Sunday, February 2, 2014

HSF Challenge #4: Under It All - J.S. Bernhardt Stays, c. 1810-11

As I have reduced my aim for the HSF 2014 to cover only twelve projects (at least), instead of twenty-four, I am skipping around a little bit with the challenges, picking and choosing the ones that I like. Technically, if I am doing the odd-numbered challenges, I should be working on the #3: Pink challenge. However, I have a total of two pieces of pink fabric in my stash, and neither of them are period-accurate. Because I don't love pink, I don't particularly want to go buy pink fabric for a pink project. If something pops up when I am next fabric shopping, I might re-think this challenge. But for now, I am choosing instead to work on Challenge #4: Under It All.

My current stays are too small, and not super accurate. The lower-back gussets are not cut high enough for the lovehandles I've acquired in the past few years, so they cause a little bit of lower-back pain after wearing for a while. The bust gussets are just plain too small, and a set a little too closely together in the front for a proper silhouette. To top it off, there is zero lacing gap in the back (I would prefer a 2"- 4" gap). I made these when I was sixteen, and I still love them for the purpose they served at the time, but I need an upgrade. My body has changed shape and I have learned a bit more about this era, and it is time to reflect these changes in a new set of undergarments!

I need to make a simple pair of stays, due to time constraints for this project (my last pair took many, many hours of cording and embroidery). Perhaps eventually I will cord/embroider my new pair, but I first need to be able to whip up a wearable foundation! Frills and furbelows come after.

At first, I was torn between making short stays and long stays - the only extant short stays I have seen have been transitional stays c. 1790s (Sabine of Kleidung um 1800 addresses this in a well-researched post here, noting that the short stays we see post-Transition appear to be for certain occasions such as travel, or informal morning/evening wear). I wanted slightly later stays, and was thinking about making those short "travel" stays, because short stays are just easier to wear.

And then, lo, I came across Sabine's amazing post (should really be called an article or presentation, it is so in-depth) about J.S. Bernhardt's patterns for short stays. Apparently these stays are designed so as to healthily embrace the body, without excess of boning, and provide decent support.

~angels sing~

This is exactly what I need! Sabine already put the patterns on grids for scaling, and she advises how to measure to scale up for your own size. Check out this post and read, read, read, because it is amazing and so helpful. Thanks to Sabine for her generosity in sharing all of this information and effort with the rest of us!

Following her instructions, I took the pattern below, measured myself, and scaled.

I placed a ruler in front of my shoulder to find the correct point to measure from to get my scale multiplier. My personal measurement was 23cm from the ruler around to the centre of my back. I rounded this down to 22.75cm, so that it divided by 7 into a nice, simple 3.25cm. I then scaled up the pattern so that each square = 3.25cm. Then I printed this out in two parts on 11"x17" paper and taped the pattern together.

It is very interesting to me that this pattern is cut on the bias. I haven't yet observed an extant example that is cut on the bias, but it makes perfect sense in order to hug the figure. I decided to just cut mine on a bias fold, instead of putting a seam down the centre. I might switch that up on the final piece, because the seam probably adds a little structure to the stays.

I added an inch to the CB edge, which ended up being pretty
unnecessary. Better to cut off extra than not have enough, though!
To measure out my gussets (because the ones on the original pattern are pretty tiny and were not going to make it across my girth), I cut the slits for the gussets and then held the corset up against myself and measured across the gaps created at slit. Check out my super-scientific method for patterning gussets:

I literally drew a slice of pie with a measuring tape
across the top indicating how wide the gusset should be.
Fast-forward to the completed mock-up! I don't have any in-progress pictures because, well, there wasn't much to progress. I folded under the CB edges to create boning channels, and I hastily stitched a strip of fabric down the CF to hold my busk. Then I mentally patted myself on the back for actually including boning channels (because I HATE making boning channels on mock-ups, it always seems so pointless. It is, in reality, the opposite of pointless, but when I always end up chucking the mock-up, it seems excessive.) Finally, I pinned and stitched all six of the gussets. Voila, mock-up finished.

I had no lacing tape, so I used eyelet lace from my stash.
Time for the first try-on! The eyelet lace works in a pinch, but I will probably have to get lacing strips to get a more even back closure on future corset mock-ups. For this project, it worked, and I know what I need to do to modify the pattern before cutting final fabric.

UBER-curvy! Did not expect that. 

So... it was a bit curvalicious on me. That was unexpected, considering all the mashing and squashing my other stays have been doing. I kind of like it!

