Sewing

Historical Sewing: My First Stays

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Hello dears!

Today I have a newly finished project to share with you. Gabe and I are going to be participating in several French and Indian War reenactments this Summer, and thus I have been in desperate need of new stays for this year. So, back in January I came up with this ridiculous idea of hand sewing myself a pair of fully boned stays.

Yes. You read that right.

Hand-sewn, fully-boned stays.

Did I mention I was crazy?

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I know, I know. Most likely, no one will ever see my stays on me in person (except my husband, or if some lady helps me get dressed), but I love being able to have the hands on knowledge of what went into making a garment back in the era it was worn in. Everything was hand-sewn in the 18th century, including stays. So I wanted to know what amount of work that actually entailed, and how difficult/time consuming the process was. Let me just say, I will be machine sewing the boning channels on my next set of stays. It was hard work. And blood, sweat and tears went into making this pair of stays.

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Regardless, after months of work my stays are at last finished! They were wearable by the end of March, but they didn’t get their leather binding until last week. Honestly, the only reason they are done now is thanks to my wonderful Tailor Husband. He not only stitched half of the stays, but he also finished the leather binding for me (let me just say, what they say about stitching leather binding being hard on your hands is true. I nearly wore a hole through one of my fingers 😛 ). Now, they do need a lining to be “properly” finished, but no one will know that my stays need a lining except me; so, for my purposes now, they are done.

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I used the Simplicity 8162 American Duchess undergarments pattern as my base. I altered them to be closer to the stays in Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines in shape (I unfortunately do not own the book. I looked at the gorgeous reproductions made by Merja of Before the Automobile and Isabel Northwode for reference). I cut part of the front away so that I had room for a stomacher. I also chose to omit the straps. I like the comfort level of the stays without the straps currently, but it is possible I may add some tape straps later. I made them out of two layers of gorgeous linen from Gabe’s stash, and bound them with chamois leather from the Auto Parts store. They are boned with 1/4″ zip ties, two to each channel, with 1/2-5/8″ wide zip ties on either side of the lacing eyelets.

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I believe I cut the size 12, and my construction paper mock-up “fit” perfectly. But once I basted the fabric stays together, Gabe and I decided I should probably take them in about 1″ on either side. Looking back on that decision, I don’t think I would have taken them in after all. The boning shrunk the stays significantly enough, that they are almost too small now. But, they are made out of linen, and linen does stretch a bit with wear, so they should fit me nicely for at least the upcoming season of reenacting. And if, by the end of the season, I decide these are too small after all, then I will simply add a panel at each side. That’s what they would have done in the 18th century, right? You didn’t just throw a garment away that’s practically brand new because it didn’t “work”. You either made it fit, or found another use for it.

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Did I mention there was blood involved? Yes, Gabe unfortunately stabbed himself with a needle while finishing the stomacher edges, as evidenced by the small brown spot on the tip of the stomacher. Oh the agony he went through for me. ;P

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I am thoroughly pleased with how these stays came out. I got hands-on experience learning all of the work that went into them, and now I feel justified in skipping the laborious process of hand-stitching all of the boning channels next time I make a fully-boned set of stays. I did it once, and that is enough for me.*

Have you ever made a pair of stays?

Do you think I am crazy? 😉

Do you do any form of historical reenacting?

Blessings,

Brigid E.

P.S. If any of you live in the Pittsburgh area, come to Fort Pitt this weekend for the Artillery and Artificers event! We will be there on Saturday (tomorrow!) and Sunday, so stop by and say hello!

*just wait, next time you see a new pair of stays on here, I will probably have forgotten all about the agony of hand-stitching each channel, and made my next pair entirely by hand too.

Author: Brigid Everson | Photography: Gabriel Everson
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7 thoughts on “Historical Sewing: My First Stays”

  1. My hat is off to you both for hand sewing these! I attempted it once… and gave up. I was far too impatient! Yours look beautiful though 🙂 I have yet to try zip ties as boning… I always use white steel. I’ve been meaning to try the zip tie method sometime soon hopefully though.

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  2. Have I made stays? Well, I *have* failed spectacularly at it (three times), which is why I’ve finally cracked and am signed up for a class in the fall.
    Well, I couldn’t call you crazy, because this is exactly the kind of endeavor I would undertake. But perhaps “mildly insane” could describe this sort of project. I’m currently taking a break from drawn thread cuffs and collar, and I’m doubting my sanity 🙂
    And yes, I will in all likelihood be partaking in historical reenactment later this year.
    Congratulations on your stays!

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  3. I made stays from that pattern too, but I machine stitched everything because I didn’t have time to hand stitch. I did hand stitch all my binding though, and that was a Job. But then, that’s why men were stay makers, and not women, as men were thought to have the hand strength for it! Well done on yours!!

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  4. Haha! These are amazing Brigid!!! I love reading your posts again!
    And Gabe is such a cool, awesome guy to help you with them! Hehe

    I’ve been intimidated by making any kind of corset for years, but this summer I think I’ll be putting myself up for the challenge to finally do a pair—correctly!! I can’t wait.

    Have fun in PA this weekend! How I wish I could be there too!!

    Hugs!

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  5. I have made a couple pairs of stays (one 1770’s, two 1860’s corsets)…and no I don’t think you are crazy, but I don’t think I’ll bother hand-stitching my boning channels in the next pair! 😀 Yours look very nice…

    I’m am supposed to help my sister make her self a pair of both 1770 and 1860’s stays sometime in the near future. I’ve learned a little since the previous sets, so hopefully, hers will fit better.

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