Another crack at 18th century stays

I thought I’d be quite ready for a week without any sewing after working overdrive on the convention costumes for as long as I had.  But this week I actually felt kind of eager to get back to some period sewing, and as I have quite a few 18th century projects lined up for this year that I want to tackle, I thought I’d get started with some undergarments again.

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sweet sheet stays

I’ve been bad, I know; I haven’t been taking pictures of anything I’ve been making.  I mentioned some time ago that I have a brand spankin new set of 18th century underthings.  I was going through my camera roll today, and realized that I didn’t take one single picture of the making of any of them!  however, I do have one decent (I guess) photo of my stays, so today I’ll talk about those.


and here they are.  (I look positively thrilled to be having my picture taken, no?)  a few weeks ago, I got all dolled up and went out into the very picturesque, yet hella cold snow to take some pictures.  this one was taken in the midst of me getting ready.

I drafted the pattern myself, starting with a basic conical block and adding seams to get the proper look of the mid-18th century stays.  I won’t go into detail about the pattern drafting, because I’m no good at explaining it, but Sidney Eileen has an excellent article on how to draft a conical block, which does a much better job explaining the process than I ever could.  I do mine basically the same way.  I made them strapless just because I didn’t have a pair of strapless stays yet, so why not?

these stays are fully boned with zip ties – my favorite – between two layers of heavy calico (this was, by the way, another stash project, and so I wasn’t much fussed about historical accuracy,) and the fashion layer is an old sheet that I thought was pretty.  it has this nice striped pattern with flowers, and so I smacked a big old flower right in the center.  pretty, girly – I love it.  in this picture, the stays still weren’t lined, but they now have been lined with a soft light blue linen.

the final product is imperfect.  the back needs to be higher – I was thinking that since I was omitting straps, I didn’t need to cut it as high, but in fact I do; the back tends to slide itself down under my shoulder blades if I slouch.  however, that aside, these stays are crazy comfortable – a lot more so than my other pair, which I think I might retire.  the shape of these stays is suited best to early to mid 18th century; very straight, flat, conical.  I’d still like to make a pair suited to the later part of the century, with that distinctive thrust shape.

oh, and as for the lacing… well, I had to dress myself, and the only way to accomplish that was to lace the stays loosely, slip them on, and then tighten from the middle, a la corsets of the next century.  so you can see the lacings tied around my waist.  I know that’s not period proper, but hey, what about this project was?

I’m nearly finished with the Ciel ball gown; just finishing up with some trim tonight.  so my next post will be about that!

Three Musketeers : bodices

finally! progress!! just some quick shots of what I’ve been working on for The Three Musketeers. I spent all day today on these.


the pattern I drafted myself, based on the 1562 velvet bodies in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 3. (my mum gave me the whole series for my birthday last week – score!) the play is set 1625, but the look of this bodice is basic enough to work.



this is the “Sabine” bodice. the piece on the left in the first picture is with my original boning pattern – which was quickly evident that it wasn’t going to be enough, although the actress is a tiny thing, so I added a bit more boning to the center. the second picture is the inside of the bodice with full boning.


grommeting. ugh!!


the (almost) finished bodice. it closes at the front with hooks and eyes, and laces up the back sides for easy size adjustment. this bodice has to be quickly taken off on-stage, so lacing it shut wasn’t an option. besides, hooks and eyes are perfectly period!



this is the “Constance” bodice, front and back. same pattern, but with a closed front. I based the trim design off some fashion plates from the era. again with grommets – yurrrrgh. I hate grommets, hate how they look, and it bugs me that they’re NOT PERIOD. but this is theater. and I don’t have the time for hand-sewing forty costumes. so I figure that if grommets are the worst thing up on the stage when I’m done, I’ll have done pretty well. still…



here is a sleeve, which is lined with the blue from the “Sabine” bodice because that’s what I had around at the time. and the second picture is just a tube of stuffed fabric which will be attached to the shoulder with some black trim. because I am a dunce, I sewed my front sleeve bands to the inside of the bodice. so I thought… how do I attach sleeves without a sleeve band, and also make this thing still wearable? and that’s where I stopped taking pictures, so you’ll have to find out in the next post. which may be… tomorrow! I’m planning on finishing these two pieces, and hopefully drafting two ballgown bodices as well.

