Today I’m sharing a quick how-to on 18th century garters, plus my new shoes and stockings from American Duchess. The garters are very easy to make, and I have a sneaky way to help them stay up. It’s also a great project for leftover ribbons that are too small for trimming.
Embroidered garters are so lovely, and I’ve wanted a pair for a while. However, I got a hoop and exactly diddly squat with it. I think I like the idea of embroidery, but in practice I find it fiddly and boring (see also: knitting).
I was in the trim store for something else—this is how all sewing purchase stories begin—and there was a big sign declaring “All Ribbons 25% Off!!” so it seemed like the perfect time to finally make a pair of garters. I found a jacquard ribbon that I liked, and then tried to find a silk satin ribbon the same width in a complimentary color. Sew them together, easy peasy!
Easy 18th Century Garters
1 yd 1-1.5″ (30-38mm) wide jacquard or embroidered ribbon (can do with less)
2-3 yds 1-1.5″ (30-38mm) wide silk satin or grosgrain ribbon, (must be same width)
Matching thread, silk 50 wt recommended
Note: You can wear your garters above or below the knee. These are meant to fit over your thigh, and I’d recommend this length so that they won’t be too short if you switch from below the knee.
Measure around your thigh and note the number. This is not for cutting, but to help you estimate the garter length.
Add 10-12″ to your thigh measurement, and see if that gives you enough to tie a pretty bow. (You can even do this with your tape measure!) The garters can tie in the back, like mine, or make the ribbon long enough to be cross-gartered, or tie in front. This is more secure and best if your ribbon is slippery. Once you’ve found the right length, cut two pieces of the satin base ribbon.
Cut two lengths of the jacquard ribbon; a good starting point is [1/2 your thigh measurement + 1″]. There’s really no wrong answer here. You can do more or less, if you happen to be working with a scrap, and fussy-cut to show the design symmetrically. My ribbon was 9.5” to not cut off the rose motif.
Fold under 1/2″ on each end of the decorative ribbon and tack down. Fray check the ends as an extra precaution against unraveling.
Optional: Sew a piece of elastic ([length= thigh circumference – 1″] into a ring, preferably with machine zigzag stitch. Sew to the front center of the garter, starting on top edge and making a rectangle. Continue to steps 6 & 7 as normal, which will cover the elastic stitching. To wear, tie garter in a bow over the elastic to cover. No one will know and it stays put!
Mark the center on both satin pieces. Then fold the jacquard ribbon in half to find center, and lay on top, matching centers. Pin and sew by hand using fine running or prick stitches. Repeat for other garter.
Pink the edges of the satin ribbon. Tie them on, and enjoy your new garters!
It’s so simple I feel silly calling it a tutorial, but it’s a nice way to practice handsewing. . . or just have the instant gratification of starting and completing project in the same afternoon!
American Duchess doesn’t exactly need my help getting the word about their shoes, but I’m really happy I made the investment. They really complete the look and the layaway option helped soothe my conscience about buying shoes just for costuming. I happened to be wearing all my 18th century undergarments for fitting when my shoes arrived.
I’m not sure what the postman thought when I answered the door, but it was a funny coincidence!
Don’t they look lovely?
When I first slipped them on I was surprised at how comfortable they are! Heels always involve a bit of discomfort (usually squishing of toes for me), but these had perfect pinky toe room and good support. I’ve worn them for several outings since March, and they’ve warmed up nicely. Since I’m not a reenactor spending the day in a muddy battlefield, the wool upper is fine for my needs and I like the softer look. I’ve also brought backup shoes when I go out to keep them pretty, like at Comic Con where I know I’ll have to do the long slog to Javits. The Dunmores in black wool have since been discontinued, but they’re still available in leather.
You will need an awl and a disappearing marker to fit the buckles. It’s a bit stressful making that first hole in your new shoes, but trust me when I say it’s very easy to do. (Making it more stressful by waiting until an hour before an event to bite the bullet is not recommended. Don’t be like me haha) I used the instructions from the American Duchess site, and they’ve become even more comfortable now that I’ve worn them a few times.
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! 🙂
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.
Before we get into the making of the stays I need to be real with you. I kept this project a secret for over two months because I was really afraid I was going to end up embarrassing myself. I kept asking myself “Am I really doing this? This is all new. This is complicated.” Even as I was fabric hunting and researching I kept having a vision of this project turning into a wreck, a sad mess of fabric that would sit unfinished guilting me from a corner for the rest of my days. I usually share things I’m excited about social media, but I was worried that I would share something and then have someone ask about it “Hey, how’s that costume coming along?” …and have to admit that I’d f-ed it up beyond recognition and abandoned it in shame and frustration.
