I am one of those New York transplants that has lived here for years, but never been to Staten Island. Randall’s Island? Plenty of times. Ellis Island? Yes. Governor’s Island? Yes. But that all changed this past Sunday! I never made the trek because I didn’t really have reason besides checking off a box on my Real New Yorker scorecard—and before any natives get on my case, when you live in Harlem it is far! But once there was a historical site involved, my interest shot up.
Audrey, a fellow member of the New York Historical Costumer Society, organized the trip and we managed to have a mild August afternoon to explore Richmond Town. We decided against our original plan of visiting in costume as none of us had anything we were particularly excited about wearing, and it would be a long, tourist-filled journey to Richmond Town. Sometimes I enjoy getting double-takes on the subway, but excessive questions and creeper photos get old fast. And it would be over two hours of travel—no thank you! I’ve found that most people are simply curious and polite, but a ferry full of tourists would just be horribly awkward. And hot and sweaty.
We took an underground tour of Manhattan from Harlem to the tip of the island where we met up at the Staten Island Ferry. A visit to Dunkin Donuts, a bit of waiting around, and then the herd lumbered through the open gate onto the ferry. This was my son’s first time on a boat and I was a little nervous that he would seasick, and he was a bit overwhelmed at first, but he had fun!
We got a rideshare from the ferry, and Historic Richmond Town was a fifteen to twenty minute ride. The earliest mention of Richmond circa 1700 refers to it as “Coccles Town,” or Cockles Town because of the plentiful oysters. Interestingly, many of the historic homes have been relocated to Richmond Town from other parts of Staten Island.
This farmhouse was relocated in 1962 to its current spot on Richmond Road, but was built by Joseph Guyon around 1740 in nearby New Dorp Beach. As mentioned on the website, the Guyon house is “one of few 18th-century gambrel-roof houses surviving on Staten Island today. This once-common form combines Dutch and Franco-Flemish features in a style that was later dubbed ‘Dutch Colonial.'” It’s a very pretty style, and you can see the shape below as our group heads in for a tour.
Unfortunately the house is on the other side of a very busy road, separated from the main village area. We had hustle across en masse, and I waited for a long time to get this mediocre shot of the house from the front without any cars blocking it!
She was not there during our visit, but Cheyney McKnight (of http://www.notyourmommashistory.com/) is one of the interpreters at Richmond Town and has done research on cooking in the open-hearth style kitchen with her study of African-American foodways. So naturally, I have photos of everything in the kitchen but the open hearth.
There are over 40 buildings in the historic area, and not all of them are open for tours. We toured the Voorlezer House (originally thought to be c.1690, but recently established to have been rebuilt after a fire on the existing foundation in the 1760s), the main museum/County Clerk’s Office, general store, and spent some time with a friendly basketweaver, although sadly his name and the building escape me now. I really wanted to see inside the Christopher House, which we were told has an interior set with colonial furnishings, but it was not open to tours on that day. So I just glimpsed its pretty stonemasonry through the trees and gazed longily. Our tour guide mentioned that every October they have “Old Home Day” with all the homes open, tradespeople giving demonstrations and lots of homemade food.
If I recall correctly, the Guyon-Lake-Tysen house was set to represent the era of the Lake family in the early 1800s. Daniel W. Lake bought the house in 1812, and lived there with his wife Mary who (god bless her) had eight children. Their household also included three enslaved children, who were later emancipated in 1827 and two of them are mentioned as “free” in the 1830 census. I do not believe any names were recorded.
We took a break for delicious Egger’s ice cream, sold out of a 1920’s diner that was left behind from filming Boardwalk Empire nearby! I love that they moved it there and made it a functional part of the village. Also, there isn’t much nearby if you don’t have a car so cold drinks and snacks were very tourist-friendly!
They usually have events at the Guyon Tavern, but uh, someone drove their car into it and it was closed when we visited. Yup, for real. It was a very long day, and took us nearly two hours to get home. But I would like tour in costume or attend a event there in the future, although we would definitely rent a car.
Here are two garments from the American Duchess Guide: one hand-sewn and historically accurate, and the other mostly historically-accurate, which seems to be my standard method. I do want to have a complete set of hand-sewn, period-correct undergarments eventually, so that was on my mind as I planned these projects. But I usually like to do the long side seams by machine because it’s fast and easy to keep it straight and even.
For both of these garments, I followed the book’s instructions and did not make any alterations. (My review of the book here.) I would share my scaled-up split bum pattern to give you a head start, but that’s a copyright violation. Sorry!
