Friday, June 3, 2011

Cinch It: Making 18th Century Stays!

Hello Everyone!

Very sorry for the serious lack of west-coast entries lately. 
My "real" job has been all-consuming for the last couple of months. 
On to pretty things, like these STAYS I'm almost finished with!

These are made from Simplicity pattern 3635 I purchased for like, 2 bucks at Joann's a while back. 

Yes, I know, Simplicity patterns are not historically accurate blah, blah. blah....
Yes, I know about JP Ryan, Mill Farm, and alllll the others being the "better" patterns for this era...I get it....I angsted over it, then moved on.

But, I went with the Simplicity pattern for 2 very good reasons:
1.)  I saw decent reviews and pictures of this pattern all made up on that can be seen here.  Not bad!   And since this is my first attempt at anything stay-like, I figured it was a decent starting point.
2.)  Making even the simplest of corsets/stays cost MONEY.  Even if you have a pattern & fabric on-hand, the boning and additional tools needed can set you back.  ESPECIALLY if you wanna get crazy like I did and do "fully boned" stays with hand sewn eyelets. 

I used 2 layers of tightly woven khaki twill...the exact same kind used to make chino/khaki pants. 
Only 2 layers?  Seems thin for a corset you say??  Well, let me tell you, this shit is deceptively bulletproof!  Hand sewing on this fabric is a real bitch, but in a good way, because I know its STRONG!
The Front & Side Front Pieces, after stitch all channels for boning.

Later, when the stays are all done, I will hand-stitch a plain muslin lining inside to make it extra smooth & comfy.
All channels for the boning are topstitched in rose pink thread.  With a bias tape maker, I created my own binding out of a rose printed cotton.  I really dig how the khaki and warm pink harmonize together.
Front & Side Front pieces, with boning inserted and bottom edge finished with binding.  As you can see, I'm having a hard time getting that binding to lay flat where the self fabric is split to form the tab... I will work that out later.  I decided to finish the binding on each piece before joining them together, after seeing *real* stays constructed that way.

The boning I used is actually 3/8"-ish wide zip ties specifically designed to hold AC ducts together.  They are sold at Home Depot with the Air Conditioning supplies.  *Pls note:  These are NOT the same as regular zip ties.  They are slightly thicker, and much stronger.  Plus they are a whopping 40-something inches long and sold in a pack of 25 for like, 13 bucks.  I used over half the pack to full bone all the channels properly!  
Front & Side Front pieces with zip tie "boning" sticking out.  IMPORTANT:  All edges of boning were carefully cut to have a rounded edge in an effort to keep from poking through..  You can see the imprint of the rounded edge through the fabric.  I made sure the smooth side of the zip ties faced outwards for consistantcy.

I must admit, my whole life, I've been totally intimidated by the idea of making thread eyelets.  They just looked really, really hard to do.  Well, with this project, I was able to conquer that fear, and now I LOVE them!
ADVENTURES IN EYLETS!  The other part of this project I had to spend money on:  Japanese silk buttonhole thread and a good tapered awl make the process vertually painless!  Since 18th c. stays lace up a special way with just one tie, eyelets at the top and bottom need to be offset for the center front to line up properly.  I sewed the offset eyelets with pink thread to highlight them for this post...and lets face it, they look pretty too!
Here are the stays so far, folded in half and layed flat.  I deviated away from the original construction by closing up the center back with a seam, and moving the eylet closure to the center front.   Why? 
Because this is 2011, and I need to be able to get dressed all by myself! 
Lookin' good!

That's it for now!
Hopefully my next post will show off the finished stays!

-Kathleen, In Oakland


  1. I made my first stays after this pattern, but I was stupid enough to make them too big.

    Yours looks very good (mine are awful. Just look: . Sorry, the text is Swedish.)

    "I decided to finish the binding on each piece before joining them together, after seeing *real* stays constructed that way." Do you have any link to show me? This sounds promising.

  2. Hello Lady Augsta,

    Too big? Oh no! :(
    I think your stays look very nice in the photos...I LOVE the shades of purple. It's just lovely :)
    I must admit, I did cut out the pattern one size smaller than my actual measurements. I was not worried that it would be too small, because Simplicity sizing is for "normal" fitting garments, not stays. Also, the 5/8" seam allowance gave plenty of room to let out if needed.
    Regarding your question of applying the binding on each piece before joining together: Sadly, I do not have a link for this. Most of my research is in old fashioned books, lol.
    I noticed this construction detail in a couple of sources:
    Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques” by Jill Salen. Here is a link to the book on Amazon:
    The first 4-5 corsets featured in the book are full and half-boned 18th century stays. You can tell that the binding around the bottom edge has been applied before the seams were joined. I found this quite useful for my needs; finishing the tabs first so I could adjust & experiment with the seam allowances in fitting.
    “Fitting and Proper” by Sharon Ann Burston. It is a small collection of American 18th century clothing. It is also on Amazon. The hardback can be rather expensive. I found a paperback version at a reasonable price. There is a pair of stays in that book made so each piece was boned and finished with binding, then whip-stitched together edge to edge. The joins were then covered with strips of leather.
    Sorry for the long comment. I hope this can help you 
    Thank you for your question. We are so happy to have readers in Sweden!

  3. I think it's looking really great! I haven't tried the pattern but I keep eyeballing it and wondering how good (or bad) it really is. Thank you for the link to the pattern review. These look really spot-on.

  4. Thanks for posting on this pattern! I've been hemming and hawing over whether or not to use it (I bought it for .99) to set me on the path to an 18th century gown. Yours really looks amazing, so I think I'll go ahead with it.

    Did you have to do any alterations to the pattern itself for fit? Other than cutting it a size smaller?


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