Thursday, May 21, 2015

18th century stays - tutorial - part 3

In Part 2 of this tutorial we got to a point where your stay pieces were joined together. Now it's time to whip stitch the seam allowances down after the fitting session (and doing possible alterations, as in my case replacing the front panels with wider panels). Shortly after finishing this part of the construction, I learned from 18thcenturystays that you could also double the thread as it's stronger than single thread (so you can do that).

After that, it's time to mark the places for the lacing holes. When I made my first pair of stays this was one of the most puzzling parts for me to figure out and I didn't do it right at first which caused the sides of my stays not to meet evenly at the back. Of course, I hadn't seen Jen of the Festive Attyre's post The zen of the spiral lacing yet so I had to learn this the hard way. Anyhow, I'm just going to take Jen's instuctions a step further and show you how to figure out the places for the lacing holes step by step.

I hope the following makes sense... 

First, mark the upper and lowermost holes to the panels, between the two boning channels. The uppermost hole is 1 cm down from the upper edge of your stays at both front and back. If you've got a front lacing, you can mark the lowermost hole 1 cm away from the lower edge at the front as well. However, at the back the lacing doesn't go all the way down because it isn't necessary. There you mark the lowermost hole at the waist line because you don't need lacing below that. That usually means the spot shown in the diagram below (1.).

Next follows the crucial part in getting the sides of your stays to meet evenly at the back. On the left side of your stays, mark a hole 1 cm away from the lowermost hole and, on the right side, mark one 1 cm away from the uppermost hole (2.).

Then it's time to figure out how many lacing holes you want your stays to have on each side of the back. From 48 extant stays with photos of their backs from my Pinterest, the majority had either 10 (9), 12 (11) or 13 (8) holes but the range was from 7 to 15 holes.

From counting the amount of lacing holes of extant stays with front lacing, I got the range from 6 to 10 with the majority at 8 (6 stays from 12 altogether).*

*I didn't take 1780s partial front lacings, stays with stomachers nor very short 1790s stays into count.

Generally, two things have an effect on how many lacing holes you're going to need:
the distance between your waist and bust line (i.e. the length of the front and back panels of your stays), and - how far from each other you're going to place your holes.

Upon my experience, I would say it's best to place your lacing holes approximately 2,5-2,7 cm away from each other. 3 cm or more is pretty far and 2 cm is pretty close so you'll end up having to stitch more lacing holes and requiring a longer lacing string. Plus, more lacing holes means you're going to spend more time lacing yourself into your stays.

Measure the distance between your marked lacing holes as shown in the diagram below (3.) and divide the distance with 10 in case you want to have 12 holes like I did. (with 11 if you want to have 13 holes and so forth...) I got 2,45 cm this time, which was, as explained, a desirable distance between the lacing holes.

 The last thing to do is to mark the rest of the lacing holes (4.). ;)

Then it's time to stitch your lacing holes. Of course, if I was more true to the "speedy" theme here, I could use metal eyelets but I tend to prefer hand-stitched lacing holes nowadays simply because a) they look accurate and b) it's actually quite fast to make them with the right materials and tools.

You will need to get an awl to make the holes. Preferably a tapered one, unlike mine.

In case you want larger holes than mine you can also try to gently stretch them. Or just make your life easier and get that tapered awl. ;)

Using buttonhole thread, whip-stitch around the hole. Please don't attempt to try to use your regular sewing thread! It will just make the process slower and your lacing holes will be less pretty. Been there, done that, unfortunately...

The first lacing hole done!

Then just keep repeating...

...and repeating...

...until you're done. :)

Below you can also watch an eyelet making video by Burnley & Trowbridge.

After finishing the eyelets, move on to cutting the lining from linen. The lining consists out of four pieces + shoulder straps (+ tabs, if you're doing this the proper way) + a small additional piece(s), as to be explained. Preferably, place the seam in the the middle of your stays as seen in the photo in the link. I cut the lining by using the pattern for the stays but you could also simply lay your stays on the linen and cut around the edges and trim the edges as you go (that's easier and faster if your making an earlier type of stays that lays flat on the floor since it's quite straight without the swooping bust shaping of the 1780s as here). Notice that it's best that you don't cut the parts between the tabs yet, just like earlier.

After cutting the lining pieces, start by pinning your front piece to your stays with the seam allowances turned under and the edges left raw. As you can see from the photo, I already stitched the upper edge of the lining to the stays by machine.

Then stitch the piece around the rest of the edges and whip stitch the turned-under seam allowances to the stays by hand. After the front piece is added, pin the back piece of the lining and repeat the same process as with the front piece. Notice it might be easier for you to to stitch around the tabs by hand with long stitches than with the machine.

Then cut a small piece for the part where the panels of the stays overlap and that you therefore couldn't cut as one with the lining piece. Also, add the lining to the straps. You can easily stitch it around the edges with the machine again. It looks I forgot to take a photo of this part of the construction but it's straightforward enough for you to do without. :)

Then we move on to the last bit that almost everybody says they hate the most when making stays because stays have tabs and they're tricky and binding them makes your fingers sore. I've previously shared some tips about the binding on the blog but I'm not going to assume you've read them or that  you still remember them... so here we go with some tips to make the binding easier for you.

First and foremost, do not attempt to try to use a wide binding tape. The wider, the worse it gets. If you're using precut bias tape, it should be the narrowest kind available (which, I believe, is the 1 cm width). It's going to take quite a bit of skill and patience to get the 1,5 cm wide bias tape beautifully bound around the edges of your stays so spare yourself and don't try to do it. Again, been there, done that. A wider type of binding material simply doesn't end up looking as good as a narrower binding. If you already haven't, take a look at extant 18th century stays and you will notice that the bindings on them are quite narrow and that is for a reason. Anyone who has been making 18th century costumes for a while, has probably also learned that bias tape isn't accurate either (I recommend getting Costume Close-Up  by Linda Baumgarten for more information on this).

