HSM #11: c. 1785 Green Linen Stays

I’m excited that the green stays in my most recent post qualify for the Historical Sew Monthly Challenge #11: Fitting (Make something that focuses on fit).

If you read my lengthy post about making these, you’ll hear all about how fit was both one of the reasons I started these and that I had a joyful time playing with fit as I created them.

I actually finished these on March 30 and I’m excited to post about them before 2022 ends so that they can officially qualify for the HSM this year!

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials: ½ yd green linen (exterior), 1 yard heavy olive linen (inner layers), and ½ yd ivory linen/cotton blend (lining).

Pattern: My own, but using the drafting guide on page 155 of Patterns of Fashion 5.

Year: c. 1785.

Notions: Heavyweight ivory Guterman thread, regular weight tan Guterman thread, cotton covered polyester quilting thread, approximately 410″ of ⅜” wide zip ties (boning), 11 ½” heavy duty steel bone (busk), 2 ⅛ yard ¼”  linen twill tape (covering seams), and 4 yards ½” linen twill tape (binding).

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. The pattern and materials are good. The construction methods are a mix of modern and historical.

Hours to complete: It seems that I didn’t keep track. Maybe 32 hours?

First worn: Has not been worn yet, except to get photos for the blog.

Total cost: The fabrics came from the stash as leftovers from other projects or were gifted to me. I’d say the notions cost about $16 +  $15 for the linen twill tape. So, let’s say about $35, if we include thread.

There is a lengthy post sharing the story behind these stays, my musings about the journey to complete them, many photos of the construction process and the stays on the body, and written construction details that you can read here.

c. 1785 Green Linen Stays (Construction Details)

I made another pair of stays!

This pair is a reaction to many of the things that went wrong or that I didn’t like about The Stays of Fail (which I’ve posted a whole series about: the background, construction, and patterning, though the lessons learned post is still forthcoming) as well as a chance to try out ideas from Patterns of Fashion 5 and all of the information I’ve learned about stay-making over the last 10 years or so.

The Background Story

I made a pair of stays about 10 years ago, so I figured I had some experience… Such hubris! We can always learn more things.

The old pair is well documented in old blog posts, but I would like to point out that since I made those stays I’ve learned so much–about what fabrics to use, what the construction process should be, etc. I’ve also changed size in the last 10 years, so my old stays (which always had a gap, intentionally), now hardly reach around my sides. It’s no longer a gap, it’s a chasm!

I don’t wear 18th century clothing that often, so making these work has been fine… The last time I wore them was to Versailles in 2016. They’re still pretty comfortable, they just need a very long lace to bridge the chasm!

However, in the last few years I’ve developed grand plans to make 1780s and 1790s clothing and I wanted a better fitting support structure to go underneath. I thought I’d use the knowledge I’ve gained, along with the invaluable information in Patterns of Fashion 5 (only published recently in 2019), to make a new pair of stays. (If you want to know more about the book, I rave about its amazingness in more detail in this blog post.)

Contemplating My First Pair Of Stays

With the knowledge I’ve gained over the last 10 years, I suppose I would call the old stays ‘smooth covered’ stays that are fully boned with cane. I wanted to machine sew the channels but picked a lovely patterned silk for the exterior that I didn’t want machine channels on top of, so that’s where the smooth covered idea came from.

At the time I made the stays, I didn’t know what the purpose of the narrow tapes covering the seams was (now I know: it’s to cover what shows of the whip stitches used to attach the pieces together when the stays are hand sewn, as they would have been), so I inserted piping to approximate the look. It’s definitely not historical, but my best guess at the time. And, some of my piping isn’t long enough to extend into the binding… Below, a view of this old pair of stays (more photos in this past blog post).

Speaking of which, the binding is bias twill, which isn’t terrible, but is much more of a 19th century practice than an 18th century one (18th century stays seem to be most often bound in tapes or leather).

The one thing I did do well was create hand sewn eyelets for lacing, though they are set up for x lacing as opposed to spiral lacing (the latter being more common in the 18th century for the functional closure of stays).

Patterning The New Green Stays

For the new stays, I wanted to try the drafting method detailed in Patterns of Fashion 5 on page 155 as opposed to sizing up a gridded pattern and adjusting it to fit. The instructions are easy to follow, although determining exactly what height the measurements should be taken at takes practice, previous knowledge, and/or trial and error.

My measurements are: bust 40, waist 33. When I used those measurements, the pieces were a little large, so I adapted the pattern to use these measurements: bust 36, waist 30.

The other measurements I used to create the pattern were:
width of CB to armhole: 6″
width of CF to armhole: 9″ (maybe this was too big)
underarm to waist: 6″
CF top to waist: 6.5″
CF waist to bottom of peak: 5″
CB top to waist: 9.5″
CB waist to bottom of peak: 4″
CB top to top of side hip: 15.5″

I felt the patterning was quite successful! I was able to use my measurements and easily adapt the pattern to fit my back in a way that did not cause discomfort (as was the problem with the Stays of Fail early on in the process).

Constructing The New Green Stays

These stays have an exterior made from leftover avocado green linen from the stash. Additionally, there are two layers of heavyweight, coarse army green linen that make up the structure of the stays. This is also from the stash–it was gifted to me and is too heavy for most garments I make. The weight is great for supporting stays, though!

Here are my inner lining pieces set up on my limited green linen scrap.

Constructing The New Green Stays

The new stays are half boned. I chose to machine sew the channels with buttonhole weight thread (I wasn’t about to spend a million hours hand sewing channels again after just doing that for The Stays of Fail).

I like the look of the heavier thread, as opposed to regular weight sewing thread. The channels are boned with full width zip ties (none of that cutting them in half nonsense like I did for The Stays of Fail, either).

