June 19, 2013

18th Century Stays

     This blog is called the closet historian for a reason, I love historical dress! I have been making costumes for myself ever since my mom told me she was tired of making them for me. I learned to sew when I was twelve years old and have gotten progressively better ever since. As I have gotten older and become a better seamstress I have also gotten more passionate about historical accuracy. That being said, it is time to make a new pair of 18th century stays!

     For those of you who are new to historic costume, stays are the early equivalent of corsets. They were used to force the body into the fashionable conical silhouette from the Tudor period until the very late 18th century. The shape and materials stays were made out of changed along with fashion. Stays provided a foundation for the outer garments a woman would wear. Unlike later Victorian corsetry, stays did not serve to reduce the circumference of the waist but instead to provide the flat conical shape in fashion in the 18th century. Though any stays or corsetry should not hurt if constructed and patterned properly, I have found stays to be more comfortable overall. They hold your back quite straight improving posture and provided women with support in the centuries before Wonderbras.

Stays; England, Great Britain; 1770-1790; Victoria and Albert Museum
I am basing this next set of stays on this pair from the Victoria and Albert museum in London. I particularly like the shape and seaming of this example and the rich damask fabric used. They also suit the dates range I am looking to make outer garments for later on.

     Instead of floral damask, many stays were made out of plainer fabrics like solid linens or even leather. There are however many surviving examples of more elaborate stays made from damask, brocade, silk or moire silks. Moire silk (also called watered silk) is a pattern created by placing the two ends of a ribbed fabric (like taffeta) together and applying pressure. This process is called calendering and creates the watered or wood grain looking pattern effect. I have always loved moire fabric even though it is quite difficult to find these days, especially moire made out of natural silk.

Stays; British; late 18th century; Metropolitan Museum of Art

Woman's Corset (stays); England; circa 1730-1740; LACMA
     Both of these extant exampled of stays are faced with a moire patterned silk. I am using these examples as justification to make my new pair of stays with a moire fashion fabric. The moire I have is ivory and unfortunately is 100% thermoplastic (polyester/acrylic/nylon/acetate) most likely polyester. The only place I have ever found moire fabric with any regularity is in the home decorating section at fabric stores. The ivory fabric I have is from Hobby Lobby.

     I have a basic stays pattern which I created ages ago using the tutorial supplied at this website. The pattern generated using that site is intended as an Elizabethan era stays pattern but is easily adapted to create an 18th century stays pattern. I'll show you how I do it in my next post!

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