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?
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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