1830 stays – Part 4

Amazing what a little snowstorm (or a big blizzard) and a few snow days will do for your productivity! An expected snowfall last Saturday led to the museum being closed for the day and I managed to get a fair amount done on the stays – enough to even do a quick try-on. Not an ideal fit, but good enough to proceed!


Yay to finishing all fourteen eyelets without an awl! Hopefully the symmetrical lacing will work – it’s the same on my original pair but I sense they will never feel as secure as the single lacing on my 1770s stays.

When I originally traced the pattern pieces, only one of the linen layers was marked so I decided to thread-trace all the marking and cutting lines with red thread from the front side of the garment. This made it much easier to begin inserting the gussets. You’ll see that I traced both the cutting and stitching lines – there’s not much room for error there.

Since my other half was out plowing several towns away, I managed to get this on myself and reasonably snug-laced. I had thread-traced the cutting lines for the hip gussets and cut them open about halfway up while I was wearing them. I just wanted to give some ease around my hips and try to determine if the bust area was going to work and a rough placement for the straps in front.

Once this mess was on and the lacing tied off, I determined the following:

  • The bust cups are workable but will need a slight bit of gathering as the binding is applied
  • Overall the bust is a bit large but I think someone else lacing them and shortening the straps will help
  • The length was perfect but the hip gussets will start about 1 1/4″ below where currently marked. Not surprising since that’s about the same amount I add to most patterns to adjust for my height
  • And lastly, I’ll probably machine sew the next pair….

Once all that was behind me (and I managed to get them back off of my body) I set to work re-marking and thread-tracing the new lines for the hip gussets. Those have been a work in progress – one done, three to go. I did finish all the stitching on the bust gussets, though. And earlier this evening I pulled any excess marking threads and got the iron heated up to remove the pen markings. I have the say – they are starting to look awfully pretty!

Taking a break from the monotony of straight gusset stitching, I decided to start marking and sewing some of the quilted details. And yes, I really did use cinnamon and a sock to transfer the pattern.


For the record, I hate wearing socks so I was happy to sacrifice half a pair to the costuming process. The pattern was copied onto white paper and pricked with a pin to create holes for the cinnamon powder to transfer the design through

I was skeptical that this would work but lo and behold….

Score one for historical accuracy… I was just perusing one the earliest issues of The Lady’s Book (aka Godey’s) and sure enough pouncing with cinnamon through pricked paper was the method recommended for transferring embroidery patterns. Go figure!

1830 Stays – Part 3

I have a Johnny Cash song stuck in my head… 25 Minutes to Go. I heard it recently and for some reason it’s still buzzing around my exhausted brain.

No prison sentence for me but after working on eyelets for the past two hours, I’m definitely in countdown mode! Normally I love sewing eyelets… buttonholes, no way… but eyelets – something about their round little perfect circles time after time makes me smile. However, this damn corset is doing its best to change my outlook!

This only works with small & narrow sharp scissors and there's a lot of twisting involved to form a circle

This only works with small & narrow sharp scissors and there’s a lot of twisting involved to form a circle

First of all, some of my favorite supplies were AWOL when I started on the eyelets – namely my favorite awl and my silver thimble. Instead I had to resort to sharp embroidery scissors as a tool to separate the fibers to make a hole followed by a round chopstick to even it out.

Because there are eight layers of fabric at the eyeleted area (something I would avoid in the future), I was definitely missing my thimble by the second eyelet. Trying to push the needle through all those layers became harder with each hole. Plus the rhythm is broken when you need to reopen the hole with the chopstick after every stitch or every other stitch. And with 16-20 stitches around each eyelet… well, perhaps you can see why I’m in countdown mentality! And I’m only working on one side of the back – the seven eyelets on the back left to be specific.

The threads on the right are still attached to the eyelet. Threads are carried from eyelet to eyelet on the inside. The chopstick is acting as a placeholder for the first stitch in the second eyelet here.

The chopstick is acting as a reference point for the first stitch in the second eyelet.

The photo at right shows the second eyelet in progress. The threads on the right side are still attached to the first eyelet and are then carried to the second eyelet on the inside. This is my own carry over from 18th century stays making when those carried threads would be covered with the lining. In this case, I’m being lazy and don’t want to stop and restart at each eyelet. Or bury threads. Apparently I’m just resorting to what I remember from another project!

My fingers are sore (again) but I’m happy to report that the left center back has been completed with its seven eyelets, three corded channels, and back edge lining and outer fabric combined.

The cording saga will have to wait until a later post… but the short version is that I ended up using a doubled strand of 3/32″ cotton cording in each of the channels. How it got there is the real story!

