Thursday, 11 June 2015

HSF 5: Practicality, or, The Stays are Finally Done

Yaaaayyyy! Stays are done.

I made these for my two month internship in Colonial Williamsburg, so they needed to be comfortable, light, and cool: thus, perfect for the Practicality challenge (although they're slightly late - I ended up working two jobs and these took a back seat. whoops). I made them of linen and reed to keep them light and August-proof, and kept them as skeletal as possible. They also needed to be as accurate as I could make them (both for my own satisfaction and to wear them as an interpreter), and I therefore used period techniques and all hand-construction. The result is an incredibly comfortable pair of stays - I honestly forgot that I was wearing them for a while this afternoon! Very pleased with how these turned out.

I will write up a whole making-of post soon, but for now I'm just going to photodump. So let it commence.

Just the facts:

The Challenge: May - Practicality

Fabric: all 100% linen. I dyed the outside stuff with quebracho (a natural bark dye), the inner layer is linen buckram, and the lining is just a plain bleached linen. It is sewn with linen thread, and the seam tapes are indigo-dyed linen. So basically they're made of linen, with some leather, reed, and blood thrown in for good measure.

Pattern: I draped it on my mannequin based on extant examples, and then cleaned up the resulting pattern with reference to various drafts made from museum pairs (Norah Waugh, Jill Salen, etc). After a mockup I made a final draft, which will now be my working stays pattern from which to draft future pairs. I highly recommend doing this if you have a mannequin on hand. And posterboard is great for stays mockups - flexible enough for the curves, and if you stitch in one cable tie per panel it holds shape perfectly.

Year: about 1780-85.

Notions: 1/4" reed boning (2 per channel); linen plain-weave 1/4" tape, which I dumped in an indigo vat, to cover the seams (and the same, undyed, for lacing the back); ivory silk ribbon for the front; pigskin for the binding, armpit guards, and eyelet guards.

How historically accurate is it? I am tempted to say that these are as accurate as I can possibly get right now, but I will lower the rating to about 95% because the indigo tapes on otherwise very plain stays are plausible but not directly documentable, and should probably have been white. I do have some evidence for them; just not tons.

Hours to complete: including sourcing fabric, dyeing fabric, and hand-stitching, well over 300.

First worn: just now, for photos.

Total cost: not that much, actually. All the linen was stash fabric except for the buckram, and I only needed a yard for that. Reed boning isn't too expensive, the pigskin was leftover from my last pair of stays, and the silk ribbon came to about $3. The dyes cost a bit, but I had to buy them for a class anyways. Altogether this probably ran me around $50 in new materials. Not sure what the stashed bits cost anymore.

I love how swoopy they turned out!

This is as close as I can get to a back view; sorry. =P

After only a couple of hours of wear, they already have some shape-memory.

The bustline is cut quite low, as seen in a few period examples. I wasn't sure how this would work with my small bust, but it seems to have actually turned out really well.

Please excuse the horrible quality of these selfies. When I can find someone to take proper photos for me, I will!

A more complete blog post will be coming soon, as I have waaaaaay too many construction photos for these. =D


  1. Might be a stupid question; but are you willing to make one on commission? I'd love one of these but I'm not handy/skilled enough to make one myself and yours looks so wonderful!

    1. Hi Femke, can you message me privately through my page on facebook? - - that way we can talk more in depth about what you're looking for and the logistics. =)