Thursday, February 13, 2014

J.S. Bernhardt Stays - Part 3 - The Details

I may be getting a little ahead of myself, because I haven't even cut out my final fabric yet, but I have spent much of today (another snow day!!) researching finishing details. Lots of little things add up to make an accurate finished product, and I want to make this corset as accurate as I can with my present resources.

There are four things I need to check and confirm to finish off my corset: 

  • What color/quality thread should I use? This one was fairly easy to figure out - most of the extant examples that I have seen use matching or very tonal (close to matching) sew thread. My stays are going to be ivory/cream-coloured, so my safest bet is an easy match. However... that being said, I kind of think that matching is boring. The plan for this corset now is to stitch it up with blue/green/pink silk thread! 
    • Sabine mentions here that J.C. Hüttner's Englische Miscellen mentions light grey silk thread. The book is available on Google Books, but it is entirely in German, so I am trusting her judgement on this one. 
    • Almost all of the extant stays/corsets that I looked at (in a range between 1790 and 1830) are listed by the museum websites as stitched with silk thread, so that firmly establishes my thread quality.

  • What type of boning/reinforcement should I use? Unfortunately (actually, fortunately, save the whales and all that), I don't have access to baleen. So... cable ties to the rescue! This is my least authentic material, but I'm not going to source real baleen, and while this German plastic boning has been reputed to be a good substitute, I have a package of cable ties in a drawer in my sewing room. How then should I place the boning? 
    • The corset below (c. 1820-30) has just cording in the back to reinforce the lacing. I don't really like how wobbly and bumpy that allows the back to be when the stays are laced up, so I would prefer to not go with that method. 
Corset, ca. 1820-1830, Kent State collections 1995.017.1349
    • Boning flanking the lacing holes is mentioned in Hüttner's Englische Miscellen, and can be seen in many of the examples I reviewed between1790 and 1830. 
    Stays, ca. 1790, V&A museum no. T.237-1983
    Corset, ca. 1825-35, V&A museum no. T.27-1948

    • If these stays seem too plain to me, I might cord them a bit. I found a great example at the MET (can you tell this is my fave museum? All those zoom-able photos!) that shows a bit of the interior-back. You can see what looks like wool yarn, poking out of the cording channels. This is exactly how trapunto is done - you have to leave those little end-loops pocking out to provide some ease to the stuffing. 
  • How should I finish the edges of the stays? Do I bind with self-fabric bias binding? What about twill tape? Or just turning the edges under and butting them against the lining? I found examples of all of these methods.
    • Twill tape: this seemed to be really common 1820-1840. The tape was usually DTM (dyed-to-match, meaning the same color as the body fabric), but I found a very pretty example with contrasting twill tape binding at the MET (below-left). I also have seen this on older, transitional stays (below-right). 
Corset, ca. 1815-25, MET accession no. 2009.300.3229
Note that the same twill tape as the binding
is used to secure the busk in its channel.
    • Self-fabric binding: this method was pretty common on the whole range of stays/corsets that I looked at. Sometimes the binding appeared to be cut on the bias, but sometimes it was clearly cut on the straight grain (nightmare for curves!) 

    • Faced edges: facing the edges with the lining (or just turning the fabric over the lining to finish) was definitely not the most common method of finishing the neck and hem edges, but I saw it on a few corsets. I don't think I'll go with this method, too much of a pain to press all the edges under before whipping the lining to them. 
Corset, ca. 1811, MET accession no. X.51.4.2
This is one of only two corsets that I observed with that interesting button-flap securing the busk.

  • What technique should I use for the lacing holes? Spiral lacing, I think. The Laced Angel made a great spreadsheet on Romantic Era (1820-35ish) corsets, and her research indicates that spiral-lacing and crisscross-lacing were pretty common at least by those dates. However, spiral-lacing is a bit older technique, and I haven't tried it yet, so I'd like to give it a go. Below you can see an example of both techniques, and Jen of Festive Attyre explains spiral lacing here
    Corset, ca. 1811, MET accession number X.51.4.2
    See how the lacing holes are all off-balance?
    With holes closer-together at the top and bottom?
    That indicates spiral lacing. 
    The lacing holes on this example are exactly symmetrical,
    indicating crisscross-lacing (not the technical term.)

    • On the corsets I reviewed I saw a lot of bone eyelets, a good many stitched eyelets, and zero metal eyelets. Metal eyelets were more or less invented in 1827 (ref. Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh), so they definitely wouldn't have been around in 1810-15. I don't presently know of a resource for bone eyelets, or I would totally go with those (50x less stitching to be done!). Alas, I'll have to stitch them (unless any of my kind readers can point me in the direction of a bone eyelet supplier! I have been checking out bone ear gauges, but they don't have a proper lip under the eyelet to keep the fabric tucked under).

Now I am off to finally cut out and baste up my new stays in final fabric. I leave you with a sketch of possible cording patterns (nothing super period-correct, just a product of doodling away while watching Sherlock, which is awesome.


  1. Looking forward to see the finished stays.
    As for the patterning of the cording, keep in mind that the embroidery/cording should not have any effect on the stretchiness of the bias cut fabric. So basically they should follow the bias. Unfortunately J.S. Bernhardt said nothing about it in his text, but mainly refers to use as little boning as possible.

    1. Oh! Thanks for the reminder about that. I would have probably started stitching across the bias and killed all the stretch.

  2. Hi Abigael. I have nominated your blog for a Liebster Award. Please view the details, here:
    I'm sorry to put this under all this great corset research. I can't wait to see the finished product either. :)