Project Belle – Part 2 – Stays

I feel a little like WonderWoman with these stays! Should I ever need an emergency costume, I can buy some white tights and a blue skirt, whack a W onto the front of these stays and voila, instant superhero.

However, that was not the purpose of this garment! Cast your mind back to Summertime, where I posted about my intention to make an C18th ballgown based on Belle, called Project Belle. I started the stays around about that time, and then was so unbelievably swamped over the following few months that they didn’t get much past my cutting the base fabric and having to go back to town to purchase another five meters of polyester boning.

However! Post Christmas, once my tiresome coursework was completed, and before the mania of this semester set in, I gave myself a few evenings of sewing (and by evenings, I really mean, I’d start sewing at 5 after work and I’d realise it was 11pm and I should probably go to sleep) and decided I would commit to these stays!

While researching different styles and types of stays, I found fully boned, and half-boned stays. If I had been keeping this wholly historically accurately I should have been creating fully boned stays with period appropriate materials, alas, student budgets… I decided to make half-boned stays having seen many beautiful pieces on pinterest.

Bearing this in mind, I began searching for patterns. I found a website, here, where most of my information for the stays was derived from, including the pattern. There is an picture where the author had written down the measurements for the pattern pieces based on a certain body size. I was significantly smaller than that size, but I drew out the pre-requisite on baking paper, and cut a toile from some spare polycotton. Once I had taken the sides and front in, I adapted the pattern to fit.

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I then cut two separate versions of the pattern, one from a heavyweight cotton linen mix I found in the bargin bucket at the market, and (because I couldn’t find enough of that for two layers) a layer from another similar weighted fabric in cream. I machine sewed them together, and drew out all the boning channels based on the positioning from the pictures online. I had started sewing the boning channels when term started and I had to pause a while.
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Taking up the project again, I only just had enough boning with nearly 7m! I was petrified that I was going to put the stays on and they wouldn’t fit at all. However, they seemed to, even though I was just pulling the back together in lieu of lacing. I don’t have any pictures of this stage.

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The polyester boning makes the stays pop in the middle!

Once reassured that the boning was sufficient, I lined the stays with basic dress lining that I was using for the petticoats and fixed in one piece.

I then did the same with bright red satin for the outerlayer. I won’t lie, I cheated (I lost the pattern pieces) and pinned the satin in one sheet, to the stays and trimmed it down to the right size before machine sewing the whole way round. I swear, the stays were alive when sewing this part! The fabric twisted and slipped and the rest of the bodice kept getting in the way and, it was an adventure! Oh so worth it. The way the boning is, the bodies pop up like a heart when they ‘lay flat’!

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Had to use my feet as paperweights to show the shape! Lovely heart!

I then attached narrow shoulders which had three layers of fabric, and bias bound the whole thing in light yellow. I recall reading on Angela Clayton that she’d had trouble with wide bias round the tabs, so I consequently bought narrower bias to accommodate. In the end, it didn’t matter because I decided I didn’t have any more boning to add to the tabs, so I just scrapped them… next pair of stays I make will be period appropriate entirely!

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Then, eyelets! Ooh, that was fun! Took a while to work out how to put them in, I had to go searching for a hammer, and something to lean against the floor to hammer on. I marked out where I wanted them to be, then used a darning needle as an awl, then a knitting needle to widen the hole, then a biro, to widen the layers of fabric enough to push the catch of the eyelet through. Only hammered my thumb once for 26 eyelets. I love the gold against the red. I was going to embroider them, but I will only do that if absolutely necessary because I love the colour contrast! I really have a thing for colour contrasts…

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First ever eyelet!

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I trimmed the back closure, and added red bias tape so there was a continuation in colour, and voila!

So, bodies finished, eyelets in, it was the moment of truth! Would they fit? My housemate (poor creatures, they’ve had no sense out of me for a week, just ‘eyelets! satin! red or green? bias! sewing! stays’) laced me in using some blue ribbon (again with the contrast thing!) it took about five minutes, using a t-shirt as a chemise, however, baring a little bit of puff across my waist, and not a noticable amount, I have achieved the desired shape!

 

The desired shape is to flatten the front, pushing the boobs up (I was a little worried how that would turn out, I have only seen reasonable sized chested people making stays, and was a little scared of how it would look with me), and to emphasise the waist. I DID IT! my front was flat, my boobs stayed in, and I had a waist. And I love the back. I wish I had been able to do the tabs as well, however, when I try these stays again, I will definitely be including the tabs.

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So, Project Belle is underway! However, so is the Spring Semester, so… Mabel is currently adorned with a finished pair of stays and a half finished petticoat/panniers contraption!

Considering this is my first pair of stays, I am very pleased! I probably should have done a neutral colour, but as it’s bright red, I just have to ensure none of it is visible when I make the overdress and Stomacher.

Stay warm!

Bea

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