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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Costumes

Red Dress Controversy

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If you have also been eagerly awaiting the new American DuchessxSimplicity pattern, then you’re probably already aware of the dust-up over this new release. But just in case you’re not, let me back up a bit. About a year ago Lauren and Abby of American Duchess announced that Simplicity has asked them do another pattern for their Outlander cosplay series. I should note the pattern is not licensed and does not name the show, but it’s clear Simplicity is aiming for this audience. They shared a few photos of the work in progress (spiders, insane pleating, etc.) and made clear that they viewed Terry Dresbach’s creation as “an original piece of haute couture” and would not be copying the design, but using the dress as inspiration in combination with historical garments, namely the Robe de Cour.

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The original sewing pattern cover that was pulled from stores.

The Robe de Cour, also called a grand habit or grand habit de cour was to be worn in court (the kind with royals, not lawyers) and had several unique design elements that differed from other dresses of the same time, including: fully boned, separate bodice with laced back, wide or puffy lace sleeves, a low scooped or off-the-shoulder neckline, and sometimes tabs similar to stays. These elements are very clear in this portrait; see the tiny tabs at the bottom point of the bodice?

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Portrait of Lady Frances Montagu ca. 1734 Charles Jervas

 

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A fashion plate showing a robe de cour towards the end of 1700’s.

To myself, and many, many Outlander and costuming fans, the news of the pattern’s release was exciting, but not a surprise. Apparently, not so for Terry Dresbach. She made several comments on social media, partially removed her blog, and then shut it down completely. Ooof.

In her mind, the pattern is an attempt to make money off of her original design without her permission or compensation. Truth be told, capitalizing on trends and pop culture is the aim of the big pattern companies, but to me it’s clear it was not the intention of the designers. They did not make a carbon copy of her design, and sought to draw from historical styles while still giving fans (and Simplicity) what they wanted. When Lord of the Rings came out there were lots of vaguely medieval, Elvish patterns (and yes, high school me did ask my mom to make me one for Renn Fest!). When Pirates of the Caribbean was big there were tons of sexy pirate, corset-type costumes. When Game of Thrones blew everyone’s minds… you guessed it, Westeros now at a Joann’s near you.

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Uh “cousin of dragons”?

I think it’s certainly any artist’s right to protect his or her original designs, but Terry’s reaction also stems from her frustration with the larger problem within the industry of costume designers not receiving any royalties from their designs. (She had written about this issue on her blog at one point, but can’t link back anymore since the blog is gone.) I have to admit her post was the first time I’d ever considered the thousands of branded Indiana Jones Halloween costumes or the knock-offs-trying-to-avoid-being-sued with names like “Lady Cat Villain” that will continue to make money for the studio or merchandiser—without the designer who created the iconic image ever seeing a cent. This is so entrenched in the entertainment industry it would take a huge boycott, similar to the writer’s strike that crippled Hollywood a few years ago, to have any impact.

Is the pattern inspired by Outlander? Absolutely—but I wish that Terry had realized that these are historians and experienced dressmakers that DID NOT need her blog to figure out how make a court dress. Imitations of a gown that fans of the books have envisioned and dreamed about for over a decade were inevitable, no matter what it looked like. But her vision for Claire’s Versailles red dress is destined to be as iconic as the gowns of Hollywood leading ladies, and in my opinion only topped by her genius 1740’s meets 1940’s Dior Bar Suit mashup. But whereas both of those creations are a step out of time—befitting a time-traveler—the Simplicity pattern is based on extant dresses and fashions. The original pattern, now pulled from shelves, makes the connection more obvious with the sample’s rich scarlet satin. The replacement was altered to a fakey Photoshopped blue and my last check on the website showed a teal color.

It’s a real loss that Terry’s blog is offline indefinitely because casual fans and historical costumers alike could see the incredible amount of work that went into each costume, plus get close-up photos and sometimes design or process elements of a garment that may have been in the background, or only on screen for a few seconds. Maybe we can start a petition to bring it back for season 3? We know there’s another wedding dress coming and so many different characters to introduce and various new locations—really want to see how they tackled a whole new set of problems!