Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Regency Underwear

Absolutely last minute (as in 3 days before the picnic) I decided I really couldn't wear my regency dress with the proper under garments, particularly a pair of stays to push my bust up to the proper heights for such a dress. I did a quick bit of research (probably not as much as I should have done) and quickly drafted a simple pattern consisting of a front piece, a back piece and bust gussets. After I had already started on them, I came across this tutorial for drafting your own Regency short stays pattern, and it is pretty close to what I have done. I also found this post helpful with the fit.

I cut these pieces from some smallish bits of calico, and quickly basted them together with a long machine stitch. I immediately realised I had some issues with how my straps were sitting in the front. If I had more time, I would redraft the front and fix this, but for this project, I figured I would just fix it up with a quick and dirty dart on each side and be done with it. I then used a regular stitch length and re-sewed the seems I had basted together.

Quick and Dirty Dart to fix the armhole gape

I wasn't sure I had added enough width with my bust gussets, as it was difficult to fit to myself, considering the stays are only supposed to come up to mid bust and allow a certain amount of "spillage" at the top, which is generally contained within the chemise. I won't provide a photo, but I'm sure you can imagine how awkward that is to try and check the fit on when things are only half made. But I continued on with what I had anyway. The bust gussets are sewn into 3 inch deep slits in the front bodice piece. I had 2 on each side, which seems to be pretty common, although I also came across ones with only one in my research, and I am sure there are some with more than 2 for rather busty ladies. After the gussets are sewn in my machine, I top stitched around them by hand.

Bust Gussets

I considered lining my stays, but as I was really pressed for time, I decided to be naughty and just stick with my one layer of calico. I figure I will probably make a better set of stays at a later date anyway, so this one really only has to survive one day. Once I'd made that decision, I cut some boning to size for my front edges, folded the excess fabric over them, encasing the boning with some extra room and pinned in place. I then marked points every inch or so along and used a small pair of scissor to puncture a hole through all the layers (next to the boning, not through it) then I used my needle and thread to bind around the edges of the hole, creating a hand worked grommet for my lacing.

Hand worked grommets

When I was only a few grommets in, I think I nicked myself with my scissors when puncturing the fabric and didn't notice, until I turned my work over and found this:


Oh well, at least it was on the inside of the stays, and not the outside.

After all the grommets were finished, I just used some simple white ribbon from my stash to try it on to get a better idea on the fit. I have just tried it on over a modern bra and work shirt, and I haven't laced it quite tightly enough, but I think you get the idea.

After taking this, I realised that this really did need some more boning at the sides, but as this is just a rush job, it's going to have to do.

 I hand sewed binding along the neckline and armholes to finish the edges. I considered using the same blue binding that I used on the dress, but decided to go with white instead, so I wouldn't risk the colour being visible through the dress. The hem was just turned up twice in a narrow hand stitched hem.

When I was about half way through making my stays, I realised I was definitely going to need a chemise to help hold my bust in. As my dress was only short sleeve, I opted to make a really, really simple sleeveless chemise from an old off white sheet. I have no idea if sleeveless chemises are period correct or not, but it seemed the best option for my dress and time constraints. I simply pinned a rough pattern shape on my folded fabric, with a wide neckline and flaring out slightly towards the hemline, and cut it out. I did this just by eye, so I have no measurements to share with you.

The shoulder  and side seams were then machine sewn, I chose to use a french seam to enclose the raw edges, as they will be directly against my skin and I don't want them to fray. More bias binding was then used bind the armholes and also to create a drawstring casing along the neckline. I used a tip from this post from Tea in a Teacup about sewing a regency chemise, and made 2 hand worked eyelets in the casing at the centre front and back, with the draw string secured at the shoulders so that the front and back can be gathered independently. I used more of the same white ribbon that I used on the stays for the drawstrings.

I had intended to hand sew the hem, but as I had very limited time, I may or may not have left the chemise unhemmed at this point......

I actually only wore the chemise for the drive down to Sydney, while I finished hand sewing the hem on the stays as my husband drove. I found the chemise and the stays were very effective at giving me the correct shape and support for the period, but I will definitely use more boning in my next set, as I did find the sides riding up a little bit when I was sitting, and occasionally the bottom of the boning in the front would start curling up because of that. By the end of the day, I was finding I was holding myself in a better posture that stopped it riding up, but I still will put more effort into the next set.

I unfortunately didn't get a nice full length shot of my chemise and stays being worn on the day, but I do have a few progress selfies.

Before the bias binding and drawstring
(wearing a modern bra underneath)

After the addition of the drawstring

Still wearing a bra underneath

While they may have been a rush job, I was really happy with the result. I will try to get the chemise hemmed, and bribe my husband to take some better photos.


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