Monday, December 16, 2013

18th century stays - tutorial - part 1

My friend Ida really needs a new pair of stays and now that she's in town it is time for me to put all other sewing projects on hold and start making them. Since her old stays were made by me around five years ago, they were in a very bad condition with torn lacing holes. They didn't fit right either so naturally they were quite uncomfortable, too. These are the very same problems that I had with all of my earliest stays. So, now I wanted to make her really comfortable stays with as little boning as possible. Because stays is my favorite 18th century garment to make, I decided I might as well take some photos of the construction I'm using for these stays and make a tutorial so that maybe someone who is just starting out with stay making will find it helpful. By no means, this is not the historically correct way to make stays - it's the easy and speedy way to do them. So in case you're a beginner or the kind of person who needs to make stays in short amount of time, this tutorial is for you. However, I'm not going to write about how to draft patterns for stays because there are so many ways to do it so this is simply a tutorial that will show you how to put together a pair of stays relatively quickly. 

My friend is quite small and her old stays were a bit too large so I removed two tabs (one from the original seven tabs on each side). This pair will be laced both from front and back and has got only three panels on each side instead of the usual five panels. Having only six panels altogether is also a way to squeeze time away from the construction. So here's the starting point: The pattern pieces have been pinned to the middle layer of the stays. This layer is sturdy and heavy, tightly woven upholstery cotton. 

First, mark the seam allowances. I'm using 1 cm seam allowance because I'm almost certain these stays will fit right, or they'll need just slight alterations. If you're not that sure about the size and fit of your stays, use wider seam allowances.

Draw the lines by connecting the marks.

And here's a photo with all the seam allowances having been drawn. Notice there are no seam allowances on both center back and front because this is the middle layer of the stays and the raw edges will be covered by the outer layer, that will be folded over the edges to the underside of the stays.

Draw lines around the tabs.

Cut out the pieces, except the parts between the tabs.

Remove the paper pattern pieces.

Don't forget to cut the shoulder straps either!

Now move on to marking the lines for boning channels. Start from marking the ends of the lines to the edges...

...and to the seam allowances...

Poke small holes through the paper in the places where the lines don't meet the edges.

Draw small marks through the holes.

Remove the pattern. This is what you should have.

Now you can easily draw the lines for the boning channels by connecting the marks.

The result...

You can see the lines through the paper so draw the ends of the lines to the other side of the paper so it will be easier to mark them as well. Once you're done drawing the boning channels to all of the middle layer pieces, we're ready to move on to the next part.

Next part of this tutorial will be about cutting the outer layer and sewing the channels.


  1. Thank you so much! I'm almost never likely to ever ever hand sew stays (silly eyes) so I like seeing how to do it quickly and easily.

  2. This is perfect timing! I'm focusing my 2013 sewing goals on foundation garments, and stays are my first project. :D

    1. Yay! I can't wait to see all the undies you make! :)

  3. I just saw this and want to say thank you so much! I love 18th century stays but have never been able to find a tutorial on how to transfer the boning channel lines onto the fabric. This is a really wonderful tutorial!

    1. I'm glad to hear you find this helpful! :)

  4. Thank you so much for this! I've been wanting to learn how to make stays for a long time, but wasn't sure how to start until I found this. Your tutorials are so clear and easy to follow, and all your all of your work is so precise and beautiful. I know you posted this a long time ago, but I was wondering if you have any suggestions for specific fabrics (sources?) to use for something like this. You said upholstery cotton -- do you mean cotton duck, drill, or something else? Also, what pattern you used (or if you drafted it, did you base it off of anything specific?). Thanks:)

    1. Hi! Thank you! :) I can't tell you which type of cotton mine was exactly, because I don't recognize the weave but it's very tightly woven anyhow. In case you're aiming for more historical accuracy, linen canvas would work great and I think you can buy that from several sellers on Etsy. I've bought mine locally so unfortunately I can't recommend any specific shop. Now that I started looking around, Vena Cava seems to sell artist canvas that is recommended:

      If you don't mind about accuracy so much then you could use for example cotton coutil that you can also find in several corsetry shops online. But I think just about any heavy weight linen or cotton would work as the interlining layer.

      My pattern is drafted from a pattern in this book: but it has gone through so many alterations it's completely different now. If you'd like to try out a free pattern, there's one here but there's only one size so you'd probably have to alter it to fit for you.

  5. Aliisa HarmaajärviJuly 10, 2017 at 5:14 PM

    Erittäin hyödyllinen, Sanna! Olen pahoillani siitä, että kirjoitin suomeksi, mutta vaikka voin lukea hyvin (muuten en ymmärrä opetusohjelmia), kirjoitettu englanti on kamala ... Joka tapauksessa rakastin vihjeesi, hyvin viisas!
    Terveisiä Helsingistä!