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Full-size paper patterns with complete instructions and historical notes for stays (corsets) circa 1740s-1790s based on extant examples. Fits busts 28"-50". All sizes included in one envelope. Embellishment suggestions included.
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plain or twill weave linen or silk
lightweight silk or fine linen for lining
5oz. linen for interlining
Outer Material 1 yd at least 45" wide
lining 1 yd at least 45" wide
interlining 2 yds at least 45" wide
7mm or ¼" half oval or round reeds or ¼" corset boning
silk ribbon, cloth tape or leather for binding
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Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:
Since the 1660s, stays and bodiced gowns without their skirts were practically synonymous. Except for a place to attach sleeves and skirts, stays and bodiced gown linings were the same in construction. One would think stays went into dormancy while the bodiced gown made them unnecessary. Yet throughout the late 17th century, stays were still being worn in undress, casually with just a simple oriental robe or wrapper thrown over them. When the mantua became acceptable for wear outside the house, the bodiced gown saw its last days and stays came out of the wardrobe again.
By the middle of the 18th century, Stays had become their own garment and they were being constructed in worsted wools, linens and leather for common people as well as the beautiful silks preferred by the wealthy.
In the 1730s, back-lacing stays with a front-laced stomacher became popular. This decorative element would show under the open-front mantuas that were popular at the time. Typically this type of stays was flat lined to a decorative fabric like silk brocade. Interestingly, the set of stays illustrated at right has boning chennels sewn through the yellow flowered brocade top layer. This is unusual at this time.
Middle and lower class stays of the time took a slightly different shape. Lydia Yearsley’s wedding stays from the 1760s are strapless and only have a small, functional opening at the top of the center front. This opening was probably meant to accommodate nursing.
These simple, commoner stays are constructed from brown linen and lined with white. Intereastingly, they are almost identical in construction to a set of stays in the Colonial Williamsburg Collection. The Williamsbueg stays are made from lavender-coloured wool satin but sewn and boned in the same manner.
The stays start with each panel constructed from two layers of linen interlining sewn to the outer material. Into these three layers are sewn the backstitches that will hold the bones. Each panel is finished and then whipstitched to its neighbour. A lining is stitched to each panel so that it may be removed when dirty or worn out. The joins between panels are covered with narrow strips of linen tape or leather and the perimeter of the stays bound with leather or tape. Eyelets are worked into the back edge by whipstitching around punched holes. They are not buttonhole stitched.
“Bones” are not actually bones as we think of them but baleen, the keritinous material from the mouths of certain species of whale. This substance is more akin to fingernails than bone. It is light and very flexible. Baleen has the unique property of conforming to the shape of the body when it is warm and indeed extant stays often show the shape of their wearer. Unlike the heavy steel boning of the 19th century, baleen was light and flexible and quite comfortable to wear.
By the third quarter of the 18th century, stay makers realised that it wasn’t the number of panels that were making the shape but the orientation of the bones. As a result, some stays were reduced to three panels (front and two backs) as seen in the sketch at right from Diderot’s L’Encyclopedie. As you can see, the boning pattern is quite complex even though these stays are only lightly boned.
By the 1780s, the style of dress had evolved from the conical top and bottom created by stays and hoops to the “pouter pidgeon” look with the chest thrust forward and the hips back. This early verion of the S-curve was created by the use of bustle pads and fake bums worn under the petticotes. The front portion of the look was made by scoop-front stays like those shown at left. The only real difference between these stays and those illustrated by Diderot a decade before is the shape of the front. The front is cut low, but horizontal boning emphasizes and reinforces this shape, forcing the bust to jut forward into the position seen so often in illustrations from this time.
By the final decade of the 1790s, although change in fashion lead to a change in the shape of stays. While the front of the stays stayed pretty much the same as those worn in the 1780s, the back waist of stays rose to match the back waist of the fashionable garments being worn at the time. The front of the silhouette was still forward in that pouter pidgeon fashion, but the back sat at the level of the floating ribs. The example shown at right retains all the elements of the stays of the 1780s, but you will notice that the tabs have ceased to be boned. Other extant high-waisted stays from the period have lost their tabs entirely, retaining instead a vestigal “tail” at center back to carry the lacing to the lower back. Sometimes puffs of fabric were attached to the back of this type of stays to which a bustle pad or petticotes were attached, emphasizing the fashionable silhouette.
As the French Revolution revolutionized fashion at the turn of the 19th century, stays were largely discarded. However, older women and women with less than “perfect” figures continued to wear stays. High-waisted stays of this type could still be worn under Empire gowns.
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction c1660-1860. 1964: Macmillian Publishers Ltd., London.
Baumgarten, Linda and John Watson. Costume Close Up: Clothing Construction and Pattern, 1750-1790. 1999: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Boucher, François. 20,000 Years of Fashion. 1987: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York.
Bradfield, Nancy. Costume in Detail 1730-1930. 1997: Costume and Fashion Press, New York.
Burnston, Sharon Ann. Fitting & Proper: 18th Century Clothing from the Collection of the Chester County Historical Society. 1998: Scurlock Publishing, Texarcana, TX.
Cunnington, C. Willett and Phillis. Handbook of English Costume in the Seventeenth Century. 1972: Plays, Boston.
Halls, Zillah. Women’s Costumes 1600-1750. 1969: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London.
Hart, Avril and Susan North. Fashion in Detail. 1998: Rizzoli International Publications, New York.
Payne, Blanche. History of Costume. 1965: Harper Collins, New York.
Waugh, Norah. Corsets and Crinolines. 1954: Routledge, New York.
Waugh, Norah. Cut of Women’s Clothes 1600-1930. 1964: Routledge, New York.
For more, purchase this pattern.
This information © 2008 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History
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