Sunday, July 6, 2014

Tips for A First Set of Stays

AKA learning from my mistakes.  I've had my fair share of pairs of stays since getting my first at sixteen years old.  And I've made my fair share of mistakes in making new pairs like the pink stays I just finished.  A few pieces of hard-earned advice:

1) The Right Size.  Of all the "duh" things to say, right?  But though very often I hear people advising to make sure that the stays are not too *small,* less is said about stays being too *big.*  If stays aren't fitted properly, they'll actually be far more uncomfortable than if they fit snugly.  They won't support, they'll encourage poor posture, and, perhaps worst of all, they'll shift and chafe.  Avoid too-loose fit and too-loose lacing for comfortable stays.

2) Mind the Gap.  I've seen more than one stay-wearer annoyed that her new stays didn't meet at the center back--that is, she thought they were too small for her because there was a gap at the center back lacing.  Not at all!  You want a bit of room to shrink, as it were--even if you aren't planning on losing weight.  In addition to normal weight fluctuations, I've found my body adjusts a bit to stays and snugger lacing is needed later in they day or on day two of wearing. (Note: This is not waist-training, just my body settling into a different--and probably better--posture).  Additionally, stays can stretch a bit over time.  Buy yourself some extra space and make yours or have them made with some space to spare.

3) Stays are Unique to You.  Remember that differences in extants represent not only differences in style and fashion, but also differences in human bodies and lifestyles.  Look at a dozen or so extant pairs of stays.  You'll find that you'll be able to point out similarities and differences between each; no two will look exactly alike.  Some of those differences are certainly due to changes in fashion over time.  Others are due to expectations for what that particular set of stays would be worn for and what they were made of (were they a high-fashion pair for a high-born lady boned with baleen, or a workaday set boned with reed?), based on socio-economic status and other factors.  Some differences even emerge as distinctive to the wearer's body shape.  Perhaps the bust is narrower or wider in relation to the waist, or the tabs placed differently, or the angles of the panels different.

So many differences, for instance, here--straps vs no straps, more purely conical shape vs a flat front; no tabs vs tabs, fully boned vs partially boned.  The list goes on!

Met Museum, c. 1780Wool with reed boning

Met Museum, no date given (I estimate c. 1770-1780), no material given (I guess silk and whalebone)

Victoria and Albert Museum, c. 1770s, silk and whalebone

A bit more discourse on this point, surrounding the pink set of stays I've made *three* versions of.   The first set was too big, no questions asked.  The second set, however, and my third and final (perfect!) pair, are nearly identical in dimensions.  The shape, however, differs.  And the first shape works brilliantly for my friend with broader shoulders and a wider chest--and the second shape works far better for me, with narrow shoulders and a narrow rib cage.

Very long story short--your body type should be taken into consideration in picking a set of stays or patterning your own.  Just as you would in selecting a pair of jeans or a fitted dress. The same things won't work for everyone.

4) Tabs are your friend.  Yeah, they're a pain.  Even plenty of extants skip them.  But I love how tabs ease the distribution of pressure and make the fit so much more comfortable.  Bite the bullet, make the stays with tabs.  You will curse them while you're binding your stays and love them ever after.

5) Be careful, they're addictive.  So I joke about making set after set of stays the past few years, but honestly?  They're a very fun project. Limited fabric so they're not an expensive endeavor, plenty of small steps so that you can make some progress with just a couple hours, and so functionally pretty when you finish.  Enjoy making a first set of stays, but watch out lest ye be bitten by the staymaking bug!

Any corset-making tips you've gained over the course of your own projects?


Cassidy said...

I cannot agree with no. 1 enough. "Too big" is a recurring problem for me, and it's especially annoying when it comes to foundation garments. Too small is much better than too big.

I've noticed with my most recent stays - from the Diderot pattern, I think - that, while I can wear them with or without a gap, the position of the straps are such that my shoulders get poked with boning unless the stays are laced shut. So I would add as a corollary to 2 or 3 that that's a specific thing to look out for. Be aware of how the pattern is cut and how it's been designed to be worn!

Rowenna said...

Definitely, Cassidy--straps add a whole new dimension to fitting. I've been told I got very lucky that mine have worked on the first go (though I think it may just be my scrawny shoulders--they don't have much space to work with to begin with!). And for other elements, too--knowing how the pattern is cut and how the stays are designed to be worn--absolutely. I've seen some uncomfortable ladies because they were wearing their stays too low, too high, otherwise improperly.

Evie said...

Mine are too big, too short waisted, need straps, etc. etc. etc. It's just so hard to motivate myself to make a new pair when I only get to wear them twice a year anyway. :/ That second pair in the brownish brocade is gorgeous!!!

Rowenna said...

Uncomfortable stays stink, Evie--and so does only getting to wear them twice a year. Solution...hmmm...more costumed hanging out!

I love that brown pair! The shape is really interesting.