As an experiment, I chose a boning pattern with both vertical/diagonal bones as well as bones that run horizontally across the chest. That means that my boning channels crossed.

I carefully started and stopped my stitches to line up at the corners of the crossing channels and left my tails loose, to be pulled to the inside and knotted by hand later in the process. I did the same with my thread ends at the raw edges, so that my channels would be beautifully even with no backstitching (it helps with the illusion that the channels are hand stitched and not machine sewn).

In places where the boning channels crossed, I added an additional piece of coarse linen on the inside of the stays. This allowed me to have separate boning channels for the different directions, which was helpful in keeping the crossing points from becoming too bulky.

After the boning channels were in, I put in the bones that would no longer be accessible after the seams were sewn. Then, I machine sewed my pieces together. (This project was about making successfully patterned stays more-so than completely hand stitched ones!)

Following that step, the remaining bones were pushed into the channels. I also hand stitched the eyelets around this time (I made them pretty big for ease of lacing–the ones I’d made on The Stays of Fail are pretty tiny!). Below, my eyelets are marked and my edges are tidied.

Next, I basted around the edges of the stays to keep the bones in place, covered my exterior seams with woven linen tape, trimmed my edges, whip stitched my edges, and bound the edges of the stays in ¾” linen tape.

The stays looked like this on the inside at this point.

And like this on the outside.

I also added extra laters of reinforcement over the belly, as seen in extant stays. These are graduated in size and made of the same coarse linen.

Some stays also have wooden busks to further stiffen the center front. Given that these already have modern methods, I chose to use an extra heavy, ½” wide steel bone for my busk. It is inserted under the extra layers of linen and stitched in place, as you can see below.

The final step was to line the stays. I used a natural colored cotton/linen blend from my stash. The tabs are each lined with a small bit of fabric (you can see that in the above photo). Then fabric was laid out on the inside of the main body of the stays, traced, and cut for both sides. The lining pieces are all whip stitched in place.

Here is a closeup of the back edge and tabs, with eyelets, binding, and full lining.

Below, a closeup of the top edge of the stays as I pinned the lining in preparation for trimming it to the correct size.

The seams on the inside do not correspond to the exterior seams.

Finished Stays

These new stays fit pretty well and are generally comfortable.

The front width wound up being a bit wide for me across the top, but otherwise they are good.

Final Thoughts

I like the horizontal boning across the front. The only downside to that is that the stays don’t fold in half for storage!

I had such a fun time deciding what pattern-making decisions to make. (What grainline to use on each piece? What boning pattern to use? Straps or no straps?) I couldn’t include all of the ideas in a single pair of stays, and so I have plans to make another pair, in a dark yellow from my stash. The someday-yellow pair will allow me to tweak the fit of the front as well as play with alternate patterning ideas. The pattern and materials are still out… it’s just a matter of finding the time and inspiration!

P.S. Stay-making Resources

This is not comprehensive, by any standards, but I thought it might be helpful to collect some links that I’ve found useful for anyone who wants to know more or see other people’s stays. (These blog posts were especially useful for seeing the process when I didn’t have PoF5 on my cutting table! That gives you a sense of the fact that this blog post started at least 3 years ago!)

Blogs showing the creation of similar stays:

  • The Sewing Goatherd: 1780s Stays Using Scroop’s Augusta Pattern (and stiffening her own innards, too!)
  • Rococo Atelier: 18th century speedy stay making tutorial using a sewing machine, this is part 1, this is part 2, this is part 3 (great photos and tips, this pair of stays also uses the PoF5 drafting method and machine sewing)
  • The Fashionable Past: 1780s Stays Tutorial (not quite the same shape as my stays, but the process is basically the same and this has lots of great photos of each step)
  • Rockin’ The Rococo: 18th century stays (the shape is earlier than mine, but the process is basically the same and this has lots of great photos of each step)
  • The Mantua Maker At Midnight: Making Stays 1730-1780s (this is earlier than mine, but the process is basically the same and this has lots of great photos of each step)
  • Atelier Nostalgia: Late 18th Century Stays (these are more similar to my Stays of Fail in some details–the tape straps and center front opening, for example–, but the general construction information is applicable to lots of stay projects)
Videos about stays:
Blogs with information about stays:

Pattern suggestions:

c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part I: Beginnings

The Beginnings, The Abbreviated Version

The very late 18th century (1780s and 1790s) is a mostly new period for me. I have a chemise… but no other underclothes that fit, no dresses, and quite likely no accessories… I’m starting mostly from scratch! And as one does (or at least as I do) when faced with a new period, I decided to make completely hand sewn stays as the foundation. That was in 2018!

I thought I had a grand plan. I was so excited about my stays! I tried a new way of patterning, tried a new method of stiffening my fabric, sewed oodles of boning channels by hand, shoved bones into all the channels that were just a little too tight, put in my eyelets by hand… And I documented all of it to share it here.

Catching Up To The Current State Of Things

Then in mid-2021, I did a fitting… and realized that I was really unhappy with the stays. Really unhappy. Mostly due to the fit.

The stays pushed my tummy downwards so it rounded out underneath the front point and tabs, but, even worse, the back pushed down on my lower back and was super uncomfortable! AHHHHH! After all that time spent hand sewing! And it’s not like I jumped right in to hand sewing stays without mockups and thinking that the pattern fit. No, I’d done those steps and hadn’t noticed anything wrong! GRRRR.

My immediate reaction was to put the project away. I just couldn’t bear it. After I calmed down (weeks later, mind you!), I tried to see what I could do to fix the issues. I decided to add a gusset into the back, since the pressure seemed partly to come from the bottom of the lacing gap being quite wide. I had only very small scraps left, so the only way to do this was to cannibalize my straps (which is fine, because I wasn’t super keen on them restricting my shoulders, anyway).

Here’s a photo of the back of the stays with the triangular gusset already added (and some other things that I’ll talk about later). The gap at the bottom was even wider before I added the gussets!

