Thursday, 8 June 2017

Grey Linen Full-Boned Stays

There is one fundamental problem with period correct back-lacing stays: Ones inability to get in or out of them. Have any of you felt that panic well up inside you when you realise you are STUCK? (I'm brought to mind of an experience of my brother who had to get a friend to cut him out of a wetsuit once!) It's not a pleasant experience.

As I have discovered, most costume pieces need several fittings throughout the sewing process, and of course the correct underwear must be worn, for obvious reasons. Most of my sewing time is during the day, while the family is at work and school, so there is no one to lace me up.

I realised I needed to make a front-and-back lacing set of stays. These are still period correct, for lower classes, especially those who do the lacing up rather than having a lacer-upper! Ie lower class.

I started to take my floral set of stays apart, but decided not to in the end for a couple of reasons: 1) I wanted to keep a flat-fronted set, and 2) I wanted to make a better set of stays.

Off I went to my favourite fabric shop in Wellington: The Fabric Store, and bought 1/2 a metre of a silver grey linen, as well as a gorgeous white kid-skin (I assume - or maybe lamb-skin? Very fine either way). Oh, that leather! All the way home I felt like I was in a saddlery shop where I just sniff and sniff and sniff that lovely leathery smell. It's gorgeous! (It's about a year later and I still get the remnants of that skin down and sniff it.) I cut this into 3cm strips for binding the edges.

I also bought up all that Made on Marion had in stock of artificial whalebone. I hoped it would be enough! It's so nicely rounded and smooth, rather than the often recommended cable ties. I had to use silk thread as I couldn't get grey linen thread in NZ (plus, it's too course to use in a machine).

Grey light to mid-weight linen


I used the same stays pattern, simply sewing the centre edges up the same as either back edge instead of sewing them together. I decided to machine stitch the majority of the stays. They needed to be nice and strong, and I didn't have years to do all those boning channels.

The process was a bit like this:

  • Cut out 2x centre back, centre front, side back, side front, side from main fabric (grey linen), lining fabric (white linen), and interlining fabric (white cotton duck canvas).
  • Sew main fabric and interlining pieces together around the edge. Machine baste or running stitch.
  • Sew above pieces together to make a right and a left side of stays. Machine or backstitch. 
  • Mark out boning channels, beginning each piece with the edge closest to front. Stitch through above pieces as one piece. Extend into tabs where possible. Include folded edges of centre front and centre back into the boning lines. Machine or backstitch.
  • Insert boning. I was meant to use steel at the lead edge of each stay piece. This was more difficult to locate than it was worth having, so I double-boned these.
  • Pin lining to inside of stays.
  • Line up edge of binding 3mm from edge of stays, sew about 1 cm from edge or stays, stitch using a backstitch. 
  • Fold binding over edges and whip stitch to lining inside. I used a straight whipstitch, about 2mm apart. As we all know, the tabs are the hardest of all parts of the stays to do. I found that leather was good to work with: stretches well around the corners, and doesn't need folding to stitch down. Just use a thimble!
  • Insert eyelets. I used white metal grommets as I had not manned up and learned to hand-sew eyelets. Maybe next time...

Binding and inside lining

Outside of tabs

Back spiral lacing

Back spiral lacing inside

Front cross laced.
I don't know what I did that: spiral is easier!

I added some shoulder straps to help get them on.

I'm not up to this incredible stage in my stay making, but I'm happy with this more accurate pair. Now, a year or so down the road, I find them too large. I'd like to say it's because I've been going to the gym and am now more toned. It's probably a mix of this, my boobs shrinking as a result, and the (more likely) fact that stays stretch. I find that the waist is too loose, as I have to lace both back and front up totally closed, and still my breasts seem to sink down rather than up when wearing them ;-) and my waist curves out far too comfortably to be a good cone shape. 

Just for interest's sake:
  • Grey linen $14
  • White linen $15
  • White duck $0
  • White leather $20 (I only used a fraction of it)
  • Boning $30?? (no idea really) 
  • Grommets $10
  • Grey silk thread $7
  • Cotton tie for lacing $2

Future plans:
I won't change this item, but my next, improved item of this type will be a set of half-boned stays, more suited to the 1770-90s, in a smaller size and probably using a mixture of steel and plastic boning. The eyelets will be hand-worked and the lacing will all be spiral, with more ease room for adjusting. It will also have integrated straps. Hehe, I must watch this space! I feel like I've learned enough historical information now to consider myself moving past the beginner stage, but I'm sure that will be quickly changed once I move to a different decade of history!

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