Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Stays! (a.k.a. Another Reason Why I Love My Job)

So, I get to sew at work, and I get to talk about history all day - I officially have the best job ever!

Because of this, I have been working on quite a few projects this summer, and I am very pleased with everything I've been turning out. The first thing I sewed, and what I most desperately needed, was a new set of stays. As you could probably tell from my last post, my old set has become far too worn, the boning has entirely shaped itself to my body, and after losing a bit of weight they're just too big. So, I was ready to make another set!

Working on my stays while talking to a young visitor (not pictured)
I decided to make strapless stays this time, so that I wouldn't have to worry about the neckline of my gowns, and since I loved my last JP Ryan pattern so much I decided to order another. I chose light blue linen and a white linen lining from my favorite linen source, and I ordered leather binding and linen cord from Burnley and Trowbridge. I considered using metal boning, but decided to work with big zip ties again, as I have repeatedly been told how much like baleen they are (also, they're very cheap to buy!) I think I might use metal boning in my next set though, or perhaps try it out when I finally make my regency stays...

My linen cord, leather binding, and the linen thread that I used (thanks to some generous friends for the thread!)
I lengthened the pattern slightly, and then cut out all of my pieces from the lining material. I don't have a particularly long torso, but I've found that most stays seem to be a little shorter on me than I would like, and they are both more flattering and comfortable if I extend them by an inch or two. I really just eyeballed how much longer they needed to be by holding up my slashed pieces to my body, and then once I sewed the lining I checked the fit.

The patterned slashed and lengthened
All ready to be cut out from the lining
I should note that I deviated from the pattern instructions a little by sewing the lining first. However, I wanted to test the fit before cutting out my blue linen, and I personally like have a lining that is slightly more independent from the other fabric. It doesn't affect the fit or the look of the stays, and I think it makes it easier to air them out.

Stays aren't really difficult to sew, there's just a lot of sewing involved. I sewed all of the pieces together, and then traced the lines for the boning channels onto the lining. That was probably the hardest part of the whole process for me, because by the end of that step it was getting a little difficult to see all of my lines as I was sewing.

Pieces sewn together...
...and ironed...
...with the channels marked...

...ready to be sewn...
...and ready to be filled!
After that, I cut and inserted the boning, and basted across the bottom to close it up. Always, always, always cut your boning a little bit shorter than you think you need to! It doesn't need to be straining against the binding! (I have a bad habit of doing this, and then having to reopen the binding to trim down the bones that are poking through/poking me.)

The zip ties that I use
The left side has boning inserted, the right side still needs boning

Fully boned, with a few poking out to show trimmed ends
Finally, I made the eyelets and bound the bottom in kid leather. I think I will eventually bind the top and sides in leather too, but I was so excited to wear them that I stopped after just doing the bottom.

I couldn't be more pleased with how they turned out! It took about 55 hours of work from start to finish, and every stitch is hand sewn. I really enjoyed having them as a tool to encourage discussion about stays with visitors, and to be able to inform people that stays, and corsets too, shouldn't be uncomfortable if you're wearing them properly! My new favorite part of my interpretation goes something like this: "If you have a pair of shoes that hurt your feet, how often do you wear them? If you don't wear uncomfortable shoes repeatedly, do you think that anyone would have worn stays or corsets for a few hundred years if they were uncomfortable?" This also works when people ask me if I'm hot in my clothing - yes, I'm a bit warm, but they are too, because the heat index is 109! But there's logic in wearing linens and cottons, and in keeping the sun off!

Anyway, I would highly recommend the JP Ryan Strapless Stays pattern, and I am extremely pleased with my new set of late 18th century stays!