c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part III: The Pattern

The Beginnings, The Longer Version

Let me back up from the current state of the Stays Of Fail to all the wonderful documentation I did about making them, at least to this point. When I started these stays back in 2018, I intended them to be a sort of in-between-projects-project for when I wanted a bit of hand sewing to do. Given that, the project moved at a pace only slightly faster than a glacier!

Somewhere very early in the planning stages of these stays I decided to try out a new book for patterning them: Stays and Corsets: Historical Patterns Translated for the Modern Body by Mandy Barrington. This book presents the idea that you can use any person’s measurements to draft a basic block of the body and then use the basic block to draft any of the historical stays in the book. It’s a neat idea, in theory, and I wanted to try it out.

The Pattern

I didn’t keep track of how long the patterning/drafting process took me. But it was a long time…

There was lots of math, which always happens with drafting a body block and is to be expected, but on top of that there was also the drafting of the specific pair of stays I’d decided on: the 1785-1788 Half Boned Stays (patterned from a pair of stays held at the Chertsey Museum). I was doing my pattern drafting while being often interrupted, so that slowed me down, but despite that the process was longer than I was expecting (and I’m not new to making body blocks or patterns).

This is the original pair of stays at the Chertsey Museum. (Accession number M.2008.53)

(The nice thing is that if I were to use this book to pattern another set of stays or corset I would be halfway there, having already now created a custom body block, but I suspect it would be faster for me to start with a pattern from another book source, because I think my brain wraps around the idea of resizing a pattern without the body block drafting pretty easily.)

I eventually had my body block and was able to draft my pattern using the instructions. The instructions were quite detailed, so that was great. I finally had a pattern that I was able to cut out and make a mockup out of! I was able to get into the fun part: sewing!

Testing The Pattern With A Mockup

I had expected that, after spending a lot of time spent patterning the stays to fit my measurements, I would have stays that basically fit. And I did. But they fit my measurements with the center backs touching and no compression, just sort of lightly surrounding my body without providing support.

The drafting did it’s job of making stays to my measurements, but I was dubious about whether they would do their supporting job when fully boned and finished. So I decided to adjust the mockup a bit–taking some in at the waist, in particular.  (While this is a small adjustment to make, it reminded me that at the point at which I had to alter the mockup I might as well have started with a pattern that took less time to create.)

But perhaps, that alteration was my downfall. As you’ll see in later posts, I later had to add fabric back into the waist size.

That’s all for now. Next post, I’ll detail the early construction process, including stiffening my own linen!

You can read previous posts in this series here:
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part II: Fitting Update
c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part I: Beginnings

c. 1785 Stays (Of Fail), Part II: Fitting Update

In March 2022, I had another fitting on the pair of stays I started posting about recently. I tried a few different things and some seemed to work. It gave me hope!

I decided to add tape straps to these stays, partly to help counteract the back pulling away from my shoulder blades and slouching in towards center. This method of straps comes this pair of stays at the McCord Museum (accession number M969X.26), which is dated 1785-1790.

The idea has intrigued me for awhile and specifically appeals for this project because I didn’t like the fit and feel of the attached fabric straps and had already cannibalized them to make gussets, anyway.

Adding the tape helped the stays feel better, but the gussets were still a problem. I decided to move the gussets up higher by about 3″. I didn’t have quite enough fabric length to do that but I decided to piece on additional sections at the bottom. Piecing is completely period and seemed like a better idea than not having stays that I could wear!

Additionally, I maxed out the seam allowance on both sides of the gussets and the abutting pieces. I’m hoping those things will help narrow the back gap. I’ll also add a new boning channel in the gusset.

In terms of fit, the side view actually isn’t bad with the added strap!

The tape shoulder straps wrap across the back and then will hook in the front. For the fitting the test strap is just safety pinned. Other pins are marking where the strap hits as well as the finished length of the tabs.