Now for one last photograph – and be sure to ignore the bits of blue ink. I wasn’t working near an iron so erasing all those Frixion pen markings didn’t happen before camera time.


Tools of the trade… for tonight anyway! Finished left back plus linen thread, beeswax, needle, chopstick, and scissors/awl! (Oh and a fuzzy blanket to keep me warm while sewing all evening…




Being Sophia Thoreau

My fingers took an extended break from sewing today – not necessarily planned, but that was the end result! So instead of an update on the 1830 stays, I though I’d reach further into the past and pull some photos and details on a long-ago-completed 19th century project. Behold the Sophia Thoreau 1845ish gown…

Huge thanks to fabulous J.S. for taking the photo... and then letting me steal a copy!

Huge thanks to fabulous J.S. for taking the photo… and then letting me steal a copy!

Title page of Henry D. Thoreau, Walden; or life in the woods, 1854, showing Thoreau's hut at Walden Pond, Massachusetts at the Library of Congress

Title page of Henry D. Thoreau’s Walden; or life in the woods, 1854, showing Thoreau’s hut at Walden Pond, Massachusetts at the Library of Congress

Umm, yeah… so she probably wasn’t quite as pouty! For those that don’t recognize the name, Sophia Thoreau was the youngest sister of 19th century transcendentalist and author Henry David Thoreau of nearby Concord, Massachusetts. You know – the guy that wrote Walden and Civil Disobedience and made lots of people think it was noble to go off and live in the woods by himself  to simplify and be closer to nature for a year or two. (I’m not a huge fan of Henry, in care you didn’t pick up on the sarcasm.)

Fondness aside, back in 1999 or 2000, I happened to be working for a museum in Henry & Sophia’s hometown. R.S., one of my then-colleagues was (and I believe still is) a magnificent living historian who particularly excelled at bringing dear ol’ Henry to life. Somehow or other I was convinced to portray sister Sophia during a 30 minute performance/afternoon tea at the museum – along with my friend as Henry and another colleague portraying a third local personality that I can’t remember. (I do remember which co-worker she was – just not who she was acting as.)

Sad to say, the totality of what I recall about Sophia is that she was Henry’s sister, apparently idolized him, sometimes brought him meals to his cabin near the pond, helped do his laundry when he brought it home, and perhaps most notably, is especially responsible for making his name a household one by driving the continued publication of his books and essays after his death. At least that’s how I remember it… Wikipedia and local museums may differ on that subject so feel free to do your own research ;o) I’m pretty sure I didn’t allude to any of those ideas while I was pretending to be her, but after 15 years I’m a bit fuzzy on what I actually did say!

Lucky for me, I haven’t changed size too much since then, so the pictures presented here are far more recent – taken at the 2013 Dress University in eastern Pennsylvania.  The dress itself is a loose copy of one from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion and was made up in a woven black and white plaid with a heavier white cotton as the bodice foundation.

I mentioned it's a loose copy, right? Apparently I never added the sleeve frills or the center front placket. Oops!

I mentioned it’s a loose copy, right? Apparently I never added the sleeve frills or the center front placket. Oops!

The pleated detail on the front was created on pieces of pink medium-weight linen. I didn’t originally make it to fit over stays/corset, but it looks much better when I do. The bodice is also a bit too long, but one thing I do remember is cartridge pleating the entire skirt waist too the bodice…. and I’d need a REALLY good reason to do that over again.

Another shot courtesy of J.S. Thanks!!

Another shot courtesy of J.S. Thanks J!!

The shoulders and front pleating don’t fall exactly where I would like them to but an artfully arranged shawl does a great job of camouflaging decade and half old costuming sins. All in all it’s a nice piece to have on hand in the closet for the odd early Victorian event or as a loaner costume!

On a side note… this makes me really miss the Dress U. crowd, classes, and events! Here’s hoping that 2015 is the year plans start getting made for another east coast costume conference!

1830 Stays – Part 2

Whoa! Two days in a row of sewing and writing… what is the world coming to?

Mostly very tired fingers as it turns out! When I was sewing full time for my business (i.e. 8-10 hours a day of handsewing – often staysmaking or en foureau pleating) I ended up developing muscles in my fingers that I had been previously unaware of. Well, guess what? After two straight days of handsewing with linen thread through 6 layers of linen and canvas, those small itty bitty muscles have announced themselves with a vengeance!

My right hand started to hurt so much I even resorted to a secret weapon… needle nose pliers for pulling the needle through the fabric layers!

Needle nose pliers were also especially handy for creating a cording puller for those narrow channels

Needle nose pliers were also especially handy for creating a cording puller for those narrow channels

Truth be told, they just sort of ended up in my workspace after making the cording loop above – but they really did come in handy for that last hour or so.

