Monday, October 7, 2013

1790s transitional stays

I've always been curious about the 1790 linen jumps from Jill Salen's Corsets, so I thought that the "wood, metal, bone" challenge for the Historical Sew Fortnightly would be a good excuse to test them out.  My original theory was that they were misdated and actually came from later in the decade, but I was surprised by how low they sat on the body.  After making them up for myself, I think the earlier date is probably correct.  They look like they would work well for the pigeon-breasted look of the early 1790's when the necklines were quite low and the waistlines were starting to creep up.  But I also think they would work for some Empire styles as well - especially when the dresses were in transition and the bust was still more shelf-like vs. rounded, like you see in the fashion plate on the right.

To make these stays work better for both styles of dress, I shortened the shoulder straps by 3 or 4 inches, and I also cut down the back, underarms, and front tabs of the body so that the bustline could be raised to a higher level (the front was not changed at all from the original pattern).  I can always lengthen the ties on the shoulder straps to drop the stays down to where they originally started, and this way I can have the best of both worlds.  In the picture below, you can see the changes that I made to the straps and top edge.

The neckline is cut so low in front that it has almost an underbust effect when laced closed.  I didn't photograph it that way to preserve a bit of modesty, but it's definitely a "cup runneth over" sort of look.  I think a lot of the shaping of the bust will come from the chemise and the gown more than the stays.  A fabulous article about short stays on the blog Kleidung um 1800 shows that the underbust effect was used in other forms of short stays during the Empire period, which makes me feel better about wearing a garment that provides such scant coverage.

My stays are made from heavy linen, and they are entirely hand-sewn with linen thread.  Salen's instructions for making these up seemed to use more modern techniques than would have been used in the 18th c., so I constructed mine using the le point a rabattre sous la main stitch around the edges, and a spaced backstitch at the side seams.  Salen also theorized that these stays would have been boned with metal, but I talked to a few friends who are quite knowledgeable about stays from this period, and they seemed to think that walebone was a much more likely option.  They also encouraged me to try German plastic boning since it seems to be the closest substitute that you can get for real whalebone.  Although I had originally planned on using metal or cane for the boning on these stays, I took their advice and I'm quite pleased with the way they turned out.  I have to admit that it seems a bit ironic that I have no wood, metal, or bone in a garment that was made for the "wood, metal, bone" HSF challenge, but hopefully you all will allow me to bend the rules a little and include other types of boning in the "bone" category.


Loren Dearborn said...

They look great! I think they'd be perfect for those transition styles.

Kleidung um 1800 said...

These are gorgeous! Thank you very much for the detailed description. They truly shape the body into the early/mid 1790s silhouette - it's a lovely demonstration how important undergarments really are!!!
I will definately try these, too. Plus I love it that there's no binding on the stays and tabs.


P.S. Hopefully a lot of early 1790s dresses will now follow on your sewing table ;)

Lauren said...

These are the stays I use and I love them :) Your pair turned out great!

Augustintytär said...

They look wonderful! Every time you make a new pair I get stays envy.

Lady D said...

I made these a short while ago...but I wasn't sure how the SHOULD fit. They are more like an underbust corset on me whereas on you it seems to hit mid bust? I've even tried shortening the straps. What is it do you think I've done wrong?

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