December 7th, 2010
I’ve been working on a new pair of (badly needed) stays. They’re based on an 1858 pattern published in Godey’s under their Practical Dress Instructor department and I am following the directions to the letter. I spent a great deal of time — and used a lot of scrap upholstery fabric — making a paper pattern that fits me to a T.
Since the directions assume that you are already familiar with the fit and form of mid-19th century stays, I’ve also taken a few hints from the stay-making instructions in The Workwoman’s Guide. Learning, for instance, that the side seams of the stays should fall just a little bit towards the back of your actual side. But for the most part, I am sticking to the Godey’s directions for cutting out and making up.
It’s rather fascinating to make these stays according to the original directions. And it’s generated a few surprises. While The Workwoman explains how to sew a pair of stays with two layers of fabric plus a lining (fairly typical of modern 19th-century corset patterns and general wisdom, though the lining is not so common), the Godey’s pair are most definitely constructed from a single layer. They’re also sewn entirely by hand — this in 1858, by which time home sewing machines were certainly available. Though I begin to think sewing machines might not have been that widely used by home sewers in the 1850s; more on that another time. And the front halves of the stays are cut on the cross, aka bias.
Perhaps the most astounding discovery in this 1858 pattern though, is that they DO NOT OPEN IN THE FRONT. Yes, you read that correctly. These stays have a solid busk. In 1858. I rest my case. And it needs all the rest it can get, since I will soon have to learn how to lace myself up from behind…
Here is the picture I snapped of my pattern pieces just after cutting them out. Please excuse the well-loved ironing board cover. And don’t laugh at my corset fabric choice. This is just a first try and it was already on hand (it came in a Madame Foy Skirt Supporting Corset Kit that I never made). I’m also planning to bone this version with zip ties. So there.