Epic Stays Workshop Post - Ya Ready?

Last Thursday I woke up at the butt-crack of dawn (5am) to catch an early morning flight. I did not stop moving until I arrived home this Tuesday at 4:30pm. Friday through Sunday was the (epic) stays workshop put on by Burnley and Trowbridge (with Colonial Williamsburg).  And starting Wednesday I've been sewing boning channels in my stays (One panel a day).

The way the B&T workshops go, is that not only will you leave with a head-start on a project, but you are also educated on the history of the garment and taught how to create the garment with historical accurate techniques. So when you take a class with the mantua makers, you cut and drape your gown. With the tailors, you take your measure and pattern. You are privy to a lot of information and share a great deal of research that has been conducted by B&T, Tailors, and Milliners/Mantua makers over the course of 20+ years. Over the course of the workshops over the past few years there has been an issue of people lifting the information given to them at the workshops and sharing it to others like it is theirs. Which is sad, and as a result Burnley and Trowbridge requires all attendees to sign release forms stating that they wont share patterns or any intellectual information given to them at the workshops in any way, shape, or form. So what's to follow is mostly a roundup of my experience during the weekend and not anything academically useful.

Here it goes:

Stay-making, while an independent trade, also was a skill of the tailors. So, this means that Mark Hutter (Head tailor of CW in the historic trades dept) taught the class filled with 12 braless women, and not the female mantua-makers. As you can expect, for some people it can get fairly awkward talking about busts, bust to hip ratios, fluffy squishy bits, and body types all while standing in your shift braless in an air-conditioned building.

On a side note: I really hate going braless. I'm always jealous of the girls that can go braless....how do you do that? It hurts and is itchy. Plus gravity just makes things....weird.

Anyways, Friday was spent lecturing and measuring (braless) so that way on Saturday we could pattern the stays (it took up all morning and most of the afternoon) and Sunday we could fit the stays and have some more lecturing about finishing the stays and boning options.

Throughout Friday and Saturday, I was Mark's guinea pig. (This worked out wonderfully in my favor 2 sets of stays and one patterned by Mark himself.) Mark and I have known each other since 2007 when I was the ripe old age of 21. He knows I have no shame (Read this post about me and my pin pillow to get the idea) and that means he can get away with this for comedic effect:

Glad I could help.
(Photo courtesy of Burnley and Trowbridge)

Since he measured me, he also opted to pattern my stays, tricking himself into thinking it would be 'easier'.

Muah. ha. ha. ha.

2 hours later I had an official pair of Mark Hutter stays. I thought I got off easy. The hard part was done! Huzzah Huzzah! All I had to do was cut out my pattern and start basting everything together. That idea was short lived however...

Mark: Abby...

Me: Yes.

Mark: Pattern this second pair for yourself.

Me: Oh! Great!

(Then I freaked about making sure I paid close enough attention and whether or not I should have taken notes...I actually wont know how well I did until I cut out the second pair to see how they fit...)

Did I mention these second stays are not really that similar to the ones I'm making now? My first pair are very very 1770s (based off of an original pair in the CW collection). My second pair is more late 70s up through the 80s (also in the CW collection). Much more thrusting...not that my girls need the help or anything. But that's enough about the second pair of stays, I need to focus on the pair I'm actually making....

The 1770s stays will forever now be known as the 'Lavender Stays' for the lavender worsted wool from B&T I used. They will be 4 layers total (1 outer layer of worsted wool, 2 inner layers of course linen and the final lining). They will be fully boned and Mark draped a shoulder strap for me as well, cause straps are good for girls who have larger girls.

My goal is to get one panel done a day. So far, I'm on track. (Minus the panel I started today that I totally just screwed up. Ooops...what else is new..right?)

I'll post pictures of my stays as I progress, the hand sewn channels, and the (hopefully) super awesome boning experiment.

Ya ready for this?


I asked for baleen for my birthday.

Cause every girl wants chunks of baleen for her birthday right?


Hopefully in the next couple of weeks and it will arrive and then I will have the wonderful experiment of trying to get the large chunks of baleen sliced into 1/4" chunks for my stays. This will hopefully be a success, but nonetheless will be a great learning and blogging experience (with potentially hilarious pictures)! Ideally, I would like these stays to be done around the beginning of May. I think it is possible as long as I am disciplined in my sewing and I don't keep screwing crap up.

And now, here are some pictures that I took during fittings on Sunday:

Everyone standing around watching other fittings and waiting to be fit.

Special shout out to the Fashionable Frolick blogging sisters (shown above in the center)! They were there too!  What you all might find interesting is that the three of us all have the same stay pattern, and through the difference in our body types, needs, and preferences how the patterns will change to suit us individually. I'm looking forward to seeing their finished product to compare mine to theirs. And maybe so will everyone else?

Angela B and the B&T mascot Sophie

Checking the fit of my stays.

When I was laced up, they had put the stays too low, and it was mildly uncomfortable
(and my boobs kept falling out of the stays...It was a bit awkward...)
until Mark lifted me over his head by my stays to get them in the right spot.
Then. They were perfect. And I smiled....see?