After this fitting, the to do list includes:

  • resetting/piecing the gussets and adding boning channels and boning to them
  • whipping the edges of the stays in preparation for binding them
  • binding the edges of the stays
  • adding the tape straps for a final fitting

I’ve been very busy, so those things are moving along quite slowly. I did update the gussets and start whipping the edges, so there is some progress.

That’s all for now. Next post, I’m going to go back to the early construction details of these stays.

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.

An 1836 Chemisette (HSM #3)

The third challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly 2021 is ‘small is beautiful’. Little things can make a big difference to the finished look.  Make something small but perfect. My entry for this challenge is an 1830s chemisette to fill in the neckline of my 1838 bodice (the sister of the 1834 dress I posted details about last year).

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials: Approximately ½ yd of silky cotton voile from Dharma Trading.

Pattern: Adapted from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1, with adjustments for fit and style.

Year: 1836.

Notions: 1 ½ yds ¼” white cotton twill tape, 1 metal hook, 1 cameo button and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. The pattern, construction methods, and fabric are all quite good. It is entirely hand sewn. The most modern element is the plastic cameo button.

Hours to complete: 19 ¾.

First worn: August 2021.

Total cost: Approximately $5 for the fabric/shipping (though it is leftover from another project), $1 for the twill tape, and $1 for the button = approximately $7.

The chemisette pattern shape was based on this fashion plate from 1836.

Without a body in it, the chemisette looks like this. It is entirely hand sewn, with small rolled hems and drawstring channels on the bottom edges.

The shoulder seams are sewn with French seams to encase the raw edges. The collar is attached with a flat felled seam for the same reason.

The gathered ruffle on the edge is hemmed on all sides with a tiny rolled hem and then whip gathered to the hemmed collar edge. I haven’t tried whip gathers before and this seemed like it would be a fun project to try them out.

On the underside of the ruffle the whip stitches are more visible.

The inspiration fashion plate doesn’t show the back of the chemisette, so I had to decide on what I wanted. After looking at extant collars and chemisettes, I settled on a rounded point that extends just under halfway down the back.

On a body, it looks like this.

The final touch is a hook and thread loop to close the collar, with the decorative cameo button on top. The plastic is obviously not correct for the 1830s, but it does have the benefit of being lightweight! I was worried that if I used a metal brooch (not that I have one, but if I did…) it would pull the collar down or out.

And that’s it! There was no rushing with this project. I took my time and enjoyed the hours of tiny hems and whip stitching.

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!

Making A Corded Petticoat For 1830s & 1840s Ensembles

My sewing has taken a sharp turn into the 1830s in the last two months or so. It’s an exciting detour that has been on the horizon for a long time–ever since I purchased this yellow block print cotton back in 2013, in fact.

I wanted to up my silhouette game for the 1830s and achieve a fuller looking skirt than I’ve been able to do with my 1832 velvet gown in the past. To that end, I decided to make a corded petticoat.

I followed the directions from American Duchess in this video and only changed the cording pattern to suit my materials. If you’re interested in making a corded petticoat yourself I definitely recommend the American Duchess video. I found it easy to follow along with the steps and appreciated the mentions of pitfalls and tips along the way.

I was super excited to get started and maintained my enthusiasm for the first 4 sections of cording, but by the top 2 sections I was definitely feeling ready to be done! By that point the petticoat was unruly and difficult to turn as I sewed around each channel. Despite being less fun than when I started, I pushed on, and I was quite grateful when I finished the last section of cording!

Here’s a closeup photo of the cording sections. I used a continuous piece of cord for each section, as suggested in the American Duchess video.

My opening is just a portion of one seam left open just above the top section of cording. This is what it looks like from the outside. I made the waistband extra long to allow for future adjustment (just in case!), which is why the button is set over so far from the edge of the waistband.

On the inside, that opening looks like this. The second layer of fabric is just turned back from the edge and top stitched in place. The other seam allowance edges are selvedges, so they didn’t require finishing. Easy and tidy!

The ivory cotton waistband is whip stitched on the inside finish it all off nicely. Hidden underneath is a layer of cotton canvas that helps to stiffen the waistband a bit.

