Monday, August 16, 2021

Tutorial: Enlarging the 1790s Transition Stays (Past Patterns PA-030)

They fit! The transition stays fit nicely!
I may look serious, but inside am smiling :}
Yes, there's a reason for the angled front lacing.

Way back in 2011 I spent many weeks hand-sewing a pair of 1790s heavily boned transitional stays, using the Past Patterns (PA-030) kit. The directions, which produced a reproduction of an extant garment, were excellent and the kit materials high quality. Among the kit contents: a strong, fairly coarse linen as close a match as possible to the original, handsome corded blue silk embroidery thread to stitch the channels, white linen thread for the rest of the stitching, and quality reed.

I recall the process going smoothly; however, the written record states differently: "...those who prefer to examine the needles on the trees, even more than the trees themselves, should beware of the forest. Small, even stitching isn't worth a pile of pins when part of the stays have been assembled upside down." Ha! I rather like that analogy; especially apt since I have been examining a lot of fir trees lately (see the bottom of the post). Seems I always have had costume construction troubles. 

Anyhow, the stays design bears more relationship to earlier 18th century stays than it does to later Regency ones. There are no bust cups, the waistline is shorter and there are no tabs (what POF5 calls skirts), and the opening is front only. This makes for the conservative silhouette I prefer. Finally, the front is fully boned but the back is partially boned, and all the bones are straight up and down. These stays were made in America, by the way, so stylistically they vary quite a bit from other transitional stays I have seen.

The stays were comfortable to wear and I wore them plenty, but like several garments made during that period, I didn't write up the process. In this case, partly because it would not have been good to infringe upon the work the pattern company had done researching and creating the pattern.

A good fit under the gown to start with, circa 2011.

After 2017, when I tried them on, they no longer fit, producing a truly uncomfortable hotdog-encased-in-a-barrel effect. I toyed with enlarging them for years. In the end, I tackled the project in late June this year...and it was straightforward and resulted in stays I like even better. Their fit is more to my liking even than the original version, and the visible additions only adds to the authentic feeling.

So, do you have stays that no longer fit but aren't so small that that the pieces sit nowhere on your body near where they should? You can enlarge the stays without pain or hair-tearing, if you don't mind new unboned narrow panels inserts in a seam to each side. Or, add them with boning. Your choice. It's far less difficult than I thought it would be.

Patterns of Fashions 5 gives the example of stays enlarged by adding unboned panels. See stays No. 27, circa 1780-90: Half-boned Stitched Stays in Natural Linen for Horse Riding. P. 109. The stays pieces include "[a]n unboned panel, made of the same layers as the rest of the stays, was probably added after a fitting, as the stays must have been too tight."

Here's How To Do It

First, take out a side seam. In this case, the seam between the front and side piece. You will want to take out a seam that allows you to enlarge the sides of the stays, rather than the front or back.

You can see the two fabric layers, inside and outside. The seam allowances were originally turned inwards and then whipped, making for a strong, 4-thickness seam.

Vanity, oh vanity. I remain proud of the backstitching on these stays. Then again, didn't need glasses to sew at that point in life, and the fairly coarse, strong linen made counting threads -- okay, estimating them -- fairly easily doable, and the stitching lines are marked clearly on the pattern.

Estimate how much width you want to add to each side of the stays. You will add a panel to each side of the stays. If you want to be extra careful, you can add little bits to several pieces, but I didn't think that was necessary in this case because there isn't that much shaping to these stays: they're pretty tubular as it is. 

In fact, the original stays, like in the drawing on the pattern cover, do not give much of a spreading front. They're not meant to, but that's not the look I was after. I decided to add a little angling to the leading edge of the panel -- that connected to the front piece. The angling would make the the stays wider at top than at bottom so as to create more room for the bosom and make for a bit of narrowing further down the stays.

Remember, you can take your work in some if you make it too big, so it's better to err in that direction than half to cut more linen for a second try.

Cut a rectangle of linen as close to the original linen as possible, one for each of the two panels that you will add. Include enough at the widest long point for a durable seam allowance, and seam allowance for top and bottom. 

In my case, I folded the top and bottom first, then the center, then played with the angle until I had added what I felt was enough. You might want to pin the results to your stays and see if you like the effect. I didn't for some reason; was feeling pretty comfortable, I guess: can't recall these months later.

Below, the pre-folded piece of linen from one side. I pressed the folds sharply with the flat side of a ruler to make a sharp fold that would remain visible. If you're working with an outer silk or wool layer, that's not going to work: you would need to press the silk or wool with an iron.

Here below I am pressing the folds in place with the flat side of my short stainless steel doctor's ruler. Oh, how precious that tool is: it measures to tiny increments and it's excellent for marking seamlines with pressed folds. At one point I had stitches and the hospital gave the ruler and scissors used in the procedure. Have kept it close by ever since.

Starting to set the folds.

One of the two panels just about folded, and pinned together for safekeeping until I sew it to the stays. I ended by adding pins all the way down the sides of the opening so that neither side of the fabric could shift when I stitched the panels to the existing stays. That would be a shame as the fit would be compromised. Could have basted it, too.

As you can see, once the linen is folded, you have two finished layers with the turned in edges to make a 4-layer seam much like the original stays...except that they have no bones.

Again, if you like, you could bone them, but I didn't think it necessary.

Here below am checking the measurements of the completed panel so that the second panel can be prepared to the same dimensions.

The next step is to stitch the new panels to opened seams in the existing stays. My original stay panels were tightly whip stitched together with strong, thickish linen thread. There was plenty of thread left over, and I had it still in the pattern kit package, so I used that.