However, I am providing a 1″ square grid PDF that you can use to help scale patterns, from this book or any others you might have. I simply scanned the AD book at the highest resolution possible, then layered it over the 1″ square grid and scaled up until it was the proper size. If it wasn’t perfectly flat when you scanned you’ll need to warp/distort until the pattern and base grids line up. I’m no expert, but I’m happy to help with Photoshop troubleshooting so leave a comment if you’re stuck.
Admittedly the false rump is easy to scale by hand, and really you could wing both of these without a pattern. But digital scaling is great when you need to be as accurate as possible, like with the gowns, and the ability to lengthen and stretch the pattern before the first mockup is also a time-saver.
I was very excited about hand-sewing this split bum with period-correct linen and down feathers. It came together very quickly, which is no surprise as it’s half a skirt and two pillows. Basically you could sew two down throw pillows to a ribbon and call it a day! For a hand-sewing novice this was a great warm-up, and came together over the course of a week’s worth of sewing after dinner/little human bedtime.
I lucked out with this cream linen that was in the $1/yd remnant bin—don’t you love when that happens? To tighten up the weave and help prevent the feathers from escaping, I wash and dried on high to shrink the linen. It was noticeably softer and appeared to be a less open weave afterwards, but eventually feathers did start coming out. Granted I didn’t notice until after she had a ride in a suitcase on a bus, so that certainly could be a factor. I don’t feel it — there’s the shift, under petti, and split bum skirt in between — but it’s annoying to see them popping out. If you use down filling, I would recommend lining the pockets with scrap muslin or quilting cotton. Tightly woven quilting cotton instead of linen would also work for the split bum, and could solve the fugitive feather problem.
Since I was working with a remnant I turned the selvedge under and hemmed the sides of the skirt. I pleated the split bum skirt down, checking the width as I went, and then sewed it to the cotton tape.
Then the pillows got sewn up, clipped, and turned.
Now for feathers! I spent way too much time going to different thrift stores looking for down pillows. Even though I felt rather guilty about it, I ended up buying a new pillow to take apart. Since there’s a lot left, I plan on making a down-filled muff one day!
And yeah, it’s going to be as absurdly messy as you’re picturing.
There’s honestly no reason to be a stickler for accuracy with the pocket filling because really, who’s going to see inside? So using fiberfill is another option, and I think every crafter I know has half a bag of it shoved in the closet from that one project that needed it 3 years ago. If I make another one, I would line the pockets with muslin or similar scrap fabric.
Sadly I do not have a better photo of just the split bum, because now it has various bits of down poking through at all times 🙄 .
ticoats may not appear to change much in the Georgian era, but the construction and pattern adjusts to the hip structure a la mode. Small bumpads, side pocket hoops, grand panier, split bums—each adds volume to the hips in a different silhouette that alters how the skirt hangs. Mantua-makers kept fabric intact as much as possible, and folded down excess fabric at the waistline. This meant the petticoat could be remade or altered easily. (Keep in mind that not only were these fabrics worth a small fortune, they couldn’t be reordered if you needed more later.) What would they think of our lopping inches off the bottom and wasteful wide hems?
In the 1780’s the large hoops are now passé, and ladies are sporting ample rears thanks to down-filled rumps. No more turning sideways through doors! A seat cushion wherever you go! What’s not to love?
The volume goes from the sides to the posterior, and evolves from a hard, artificial structure to a softer, more naturalistic shape. However it’s still very exaggerated and can only be achieved with a split bum.
The Italian gown petticoat is pleated down to your waist measurement, and then leveled on the body instead of cutting. I did this on my dressform and I felt like Sisyphus because each time I thought it looked even, the other side got weird! Having a friend help you with this part is recommended.
Since my corset form is close to my size, but not quite, there was a long session of thinking it was perfect, then removing stays and petti from form to try on, only to realize it was off. Then unpin, repleat, and repeat. Also, I didn’t account for how much the ties of the split bum and the under petti would add to the waist measurement (taken when just wearing my stays and shift). UGHHH.
I’ve gotten a lot of use of both of these since making them, but I need to muster the patience to make another petticoat since I think everyone’s tired of seeing my only “fancy” petticoat! (And honestly, so am I.) Or maybe I’ll be lazy and just even out at the hem. Perhaps I’ll treat myself to some blue taffeta for Christmas 😉
It’s official! The NYC Historical Costumers will have our next get-together in October at the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. This is a FREE event and anyone who has fallen in love with 18th century fashion is welcome!
