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…
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! 🙂