Here below you can see that I made sure to put the widest end at the top of the stays, so that the top has more room than the bottom.

When you stitch, put right side to right side and whip tightly and closely, as exactly to the original stitching as possible.

Working on the stitching, below. Do you see how thick that linen thread is? It's quite strong.

A completed seam of panel to original stays. Note that there are many stitches per inch for strength.  Again, remember to stitch the panel right sides together to the original stays. That way the little bump in the seam that can be created by the stitch will be to the inside of the stays when you flatten out the seam. By hinging the seam back and forth and working the stitches with your fingers, you may be able to rid yourself of the bump, doesn't always work. I tend to stitch especially tightly, so I usually have a little bump in seams like this. Exhibited below.

Working the stitches with a thumbnail to flatten them.

Completed seam. 

After both panels are inserted into the opened seams, bind the edges just like you did with the original stays. 

My stays had room for a bent metal bar to be inserted at the bust to help shape the front, but I never liked the effect, accurate or not, so left the bars out. However, I sewed the bar pocket in place again just in case I decide to add another kind of bowed bar in the future.

Below, a shot of the completed inside of the stays, with that bar pocket. Whoopsie! The image is upside down... The binding is a little heavy, but I was trying to complete the stays and a redo of the cream 1790s silk gown before an event, so didn't redo it.

Here, the outside of the stays. I re-prick-stitched a narrow tape on top of seam next to the front of the stays. Have to add one to the back, but ran out of time.

Here are the completed, renovated stays laid out.

Here they are tested for fit! While the slightly angled new panels added a little more room at the top, in the end I decided to add a little more by loosening the tightness of the lacing at the top. You see this a lot of 1780s stays in which the front has a partial opening that can be loosened to round out the front. It made sense to do it here, but I make no claim that this was done originally on transition stays. Suspect that lacing varied to taste in all kinds of ways, but don't know it for a fact.

Yes, the fit is what I looked for: conservative, good for an older person in the 1790s who was used to earlier stays, but still providing uplift.

After this, I enlarged the 1790s cream silk gown and will talk about that and the event I wore the stays and dress to in the next post. Then it's back to the 1890s silk petticoat. It's sitting on the dress form in the master bedroom, just waiting for me to return to it. It doesn't look reproachful, simply resigned to being part of the room decor for the moment.

In Other News

We took a Big Trip out West! Over 4,500 miles (7242 km) in the car over more than two weeks, in a loop from Kentucky to Wyoming and back, with stops along the way. It's not that easy to see large swathes of the U.S. at once because it's pretty large, but I came home with some understanding of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, for sure. It became a little tricky as the Delta COVID variant started to take hold, but we stayed in cottages or wore masks when getting to our hotel rooms, cooked outdoors on a camp stove or had take-out.

A few pictures from the trip:

The sod of the Great Plains is suddenly broken through, or was eons ago, resulting in severe erosion that created the South Dakota Badlands. I found them scary, so barren, but understand that mammals and plants do make it there, though humans have a hard time. The heat was unreal.

Swimming in chilly Silvan Lake at 6,000 feet in the Needles part of the Black Hills of South Dakota, which pop up out of the plains. Mountains, actually, in this portion of the hills. Christopher tentatively stepped in. In a few moments, Curte went sploosh. I charged in, gritted teeth, and swam a little later, as did Noah. Once in, though, it was bracing and fantastic, and they dove off of the far side of the boulders. 

A first view of a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. It looks like something out of a myth, doesn't it? Couldn't you imaging the ring about it in standing stones, like a henge?

Roadside bison, including a "red dog", or calf, next to his mama. They may not look terribly big but they are enormous. The herd is native to the area, present since antiquity. The bison, says Noah, have no notion of road rules. They go where they will, and we give way. Anyone who doesn't risks being gored or fined or both. We were in our car, and they talked to one another continually, in grumbly, rumbly voices, and their scent was grassy and musky at once.

The Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone, steaming on a chilly morning, its colors only guessed. Most of them are caused by thermophiles, heat-loving microorganisms.

Hiking up in Cascade Canyon in the Tetons. We were around 9,000 feet, I guess. The Grand Teton peak far above is enclouded -- rain was on the way, and cloud started quite literally rolling down the peaks at the end of this high mountain valley, bringing thunder and rain. If you look carefully at the Mount Owen, you can see small glaciers. 

Taking a rest on the hike before the weather threatened. Noah is glum because he and Christopher plunged up the trail, which is quite steep at times and crosses rock ledges, and he was tired out. We had to coax him to come up further into the canyon, hanging high above Jenny Lake, beckoning. The subalpine firs, grasses, wildflowers, berries in sunshine, and rock produced a combined scent that I associate with heaven: sharp, clear, flitting, resinous, leafy, heartachingly wonderful.

It was a trip you only make once or twice in a lifetime, and I feel so grateful to have been able to do so.


The Quintessential Clothes Pen said...

It's so exciting that your old stays have been rejuvenated and are better than they were before! And oh my goodness! Your traveling photos are amazing! Nature is really quite spectacular! I'm so glad you were able to travel and have beautiful adventures.


ZipZip said...

Dear Quinn,
The stays are so comfortable that if they weren't so obviously not modern, I'd wear them for normal life. Like a back-support belt plus.

Thank you about the pictures! The landscape in Yellowstone and the Tetons made my heart a he, both for its beauty and how precious it is...the bones are strong, dominating, but the flora, wild and accustomed to a harsh environment though they be, still feel like something in a terrarium -- balanced on a knife's edge. Especially when down below in the plains lies such a dusty contrast.