Friday, January 27, 2017

Regency Stays - Finally!

I started making myself a set of Regency stays back in the summer or 2015, and finally finished them over a year later. They are so comfortable to wear, I'm a little upset that I didn't make them sooner!

I used the fantastic Laughing Moon #115 pattern, and an old sheet for my fabric. First I made a mock-up of my size according to the pattern instructions, and tried it on.

I messed up when cutting out the front - it was supposed to be cut on the fold.
I used eyelet tape to enable the mock-up to be laced up in the back, positioning the eyelets where the pattern would place them on the finished garment.

The only alteration that I needed to make was shortening the straps slightly. I have sloping shoulders, so this was not surprising. Otherwise the fit was pretty perfect! I'm lucky to have an average-length torso, I guess.

One of the great things about this pattern is how easy it is to adjust to your size. The bust and hip gussets give so much flexibility, and all of the math has already been done for you!

My dress form, Elsa, is not quite as busty as I am. 
After fitting the mock-up, I cut out the real thing and the lining, and then let it languish for months before I finally put it together. When I did, I was surprised at how quickly it went! I had been putting it off for so long that it became something I dreaded. For no reason. Anyone else do this?

Anyway, I traced the lines for the cording based on the pattern, since this was my first attempt at these. Next time I might try a different cording pattern. I messed up on the front piece, though. I didn't pay attention to the side I had already traced when I traced the other side, and when I got done I realized too late that they did not match up AT ALL:

I highlighted the horizontal lines with MS Paint, since they were hard to see in the photo.
I re-traced the horizontal lines, since they were the most egregious and obvious.

I thought of re-tracing the rest of the lines on one side, but I decided that it didn't look terrible this way. It has character now. :p

Not exact, but close enough.
Before I could sew the cording channels, I needed to add the channels for the bones at the center back. I deviated from the pattern here by working a buttonhole at the top of the channel so that I could remove the bones for laundering. I planned to use 1/4" red boning for these:

I did the same thing with the busk:

I made the buttonhole 1/4" below the top edge, so that it would stay closed but still be easy to get the busk out.

My busk was a paint stick, as suggested by the pattern. It was longer than I needed.

I marked the bottom edge with the busk inserted in the channel:

I then measured up a 1/4" from that line to account for the binding, and cut off the bottom at this line:

I sanded the paint stick well, and rounded down the corners with a heavy-duty nail file.

I stitched the cording lines by machine. At first I was leaving long thread ends which I could knot by hand instead of backstitching at the ends.

Then halfway through, I realized that I could just keep sewing one continuous line by keeping the needle down and turning the work at the end of one side of the channel, then continuing along the other side without cutting the thread.

I don't have any photos of the cording process, because honestly it went very quickly and I was having too much fun! I know, it shocked me, too. I followed the pattern instructions and used a tapestry needle, kitchen twine, and a needle-nosed pliers. I don't recall running into any problems, aside from the fact that the pliers made a couple of small holes in my fabric, but I attribute that to the fact that my fabric came from an old sheet, and not a flaw in the technique.

All corded and the busk inserted
Once it was all corded and assembled, it was time to add the eyelets at center back. I went back to my mock-up to find the best way to arrange the eyelets for spiral-lacing.

My first attempt looked fine in the dress form, but I ran into a problem when pulling up the laces to tighten:

This arrangement pulled the top right edge down when tightening, which is not ideal. I looked at one of my reference images on Pinterest for a better idea:

Following this example, I re-laced the mock-up:

This arrangement worked much better for pulling up the laces:

I then marked the placement of the eyelet holes according to this pattern, spacing them 1 1/2" apart:

I worked the eyelets by hand (again, no photos of this), which is something I weirdly enjoy. I remember a time when I HATED hand-sewing, and making buttonholes especially. Now I love it, find it relaxing, and buttonholes/eyelets are among my favorite things to make. Go figure.

With the eyelets done, I could finally try on my new stays! I laced them up with waxed cord. Alas! Tragedy:

Apparently my reed boning was not strong enough for the back channels. Or the side channels, for that matter. Reed is great - and period-accurate - in large quantities where the stress of being laced onto a body is spread evenly across the garment. However, one reed bone by itself is not strong enough for this strain, and will break:

I removed the defective bones, but what to replace them with? I didn't want to use metal, partially because steel bones are expensive and I would have to order them and wait for shipping and I wanted to be done with this project now that I was so close! And partially because I wasn't sure how historically accurate metal bones would be to the Regency. Then I remembered that other historical costumers have used zip ties as artificial whalebone! So I made a trip back to Ace Hardware (which is where I got my paint stick).

I wasn't sure which thickness would work best, so I bought a variety. I figured I can always use the rest for a future corset project. 

I ended up using the 18" Heavy Duty ties, which are 3/8" wide, for the center back channels since those would take the most stress. I used the 14.5" Heavy Duty ties, which are 5/16" wide, for the side seam channels. I recall having to widen the channels for the new bones to fit, but that was a simple matter.

(I did keep the reed bones next to the bust gussets, since they are much shorter and under much less strain. They have not failed me yet.)

Now I could finally wear my stays! They fit beautifully, and all that was left to do was bind them! And binding Regency stays is WAY easier than binding 18th Century stays! I used white double-fold bias tape, sewing it on one side by machine, then folding it around to enclose the raw edge and slip-stitching it on the other side by hand.

I have no photos of the stays on me yet - at least not without a dress over them - and since I'm currently pregnant I won't get any for a few months yet. However, here they are modeled by Anna my dress form:

Anna doesn't fill out the bust gussets very well.

Not too bad for my first attempt at flossing!
I finished them just in time to wear at the Regency Ladies' Retreat in September, which I still need to blog about. I was very happy with the fit and comfort, not to mention how much better they made my dresses look! For example, here is me wearing my Dove Gray Drawstring dress in June:

And me wearing the same dress at the retreat, with the stays underneath:

Notice how in the first photo, I kind of look pregnant? That's always a danger with a gathered skirt at the high waist, but with the stays the front of the skirt hangs flat. The funny thing is that in the second photo, I actually AM pregnant! :p We had just found out that week, so I wasn't showing yet. Well, not in the stomach area, anyway. Oh, and the lift they give to the bust is incredible. Very supportive.

You may also notice that my posture is much improved by wearing the stays. I have never had very good posture, much to my mother's chagrin, but the stays actually make it uncomfortable to slouch. I might, after the baby comes, incorporate them into my daily wear. But in the meantime I should really make some short stays from the same pattern, to wear during the remainder of my pregnancy. (I'm due June 2, by the way.)


  1. Really interesting post - thank you for all the detail.

    1. You're welcome! I'm glad the detail is helpful. :)

  2. Ohh, very well done, Chelsea! Our stays are near identical twins by the way. I used the same pattern, it fits the exact same way as yours and I lace them just like you do(with the excess laces going round the front), only my laces are white. Otherwise we seem to be stays sisters.;)

    1. Thank you! They are very similar, aren't they? I remember reading your post when you finished yours and thinking that mine were going to look very much like that when finished. :)