The trio of formal gardens is, for me, one of the city’s hidden gems, and very peaceful since it’s a designated “quiet zone.” We’ll enjoy a potluck picnic again, perhaps in the Italian garden’s pergola with a view of the garden. Then we can stroll through the gardens and take some photos. There was a heat advisory all last week, and the thought of crisp fall air, apple cider, and perhaps a pumpkin pasty is so delightful. Hmm, now I’m craving butterbeer, too…
I’m not shy about admitting there was a lot of blog reading and Instagram lurking before I got the courage to try sewing costumes. And then, in fits and starts, I finally completed an outfit, but quickly realized only dressing up for Halloween wasn’t going to satisfy me. I daydreamed about flying to the Fetes Galantes with an entire wardrobe of extravagant gowns.
I still would love to go one day. But the truth is you don’t have to wait for a perfect Cinderella moment, just push up your sleeves and get started!
Hello all! Two months ago *cough* Hmm, make that almost three months ago (wow, it has been a while!) I attended my first historical event, the Seventh Annual Française Dinner in Alexandria, Virginia. I had so much fun at the dinner, even if things didn’t go according to plan (more on that in a moment). It was held at the historic Gadsby’s Tavern, where George Washington celebrated his birthnight ball two years in a row. They still celebrate with a birthday banquet every President’s Day weekend. I met lots of talented costumers, and I’m already thinking about how to be better prepared next year!
If you saw photos on Instagram back in March then you already know I ended up wearing my back up because I bit off more than I could chew. I wanted to challenge myself and I definitely succeeded at that at least! The attire guidelines are 1750–1800 formal wear, which essentially covers all the popular gown styles of the 18th century. Not helpful to the indecisive! I narrowed it down to a 1770’s Robe a la Française or a 1780’s Italian gown, and in the end a combination of fabric budget and complexity were the deciding factors.
It’s been a while, but I have a lot of things on deck! First up, I can finally share an event that I’ve organized for local costumers (read: thinly veiled reason to dress up and make friends).
I want to stress that I’m not an expert, and all skill levels are welcome. You don’t need come in a hand-sewn Robe a la Francaise, and since it’s a summer picnic you would probably be more comfortable in a jacket and petticoat or round gown anyway (although if you do, I will ooo and ahhh accordingly!).
You can register and find other info on Eventbrite:
**Please note: event is listed as free so I don’t have to pay fees. The Van Cortlandt tour is $5 at the door.
P.S. New Yorkers- you can see this Gainsborough painting “The Mall in St. James’ Park” at the Frick. Several of his other well-known portraits are also on display, as well as the Boucher room and other beauties.
Happy New Year! I hope your 2018 has been going well so far. Taylor of Dames a la Mode is kicking off the year with her #GeorgianJanuary Instagram challenge, although “challenge” isn’t really the right word as the only difficulty is trying to decide which photo to post each day. If you’re following @lilredsquirrel you’ve already seen my picks, but I love being introduced to new paintings or dresses through posts by other historical costume lovers. You can join in at anytime so take a look at the next batch of themes if it sounds like fun!
I’ve been reading a lot of “Me Made” 2017 roundups and 2018 sewing plans posts, and perhaps you’re in the same boat, but they make me feel incredibly inadequate. Which isn’t to say I’m not very happy with the progress I’ve made, but hot damn! I aspire to be one those prolific sewists with a closet full of awesome things that they’ve made (including the majority who aren’t blogging or gramming all their garments).
I am very good at making detailed lists of elaborate plans and then being hit by reality later like “In what world would you have 3 hours to sew every day to reach this goal?!” So instead of my usual “shoot for the moon!” — which ends up being “shoot for the new planet and wake up 90 years too early by yourself and proceed to ruin everything” — I am doing “rent a car and drive to a BnB.”
I decided last fall that I would like to make an 18th century gown by the end of the year and a TBD DC cosplay for NYCC in October. Both are big, multipart costumes, BUT doable over the course of several months. Also, that gives me time to look for deals and budget for my fabric and supplies. Fun, challenging, but not absurd– huzzah for 2018 me!
And then I did something totally crazy.
I got a ticket to an 18th century dinner in March!