Before Mark adjusted them, the lacing was in a pyramid shape which
was wrong. Once they were in the right place, they were an even 1"-ish (above).
This lessons teaches us the importance of putting stays on in the right place.

Fitting Ashley, the skinniest girl at the workshop

Rebecca being fit. Something must have been funny. Probably was a
boob joke.

Round Up:

This was my second Burnley and Trowbridge workshop (I had to cancel last minute for the 1810 gown workshop last spring due to a family emergency). There isn't anything like them in the rest of the country, and I love them. The work that Angela, Jim and Mark/Janea/Sarah/Neal/Doris do is wonderful, and it is totally worth attending one. Though I'm dreading sewing the binding on these things (boning is now considered fun since I'm going to experiment with baleen),  I am also extremely thankful to have a pair of stays that are patterned and fit to me the way stays are supposed to fit and (hopefully) wont make my left arm go numb.

Numb arms ain't fun.

<3 <3


  1. Wow - this looks very fun! I am jealous - one day I'll have to come over there and see B & T and the like myself (and, of course, it would be rude not to book a workshop while I'm there!).

    The colour of your stays is lovely - I've got a bit of a thing for purply shades at the moment. Also, I'm looking forward to seeing the difference between these and your next pair of stays - I find the different shapings and styles quite interesting!

    Thanks for sharing your experience :)

  2. You're going with baleen? Tons of extra brownie points! And it should make some interesting blogging as you boil the stuff and cut it all up. Me, I wimped out and bought the cane Angela and Jim were selling.

  3. Haahaaaa!!! Great post! And yeah, I think you're probably all too correct about the cause of the grins in that picture...:-)

    I'm thrilled to hear you've definitely decided on the baleen! That's going to be so, so cool. Cherry, don't worry - you won't be the only one chickening out on there because we're on the verge between splints and reed ourselves! Still debating...and not in too much hurry to decide because these channels are taking for-EV-er. Abby, I can't imagine how in the world you're getting an entire panel done in a day! Wow! I hope your birthday's soon so you'll be ready to begin the Adventures in Baleening as soon as you're ready to bone!

  4. Thanks everyone! :)

    GWT- You totally should, whenever you make it over here. Just stalk their website carefully and book according (however book workshop first and then workout the details. The workshops can fill up in just a few days after posting).

    I'm looking forward to the difference too, the styles are different and the second pair are only partially boned..so it should be fun to see how it works out!

    Cherry: Ha! Thanks :) I think the boiling and everything will be ok, I think we have the materials and resources to do the baleen, and I'm thinking of figuring out a few way to cut corners, just totally depends on how soft the baleen gets when boiled. :) I hope you're stays are going well. They looked really lovely at the workshop :)

    Rebecca: My birthday is on the 23rd. So the baleen action is, hopefully, going to be SOON! (So excited to get super nerdy...) I am able to get a panel a day mostly because I don't do anything else and if I am doing something else, I stay up late until my stitching gets ugly. :) I'll email you back today, too... I'm totally behind in emails...

  5. Sounds awesome! You know, historical costuming and reenacting are one of the few areas in which mixed-company discussion of fluffing bits is acceptable :) So jealous--I'm going to start a new pair of stays this summer-ish, and I'm venturing into the dark on my own...I'll be checking on your progress to learn!

  6. I am curious how you reconcile your desire for baleen with the Marine Mammal Protection Act?

  7. I'm a little sad that you don't at least acknowledge the blood-soaked past associated with baleen. It's symbolic of the systematic elimination of several wild species. While yes, the material is historically accurate, so is beating slaves & treating them as subhuman, & afaik, that's not done at Colonial Williamsburg today due to modern morality. There are many parts of history that are best studied in books.

    I've been to Antarctica & visited former whaling stations. I've looked at the documents showing my ancestors where slave owners. I've even stood in the one remaining gas chamber at Auschwitz. I try to learn about the truth of history, just the same as enjoy recreating the fun, pretty sides of it too. Knowing the messy, unpleasant side keeps me grounded & helps me remember how far we've come. I'd hoped we had come to a time & place where we didn't jump for joy at sacrificing rare animals to use as parts of our underwear.

  8. Sorry for a few typos in my comment above - hope the message still comes thru.

    I don't mean this as an attack. I just hope you consider all sides & act out of respect.

  9. Trystan: I've written a response as a whole blog post just because I felt like writing it in the little comment section would be too painful to read (it's long). I was planning on writing a post, anyways, about why I chose to use baleen. Your and anon's comments just gave me a reason to post it sooner, rather than later. I know you were not being confrontational and I also have an understanding on how you feel about the subject from facebook and your comments. I respect that. I hope that I've explained myself as well as you have.

    And don't apologize for the typos, my blog is riddled with them to the point of embarrassment. :)

    Anon: I discuss the MMPA in my most recent blog post. I hope that answers your questions.


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