Oh god. help me. I decided to make myself a pair of stays.

They're basically done now, so I'll write a post about what all went on with making them, my pattern, techniques, mistakes, etc.


I have never been trained on how to properly pattern and measure out for a pair of stays. I know how they should look and how they should feel for the most part, due to my time at Colonial Williamsburg and studying extant garments. I needed a new and proper pair of stays. The ones I had been using were made for me at Colonial Williamsburg very quickly just so I could have the proper shape (and because I bitched enough). They were the right shape and did a fine job, but they were not as heavily boned as I prefer, especially due to my chest size. (haha) Also, they were too big for me, as I have lost quite a bit of weight since 2007. Especially in my torso. For the ball, I really want to have a great shape and good posture. Plus, I love wearing 18th century clothing, and these stays are a definite upgrade from my well loved stays from my intern days.

I took my pattern from Jill Salen's book Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques (2008). I highly reccommend the book. It's not for beginnings, but very helpful if you have your sewing wits about you. The patterns are on graph paper and to scale. The measurements were indicated on the information sections of the stays, and they were about 3 inches too big for me. The chest is a 36" (91 cm) and a 30" (76 cm) waist. I'm a 34" and 27" (ish...depends on the time of day!). On top of that, it's important to have at least 1" of gap between your lacing. Tight lacing shouldn't be done, and shouldn't have to be done to give yourself a supported fit. If you can easily tight-lace your stays, then they're too big. (This was how my old stays were..) Along with them being too big they were also shorter than what I would like. So I had to shrink the width and lengthen them.

I'm really quite surprised about how well I did this. The last time I had done something like this, it was in my Advanced Costuming Class at Indiana University and we were making corsets. My corset has a lovely tiny waist, and waayyyyyy too big in the bust. Of course, this was like..the second thing I had ever made in my entire it's a bit understandable. Luckily, I've improved! The one complaint in fit, is that I still feel like the chest is too big, but it's doing a fine job..Brooke thinks, and I agree, it's just the cut of the stays I'm not used to. They're much much lower than what I am accostumed too, but that is actually good for me, since my stays usually have a tendency to slide up and peak out of my clothing (which drives me nuts).

(by the way, I'm low on pictures of this project, I was too rushed for time to bother...I'll try and suppliment where I can, and post a picture of me in my stays when they're completely finished.)


Firstly, I cheated. I admit it. I cheated. I had to. I had no option. Time was against me. I used Gunther, my sewing machine to sew the channels of my stays. That was the only thing that was done by machine, and it made the process 10000000x quicker. The mass amount of construction was done in one 12 hour day. I've just been lazy the rest of the time. I originally did a muslin (calico) mock-up of the stays to see if I like how they fit and if they look right. They did, and I did a happy dance.

After that I went for cutting out my layers. I had purchased a great cotton drill from Mandors here in Glasgow. It's a wonderful babyish pink colour. This was fun for me because my last stays were neutral in colour, and that's just no fun. Also, conviently, there weren't a lot of options in cotton twill or drill. Turqoise, Red and Pink. Clearly, Pink was the best and most historically accurate colour choice. For my inner fabrice I used a hodge podge of leftovers. Mostly linen, but then I also have muslin (calico) and linen/cotton mix. It was a fun experiment in piecing, but it worked out for the best, and also usd up those odd shaped pieces that I didn't know what I would ever use them for in the future. So my stays are 3 layers, and then eventually I will add a lining layer that will had all of the inner workings of the stays.

I think basted all the pieces together, and then marked the boninng channels out in pencil. I changed my boning pattern from the one that was in the book to fully boned stays, and no space was to go without boning. This was a personal choice, and I know it was a fine choice to make. Plus I did not have the patience to rig up the zig-zag patterning and layering of the boning. I could have if I really wanted to, but when I fiddled with that and seeing how it felt, I wasn't a huge fan.