I had seen photos of the annual Française Dinner (hosted in recent years by Jessica Jackson), but it never occurred to me that I could go. So when I spotted the announcement for ticket sales the “make all the things!” me took over and talked about it frequently for a few days, waiting for spousal eyebrow-raising and rejection. But it never came and here we are! I grew up in Virginia, and I’m very familiar with Old Town Alexandria so it’s not that big of a deal to travel there for the weekend.
And then last week Lauren and Abby of American Duchess announced they’ll be at The National Arts Club here in NYC at the end of February! Last year I bemoaned the fact that exciting things like Costume College were out of my reach and now two (Count ’em TWO!) cool events right out of the gate! However, there is the small matter of not having anything to wear.
Commence flailing and freaking out!
Once that was out of the way, I made a lot of lists and a rough timeline. (Okay, who am I kidding, there will be plenty of flailing during this project.) My first step was to put a pair of AD shoes on layaway. I was torn because I still want the Fraser heels for Outlander outfits, but I need something formal and in a later style for the Française Dinner. I choose the black Dunmore heels and I can’t wait to see them in person!
Next, I need to decide on a style of dress. Not as easy! The attire guidelines specify the last half of the 18th century, 1750-1800. Since there’s a firm deadline to meet and I don’t have a backup (a J. Crew cocktail dress isn’t going to fly here!), I don’t think I’ll be able to blog about the gown until it’s all said and done. BUT I’ll be sharing little bits on Instagram along the way! Sadly, my shoes and gown will not be ready for the American Duchess book event, but I think I’ll go in my Claire cosplay. It does feel kind of wrong to attend an AD event with modern shoes peeking out, but oh well!
Will you be going to these events? Let’s be friends IRL 🙂
What are you looking forward to in 2018? There are a few cosplays that I’m sure will be very popular this year, including Admiral Holdo and Rose from The Last Jedi, but also from the slew of upcoming superhero movies starting off with next month’s Black Panther, followed by Deadpool 2, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Dark Phoenix, Aquaman, and even the animated Teen Titans Go! to the Movies and Incredibles 2. Plus, there’s A Wrinkle in Time (that trailer is bursting with Bjork-worthy costumes!), Solo (the Han Solo standalone movie), The Crimes of Grindelwald (aka Fantastic Beasts 2), Disney’s Nutcracker movie, and the Tomb Raider reboot. So many cosplays, so little time.
On the historical costuming side there will be Mary, Queen of Scots, to be played by Saoirse Ronan opposite Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I, and Robin Hood with Taron Egerton as the Prince of Thieves. Granted, the world really doesn’t need another Robin Hood movie but I really like Egerton, and Jamie Foxx as Little John and Jamie Dornan as Will Scarlet has me intrigued.
Do you have grand costuming plans or just a couple everyday garments in the works — or perhaps a mix of both? I’d love to hear what you’re planning for 2018!
I work in book publishing so it only seems fitting that I finally combine my love of books and sewing with a book review! Unless you’re new to historical costuming, you’ve likely already heard of American Duchess, the historical reproduction shoe company and popular blog founded by Lauren Stowell that, with the addition of partner historian Abby Cox, has been expanded in recent years to include sewing patterns through Simplicity Patterns and a sister company Royal Vintage, which features shoes from the 1920’s to the 1950’s for retro fashionistas. Now, they’ve added a book to their list of accomplishments: The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking: How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them with Style.
Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and it was certainly the case with American Duchess. They filled a void by providing period-accurate, affordable shoes to costumers and re-enactors stuck with the large investment of time and money waiting on a custom pair of shoes. Lauren and Abby’s combined expertise and background in 18th century dress, illustration, and design make them ideal authors to once again fill a gap in the costuming world, namely “I have a dress pattern and historically accurate fabric. Now what?” Or rather, how would a mantua-maker in the 1700’s have sewn this gown?
The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking focuses on four iconic gowns of the Georgian era:
The English Gown (1740’s)
The Sacque Gown (1760’s – 1770’s)
The Italian Gown (1770’s – 1790’s)
The Round Gown (1790’s)
If you go to their Facebook page they’ve done live sessions on each of these dresses leading up to the release.
Each chapter concludes with “How to Get Dressed and Wear Your ____ Gown” with step-by-step photos to show the proper order, with tips on how to pin your stomacher or adjust your back ties. Plus you’ll find tons of millinery and accessories to complete the look, including: aprons, caps, hats, mitts, and a fur muff that’s very appealing for our current weather!