Fast forward a bit more and I had another fitting. The gusset helped a little, but I still had pressure on my lower back. And… the front problem, I realized, was due to a combination of the front being too short for my frame and this idea I had to use ⅛” bones, to mimic the size of originals…

I’ve had success with plastic zip ties as bones, so I thought I could use narrow ones to create the width I was looking for (I used these, purchased on Amazon). Unfortunately, they were very tight in the channels. It took a lot out of my wrists to cut and push in all the bones. The width of the zip ties looks great, but they’re too flimsy. Look how much I can bend back the front tab!

After much deliberation that included going back to look at the original that the pattern I used is based off of, and the reproduction made from it that is in the book I used, I realized that the original stays are just really short in the front. AHHHHH! (More about the book I used will be coming in a future post.)

I didn’t process this earlier, in any of my fittings, or my mockup, or my patterning, or my looking at the book! And I’m incredibly low on fabric! Below are my scraps, minus the long ones in the center, which were already used to face the eyelets.

So… I was left with a half finished pair of stays that took many, many hours to even get to this point–wonderfully sewn in terms of methods, but which I couldn’t wear. I was very upset and put the stays into time-out (again!).

I’ll stop the story of the stays here and continue on with my updates from the most recent fitting next time.

1880s Blush Duchess Satin Corset

In 2015 and 2016, I posted a ‘project journal’ series of blog posts about making a yellow duchess satin c. 1880 Steam Molded Corset (this link will take you to the whole series, which includes specific posts about the plan, inspiration, mockups and patterning, the final pattern, construction, steaming, and finished garment photo shoot). Late last year, I made another one as a commission for a friend, this time in a blush pink duchess satin I picked up at the fabric store with no particular purpose, but thinking it would be really good for this specific use (in fact, I mention this exact idea in the fabric stash additions post where I shared about the purchase of this fabric in 2020).

Having already figured it out once, I used my old blog posts as a guide for making the new corset. This post is intended to document the new corset and the changes and updates I made from the yellow one.

To start, I adjusted the pattern I’d developed for size as well as some of the boning patterns to accomodate the adjusted seam lines and to simplify some of the boning patterns, especially in the back. The yellow corset has a whole bunch of bones… It’s great and based directly off my inspiration image, but time consuming and unnecessary for this purpose.

Once I had a solid pattern, I cut out all my pieces: one layer of silk satin for the exterior and two layers of white coutil for the inner layers. For the most part, the layers for each piece are exactly the same, but there are some differences at front and back panels.

Below are the front panels, where I’ve intentionally cut the coutil to be smaller than the silk. This allows for the seam allowances to be less bulky and therefore more crisp as they fold inward around the busk. The piece on the left is for the proper left side of the corset while the two other pieces are both for the proper right side of the corset. I’ll show how these pieces are put together later in this post.

Next are the back panels, again showing that all of the layers are not cut to be exactly the same. The cut edge of the narrowest coutil layer provides a crisp edge over which to turn the other piece of coutil for the back edge. It also creates 3 layers of coutil where the grommets will be while allowing the silk to fold under the outermost edge of the coutil for a crisp line there as well.

You can see in both of the above images that I machine flat lined the layers for each piece together on almost every edge (some were strategically left alone).

Next, I prepared the center back grommet areas. The silk only seam allowance was crisply turned back over the straight cut edge of the coutil, then the coutil was crisply pressed back over the narrower layer of coutil. You can see the folds opened on the right and the resulting crisp panel on the left.

These were very carefully pinned in place (duchess satin does not hide pin marks!) and then the channels were stitched. I made sure to make them wide enough to not struggle when putting in bones (the last corset had boning channels that were a bit narrow for the bones and it was terribly hard to put them in!).

I used an edge stitch foot to get the lines of stitching right along the folds. Edge stitch feet are magical! I discovered mine while making masks last summer and have since started using it for all kinds of projects–any time I need to stitch close to the edge of a fold! My machine, which is pretty basic, came with one (though I hadn’t used it in, oh… 12 years???). I encourage you to it out if you haven’t before!

Here you can see the exterior of the grommet panels on the left and the interior on the right.

Later, I added size 0 silver grommets. Skipping ahead in construction, here’s a finished image of the corset, showing the finished grommets in place.

After preparing the grommet area, I assembled each side of the corset. No photos of that here, since I did this in the same way as my last corset: grading my seams, binding them with ⅝” cotton twill tape, and then stitching these down to create channels for the bones. (My original construction post has detailed pictures and explanation of this method. The part of the post discussing this also has some images showing the many bones on the back of that yellow corset that I mentioned earlier.)

Next, I put in the busk, starting with the socket side, which is the proper right side of the corset. I used a different method on this corset than on my yellow one. Further inspection of originals shows a seam that the busk sockets are pushed through, rather than reinforced holes without a seam, so that’s what I wanted to do!

This is where I used the two pieces I cut. In the photo below you can see that the two pieces are pinned together (pin heads are on the underside, in case you’re wondering) and I’ve marked small lines where the sockets will land on the seam. This allows me to leave openings in the seam for each socket. The openings need to be snug, but not too tight. The seam is sewn just outside of the coutil, so that the layers fold crisply. As you can see, my seam allowance is uneven. I left the side of the silk that will be visible as the busk is pulled on a little wider to make a solid facing even after years of use.

Here is the finished seam, pressed open. If you look carefully you can see the gaps in the seam that I left for the sockets of the busk. My ruler at the bottom shows the scale. (This photo also shows some of the finished seam allowances and boning channels on the other seams, as well.)

Now the socket half of the busk is pushed into place. The single layer of silk seam allowance is pressed over the cut edge of the coutil and the whole thing is carefully pinned in place. I made sure that the busk is quite snug, so that it can’t shift in any direction.

