So ever since hearing that we were going to do RevWar, I knew that I wanted to wear stays. Call me weird, but I just think they look cool. I don’t think they are uncomfortable at all. (Okay well granted I had never worn any for extended periods of time, but I truly believe that if they were made to fit your body, they wouldn’t be uncomfortable.) I knew that I couldn’t afford to buy them right now because they usually cost close to $100 and that just wasn’t in the budget this year, so I decided to hold off and look around, do some research and see if I could make a pair. Seemed daunting, but I figured it might be worth a try.
So the first place I started my research was the Internet of course!! Here are a few sites that I found along the way:
Saga of the Stays
Good Directions on how to make Stays
Some good Articles
Timeline of Stays through History
And of course I just did some good old fashion asking around when we were at the events. Many of the women in my regiment don’t wear stays, but some of them had made them, so they had some good tips for me. I also asked Sutlers that I noticed had stays made up, ready to buy. One good tip that I got was to use ¼” reeding for the stays themselves, rather than the poly or metal ones that are sold. (More on this later.)
So now that I had an idea of what I wanted to do I had to find a pattern. The directions above had a drawn pattern, but I wanted something more rigid. I wanted to be able to cut it out easily, so I looked up patterns on Townsend and found a great one. It looked a little more complicated then some of the others I have seen around, but I felt it was one of the more accurate examples from all that I had seen. The one I picked can be found here.
Once it arrived, I sat on it for a while. I was trying to figure out the best fabric to use. I didn’t want anything too thin because I didn’t want the stays poking out at me, but I also didn’t want it to be too hot. One day we were out looking at yard sales and I stumbled upon a great find. Someone was getting rid of some bolts of fabric, I got a black cotton, which I wanted for a Halloween quilt I wanted to make, a black canvas, and two green cotton bolts. I got all of these for $25, which is significantly less then I would have paid for them by the yard, especially considering these bolts were full. I figured that the black canvas would be great for Kris’ gaiters and for the inner part of my stays. It is thick enough so nothing pokes out, and since another fabric would be on the outside, the black wouldn’t absorb heat as much. I picked a nice blue check fabric to go on the outside.
I cut out all the pieces, followed the directions and sewed it all up. I did my best to do channels that were slightly larger than a ¼” since the reeding would be a ¼” I figured it wouldn’t work if the channels were the same size. My lines were not the straightest since I am not a professional seamstress by any means, but I thought it turned out pretty good. The reeding I picked up is found here. It came in a huge bundle, way more then I needed, but it was cheap enough that I wasn’t too concerned. I soaked the reeding to help it uncurl, and I slid it in the channels. Since my channels weren’t perfect, I actually ended up having to trim down some of the pieces of reeding, but eventually they all fit in there. I dried it under something heavy and flat to make sure the reeding didn’t curl back up. The stays still needed a backing layer and the finishing around the edges, but I wanted to try wearing it once before I did that.
In order to wear my stays I had to punch holes in it so it could be laced. I actually used my anywhere eyelet punch that I had from my scrapbooking supplies. I punched the holes using the guide from the pattern, and then I hand overcast stitched each hole. This took quite a bit of time to do, but I think it looks really nice. They would not have used metal grommets in this time period, though I know some people use them and then cover them with thread, I figured that was just an extra step.
I tried them on and they fit fairly well. They only laced in the back, so I had to have my husband help me get them tied up. I wore them for one event, but quickly started to notice that the reeding went too far down. I had brought the reeding all the way down into the tabs, but I think it would have been better to stop right above the tabs. I took the stays off for that day and I went back and pulled the reeding out, trimmed it, and pushed it back in so it was now above the tabs. I wore that version for the last parade we had, and it wasn’t too bad. It was still slightly uncomfortable around the waist, but I was walking and sitting this day and really it was a lot better then the last time.
So that was as far as I got. I still haven’t finished off the stays because to be honest I dread putting the edging on there, and since they are still not quite right, I wonder if I should have made the pattern a little longer. And the thought of starting the whole thing over to try it a little longer makes me nauseous. I have all the materials, but the time it took to make it, is time I really only wanted to spend once. So I gave up, I set them aside. I love them, and I wish they were right, but I just can’t bring myself to finish them right now. Since it’s more of a matter of time then cost or materials, maybe someday in the near future I will try again.
Believe me yours faithfully,
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