Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Regency/Empire Stays #0 (Research Link Drop)

Expanding into a new era, which means it's time for even more underwear.  That makes two downsides to the "accuracy bug": a lingering sense of guilt at the idea of making a fun new dress without first getting the right support garments, and an inability to watch most American-made costume dramas (or pre-1995 British ones).

While the Regency/Empire/Directoire vaguely neo-classical look is one of the few periods pre-1920s in which you can get away without stays, I've decided against it.  First, there's a very narrow window right around/before 1800 when the "no stays" thing was most popular; making an era-appropriate corset will allow me to stretch the utility of a given high-waist dress over a longer period, instead of relegating it to a couple years just before 1800.  Second, I need the support and like the smoother line of a foundation garment--short stays may do the former, but aren't really up to the latter.  Modern bras are a 100+ year anachronism for this period, and yes, that changes the fit of the gown.  (See why I can't watch 1980s costume dramas?)  

I've identified two designs in Nora Wraugh's Corsets and Crinolines which look suited to my needs.  One is the "transitional stays" dated to 1810, the other the "Corset a la Ninon", of the same year.  What I liked about these two designs is the presence of bust and hip gores, giving support/lift and allowing movement, respectively, while still maintaining a fairly straight line, as suits the long lines of the gowns.  Unfortunately, both of these sketches show the garments as worn, and there's an almost 30 year gap in cutting layouts in Corsets and Crinolines between the 1790s and 1820s.

Following the excellent advice at The Sense and Sensibility Forums, I decided to consult Jean Hunnisett's Period Costumes for Stage and Screen, 1800-1909, before draping a toile.  It's supposed to have an excellent 1810s/1820s stay pattern (unfortunately, the local library which obliged with Ms. Hunnisett's very interesting 1500-1800 book had to order the 1800-1909 one, so I'm still waiting on it).

While waiting for the book to come in, I started messing around with some of the pattern pieces I could find.  Corsets and Crinolines gives a diagram for an 1820s corset of white sateen, which closely follows the lines of the 1810 transitional stays, only shorted a bit.  The 1838 stays instructions/diagram from The Workwoman's Guide (also reprinted in this book) also follow a similar format, and could be adapted.  My preferred design, the "Corset a la Ninon", however, has a different front treatment than either of those options.  Like them the garment primarily rectangular with the shape coming from inset gores, but the 'Ninon' has an angled 'dart' on the side-fronts and two back gores providing the ease/shaping over the abdomen and hips; the top seems to have a side gore at the side of the bust, going through a strange horizontal piece not carried over to the back (which is all in one piece along the top).

Diagram of women's stays from The Workwoman's Guide (1838).
Stays from The Workwoman'sGuide (1838)
Very intriguingly, I found some originals at the Met, which follow a similar idea with bust gores on the front (of course) and hip gores set toward the back of the one-piece garment, like this slightly later corset, which has two bust gores on each side, and some lovely cording or quilting just below them.

Flipping through The Workwoman's Guide (available on-line; it's public domain) offered some insight on the horizontal seam-line on the "Ninon", which may in fact be a "modesty-piece": a half-nail (2 5/8") strip cut on the cross, with a draw string which snugs the top of the stay over the bust "so as to shade it delicately". Although the "Ninon" sketch, shows a single bust gore on either side, the originals I've looked at more often feature two smaller gores to each side (and I suspect this will better suit my figure).  Either way, a wooden busk will be used center front, and bones on either side of the back eyelets.  Additional boning or cording will be deployed, as needed, vertically at the sides and along the gores on a diagonal.

Additional ideas (original corsets from the Met collection):

Short Stays, at least all the ones I've seem, have no busk, but lace up the front.  Check out the beautiful herringbone stitches and diamond accents on the back.

Those pretty long stays I linked to before appear to have a one-piece front (with a long 16" busk); the bust shaping comes from 4 gores, while the hip- shaping comes from an apparently curved side seam and hip gores set into the back piece.

These long stays (and these) intrigue me greatly, because they mark the only time I've seen front-lacing long stays in the 1800s.  The front bust gores and back (brown) or side (white) hip gores are consistent with the other 1810s and 1820s long stays; narrow bones provide support at the center back, while the bones along the lacing holes work for a busk.  The shoulder straps suggest a date early in the 19th century (they are ubiquitous in the previous century stopped being used in women's garments in the 1840s, so far as I can tell), but the rounded bottom edge on the front of the brown corset doesn't fit with what I expect of the high-waist era.

There's a different take on lacing holes in this beautifully corded 1820s corset.  I'll probably stick with set-in grommets (not period) or hand-stitched eyelets (period, time-consuming), but they are very pretty.  I'm also intrigued by the apparent lack of gores, and the wide, low straps which look like cap sleeves.

Attempts to find hardwood in sufficiently thin increments (1/8" thick) have thus-far been thwarted; I may have to resort to buying a buck instead of carving one. :(

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