Time Traveling | Early 19th Century Corded Stays

Corded Stays Jessica Quirk B.jpg
Corded Stays Jessica Quirk J.jpg
Corded Stays Jessica Quirk C.jpg
Corded Stays Jessica Quirk H.jpg
Corded Stays Jessica Quirk D.jpg

I’ve been on a sewing roll in 2019 and my latest project is a pair of early 19th century stays. As fashion moved towards a neoclassical influence around the turn of the century, the undergarments worn also evolved. Instead of shaping the torso into a conical shape (like my first pair of stays), the shape of the bosom was more defined by lifting and separating the bust (versus just smushing them up like previous centuries).

The construction for this new shape incorporates gussets, or triangular shaped inserts, to give more shape to the stays. To me this is probably the first version of the bra we know and wear today - from flattened uniboobs to more rounded cups.

When it comes to my historical undergarments - you know me - the more elaborate, the better! Enter the idea for corded stays. These actually fall more towards the 1820-1830s due to the cording, but I’m hoping the shape of this garment will work for costumes between 1800-1840. Plus I wanted to make something spectacular, and I think I’ve done it!

For my base pattern, I worked with the Laughing Moon Mercantile 115 and chose a white coutil (a tightly woven fabric made for corsetry). I made a quick mock up in size 16, determined I could size down and got to the business of cutting and cording my pieces.

Corded Stays Jessica Quirk F.jpg

For my cording design I used extant museum pieces (specifically this one) as my inspiration. I first drew sketches of the overall look and then moved to creating them on my paper pattern. I then taped my fabric and cording design to my windows and traced them with a water soluble pen. The design I started with is far less intricate than my final design because I just kept adding, adding, adding channels (even after front and back sides were joined) but I’m really glad I did. This is an intentionally softer style corset (there’s way more breathing room than my earlier pair) and isn’t meant for major waist reduction like mid 19th century - 20th century styles. It does provide posture correction and some shaping, but my rib cage can expand so much more than a heavily boned version. There are only four total boning channels, plus the front busk pocket so all of the extra cording gives the garment more strength. Plus I think it’s really beautiful!

After the channels are sewn, loose tails are threaded into a needle and taken to the back side. Every single stop and start of a stitching line! After a while I altered my technique a bit so I could sew one whole section (like 4 parallel lines) without cutting my thread. It can get mighty messy with all of those threads on the backside. Once they were pulled to the back, I tied the bobbin and top threads together and cut them near the knot. Then comes the fun part of actually getting the cording into the channels.

I did this using a combination of large needles, needle nose pliers and a fierce determination to carry on even when my fingers were so sore! You need the pliers to grab the needle and keep it from slipping as you gather the thick fabric and push the needle through. I can’t imagine even getting one channel complete without them! For the majority of the channels, I used a blunt tapestry needle, but I also used a long (4-5”) sharper needle to quickly get me through shorter channels. I had to be very careful to not puncture my top fabric with the needles and keep the cording (I just used cotton yarn) in place.

After the gussets were sewn and flossed (part embroidery, part stabilization), I moved onto the back eyelets. Those are all hand sewn and call me crazy but I LOVE doing them. They’re so cute and strong! Finally, after the straps were sewn to the back, I did bias binding around both the top and bottom edges. This is another thing I really love! If you’re precise, it looks so crisp and amazing. During that process I also added a drawstring channel to the top of the front so I could draw in the excess space created by the bust gussets.

The center front busk is a flat wooden piece inserted into a pocket. In my early construction phases I just used a freebie paint stick (as many a historical costumer has recommended online!) but wanted something a little more special and straight (there’s a small indentation about 2” from one edge on both left and right sides I didn’t want showing through my stays. Adam was able to run out to his woodshop and brought back a gorgeous ash version (wood leftover from our dining room floors!) in under 5 minutes! Thanks Adam!

This project took about seven working days to complete (during weekends, while kids are playing or at night). My pattern, fabric and lacing were a gift from my mother in law - thank you Mary!!!) and I harvested old steel bones (creepy!) from a corset I’m not planning on wearing again.

In the end I’m excited to add this piece to my costume closet and start making regency style dresses to be worn over it. If you’d like to see more behind the scenes, check out my Instagram Highlights to watch the process!