However, what this guide does not include are patterns—only gridded layouts for the linings. All of these gowns require draping (and likely mockups), just as they would have been created by a mantua-maker in that time. They address this issue at the very beginning, and I agree with their decision because Lauren and Abby have crafted a comprehensive guide that bridges the gap between existing costume bibles with layouts of extant garments and a finished, authentic gown. There are plenty of commercial paper patterns already on the market, including the American Duchess x Simplicity patterns, JP Ryan, Reconstructing History, etc. Their newest release Simplicity 8578 is actually the Sacque Gown or Robe a la Française shown in the book.
The introduction breaks down the various kinds of stitches used in this era, and how they were used in dressmaking. I was really looking forward to learning about the quirky mantua-maker’s seam, but I have a hard time following stitch illustrations. I would have loved step-by-step photos instead, but I’m sure it will come together once I practice. Also, as the focus is “dressmaking” there are no undergarments included, and you’re expected to have the proper stays and shift for the decade you’re recreating. You’ll be fitting and draping over your stays, and admittedly some stages do seem like they’d be very tricky without a partner. One of the best resources is the illustrated fit troubleshooting guide that shows the many traps of the sleevil, among other mishaps.
From a publishing perspective, I’m very impressed with the quality of the book at this price point. The special binding lays flat, which is very helpful when directions carry over to the next page. It’s full-color with loads and loads of beautiful photography. However, the cover’s white text on the white gown is a little hard to read. It’s absolutely packed with historical notes, tricks of the trade, and fun side bars like “Ode to Wool.” If you are merely curious about 18th century fashion or looking build a Georgian wardrobe, you will want to have this at your side.
No patterns? Hand-sewing? Yes, I’ll admit it sounds rather intimidating, but you’ll be in good hands. If you start with the simple under-petticoat, which essentially a pleated, tie-waist skirt, and continue to the petticoat I think you’ll be in a good place to start on the gown. (And yes, this is what I’m telling myself as encouragement!) If you’d like more guidance then you should look into the classes coordinated with Jennifer Rosbrugh of HistoricalSewing.com that are in the works. Not everyone is lucky enough to be take a workshop with Burnley & Trowbridge or know someone with experience in historical costuming, and I know I’ll be consulting The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking again and again.
Who is it for? Intermediate sewist with a desire to follow historical dressmaking techniques to create four authentic Georgian outfits from head to toe.
What does it include? EVERYTHING! Seriously—this is a comprehensive handbook to sewing historically accurate ensembles enlivened with the warmth of Abby and Lauren throughout.
Cox, Abby and Lauren Stowell. The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking:How to Hand Sew Georgian Gowns and Wear Them with Style. Page Street Publishing Co., 2017.
*Disclaimer- I purchased my copy and am not affiliated with Page Street Publishing or American Duchess. Photos by little-red-squirrel.com, do not publish without permission.
Coming back to this series after a little break because SEASON 3! What do you think of Voyager so far? Me, I’m like:
The Print Shop was done SO well, although I wish they had held off on Jamie introducing Willie because it felt a little forced. I will keep this spoiler-free, but do yourself a favor and read Voyager and then Drums of Autumn! The Outlander writers excel at bringing the books to life, and making changes that don’t make the readers pull their hair out.
Even if you haven’t read the books, I’m sure you can gather that there won’t be a return to Versailles and all the extravagant gowns (although the French Revolution will soon put a damper on the royal dress budget anyway…), so why not revel in the S2 costumes a bit?
The last post covered Annelise’s macaron-colored ensemble from this scene in the formal gardens and now it’s Claire’s turn! Annelise’s jacket and petticoat earned the first 10/10 HA (Historically accurate) rating in the Top 7 Looks, and it’s an ideal foil for Claire’s anachronistic mocha and butter yellow gown. After looking at this gown more I realized that it’s essentially a redingote with a few modifications. The redingote was fashionable in the last quarter of the 18th century, and to me the look is synonymous with posh ladies strolling down cobblestone streets with walking sticks. Movies like Marie Antoinette and The Scandalous Lady W have some great examples of the redingote on film.
The redingote (derived from a French corruption of “riding coat”) is a cross between an overgown and a jacket, with a button front, oversized lapels and cape collar, long sleeves, and a long open front skirt showing the petticoat underneath. It’s sort of an overgrown riding coat that often has a cutaway front or a skirt that begins away from tabs at the center front.
Here are some fashion plates and extant examples of the style (click to enlarge):
Redingote fashion plate, late 1780’s.
Magasin des Modes, May 1788.