18th century front-lacing stays

I’ve been wanting to take a crack at a pair of front-lacing stays for a while.  my only pair of 18th century stays, the pink shot silk ones, have two major flaws: one, they’re only half-boned, which is somewhat less support than I really need; two, they’re back-lacing only, which makes it impossible for me to actually put them on.  lo and behold, JoAnn Fabrics had a 99 cent pattern sale the other day, and I bought a ton of them.  one was this, Butterick pattern 4254, for several types of stays.  I happened upon this fabric that same day, on sale in the home decor section, I couldn’t resist.  it’s like the two were meant to be.

they’re finished up to the front eyelets, which I’ve been enjoying a Frasier marathon to get through.  once I finish the back eyelets, I can try them on for real – I’ve done a sort of trial fitting and I think they’re a bit short, width-wise, which means I didn’t take enough space into account for boning, but oh well.  it shouldn’t be a problem.  for boning, I used the fan favorite, electrical zip ties.  I have to say I’m pleased with them.

a close-up of some eyelets.  I’ve quite accepted the fact that I cannot sew anything close to perfect eyelets.  still, most of them are pretty regular and not too small, so I’m proud.

the inside.  I will be lining them, but I haven’t yet chosen with what fabric.  something fun, maybe.  I covered the raw edges where the seams meet with strips of the fashion fabric.  you can see that these stays are fully boned.  you can also see that the boning channels on both sides of the stays aren’t symmetrical.  that’s because I wasn’t thinking ahead (story of my life!) and nearly finished one half of them before I even started on the other half.  I also had some trouble because I was trying to adapt the boning channels given with the pattern from half-boned into fully-boned, and it just didn’t work.  so I forgot that altogether and drew my own boning channels.  they’re not pretty, but they serve their purpose; and besides, they’ll be covered by the lining anyway.

the inner layer, and all the boning channels, are machine-stitched, but everything that’s visible is hand-stitched.  just because.  I don’t think I’m quite up to a fully hand-stitched set of stays yet, but we’ll get there.

I wasn’t planning on finishing this project just yet; all I really wanted to do was to test out the pattern, and to experiment with cording – it worked pretty well on my ren faire bodice, so I was wondering if a set of stays couldn’t be made with cording.  (it couldn’t, by the way; not close to sturdy enough for my figure.  for someone much slimmer, however, it’s a possibility.)  so I yanked out all the cording, and was left with this sad half-sewn pile of fabric… and then I thought of my fashion fabric.  I figured, hey, why not, just for fun?  and then I came across this image of 1750’s stays.

it was like kismet.  I knew that fabric was destined for greatness.  so I went all the way.  and I don’t regret it; I love these stays.  I’ll have some more pictures once I finish them up, and hopefully can get them on myself!  it shouldn’t take me too long… the only reason I’ve gotten so much done so quickly is because sewing provides an excellent outlet for procrastinating on my NaNoWriMo novel, which I’ve been neglecting. <_<

civil war corset – finished up


just finished up the edge binding and have a few more pics.  I went digging through my drawer of bias tape and in the end went with plain white, under which I added a bit of crochet lace to the top of the corset.  I like the look overall.  I wish it wasn’t going into winter, because I’m itching to wear this with a cute summer skirt or something.  it’s an undergarment, but it’s so cute.

as you can see, it fits like bung on my dressform.  I had to completely unlace it to get it on and the front gaps.  also, that lumpiness at the top is where I stuffed some spare fabric bits behind the corset to fill it out.  you can see the shape of the corset pretty well, though.  I was feeling too slobby today to take pictures of myself wearing it, but it actually does look a lot better on a body than on the dressform.

