Making 18th Century Corset (Stays)

I apologize for not writing anything for a week. This is partially due to the fact that I was mostly running around like a chicken with its head cut off and doing non blog-worthy stuff like replacing a wall air conditioning unit, watching my brother-in-laws dogs, etc, and partially because all of my free time was dedicated to a rather exhausting project. I was attempting to make an 18th century corset, or stays  to be exact. And no, corsetry will not be added to the list of my hobbies any time soon. This project proved to be so tiresome and grueling, I almost don’t want to write about it.

I began my quest for a pair (don’t ask me why it’s a pair but everyone says it like that) of 18th century stays with good old-fashioned googling. After browsing some dress diaries and blogs I finally stumbled upon a website that seemed to make the most sense, the Marquise tutorial. The author did a fantastic job explaining corsetry for dummies. Equipped with some craft paper, a straight edge and a pen, I drafted my own pattern from scratch, since the one Marquise provided was about 5 inches too big in every direction. Oh the joys of being petite! After some huffing, puffing, and procrastinating, I finally constructed my first ziptie-boned mockup, which turned out to be a huge disappointment. It was so big and ill fitted that I didn’t even take a picture, just went straight to adjusting the pattern for my stays. Here is a snippet of wisdom ladies, never take your bust measurements right before that special time of the month. You will be severely disappointed later.

In any case, it took me a few more days to chop up the pattern for stays and make something smaller and more wearable. My second mockup actually started to look somewhat like an 18th century corset. What’s better, it didn’t even take three days to make, like the first one did.

The back gap was even at 2 inches and the front  started to look somewhat conical, which is what one wants to achieve with a good pair of 18th century stays. However, as someone pointed out, the shape was still too curvy, the gap needed to be twice as wide and in general the torso ended up being way too long. I read those comments on the Facebook group, cried sighed and went back to the drawing board, or rather my sewing table.

The pattern had to be shortened about 1 inch every direction. I also had to redraw all of the boning channels from scratch since suddenly half boned stays were no longer an option (thanks for nothing, boobs!). Full boned all the way, baby. I decided that third time just has to be the charm and cut into the duck cloth, my intended medium for the internal structural layers. Just in case you didn’t know, there have to be 4 layers, internal ones out of some strong fabric, facing (something pretty and fancy), and lining (preferably linen, often random scraps in period). I carefully reboned the new stays, crossed my fingers and asked my husband to lace me up. Here is what it looked like.

Definitely an improvement from the second mockup. It still needs some work, but at least a somewhat smooth conical shape is achieved, which is a win. No idea what happened to the back though, it is a mystery. Maybe I should have pulled the stays up higher, maybe I shouldn’t have laced them so tight, who knows. Honestly, after making 3 of those mockups, I really don’t care. I just want to finish this piece of *** and move on with my sewing life.

And yes, I did feel like I was encased in some kind of a ziptie armor, a bulletproof vest of sorts. Can’t say that it was a good feeling. Poor 18th century women, how did they endure this all day, wrapped into four layers of fabric and strips of whalebone for the sake of fashion?

Next I will make some facing and lining from the linen I found in my stash. And then there will be binding. All edges, even the tabs, have to be bound by some sort of a ribbon. They say  this is the hardest part. Yeah, right, you don’t scare me!  After making three of those stay mockups I am essentially ready for anything.

Feel free to come back and partake in my stay-making misery