To do this, I started with pinning the inside, to ensure that the silk is perfectly wrapped under the busk–no gaps or bubbles there! Then, I very carefully pinned from the outside. As you can see, I only pushed the pins through the silk once (they come up through the coutil again, but not through the satin) to minimize holes.

After that, some very careful stitching with a zipper foot was in order. I curved my stitching around the top and bottom of the busk (a detail from extant garments). It’s tricky to make the curves look nice, but it’s a small detail that helps elevate the finished garment, I think.

On the inside, it looks like this. I was able to keep the stitching a consistent distance from the fold in the silk due to my careful pinning. I’ll admit that this turned out better than my yellow corset! The yellow corset has a few bubbles and variation in the width of the turned under seam allowance.

Here is the busk from the side. You can see the seam and the snug openings, with solid back stitching, which leave space for the sockets to push through.

Ok, on to the stud side of the busk! This is the proper left side. Here, you can see the marks I’ve made to show where the studs will poke through and where the edge of the busk will fall. It is intentionally set back from the cut edge of the coutil.

One thing I was very careful about was poking my holes for the studs, because I found that on my yellow corset the silk pulled where I used an awl to make the holes. No one but me would probably see this, but I wanted to do better with this corset. I believe I used very sharp snips to cut small holes rather than using an awl to push the fibers apart. This is fiddly work, because a hole too big can’t be saved and will fray and cause the stud to move around, but it produced better end results, I think.

After making my holes and getting all the studs through, I carefully pinned and then stitched around the busk just like I did on the socket side.

Ta da! Busk!

Next up was binding the top and bottom edges. I used almost the same method as on my last corset. To quote myself:

The bottom binding is bias strips cut 1″ wide. I stitched them first to the right side of the corset with ⅛” seam allowance on my bias, trimmed my corset seam allowance to just about ⅛”, folded the bias over the edge, turned the raw edge under on the wrong side, [basted the seam allowance in place on the inside instead of hand whip stitching the bias down on the inside (slow, but a more effective method than pinning in this case)], then turned the corset back to the right side and topstitched very close to the edge of the first fold. This narrow topstitched binding seems to be common on late 19th century extant corsets and looks very tidy.

Below you can see the bias turned to the inside, pinned, and being basted in place. On the right are finished edges from the inside and outside.

This corset is boned with spiral steel for the bulk of the seams and flat steel on either side of the grommets.

I usually apply the bottom binding first, then put in my bones, and then bind the top. It’s a bit trickier sometimes to bind the corset after the bones are in, and if the top will have decorative lace then it can help hide any struggles that occur. (Thankfully, I learned from my last experience and made a test sample of the boning channel width that was perfect, so it was relatively easy to bone this corset!)

At this point the corset was basically done! The only things left were to add ivory beading lace and ribbon around the top and silk flossing along the bottom of the boning channels.

I was excited that I had all of the necessary materials in the stash, including the silk thread in the perfect ivory color.

I’m very pleased with the end result. It takes all the struggles and things I learned along the way with my yellow corset and perfects them, creating crisper folds and finishes and a comfortable garment with a great silhouette.

There’s no trickery in the next photo, this corset holds its shape with no support other than what is built in!

Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: Finished Corset Photo Shoot

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I’m excited that the 1880s corset I made last summer is finally, actually, finished! I got around to adding the finishing touches, lace and ribbon around the top, over the fall. Now there is nothing left to sew, and, after two wearings I can say with confidence that there are no little alterations I want to do! Yay!

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The first wearing was in August last year, with my 1885 frills and furbelows dress. The second wearing was in January this year, under my new 1899 evening gown. Both times I found the corset to be extremely comfortable to wear. And in January, I was able to get pictures of the completely finished corset! So, without further explanation, here is the corset in its finished form. (If you didn’t get to read all the intricate details of the patterning, construction, and steaming process, you can see all past posts here, in the project journal.)

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The super frilly petticoat was a great prop for these photos! (I’m much better at looking natural rather than awkward when I have props!). It’s from 1903 and was finished in 2011. I’ve worn it many times but have never taken photos of it on me. It’s entirely silk, with two layers of flounces, both made of multiple gathered circles and edged with wide lace in a scallop pattern. It closes with a silk ribbon that threads through the waistband in manner described in Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques. It’s decadent to wear–it makes rustling sounds, has great body, and when you take it off it stands up on it’s own! I can’t remember how many yards of fabric went into this petticoat, but I know it was a lot, with all the circles in the flounces!

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In these examples, you can see the petticoat being worn with clothes on top: I’m wearing it to wade at the beach in 2012 and to give volume to a summer ensemble in 2012, but I’m also wearing it under probably every outfit you can find on the blog from the 1890s or 1900s, even if you can’t see it. (If you’re curious, here’s what it looked like in a half finished state.)

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Awesome petticoat aside, this corset is pretty decadent to wear, also. Silk, tons of curvy seams and bones, perfectly fitted, lovingly, painstakingly, and beautifully sewn… what’s not to like!

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Thanks to the usual camera toting culprit for doing a corset photo shoot with me in the midst of getting dressed for a ball! You know who you are.

(As a side note, it’s a challenge to take historical clothing underwear pictures that look reasonably like historical photos and images but don’t go into the modern lingerie photo direction. See the inspiration here and here? I tried this as well as the standing pose in the second link, but awkward really describes the outcome. But I think we did pretty well in the end. It’s amusing to feel these photos are revealing when I’m quite dressed by modern standards… Do you feel the same way about taking pictures in your historical underwear?)

Belated HSF 2013 #13: 1885 Frills and Furbelows

For my 300th post on the blog, I thought I’d share a dress that makes me smile. This dress makes me smile because of the frilliness of it which reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, because of the fact that it was very enjoyable and comfortable to wear, because I love that it is a UFO from 2013 that is finally complete, and because of the stunning backdrop I had for the pictures of it, which also remind me of Anne of Green Gables.

