Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Elizabethan Wedding Gown:  

I've had this project on the back burner for two whole years!  Finally going to have the opportunity to finish it for the photoshoot I have planned in a few months. Working on finishing the beading on the forepanel.

Bodice is hand-quilted, and beaded.

Overskirt:  Matching embroidery with beading.

 Upper-sleeves: Worked in a braided-smocking technique.

Forepanel:  Hand-quilted and beaded.

Prepping to Make 18th Century Stays

There has been a lot of debate about using plastic boning - such as Baleen (synthetic whalebone), and cable ties - vs steel. If you haven't read the article, here's the link published by Foundations Revealed. I found it thought provoking!

Let me segue for a moment and talk about "historically accurate stays." By the fourth quarter of the 19th century (late 1800s) baleen (whale bone) was growing increasingly more expensive and more difficult to acquire; due excessive whaling. Whale fat was used in mass quantities for oil, and of course the bones were turned into corset stays and busks. The unavailability of baleen encouraged experimentation with other types of materials used for boning. Some of the most popular alternatives were cork strips, cording, watchspring steel, Coraline, and Featherbone. Coraline was manufactured from the straight, stiff fibers of the Mexican ixtle plant, bound together by two strands of thread wrapped in opposite directions. Featherbone was manufactured from the quills of feathers. 

More  historical costumers, and reknowned historical corsetiers, are slowly beginning to rethink their previous judgments about metal as an "accurate"and more desirable alternative to plastic for 16th, 17th, and 18th Century stays. To be precise, as I mentioned above, metal stays were not historically accurate until the late 19th Century.  So if your goal is for "historical accuracy," metal stays would be out for an 18th Century corset - as well as for an Elizabethan and 17th Century. So, if you're using metal thinking it's "period" then you might as well use another type of boning, because INDUSTRIAL CABLE TIES for a 16th, 17th, or 18th Century corset/stays/pair of bodies is just as historically accurate as metal -- So why not be comfortable?

Many costumers or reenactors have had negative experiences with plastic boning - but in those cases it is often the "type" of plastic boning used.  The pre-covered plastic boning you purchase at JoAnns, for instance, has a tendency to warp from body heat, but in my experience, a corset crafted using all-metal stays - while considered to be the ONLY option for the more corpulent figure - is uncomfortable! - - That's my personal opinion and personal experience. It may not be yours. :)  

Another thing to consider is that an Elizabethan and 18th Century corset or stays were not made for tight lacing or reduction. I've been a reenactor since 2001. Far too many of you ladies out there at Renfaire and historical reenactments are buying or constructing corsets 3, 4, or 5 inches too small and tight-lacing yourself into them. Of course you would need metal stays to accomplish that! - but the true, historical purpose for a pair of bodies in the 16th Century or Stays in the the 17th and 18th century, were to smooth out the torso, flatten and lift the breasts; but not to make your waist or torso appear smaller!  You should not be so tightly laced up that you can't breathe or are in pain! I see this year after year! For one thing, it makes it very difficult to get accurate measurements when I'm draping a pattern for a gown.  Depending upon the person who laced you up, your measurements will fluctuate! I need exact measurements. Your stays should only be snug enough so that your breasts don't slip down. As a general rule, I only leave about 2 to 2.5 inches of allowance for my corsets and bodices to ensure that every time you put it on, your measurements will be the same.

My point is that, there are options to using all metal for stays, and if your corset is properly fitted and constructed there isn't a need to be laced into a steel cage! I personally use a mixture of plastic and metal.

I am a pragmatist rather than a strict purist. It all boils down to what my clients prefer, what they find individually comfortable, and what they can afford! I try always to lead with kindness and be polite; therefore, I just don't make a habit of criticizing anyone's choices, or involve myself in debating or imperiously announcing what is and is not historically accurate about someone's choices. My opinion is this: frankly, no one will see it but you! - So wear what is comfortable! Whether it's metal, Baleen, cable ties, or Reeds, use whatever works for you personally!  I tell my clients, and anyone who will listen, not to get caught up in stressing over what is or is not considered "acceptable" by other costumers. Make it your personal choice, not a choice you make in an effort to feel or be "accepted" by a hand full of people.

Take Your Measurements.

When taking the measurements, wear a tight-fitting T-shirt with straight side seams. It replaces the shift, which will have to fit underneath the stays, and also gives you a guideline as to where your side line is.

    Because there aren't any "cups" in this style of corset, and you won't need waist reduction, it isn't necessary for some measurementsTo avoid confusion let's just focus on what you DO need: 

    OB = Overbust - Just above the bustline
    BF = Bust at it's fullest. 
    UB = Under bust or ribcage circumference.  
    WW = Waist Width

    Vertical measurements:
    CF = Navel to top of corset.
    FL = Front Length  - Press and compress breasts up how they would sit in the corset. Measure from just above where the nipple sits to your waist.
    SL = Side Length - Taken at the side from your waist to the under arm - about 2.5 inches below the flesh part of your arm pit.
    BL = Back Length - Taken waist to top of the corset - below the bottom of the shoulder blade.
      Now, fit the pattern pieces together and pin them. Compare your measurements to the pattern.

      If the circumference measurements differ only a bit, you can add/subtract that in the side seams when altering the pattern.

      If your bust is larger, then you will need to add to the "FRONT" piece - but not both front and back pieces; otherwise, it will be too lose.

      This blog explains sizing in great detail: 

       However, this video is another good resource to show how to take your 
      measurements for a pair of stays: 


      Before you cut out your pieces, let me give you some more tips I've learned! 

      On polyblend fabrics such as crepes, or satin, or stretch lace, they have a tendency to ripple or pucker on the seams if you cut them on the lengthwise grain. 

      You can find the lengthwise and crosswise grain of your fabric by looking at the diagram to the right. 

      While most patterns tell you to cut on the lengthwise grain, for poly blends this can spell disaster! 

      Have you ever noticed when using poly blend fabrics how when you sew your seams they ripple and gather and no amount of pressing with a steam iron will smooth them?  Even if you pull or tug on your fabric as it feeds through your machine it will still ripple and pucker! You try changing your machine needle, adjusting the thread tension, and nothing helps!

      The reason this happens is because you've cut out your pattern pieces on the lengthwise grain and your seams are following that grain as well. 

      Instead, cut them on the crosswise grain.

      My crude little diagram shows you what I'm talking about.  The top diagram is cut on the crosswise grain so that your seams will also be on the crosswise grain.

      When you stitch down the seams there WILL be some rippling with the type of fabrics mentioned above, but once you press your seams with the steam iron they will press flat!

      On silk, like the red Dupioni I am using, you will want to make sure your pieces are cut on the crosswise grain  like the top diagram.