Corded Stays Jessica Quirk M.jpg
Corded Stays Jessica Quirk E.jpg
Corded Stays Jessica Quirk A.jpg

Time Traveling | 18th Century Snow Day

Red Chintz Gown
Red Chintz Gown 7.jpg
Red Chintz Gown 3.jpg
Red Chintz Gown

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten gussied up in my 18th century gear! With a gorgeous snowy morning as my backdrop, I pulled out my red chintz Italian gown and styled it for a wintertime scene. I wore my dark red petticoat, a 1970s silk Dior scarf as a fichu, a black silk wired ribbon and pair of long black gloves. I powdered my hair and arranged two feathers in it. I went a little more dramatic with makeup (please tell me I don’t look like a badger?) and I felt so beautiful posing for these images!

Georgian Red Winter Gown
18th Century Snow Day Red Chintz Gown
Red Chintz Gown
Georgian Red Chintz Gown Snow Day

My Year Shopping Secondhand First

new years solution second hand.jpg

With the end of the year just 11 days away, I’m pretty pumped to report I kept my New Year’s Resolution this year! Maybe for the first time ever? For 2018, I set a goal of only shopping second hand first with a few exceptions. That’s right - no mindless $100 Target checkouts, no more Nordstrom sale, none of it!

The real push behind this change was wanting to get as far away as possible from my old blog, What I Wore. Creating near daily content for 10 years took a huge toll on my wallet and although I wore and re-wore my clothes all the time, I still bought a lot. A lot more than I needed. I genuinely liked my clothes, but how many pairs of jeans do you need? How many coats or striped shirts? Olive jackets? I’ve always bought things that had a timeless appeal and I’m happy to report that nothing went out of style in one year’s time. I’m still wearing the same pair of Rag + Bone booties, Lee Jeans (LOVE THEM) and self knit sweaters. The one thing that does need retired? My old Anna Maria sweatshirt (as seen in a million of my instagram stories). That thing is ratty AF.

I think the reason this resolution worked is because it was something I truly wanted to do, not something I should do. If you’re not fully committed, it’s probably not time to start something you’re not 100% keen on.

Exceptions to the Rule

Of course, there were exceptions. I bought myself two new bras after I completed 16 months of breast feeding and my size changed. I purchased three pair of Thinx undies in hopes I could turn my cycle into a no waste experiment (jury’s still out on them. They are great for light days but I probably need a few more pair to feel like I’m not constantly washing and hanging them up to dry).

And there were some new additions to my closet as gifts. A pair of 18th century shoes care of my mom, a few pieces from my MIL and a jacket and tee shirt from my husband.

I don’t count fabric for sewing my own clothes against my purchasing habits so my whole 1780s look fell into the parameters of my resolution too.

As for my kids - they get almost 90% of their clothes from the grandmas - a mix of new and second hand. Everything I buy them (minus socks and undies) is from a kid’s resale shop called Once Upon a Child. So many of the things there are never worn or maybe worn a few times and in like new condition. This goes for their boots, snow gear and coats too!

In my home I also focused on second hand first. I did this bedroom makeover without buying anything first hand and my sunroom was completed last year without any 2018 decorative purchases (but the rugs and one new chair were bought new in 2017). Some have asked about construction supplies - those are usually new too. When i can find an old light fixture I’ll use it (like in the laundry room), but in some places where 5 lights are needed (like the lighting in the sunroom), you just have to get new.

So what about 2019?

I’m still committed to second hand first (here’s how I normally attack a thrift shop), but in 2019, I’d like to go a step further by sewing my own clothes. I have some denim I want to make into overalls and I’d like to try making a bathing suit (and I already have that fabric too!). This might be the year I try to make my own bras (why not?) or maybe a grey sweatshirt (I’ve never sewn knits, but if I like it, maybe I’ll make tee shirts too?) I found a new to me fabric store in Adam’s home town and I think it’s going to help make all of my sewing dreams a reality. It might cost me more, but designing and sewing my own pieces is one of my favorite things to do. I won’t skip an amazing vintage piece from the thrifts, but my days of Target shopping sprees are over.