Because it’s happened before—although no one found out. I shared a work-in-progress on Instagram, right before making a huge mistake. In my eagerness to get more done during naptime I miscut the batting for an easy whole cloth “quilt” and well, once fabric is cut, there’s no undo button! My batting was too large and I was supposed to trim it down, except I forgot that I had measured and marked when it was folded in half. YUP. I had extra batting, and somehow managed to make it too small to use. The only option was to buy more batting, and I was crushed that I’d made such a stupid error before getting the part I was nervous about trying in the first place—the quilting! I decided to only share finished or almost-finished projects after that.
Guess what? Surprise, I made more mistakes! But tackling them and problem-solving gave me confidence, instead of draining it. I’m self-taught and felt I didn’t have any sort of authority to share my work with others. I am still nervous about zippers. I don’t have a dress form or a dedicated sewing studio. I don’t have a degree in theatrical costuming or art history. I’m terrible at hand-sewing and don’t even know all the stitches used in historically accurate gowns. Don’t let your current skill set be your ONLY skill set. You just have to start. I hope if that you’re interested in sewing this project will prove that if I can do it, so can you!
A pair of stays would have been worn by every woman and girl in the 18th century, although the fabric and quality would have reflected her station. They could have be made with silk brocade and bailene (whalebone) for the wealthy upper class, or linen and worsted wool with reed boning for lower class women. Even though I do love this exchange between Claire and Mrs. Fitz in S1e2—“What kind of corset is that?!”—
“Corset” was the term used because the writers knew the audience would only know the more modern word. An older term for them was a “pair of bodies” and “pair of stays” seems to be used into the 1800’s with transitional stays. As I mentioned before these stays are made with the Simplicity 8162 pattern and work for mid-18th century garments. If you look at extant examples in museum collections you’ll see that the style and shape alters in later decades. A pair of stays gives a foundation for the dress and should take in your waist, but not be too uncomfortable. As noted in Corsets and Crinolines:
“the shoulder blades were thus permanently pulled back to give the fashionable narrow straight back… These stays do not unduly compress the waist.”
Unlike a Victorian corset with an extreme hourglass shape and little regard for a woman’s internal organs and indulgences like breathing!
I don’t have my early process photos because my phone met with a series of unfortunate events and I lost all my back up data. (The absolute worst. We will not speak of it further…)
You’ll need to measure yourself and cut out the appropriate size pattern. Then pin it and cut out your main fabric, which you’ll see on the outside, and your thicker interlining or strength layer which could be the traditional corsetry fabric coutil or linen or cotton canvas. Coutil is very expensive, and cotton canvas is similar to what would have been used so I purchased an all natural canvas duck. Natural fiber fabrics really are a must because you don’t want to be stuck sweating in polyester stays that don’t breathe! Upholstery fabric is popular for the main fabric because of the weight and designs, but so much of what I found was 100% polyester. Since you only need 1yd you could use a cotton-silk or 100% silk decor fabric that’s perhaps too pricey for a voluminous gown or skirt, but would make a very pretty pair of stays.
Carefully transfer all the markings (boning channels, cutting lines, etc.) by poking holes with a pin and then using a water-soluble fabric pen along those points. Complete the lines with a quilting ruler. Sew all 8 canvas sections to their corresponding main section.
Here are all the pieces with main fabric and strength layer sewn together and all the boning channels. You can see in the middle I was starting to sew the sections together and I found small binder clips held the bulky layers better than pins. On the right I was testing out the boning to make sure it fit.
Next follow your markings and carefully sew the boning channels. Rococo Atelier’s 18th century stays tutorial was very detailed and especially beneficial to a first-timer like myself. Her tip about starting where the boning channels cross, instead trying to stop exactly at that point, was like a lightbulb going off! American Duchess has a couple posts with video for making this pattern that took the stress out of working with boning for the first time. I definitely watched/read them several times just have the process feel like second nature.
Now you’ll sew center front to side front (CF to SF) and center back to side back (CB to SB), then sew the sections together. So you’ll have 4 pieces, then 2, then 1. Do the same for the other side, and now you have the left and right sides of your stays! Starting to look like something now!
See how tidy the whipstitched seam looks? This will help strengthen the seam and keep it flat under the lining. Something bumpy will be very uncomfortable once you’re laced in tight. This step is not a part of the Simplicity instructions, but I learned how to do this from the American Duchess video.
I used a tapered awl to make small holes at the front lacing marks. At last getting to see what they look like on me! So I laced up the front and I tried on the stays… but they were TOO. BIG.
