The original stays I was copying. See how there's a triangular inset under the lacing? That's essentially flaring the CF. I'm such an idiot!
1780s stays, 18th century, 18th century court dress, projects, underpinnings

The Most Obvious Solution Stares You in the Face

Don’t you love it when the most obvious solution stares you in the face?

Well hello blog! Long time, no post. Yeah. I’m hoping for a flurry of activity around here leading up to Costume College, but I’m done making promises!

I was all set to start on my 18th century court dress, which IS happening for this year’s CoCo gala. (Are you still in? I hope so!) I was fiddling with a bodice pattern, and I had my copy of Norah Waugh’s Cut of Women’s Clothes open to the sneaky 18th century bodice/corsets page. See, there’s a weird section that’s separate from the 18th century patterns section, which has some interesting stuff: some riding habit jackets, 2 corsets, and 1 bodice. It’s weird, because why aren’t those corsets in Corsets & Crinolines? Why is this stuff separate from the other patterns? I don’t know, except that Norah Waugh is sneaky.

Anyway, I had it open to that page because one of the patterns is for the probably-a-court bodice that probably belonged to Marie Antoinette. You know, this one. And I started staring at one of the corset patterns, which is a 1790s corset that belonged to Lady Hamilton. This is interesting to me, because Lady Hamilton packed on the pounds in later years. And I don’t know how curvy she was in the 1790s, but her corset has a flared front. Meaning, these stays don’t have a CF on the straight grain, but rather flare forward to accommodate the bust. Confused? Check out Mouse Borg’s blog post for her recreation.

This got me thinking. My current pair of 1780s stays either need some patching or just to be remade. And I feel like I’m always wrestling with getting a good fit. Maybe part of my problem is that I’m just not leaving enough room for the girls.

THEN I was looking at Merja’s fabulous, drop-on-the-floor-and-writhe-because-you’ll-never-be-that-good pair of 1780s stays. Now, she is much smaller busted than me. But I was noticing that her fit is much better than mine around the side bust. The tab where the strap attaches is actually used to cup the side of the bust. Mine sort of sticks up into space. Now, her front is cut down pretty low — shift or no shift, my girls wouldn’t be controlled with stays cut under the bust point. But it got me thinking that I needed to play with the fit in that area.

So the end of all this was a revised stays pattern, with a front flare, slightly lowered front, and front tab moved to better cup the side of my bust. And when I went to tweak the pattern, I pulled out the original I based it on. And, I remembered that it had a center front gore, which I omitted because I was making mine CF opening and thought the front needed to be on the straight grain. If you attached that gore to the front piece, you’d get a curved shape, just like Lady Hamilton’s corset. *thumps head*

The original stays I was copying. See how there's a triangular inset under the lacing? That's essentially flaring the CF. I'm such an idiot!

The original stays I was copying. See how there’s a triangular inset under the lacing? That’s essentially flaring the CF. I’m such an idiot!

Here’s a new mockup. Now I just need to order some coutil and get to sewing!


Front. The sleeve tab has been moved slightly, the CF has been flared at the top, and the neckline has been dropped slightly.


Side. MUCH nicer bust silhouette. Still need to figure out how to push that belly in where the red arrow is. I’m considering putting a busk in, in a separate flap that will lay under the CF when laced closed. A modern approach, but what else can I do with a CF opening? (I refuse to make someone else lace me every time I dress).


This is how out of practice I am at doing costuming selfies. I had to take one pic with fear face.



Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Megan Martin May 24, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    I made my Elizabethan stays as front-lacing, and to keep the front straight I used a set of lacing bones. They sort of act like a busk as they’re a bit more rigid than regular corset boning, but you can still lace the front closed, which is great. The only down side is that you have to use metal grommets, you can’t do bound eyelets. :(

  • Reply Ista May 25, 2015 at 12:27 am

    I have similar concerns about smoothing the abdominal area, rathter than having a ski slop. I’m thinking of flat steels/ busk and the shape of this spanish stays. Found a similar lower front edge on later spanish stays too

    This spanish one (undated) has gussets in the front bust!

    • Reply kendra May 25, 2015 at 10:38 am

      The one with gussets is FASCINATING! Wow! So then they’re able to cut the CF on the straight grain but still get flare. Ditto with the original stays I’m working from, that gusset inserted in the CF opening does the same.

      • Reply Ista May 25, 2015 at 5:27 pm

        Isn’t it … and showing that people found and used different & effective solutions. It’s nice to have documentation, though my re-enactment group is British sailors, napoleonic era so later than these stays.

  • Reply Trystan May 25, 2015 at 10:17 am

    So most of this was like reading Latin for me, but I like the fear face, & now I want s’one to make me a new 18th-c. corset!

    • Reply kendra May 25, 2015 at 10:38 am

      Fear face is like Bonobo face!

  • Reply Merja May 25, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Fabulous shape! These are going to work wonderfully. I’m a big fan of the slight CF top flare too.

  • Reply Anna-Carin May 26, 2015 at 5:28 am

    Your mockup looks great! Just one thought – CF shaping probably means that the outer fabric needs a CF seam too in order to stay smooth. A style that has a curved seam running from the waistline past the bust and ending in the front of (or below) the arm could provide shaping in the right area while keeping the CF on grain, but I assume you’ve already tried that! (According to Waugh’s diagram of Marie Antoinette’s court bodice there’s no shaping in that seam, but in some preserved stays there are – e.g. the pregnancy stays in Jill Salen’s “Corsets”.)

    BTW, I’m curious about the pic of Lady Hamilton stays – which book does it come from?

  • Reply Isis May 26, 2015 at 9:16 am

    I always add flare at my center opening, regardless if I close the CF or CB. Though I admit to self-presevation rather than checking historical sources… with a 30 cm difference between bust and just underneath bust, that was the only way I could make the stays snug and still not squash the poor darlings flat.

  • Reply How to add more bust space in the Augusta Stays - The Dreamstress May 1, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    […] Kendra of Demodé and Vincent Briggs have both written about curved front stays, and Kendra has compiled a pinterest board with examples. […]

  • Leave a Reply