Things that are Right about this so far: 

  • it is curvy - my body is curvy, so that is kind of great. I am not large, but I am short-waisted and have wide hips, which I would prefer to embrace rather than straight-jacket.
  • it is short - refer to afore-mentioned short waist. No more boning digging into my thighs when I sit! 
  • my breasts are shoved up and out - the ideal silhouette. I didn't think that one gusset would cut it (I am a 34D), but it sure does work out! The singular gusset actually helps with the sideways persuasion of the breasts. I might raise the gussets by 1/2" to get a smidgen more lift - should I? Or are they high enough? 
  • I love where the straps are located - they are far out on each side in the front, which is excellent for those wide Regency necklines, and they meet at a perfect place on the back (I like how the straps join the back at an angle, rather than attaching to the horizontal top edge.)

Things that are Wrong about this mock-up:
  • the bust gussets are a smidgen too wide at the top - I think I will round out the edges of the gussets a little bit, so they are not a perfect triangle, and thereby draw in the top corners a bit.
  • I need to re-shape the bottom edge, for sure - that widest gusset curves too low. 
  • both hip gussets are a bit too wide - I think I need to take 1/2"from the little one, and 1" from the big one. 
  • I may need to remove a smidge off the upper back opening - I usually have problems with lacing gaps at the top, where they close up too much. That will throw off the straight-grain, though, hopefully that is not a big problem... 

My bustline seems a bit low in this image... have
to decide whether to raise the gussets!

Too much fabric going on down there. 

The hip gussets come up a little high on my back
but there are worse evils. I think I will leave them.

I think I am ready to move on to fabric! I am in love with this pattern.


  1. I'm so happy you love the pattern :)
    Isn't it amazing how it feels and how lovely it embraces the body? It looks gorgeous on you and it's such fun to finally see somebody assemble it and share the experience!
    As the whole pieces are cute on the bias, you'll see that the fabric will still give a bit of way while wearing (and this is truly comfy to wear the whole day!), so it's not a bad idea too assemble the gussets a bit smaller - on the first fitting it might feel a bit to too tight, but it molds around the body pretty quickly!
    Thank you again for sharing the process and spreading a real period way to construct :)

    1. I could would never have been able to make this without your research, and I really do love it. It is very comfortable, and I think that once I have made it up in multiple layers, it will feel very sturdy. I am sure that more and more people will try this pattern after reading your post about it, because it is so simple and easy to make!

      Thanks for the tip about making the gussets smaller! I had not thought about how much this will probably relax on the body, especially as it is cut on the bias. My project tonight will be slimming down those gussets!

  2. I'm glad to see another take on that pattern, too, since I would liek to try it out myself! Yours looks great so far.

    (A little aside - I like your new blog background, but could you please make it lighter? It still gets in the way of the writing.)

    1. You should definitely try it out! It was remarkably simple to put together and it fits very comfortably - I made the mock-up in just over four hours. I will say, it was very helpful to be able to put the busk in the front - I would recommend adding some boning to the front of your mock-ups to accurately assess how much "lift" you are getting.

      And I agree with you about the blog - I am having trouble finding out how to change the opacity of my text background! Apparently it used to be possible to edit the template HTML to correct the opacity, but I couldn't find the proper bit of code. I would welcome any tips you have! I am new to this blogging experience, and have a bit to learn! :)

  3. Dear Abigael,
    Found your blog through Sabine and it has been a fun read. So glad you are making the Bernhardt stays. With your fashion design background perhaps you'd be willing to consider and comment upon the pattern, the garment's construction, and its feel as you wear it. Sabine found a real treasure here, that we hope will bring some light to the transition of 18th century stays to the 19th century corset.

    By the way, think I saw you and your husband at the Jane Austen Festival last year. You had a lovely 1790s ensemble and I would have loved to said hello, but being fairly shy, lost my nerve...

    Very best, another 1790s aficionado and former Atlantan,

    Natalie in Kentucky

    1. Hi Natalie! I will definitely summarize with a thorough review of these stays, as I agree that it is most helpful to hear about all these details as they apply to each individual body type (it is so nice sometimes to see a pattern across all different body types, because it helps one to assess whether a pattern would work for them. Helps me, anyway.)

      And guess what!? We are planning to come back to the Jane Austen Festival this year, so we will have to meet in person this time! :) I have been sewing for a long time, but I do not actually know very many people in this lovely online community, and I would be delighted to meet you and spend some time together at the festival. I might be coming on my own this year... but I am pretty determined to come nonetheless.

    2. Maybe a 'sew-a-long' is needed...with various body types giving a review.
      Not being used to sewing stays and corsets I'd love to have a go at trying making these stays but without a step by step tutorial and a scaled up pattern I feel intimidated by it.

    3. I think a sew-along is a great plan. I will post about my progress in as much detail as I can, and perhaps host a sew-along in the future? I haven't ever hosted one of those, sounds daunting, but I would also love to contribute if somebody else hosts!

    4. It would also be great to see the different corsets that Sabine mentions, on different body types. The one without gussets is particularly interesting to me - I assume that it wouldn't work well for the bountifully endowed, but it would be great to see on a few different shapes.