here are the front and back appearances of the eyelet:

Eyelet Front

Eyelet Front

Eyelet Back

Eyelet Back

 

Battle of the Stays: Contestant #4 JP Ryan Half Boned Green Silk Stays

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

After some deliberation I decided to cover this pair in green silk taffeta.  I have enough for a matching petticoat which could be used as a colored undergarment set for a chemise a la reine, or be worn together over a nice chemise during the summer, or be worn as undergarments for gowns and jackets.  I plan to embroider the hem of the petticoat with my embroidery machine, but that is a project for another time!

Now, on to the stays.

This pattern is interesting in that that front panel has 2 pieces for the cover and 1 piece for the lining.  Here are all the pattern pieces for the main layer of the stays:

Main pattern pieces for JP Ryan Half Boned Stays.

Main pattern pieces for JP Ryan Half Boned Stays.

And here are the front pieces – the 2 pieces for the main fabric and the 1 piece for the lining:

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays - Front Pieces and Front Lining Piece

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays – Front Pieces and Front Lining Piece

After doing some measurements and checking some of the individual pieces I did not do a full mock up on these.  Keep in mind that I have made many pairs of 18th century stays for myself over the years – if you do not have this much experience it is always better to do a full mock up.

This seems odd at first but actually they go together quite nicely.  The 2 main pieces are stitched together and then are laid on top of the lining piece, and from then on they are treated as one piece.  I cut the front cover using the lining piece to avoid extra seam lines.  The other pieces I assembled and boned, then add the cover:

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays - side pieces boned and covered.

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays – side pieces boned and covered.

Since many of these boning channels are curved, I used spiral steel boning for them even though it is not historically correct.  For the straight channels I used regular steel boning.  I am not sure how well the synthetic whalebone will work for half boned stays.

Here is the assembled front with the first side pieces sewn on:

Front of JP Ryan Half Boned Stays sewn to Side Pieces

Front of JP Ryan Half Boned Stays sewn to Side Pieces

I put the eyelets in the back piece after attaching the cover but before assembly, using my eyelet plate.  I wanted the look of handmade thread eyelets without the time it takes to hand sew them.  See post Making Thread Eyelets By Machine.

Making Thread Eyelets by Machine

Making Thread Eyelets by Machine

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays - back pieces with machine made thread eyelets and boning inserted.

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays – back pieces with machine made thread eyelets and boning inserted.

The stays are now ready for binding, which has to be done by hand.  They will be bound with bias strips of self fabric.

Battle of the Stays: Contestant #3 Late 18th Century

I started with this pair as I was waiting for both the synthetic whalebone and the JP Ryan stays pattern to arrive in the mail.  This pattern only has 5 pieces total – one front, two sides, two backs.  For 18th century stays that is very minimal.  Only 4 seams!  I decided to leave the seam allowances in and bone each piece before sewing together by machine.  Here is the front with boning channels drawn in, similar to the picture on the pattern envelope:

Front with boning channels drawn in - ready for (annoying) sewing stint.

Front with boning channels drawn in – ready for (annoying) sewing stint.

I have not done horizontal boning channels this way before but I read about it on other blogs, and it worked very well for me.  Instead of adding the horizontal bones in a third layer of fabric, you just don’t sew over the little square areas where the bones overlap.  Then you can insert both the vertical and horizontal bones between the two pieces of fabric.  It does make for a lot of starting and stopping though.  Here is the front with the boning channels sewn.  See all of the loose thread ends from stopping and starting?

Front with boning channels sewn and bones inserted.

Front with boning channels sewn and bones inserted.

No worries – those threads will be hidden by the silk cover, which gets basted on right before assembly.

Now for the sides.  It is very important to make sure there is at least one bone extending into each tab:

Sides

The back has to be done in a different sequence since the center back seam on each side is sewn and turned.  I sandwiched the silk cover between the 2 canvas pieces and seamed them together, turned, and pressed with the silk cover on the outside.  The two center back boning channels with the lacing eyelets between will be sewn through the cover fabric as well.  I flipped the cover up to so the one channel next to the side back seam though.

Backs - inside out to show the side back boning channel.

Backs – inside out to show the side back boning channel.

At this point I basted the silk cover pieces to the sides and front, and then seamed them all together.  I did a quick try on and they do fit!  However I didn’t reinforce the seams before I tried it on, and one seam started to rip, so I didn’t get any pictures.  I will not try them on again until I finish binding them.  But here are the stays assembled with the top binding of petersham ribbon applied:

Late 18th Century Stays - front and back

Late 18th Century Stays – front and back

Note: the metal eyelets are NOT period correct.  To be 100% accurate it should have hand bound eyelets.  I decided to use them in this case, since I do not expect to ever wear these stays without a gown or jacket over them.

The Battle of the Stays: The Battle Plan

OK to make a long story short, I have quit dieting.  So it is now necessary to make a new 18th century wardrobe that fits me at my current size, which will (hopefully) be the size I will remain for the foreseeable future.

Also since I now do a lot of costuming events that are NOT music related, I don’t need to wear stays with elastic in the sides all the time.  I have a great pair of modified stays I made a couple years ago using the JP Ryan fully boned strapless stays pattern.

JP Ryan Strapless Stays Pattern

JP Ryan Strapless Stays Pattern

I used power net for one of the side back panels.  When I play flute or sing with our musical groups I cannot get enough air in regular stays so I developed these expanding ones for that application.  Believe it or not I still get a 2 inch waist reduction!