This petticoat is almost entirely machine sewn and took 8.5 hours to make. I used 4 ¼ yards of ivory cotton, 13 ¼ yards of 5/16″ cording from Wawak, 39 ¼ yards of 7/32″ cording also from Wawak, the canvas scrap for the waistband, and a lone ivory button from the stash. The materials cost about $33.

When I started this petticoat, I thought that it would only be worn with the 1832 velvet gown I mentioned earlier, but since then 1830s daywear using the yellow print cotton has made it onto my sewing table… and this will definitely get worn with the new dress. I also hope to be able to wear it with 1840s dresses that will someday make it onto my sewing table. It’s a great step towards improving my silhouette!

New Dotty Tap Pants

I finished a simple project!

The story behind these is that back in 2015, I made cotton tap pants to wear under my dresses and skirts in the summer. Here is the link to the original post. Wow, I can’t believe it’s been five years!

The original tap pants have been great and seen tons of wear! In fact, the original pairs are pretty much threadbare on the inseams. I’m kind of surprised they’re still holding together, as there’s not much left!

I made another pair with slight pattern tweaks about two years ago, but I felt it was time to add a few more pairs into the rotation. I found great satisfaction in the theme of all three of my older pairs having dots on them (in addition to the dots on the pairs in the original blog post, the third pair was made out of scraps left over from my Bubble Dots Skirt). So when I had this idea to make more tap pants over the winter, I was on the lookout for new dotty fabrics that I could make into shorts to stay with the theme.

I would have made multiple pairs out of the green fabric if I could, but there wasn’t much left on the bolt, so I had to pick a second fabric. The white background fabric has allium flowers printed on it. I love the round shape of allium flowers in full bloom, so this fabric was what I decided on.

After being washed a few months ago, the new fabrics sat around until April, when I was inspired to tweak my pattern (again–this is the third time) and cut out the pieces. About a month after that I finally got inspired to whip these up.

As with the other tap pants I’ve made these are entirely machine sewn with the seam allowances finished with an overlock machine. The waist is zig zagged to a bit of loop edged elastic. And really, that’s all there is to them!

Sometimes a quick project is just the thing to feel successful. And it’s great to fill a wardrobe need with handmade items, especially when they bring extra joy, as these do by continuing the dotty theme.

c. 1880 Petticoat (HSM #5)

I decided I needed a new petticoat as part of the 1875 ensemble I’ve been working on for the last few months. I have a very ruffly petticoat from 1883 (shown in this past post) that helps with the shelf backside shape that became popular in that year, but I wanted a different shape for 1875… something to produce a more rounded silhouette and support the train I was expecting to include on my new dress.

My original thought was that my balayeuse would button to this new petticoat to create the support for the train of my dress (as opposed to making a trained petticoat and then potentially needing an additional petticoat without a train in the future). The idea is that the balayeuse + new petticoat will provide lots of wearing options for the future.

Along those lines, this new petticoat is able to fit over my large bustle from 1883 as well as having the ability to contain the back fullness so that it can also be used for the Natural Form years of approximately 1877-1882 (you can see the bustle in the same past post as the super ruffle-y petticoat). I don’t have a Natural Form dress yet, but it is on the to-do-someday list and in the spirit of reusing garments and saving time, this seemed like a reasonable decision.

Here is the new petticoat over my large bustle. The drawstring partway down the back allows for the adjustment for different bustle shapes. It is anchored in the side seams.

Here is the petticoat without the large bustle. This is approximating the Natural Form look. While the hem pulls up a bit over the large bustle (above), it is pretty even for the Natural Form look (below). The great thing is that once there is a dress over the petticoat you can’t tell what the hem is doing!

The pattern for my petticoat is from Frances Grimble’s Fashions Of The Gilded Age Volume 1, page 107. It’s a pretty simple shape. Accordingly, I made mine using straightforward details and machine sewing/finishing.

