Monday, December 1, 2008


At this point, I'm just going to cover the patterning and fitting of stays.  As my pair progresses I will post on-going instructions on construction.
First, measuring the body.  This is best done in just a shift, but can also be done over a well fitted pair of stays (but make sure you love them!).  As you can see in the image below, measuring tapes didn't come with numbers like they do today.  These were long, thin strips of paper where the tailor would cut out notches to signify the specific measurement.  This image is of a Diderot plate where you can also see patterns for men's wear.  Stays, despite our modern view of them as "underwear", were fitted and built by men.  Your local tailor, or sometimes specifically stay-maker, would supply them.
Your most essential measurements are of your bust, waist, front and back length desired, and how wide you want the tops to be. Remember that we are not trained to stand correctly, so be very aware of how you should stand.  Once you have these you can enlarge any stay pattern and adjust it accordingly.
There are tons of instructions for how to adjust a pattern for a corset out there, which are far more in-depth than I could manage here.  It's not terribly different, just remember there should be a 2" gap in back for lacing and the tabs will need to be resized (or maybe even add/subtract the number).

Once you've finished your new pattern pieces it's time to cut. You'll basically be hacking through six layers of fabric so you don't have to lay out the pieces twice.  Four layers of lining and two of fashion.  Now you'll separate your layers to have a right and left side with the fashion on top and two linens below.  Trace around your pattern onto the fashion fabric (lightly or temporarily since the seam might change).  Baste on the inside of the line (still on it, NOT to the inside of it) through all three layers. 
Fold over the seam allowances (not around the top or bottom) and baste making sure the outline is centered on the fold.  The center back (unless CF lacing ONLY) is stitched folded with a pretty spaced back-stitch far enough from the fold to fit a boning piece between (ex.  if 1/4" boning, go slightly more from the edge or it won't squeeze in!).  This is the only boning that gets put in before the fitting.  Trim back one of the lining layers seam allowance (on the back ONLY) to the outline basting stitch before folding to reduce bulk.

Lay your pieces out to make sure you get them put together correctly (check up vs down!).  To stitch pieces together lay them right to right side.  Quickly whip over the edges just deep enough to get through all layers (including linings).  It's just temporary.
At this point, you'll need someone you trust with a needle to stitch you into your stays!  Use a big needle and a double thread and spiral lace up the back.  Remember that they should probably fit above where you would think.  All those years of low-rise pants can be deceptive!
"Fluff" yourself and see what needs to change.  Here are pictures of my second fitting.  I'll try to sketch out what the final ones will look like soon:

As you can see, you don't split into the tabs yet.  Nor did I cut away any seam allowance.
I had to take a wedge from the center front; 2" at top down to nothing (pictures are post-adjustment).  The bust was too big and the straps sat out too far, so we took it in to help both.

My back is also too high, but that's an easy fix.
Make sure the side-back piece is centered over those love handles.
You can see the later period "thrust" compared to the flat as a board look of earlier stays.
Straps can also be patterned at the same time.  You can have it lace front or back with eyelets.  Keep your outer-garments in mind so it doesn't show later!
These are all pictures taken at the Burnley & Trowbridge stays workshop.  I can't recommend them highly enough.  This is my third workshop with them and I'll keep going back for more!  The stays version runs every couple of years since it's so popular.

A few tips and tricks:
Make sure you can still sit down.
Don't suffocate yourself!  It's not a corset, we aren't going for a massive waist reduction.  No broken ribs please.  You want structure and shape, not a waspy waist.
Unless you have a maid (ha!), a friend, a SO, a well-trained child, or flexible arms to lace you up in back, consider putting in front lacing in addition.

I know it's far more complicated than one can express here, but this post is meant to aid rather than to be your only resource.  Nothing is ever better than a knowing instructor to show you how it's done, but they are a scarce group.

1 comment:

Sara said...

I've been wanting to go to one of those workshops for a while! It looks like you have gotten a lot of valuable advice from them. I love your stays and gowns that you've made so far; thanks for the posts! I have several costuming projects (including stays,) but I haven't had much time to work on them recently. This helps get me motivated again!