The back facing has been folded to the inside, clipped for ease at waistline, and pressed to keep its shape

The back facing has been folded to the inside, clipped (slightly) for ease at waistline, and pressed to keep its shape. And no idea why this photo is so yellow!

Today’s progress was mostly along one of the back lacing edges, in addition to discovering that I’d made some poor decisions in yesterday’s work.The biggest problem I discovered was that I should have put the lining in place before channeling the busk area at the center front. I’ve come up with a work-around but I should have read the instructions more closely in the first place.

So… on to the back. I did a quick test fit to make sure the stays would be in the realm of fitting – or at least not way too big to start with. I then cut away all the extra fabric along the center back edges – down to the original cut lines of the pattern.

I retraced most of the pattern markings with pencil on the interlining so that I didn’t have to worry about the Frixion pen ink disappearing during pressing.

This is where things got a bit more tricky. Or I should say that I got a bit lazy. Had I added more basting stitches along the folded back facing and/or properly basted the interfacing strip that was applied to that edge, I probably wouldn’t have had to work so hard to keep everything in place while sewing the cording channels along the back edge. But best laid plans…

Although I’m using a heavier canvas for the center front and back facing interfacing, I was surprised at how well the back piece were able to mold to the necessary curve even though they are cut on the straight grain. I sprayed them pretty well with water and just kept smooshing them with a hot iron until the right curve was achieved.

Center back interfacing will primarily support the eyelets for lacing but it makes for difficult channel sewing along the way

Center back interfacing will primarily support the eyelet holes for lacing at the center back but it makes for difficult channel sewing along the way

I’m pretty sure I’ve made myself about six pair of c.1770 stays over the years so I think it’s safe to assume this won’t be my last foray into early 19th century stay making. I’m enjoying the process for now but taking lots of notes so I’ll know how to ‘do it right’ when I eventually decide to make the ultimate 1830ish corset!

In the meantime – here’s where I left off this evening:

Left back edge with lining attached, interfacing secured, and the first two of five rows of stitching to form cording channels

Left back edge with lining attached, interfacing secured, and the first two of five rows of stitching to form cording channels

1830 Stays – Part 1

Don’t judge…. 2014 was a rough year! Not that I didn’t get any sewing done… quite the contrary, but somehow mixing sewing and blogging never seemed to happen. In any case, the new year is already keeping my fingers busy flying through an long-suffering pair of unfinished 1770 stays, a new pair of 1830 sleeve puffs, and as of yesterday… some marvelous 1830 stays.


Past Patterns 1820s-1840s Corded Stay Pattern

To get the basics out of the way – I’m using the Past Patterns 1820-1840 stays pattern, view A (the wedding stays) with a few modifications. I liked the idea of working with stays that had a single pattern piece (plus gussets and straps of course) and the back curved lacing band intrigued me as well. I own an antique pair of stays that dates to about 1820 and they are cut similarly. Due to their petite size, there is far less cording – they probably would have fit a slender 11-12 year old girl.

But moving on to the ones that are now in progress… I was anxious to get started so I scavenged some medium-weight white linen and some cream twill from my stash to use for outer fabric, interlining, and lining. The instructions only call for two layers but I felt my choices were lacking a bit of heft so added one more.

I do have a wearable pair of 1820ish stays but since I’m not thrilled with them and I’ll be doing a lot more 1820-1835 costume wearing, it was time to start anew!

The fully traced stays - folded in half at center front

The fully traced stays – folded in half at center front

Rather than cut out a particular size, I traced the size 14 onto my linen but lengthened it to the size 20 length markings. All of the gusset markings were placed at the size 14 locations and lengthened if needed. I’m using a Frixion pen which erases with heat… second day in and I haven’t managed to press away any critical markings!

My plan is to complete the front busk area and the back lacing area and then fit in the gussets last to get the torso sitting exactly where I want it. If you’re familiar with this pattern, you’ll notice that I haven’t cut on the marked lined. I’m giving myself a generous 1.5″ seam allowance around the entire piece, just so I have some room to play with. I know this was common practice in 18th century stay-making so I think I just resorted to old habits!

Most of the time I find hand-sewing very relaxing – particularly if it’s just endless straight lines like the ones needed on these stays. I started creating the busk pocket and adjacent cording channels and was moving along rather quickly until…. for the life of me, I could not get the cording through the channels! So backed up (and yes, undid some stitches) and decided to sew the cording into its individual channel rather than try to thread it through later. That method worked much better! I’m sure my earlier failure had a lot to do with not having the right tools or correct width cording but either way, I’m happy with my solution!