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I wore this dress to the Nahant Vintage Dance Weekend Formal Tea and Seaside Promenade in August. It was also the first outing for the my new 1880s steam molded corset and my recently made 1885 straw hat. I am pleased to report that they were all comfortable garments and accessories to wear. Being heavily boned, the corset was very supportive and thankfully didn’t feel heavy, and because it is shaped exactly to my body it was super comfortable–smoothing my figure without squishing it uncomfortably. The dress was perfectly reasonable to wear, with the exception of sitting, which required a slight sideways perch that was a bit precarious. And the hat stayed in place perfectly with two hat pins, as you can see from the pictures where my head is tilted in various directions.

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This dress has an association in my head with the puffed sleeves that Anne wants in Anne of Green Gables. While being from the wrong decade, it seems exactly like the sort of dress covered in frills and furbelows that Marilla wouldn’t waste fabric on. And just like Anne, I would often rather have the ridiculous, fashionable styles in historical clothing than the plain and sensible ones!

MARILLA: I’m not going to pamper your vanity. These are good and sensible dresses. This one is for Sunday, and the others you can wear to school.

ANNE: I am greatful, but I’d be even more grateful if you’d made this one with puffed sleeves.

MARILLA: I cannot waste material on ridiculous looking frills and furbelows. Plain and sensible is best.

ANNE: I’ve always dreamed of going to a picnic in puffed sleeves. I’d rather look ridiculous with everyone else than plain and sensible all by myself.

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This dress was started in 2013. I had grand hopes of finishing it that summer for the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge #13: Lace and Lacing

Lacing is one of the simplest and oldest forms of fastening a garment, eminently practical, and occasionally decorative.  Lace has been one of the most valuable and desirable textiles for centuries, legislated, coveted, at times worth more than its weight in gold, passed down from one garment to the next over centuries. Elaborate and delicate it is eminently decorative, and rarely practical.  Celebrate the practicality of lacing, and the decorative frivolity of lace, with a garment that laces or has lace trim, or both.

And while I did make significant progress on the skirt that summer (getting all of the trimming figured out, cut, and assembled, as well as getting the skirt base and side panels constructed), I didn’t get anywhere near far enough along to have a wearable outfit. So it sat in my “in-progress” sewing box with hopes to be worked on, but didn’t really make it to the top of my sewing list again until this summer. I had enlarged and sized a pattern from Janet Arnold in between 2013 and 2015, even cutting and assembling a mockup, but that had been waiting for a fitting because I wanted to wear my new specifically 1880s corset with the dress and the new corset didn’t get completed until June. Once I had the corset done, I set to work on the dress again, fitting the mockup bodice, finishing the skirt, and making the bodice, as well as a slight delay while I made the hat to match. It’s handy to make a hat part-way through the process of making the dress, because you don’t wind up running out of time at the end and not having matching accessories!

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The first inspiration for my dress was this white summer dress at the LACMA. The skirt was pretty much directly taken from the original, except for the back, which has a cascade of fabric instead of tucks as on the original–I figured there was already enough fluff for me on the front of the dress. I originally planned to edge all the front ruffles in lace as well, but ran out of lace. Running out of lace also made me rethink how I was going to trim the bodice. I went back to my inspiration boards and found these dresses with inspiring bodice treatments: a seaside ensemble and an afternoon dress with very different fabrics and intent, but I thought this could be adapted for my summery seaside dress. I had only a few yards of lace left when I got to working on the bodice and I decided to save some for edging the top of the 1880s corset because the shape of the lace is perfect, but that didn’t leave me much for the bodice. It turns out I had just enough to execute the final trimming plan I decided on.

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Since this was originally intended to be part of the HSF, here are just the facts:

Fabric: 7ish, I think, yards of cream satin stripe cotton, 1/3ish of a yard of blue polished cotton, and 1.5 yards or so of cream polished cotton for flat lining the bodice.

Pattern: Created by me, but the shapes are based on a dress in Janet Arnold.

Year: 1885.

Notions: 9 yards of ivory lace, hooks and eyes, scraps of white cotton for finishing off the bodice edges, and vintage ivory buttons.

How historically accurate is it?: As accurate as I can be using the research I’ve done and the materials that are available in 2015. It definitely passes Leimomi’s test of being recognizable in its own time.

Hours to complete: Tons over two years.

First worn: In August 2015.

Total cost: I bought the all the cottons for super cheap, probably $3/yard, the lace was probably about $8, the buttons were a few dollars, and the rest was from the stash, so around $30-$35.

There were so many good pictures it was very hard to limit myself for this post! So here’s some more, with a bit of commentary to go along with them.

We had a beautiful day for the Tea and Promenade. It had been very hot prior to this, but the day of the event was a little cooler and the stiff ocean breezes made for a temperature that felt perfect for me in my layers and ¾ sleeves. The formal tea part of the day was at Egg Rock on Nahant (the same location as the Formal Soiree I attended last August). There was a lovely concert inside the house as well as guests lounging around outside, including me, playing croquet. At that point the stiff breeze had me worried that my hat wouldn’t stay on without pulling at my hair, so I chose not to wear it for awhile. (Thank goodness I gave it a try later, though, because it is perfect with the dress and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss wearing the two together!)

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After the concert and some refreshments, the guests assembled for the promenade. As you would expect, we stopped traffic, attracted stares, and received questions from the more brave souls who would talk to us rather than just making up stories in their heads about our unusual clothing. The promenade took us to East Point, former site of the 19th century Nahant Hotel. The hotel is no longer standing, but there were stunning views of the Atlantic and the rocky coast to clamber on!

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Not me, but such a gorgeous view and cute picture that I had to share it, too!

