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?

 

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!

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!

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.

Psychedelic 1830’s Dress Completion and Debut

The fabric has arrived!  Time to begin cutting …

To get the period look with the fabric pattern cut on the diagonal for the fronts and backs, here is a picture of my favorite way to match patterns.  Cut out the first piece, then lay it upside down and match the pattern.  Then cut around it to get 2 pieces that are mirror images of each other:

Matching pattern on the diagonal
Matching pattern on the diagonal

Here is the front sewn together with the matching diagonal pattern:

Bodice Front
Bodice Front

The pattern piece for the fashion fabric front and back included extra for a gathered “bertha” type look – this fabric was too heavy for that design, and I did not feel like figuring out a pleating pattern.  So I cut the bodice the same as the lining.  To give it some character I finished the neckline with double piping (which is made the same way as single piping – just sew a second row of piping after the first.

Here is a great trick with piping – use a 1/2 inch metal stay as a guide to cut the piping strip so that it has exactly 1/2 seam allowance, making it easier to apply.  You do need a rotary cutter to do this:

Using a 1/2 inch metal stay to cut piping seam allowance.
Using a 1/2 inch metal stay to cut piping seam allowance.

Despite buying special piping feet for my machine, I still find it easier to apply piping with a zipper foot:

Sewing piping to waist with a zipper foot - the 1/2 seam allowance makes it easy to line up.
Sewing piping to waist with a zipper foot – the 1/2 seam allowance makes it easy to line up.

I cut interlining for the sleeves out of black cotton organdy, which is thin but stiff and should help the sleeves to poof nicely.

Black cotton organdy sleeve interlining.
Black cotton organdy is stiff, thin, and not scratchy when worn.

When I tried on the bodice I found one alteration – the sides of the neckline were sticking up a bit, so I took in the shoulder seams 1/2 inch on the outside edge.  The other issue I ran into was the sleeves, which I fully admit was my fault!  I did not measure the circumference of the narrow part of the sleeve to make sure it would fit my tree trunk arms.  When I tried it on I could not get them to close.  But it was close, so I will explain how I unfucked the sleeves.

There was length to spare, so I trimmed 1 1/2 inches off the bottom of each sleeve eliminating 1 1/2 inches of not-fitting sleeve.

I reduce the seam allowances to 1/4 inch for the lower part of the sleeve, gradually easing back to the normal 1/2 inch where the full part of the sleeve is.  This added 1/2 inch to the circumference and it just barely fit.

So to prevent gap-osis, I added a placket.  The top side of the sleeve opening is finished with the piping in the sleeve seam:

Piping on sleeve opening.
Piping on sleeve opening.

The under side of the opening would normally be turned under and hemmed.  But there was only 1/4 inch seam allowance there now.  So I cut a piece of fabric the length of the sleeve opening by about 2 inches, folded it in half, and sewed it to the right side of the other sleeve opening, using 1/4 inch seam allowance:

Adding sleeve placket
Adding sleeve placket

The placket is then pressed flat outwards, so that the piping side of the sleeve opening covers it:

Sleeve with placket.
Sleeve with placket.

When closed, you cannot see the placket but it is there, anchoring things and preventing gaps:

Sleeve with opening closed.
Sleeve with opening closed.

Then I finished the bottoms of the sleeves with piping.  1830’s is all about piping.  I piped the sleeve seams, the waistline, the neckline, and the armscye seams.  The bodice closes with hooks and eyes in the back.

The skirt was easy – just cut 2 panels long enough for the hem plus 1/2 seam allowance at the top.    The pattern also had a cutting guide for the top of the front skirt panel, to scoop it out and make the skirt slightly shorter in front.  I find skirts always look better that way, so I took advantage of the template.  I pleated the waist (using Clinton Pleat Maker) and sewed the skirt directly to the bodice, with piping in the seam, per the pattern instructions.

Here are some photos of the finished dress at our event, Christmas At the Village (Old Economy Village) on Dec 12, 2015.  I wore the lace pelerine with it and a large black velvet Romantic era bonnet that I made last year.  The weather was beautiful – it was almost too hot outside for the muff!  Thank you to Janet for the photos!