I have also purchased a couple ready made modern corsets and have learned a lot through this adventure.  The corset makers seem to agree that a four inch waist reduction is about the maximum you can get with the 18th century design.  If I can pull that off, I can still squeeze into a couple of my older gowns with some slight alterations.

I seem to be on an endless quest for better corsets and stays, so I decided to do something crazy: make FOUR pairs of stays to see how the various patterns available on the market work for me.  Keep in mind that some of these styles may work better for some figure types than others, so this is not the final verdict on any of these patterns.  I am a US size 12-14 and somewhat apple shaped so it really is only useful as a study for this figure type.  Here are the competitors:

Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

Larkin and Smith Front and Back Lacing Stays

Contestant # 1  I have to admit I am really excited about this pattern.  It comes with a large booklet with extremely detailed instructions on how to assemble them in an authentic fashion.  The pattern comes with separate pieces for the left and right side, which I didn’t use as I didn’t feel like making the same alterations to each pattern piece twice.  You just have to remember to flip over each piece so you end up with both sides (as it turns out, it didn’t need much in the way of alterations anyway).  I can see how the separate left and right pieces would be useful for someone who hasn’t made 18th century stays before.  I am going to follow her method and see how it works.  The other thing I like about this pattern is that the side seams are curved near the waistline just above where the tabs begin – I think this will result in a better overall shape and less stress on the tabs.  The separate stomacher means these stays have much more adaptability in terms of fit.  This pair will be covered in red silk taffeta, bound in the same fabric and laced with black satin ribbon.  I am not sure what I will use to cover the seams.  Maybe self fabric, or maybe black ribbon or braid.

I am going to experiment with a new boning material – synthetic whalebone.  I have not personally had great results with cane – it just adds too much thickness. Steel boning on a fully boned stay is VERY HEAVY.  Plastic zip ties are also a bit thick and tend to meld into one shape and stay that way forevermore, which is great if that happens to be the shape you want, and not so great otherwise.  This new product says it can be reshaped with heat.  So we’ll see how it does!

Here is an original stay that represents the shape I think this pair will have:

Philadelphia Museum of Art - Stays 1725 -1750

Philadelphia Museum of Art – Stays 1725 -1750

Reconstructing History Front and Back Lacing Stays

RH Stays_

Contestant #2: is the pair in the upper left corner in red – a front lacing stay with shoulder straps.  While admittedly it is similar to the Larkin and Smith pattern, the pattern pieces are somewhat different in shape.  I will admit I laid awake half a night trying to decide if I should make these lace over the stomacher or lace up the middle.  In the end I went with the stomacher due to the ease of adjusting the fit that this design offers.  They will be covered in pink silk taffeta and bound in white petersham ribbon, and will lace in the front with white satin ribbon.  Seams will be covered in narrow white grosgrain ribbon.  I will construct this pair in the same manner as the Larkin & Smith pattern and make it fully boned with the same synthetic whalebone.  If it turns out looking anything like this (only with fewer tabs) I will weep with joy:

Metropolitan Museum of Art Corset, 1770s

Metropolitan Museum of Art Corset, 1770s

I lengthened the entire pattern to create more of this shape.

I have not heard much about Reconstructing History in general, but they offer a lot of neat stuff you can’t find anywhere else (like mantuas).  This stay pattern has many different options – you can do this pair of stays as lacing over the stomacher, lacing closed in front, or lacing in the back only.  Also there are the wide front options, which brings me to contestant number three:

Reconstructing History Wide Front Stays

RH Stays_

Contestant #3: Now I’m looking at the pink stays in the lower left side of this pattern.  This option comes with the tabs or without, and is supposed to create a wider front to go with 1780’s and 1790’s styles, which I could really use!  I will definitely use the shoulder straps as this style seems to need the extra support.  This style is very different from the other three – in addition to having the wide front, it only has 3 pieces: the front, the side, and the back.  The historical notes (which are aplenty and very good) explain that late in the century they figured out that the shaping comes more from the direction of the boning and less from how many pieces are used, so the pattern complexity decreased.  I had to do a fair amount of altering on both Reconstructing History patterns but the styles are so cool looking I have high hopes!  This stay will be covered in white silk and bound with white petersham ribbon – indeed if they turn out good, I will be wearing them under my white chemise a la reine.  Since there are only 3 pieces on each side, I left the seam allowance in and will sew them together after the individual pieces are boned.  Since it is half boned the bones will be 1/4″ steel.  Here is an original stays that appear to have this wide front:

Mccord Museums, Costume, 18Th Century, Catevix Corsetri, 1785 1790

Mccord Museums, Costume, 18Th Century, Catevix Corsetri, 1785 1790

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

JP Ryan Half Boned Stays

Contestant #4: A relative newcomer to the market, I really like the looks of these stays.  They will be back fastening only since I want to keep the horizontal boning unaltered.  As this is a good candidate for wearing under late 18th century gowns that tend to be made from lighter fabrics, they will be made from white domestic coutil and boned with 1/4″ steel boning, 1/4″ spiral steel if any of those channels end up curved.  The binding will be 3/4″ white petersham ribbon (coutil is too tough to make decent binding).  Here is an original with the shape I am hoping for:

 

English Stays (1770-1790), made from red silk damask, Victoria and Albert Museum.

English Stays (1770-1790), made from red silk damask, Victoria and Albert Museum.

I can’t help but notice the similarity between this pair and Contestant 3.  I have found the drawing on the front of the pattern is not always an accurate representation of how they turn out.  Hence the need to have a battle in the first place!