anyhow, another project finished!  in less than two weeks, too!  I still have the shift and pantalettes to make, but I went to the fabric store yesterday to get some fabric and it was a madhouse, so I left without buying anything.  maybe next weekend.


on another subject, my mum just finally got a sewing machine of her own.  being, as I think I’ve mentioned, obsessed with Marie Antoinette, she wants to make a Marie Antoinette gown.  she doesn’t seem to understand what this really entails, although I tried to explain it to her, that it’s not just as simple as buying a pattern and sewing a dress.  in any case, we’ve decided to have our own little sew-along starting in the new year.

I have a few 18th century pieces made, but they’re not all that great, so I’m going to be starting from scratch, as will my mum, seeing that she has nothing.  we’re going to start with the undergarments and work our way up, and hopefully have the entire outfit finished in time for Halloween next year.  (I’m trying to explain to her that you can’t really just sit down over a weekend and whip out an entire 18th century outfit, but… well, I don’t think she’ll get it until we start working on this and she sees how much work it is. >_>)  I’d really like to hand-sew mine as much as I can, for accuracy.

we’re going to replicate gowns from the movie.  my mum wants to do the “letter” gown.  I haven’t 100% decided yet, but the one that really caught my eye is the “cards” gown (because naturally I have to incline towards one of the costumes that is only shown in a dismally short scene in the movie and of which there are virtually no good shots.)  I might change my mind, but for some reason that one really hooked me.

well, more on that later.  we begin in January (yay!)  to my reckoning, for the most basic 18th century outfit, we’ll each need a shift, stays, a petticoat, paniers, and the gown, which in itself will be a task.  I plan to have quite more than just those items, but my mum may not want to go the extra mile, so we’ll see.

civil war corset: nearly done!

finally got a thread rack today.  now there is some semblance of order, instead of the chaos that was the cardboard box I had up until now been tossing all my spools of thread haphazardly into D:  that creature there is Guido, my “sewing robot” (according to my mum.)  he sits up there and watches me work, and laughs when I do something ridiculous, like sewing two left halves of my corset.  (in my defense, it was early and I was tired and it’s a wonder I could even cut a straight line, let alone sew a corset.  I don’t know why I thought starting that project right then was a good idea.)

my civil war corset is nearly finished.  I spent most of the day today working on it.  last week I got as far as piecing together the inner layer.  the pattern, by the way, is Simplicity pattern 2890.

the first thing I did was to make a mock-up.  it was unclear from the picture on the package whether the stays were meant to be mid-bust, or if the model just had a rather small chest (I think both,) but what was obvious was that my chest was never going to fit into that the way it was.  the measurements fit me in all other aspects, so what I tried first was simply to add an inch to the top of the corset, extending the bust.  on the muslin, this ended up fitting really well, so I went with it.

the pattern was meant for a corset with one layer, but since I wanted to have two layers, I put the boning channels in on the “wrong” side.  you can see my raw edges; I didn’t bother with the because they were going to be on the inside of the corset.

the second picture is with the outer layer attached, with busk in.  at this point in the process, I was starting to be afraid that this corset was going to turn out tiny.  I had allowed for extra length at the back of the corset, like I always do, just because I know that things go wrong a lot.  I don’t know where that extra length went; by the time I was going to mark my lacing holes, there was precious little space left to do it.  you can see in the picture where my original holes were set.

