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For my Chemise a la Reine/a la Oberkampf, I’m making a pair of late 18th century stays from Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh. It’s the 1790s stay pattern on page 44. I would be very curious to know just what museum or historic house collection the sketch and diagram for this pair of stays was taken from.

stays diagram

1790s stays, Corsets and Crinolines, Norah Waugh.

In some ways it looks very much like other 1780s to ‘90s-dated stays in museum collections, mostly English or Italian, that I’ve seen online; the basic shape of the panels, the half front lacing and full back lacing, the curved bustline are all the same. But, aside from appearing to be a bit shorter in the body, the C&C stays differ in one other essential way from these other extant stays: the boning density and pattern. In C&C, the 1790s stays are said to be half-boned, and the sketched-in boning pattern follows suit, although even half-boned extant stays don’t have (what I’m interpreting as) the wide boning indicated in the diagram; they all have the typical narrow bones. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting the markings on the drawing, but I don’t think so. Again, aside from the boning pattern, the C&C 1790s stays have all the same features of the similarly-designed 1780s and ‘90s stays in museums.

The C&C description says that the pair the sketch and diagram were taken from “follow on from the previous ones in cut,” which I assume means the previous decade’s stays of the same cut that were fully boned (as mentioned above).

Why, oh why, didn’t Norah Waugh cite her source on that pair of stays? Or any of the garments in the book, really. I’d really like to see the source garment for comparison purposes. But all this talk of the stay’s design and boning pattern is beside the point right now; more on that later.

So that’s the stay pattern I’m using for my ensemble. I enlarged the book pattern on a printer to the correct scale, then I graded it up to roughly what I thought would fit me.

I made an unboned mockup of this rough pattern a few weeks ago, and tried it on to see if it was close or totally off in terms of size and fit. Surprisingly, it was very close! It needed some nipping in at the side-bust area in the front panel, so I sewed a dart there. And it needed some nipping in at the top of the side panel, too; so I slashed the mockup, overlapped the edges the needed amount, and zigzagged them down. Trying it on again showed that it was just about right.

Closeup of changes

After transferring those changes to the pattern and tracing a fresh one, I made the second mock-up, this time with boning. Not full boning; more like the pattern in the book just to get the general idea. I tried it on first by just holding the front edges as close together as possible with the back laced up. The back lacing overlapped at the top, but I think—I’m pretty sure—that’s because the front lacing wasn’t completely closed.

When I sewed the bottom front together and laced up the top front and tried it on again, the fit was even better. There was still a little overlap at top center back; possibly because I’m very flat in that area, with no upper-back curve. But it’s not something I’m going to monkey with in this first attempt at stays. If it’s not corrected when the front lacing is completely closed in the final garment, then I’ll work on it in the next go-around. But I only have 1 month and 1 week now to finish my whole ensemble and most of my sewing happens on the weekends. So close is good enough for me on the first pair of 18th century stays I’ve ever made.

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2nd stays mockup. The CF gaps a bit, but with stronger cord (not embroidery floss–improvising FTW) it’ll close.

The one thing I wanted to change from the second mockup was the length of the side panel where it joins the front panel. I had lengthened the front panel to help hold in my tummy pudge, but didn’t lengthen the side panel to match, so there’s less control there than I’d like. I ended up lengthening the side panel by 1 inch at that seam, leaving the rest its original length, and adding a small tab. This, coincidentally, makes it a little more like 1780s stays, being slightly longer in front.

Now I’ve got the two linen outer layers and the inner duck layer cut, and I’ve started marking the boning placement on the duck layer. I’m using what I’m going to call a “heavy half-boned” layout. It’s not the same as the boning layout used in any one pair of stays I’ve seen, but a combination of different boning layouts that seem to be common to stays of this cut, just not full-coverage.

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Detail of a side panel, channels stitched.

In referencing the extant stays’ boning layouts and deciding which elements to use in mine, I’m just going with what feels right, in terms of density and placement. Any experienced staymakers out there reading this are probably shaking their heads, thinking “newbies.” I can only respond, “Yeah; I hear you. But we all start somewhere. I’ll learn better ways eventually.”

The boning channels are machine-sewn, because time is of the essence. Maybe one day I’ll hand sew all my boning channels. Props to all who do it—seriously, I have nothing but respect for you and only hope that one day I will approach my own costuming with the same level of detail.

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All stitched and joined, except for the back panels. It’s easier to sew eyelets without boning installed, as I’ve learned from past stays projects. After the eyelets are sewn and boning installed, I can tack the seam allowances down and stitch the side panel horizontal bone casings in place.

 

I can’t wait to start working with the German plastic boning (GPB) I ordered! Ordinarily I would use cable ties, but I’ve wanted to try the GPB for a while and this seems like the perfect project for it. I think mostly I’ll be using the 3/16-inch-wide, but in a few places I’ll use the 5/16 and the 7/16. At center front and center back I’ll be using 1/4-inch-wide, double-thickness flat steel bones for extra support and stability at the lacing edges.

 

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