Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stays Original

Just a quick add-on to my stays postings.  I took a tour around the Dewitt Wallace Museum today, and lo and behold they had the stays I'm building up in the Quilted Fashions exhibit.  There's not much light, but you can get an idea:
It's a bit hard to see, but you might notice the lack of boning casings showing.  This pair was originally made of silk, but must have worn too much because it's been covered over in cotton.  So, I will still be making mine visible.  The binding is green silk ribbon.  I'll probably use cream so it doesn't show under any of my clothes, but maybe I'll use a color to lace the front for fun, since I can always change it out.  The difficulty will be finding a good cording to lace the back.  Now that I got a glimpse of those and was able to examine a few others stored in back, I'm going to pick back up on my pair and start stitching channels.  I had been concerned with size since the original channels are all 1/8", but they were baleen.  Oak won't hold up to that, and even though I've managed to find spring steel that size, I'm afraid it won't have the resistance to permanent bending I need.  So, seeing a late pair of stays with mixing of 1/4" and 1/8" channels today I feel confident that I can mix in 1/4" steel correctly.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cut-away Gown History

Due to unforeseen events this weekend (my now fiance driving up from Charleston to surprise me, in costume, with a proposal at a ball) I don't have quite enough time to make a full post on my cutaway gown, but I will at least try to get a basic history section!
Here is the infamous portrait by Ducreux that shows a beautiful example of the style.  While this gown was most popular in the 1780s, it did actually show up in the colonies in the late 1770s and continued to be worn throughout the '90s as well.
Obviously, most of the gowns seen in portraits are made from silk taffeta, but a cotton print would be lovely as well.  For some reason, I seem adverse to linen, but I can't give a particular reason why.  Both solid colors and smaller stripes are acceptable.  The large 2 or 3" stripes seen earlier in the century would have been out of style by this point.  You can also choose a contrasting fabric for the leftover zone in front and even the petticoat.
In terms of the actual cut, there are a number of different looks to the front and to the sleeves.  At this point the back would have usually been quartered rather than an English style.  You could cut the CB pieces flat on bottom and connect them to the skirt to give that illusion of continuance without actually pleating the bodice if wanted.
Above you can see three examples of both front cut and sleeves.  Simplifying it, you can choose a straight angle or to curve it away.  From there, whether it will be a split zone piece or not.  And if it will be whether you fasten by pins, hooks, or buttons.  You can also add a tab, as I did, across the top of the front.  The sleeves can be the regular elbow length style, full length (you may choose to have the wrist area button since they're tightly fitted), or even cap sleeves over a contrasting long sleeve.  It gets more complicated when building, but that will come later.
The back, as talked about, is shown with two different styles of quartered backs.
Of course, in this period especially, accessorizing can make all of the difference.  Be it through a sash or ribbon around the waist, a crossed over kerchief, lace, or the ever popular hedgehog hair with ribbons, feathers, or over-the-top hat.  It's easy to see, from some of the portraits below how this style of gown evolved into the separate over-gown near the end of the century.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Stays History

I decided to go ahead and sketch out some of the types of stays from the 18th century:
This is what I consider a very common layout style for stays.  I've seen patterns using anywhere from two to six pieces, but 4 or 5 seem the most common in the later half of the century.  The arrows show the direction of the boning.  If fully-boned you fill it all in, flaring apart to go into the tabs.  Piece 1 shows boning following the CF line, but later periods can angle all but the very center bone(s) to go in line with the other seam to give more bow to the front bust.  If making the stays lace in front, simply leave a small space between the first and second bones to add eyelets.

This shows an example of lines for half-boned stays.  It also shows how you combine pieces 1 & 2 for a four piece stay.  You can see how most pieces follow the same line as the fully boned above, but only the essentials are left in.  The front has horizontal bones to help with lift.  This are achieved with a extra piece of linen across the top front.  You can't do this with front-lacing stays since there's so much stress in the center.

1740s half-boned stays that use only two pieces.  This would also require an extra linen layer for the horizontal bones, since they intersect and cross-over rather than butt up.

A later period style which is mostly boned.  The front has small spaces between some of the bones, while the other three are full.  You can also see how the front has a zig-zag pattern of bones which seems more decorative than functional, but probably does assist in the same manner as other horizontal bones do.  These are starting to look similar to the later corded corsets with decorative angles and curving of channels.  Also, the front is not technically a full lacing.  Where the eyelets stop the front pieces attach to each other.
Here you can see the side-view difference between the flat fronted earlier style and the thrust of the 1780s and 1790s.  The waist also raises up in back slightly, but the last piece will still be long to keep from stressing your back (even if there are no tabs).
Two basic front views.  Straps or no, a narrow front tab or a wider/flatter style, a cut-in waist or a gentle/comfortable curve over the hips.
Showing how you can create a false stomacher style front and add lacing eyelets to the second piece (you leave the first 1/2" or so of piece 2 loose, so adjust for a wider piece 1).  You can also permanently stitch ribbon in the same pattern in that seam for the illusion of lacing.

This is the pattern that I am currently building.  There are very few bones, so the ones extending into the tabs will be metal to keep them from stressing too much and breaking.  Notice the unusually wide horizontal bones, used instead of multiple bones.  The top front is also laced, but purely decorative.  The bottom half is still attached CF.  I'll place a gusset, like in men's breeches, behind.  The shoulder strap is also built in.  Since the waist is set high, the stays would try to slip down without them.

On a side-note, since this was brought up recently, front-lacing stays (partial or full) don't really allow you to breast-feed.  There are pregnancy stays with lacing on the side to expand the waist, but opening the boned front of stays is just not comfortable.  Some images exist of women pulling up above their stays, but most probably wore un-boned jumps or a quilted waistcoat.  Yes, formal events demanded formal stays, but most of that class probably had a wet nurse.

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.