What? How is this possible?! Argharghargh. Only the front was laced because I was too impatient to make all the holes in the back, but I had a good hunk of fabric in my hand to hold it closed. It looked like a loose bodice, not a pair of stays with negative ease. Huge disappointment.I kept taking them out and looking at them, trying to decide if I wanted to undo the whipstitched seams. In the end I couldn’t bring myself to undo them (so many spare moments cobbled together to handsew them!) and gave them a closed back, taking out over an inch on each side. In the end it wasn’t as big of a deal as it felt like at first—in fact, front-lacing only is still historically accurate and easier to put on. I had considered making a size down for a tighter fit, but when I held the pattern up against me it was too short. I was already intimidated by this project and redrafting to lengthen each piece and adjust boning channels and markings—that’s a big pile of NOPE. Whenever I make another pair of stays (!!) I’ll have a better idea of what works and will remember to whipstitch AFTER trying on!
Those blue dots on the back seam? Those were supposed to be the back lacing grommets! Obviously there is no way these stays would fit with two more pieces of boning and a laced closed back, much less a small gap like I expected.
These photos are from my second fitting after making them one piece—please ignore the odd lacing with blue yarn! Stays should not be worn with a strappy slip over lumpy jeans, but you knew that right? Sorry they’re not very pretty It gets dark so early now that getting photos with good light requires some planning, and I wanted see what it looked like right away!
Mistakes conquered! In case any sticklers are concerned the stays do fit properly, but photos with them worn lower are quite indecent and won’t be shared on the internet! 😉 These stays were started at the beginning of October and most of my free time has gone into getting this far so I’m very proud of them. Are you also sewing the SimplicityxAmerican Duchess stays? How have yours come out?
Getting there, but still much to be done! Part II will cover the lining, binding, and grommets.
My previous post touched on my love of historical costuming, but it was the release of the American Duchess Simplicity patterns got the ze little grey cells working. After reading Lauren and Abby’s blog (and so many others!) I felt like I knew enough about the process and construction to take the plunge. I received lots of sewing-related birthday presents, so with pretty new pair of Gingher shears and a fabric gift card I started getting supplies.
I want to start off by noting that although I am in awe of completely hand-sewn, historically accurate gowns, I will be sewing 21st century style by machine. I’m only hand sewing where required—mostly because as the mom of a preschooler it would take me years to do this by hand! I would like to wear this before the next Olympics. Or Adele album. Or new Pixar movie—or however you note the passage of time.
Between mommy duties and chores there is not much free time for sewing. (Well, there could be more, but letting your toddler watch 7 straight hours of TV is generally frowned upon.) For me, “getting started” meant a few nights and afternoons of taping up and cutting out the pattern pieces. Then a couple nights pining and cutting out all the undergarment pieces. So you could certainly finish this project much faster than me–please don’t be deterred by my timeline! The American Duchess patterns are very well done and make each step easy to follow, plus they have pattern hacks on their blog for making it more historically accurate. My progress has really been impacted by time spent sewing, not difficulty—not at all what I expected!
Costumers say to start working “from the skin out,” and you really have to when sewing 18th and 19th century clothing because the foundations alter your shape so much that your garment simply won’t fit or hang right. You know that test taking strategy where you do the easiest part first to build your confidence and leave more time for the harder stuff? Well, I made the bum pad first–it’s basically a butt pillow ;).
The Bum Pad
The bum pad gives you that exaggerated rump all the gentlemen go crazy for! Thankfully the bum pad is more lightweight and faster to make than panniers. (Although if you want to make the court gowns from Outlander S2 you’re going to need panniers.) I struggled to find extant bum pads from the mid-1700’s, but did find some from the 1800’s:
The three on the top are similar to what we see on Claire, and the one on the bottom with three sections and a ruffle is very similar to the Simplicity pattern. Although I haven’t seen another bum pad with that sort of tufted seat cushion look before!
This was very straightforward so even though I lost the few process photos I had you’re really not missing much. I made it from a natural muslin scrap and white quilting cotton I had in my stash. So it’s a two-tone bum pad, but no one will see it. Plus, piecing and not wasting any fabric was common practice in the 18th century because fabric was very costly and made in thinner widths so I think it makes it more historically accurate! I can picture Jenny using some leftover fabric to make a bum roll and stuffing it with bits of wool and tiny cloth scraps from sewing for Ian and wee Jamie.
The only not-so-great part was the long narrow hem on the ruffle. I don’t have an ironing board (no place to store it in our little apartment) so part of the narrow hem frustration was trying press a skinny strip evenly on my make-shift ironing station.
Also I accidentally did one ruffle section wrong side out and had to get the seam ripper (womp womp). I’ll admit I looked at it for bit thinking “Well it will be under my clothes and no one will ever see it…” but I knew it would bother me. Leave it to me to make mistakes on the “self-esteem boosting” easy part! It was a little fiddly getting the gathers to go evenly around the curved edges, but overall a quick and easy project. Rump padding: check!