Friday, January 27, 2012

Stays: the Cording Conundrum

Indecision--the bane of a seamstress' existence.

Actually I'm pretty sure that would be fabric scissors touching paper, but that's not why I'm having issues with these %$#&@* stays. It's not the sewing that's the problem, or even the patterning. I'm pretty much ready to go as far as those things are concerned. All my pieces are even cut out and basted appropriately.

The issue is that I now have to make a design decision. You see, stays of the type I'm making were often corded, embroidered, trapunto-ed, and otherwise embellished--for both aesthetic and structural purposes. All of them serve to stiffen and stabilize the fabric, and in some cases that's all that's used, taking the place of boning completely. I happen to have more "topography" to maintain, so I'll be partially boning mine--but I now have to decide on a layout for the boning and cording that I want to do.

So, because I had no idea what I wanted, I turned to the World Wide Web for assistance. Except, I then had the opposite problem. Too many options! For those of you who haven't already followed me on Pinterest, you're welcome to. I have a 1812 inspiration board for stuff like this, and I've been obsessively pinning stays examples. It seems like varying levels of cording are acceptable, embroidery too, and there's everything from diamond grids to swirls and crop circles. I've narrowed it down, though, so here are a few of the images I'll be using for inspiration. And then I'll be spending some quality time with gridded paper and No. 2 pencil to plot my own layout!


A lot of these are dated in very general terms. You'll see things like "1800-1820" or "1810s" or even "Early 19th century." So, rather than try and reproduce a specific pair or design, I'm taking a sampling of various pairs of roughly the same style as I want. Normally I wouldn't really recommend decade-hopping, but I've looked at dozens of pairs and as far as I can tell, there was no right or wrong way to cord or embellish them. There are trends, certainly, but they're not specific to decade, and the main differences moving from 1800 to 1820 are in silhouette and shape, rather than in embellishment.

The pair above is pretty heavily corded, as far as the examples I saw. The underbust looks nice and sturdy, and there's cording in the bust gores. There's no boning visible in the front, though there's no telling what the back looks like. The horizontal lines of cording running 'round the stays at waist level are pretty common, as are the diagonal lines angling up from the bottom of the corset up towards the busk pocket over the lower abdomen.

1810; Live Auctioneers

Another example with corded bust gores; these would have been stiffer than the pair above them, with multiple rows of cording laid side by side like that. I love the embroidery on these! Here is a full view; you can see that the body isn't very heavily corded at all, and those over-the-belly diagonal lines are clearly in evidence.

1825; Victoria & Albert Museum

Thanks to the V&A, I have several super huge, high-resolution images of this pair, and they are gorgeous. There's light boning in the torso, and it's a great example of trapunto. The first couple examples are most likely cording, but all the latice-like diamonds in this one are made by stitching the pattern and then using a stiletto or other pointy object to separate the threads in the back of the piece and shove wee tiny bits of stuffing or fluff between the layers to make a raised pattern.

I'm still debating whether or not I'm crazy enough to do this. I'm leaning towards "not," because it sounds like a lot of work and I like one-way diagonal lines just fine!

Also, it's a little hard to tell in the smaller size picture here, but the parallel lines over the lower front of the stays aren't corded or anything; they're just stitched in. Embroidery can also add structure to a garment, just by virtue of cramming more threads into a small space. And, the stitching on these is so fine it looks like machine work. Like I said--they're gorgeous!

1815-1825; Manchester Galleries

These look fairly similar design-wise to the V&A pair, but they really are a different pair. The back is really interesting; it's not uncommon to see bone eyelets, or "pulleys" (like on this pair at the Met) for lacing. I also found an example of the bone eyelets here on Etsy, which I thought was really fascinating. Good luck finding them now, though. A Google search for "bone eyelets" gets you a lot of results for body jewelry.

I didn't include a lot of pictures of backs of stays because, to be honest, they're usually not very exciting. A lot of the examples I saw had light cording across the shoulders, and then nothing over the lower back. Some of them had cording and some of them had boning in the center back, but for the most part they weren't very exciting! There are a couple on my Pinterest, though, so by all means go take a look.

