1775 maja, 1780s stays, projects

Tweaking the Vision

This project is undergoing a tweak — I think it’s going to become the opportunity for me to make one costume, inside to out, to the best of my abilities and as historically accurate as possible (read more philosophizing on why). Now, there will inevitably have to be compromises made, but I want those to be really conscious compromises. And most important, I give myself NO DEADLINE for this project. I will probably pick it up and put it down a million times.

So! I’ve wanted new 18th c. stays for a while, particularly something more shaped as in the 1780s styles, and was excited to see JP Ryan’s new shaped stays pattern. I spent the day tweaking the pattern based on various extant examples in Corsets & Crinolines, the Kyoto book, the Salen Corsets book, and Historical Fashion in Detail. I love playing with boning patterns and layouts!

I’ve got three questions for y’all:

1) I’m planning to bone these with plastic boning (with possibly a bit of metal boning as well for support, which is period per Norah Waugh). I am having a hard time getting over the desire to gag at the words “plastic boning,” but I have accepted that it is the best modern substitute for baleen (which, sorry, even though apparently it is theoretically possible to purchase from Inuit sellers, I have real ethical objections to). Yes yes, you’re all saying “Why don’t you use reed? It’s historically accurate and cheap!” I’m not, because while it was used in the period, it was considered a substandard material and I am not trying to create a lower class outfit. Stays of the sort I want to make would be boned with baleen, so it’s a baleen substitute I need. And I have seen the substandard-ness in action, with many friends who’ve made (beautiful) reed boned corsets whose tabs have broken. I’m not willing to put tons of work into a pair of stays that are only wearable for a year or so!

So given all that preamble… does anyone have recommendations for quality plastic boning? I’ve used metal for so long that I’ve never really paid attention to the various discussions. I was considering these 1/4″ wide plastic bones from Farthingales LA – opinions?

2) Linen is what’s period to use as interlining/support layers, but my experiences using it have been less than happy — it stretches! Who wants stretchy stays? Any advice on how you’ve dealt with stretchy linen? I’ve got some pretty heavyweight stuff, but it still stretched when I used it for my Nell Gwyn bodice. Do you just cut it down after you’ve sewn in the boning channels, or pattern the stays slightly too small assuming that they’ll stretch?

3) I can’t wrap my brain around butting the various pieces together and sewing them. What kind of stitch do you use, and how do you make certain they can take the strain? Should I use heavy thread? And how are the seam allowances on each piece handled — are they turned inside out like you would if you were bag lining? I’ve been checking Costume Close-Up and other sources, and can’t find any good explanation of this process.

Any advice much appreciated!

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  • Reply Alaina August 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    re. question 3:

    on the originals from the 1780s that I’ve seen with the technique you are talking about, the seam allowances have been turned under towards each other, each layer separately, and then stitched together. I can’t remember if they were secured with an underhand hem stitch like on gowns of the period?

    Then the edges were sewn in a very tiny (about a scant 1/8″) seam, with a sturdy backstitch. I would think this would be enough to withstand the strain.

    I look forward to hearing about your stays! I’m in the middle of my first pair of 18th c. stays, but haven’t gotten to the seam part yet

  • Reply lindseyerin37 August 30, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    My red stays that I where with everything are boned with imitation whalebone and a little bit of steal in the front. I think I got it from the Canadian Farthingales. It behaves a lot like cable ties, but it’s not as bulky. Good luck!

  • Reply kendra August 30, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Okay, so now I’m adding… I’ve been finding various photos of extant stays w/ the lining removed, and they all seem to have been sewn together with a conventional seam, and then the seam allowances opened up and stitched now — not what I keep reading about, which is individual pieces finished, butted up against each other, and then sewn. Hmm!

  • Reply Katherine August 30, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Hey, go ahead and use (“german”?) plastic boning -if it produces the right shape and is durable and isn’t as thick as cable ties, then more power to ya! :) I’ve only successfully used reed when I fully boned with oval-oval, YMMV.

    I used http://www.cherrydawson.com/StaysWorkshop/stays_notes.htm#instructions as a guide when constructing my charlesii boned bodice.

    Re: sizing: I just made the corset a bit smaller, but I was rushing and overestimated how much it would stretch (as you well know!). A final fit-check before leaving on a jet plane (upon which I made the eyelets) would have helped… but if you don’t rush like I did and check as you go along, it should be fine. (Plus, corsets can gap more than court bodices, yes?)

