The season has begun, and I am sewing like a madwoman. We have some 8-10 women in Prairietown alone who need stays (the 1836 version of a corset) and I'm the gal to do it.
I have been at this for a few years now, and I've developed a few shortcuts and techniques to make stay-making less fussy and as easy as possible. These tips are for the Past Patterns Corded Stay
by Saundra Ros Altman, which is a wonderful set of stays to wear in 1836 Prairietown. Some of the original instructions are a little tricky to understand or are perfect for the exact reproduction, but there are quite a few shortcuts that can make it easier, if not an exact replica of the original.
Begin with the pattern. If you work at Conner Prairie, get it from Historic Clothing. Past Patterns provides us with the necessary patterns for our clothing construction. Determine the size by measuring yourself or having someone measure you. The key measurements are the bust (fullest part), waist, hip, and back length. Another measurement I take is from the mid-shoulder blade to the front edge of the armpit. This will help you make your shoulder strap the correct length. Do NOT fudge these measurements!! -- though it is definitely okay to pull them snug. People with more "padding" have a "squish factor" that needs to be taken into account.
Cut out your pattern pieces according to size. If you have a very full bust, you can adjust the pattern by cutting your bust gore pieces longer and cutting the slashes for the gores a bit deeper. This gives more room for the bust so it's not all perched on top. In addition, cut four strips: two approx. 3 to 3-1/2 inches wide and two 1-1/2 to 2 inches wide, the length of the body. These are facings
for the actual boning channels, and are not in the pattern.
The narrow facings go in the back piece, about a half-inch in from the folded edge.
In this photo, we have opened out one back piece (the creased fold is the center back) and placed it atop a finished set of stays to see where the facing goes. Baste it in place. Do the same with the other back piece.
It is tempting to start in, cutting and shaping, but there are a few steps you should take to ensure success later in this project.
First, if you have them, use pinking shears
to cut out all the pieces of your stays. You'll end up covered in little teeny tiny pieces of unraveled fabric, but the coutil we use for the stays unravels very easily.
If you do not use pinking shears, your next step is to zig-zag stitch around all
your edges with your sewing machine. This takes time but is well worth the effort in your pieces staying whole as you work with them.
I generally double-up the gores (almost always the bust gores; sometimes the hip gores). If you're zigzagging the edges, go ahead and put together the two gores that will go together -- this will save you time later.
Also, transfer all marks from the pattern onto your fabric pieces. Seam allowances don't really need drawn on (if you can remember them) but put on the cutting lines for the bust and hip gores, the arm hole, the center busk, and the busk hole.
I use the special disappearing fabric marker for all my markings. This washes out with plain water when you're finished and doesn't get on other things -- tables, clothing, etc. -- though the edges of some of my straight-edges are suspiciously blue.
It is perfectly okay to make the markings on one half
of each front piece and then cut through both layers, but be sure to mark the front and the lining separately (because cutting through all four layers is hard).
You will begin working on the lining piece
. Set aside the actual front for later.
Go ahead and cut the slashes for the bust and hip gores and the arm hole. If you're using pinking shears, you can just cut them. If you're using straight scissors, the pattern instructions have you stay-stitch along each slash before cutting it; this is a really good idea
. Once again, the unraveling will cause heartache.
As you can see, I have cut the slashes for both the hips and bust at the same time. If you are hesitant, by all means, just do one set at a time.
I recommend starting with the hip gores.
This is where the provided directions become a bit confusing, but I offer a shortcut that will make you much happier.
(Is your iron on full heat and full steam? If not, go turn it on and make sure it's full. This will help a lot.)
Lay your lining piece on your ironing board. (My photos have me ironing left-handed, so you may need to face your piece the opposite direction. Or not. I'm very confused.) Open the first slash slightly.
Begin to gently turn the cut edges under approximately a quarter inch (no measuring necessary, just make sure the edges are turned completely under for the entire length of the slash). Press this edge under, so you have a folded edge on top.
Repeat for the other side of the slash so both edges are folded under and pressed. The steam from your iron will help a lot -- coutil is very stout and needs some persuasion.
Your finished pressed gore slash will have no cut edges showing as they are now pressed under.
Do this with all four of your hip slashes.
To put the hip gore into place, put the triangular hip gore piece under the slash. Pin one edge onto the gore -- if you've marked the seam allowances, you can put the folded edge right on those seam allowances. If not, place the first pressed edge about half an inch from the edge of the gore, and then "open out" the slash into a triangular shape approximating the shape of the gore.
Pin through the lining piece and gore, with the gore placed under
the lining. If the person who is wearing the stays has wider hips, make the triangle larger, with more of the gore exposed. If she is narrower in the hips, you can "close" the gap a little.
Pin through all layers except the ironing board cover.
The finished pinned gore looks like this.
Wait. Folding under the edge? I'm not sure I can do that. I'm not that precise.
That's okay. Just flip it over and press the edges where you can see them.
This is what the back side looks like before you put the gores on. See the lack of unraveling? Pinking shears, folks.
This is the back, with the gores pinned in. (Still pin it in from the front.)
And here it is, ready for sewing.
You will sew on this, the "right" side of the fabric (which, incidentally, will end up being the "inside" of the stays -- the side closest to your body. The gores will end up sandwiched between the front and the lining).
Begin at one edge of the gore. With your needle centered for this stitch (you can set it to one side, if you wish), you will want to sew as near to the pressed edge without going over the edge of the gore. Sew up one side of the gore to the point, then, with the needle lowered and presser foot lifted, pivot the fabric so you can sew back down the other side of the triangle. This topstitching would not be the period-appropriate way to sew stays (no sewing machines, remember), but makes quick work of sewing in the gores.
When you have all four hip gores in place, it's time to repeat the process with the bust gores. Once again, if the wearer has a more ample bust, you will want to open out the gores a little wider; one with a smaller bust will want narrower openings.
With the bust gores, you can hold open the slash for ironing.
Press all four bust gore slashes open.
Place two bust gores together (if you zigzagged them, they already are) and treat them as one when pinning them into the opening.
It is okay if this doesn't lay completely flat, but you do want all your edges to be smooth and without puckers.
You can pin all your gores at once before stitching them in, or do two at a time, or even one at a time. The fewer pins in place in your working project, the fewer opportunities to gash yourself on them as you sew. Or so I hear.
Once the gores are sewn in, you are going to mark your center front and align one
of the wider facing strips at the center front. Pin it so its center is aligned with the lining piece center, on the "wrong" side of the lining piece (the side which will be "inside" the sandwich). You may choose to baste down the center through both layers -- I usually use a needle and thread and hand-baste very long stitches, usually with colored thread so I don't forget it's there.
Mark on the front of the lining, the lines that will go on either side of the busk. This may be done by centering the busk vertically on that center basting stitch, then making lines on either side of the busk piece, remembering not to make them too close to the edge, or you'll have trouble sliding the wood into the casing when it's finished. (1/8 inch ease should be enough.)
Then, using the pattern placement or 1 1/2 inches as your guide, draw in the busk opening. This can be cut open and then hand-sewn (buttonhole stitch), but I use my machine zigzag stitch. I set it to the buttonhole stitch settings (about 4 on width and .75 on length) and align the needle with the edge of my line, not yet cut.
(The second set of lines were too wide for the busk. I later wiped them off.)
Zigzag along this line, pivoting at the end (just over the edge of the busk line) to turn, the back toward the starting point.
When you have completed this very large buttonhole, you can slit along the line, being careful not to cut through any stitches. I use my seam-ripper to make the neatest slice.
With this, you have finished the lining piece of your stays. The next post will see the front piece attached.