1740s Silk Stays

Saturday, June 2, 2018

It's been more than two years and my Larkin & Smith stays have held up pretty well. However, they've stretched quite a bit, a characteristic of linen stays, and permanently smells like a camp fire from an open hearth cooking demo I did last winter. They're not a pair of stays I'd like to match with an elegant robe a la francaise or silk polonaise, so I'm sewing a whole new wardrobe from scratch, everything I'd need for those rare upper-crust impressions. 

I've long to make something ridiculously impractical and pretty. 

The Pattern:

Despite focusing on the 1770s to early 1780s, I decided to make the pair of stays from Norah Waugh's Corset and Crinolines. I had the book in high school and tried to make all the corsets without much success. Foolish me didn't believe in mock-ups back then. 

Why 1740s? Well, I like that elongated torso silhouette from that period, and there's a masochistic part of myself that enjoys the rigidness of a fully boned pair of stays. 

The things we do for historical fashion...

I've learned my lesson from high school. I printed out the pattern and went to work on a mockup!

The Mockup:

When taped the pieces together I discovered that there wasn't much alteration needed. Still in disbelief that an original pattern from 18th century could fit my modern body, I compared the pattern to my L&S stays. While the 1740s pattern was an inch smaller, it wasn't that different then my already broken-in L&S stays.

It took only an hour or two to sew up a mockup. I used cheap cotton duck from Joanns, boned the seam allowences with zipties, and used metal eyelets for quick and easy lacing. 

Since I don't care for the side-boob look, I widened the first panel to cover my bust and raised the edge of the second panel. Besides those minor adjustments, the fit wasn't too snug. At first, I thought I should cut a smaller size, since the stays might stretch like my first pair did, but decided against that based on these three factors:

1. Silk doesn't stretch as much a linen. 
2. There will be a bit of shrinkage once the stays were fully boned. 
3. My mockup wasn't fully boned and cotton duck stretches.

The Fabric:

Since this project is all about luxe, I splurged on a gold damask from Renaissance Fabrics. I tried taking pictures of it, but none of my photos could do the fabric justice, so I'm using theirs instead. 


I retraced the pieces onto craft paper and added the seam allowances directly onto the fabric with my friXion pen. Have you guys ever tried this pen? It can transfer right onto fabric without much effort and disappears with a swipe of an iron, even on low! IT'S MAGIC. Far easier and cheaper than the useless tracing pencils sold at Joann's for mega bucks.

Because I'm impatient and find cutting the least favorite part of the project, I laid the silk over four ply of linen canvas and cut all the pieces at once. Yes, my wrist hurt a lot afterwards.

Before you flood my comment section, I only used the quilting pins in the seam allowances, thank you very much. 

With my last pair of stays, I made my boning channels about 1/4th inches wide and could barely fit both pieces of boning without a quite amount of force, and resulted in a lot of snapping and cracking. This time around I made my channels around 3/8ths and I couldn't be happier about it. It's not as delicate as thin channels, but boy is it easier to bone! 

The friXion pen came in handy for channels for those vertical channels that I couldn't sew straight with my pressing foot, and when it came time to mirror the other half of the stomacher.

Handy tip? Snip all your threads after you sew your channels, or you end up with this mess. I almost didn't want to post evidence of my laziness and bad habits, but what's an annoying learning experience for me is a cautionary tale for you. 

One detail I disliked about the pattern is the randomness of the boning channels in the tabs. It wasn't pretty, and there wasn't any rhyme or reason for the placement. I wanted something uniform and easy to repeat, so after some guesswork, I decided to continue to sew two channels into the tabs. 

When all the boning channels were sewn, I went to work on the eyelets. I used your everyday DMC embroidery floss. Why not use something more period accurate? DMC is cheap, comes in a spectrum of colors, and holds up well under stress. Even after two years, my eyelets on my L&S stays are still doing strong. I'm in no rush to try out silk twist unless it's on the outside. 

Then I hit the one-giant-mistake you get with every project.

Can you see it? Any 18th century seamstress will. 

I forgot about spiral lacing! GAH!

I really didn't know what to do at first. I didn't have the patience to cut a new piece and start over, even if it was only a single panel, but I hated the idea of leaving holes in my stays. Before I made my decision, I ripped out the floss just to see the damage the awl and needle left behind. 

Eh, it's not that bad, and hopefully the fabric will relax with time. I marked the new placement of the eyelets and went to work. The end result isn't perfect, but it was the best I could do after that horrid mistake. I'm probably being too hard on myself, but that's the type of person I am. 