The petticoat has a drawstring at the waist, for adjustability. The drawstrings run through the waistband and are anchored along the sides with a line of machine stitching.

At center back the drawstring closes the top of the placket. The placket is just a slit that is bound with a strip of cotton cut on the grain. No bias here–this saves fabric and makes things easier to sew! The waistband and placket biding are finished by stitching in the ditch.

I decided on a medium width pleated ruffle for the bottom edge of this petticoat. I used a fork to help space the pleats, eyeballing and ironing as I went along.

The ruffle is edged with a stiff lace from my stash. I’ve had this for nine years and always wondered what to do with it, because it is so stiff. Turns out it was perfect for a petticoat, when a little stiffness is helpful! The lace comes in the stack of three that I used to top the ruffle. To get the single width I simply cut apart sections of the stack.

Here’s another view of the stack of three lace, the pleated ruffle, and the drawstring. Both this drawstring and the one in the waist are cotton twill tape.

This simple garment qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly challenge #5: Basic. I imagine it will be used for any project I make, day or evening, from about 1875 through 1882.

Make a garment that can be used for many occasions (like a shift, or the classic ‘Regency white dress’), or a simple accessory that will help you stretch the use of an already existing garment.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  3.5 yards plain cotton.

Pattern: From Frances Grimble’s Fashions Of The Gilded Age Volume 1.

Year: c. 1880.

Notions: 1 yard ⅝” cotton twill tape, 1 yard ¼” cotton twill tape, 5 yards lace, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: I’m going to give this one 95%. It’s good on shape, materials, and methods. I believe would be recognizable and plausible for its time.

Hours to complete:  8 ¼ hours.

First worn: In May, for photos with my 1875 ensemble!

Total cost: This was a stash project, so free, but the original cost of the materials were $10.50 for the fabric, $2 for the lace, and about $2 for the twill tapes, so $14.50 total.

While not the most exciting project, this was a great start on the way to making my 1875 ensemble. I’m pleased to have made a garment that is easily adjustable, useful for multiple types of events and silhouettes, and is functional but still pretty!

The Amazing Balayeuse (HSM #8)

I am super pleased with a recently completed addition to my historical closet, my brand new balayeuse! Practical, utilitarian, and still managing to be a little frivolous looking, this thing is amazing!

I’ll tell you all about it, but first… what is a balayeuse? Our go-to source for etymology, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), has the following information.

balayeuse, n.
Pronunciation:  /balɛˈjəːz/
Frequency (in current use)
Etymology: French, feminine of balayeur sweeper.
1882   S. F. A. Caulfeild & B. C. Saward Dict. Needlework 18/2   Balayèuse, or Sweeper.—A French term to signify the frilling of material or lace which lines the extreme edge of a dress skirt to keep the train clean as it sweeps along the floor. The balayèuse is allowed to project beyond the edge of the dress, so as to form a decorative as well as a useful trimming.
1894   Daily News 20 Jan. 5/7   Three flounces of..silk forming a richly-rustling balayeuse beneath the hem.

Please note: The Oxford English Dictionary is only available by subscription, therefore I have not included links to this definition as you will not be able to access it simply by clicking a link. Many libraries have subscriptions to the OED, so I suggest you start there for access.

Are you curious how to pronounce balayeuse? The OED provides us with the correct pronunciation, but the official pronunciation notes don’t mean too much to me. I think of the word as bal-ay-yuhz.

Ok, so now we know what this thing is and how to pronounce it. We even have an idea of the purpose, from the OED definition.

As you saw in the first photo, my balayeuse is it’s own garment. But there is another type of balayeuse mentioned in the first OED quote, from 1882. Also called a ‘dust ruffle’, this type of balayeuse is directly attached to the skirt. I’ve had great luck with this in the past and I really like the look of lace peeking out from under a late 19th century skirt, so I included that type of balayeuse on the pink skirt as well, but that alone was not enough to keep its shape.