So Gunther worked great with my quilting cotton thread I used. This is much stronger than regular cotton, and like my materials, I only use natural thread. No polyester. I also usually just use G├╝termann's thread. They have great cottons, silks, quilting cotton, and linen. I noticed what the shop in Williamsburg was using a long time ago, and when Brooke and I got together she re-iterated the greatness of G├╝termanns.

After that I fit the pieces together and whipped stitched them by hand. My method was different than the one that is taught by Mark Hutter from Colonial Williamsburg, but there was a method to my madness. 1. I never use all of my seam allowance, and have a tendancy to make things too large. So I don't always like having healthy seam allowances. 2. I didn't have that kind of fabric with my pieceing I was using. I do recommed the better seam allowances, but I had made a mock up, so I knew what I was getting into.

I used double thread, still the quilted sewing cotton, and went to work. It's really important to make your whip stitches strong, and I think double thread is a great method for even more strength.

After I did that I realized that I had screwed up.

I needed to make the back end finished, and I hadn't given myself the proper amount of fabric to do a smooth seam. So I improvised. I just did a back stich (or a whip stich, I can't remember at this point) and then covered it with 1/2" linen tape. I then started the boning process, which was messy, long, and fun. I used 1/4" oval/oval reed. I'm very happy with it. It cuts easily to size, is strong, flexible, and was way cheap. I bought it from this basket weaving company. There was plenty to completely bone my stays, and then some. I could probably re-bone my half-boned stays and still have some left over.

Alright, stays are boned. Constructed. What's left? Eyelets, binding, shoulder straps. Ok first the eyelets.

Eyelets: I don't own an awl. I hate that I don't own an awl, but I haven't been able to find one in a sewing store, however, clueless me has never thought about a hardware store. Hmph. Oh well.

Anyways, being creative I thought about what tools I had at my disposal in my room. I came to one conclusion. A glass nail file with a sharp edge and a rat tooth comb. It did the job. The point is sharp enough to work through the 3 layers of fabric, and the rat tooth comb is gradiated enough on long enough to work the hole open. Of course, I screwed up on the eyelets because I moved to quickly and double checked my work. Not a huge deal, just meant I had to do extra eyelets to make the stays fit better. Oops. That's what happens when you get ahead of yourself.

I then began the boring and annoying process of putting the binding on my stays. I wanted to use leather, but I hadn't pre ordered it, and didn't have time to order it before meeting Brooke in London. So I just used my linen tap and bound everything. it will do, and it is accurate, but leather is better.

The tape also being 1/2" does not make it wide enough to backstitch on the front, and then fold it over, so I had to slip stitch it on both sides, and with all that boning, and the awkward tabs, it's messy, and frustrating. Oh-well...No one really sees them is my comfort to the tape...also that I had it and it wasn't something I had to buy.

By the time I finished the eyelets and the bottom binding, it was time to meet Brooke in London. When I met with her, we fit the shoulder straps and started triming the boning.

It was done enough to fit the bodice of my gown. It is now completely bound, and 1 shoulder strap is ready to be attached, and one shoulder strap needs to be finished and attached. I'm too lazy to deal with it at the moment, but I really need to get it done before I go home in August. Also, I need it done to continue the work on my gown.


Over all, I am pleased with my stays. They fit nicely, the lift and cover all the right bits, and the low cut quality of the front is great for no-peeking from my gowns. I feel very secure in them and I'm quite proud of myself. I never thought I would be able to construct something like that, and to the level of quality. It's hard to believe that only a few years ago, I was clueless.

A couple of things I don't like: The front tab. It's too short and not as wide as I would like. I had an issue with it from the beginning patterning section, and I don't really know what was going on's probably a combination of pattern glitch and me changing the pattern. Also, I think I might hav flippd on side so that it was on the wrong side than waht it should be. I have no idea how I did this, or what, but it might be the cause of the not so perfect fitting in the chest. However, it's not a huge deal and it's not really an issue, just bugs me.

Here are photos of them from the outside, inside, eyelets, shoulder straps, and reed.

The pink strip in the middle is my make-shift busk pocket. I added extra boning in there to help with support. When ever I can find a real busk, I'll exchange them out.

And the story of my stays up to this point.


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