OEV Christmas At the Village, Pittsburgh Historical Costume Society Outing in the Grainery
OEV Christmas At the Village, Pittsburgh Historical Costume Society Outing in the Grainery
OEV Christmas At the Village, Pittsburgh Historical Costume Society Outing outside of Kitchen
OEV Christmas At the Village, Pittsburgh Historical Costume Society Outing outside of Kitchen

 

Last Minute 1830’s Dress in Psychedelic Cotton Print – Planning and Mock Up

Fabric has arrived!  Now I can take a larger photo of it, to give a better idea of what it really looks like.  This is oriented vertically to show what the pattern will look like once made up into the skirt:

Reproduction 1830's Cotton Print, "Merchant's Wife" line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics
Reproduction 1830’s Cotton Print, “Merchant’s Wife” line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics

Last night I began the struggle of deciding the details.  Really the first part boils down to two decisions:

Decision #1: Which pattern to use.  I have two patterns:

Truly Victorian (TV455) 1830's Romantic Era Dress
Truly Victorian (TV455) 1830’s Romantic Era Dress
Period Impressions (440) 1830's Day Dress and Pelerine
Period Impressions (440) 1830’s Day Dress and Pelerine

The Period Impressions pattern is more of the look I am going for, but the Truly Victorian patterns are much more professionally drafted and take less time to fit.  I did a quick and dirty mockup of the Period Impressions pattern and the fit was quite off – the arm holes were waaaay too big and the neckline bunched up when the back was pinned closed.  It would take time and possibly 2 additional mockups to fit it, so I decided to use the Truly Victorian pattern and alter it to look more like the Period Impressions.  I will also make the pelerine from the Period Impressions pattern, but at a later date since I am pressed for time.  For the first wearing I plan to wear a lace pelerine.

The primary issue with the Truly Victorian pattern is the waistline.  The pattern has two possible waistlines – either at the natural waist or a pointed V.  My understanding has always been that 1830’s dresses were slightly above the natural waistline.  After looking at a lot of originals on Pinterest I came to the conclusion that the higher waistline is the early part of the decade – like 1830 – 1832, and after that the waistlines dropped to the natural waist as drafted in the pattern.  Since my other two 1830’s dresses have high waistlines I think I will do this one with a more natural waistline.  I want to wear a solid color dark belt with it to visually demarcate the place where the waist ends and the sleeves begin.  I debated whether or not I should add a waistband, but the end decided to just leave it as a straight piped waistline.  I shortened the waist 1/2 inch, and added 1/2 to the neckline in the back and on the sides (the front was fine).  That is all I am changing on the pattern.

Decision #2 – Which Corset to Fit Over

If it were not for the fact that we are going English Country Dancing that night, it would be an easy decision.  I would fit over a regular Victorian corset since I don’t actually have a waist.  A waist is a terrible thing to waste, and I don’t have one without a good fitting corset.  On the other hand, my regency corset made recently in Jennifer Rosbrugh’s Regency Corset class is correct for this era and it is so comfortable – it feels like pajamas!  But the trade off is it does not provide any waist reduction.  This is not an issue wearing Regency and other high waisted styles.  I just hesitate to plan this dress in a way that I know I will be unhappy with in the end.  So right now I am thinking of a compromise – fit with the Victorian corset laced more loosely than I normally wear it.

When I fitted the mockup I made an odd discovery!  On Friday I went to a Civil War event and wore this same corset, a new one I made recently covered in pink silk (I love this corset BTW, and will feature it in an upcoming “battle of the corsets).  Since I was expecting some fitting issues with my dress I laced it down as tightly as I dared in a relatively new corset, and still felt like a stuffed sausage in the dress.  I barely got it hooked.  My waist measured 35”.  Fast forward to Sunday, when I put the corset on again and laced it so that it felt stable but not tight.  I measured the waist – 34″!  The only explanation I can think of is water retention.  Maybe I will try taking a mild diuretic the morning before the next event.

