Saturday, 29 March 2014

In other news, the Regency stays...

... are finally nearing completion, but too slowly to have been finished for the Under It All challenge weeks ago. Now that I'm already pretty sure my rather unconventional technique is working out (with exceptions), I feel safe enough sharing some details on the thing with you. :-)

I ran into a problem with the stays: over the years since I started making them (eeek!), my cup size has grown (I have a no-longer-fitting bra to prove that), and they ended up being too tight over the bust.

A quick check with the ever-so-helpful ladies in the Historical Sew Fortnightly group on Facebook and a quick search on the Met site proved that three bust gussets were OK in this style of stays, especially if it's a necessary alteration for fit. The Met one is later than I aim for - it's 1833, while I'm aiming more for the 1800s-1820s era -, but it's still basically the same style and I actually pan to wear these with my 1848 clothes as well (hopefully). So I went that route and started adding another gusset between the two - so far, it's just the inner layer.
And bang, I found out about another problem with my pattern: I made the gussets too full at the bottom way back when. They should have been more triangular. Now my bust is too "droopy" - everyone who commented on Facebook agreed.

 Also, I was told the back should be higher for proper period posture. Next time...

So now I'm going to introduce some darts to the inner two gussets, and all my carefull precise technique that was meant to ensure the stays looked neat now goes down the flush, but it's a great learning process. Next time: next time, I'll make the two gussets wider at the top and narrower at the bottom. And insert them a bit further apart.

I'm also thinking of taking a cue from that extant pair and adding vertical cording in between the gussets, where the Met stays have boning.

Ah yes, cording. After years of unsuccessful trips to various shops in search of the seemingly ordinary thing that is hemp cord, an internet search finally yielded a "stone" shop that carries it (= no additional shipping cost and I could see what I was getting). So while I was there, I bought two balls of it. Hopefully that will last me a while.

This was before a lot other work happened, but it gives you the idea.

The thicker channels contain a remnant I found at home, which I decided to use in what I assumed to be the places that need the most strengthening. The narrower ones are the new cord.

I changed my plans, and instead of the "pull doubled cord through a finished channel" technique I originally wanted to use (I used a variation on that in my wrap stays/brassiere), I'm doing as much of single threaded, tightly packed channels, sewn only as I go (kind of like what The Dreamstress did), as I can. It's not so much that I would not be satisfied with what the cording in my wrap stays does - I like it a lot. It's rather because I was not sure what cording pattern would work best towards a smooth fit with the long stays, and the thickness of the cord varies greatly over its length; so I decided it was better to keep figuring it out as I go.

There are only two "bones" (= cable ties) in the back, to reinforce the lacing. The rest is all cording, and guessing by various tries in front of the mirror, it's working out just fine that way. I just need to add more of it here and there, like at the waist - I'm thinking horizontal rows like under the bust, but maybe a bit curved like on many extant examples.

And I've found a piece of wood that's perfect for a busk - I just had to cut off an oddly shaped bit at one end, and additional length on the other side under the hole. The hole is a very convenient feature for lacing it in and securing it that way, as I've seen some busks do, and it was already there. It turned out it was exactly the right length after I cut it haphazardly! My father's habit of hoarding wooden odds and ends definitely paid off for me here. :D

Now I need to sand it down considerably - I really do not want any sharp edges cutting through my damask. I've already sanded it down a bit, but I think it needs more. I'm also toying with the idea of a wood-burned pattern... *cough*. I'd definitely add some varnish (I think we have a linseed variety that could even be historically correct) in either case.

And a bust pocket will have to be added. Should it come on top or to the inside?

* * *

The pattern! I can't find the pattern now, which is annoying, because I need to mark the changes... But the point is, I made the pattern myself, based on a basic style observed off countless historical specimen and this free corset drafting tutorial on Foundations Revealed. Lots of sketches were made, noting down seam lines, and then compressed into the probably simplest pattern possible. Just fairly straight front piece, two back pieces, gussets in between, straps.

I did not follow the drafting tutorial completely one-on-one, because it's a different style with the gussets. And of course, those were exactly the bits that turned out to be the most off in the trial (trial is pretty much the whole period from muslin to fnished product...). But I think, as my practically first ever foray into corsetry, it's not bad at all, and if the technique I used for making my own pattern for Regency stays turns out to work for other people as well, like my sister (ha, ha), I may even share it as a tutorial one day (ha, ha).

The pattern, as I made it, hinges on the underbust measurement. It makes sense with the style, right?
Because it's based off my actual measurements, my own drafted pattern, I think in the end I know better what I've done and how to recreate it or make better next time than I would have if I had started with a ready-made pattern. Maybe that's a wrong assumption, but it's pretty much the way I always work.
(I've actually used very few ready-made patterns in my life, now that I think about it, and most of the time it seemed more trouble than it was worth with the fit. Which is probably why I keep doing it this unconventional way.)

This was the final design in miniature form. Changes happened afterwards, like the cording pattern. More importantly, I
a) simplified it, because I did not need to insert an additional gusset in the back; it was wide enough,
b) and instead, curved it in in the back,
c) and the back armhole became wider.

Also, bad shape of bust gussets. Bad bad bad. DO NOT COPY THAT BUST GUSSET SHAPE!!!

Since I cannot find the pattern I used to cut out my fabric, I'm not sure if that's all and when various changes happened, but that's about it...
Come to think of it, the only part of the pattern that worked right from the start was the straps. I'm actually happy about that, because they're slightly curved and the curve had to be just right (and in the right direction!), and because of the lift, they had to be much shorter than normal; and I actually nailed it all.

This stays style has more give than the Victorian style the drafting tutorial is aiming at, so I could - and actually had to - be more generous with the lacing gap.

This post is most definitely one of those "mistakes happen" posts. Quite a lot of mistakes. For some reason, I made the back pattern piece much longer than the rest. 

* * *

I followed Sarah Jane's tip on construction - I don't know anymore where she said it, and don't feel like digging through her blog to find out, especially because it could have been on a forum. But she said she sews the front layers separately, and then sews them together with the back layers all in one sandwiched seam, which is what I did. (If you can't picture it, let me know, and I'll try to make you a picture.)
I basted the front layers together teporarily down the front to prevent shifting while I worked, and attached them together at the gussets with a small running stitch in the ditch.
I also wanted to follow Katherine's tutorial on gussets, but I think I didn't, and probably made my life more difficult than necessary.
The back edge is ironed under and topstitched (backstitched) together.

So those are some of the construction bits so far. There's more, and it's still not finished, so I'm definitely going to share more later.


  1. They'll be perfect. Just keep going and you will have some wonderful stays. :)