While Flat Oval caning would work better, I had a stack of Flat Flat caning that I bought for almost nothing in my stash. While the aesthetics are slightly different, it still performs the same. 

With the wider boning channels, there was barely any breakage and boning went a bit quicker than last time. 

All done! 

Now we get to the fun part!!! Putting the stays together!!!

First, I whipstitched the seam allowance back to the wrong side.  

Next, I held the panels together and whipstitch edges together, almost as if you're creating a hinge. 

Despite machine sewing my channels, it's rather impossible to machine sew fully boned panels together. I mean, you could if you sewed the panels first and then boned it, but you wouldn't be able to bone the diagonal channels that begin and end in the seam allowances. 

Now, remember how I told you about it fitting rather loose in the mockup? 

Me to my mockup:

It ended up being too tight! TOO TIGHT! Not loose! Tight! Motherf.....

After a beer, I figured it was because of three factors. 

1. Silk doesn't stretch as much a linen. 
2. There will be a bit of shrinkage once the stays were fully boned. 
3. My mockup wasn't fully boned and cotton duck stretches.

The same three factors came back to bite me on the ass, only in reverse. I think I highly underestimated the shrinkage with boning, and that maybe the cotton duck stretched a lot during the fitting. Some helpful people on facebook assured me that silk will stretch, maybe not by much, but it would loosen with wear. 

I still couldn't take the risk of finished a pair of stays that might not ever fit. I grabbed my handy-dandy seam ripper and went to work! Thank god for 5/8th seam allowances. And next time, I'm making them an inch! 

I opened all the seams I could, let it out far as I could, and repeated the last two steps.

AND IT FIT! Holy mother, it fit. For a moment I thought everything was ruined, but cheers to 5/8th seam allowances!!!

Now the celebration is over, let's get back to more tedious work.

I chose royal blue as a contrast color for the stays. I was inspired by A Stitch In Time, when Ninya Mikhaila remakes the Black Prince's jupon, and I remember how stunning the color combination was stunning with fresh fabrics. 

I had a difficult time tracking down royal blue silk ribbon, so I bought a poly roll from Joann's for the seam tape. I admit, I got a bit lazy and cheap when it came down to the binding. I probably should've bought real silk, but I was already in the craft store and didn't want to mail order another $30 yard of silk, so I bought a $3 half yard of casa poly satin. 

Honest opinion? It's not awful. It's matte, which is nice. It doesn't have that cheap sheen like in other polys. The bad side? It's thick, causing some bulk around the corners. Probably not the best thing to bind stays with, but I'd use it again to bind a corset.

I kept my promise from my last pair of stays and sewed the binding by hand. It's time consuming, but hand sewing does improve the appearance dramatically. It was awkward at first, but after some trial and error, and working a little bit at a time, I finished without much pain. However, the tedious task did erase any desire to make another pair of stays again. 

I did have an frustrating time trying to figure out how to apply the tape over the seams. I tried multiple times with different stitches and needles, but gave up and stitched in the ditch. I honestly wish I did this to begin with because it was easier, faster, and didn't buckle as warned in the L&S manual. I think the trick is to keep the stitches small, far apart, and the thread tension loose. 

Evidence of letting out the seam allowance where I could.

It only took a few episodes of Outlander to handsew the bias to the wrong side.

Honestly, I don't think I was ever that happy to be done with a project. 

Anyhow, here's the finish thing.

The Stays:

Chemise: American Duchess' Simplicity 8579. Earrings: K. Walters.

Final Thoughts: I'm happy it's done. I am not a staymaker, as much as I love the idea of the challenge it brings. I'm rather unhappy that my tabs aren't mirror images of each other, and while the poly satin was cheap and easy to acquire, it didn't make the best material for binding stays. In hindsight, the stomacher could be just a tad longer. Anyway, all of my complaints are superficial. The stays fit like a dream, even with letting out the seams. I don't know if I'd ever make this specific pattern again, but I feel like this project refined some of my techniques for future stays. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. In the end, it's only underwear.


  1. They really turned out nicely! Did you end up putting lining in them or just have the silk and heavy linen canvase?

    1. Thanks! I haven't put the lining in yet. I like to wear it a few times beforehand, just in case I need to add some horizontal boning around the tummy area to keep it from bowing.

  2. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS QUEEEEEEEEEEEEN YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS!!! These look so beautiful on you, yellow and blue is the perfect color combo! I absolutely cannot wait to see more of what you do and I also can't wait to see you because I miss your face <3


    1. Thank you! The red robe a la francaise is coming! That trim itself should be a post of its own!

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