Claire’s version has a short standing or mandarin collar with 3/4 length sleeves, a horizontal bust dart paired with a solid yellow petticoat, with long yellow gloves and a bergére with flowers.
The silhouette is mostly true to the 18th century (I haven’t seen mandarin collars on extant ladies jackets, and there should be a point in the back seam) but the textiles are definitely modern. Also, you can see that there is lacing on the sides. Keeping in mind that these costumes have to be made before filming and final scripts, the maternity lacing is there to accommodate a bump and allow for varying size depending on what the production team decided. Granted, it’s hard to see a baby bump under all that fabric.
The hand-painted fabric is gorgeous and another instance of early 1950’s fashion influencing Terry Dresbach’s modern historical aesthetic. The large peonies, sprays of lilac and other flowers are dramatically oversized, and I’ve found some 1950’s and early 60’s dresses with a similar look, albeit not quite as large. The shirtwaist or button-front dress with a belt was very common, and you’ve likely seen this style in vintage shops.
Just as the Dior Suit has been re-imagined again and again, elements of this dress have been seen on runways as recently as this year. A floor-length, full skirted dress with definition at the waist and long sleeves is a silhouette that can reinterpreted endlessly— these are few modern examples:
* * *
How to Make It
If you’re an Outlander fan, you probably spotted that the petticoat is made from the same yellow silk-wool as the citrine robe a l’anglaise. Someone snagged the floral fabric from Britex and brought it to a small con to show fans.
Painting a floral design will require fabric paint in lots of colors, and a whole bunch of free time so this gown is not a quick and easy project! A solid redingote would be simpler and period correct. A false front petticoat could also be a way to cut costs, by using an inexpensive fabric for the back of the petticoat. This was common in the 18th century and earlier (such as Elizabethan gowns with open skirts), and even used on Outlander for the Citrine gown.
I discovered a very awesome pattern in researching this dress- a redingote pattern from LACMA created from an extant redingote in their collection! It’s a PDF that you can scale up so it does require little more work, but you can’t get more accurate than that! If you already have an 18th century dress block or a riding habit pattern that’s adjusted to you, you could use that as a starting point. A riding habit would be easiest since it already has a button front and horizontal dart—you can just lengthen the skirt or even use the pattern from a gown in place of the original. Unless the maternity lacing is necessary for your current body or you’re going for an exact Claire cosplay, I would leave it off.
Like Annalise’s tricorn and choker, the accessories really make this look so don’t forget about the bergere and gloves. Sometimes finishing the dress feels like crossing the finish line, but it’s the details like a wispy fichu or proper stockings that really make your outfit complete. Those smaller bits are often what makes your outfit stand apart from the crowd, even if the average person can’t quite put their finger on why it looks so nice!
Hand-painted Peony Gown
Type: Original design (Modified Redingote)
HA Rating: 6/10 (Although, in another fabric this could be 9/10)
Redingote- 6 yards Petticoat- 4-5 yds
Brown silk taffeta, hand painted with large floral design, or HA in solid silk taffeta or silk-wool blend
*Could also use poly taffeta or dupioni or shantung if not worried about being 100% period accurate
Hack a gown pattern to make overlapping button front and add collar
Alter a riding coat pattern to lengthen into a long skirt
I am just over the moon to share the completed stays! These stays represent many hours of sewing and I’m really happy that they are done and they fit. Lurking in the back of my mind was the possibility of them being abandoned in a frustrated rage, but I’m happy to say that the whole process was easier than I anticipated. However, it took me a loooooong time!
I tried out my camera remote for the first time, so prepare for the stays spam 😉
As you can see in the photos my shift isn’t finished because I got ruffle fatigue. I remembered this cute dress that I haven’t worn in ages because it’s so low cut and the lining always pops up in front… but it’s great as a shift in a pinch, even if it’s sleeveless! I like the visual detail of the tiny stripes, perhaps something to copy for a future shift.
Overall I was so pleased with the SimplicityxAmerican Duchess pattern and instructions! Seriously I did it, so anyone with basic sewing skills can definitely make this pattern. If you need that little push to jump in, this is me telling you Go for it!You just have to start. However, if you want your stays be more historically accurate you have to decide BEFORE you cut your fabric and follow a different order of construction. I will make note of these edits as I go along.
This corset form was such a sweet Craigslist find, and although our measurements are almost exactly the same, uh… some shapes are rather different. Yeah, that is some serious overboob. Part of the problem is people are rather squishy, but dress forms are not. However, this means I can drape a gown one day!
