Friday, March 1, 2013

Brown KCI stays

I don't know if you guys are starting to get tired of me posting about underwear but here's one more post about stays. I know a lot of people don't like making stays but the reason why I have sewed so many of them during the past year or so is that it's actually really fun to try out different kinds of patterns and to see the result in how changes in the pattern change the shape of your body. I've been pretty quiet about this project and the reason why I never wrote about it on the blog was simple. I've made so many posts about stays lately so I felt like there's no need to post photos of the stays during construction because I've already showed you most of my common construction techniques. Apart from the construction techniques, I have quite a few thoughts on this pair of stays so I'm going to skip most of the usual parts and write a sort of review of the stays and it's pattern itself.

This is the first time I used a pattern that I actually hadn't drafted completely by myself. I'm used to using the same pattern all over again and again because it's easy to change the pattern that already fits you so well. Anyhow, this time I used an already existing pattern from the book Fashion - A History from the 18th century to the 20th century - Volume I (see p. 126).

Since the pattern was in small scale, I scanned it first and then scaled it up to right size on computer. I was happy to notice the ratio between waist measurement and bust measurement was already right. So I printed the pattern out. However, I was not surprised to find out that the distance between bust level and waist level was too long for me. So I had to shorten the stays as well. I did it on computer and printed the pattern out again. Of course, shortening the whole pattern means that everything gets shortened lengthwise, including tabs and shoulder straps. So I had to redraw those parts back to the right size.

At first I thought I'd finally try out flat reed as boning material. But after finding out it was nowhere to be found in town, I was too eager to start making the stays so I gave up the idea of ordering it online. Besides, I still wanted to work from stash, not buying more materials if I already had something that could be used. So eventually I decided t go with cable ties as usual. The situation was pretty much the same with other materials as well. I had just enough brown cotton twill left from an earlier pair of brown stays from last year so I didn't buy any new fabric either.

As you'll be able tell from the photos, the bones of my stays aren't as narrow as the bones in the original. The original has got really narrow bones and there are lots of them. I guess the narrowest bones must be around 2 mm. But I did follow the boning pattern as precisely as I could with the 5 mm wide bones. I ended up using 148 bones while, according to the book, the original has got 162 bones.

Another thing you'll be able to tell from the photos is that I didn't follow the original that precisely at some other parts either. What's really the most important thing for me is that the shape of these stays is as close to the original as possible. Naturally, the resulting shape on my body can't be exactly the same as the shape that the original stays would have given to the owner, but I guess it's still pretty close, given the fact that I didn't have to change the pattern in any other part than in the length of the side.

What's so different then, compared to my earlier 1780's stays? Well, the first photo shows quite well how wide these stays are at the front. I would almost think that the front panels should be slightly narrower because it kind of feels like the stays don't fit perfectly over the breast area. But then again, looking at the extant stays from the 1780's, many of them have really wide front panels. And I don't think it's because the ladies were really busty. The fashionable pigeon breast look is probably mostly created with the help of huge neckerchiefs but the stays really are the base of that figure. So, with the wide front panels the bust gets really bowed out. The shoulders get also pushed towards the back, so that the bust gets even more accentuated.

According to The History of Underclothes by C. Willett and Phillis Cunnington, the discomfort of the fashionable corset in 1779 may be gathered from the Sylph, a novel by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire: ... Then, they [the stays] are so intolerably wide across the breast that my arms are absolutely sore with them; and my sides so pinched! (p. 87) The Sylph is actually available on Google books and you can read it here. Check out page 69 for the whole paragraph in particular.

The neckline of the shift isn't actually quite wide enough for these stays.

Because of the white 5 mm tape over the seams and the amount of lacing holes (78)  to be bound by hand with thread, it actually took me longer to finish this pair of stays than it normally takes me.

When the stays are laid on floor you get to see how wide the front panels really are.

Still doing this the wrong way... The lining went first and the stays were bound after that. I had only a few pieces of linen in the stash so every panel is lined with separate pieces, which is not the historically correct way either.


Corset c. 1760-1770 from KCI Digital Archives
Another view of the same corset via Dreamstress
Third view of the corset via Les Fées Tisseuses
Fashion - A History from the 18th century to the 20th century - Volume I 
The History of Underclothes by C. Willett and Phillis Cunnington

For the end of this post, here's a promise: Next garment I'll sew will be something else than underwear...