At the moment my favorite binding material is 7 mm wide twill tape because it's stretchy so it's easy to get smoothly and beautifully bound around the edges. I also like to start stitching the binding from the inside of the stays because that way you have more control over your binding material later when your binding is already intact on the inside. Plus, you can use more generous and faster stitches on the inside of your stays so you can spare the tiny, beautiful stitches for the outside.

I would advise to stitch the binding completely by hand because it's just much more manageable by hand than by machine - especially if you're a beginner and it's hard for you to stitch very precise parts by machine.

Thirdly, I think the square types of tabs are easier to bind than the rounded ones because you can simply fold the binding at the corners of your square tabs instead of having to gather the binding slightly to get past the round parts smoothly. But I believe this is just a personal preference so you might feel like the rounded tabs are just as easy. However, it seems the rounded tabs are more popular among people who have made 18th century stays simply because popular sewing pattern and guidebooks such as Corsets and Crinolines and Period Costume for Stage and Screen feature them, regardless of the fact on extant stays the square or squarish types of tabs seem to be more common.

For comparison, below is an image with some tabs and bindings that I've used previously. The first is 1 cm wide cotton bias tape on the squarish tabs of my brown KCI stays. While it looks good, it kind of looks a bit off. The binding has definitely started to bug me since this pair of stays took probably the longest for me to make and yet they don't look as perfect as they could. I think it's mainly caused by the binding. It's simply too wide for 18th century, even if the visible part is only 5mm. The second photo on the left shows round tabs with the same material and width so the same problem applies to them. Notice the gathering on the round parts. On the third photo on the upper right we have the same binding material and width again but the tabs are square tabs so the binding is folded over the corners. The last, below right photo shows a pair of stays that I made before any of the other stays seen here, with 1,5 cm polyester satin bias tape. I think that's actually pretty decent work considering how I hadn't been sewing for a very long time at this point yet, but it's definitely a bit uglier than the other bindings. Round tabs + polyester satin + 1,5 cm width isn't an accurate looking combination at all.

And below you can see how much better the narrow binding looks!

And then there's the one last thing to do: adding the lacing holes for the ribbons that hold the shoulder straps and front panels in place.

After that... Congratulations, you're done! :) I hope this tutorial was helpful!

Photos of the finished stays on a mannequin can be found in this separate blog post.


  1. How beautifully done! And those are probably the most beautiful eyelets I've seen in a long time!!!


  2. I want to make new stays now! OMG this tutorial is SO gorgeous! I need new stays NOOOOW!
    thanks a lot for this wonderful work. Shared !

    1. Yes! It would be really fun to see someone like you making new stays with this tutorial so I hope you have time to make them one day! :)

  3. Thank you so much for your tutorial, I appreciate very much how you show us your success and how you got there and OMG you eyelets!!!!! Love, Kris.

  4. What beautiful and perfect work, Madam! Well done you!

  5. Can you post a link to the first two parts on this page? I can't seem to find them with the labels.

    1. Yes of course! :) I've included the link to the part 2 in the beginning of the text. Here's part 1:

  6. Kiitos hurjasti! Arvostan, että jaksat tehdä näitä tutoriaaleja ja vielä selittää, miksi olet sitä mieltä, että jokin asia toimii ja toinen ei. Esimerkiksi lopun kanttausvinkit olivat loistavia! Näillä ohjeilla minäkin uskallan yrittää :)


    1. Tosi kiva kuulla, että tämä tutoriaali on hyödyllinen! :) Yritin nimenomaan kirjoittaa sen niin, että joku sellainen, joka ei ole ennen tehnyt kureliivejä, pystyisi helposti ne ompelemaan. Minä olen kyllä niin monen virheen kautta oppinut näitä tekemään, että melkein pakkohan sitä oli nämä ohjeet jakaa ;)

  7. Seems to be a lot of work - but it looks gorgeous! I want one too! (...please don't mind my spelling)

  8. Thank you so much for this tutorial.
    I am making my first 18th century stays (to be worn at Carnevale in Venice!) and I have found your blog with these three tutorials to be immensely helpful.

    1. That's so fun to hear! Good luck with your first pair, I hope it's a success! :) And I'd love to see the result, if it's possible for you to show any photos of your stays at some point! :)

  9. Such thorough and clear instructions, best tutorial I have found yet :)
    Could you please send a link to a final picture? Or a picture of something very similar. Aiming to make these for my course. Thankyou!!
    Lauren x

    1. Unfortunately, I don't have photos of this pair of stays being worn yet. However, these stays were made from the same pattern as the stays in the following link so the result looks very similar to them. I hope this was helpful! :)

  10. hello, I was wondering if you have a pdf of the pattern you use?:) I would love to make these myself:) and I am not good at pattern drafting . please let me know.
    thank you

    1. Hi! I'm sorry, I don't have the pattern in pdf. However, there's a free pattern by Ralph Pink that you can download here: Another option, in case the Ralph Pink pattern isn't close to your size, is to get a pattern from Redthreaded: She offers her pattern in several sizes, so it's easier to pick a size closest to yours than trying to alter the Ralph Pink pattern. You can even ask her to make a custom pattern from your measurements, which is great if you aren't good at drafting as you say! I hope this helps! :)

  11. Awesome!! thank you so much for your help you are amazing!!! I love your blogs!!! thank you again.

  12. Thank you. This is very helpful! I must try making one!