So, for me, the next step is to decide what I actually want and to plot a layout for my own stays. After that, we get to talk about busks! I'm so excited...either because of or in spite of the fact that Katie + woodworking tools usually = "Adventure." An by "adventure", I mean "bleeding."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

At Long Last

So, happy 2012, everyone. I'm a bit late to the party, but it's not because I haven't been working on things! For me, 2012 is shaping up to be all about the Bicentennial--of 1812, of course. I'm starting from the inside out with big plans for an 1812 wardrobe, one which I hope will carry me through the next few years as the 1812 Bicentennial really gets off the ground.

Over the years (six-ish), I've made and worn several types of stays in the style of the 1790s-1810s. After six years, you'd think I'd have this down to a science, but I have yet to find a perfect regency support garment. One of the first historical garments I ever made was a pair of regency long stays, based on a diagram from Jean Hunnisett's Period Costumes for Stage and Screen. I was an extreme novice, and let's just say the result wasn't ideal. I made two versions--one was too long, and it dug into my thighs when I sat down. One was too short and it gouged my hips. The short stays I've tried were better, but none of the three pairs I made had quite the support I was looking for. They've lasted me a good long time, but this year I want to find The Perfect Pair. What it boils down to is that my criteria for my newest stays effort is:
  1. Ample bust support
  2. Smooths out belly
  3. No leg gouging
  4. No digging in anywhere, if possible
As my friend Ginger pointed out, ladies back then had the same issues I do. Some of them had large busts. Others had solid thighs. Most likely, none of them wanted their underwear to make them look like a domestic abuse victim. So what did they do? Quickly, Robin: To the primary sources!!

German Copy of a James Gillray cartoon, c. 1810

This is the first one I found. The original Gillray image was a satire of the long corsets that women wore, showing a stay coming down past a woman's buttocks and obviously being quite restrictive. This one interested me though because of the line over the hip--and, tabs. This is the only example I've seen of a tabbed long corset in this period, and seeing as it's a reprint of a satirical cartoon, I think it should be taken with a grain of salt. However, as commented on my previous entry, there were women back then who had these same issues, and they had to figure out something that would work for them. This at least shows that in someone's head, the over-the-hip curve and tabs to spread over the hip fullness made sense, even in 1810 when long tabbed corsets had gone out of style.

La Fureur des Corsets, c. 1809

So this made me really excited, because here are four women wearing long stays, easily recognizable as your somewhat-typical style, and yet--check out the bottom edge. Every single one of them cuts up above the fullness of the hip and rear, while still coming down far enough in the front to smooth out the whole line of the torso.

 Le Fureur des Corsets, c. 1809, closeup

In the closeup image, you can see the woman on the left a bit better; her stays don't even come down over her hips in the back. On the right, hers come down a bit farther, but they still have that intriguing front point, while clearly still showing the busk like you see on all those straight-across-the-bottom styles.

 From Side Saddle

Credit for this find goes entirely to Samantha who first suggested the idea of a riding corset, and then turned up this extant example within 10 minutes of first mention. I don't know that I want to do a full-on riding corset, but it does show that there were definitely examples of stays that cut up over the hip, and still had a busk. Frankly, I wouldn't be caught dead riding sidesaddle, but the extra mobility would be great for doing other activities, too.

 Costume Parisien, c. 1813

Courtesy of Nuranar's collection of fashion plates, which might be my favorite regency clothing reference ever, we have one more example of stays that are not straight across the bottom. These are cut a bit lower over the hips than the ones in Le Fureur des Corsets, and shaped with gores, but for sure higher in the back than in the front.

Still with me? Good! So with source material acquired, the next thing is patterning. Based on the images above, I'm going to try for a long stay with center front busk, bust gores, and a curved line across the bottom so that I get freedom of motion over the hip (aka, ability to sit, etc, without pokage) while still getting a smooth line down the front. That's for a new post, though!