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Some of us decided to head back a little early so we could stop at a small beach we had passed on our way to East Point and go wading! After the walk, the cold Atlantic water felt quite good on our feet. Here I am with stockings and shoes off, ready to head into the water.

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And here I am, wading in my bustle dress!

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There’s this picture of two ladies in bustle dresses from 1885 who look like they are collecting shells. That’s what I had in mind when I took this next picture, although looking at the 1885 picture again I see that the ladies in the picture are still wearing their stockings and shoes… I guess I’m pretty scandalous for 1885 in my bare legs and feet!

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Here we are, the whole wading group. It was a pretty fun adventure. I don’t think I’ve been wading in historical clothing since Newport in 2012.

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Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: Steaming (HSF/M #6)

Most of the work on this new corset was completed during the sewing process, which you can read all about in detail in this previous post. The remaining steps were to starch and steam mold the corset, to floss the corset, and to add lace to the top of the corset.

First, the steaming. I did what I could to follow the description provided by the V and A regarding Edwin Izod’s steam molding process:

One of the most successful was the steam-moulding process developed by Edwin Izod in 1868, and still used in the 1880s to create elegant corsets such as this one. The procedure involved placing a corset, wet with starch, on a steam-heated copper torso form until it dried into shape. The result was a beautifully formed corset, whereby ‘the fabric and bones are adapted with marvellous accuracy to every curve and undulation of the finest type of figure’ (The Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion advertisement, London July 1879).

To begin, I made a solution of cornstarch dissolved in water. I put 2 tsp to 350 ml water, but wound up using only about 1/5 of that. On a scrap, I tried applying the starch solution with a spoon, but decided against that because it left a visible starch crust on the fabric as it dried. What I found worked better for even distribution of the starch solution was a spray bottle. I sprayed the inside of my corset (the coutil layer) until it was thoroughly damp, then put it onto Squishy (since I don’t have a steam-heated copper torso of myself available, darn!): she’s a squishable dress form that I had previously padded to be close to my measurements and proportions (that’s an important point, that she had my proportions–padding in the right areas so the corset would dry into my shape!) and covered with a plastic garment bag so the starch would stay on the corset. Once the corset was on the form, I steamed it all over using a Rowenta Steam-n-press hand held steamer about three or four times. Then I intermittently steamed it again while it dried overnight.

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Steaming the starched corset on Squishy.

I only did one application of starch and I believe it had some effect. It’s not as stiff as cardboard and able to stand up on its own, as I have heard some steam molded corsets described, but it does seam to want to create the curves that were patterned into it with ease and I do think that the bones took on a little of the curvy shape during the drying process as well. (Here is an example of an extant very stiff steam molded corset. Look at how well it retains its shape! I want to do some more research regarding the Symmington corset company but that’s going to have to wait a bit.)

After the corset was dry, I flossed the boning channels using ivory silk thread and the flossing pattern from my inspiration corset. Unfortunately, I only had enough of the thread to floss the bottom of the channels… so I have to deviate from my inspiration a little and not have flossing across the top.

The last step will be to add lace across the top of the corset. I’d like to use the same lace that I’m using to trim my in-progress 1885 bustle dress, but I’ve only got a small bit left and I want to make sure the dress has enough before I use it on the corset. I’ve started figuring it out but am not confident yet that I have enough, so I’m going to hold off on taking absolute final pictures of the corset with the flossing and lace until I’ve officially decided that point. Regardless of the lace issue, we’re going to call this corset done, because it is entirely wearable at this point, just in time for it to qualify for the HSF/M #6: Out Of Your Comfort Zone!

Just the facts:

Fabric: A remnant of yellow silk duchess satin, a remnant of ivory linen, and white herringbone coutil.

Pattern: Created by me (more details in this blog post about mockups and this one about the pattern pieces themselves).

Year: c. 1885

Notions: 38 bones (34 of which are spiral steel and 4 of which are flat steel), a metal busk, metal grommets, cotton twill tape, thread, silk thread for flossing, and a lace for the corset (with the addition of decorative lace sometime soon).

How historically accurate is it?: As accurate as I can be using the research I’ve done and the materials that are available in 2015. I think it passes Leimomi’s test of being recognizable in its own time.

Hours to complete: Many! Patterning, cutting, sewing, finishing…

First worn: Only for fitting the mockup of the dress that inspired it–but I plan to wear it with that dress in August.

Total cost: The fabrics were all from the stash, as were most of the notions, except for the bones and busk, for which I paid about $50.

New techniques: Steam molding! But I also added a few new details to the corset construction process. Details in this construction in detail blog post.

Reflecting back on the process, I think I probably could attempt to starch the corset with a stronger solution or more applications, but at this point I’m satisfied and ready to move on to the many other things I’d like to sew this summer, including the 1885 bustle dress that sparked this project in the first place! (I’ve actually already moving ahead with that–I fit the mockup bodice over the corset and was very pleased! More on that in a few weeks hopefully!)

Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: Construction In Detail

This corset is made up of three different fabrics, all sandwiched together and flat lined. The outer fashion fabric is a scrap of butter yellow duchess silk satin that just barely fit all my pattern pieces (whew!). The inner layer is a white herringbone cotton coutil. Sandwiched in between these two layers is a tightly woven slightly off white linen. I chose this fabric for a few reasons: #1, because it was in the stash and an odd shaped scrap not likely to be used for a garment that required large pattern pieces; #2, because it didn’t have any dye that might leech through onto the yellow silk; and #3, because it is tightly woven enough that I’m not worried about the bones poking through it over repeated use.

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The three layers of fabric in this corset.

