18th Century Stays- Part 1

I began with the stays as they’re the very foundation of an outfit. After a couple of days searching on pinterest/google/blogging sites I decided I needed to make a set which laced in front and back. These stays will need to be put on independently perhaps in a fairly small space and so any extra maneuverability was welcome. I began the search for a pattern or drafting instructions (I rarely use patterns, preferring to draft my own) however found this hard. There are many good 18th century stay makers out there, however few explain their drafting process.

One blogger recommended using the Elizabethan Corset generator and changing the pattern, and a lot of other people seemed to think this was a method that worked. I don’t know what I did wrong but my first mock up was several inches too big at the waist and the tab placement was all wrong.

So I scrapped that draft and moved on, following other suggestions. Another highly recommended pattern was the Ralph Pink free half-boned stay pattern. However I found the lack of boning in some of the front tabs, along with the strange boning placement in the back tabs and the back tying shoulder straps unhelpful. 

I finally decided that since I’d recently reshaped my mannequin to be a pretty exact replica of my body I could simply draft onto my mannequin. I used the shape of the Ralph Pink front- It’s a triangle that goes from behind the side seam on either side, under the breasts to the center. Then made a fairly thin back panel- just the lacing panel and one other bone channel, then filled in the gap between with a side piece with 6 tabs.  I left a fairly large gap in front and back (3″ in front and 4″ in back), hoping that this pattern would fit both me and my two clients (who are about my size or smaller). The pictures below are actually my first mock up- with boning but this is the most accurate shape to what I drafted.

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My final pattern pieces (cut out of old Religious studies homework, oh well).

I then transferred my fabric pattern onto paper to make sure lines which needed to be straight (like the front and back) were. Now I faced the ultimate problem- what pattern to bone them in!

Here Rococo Atelier was extremely helpful. Their 18th century blue stays were almost exactly what I was looking for. The boning of the front panel of my stays is nearly a replica of their stays, as was the very back panel. However I struggled when it came to the side panels, I’d drawn my tabs into the pattern on the mannequin and therefore the top-bottom straight boning channels weren’t working- they were uneven in the tabs and weren’t giving the proper support. So I instead changed the boning of these panels to match this image, where there are diagonal bones from the arm to the corner of a tab then vertical bones up the middle of the tab and this worked much better. pattern

So here are my final pattern pieces complete with boning channels. The front and back panels have seam allowances of 1.5″ because they’re folded back to reinforce the lacing area.

When I tried the mock up, with boning, on I realised that these actually reduce my waist far more than I expected, though they don’t quite give me the conical shape that is so iconic of 18th century stays. However they are really comfortable and supportive.

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I’m holding the laces shut at the front and the neckline has fallen down a bit but you get the general idea.

Since these are still in the mock-up cotton I need to either remake these or cover them with a strong material like twill, wool or coutil. Then I need to put in grommets– whether I use metal ones or hand sew them is undecided. Finally I need to bind the edges. I’ll do a progress report when I’ve finished all three pairs of stays. The post explaining how to make these can be found here. 

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