Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Historical Sew Monthly: Out of Your Comfort Zone

Sometime last year I decided to start sewing some 18th century stays. I found lovely fabric, hand-painted thread, 1/8th inch bamboo pieces, and I started sewing. I hadn't even finished the first piece when it struck me: I didn't do a very good mock-up. I don't have enough thread to machine sew it. What if I'm spending hours and hours refining my backstitch only to discover that the stays didn't fit right? I then did what any reasonable person would do: I shoved it in a bag and promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward

Like many, I have been watching Outlander. And like many, I have a favorite dress, the one Claire wears to the Gathering. This one:

From Terry Dresbach's blog
I found a lovely print to use for the petticoat and stomacher (before I realized they were embroidered. Doesn't matter, I'm sure as hell not going to embroider a petticoat.) I also found a beautiful plaid-ish wool for the gown itself. (Posts on both of these fabrics later.) But step one is neither the gown, nor the stomacher, nor the petticoat. Step one is stays. (Okay, technically step one is a shift, but I already have one so I can skip that step.)

I did a bit of research into making stays, and found that the pattern in Costume Close-Up is almost perfectly my size. That pattern is also dated 1740 - 1760, making it the right time period. I copied the pattern, mocked it up, and made adjustments.

Quite a while ago while visiting my parents my mom took me to a garage sale that was getting rid of a ton of fabrics for $1 a yard. I, of course, spent nearly $50 and took home a giant box of fabric. I knew there had to be something in that box I could use for stays. I wanted it to be nice enough that if the stays turned out well I'd like them, but not so nice that I'd regret losing the fabric if they turned out poorly. What I settled on was this:

A creamy yellow cotton with a nice floral pattern. I had a yard length, but not the full width. One side had the selvage but the other side was serged. Stays were likely the biggest thing I could make out of the fabric, and the pattern seemed right to me for the 18th century (I could be very wrong.)

I used two layers of canvas for the interfacing, and machine stitched 1/4 inch channels on every piece. I machined the pieces together, boned them with zip ties, and tried them on again. I had to take in the waist a bit more, but then I finished boning, whipped down the seam allowances, covered the seams in tape, and bound them.

The front. The eyelets are handstitched and set for spiral lacing.

Close-up. The tape over the seams is a natural colored linen with three stripes of yellow running the length. The bias tape is a purple cotton in a gingham print. I wanted purple binding and this is what I could find.

The lining is muslin, hand stitched to the completed stays.

I am not sure how I feel about these stays. I'm not sure about the fit, but I also don't know where to take them in to improve the fit. I also just don't know how to feel about a thing the somehow removes your boobs while maintaining your cleavage. They're weird, they're definitely outside of my comfort zone, and I'm trying not to pass judgement until I've got the rest of the outfit together. (Note: my shift is supposed to have a drawstring for the neckline. I was too lazy to find one, thus the sleeves falling off my shoulders.)

The lacing is purple silk ribbon.

The breakdown:

The Challenge: Out of your comfort zone
Fabric: Yellow cotton quilting for the exterior, cotton canvas for the interior, muslin for the lining
Pattern: Stays 1740 - 1760 from Costume Close-up
Year: 1740s
Notions: Natural and yellow linen tape, purple gingham bias tape, yellow and purple silk thread, white cotton thread, purple silk ribbon, 1/4 inch zip ties, two metal bones by the lacing holes.
How historically accurate is it? The channels were machine sewn, and the seams were also machine, the seam tape and bias tape were sewn by hand, the seams were whipped down by hand, eyelets were hand sewn, pattern was perfect, but the fabric was mostly cotton when linen would have been more accurate. I'd say 40%.
Hours to complete: I'm going to say 40 - 50. A large amount of my days off have gone into this, plus 2 -3 hours every night after work.
First worn: Tonight, for photos
Total cost:  Fashion fabric was $1, canvas was $10, thread was $7, muslin was $1, zip ties were $10, bias tape was $9.50, linen tape was $20, and the silk ribbon was $16.50, making the total: $75. 

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