I decided to use three fabrics instead of the usual one (coutil) or two (coutil and a fashion fabric) for two reasons: #1, because I wanted an extra layer of fabric between my silk fashion fabric and my inner coutil layer so there would be less chance of any sort of spotting from the starch; and #2, because applying boning channels of any material would have been incredibly bulky and challenging with all the curves and bones on seams, but by having a third layer of tightly woven fabric I could sew boning channels anywhere I pleased without adding bulk.

After cutting out all 12 pieces in each fabric I machine basted the layers together so nothing would be sliding around creating bubbles while I assembled the pieces. Most of the basting wound up being removed as I moved through other steps in the process–either during the grading of the seams or while inserting bones.

Once the layers were flat lined I put the grommets in the two back pieces. Normally, I do this later in the process, but this time it worked well placed here. I used size 0 silver grommets. They are a little larger than extant corsets seem to have, but they are what I had available. After that, I assembled the pieces along their vertical seams. Then I graded each seam so that when it was pressed towards the back of the corset it would be less bulky.

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A graded seam.
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And here’s what it looked like with all the seams graded and ready to go.

Most of my previously made corsets have flat felled seams, some of which are used as boning channels and some of which are not. I prefer this method because it provides more strength along each seam than any method in which seam allowances are left pressed open. In this case, though, 3 layers of fabric getting flat felled was very thick, so I decided to try a different method. I bound each seam with ⅝” cotton twill tape, not worrying about the fact that the graded fabrics closest to the original seam were not encased in the binding.

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All the seam allowances bound with twill tape.

The seam allowances were all pressed towards the back, but not immediately topstitched as with a flat felled seam. Instead, they were caught and stitched down as I stitched boning channels. Some of them have boning channels that run all the way down the seam while others are held down by boning channels in enough places that, when combined with a binding on the top and bottom edges, will be sufficient to keep the binding flat and not allow any of the graded seam allowances to peek out.

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With all the boning channels in place the bound seam allowances are caught in enough places that they won’t flip around.

Another detail unique to this corset is related to stitching the boning channels. Often when I flat fell seams for corsets I don’t also topstitch right along the seam. For this corset, however, I stitched an extra line of stitching next to the fold of the seam allowance. This detail is taken directly from my inspiration corset at the V and A. While this might provide a little extra strength, I believe it is mostly a decorative and flattening stitch.

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On the left you can see how the seam has not been topstitched next to the fold, while on the right you can see the extra line of topstitching.

I was able to stitch most of the boning channels prior to inserting any of my boning. This corset was intended to have 4o bones, as the V and A description states, but wound up with 38. Unlike the original, which has whalebone, this corset has ¼” spiral steel bones except for the bones that flank the grommet channel, which are ¼” flat steel.

This is the first corset I’ve made that uses this much spiral steel. Usually I use flat steel, but these boning channels are much to curvy for that. The spiral steel definitely lends itself to the curviness of the corset, allowing it to shape to my body rather than making it a more cylindrical shape.

This is also the first corset I’ve made with this much boning. I’d say it has about double the usual amount of boning. That, combined with the three layers of fabric, make this one heavy corset (and heavy duty, too!)! Unfortunately, I don’t own a scale to weigh it, but the weight is surprising every time I pick it up.

The back of this corset has diagonal boning channels that bump up against a seam on one side and the grommet channel on the other. I order to sew those and also get a bone in them, I first stitched the bottom line of stitching, then inserted a bone and used a zipper foot to sew very close to the other side of that bone to create the channel. These diagonal back channels are where I lost 1 bone on each side of the corset. My estimates must have been off, because I had one bone that was way to long for the channel, but eliminating it fixed everything. I was ok with that deviation from my inspiration corset by this point in the process.

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My boning channels got a little wonky up near the top (where the presser foot is), but it almost looks artistic, and is symmetrical on both sides of the corset. And I was ready to be done by the time I reached these boning channels!

The above picture shows another corset trick, also. When I’m stitching boning channels that end partway across a panel, rather than at the top or bottom, I leave my thread tails and do not backstitch. Once I’ve completed the channel I flip the corset over to the wrong side, use a seam ripper to pull both thread ends to the inside, hand tie them, and snip them close. That leaves no tiny thread ends on the outside of the corset making little shadows that look un-tidy. The method works wonderfully!

Once I finished the boning channels I put the busk into the two front edges of the corset. I thought I’d show you how I like to do those steps in more detail. After the steps that are pictured, I turn the extra seam allowance under the busk on the inside (trimming it if I’ve left too much) and top stitch with a zipper foot right next to the edge of the busk. On my older corsets, I stitched a straight line from top to bottom, but on more recently made corsets I curve around the top and bottom of the busk to keep it from sliding up and down (another detail I’ve noticed in extant corsets).

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I’ve found that putting both sides of the front busk on a fold is nice and sturdy. I’ve also found that creating buttonholes for the loops to poke through helps minimize wear and tear on the corset over time as well.
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I make sure to make the buttonholes just larger than each loop and placed exactly so there are no bubbles anywhere.
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For the other side of the busk, you can see that I’ve roughly marked a fold line as well as the placement of each knob. Again, these have to be exactly placed.
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Then I use an awl to open up the weave of the fabrics so I can push the knob through.

After that, I was ready to bind the bottom edge of the corset! Sewing all 38 boning channels took hours (this corset is thick and sewn with small stitches, another detail I’ve noticed in extant corsets), so I was excited to move on to the next step. Luckily, I thought ahead and realized that there are three vertical bones on the back panels that dead-end at those diagonal channels–the bones for those channels had to be inserted before I sewed the bottom binding on. I didn’t take a picture of that exact step, but I did take a picture of the assembled corset with boning channels before I bound either edge.

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You can see the vertical boning channels in the back that dead-end at the diagonal channels and you can see that the diagonal channels that don’t reach the top edge had the bones stitched in as I went along.

