Outlander Project

The Stays: Part II

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 😉

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Blunt darning needles are very helpful with lacing.

 

little-red-squirrel.com stays

 

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Lol, not sure what I was doing here. “It’s SuperStays to the rescue!”

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.

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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!

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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. 

The Lining

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.

 

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Lining now sewn to rest of stays at CF edges.
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Chamois leather where grommets will go.

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)

The Binding

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Pretty pistachio petersham

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.

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Front side of the tabs almost done.

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.

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Ran out of thread at the last inner corner. *wompwomp*

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.

The Grommets

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.

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Pins kept the lining from sliding around and getting off center.
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Centered! phew. Ready for the other side.

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! 🙂

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Outlander Project

Stomacher

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Claire’s pacific blue (deep teal) bodice

If you’re paying close attention you’ll see that Claire has a set wardrobe in S1, with a few bodices, jackets, stomachers, and skirts being worn again in different combinations. I loved noticing this, and appreciated Terry’s dedication to the character design aspect of film costume. Yes, you could have Cait in amazing new outfits back to back, but realistically how would she have gotten all these new clothes? Claire only has a couple plain stomachers early on, and I remember being distracted noticing she had a new one with some spangly bits and embroidery. “Ooh, where did she get that? Not Mrs. Fitz, she’s been roaming about… maybe in return for helping a sick person?” Haha! Do you get caught up in your own imagined backstory scenes too?

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Claire’s heather brown bodice can look caramel or rust in different lighting.

I had put aside my then-too-large stays and turned to the stomacher as an easy check-off on my list while I figured out what to do with them. The stomacher looked like a quick bit of sewing and, as it is often the case with such assumptions, it was a pain and took way longer than it was supposed to! Even if you’re new to sewing you could make a stomacher without a pattern: trace a long triangle, wrong sides together, turn it out, add some boning channels, sew up the top, et voila! Except…

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Does anyone else imagine Tim Gunn silently judging their sewing with his chin in his hand?

Okay, so it wasn’t quite that bad, but this tiny piece of fabric refused to cooperate. But as Mr. Gunn says: “Make it work!” In retrospect I think using a different backing fabric would have probably solved everything. Since I wasn’t able to find a light-colored damask that was 100% cotton, my fabric is 40% polyester and I didn’t anticipate how much stretch that would give it. It behaved very nicely with the cotton canvas for the stays, and I should have used some of that leftover canvas for the lining instead of lightweight broadcloth.

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A lovely example from the V & A with embroidery, trim, and do I spy some piecing?

Depending on your gown  you could use solid fabric and embroider it, add self-fabric or decorative trim, or leave it unembellished for a casual or “undress” look like I did. I cut out the stomacher very carefully to have the damask pattern centered. Thankfully I had ordered extra fabric in case I had any mishaps with the stays so I could be choosy about where to cut. All you need is a clear quilting ruler and a disappearing marker so you can see the design, and then mark the center line extending beyond the top and bottom so you can see it when the pattern is on top. Pin the pattern so that it’s centered, then carefully cut. I used pins and scissors instead of weights and my rotary blade to make sure there wouldn’t be any wiggling. Transfer the boning channels from the pattern using the pin and marker method, then use your ruler to draw the lines.

I wanted to make my stomacher more historically accurate by adding tabs. The stomacher should be pinned in place to your stays using the tabs. I haven’t tried this yet, but the consensus is the thickness of the stays will prevent you from stabbing yourself! The fronts of gowns were also pinned in place and you can even see those pin marks on dresses in museums. I used leftover twill tape from the bum pad to make 6 tabs that were about 3″ long. Folded in half they were long enough to hide about 1/2″ in the seam allowance. They were pinned in place before I sewed the front and back together. The tabs would also have been leather-backed, to hold up under daily pinning, and I’d like to try adding it in the future.

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Boning channels centered and ready to be sewn!

Centered stomacher with tabs-yay! But then my desire to use up all my scraps came back to bite me. The shifting meant that after one boning channel was sewn the top no longer matched up, and seeing a wonky line front and center under a bodice or jacket would be terrible. Plus, this is the only part of the outfit that calls for steel boning and the bunched up fabric let the spiral steel peek about a bit. Some steel boning can be shortened and recapped, but the lengths I have are very solidly hammered closed at both ends. So I had to take out the stitching and try again, but first I quickly hand-basted the top closed. I also re-positioned the pins along the sides that had been in to help prevent any movement.

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Hard to believe, but this is actually an improvement!

This helped a lot, but it was still uneven and the back was a mess. I picked out the stitches again, but it still looked the same after another try so had the bright idea to machine baste the edges. This did a much better job than the pins and I might just keep it in, even though it’s not pretty, since the edges will covered by the bodice anyway. The pointed end isn’t as crisp as it should be, but I was just glad to be done with it and move on.

Backstitching makes the boning channels look very messy so you’ll need to leave long threads so you have something to work with. I like to double-knot, sew a few small stitches just through the lining and then trim very close to the fabric. Just wiggle the fabric a little and the thread ends will slip in-between the layers.

I started putting the boning in and realized that, unlike the stay’s plastic boning, the steel ends are slightly wider than the rest which makes it difficult to put in. And the caps are very sharp so when I tried to pull it back out I almost tore the lining! I managed to get them all out and decided to wrap the ends with some clear tape. It went it much more smoothly! But then I had to remove it again because I realized that the blue marker lines would need to be removed with a damp cloth.. and possibly make my steel bones rust through my lovely, ivory pain-in-the-butt stomacher. DEEP BREATH.

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Finished! You can see how thin my lining is with the steel bones showing.

Since there was no room to machine sew the top closed I simply did it by hand.  Even though it’s still not favorite I’m realizing that there are certain tasks that just work better sewn by hand. And of course now that it’s done I’m thinking I need to make a teal wool one to match the jacket 😉 What’s that saying about insanity and doing the same thing twice? Hmmm…

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Wrinkly back, but front looks good! I left in the stay stitching along the edge.

Next up: The Stays: Part II

1 and 2. Claire collages by me with official stills from Starz/Outlander.
3. Stomacher, 1730-1750; object 702-1902. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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