adding grommets, and the final result.  as I’ve mentioned, there was a good deal less space between the back boning channels than I’d anticipated, and I was worried the grommets wouldn’t even fit.  luckily they did, but I probably could have gone with a size smaller grommet.  I laced it with yellow ribbon because that’s just what I had on hand, and also, it’s yellow! 😀

forgive my shitty in-the-mirror pictures.  it was a little snug in the end, but, well, it is a corset.  (ignore my jeans, and the pile of junk behind me.  sewing room, my ass!) the pattern gave two inches for a lacing gap, but when I put it on, mine was more like three inches.  I figure it’ll stretch with time, and if it doesn’t, I don’t care that much.  the pic from the side is horrid blurry, but you can see just how much volume (for lack of a better word) my chest takes up in this corset.  even with the inch added all round the top, it ends up coming to mid-bust on me.  sigh.

overall, I’m happy with this piece.  the pattern was good, even if the instructions weren’t all that clear.  I still have to do the binding but I’ll save that for tomorrow.  right now there’s a Doctor Who marathon calling me 😀

Ren Faire 2012 costume

I should have known that as soon as I said I wouldn’t begin any more big projects before the move, I would inevitably think up a big project that I just can’t wait to begin.  so here it is.  I’m planning to hit the Ren Faire this year, since I haven’t been in quite a few years, so naturally I have to dress up.

(love my crappy Skitch sketches, don’t you?)

the concept is not complicated: a shift, stays, and a bodiced gown.  as it will very likely be well over 90 degrees when I go, I opted for the lightest linen I could find at a reasonable price, instead of the more historically accurate wool.  the gown will be a mustard-yellow linen, a colour I just love, although I really wanted to make it in the green that I have pictured above – I just couldn’t find it.  I happened to find just under a yard of it in the remnants bin, however, so I decided I’ll just use it for the outer layer of my stays.  it will show a bit beneath the gown, which I like (though I just realized that I’m going to look like a medieval Packers fan with the green and gold… eurgh.)
the gown is pretty simple, nothing fancy – I don’t see the point in making a fabulous costume when it’s going to be hotter than the armpit of hell and will more than likely be covered in mud, horseshit, beer, and other Ren Faire effluvia by the end of the day.  I styled it after Danielle De Barbarac’s green work gown in Ever After, a movie I adore.  (I really, really wanted to replicate the gown down to the colour, but alas, JoAnn’s, no green linen.  sigh.)  a simple bodiced top, A-line skirt with pleats in the back, and tie-on sleeves.  (I’m going to be outdated a bit, as the Faire this year is set 1570’s, but oh well.)
I drew up the pattern myself from an image I found somewhere (I don’t know, it’s been saved on my desktop for-like-ever,) that I liked.  I pilfered a bunch of this tissue stuff from the garbage at work (after JoAnn’s, it’s my go-to for costuming supplies :p) because I thought it might be good for making patterns, and wow!  I don’t know what it is; it moves and drapes like fabric, but cuts like tissue, is transparent, and really strong.  it’s super-thin but doesn’t tear without making a cut first.  I just love it.  it comes as packing in the boxes of ink ribbon we get for our packing machine.  it’s fabulous.
I made the pattern a bit bigger than I thought I’d need, since it’s always easier to cut something down than it is to make it bigger, and because I’m planning on using cording for these stays instead of boning, so I figure that’ll take up a bit of volume.  since my costume is rather lower-class, I don’t really need that stiff cylindrical torso, and did I mention 90 degrees?  so yeah, no boning.
close-up of the tracing.  (can you tell I haven’t washed my fabric yet?  I know, I know, but I can’t use the laundry at night or the neighbors get pissed off, and I really wanted to get started, so I said screw it.  I really hope that won’t come back to bite me in the ass…)  this was my first successful go at using a tracing wheel, which up until now I had thought one of the most useless things in my sewing kit.  did I mention my pattern paper is strong?  yeah, I went over these pieces three or four times most of them (I kept tracing the wrong sides, ugh,) and that pattern is in great shape.  I began sewing the channels but I’d barely got started before the guy downstairs started banging on the ceiling, so that’s as far as I got today.  then I started on a bit of the cording, just to kind of get a feel for it and see how it will look, and I’m pleased.  I think it’s going to turn out nice.