Saturday, 27 June 2015

Lengthy holidays at the Prince’s hotel*

I have written before about how my bodiced petticoat is better than short stays over a chemise. When I began fitting patterns for my new regency dresses I discovered that the bodiced petticoat had a fault of its own: putting it on for 10 minutes would give me back-ache for the next three hours. It’s been a few years since I made it, and quite a while since I last wore it, so I supposed I may have changed shape a bit.
I decided to (or rather, needed to) make new stays. I decided to try long stays as my experience with other corsets has been that most of the support comes from the hips rather than the shoulder strap. I think the strain on the shoulder straps was the main source of my discomfort in the short stays.
I started with the long stays pattern from Corsets and Crinolines scaled up using my favourite method of a data projector and paper stuck to a wall. From this I produced a mock up but the fit was really odd so I decided to try a different approach.  

On myself I measured the length I wanted the stays to be and I measured my circumference at a lot of different points. I worked out roughly where on me I wanted the edges of the front panel to be and measured that. On my pattern paper I drew two horizontal lines to mark the length of the stays; one marking the top and one the bottom. On the pattern paper I marked the various points at which I had measured the circumference. I then used the Corsets and Crinolines pattern to create the shape of the front pattern piece according to the measurements I had taken. For the other pieces  I shaped the edges by tracing the basic shape from the Corsets and Crinolines pattern but changed the angles and distribution so that, at each of the points on my body that I’d measured, the pattern would have the right circumference measurement to fit me.  

I have no Idea if this is the proper way to fit patterns (or a reliable way) but it worked fairly well on this occasion. (I’m sorry if the explanation above was incomprehensible.) 
The stays are made from two layers of fabric interlined with coutil. I experimented with having a busk but I didn’t like the shape. Instead I put in a small number of cable ties (because I didn’t want to research cording or reed). I did some quilting over the front, vaguely inspired by the design in the book (although my design became significantly simpler as I grew tired of doing quilting). I got my new sewing machine when I was nearly finished this project so I was able to test out the eyelet feature. The eyelets it sews (and especially the hole made by the eyelet punch) are smaller than I am used to, so I had to use bodkins when lacing - but otherwise they’re good. The only problem was the machine doesn’t like non-level surfaces or small spaces, so I had to do the eyelets in the bound strap by hand – which made me even more glad I had a machine to do the rest.  
I wore my new stays to JAFA over an old, bulky chemise and discovered a host of problems that need to be addressed. (That’s what a first wearing is really for though, isn’t it?) The worst one was that the front, cable ties included, spent most of the time folded up on itself. I propose to solve this by using a wooden busk (like I should’ve in the first place) and putting in hip gussets. The pattern in Corsets and Crinolines had hip gussets but I took them out, because it was way too big in the hips, and reshaped the side panels. Turns out it does need a bit more give.

I feel like I’m just ‘making stuff up’ as solutions to my problems rather than actually knowing what I’m doing. I’ve made 13 corsets and corset-like garments now and I still can’t seem to get them right. I think I’m missing something fundamental about the mechanics of a corset but I don’t know what. We’ll see if my plans work.
All that said, I am happy with how these stays turned out. They are more comfortable than short stays or the bodiced petticoat and they give me a better regency silhouette. Once adjusted, they will be even better.

*Googling ‘regency stays’ finds you lots of “Regency” hotels; ‘regency stays backache’ finds you the ones with uncomfortable beds.

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