I decided to make a second type of balayeuse–one that, in addition to the wonderful job of keeping the underside of the skirt’s train from becoming soiled, also helps the train to keep its shape and not collapse on itself. Caroline (of the blog Dressed In Time) mentions this function in a blog post showing her own balayeuse. Here is the train of my skirt laid out (sneak peak!).

I felt I had to make my skirt before the balayeuse, in order to make the balayeuse the right shape to hide under the skirt when it was finished, and so I’ve tried it on a few times without the balayeuse. The train is great looking when I twist and turn in my corset to get the skirt to lay just right, but it doesn’t stay that way when I move around.

But with the balayeuse it was so different! The skirt just magically lays exactly how it should as soon as I put it on and it stays that way no matter how I move–backing up, turning, it is amazing!

So how does this balayeuse really help keep the shape? Well, the main thing is that the base is a double layer of stiff cotton poplin (from Dharma Trading–I love them for my natural fiber, white, black, and unbleached fabric needs). This photo of the balayeuse with the ruffle side face down (as it would be worn) shows the poplin off nicely.

The poplin base is basically a big rectangle with the bottom edge curved up at the sides. I used the full width of the poplin, which was a little less than 60″ wide. The center is 17″ tall and the sides taper to about 9″. The base is gathered to a band that is 28″ wide and 2″ tall. I didn’t add extra stiffening to the band, as the poplin is pretty hardy all by itself. This blog post at Atelier Nostalgia has an image that was great inspiration for my shape (though my balayeuse is wider than this) and the button attachment method I’ll show you below.

The poplin base has three rows of ruffles attached to it. I decided to use unbleached muslin for the ruffles for a few reasons: #1 gathering three rows of stiff poplin didn’t sound like fun (and the base is plenty stiff enough as it is), #2 I figured that the muslin would be less obviously dirty looking, already being unbleached as opposed to very white, and #3 the muslin will be easy and cheap to replace someday, if needed.

As you can see in the photo above, the band of the balayeuse has buttonholes in it. This allows the balayeuse to be easily removed for cleaning and storage, or use with a different dress (thinking ahead, here!). To accommodate the buttonholes, there are buttons sewn to the lining of the skirt.

The buttons are reinforced with extra squares of muslin whipped to the lining, as you can see in the photo below.

It seemed too much to ask the buttons to hang on to a single layer of muslin while dragging the balayeuse around. Here’s what those whipped on squares look like on the other side.

The end result is this. As you can see, the non-ruffled top of the balayeuse overlaps with the skirt lining and would not be dragging on the ground. The muslin ruffles actually continue the muslin underskirt nicely, I think, though no one is likely to ever see that!

It might not seem super stiff, but this ruffle-y contraption spreads out beautifully when it hits the floor. For comparison, here is a photo of my mockup balayeuse, made from an old sheet (and without ruffles). It’s spread out for the photo, but you can imagine how an old sheet would collapse on itself when picked up.

One last thought… the ruffles! I decided to try out a new tool for these ruffles: a narrow hem foot. This is one of those things I should have tried before but haven’t ever used for a project, but miles of ruffle edges seemed like the perfect opportunity to practice!

I can report that practice definitely helped! For example, I had some trouble going over my french seamed joins in the ruffles. In the photo below, my first try is on the left, my fifth try is in the middle, and my last try is just coming up on the right. The french seam was just too bulky to fit through the hook on the presser foot that turns under the hemmed edge. I discovered that if I eliminated some bulk with a diagonal cut of the seam allowance it worked so much better!

I didn’t bother to go back and fix my first few sad-looking french seam crossings. I figured this was going to drag around on the ground, and who would be looking? Also, it’s more fun to make beautifully colored dresses than muslin ruffles… There was a bit of ‘done is good’ on that front for this project.

Yay for learning things! I also found I needed to move my needle just a tad bit to the right of center to easily (and speedily) stitch the narrow hems.

The mention of the narrow hem foot reminds me that this project qualifies for the HSM challenge #8: Celebration.

Make something for a specific historical celebration, make something generally celebration worthy, make something that celebrates a historical hero, or just make something that celebrates some new skills you’ve learned.