The second or third attempt to thread cording through the already sewn channels. Eventually a new solution was found!

The tally so far:

  • Cost: $0 (all supplies & patterns from stash)
  • Construction time: 6 hours – mostly handsewing

Tomorrow I tackle the back and those lacing eyelets!

Francaise Dinner Gown – Part 2

This should probably be parts 2,3,4, and 5 due to all the sewing that’s been happening but, as usual, my blogging hasn’t kept up! I have had more needle time lately and it’s been surprisingly nice doing so much hand-sewing. No machines to set up, no ironing boards, no noise.

Why I’ve ended up sewing the whole thing by hand is beyond me… I think it might be muscle memory! I’ve almost always sewn and trimmed 18th century gowns by hand so it just sort of happened this time too.

Anyway, the petticoat is more or less down – just a few more tacking stitches are needed on the trim but I’m thinking I’ll leave those for some evening sewing once I get to the Inn on Friday night.


Those pocket hoops really create such a flattering skinny shape, eh?

The next step was assembling and pleating the sleeves. They ended up pretty snug around my arms but the fit perfectly over my shoulder. Guess I’ll just have to be extra ladylike and not flex my muscles too much while wearing the gown!


Pretty sleeves! They're based on ones in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion

It hasn’t shown much in the photos but linen has been used for the lining – an apple green for the bodice, and a tighter weave natural for the sleeves. Everything from the stash! I was especially lucky after taking a close-up look at the Kyoto gown sleeves and realizing that they were originally trimmed with pleated and ruched gauze. Flashback ten years to making a gauze-trimmed 18th century wedding gown. I must have bought 10-15 yards at the time…. and sure enough, I still had some tucked away in the silk box!
(Admittedly I might not get to adding that trim before the dinner but I’m ready when I do have time!)


Not so interesting... The left bodice front and back pleats.

Last weekend was spent sewing the back pleats down and finishing all the front bodice edges. Boring (and slightly painful) sewing but it had to get done. Ten straight hours of sewing through 4-10 layers… My fingers were so sore the next day!

That’s all the updates for now as the midnight hour is striking again. Up next… Details on the pocket hoops and stomacher!

Francaise Dinner Gown – Part 1

After the lengthy and sad winter thus far, I’m looking forward to some merry-making later in a few short weeks. With friends planning a fabulous Francaise Dinner for March 1st, I’ve pulled out a long neglected project and have spent the evening stitching away.

kyoto blue dress

Kyoto Costume Institute: AC7621 92-34-2AB

I’ve admired this particular dress in the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute ever since spying it in one of their books close to a decade ago. I had a color copy of the book page pinned to my bulletin board for years and somewhere along the way I picked up ten or so yards of a similar looking Waverly print. Bits and pieces had been cut and prepped – enough so that when I pulled some of it out tonight, I found a completely finished petticoat! Hemmed, waist bound with tape, and even the waist ties are hemmed at their narrow little ends!

The next pleasant surprise was finding that the self-fabric petticoat trim (pleats of two depths) had been cut to size, joined, and all edges pressed under. All that was lovely (and probably accounted for 3 hours sometime in the past) but it did mean that I was able to get straight to pleating and attaching trim tonight.

Here’s the first go round!close up of pinned pleats

The photo is quite yellow but one can see the deeper of the two pleated bands starting to take shape. The pleated band is 14″ tall and the first step was creating repeating box pleats about 1″ wide with an equal amount of space between pleats. Since I was doing this while sitting in bed and watching Bleak House, nothing has been pressed and looks much puffier than the inspiration gown. That aside, the proportions seem pretty close for my height. The top 3″ are pleated, then the next 4″ are ruched all over, and then the bottom 7″ are pleated. I stitched the panel to the petticoat at the lower level of the ruching to create an attachment point. Next I just went crazy stitching the ruched section down in random patterns. It didn’t start to look right until most of it was done and a pressing should improve it even further.

The upper and lower edges were sewn down to the petticoat with a running backstitch. I’m hoping to find some appropriate edging  and that will cover any stitching that shows and add a beautiful finish. Once the base trim was on, I started pinning the lower level of trim in place. This was simpler – just 1/2″ box pleats with equal space between. I’ve only pinned it in place as I was getting pretty tired of stitching!

I finally called it a night and gave it one quick try-on and lo & behold it actually looked the way I wanted it to!!

2014-01-29 22.00.34

Sadly the photo of a reflection doesn’t do much justice to my efforts but it is looking like a proper trimmed petticoat!

Now to get some sleep and start the next batch of sewing tomorrow!