About six weeks ago a costumer friend of mine announced that she was having a May Day party in a historic inn built in the 18th century. Since I don’t get enough opportunities to dress up, and since I had been planning on making an 18th century gown eventually, I decided I would finally make my gown–and stays and chemise–for the party. *cue stressed out sewing montage*
Armed with the Waverly Felicite curtain panels, the J.P. Ryan robe à l’anglaise pattern, and the Butterick stays pattern that I had bought on sale years ago, I got to work.
The stays took the longest. Even doing the boning channels on my sewing machine, it took me six hours to put boning channels, cut the reeds, and thread them through one half of the stays. And then I still had to do all of that on the second half. I stabbed my hands and arms with the pins in the stays so many times that I showed up to Easter Dinner looking like I’d had a fight with a porcupine. The reed boning came from corsetmaking.com. I bought the round reed, but I bought the smallest size, and each channel took so many reeds to make it stiff enough, I wish I had bought the bigger size reed, or just gone with the flat reed.
Once the boning was finished it was time for the binding. While I was pinning the binding on the stays to be sewn on by hand I promptly shoved a straight pin halfway up the bed of my thumbnail. The pin must have been clean though, because the injury didn’t turn scary like I feared. It just hurt when I had to use my thumb to pinch the binding to the stays for the rest of the week.
When I finished the binding (with minimal further injury), I put all the eyelets in by hand using an awl. I found this tutorial helpful, but I didn’t end up using the buttonhole stitch to finish the eyelets. They were taking long enough with one pass of stitching. I did cheat a bit–I had read and understood that using an awl for eyelets works best on natural fiber fabrics, because the threads will stretch instead of breaking, making the hole neater and stronger than if the threads break like synthetic fibers will. But the fabric for my stays came out of the remnants bin at JoAnn’s and was of questionable fiber content. Turns out there was quite a bit of synthetic fiber in it, so my eyelets did not stretch very neatly, but I was able to clean them up while stitching enough so that they came out pretty serviceable.
I used spiral lacing to close both the front and back of the corset using this tutorial (I had to fiddle a bit with the front because of the placement of the boning channels). Unfortunately my commercial dress form is just incompatible with 18th century structural garments, so the stays don’t fit it nicely for a good photo, but here’s a couple to give you an idea what the finished stays look like:
The chemise was easy to throw together from this tutorial. I used a really nice, soft cotton-poly blend. I intended to use 100% cotton or a linen, but the cotton-poly had such a nice feel to it, and the price was right. No one sees the chemise anyway…
After all that was done, I only had about a week and a half before the event! Luckily the JP Ryan pattern is very easy to execute. I made a quick mock-up which fit nicely with a few adjustments to the shoulder strap length, and then cut the pieces out of my curtain fabric. The instructions made it very easy to put together the bodice and then gather the skirts to the correct width. I even got all the pleats right on the first try with just one minor adjustment!
The sleeves caused a bit of a problem because the sleeve cap seems to be so much larger than the armscye, and the directions simply say to “make three small pleats” in the sleeve cap without being 100% clear where they’re supposed to go, and even with the pleats the sleeve cap seemed to big. The result was that my sleeves came out a bit messy, but I covered it up with my fichu and promised myself to fix them later, for future events. My costumer friend explained that I had put the pleats too far toward the back, instead of placing them more at the top of my shoulder. She also told me she tends to pull the bodice fabric across the bias when sewing in the sleeves, so that it stretches the bodice fabric and gives her more room for the sleeve caps. I’m nervous about ripping the bodice fabric, but I might have to try it carefully next time.
It also seems like I didn’t shorten the shoulder straps enough, because I get a bit of gappage at the shoulders of my bodice, exacerbated by the messy sleeves pulling the fabric back toward my shoulders. The fichu hid it for the night, but I can adjust that later when I go back to fix the sleeves. (I made the fichu in about an hour from the first cotton fabric I could find–at Walmart–so that’s also going to need a replacement for the next wear)
The front closure was also a bit of a puzzle because I had it in my head that the front pieces should overlap, but the directions were following the assumption that the front pieces would abut perfectly, but not overlap. Once I understood that, the front came out pretty good. I feel like it could be a bit tighter, but it looks perfectly fitted in the front, so I’m happy with the look it makes.
I finished the whole thing a full day before the event. I had been working on it and thinking about it non-stop for six weeks, so suddenly being finished with it left me a little lost. I just felt like I should be working on something. But I do have a couple projects that need to be started and progressed on in the next month or so, so I’m sure I’ll be stressed out about the next project soon enough.
Anyway, finished pictures! The one thing I didn’t get around to making was a cap, but it was a May Day party, so I threw on a flower crown and called it a night.
At the historic inn.