Sunday, February 06, 2011

Stays or Corsets?

I really should refer to the undergarments I'm making as Stays. Corsets did not come around until just before the Civil War and continued into Victorian and Edwardian periods.

I have worked up a muslin of the first set of stays. I got the wrong size apparently and have inserted an additional panel which may or may not remain (I may end up just widening the panels that I have instead). I cut out all the pattern pieces and transferred them onto muslin. These were whipped together with basting stitches on the sewing machine (major cheat). Then I cut it apart when I realized there was no way it was going to fit around me, and inserted strips of muslin fabric which currently have not pattern parts. In a few places, I widened the muslin patterns parts.

If this passes some sort of muster at our study group meeting, I will take it apart and use the muslin pieces to make new pattern pieces (either tissue paper or a paper grocery bag or some newsprint).

I'm a little stumped as to actual fabric from which to make the stays. I have some nice linen and silk fabric which is tightly woven and might work, but it's very thin and I'm skeptical. I also have some mustard colored heavy canvas type stuff out of which I planned to make a pair of dungarees for Ken to complete his costume for blacksmithing. The canvas might be too heavy for the stays. The other ladies should be able to guide me on this.

I am also in the process of weaving on the inkle loom some cotton tape. We will be able to use it for binding, lacing tape and maybe even for channels for the boning. I'm happy with how it is coming out. I also plan to make several yards of similar tape from linen threads.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Corset bits

Corsets are really interesting items of clothing. It's underwear but they are really complicated underwear. I guess a bra is kind of complicated as well, but the corset creates the framework upon which the rest of your clothing is designed.

They are also supportive. They support the back when doing heavy lifting (carrying water buckets, jugs of wine, shocks of hay, bricks, what have you... They support the breasts so they don't hang down, are stretched out of shape and flop about. They support the gut and keep it from stretching out over time and sagging. I don't think they necessary support muscle development in these areas, but women often aren't developed in these areas anyway. Nowadays, we just sort of sag and flap and roll and let it all hang out. But this can lead to back and neck problems (ask me how I know this). Bras dig deep into your shoulders and can actually deform the bones after a while.

The work that goes into building a corset (note I said building and not sewing) does require some research. It also requires an investment of time and equipment and supplies. I"m hoping the resulting garment is worth every penny and minute I put into it.

For help with all the technical details and actual, hands-on work; a few of us have banded together for a Corset/Bodies/Stays Study Group which meets on the Fourth Sunday of each month in the Yellow Cat Saloon above the Heathsville Tavern Restaurant at the RHHT. We meet from 1 to 3 p.m.

So far, there are three of us, but folks interested in this sort of thing are welcomed to join us at any point. The goal is for each of us to make at least one set of stays, corsets or bodies.

I am working on two versions. The first is from this pattern: 18th Century Strapless Stays by J. P. Ryan. My second is from Elizabethan Costume.

The second is from a different era altogether but with some adaptations, I may be able to make it work (or save it for a Ren Period outfit).

Corsets, Bodies & Stays

As a member of the Rices Hotel Hughlett Tavern and a member of the Spiinning and Weaving Guild that meets there, I've been wanting to develop a period outfit for some time. I'm an odd bird, no doubt, and enjoy dressing up in costumes.

The challenge with the RHHT outfit is that I've never been entirely clear on what era we were supposed to be interpreting. The Hotel has been around since before the Revolution. It was in the business of being a privately owned public gathering place up until maybe 30 years ago. So it covers a lot of years.

I was told at one point, they were aiming for 1810 (just prior to the Industrial Revolution when Steamboats went up and down the Potomac River to Baltimore on a regular basis. In fact, travel by land was fraught with hazards and took a very long time. Water travel was, by far, the best.

I have not had time to research it myself (yet) but I suspect that most of the folks here who had a couple of cents to rub together, did a good job of dressing fashionably and probably purchased the majority of their fabrics (perhaps even finished clothing) from points North or even Europe.

This was the age of Jane Eyre. Younger women wore stays but they were short and more closely resembled today's full line bra. And yes, they did have boning made from the baleen of the unfortunate whale.

But this era of Romance only spanned about 10 years when women found themselves laced back into corsets which were even more restrictive than the kind worn by women from 1780 to 1810. By the period of the Civil War, they would hardly breath and they suffered from the effects of lacing that was dangerously tight.

The problem with the Romantic period of dress is that these ladies were wearing gauze. I mean literally. Many of them died of complications of not wearing enough clothing in winter!

I like being warm. I like wool.

So, I've decided that because I have grey hair, I can be one of the old fuddy duddy ladies and wear clothing of the previous era and get away with it.