Was it hard? No! We have great thrift stores in town and if I’m not in a hurry to get something, it will eventually show up (I’m looking at you, donut pan!). I’m also a person that loves hunting and digging. It’s like I can scan the junk and the treasures just pop out at me! Also: I love a bargain. It was a great experiment and I’m so happy I’ve changed my shopping habits!

What are you resolving to change in 2019?

Our Farmhouse | Toy Kitchen Makeover

Kitchen Full Reno.jpg
Kitchen Reno Short.jpg

We’ve had this little toy Hape kitchen with us since Felix was a toddler. It’s cute enough but I’ve never been a huge fan of bright orange and red it felt better placed in the kids’ room instead of out in the main living space. Bea really likes playing house, so I thought I’d give the little toy kitchen a quick update (I started this morning, so under 4 hours total with drying time) and move it to the family room.

See also: Mama loves a makeover.

So here’s what I did: first I unscrewed all of the orange parts - two front handles and the kitchen ledge and cleaned them well. I found some matte black spray paint in the basement and gave them a few light coats outside.

Meanwhile, I removed the backsplash and painted it white (again, with what I had on hand). After dry, I got do to the fun part - painting on the tile (or more accurately, the grout lines!) I used a pencil to make a 1.25” grid and then “painted” in the grout using a black chalk marker. I’ve always wanted to do this layout with subway tile, so this little project is a fun way to envision it. I made sure to do my pencil strokes on the light side so a quick coat of white paint would cover up pencil marks.

Hape Toy Kitchen Makeover.jpg
Kitchen Reno Top .jpg

Once I screwed this panel back on, I ran my black marker along the crease were it meets the countertop to give it a crisp, perfect finish. I got pretty lucky that my “tiles” fit perfectly. I love how the small scale makes them look realistic!

I wanted to do something about the red knobs, but they weren’t coming off easily to be spray painted. I tried some craft paint but it didn’t grab onto the lacquered finish - so I just used the chalk marker on that too.

Finally I spent way too much time styling it out. Those little wooden “vases” are napkin rings and I grabbed some of my faux plants to make it cute. There’s also a little iron owl trivet on there.

Guys - this project was easy, quick and totally free because I used supplies from my stash. Also a good way to get out my need to renovate and finish a space while my other projects are currently being demo’d.

Let's do a Whole 30!

Screen Shot 2018-12-17 at 10.01.47 AM.png

With just about two weeks until the new year, I’ve started to think about what kind of fresh beginnings I’d like to take on. I actually kept my 2018 resolution (second hand first!) and plan on only sewing my own clothes in 2019! But today, I’d like to focus on health. Guys, I have been eating so poorly lately and I feel it. Not enough good stuff (green anything? Christmas tree cupcakes do not count!) So much sugar and fast food - it’s no wonder I feel gross. My skin is crying out for help. My digestion is not happy. I need a change.

I haven’t done a proper, all out Whole 30 in years - I’ve been either pregnant or nursing for the past five (which meant I was nauseous or needing to keep my supply up) - and now that I’m not supporting another person - it’s time! My main goal - repair my gut and cure my acne (from the outside in!) I think I can do it by removing dairy, sugar and gluten from my diet - those are my most likely triggers, but by doing a full elimination plan (removing soy, all grains, and legumes, and then slowly adding them back in) I can be sure. On the acne front I am also going to be sure to eat more foods with probiotics (like sauerkraut and kimchi) and taking zinc to repair my gut lining. Plus I know I feel better when I’m eating real food. I’m about 15 pounds heavier than when I became pregnant with Felix, but I actually feel pretty good about my body’s shape. I wouldn’t mind a little breathing room in my jeans, but I don’t want to lose too much weight because I don’t want to sew a whole new wardrobe (well… I do… but there’s only 24 hours in a day!)

I know from experience, doing a bit diet overall can be overwhelming. I’ve combed through my archives for some posts that will help:

How to Plan for the Whole 30

My Whole 30 Results

Follow Up to the Whole 30

Whole 30 Breakfast Ideas

Whole 30 One Week Menu + Shopping List

Healthy Meal Ideas (not paleo/Whole 30!)

Will you join me? What kind of health forward goals do you have?