After I shared The Stays: Part I way back in January *cough* I was almost ready to move on to binding. Shortly after that we decided we would be moving, and apartment hunting and packing took over my life. I had a hard time jumping back in because it felt like I had been running and suddenly had to stop right in front of the hurdle, then somehow jump it from a standstill. Plus the unpacking and reorganizing of our new place became my priority.
I spent a lot of time looking at them and thinking about what to do, and then not choosing anything at all. Then putting them away and doing the same thing in a couple weeks. I can’t be the only one who does this during sewing projects, right? It’s like being stuck in this loop and you’re just not sure the best way to go so you just keep going around.
My conundrum was that I didn’t have enough fabric to fold over the CF edge since that’s not how the Simplicity pattern is constructed. But I wanted to be historically accurate, plus I was worried about the grommets tearing up my lovely fine linen lining. I even briefly considered pulling out the boning channel stitches and moving everything over so I’d have more allowance to fold over. Um, that’s crazy talk! My sane solution was to add some chamois leather to protect the linen and support the lacing at the front and straps.
Almost all of the things I’d do differently next time happen at the cutting stage, so there really wasn’t a way for me to incorporate them unless I started over. I was laughably naive when I first started! When I bought the patterns—a year ago this week—I was intending to have this Claire Fraser costume ready for Halloween. I thought if I buckled down I could make these in a week or two and have the rest of October to do the rest of the outfit! It’s like I forgot I have a job and a toddler And zero experience with garment sewing…
My advice to first-time staymakers:
First off, be honest with your measurements. It sounds easy, but we all know it can be harder in practice. Even if the numbers aren’t what you thought they’d be or wished they were, fudging them will only lead to unhappiness later when your garment doesn’t fit. I knew I was in-between sizes, but instead of making a size that matched my bust measurement and lengthening it, I took the easier route and regretted it later. (Using the size that matched my bust when I wear a generously-padded bra was not my brightest move…)
I also would suggest you make a mockup. This is such a vital part of getting any garment adjusted to your body before you start cutting into your fashion fabric. I skipped this step trying to stay on schedule, but it would have saved me the realization that my stays were too big after the boning was in and seams were already whipstitched down. 😦 Also, on that note, if you do skip the mockup remember to try them on properly before you get too far along.
Read as much as possible. This is part is fun for me, but even if research isn’t your jam be sure to look at photos of extant stays and learn about their construction. There are so many great bloggers who have shared their process (see blogroll) and American Duchess has helpful videos to go with this pattern.
Stitch the left lining pieces together, then do the same for the right side. You’ll recall I had to take in the back and remove the lacing there, so I also had to join the lining at the CB. When I took a closer look at the stays I realized that I had a) missed one bone on the side, b) whipstitched the seam allowance into that boning channel, and c) still had dozens of channel threads to knot. Blergh! So I undid the whipstitching, added in the missing bone, and stitched it back down again. I knotted off the channels and hid the threads in the interlining.
**HA edit: Before adding the lining and binding, sew ribbon or thin leather strips to the seams. Draw underarm guards and cut out from chamois, stitching to outside and over the armscye.
Then I cut two strips of leather (about one inch wide) the length of the lacing channel, as well as two circles. I sewed them on by hand, and then stitched the lining to the rest of the stays. Linen feels so nice, but quickly gets hairy so you might want to fray check the edges and let it dry while you gird your loins for the binding. (Loin girding instructions here)
Um well everyone says this is the worst, and I can’t say I disagree—but only because it takes so dang long by hand! Unfortunately, it’s fairly obvious which edge I started on as the bottom finished edges are kind of wonky, but the top binding corners are much neater. My center back tab has a pretty point from joining the back seam, but it’s a little too long. I’d shorten by 1/2 – 1 inch next time. Some tabs came out better than others, but I actually started to enjoy it after I had the first few under my belt. Hand-sewing hater no more!
Definitely read and reread this Foundations Revealed binding guide by the amazing Cathy Hay before you start. (I found this afterwards, but I know I’ll be coming back to it a lot.)
When I was shopping for bias binding I was looking for blue or eggplant, but both clashed with the yellow undertones in the damask. I spotted this bright olive rayon petersham ribbon on one trim store visit and kept thinking about it, so I eventually went back and bought some, thinking that if it didn’t work out I could use it as a pretty lacing ribbon.