On another tangent – as I looked at these gowns I was struck by the similarity in shape to the 1630’s.  There are many periods of history where the basic silhouette is the same as another era (Regency/Edwardian, 1780s bustle / 1880s bustle) but I didn’t register this one until I was deep in the design phase of this project:

1830 vs 1630
1830 vs 1630
Left Image:  Dress 1832, American, made of cotton at Met Museum.
Right Image: Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Ornatus Muliebris Anglicanus; Print made by 1640. British Library.

Last Minute 1830’s Dress in Psychedelic Cotton Print

We are planning an 1830’s Christmas event on Dec 12 for our costume group at Old Economy Village.  Afterwards we are going English Country Dancing!  Several ladies are making new dresses for this, and all the talk about fabrics has sucked me in.  I have two 1830’s dresses and both are over 17 years old.  I think it is time for a new one.

I started by looking over my Pinterest board for 1830’s.  Also I saved a link from Samantha’s blog (Couture Courtesan) with a dress I really like from this period.  It is more late 1820’s, but the basic design idea still applies:

Beautiful reproduction 1820s Dress by Couture Courtesan
Beautiful reproduction 1820s Dress by Couture Courtesan

What I like about this dress – the striped fabric, the bodice cut on the diagonal, and the trim around the bottom of the skirt.  I really like the striped gowns – here are some originals:

Circa 1836 cotton dress, England. Via National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Circa 1836 cotton dress, England. Via National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
Dress 1832, American, made of cotton at Met Museum
Dress 1832, American, made of cotton at Met Museum

So what fabric to buy?  Nothing modest or matronly will do, I want to be as loud as the wallpaper in the Rapp House …

Rapp House wallpaper from Adelphi - YES you can have this in your living room too!!!
Rapp House wallpaper from Adelphi – YES you can have this in your living room too!!!

These prints are so ugly they’re beautiful!  While looking for some fabric ideas for a friend, I blew 45 minutes on Sunday looking at Reproduction Fabrics and I found it: the loudest 1830’s print I think I have ever seen:

Reproduction 1830's Cotton Print, "Merchant's Wife" line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics
Reproduction 1830’s Cotton Print, “Merchant’s Wife” line by Terry Thompson for RJR Fabrics

I can make up this dress fast as a print that busy doesn’t really need any trim!  I am thinking of wearing a lace pelerine with it, like this:

Wool dress, England 1836 - 1838 at Victoria and Albert Museum
Wool dress, England 1836 – 1838 at Victoria and Albert Museum

This is the one I have – hopefully it will look good:

My lace pelerine
My lace pelerine

For the pattern, I have this great 1830’s pattern from Truly Victorian that I have not used yet:

TV455

Not sure how that pleated bertha collar will work with this fabric – we will have to wait and see!

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!

Pink Thing Debut and Postmortem

Pink Thing had a debut at Tavern Night at the Depreciation Lands Museum, and I wore it again to Fort Ligonier Days.  Overall I think it turned out great.

Postmortem analysis: add a strip of boning down the inside center front to keep it smoothly fastened and deflate the Georgian bum pad by about 1/3.

Inside the tavern at Tavern Night, Depreciation Lands Museum, Hampton Township, PA
Inside the tavern at Tavern Night, Depreciation Lands Museum, Hampton Township, PA
The back of Pink Thing, in the Tavern at DLM. My curls have fallen out and I think I need to deflate this bum pad just a tad.
The back of Pink Thing, in the Tavern at DLM. My curls have fallen out and I think I need to deflate this bum pad just a tad.
In the garden at Depreciation Lands Museum, Hampton Township PA with my husband Bill in his silver brocade waistcoat.
In the garden at Depreciation Lands Museum, Hampton Township PA with my husband Bill in his silver brocade waistcoat.
Pink Thing, with a better cap, in Bill's teaching room before I left for Fort Ligonier Days.
Pink Thing, with a better cap, in Bill’s teaching room before I left for Fort Ligonier Days.

Pink Round Gown Front

The original I copied for comparison.