Time Traveling | Early 19th Century Corded Stays

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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.

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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!

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Time Traveling | 18th Century Snow Day

Red Chintz Gown
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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
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Georgian Red Chintz Gown Snow Day

18th Century Market Fair at Locust Grove

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This young man was also at JAF and does wonderful military interpretations.

This young man was also at JAF and does wonderful military interpretations.

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An example of what the market fair booths look like.

An example of what the market fair booths look like.

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Ever wonder what it’s like to go to an 18th century market? What early Americans would wear, eat and buy? We got the chance to take it all in last weekend when we time traveled to 1778 just outside of Louisville, KY at historic Locust Grove!

For just one weekend, historical interpreters set up camp in canvas tents. There are market sellers, tradesmen and women, entertainers and both the Continental and British forces, plus their camp followers. A lot of the vendors also set up their personal camp within their larger booth tent, and we’re not just talking cots! One woman let me peek into her bedroom which was a full wooden queen bed, along with a dresser and some chairs! Another family moved into one of the historic cabins and it looked so authentic! Maybe one day when the kids are older we’ll get the chance to do the same!

I wish I had more photos, but much of our time was spent chasing the kids around! They got a lot of compliments on their little costumes and I sure was a proud mama!

Beatrix at Market Fair
Pretending to play a colonial game of Fox and Goose.

Pretending to play a colonial game of Fox and Goose.

Felix Looks On
These are Hessian Mercenaries who fought with the British. I LOVE THEIR PANTS.

These are Hessian Mercenaries who fought with the British. I LOVE THEIR PANTS.

Time Traveling | Lil Alexander Hamilton

Little Hamilton Halloween Costume
Silly Hamilton

Just like his country, my little Alexander Hamilton is young, scrappy and hungry. Now that it’s complete, I’m so excited to share Felix’s 18th Century Market Fair and Halloween costume! I’d love to tell you more about how it came together!

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Silly Hamilton
Little Alexander Hamilton Halloween Costume

Pattern

To create this costume, I ordered a 1970s bicentennial pattern off of etsy in the smallest size I could find. It was nearly complete - just missing the shirt sleeve - which was easy to measure and draft on my own. I’d say I did a pretty decent job with visual accuracy but because this is a kids costume, I did take some modern shortcuts, which I’ll explain below.

Alexander Hamilton and Little Red Riding Hood

Fabric and Notions

Felix’s ruffle shirt is a basic white cotton. The waistcoat and breeches are a natural undyed 100% cotton denim. His jacket is cotton flannel and faced with left over denim from another project - it was a little too limp on it’s own and again, because it’s just for playtime, I didn’t want to make it out of an HA wool. It has a simple contrast natural muslin lining.

I did kind of go all out on the real metal buttons, but I ordered them from China on eBay, so it wasn’t a fortune. I think they’re actually the glue that brings the whole costume together and I’m so glad I went for it. I can also remove these and put them on future versions of this costumes (should that be requested) so I know they won’t go to waste.

Hamilton at Sea

Sewing Notes

To begin I compared Felix’s measurements against the pattern and made the tissue pattern smaller by simply creating folds and tucks, pinning them down, and then cutting my fabric. We did a lot of fittings as we went, and in addition to the initial adjustments I also took in the shoulders quite a bit. And at the end of the day, it’s still a little big on him, but I hope just enough that he can wear it next year as well. Since it’s an open jacket, I think we have some time (but like I said before, this kid is always hungry and is in the 95% percentile for height and weight, so who the hell really knows?)

I’m hesitant to point out the mistakes, but if you see it, I see it too. There’s one kid of major mess up, but it doesn’t take away from my happiness with the end result! And I’ll just leave it at that!

Hamilton and Little Red Costumes

Accessories

Lastly, how about that tricorn!? I used one of my old fedora floppy brimmed hats and reblocked it into a round crown with the brim steamed up into three points. I trimmed the brim with petersham ribbon and used an awl to poke a series of holes to lace leather cording through to keep it from flopping around. At Market Fair one vendor gave him a play pipe to tuck up there and he decided to put his newly purchased whistle on the other side.

I bought him sweater leggings for the girls section to go underneath but told him they’re just long underwear. On his feet are his everyday black rainboots, a strategic purchase from earlier this fall.

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So that’s Felix as Alexander Hamilton! I love the way my little dude rocks this look and I’m so happy to see him jump, roll around and play in it! It’s already been through the wash once and stood up nicely to laundering. If I’m lucky, he’ll ask to wear it everyday.



Time Traveling | Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood Toddler

In preparation for Market Fair next weekend, I wanted to have 18th century outfits for my kids AND have them pull double duty as Halloween costumes! (You can see mine here!) My mom graciously volunteered to make a red velvet cape for Bea to wear over her dress, so voila! Little Red Riding Hood!

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Little Red Riding Hood Baby

There’s something so gorgeous about the way the red velvet looks in the sunlight! It’s made from a store bought modern pattern (I don’t have the number… I’ll look!) and slightly altered to fit Bea’s height and shoulders. It’s a smidge big, but that’s how play clothes should be. And no, I’m not worried about whether or not she’ll get it dirty. She’s a little girl and it’s a costume!

The dress underneath is my attempt at making an 18th century dress modifying what I could find. The base fabric is a faux silk (read: poly) matte satin that I paired next to left over linen for the center panel. I did do handworked buttons on either side because I like the look of them and sewing them is fun! It’s laced up using some black cording (in some photos, I had it tied at the top and Bea pulled it out - I’ll re-lace it the other way next time!). The skirt is pleated for fullness, but covered by her polka dot apron. I let her pick that fabric (as in, I held up two choices and asked which one she liked better!) and this was her selection!

The apron was made in the same was as my full sized version but done by machine. Her fichu is just a square folded on the diagonal that I safety pinned to her long sleeve tee she wore underneath (she wore regular leggings under as well).

That’s just about it! The dress zips up the back which I kinda of regret because it looks so not 18th century, but it’s not visible when she’s wearing her cape. I could also pin her fichu over her dress instead of under and that would solve the problem.

If I have time, I’ll make a little white cotton cap for her to wear at market fair, but those pig tails sure are cute! Time to time travel, baby!

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