I’m very happy with the finished result, and since it’s rayon it has a bit of shine that adds a little extra pizazz. If you want to use ribbon instead of cotton bias binding make sure it’s petersham. A lot of stores display their grosgrain and petersham ribbon mixed together since they are both ribbed, but the petersham has looped sides. The grosgrain has straight sides and is not flexible so it will make curves miserable. I used backstitch to make sure the front side was secure and the tiny ribs helped me keep my stitches neat! The color is similar to a quilted petticoat from the V&A, so it makes me feel like it’s somewhat authentic 😉
**HA edit: Extant stays have leather binding, which holds up to daily wear and stretches nicely along the curved edges. The same chamois leather I used for support is ideal for binding and can be found at auto stores. (I would have used it, but all cream stays felt too boring.)
**HA edit: Leave extra seam allowance along all tabs and the top edge to be able to fold over raw edges of interlining. This binds the edges before using bias tape or leather, and reduces the bulk of the edge for a thinner, yet durable binding. See The Fashionable Past for a tutorial on this method.
Since the lining is already attached you’ll want to fold it under and/or pin it out of the way as you go along. I used a mix of pins and clips for the binding, and often just used my left hand to hold things in place while sewing. After you’ve finished sewing the front side down, flip to the inside and whipstitch the binding down all the way around. This goes much faster, but just be careful you don’t go through to the front! These stitches don’t have to be pretty since you’ll cover them with the lining.
Do the same for the top edge, paying close attention to the corners where the straps meet the body. Once all your binding is done feel free to cheer, cry, eat a box of cookies, wheel of fancy cheese or your very own cheese pizza. Make sure to wash your hands to remove chocolate smudges, pizza grease, etc. before moving on to the next part.
The Lining, reprise
What again? Almost done with this bit- fold under the raw edges to just cover the binding edge on the inside and whipstitch all the tabs. I chose to slipstitch on the top edge to give a neater finish. Knot and hide the threads in between the main body and lining.
And then I smash it with a hammer!
This part is pretty straightforward—just start making holes at the marks you made from the pattern (front and/or back). You can do this with an awl and then widen the holes with a chopstick or similar object. The kit also includes a hole cutter which gives the exact size, but if your stays are very thick it can take a lot of whacking with the mallet to go through. Snipping a small X in the leather helped and then I just trimmed any extra away after I pushed the grommet through so the washer could go on smoothly. I chose to use grommets to save time, and I think that’s perfectly fine because they’re not visible to anyone but me and they’ll never wear out or tear.
The key here is to have the right tools. A snap/eyelet punch will not get the job done. You’ll need a grommet setting kit, which includes the setter, hole punch, wood block, and brass grommets, and a rubber or leather mallet. Do not use a metal hammer! You’ll get a smushed ugly grommet and eventually wreak your setter. I purchased this kit at a specialty hardware store, but you can order these kits online as well (just search for “C.S. Osborne grommet kit”). I actually left a blog comment for Lauren of American Duchess because the pattern notions don’t specify a size, and each size requires a different kit so I wanted to avoid buying the wrong one. She responded with alacrity and said to use size 00 or 3/16″ inside diameter – Thanks Lauren! I didn’t use the brass grommets that came with the kit because they’ll tarnish and possibly discolor the dress and chemise, although I do think the gold details would match better. My nickel-plated hardware came from here.
**HA edit: Use buttonhole twist to sew eyelets around the widened lacing hole. Periodically stretch out with the awl as you stitch if the opening gets too small.
Make sure that you do a few tests using all the same layers on your stays. If the stays are too thin, the shank on the grommet won’t fold over enough and can snag you or your shift. If the washer swivels around then the shank is too tall for the amount of fabric. You can always sew on a strip of chamois or a fabric scrap to thicken up that channel. Set up a cutting board on a sturdy table or the floor, and hammer away.
Ta-daaa! You have a pair of 1740’s half-boned stays! Get your lace(s) and admire your handiwork.
Thanks for reading this crazy long post—I hope you found this helpful! I’ve learned so much in this process and I’m already thinking about my next pair of stays- maybe a strapless pair or corset for a historical DC comics cosplay. I’d like to have a larger gap at the front so I can get more reduction on my waist—right now it takes off less than an inch total since the thickness of the stays adds to the measurement. Next time I’ll be sure to make a mock-up, and I think I can reduce the pattern to 3 sections on each side since I’m not curvy.
Hit me up with any questions in the comments or on Instagram @lilredsquirrel! 🙂