Oh Drat

January 16th, 2011

Having received the steel boning and twill tape that I ordered from Lacis, I set about putting the rest of my new stays together. But all is not well. Let me not alarm you — nothing is lost, it will all come right in the end; but for the moment, I am exceedingly frustrated.


1stly, the half-inch steel boning that I ordered seems far too flexible to make a good busk. Luckily I ordered 4 steels, so I can double it should my suspicions prove correct. I really think I will have to commission a metal worker to make a busk for my next pair of stays.

2ndly, as I prepared to hem in the bone casing for the wee little bones at the top front, I realized that my stomach gores are too short nearly by half. This would explain their ill-fit as well I guess. But it also means I need to tear out the stitching, extend the slits, and cut new gores to go into the spaces. Oh me, oh my.

3rdly, I am having trouble telling exactly where the boning is meant to go. I know there are two long bones flanking the rows “french holes” up each side of the back. There is also a pair of short bones going diagonally across the top half of the back. There seem to be another set of the same in the middle of the front. I think there are also meant to be bones between each set of bust gores, extending down to just shy of the stomach gore. But I find no evidence of side bones under the arms on the illustration or in the directions. The Workwoman’s Guide, written nearly 15-20 years earlier, but describing nearly the same form, does mention bones at the side…

And lastly, I realize that I will need to cut and sew a tiny buttonhole at the bottom of each bone place in order to insert or remove the bones once the stays have been bound. Did I mention that I hate buttonholes?

On a more cheerful note, I discovered the exact same pattern and directions from which I’ve been working¬† (found by your faithful correspondent in Godey’s, 1857) in a copy of Peterson’s, 1855! So they are indeed earlier than the cage crinoline. And Godey’s should be ashamed for stealing so unabashedly.

They Fit!

December 26th, 2010

I finished setting the grommets in my stays yesterday afternoon (do you know a better way to spend Christmas?). And I am delighted to report that THEY FIT! Take no notice of the wrinkling — aside from the zip ties surrounding the lacing holes, the stays are still completely un-boned.

Stay Lacing

Here you can see the spiral lacing up the back, with just the right amount of spring. Since the front was only pinned together, I didn’t even try to tighten them. I may change one or two things on the final pattern — the front stomach gussets are a little wider than strictly necessary (and kick out just a bit, though most of it is filled in by the skirt of my chemise), and I don’t think the bottom shape in the front is very graceful. You can’t see it in this picture, but it just cuts straight across, rather than sloping to a point in the middle as the back does.

Neither is worth changing on this particular pair of stays however, as they won’t affect the fit, which is what I am trying to determine. I shall simply note the changes for the next go round.

Since it is unlikely that I will be able to shop for a metal busk or twill tape (for bone channels) anytime in the next few days, I must reluctantly postpone any further work on my stays. Back to my embroidered petticoat frill I guess. Or maybe I will cut out some new — and greatly needed — drawers.


December 22nd, 2010

Tonight I set the grommets* on the left half of my new stays. I would have done both halves, but somehow I feel funny about pounding grommets with a hammer on my apartment floor after 10 pm. My neighbors feel funny about it too.

I suppose I could have quietly worked the holes round in buttonhole stitch, an option suggested in the Workwoman’s Guide, published in 1838. But the Workwoman’s Guide also mentions “patent lace-holes,”¬† noting that some people prefer them despite how hard they are on your laces. By 1857, Godey’s doesn’t even mention working the holes, but presumes you are going to use “a box of French holes; and a punch for putting them in.”

I made another exciting discovery about the stay pattern though. Read on…

Who Will Lace My Corset?

December 20th, 2010

As I continue to work on my new stays (which will be without benefit of front opening busk), the question of how I will lace myself into them continues to arise. I’m an old hand at tightening my own corsets, but I’ve never slid into one already laced closed before.

I decided to do a little research on Google books, and while I have yet to come up with 1850s directions for lacing one’s own stays, I did find a very humorous account in The commissioner: or, De lunatico inquirendo, published in Dublin, 1843, that is somewhat related. It concerns a young criminal named Joey who hides himself under the nose of the law by dressing up as a French mademoiselle. Read on…

Gores & Seams

December 16th, 2010

I’ve been making progress on my new stays. I’m proud to report that the bosom, hip, and stomach-gores are all neatly hand-sewn and felled in place. I particularly like the way the directions include steps for fitting each gore as they are first basted in, then adjusted, and finally sewn in place.

I must admit I did most of my fitting with a machine-sewn mock-up, so I didn’t bother basting the bosom gores or stomach gores at all. But when I discovered how poorly the hip (back) gores that I’d cut out fitted into the slashes they were meant to fill, I decided to fit them on my body again. Good thing too, as I ended up taking out nearly an inch of fabric!

Stays in Progress

Read on…

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