Just the facts:

Fabric/Materials:  1 yard cotton poplin and 1 yard cotton muslin.

Pattern: My own.

Year: c. 1875.

Notions: 5 light yellow plastic buttons and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: I haven’t seen an extant stand-alone balayeuse before, so I can’t be sure, but I would say 90%. Materials and style completely recognizable and plausible for their time.

Hours to complete:  5 ¼ hours.

First worn: In May, for fittings. I need to complete my ensemble (only the hat is left!) so I can wear it with the dress it was made for to get photos.

Total cost: $6.25 for the poplin and $4 for the muslin. The buttons were gifted to me. And the thread was negligible. There was a bit of shipping to get the poplin, so let’s say $15 total.

Further information I found helpful as I made my balayeuse included this blog post at Yesterday’s Thimble. It’s also worth mentioning that if this idea sounds great, but patterning your own balayeuse is too much, Truly Victorian has a pattern for a petticoat with detachable train that you can check out.

HSM #6: Mid-19th Century Underclothes

I finally made a garment this year that qualifies for the Historical Sew Monthly! June’s Challenge is: Favourite Technique: make an item using your favourite sewing or embellishment technique. My garment for this challenge is a pair of split drawers from the mid-19th century.

My technique of choice are French seams. These are durable, tidy, and easy to sew with a sewing machine.

A quick explantation of how to sew a French seam is to sew with wrong sides together first, press the seam allowances open (they should be on the outside of the garment at this point), then sew the seam again so that the raw edges are fully encased on the inside of the garment. A French seam starts the opposite of how you would normally sew a seam (which is with right sides together). To this with your regular seam allowance the first line of stitches is narrower than your full seam allowance (for example: my seam allowance was ½”, so I first stitched with a slightly wide ⅛” seam then stitched again with a slightly wide ¼” seam). This ensures that the seam is tidy on the right side of the garment, with no loose threads showing. To keep French seams narrow on the inside of the garment it is essential that the first line of stitching is close to the edge of the fabric–sometimes that means stitching a wider seam and then trimming it to be narrow. If this is the case then it’s worth thinking ahead when cutting to decide if the seam allowances need to be wider than normal.

Below is a closeup on one of the inseams of the drawers, showing the French seam.

On to The Facts!

Fabric:  1 ¾ yards of cotton lawn from Dharma Trading.

Pattern: My own. I think these were based on a pattern in a book over ten years ago, but I can’t remember what book and I know I’ve made changes since creating the original pattern.

Year: c. 1850.

Notions: One button and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 98%. That missing 2% is for the machine sewing of the waistband to the inside of the drawers, as I think it was more likely that this step would have been completed by hand.

Hours to complete: 2 ¼ hours.

First worn: Not yet!

Total cost: $8.75.

These drawers are entirely machine sewn, with French seams, narrow hems, and the ‘stitch in the ditch’ method of finishing the waistband. The ‘stitch in the ditch’ replaces more time consuming hand sewing of the waistband on the inside. It leaves barely visible machine stitches just under the bottom of the waistband on the outside and nicely turned under edges on the inside of the waistband, as you can see at the point on the center front in the photo above. The buttonhole is also sewn by machine. The only hand sewing is securing the button.

These drawers are part of a set that I made for a friend. In addition to the drawers, she will also be receiving two mid-19th century chemises (also sewn with French seams!).

As these are worn without other garments underneath, it was important that the fabric is opaque. Dharma Trading’s cotton lawn is tightly woven and definitely opaque enough for this use. Plus, it’s 60″ wide and a great price! I will say that due to the tight weave of the fabric I had a much easier time sewing it with a fresh sewing needle. The old, probably blunt, needle on my sewing machine was a little struggle-y at first, but I had no problems once I changed the needle.

In total, all three garments took 5 yards of fabric, 7 hours of time, and cost $25 in supplies (the button for the drawers as well as lace and ribbon for the chemises was from the stash).