The bottom binding is bias strips cut 1″ wide. I had to do a lot of piecing of my small scraps to have enough binding for the entire corset (see that seam just to the right of the busk in the picture below?). I stitched them first to the right side of the corset with ⅛” seam allowance on my bias, trimmed my corset seam allowance to just about ⅛”, folded the bias over the edge, turned the raw edge under on the wrong side, hand whip stitched the bias down on the inside (slow, but a more effective method than pinning in this case), then turned the corset back to the right side and topstitched very close to the edge of the first fold. This narrow topstitched binding seems to be common on late 19th century extant corsets and looks very tidy.

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Bottom binding sewn on.

Then came the struggle of the bones! I really struggled with this! I spread the job out over about a week and worked on it a little each day because it was hard on my fingers and wrists. The spiral boning condenses when pressure is applied, so pushing it through tight boning channels was a challenge! I wound up wrangling the corset bones into submission using a thimble, pliers, and a chopstick to help out my hands. Turns out that especially at the boning channels on seam lines, where the seam allowances were thick, I should have made the channels a little wider to make getting the bones in easier. There were one or two channels I finally resorted to unpicking and then restitching after inserting the bones for part of their length. In the end, victory was mine and I was able to move on and bind off the top edge of the corset. This was done in the same way as the bottom edge, being careful to be symmetrical between the sides and avoid sewing over bones.

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And here is the result! It’s wearable at this point, but not quite complete.

Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: The Pattern

The previous post in this series compared the two mockups I created while finalizing the pattern for the new corset. This post let’s compare the pattern pieces themselves.

Since my inspiration corset is only shown from one angle in a single photo, I had to use other information to extrapolate information for the areas not visible in that photo. As I mentioned in my previous post, I began the patterning process with the 1880s corset pattern in Corsets and Crinolines. That, combined with observations of other 1880s corsets, and the information below from the V and A description of my inspiration corset, all helped inform my decision to have 6 pieces in each half of the corset.

This corset from the 1880s is composed of twelve separate shaped pieces and forty whalebone strips.

The image below shows the pattern pieces from my first mockup compared to the pattern pieces from my second mockup. At first glance they are basically the same, but upon closer inspection there are subtle differences. It’s the same idea I’ve been repeating in every post about this corset: the lines aren’t really that different, but the curves on them have been exaggerated (this is especially noticeable on pieces 1 (CF), 3, and 6 (CB)).

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Center front is on the left and center back is on the right.

You might also remember that I mentioned in my previous post that I had changed the two pieces closet to center back after the mockup. Here are the two original 5 and 6 pattern pieces from Version 2 compared to the newer 5 and 6 pieces from Version 2.

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On the left, pieces 5 and 6 (CB) Version 2.1, as seen in the mockup. On the right, pieces 5 and 6 (CB) Version 2.2, updated after the mockup.

I think the change in the pattern pieces is pretty obvious when they are compared side by side. You can see the inspiration image of the back of an 1880s corset that prompted me to make this change in my previous post.

Determining where the boning channels would be was an essential part of the patterning process, due to the immense number of bones and their specific placement between seams on the inspiration corset. I looked very closely at the inspiration corset to determine where the bones would be located on the front pieces of the corset. For the back pieces, I used the mention from the V and A that the inspiration corset had 40 bones to figure out how many additional bones I needed after the front ones were planned and information gathered from back views of other 1880s corsets to determine bone placement. You can see that the pattern pieces from Version 2 have short vertical lines drawn on them to help me envision where the boning channels would be as I created the pattern. Once I was satisfied with the shape of the pieces and the location of the boning channels I was able to move on to the cutting and construction… more on that soon!

Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: Mockups/Patterning

I began the patterning process for my new 1880s corset with the late 1880s corset in Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines. I immediately had to adjust the pattern for size, as is often the case when using scaled historical patterns. While doing that, I also made some initial guesswork at adjusting the pattern to get the curvy seam lines in my inspiration corset at the V and A.

The result was a perfectly usable pattern for an 1880s corset, but the pieces didn’t have the exaggerated curvy seams I was looking for. So I started playing with the pattern pieces from the first iteration and came up with a second mockup that was satisfyingly curvy. The back pieces didn’t change, so I’ll only show a comparison of the fronts and sides. The noticeable differences are in the silhouette of the bust and hips. (I roughly padded out the dress form to be shaped like me, but being rather un-squishy, as dress forms often are, the corset mockups aren’t really filled out as they would be by a squishy body.)

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Front.
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Side front.

I didn’t take pictures of the first corset mockup on me, but I did take pictures of the second one, to give an idea of how it fits onto a squishy real body. The mockup corset is made from a single layer of muslin, with spiral bones taped onto the seams and a wide flat bone at the front to simulate a busk. The back has lacing strips basted on. I didn’t have help taking the pictures, so you’ll have to forgive the awkward angles!

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Front.
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Side front.
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Side.
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Back.

After the second mockup/pattern I still made a few changes, such as truing the pattern pieces so the edges that meet are the same length and some other small adjustments such as taking in the bottom front pieces a little to keep them from standing away from my body. The largest change I made was to change the seam closet to the back grommets.

You can see in the back picture how the seam lines are rather vertical once the corset is on my body, which didn’t seem to match the curvy seams on the front of the corset. Unfortunately, the V and A doesn’t have any pictures of the back of my inspiration corset online that I have found, so I had to turn to other extant 1880s corsets to look at seaming (and bone placement, but I’ll discuss that in my next post). I settled on the image below as my inspiration for the back of my new corset.

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1884, French, The Met

As with the front pieces, I noticed that the curviness of the seams is distinct as the corset goes over the hips and up the torso, but my second mockup didn’t have enough curve in these areas for my taste. So I went back to my pattern and made new pattern pieces for the two back pieces to adjust the seam line.

And that’s a great place to end this post. The next post in the series will be a comparison of the two patterns, looking at the pieces themselves.