    Good food for thought – I need to get around to remaking my 18th century corset too!

    PS How are the boned-but-not-fully tabs working out? Do you need to position bones against the edges to make it work? (This may apply more to your 16th century one…)

  • Reply bauhausfrau August 31, 2009 at 6:19 am

    Just one comment on reed, at least the stuff the Silly Sisters sell – I’ve had my stays from them about 5 years now and wear them with every 18th C costume I own, often all day and I have yet to have a single reed break.

  • Reply Athene August 31, 2009 at 8:41 am

    I’m a full-metal-jacket sort of corset girl, so I have no comment on that. In terms of the linen interlining, I just wouldn’t do it and would go straight for the coutil–from what I’ve read there were a lot of different (read tighter) weaves of linen in the 18th c than there are now which would have minimized the stretch, so why not make the same reasonable substitution for the linen that you made for the plastic bones. Go for the historical weave rather than the fiber–and it isn’t like coutil is made out of recycled coke bottles.

  • Reply Katie August 31, 2009 at 10:59 am

    It would be hard to replicate a really dense linen with today’s linen since “back in the day” they had way more varieties & densities than we do today. I’d say, keep the PITA factor low and go with a modern substitute in this case.

    We got plastic boning (maybe cable ties?) in the kit during JP’s class, it will be the first time I’m using it. The only thing I worry about is the possibility of warping but this stuff is thicker than the standard dress boning so it shouldn’t be an issue.

  • Reply Hallie Larkin September 1, 2009 at 8:23 am

    I use the German false whalebone to re-enforce certain channels in stays and have good success with it. I do not recommend cable ties etc. The German product is meant for corset making and comes in a variety of widths, it can be bought directly from Germany.

    18th century stays are boned, the seams allowances whipped down to the boned layers and the pieces butted and held together by a joining stitch using very heavy thread. The joining stitch allows the pieces to be hinged and wrap around the body, using a straight seam makes for a flat set of stays that never seems to provide a good shape. Use good quality densely woven linen. Artist canvas (unprimed) will work, as will good irish linen canvas from Ulster Linen, cheap linen even though it is heavy will not work. Do not wash it, spray starch it for extra strength (originals use gummed buckram). Use heavy linen (or silk if you are working on worsted or silk fabric for a fashion fabric)thread for your channels. If you are sewing the channels by machine use a thick thread like a jean thread, this will all help to avoid stretching. The linen canvas is the most important part.

    I have started a blog on 18th c stays



  • Reply Katherine September 1, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Hallie –
    Can you please explain the joining stitch – is it an overhand whipstitch, or something else?

  • Reply barelyproper September 1, 2009 at 10:20 am

    I sat in on a fitting/tailoring workshop with Jeffrey Schoenberg this weekend. One of the things he recommended for lining light weight fabrics might work for you. He called it French Linen and said it comes in three weights, but the medium is the most common to find and has a red edge. I handled it and it has almost no stretch, not even on the bias. I can ask him about suppliers and price range if you like.

  • Reply kendra September 1, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Hallie – thanks so much! I’ve been reading your blog and found it very helpful. Just found a master’s thesis that further illuminated 18th c. stay making, so that has been helpful too. Anyway, I’ll look for linen canvas and see if that works — what I’ve been reading is what was used in the period was stiffened (with gum arabic) linen buckram, which doesn’t sound doable these days.

    Athene: I love you. I may end up going with your logic of weave not fiber… but who cares, I love the idea of coutil being made of recycled coke bottles!

  • Reply Jessamyn September 1, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    This dress diary is from several years ago when I was doing way more machine sewing on my period clothes, but you can see a closeup of me whipping my pieces together around halfway down this page:
    I’m not saying that’s necessarily a period whip stitch for this application, but I will say that it’s held up beautifully, no trouble at all. Like whipping a heavy mid-19th-century skirt to its bodice, all those tiny stitches distribute the forces really effectively.

  • Reply Jess April 20, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Hi! i have been reading you blog and love it. It has been very helpful to me. To anwser your first question there is another place Corest Making Supplies http://www.corsetmaking.com/.They have great platic boning and someother unique specialty boning. And for you second question The best fabric to use would be Couilt. It is a tightly weaved fabric that is really light and little strectching. You can also get at the place I mentioned above. And since you are going for accuratcy and high quality, Couilt would be the best. Good luck and can what to see the finished project!

  • Reply Jess April 20, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Sorry about he mistake. Here is the link http://www.corsetmaking.com/

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