Monday, January 11, 2010

18th Century Stays

My project the last few weeks has been my first set of 18th century style stays. For those of you who follow my Historical Clothing blog, you may have read a bit about these on my dress diary page. I finally finished these on Saturday. I tried them on but wasn't quite sure if the fit was right so I asked a few experienced and knowledgeable ladies their opinions. As a result, I learned these will be best suitable for the late 18th century (which is what I wanted - yay!) since they are shorter in the waist than earlier 18th century stays. I also was encouraged to take in the front width a little. My original stays did not have a center front seam, but I was able to take in the width by slashing down the center front of all layers, removing the middle two bones and thus create a seam down the middle. This took in the width about 1 and 1/4" and the fit is much better now. On my next stays, I think I will make the back longer and maybe the sides a tad longer but I think these will work well for what I want to use them for now. They are very comfortable and supportive. In these pictures the colors show up a lot lighter than they really are, but it was the only way I could get them to show any detail.
They are made with instructions and tips being taken from all sorts of places - the Marquise instructions on making 18th century stays, Mara Riley's instructions on making 18th century stays, Cherry Dawsons stay making notes, JP Ryans strapless stays pattern instructions and illustrations and descriptions of extant stays in Nancy Bradfield's Costume in Detail.

They are made of two middle layers of cotton canvas, an outer layer of plum colored wool, a lining layer of pink linen and are bound all around with a golden brown colored taffeta. They are boned in the half-boned style, which, although using less bones than fully boned stays, are still much stiffer and unyielding than the most highly-boned Victorian corset that I've ever made!

The back lacing is made for spiral lacing which uses a single lace. The eyelets match at the top and bottom but are offset all the way down. This is different than the cross lacing I'm used to with Victorian style corsets but - I like it!
These pictures were taken last night of my adjusted stays - I don't really care to show the pictures of them before I created the center seam since they were so awful! :) I'm sorry they are blurry and dark, but I didn't feel like taking new pictures today and having to lace up those stays all by myself. That will take some getting used to! They are shown with my regency chemise since I haven't made a proper shift yet. I will be making my shift using the instructions in the JP Ryan Basic Women's Wardrobe pattern except I think I'll make a small cuff instead of using a drawstring in the sleeve. I particularly want to make three gowns to wear with these stays. One is a Caraco Jacket and petticoat from Janet Arnolds pattern, dated 1775-1785. The second is a round gown based on Janet Arnolds pattern for a polonaise, dated 1770-1785. I plan to use the bodice pieces but will make the skirt closed with a fall front opening instead of an open skirt.
The third is a chemise a la reine, which probably won't take place for a while since wearing white is just impractical for me at this point in my life. (children think Mommy's skirt is an always-available and accomodating napkin) But still, eventually I want to make one since I've wanted one for a long time. I'm thinking it would make a nice Easter dress. I don't have a picture of it, but you can see a beautiful reproduction that first inspired me to make one at Katherine's Dress Site.

Now, since the stays are done I really need to get out of the 18th century for a little while and focus on sewing for our upcoming Civil War reenactment season. What's more - I'm even in the mood for a little mid-19th century sewing. Next up is a wool underpetticoat for me, a civilian sack coat for David and some new trousers and a new hoop skirt since my old one has bit the dust. This time I'm making a covered hoop instead of a cage. The cage was nice but it just didn't hold up to heavy wear like I needed it to plus it was a tad bigger than I wanted (my new one will be in the 90's-ish range at the bottom). It lasted me about five or six seasons so I think I got my money's worth out of it. I would like to make a new corset too but it is not as necessary as some of the other things I need to make. The older two boys need new clothes since they have outgrown last years things, but Malachi can wear Judah's gowns and petticoats from last year. I don't want to make the boys things until just before the season starts since I don't know how much they may grow between then and now. Our first event is in Keokuk, Iowa at the end of April. Not really that far away if you think about it!

So much to do!




  1. Lovely! I knew they would be, but still :) I really wan't new stays now....

  2. They look very nice. I like the fit better since you took the center in. Great job :-) I can't wait to see what you make to go over them.

  3. The stays are lovely. They fit much better post altering. I like the colours very much.


  4. They are beautiful (as are the gown pictures you posted)! I'm in the midst of preparing for the season as well, and it can be overwhelming!

  5. Sarah, the stays are GORGEOUS now. And so are you! That first photo looks to me like it could have come out of a period film :-) I'm glad they worked so well! And your gown ideas are really nice too. This is another period I'm interested in but haven't ventured into it yet... perhaps now that I know cable ties will work instead of using reed, I'll give it a try ;-)

    I'm looking forward to seeing your new mid-19th century clothing, too :-)

  6. I have absolutely no reason to wear stays...but I so want to make some;-)

    They look very lovely!

    Lots of love,

  7. Thank your for your wonderful work.

    I'm interested in the history of posture and deportment. Do these stays pull your shoulders back as the fashion was in the 18 cent? If you tightened the straps would they go back even further?


  8. Yes, fashionable stays' straps or the shape of their armscye would probably pull your shoulders back. Working class women's stays tended to have a wider armscye, so movement was less restricted.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!