Tutorial: 18th Century Stays Part 1
So, you have spoken and I will share this with you (yeeeii!). For Halloween I’m making a robe à la anglaise, so I needed a new pair of stays (I’ve made before 2 other pairs but both suit me big nowadays). This time I wanna sew by hand and make the stitches visible over the top fabric. I’ll be posting this tutorial while I’m working on it so when I finish a step and then I’ll share it with you about the day after and if you want to you can do your homework and we’ll work together ;)
Step 1 is to collect your inspiration and make some decisions.
This might sound easy but is the key for a successful outfit. I made a pinboard with all the images and links that I think might work for me. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted and how to do it, so it was easy, but you have to think about some things first before making the pattern. Hey, don’t panic! I’ll help you through every stage alike if you can draft the pattern by yourself or if you’re really a beginner. Here are my recommendations:
- What kind of stays do you wanna make? In general I think half boned stays are better for any kind of body (may be only the most extreme figures would really need full boned) and it’s perfect for all levels: You’ll have fewer stitches for you to control (and sew) better and if you have an advanced level you can make all the canals visible or even in contrast colour, and if your a beginner you can cover the imperfect stitches with the final fabric (so you don’t have an anxiety attack).
- Hand or machine sewing? This is a tricky question. Of course if you wanna be historically accurate you HAVE to do it by hand, but if you’re not worried about this and prefer a machine, do it. But of course practice is everything, so if you wanna start with hand sewing this is a good opportunity: you won’t need many kinds of stitches, this project needs a lot of repetitions of the same chore so you’ll definitely get better, and if you don’t feel so good about how it’s gonna look like, you can cover everything with the top fabric.
- Do I need a pattern or will we draft it from zero? Do I need to know about pattern making? Many costumers buy their patterns, but I think it’s better to draw it and make adjustments for you body for a perfect fit. For this being easier for all of you (with or without pattern making knowledge) I’ll use a base from the 1770s stays drafted from the book "Corsets and Crinolines" by Nora Wagh and we’ll adjust it for our personal measurements. It’s a lot easier than it sounds so pattern making knowledge is not really necessary. This stays have a good shape and are easily changed for other decades silhouette variations.
Now, I collected this images that I think will be very useful to you for this stays, so if you don’t wanna loose yourself with lots of images of beautiful, please use these as references and inspiration.
First, historical references:
Let’s take a look at what good costumers have done before in stays with visible tunnels and not visible:
Step 2 is choosing the materials
I draw my stays before moving to the pattern mainly based on the red example from the V&A Museum (that’s the first photo on this post), and already had a clear idea of what I wanted them to look like, so this is what you have to think about:
- Historically accurate or not? Depending on the country there are some materials that were not available there during the 18th century, but usually the material for inner wear is linen but you can also use cotton and silk (sateen, damasque, brocade or even taffeta are OK). The 18th century historically accurate colours are NEVER bright ones, since chemical dyes are from the second part of the 19th century, and for inners the preferred colours were neutrals for you to wear them under light or dark garments. If this is your very very first project then maybe you shouldn’t use historically accurate fabrics since they are expensive and you need to really know your materials through some projects before being able to manage them perfectly.
- Base, lining and top fabrics. You’ll need 2 layers of the base fabric (the boning will be between these), I use a mexican cotton light canvas called manta since it’s stiff and hard enough for all the stitches and pressure the stays will have, you can use cotton canvas or a slightly thick linen. The lining fabric is usually a light linen but you can also use cotton poplin; these both fabrics (base and lining) MUST be natural fabrics or you’ll sweat horribly while wearing your stays. For the top fabric I’ll use a light grey silk satin, you can use silk (or a polyester lookalike) satin, tafetta, brocade, damasque or linen or cotton (plain or printed).
- Threads. The easiest option is using the common polyester threads that are sold everywhere since they have a HUGE colour range, but truth is (historically accurate) that you should use linen, silk or cotton thread, meaning you have to use thread of the same fiber than your fabric. The biggest issue here are the colours and availability of these materials (in my country linen thread is not available and silk thread is very hard to get in many colours), so you can sacrifice some accuracy to get the same colour in fabric and thread using polyester thread or you can substitute silk thread for rayon, linen for cotton, of all the above for polyester.
- Boning. Let’s face it, there are not many options in many places, so taking in account the flexibility of the whale bone I prefer to use 1/4” plastic boning instead of metal boning. I’ve read some people use reed but I haven’t tried it.
- Etcetera. You can use contrast or same colour grosgrain for bounding and decoration and linen tape for closure in the back (or also ribbon or grosgrain too), be creative.
Now you have a full shopping list and things to think about before starting the next task: the pattern.