Monday, September 08, 2008

An Enviable Pair of Stays

I went to an 18th century workshop this weekend in Colonial Williamsburg to learn to make a custom fitted pair of stays (i.e. corset). It was the perfect indoor activity for a weekend of hard rain and wind courtesy of Hurricane Hanna. The workshop was run by Burnley and Trowbridge, and taught by Mark Hutter, the Tailor of Williamsburg. Mark brought all sorts of interesting goodies for us to look at - period tools, reproduction stays, and actual baleen (also referred to as whalebone). I had never seen whalebone before, and was fascinated to see it for the first time (and no, we were not using baleen as boning for our stays). The baleen is the black stuff below:

The Stays course was certainly a unique experience, which involved most of us standing around in only our near-transparent shifts for a good part of the day. I give Mark credit though - he was able to make jokes and put us all relatively at ease. We were each paired up with someone that had a similar body type, and we worked with our "Bosom Buddies," as Mark called them, for the rest of the day. We started by taking measurements in the 18th century method - using only a strip of paper and clipping little markings into the paper. No tape measures were used at all.
Next up was the most frustrating portion of the workshop for me. My partner and I chose a corset pattern that was recommended for our era and body types. We received about 10 minutes of oral instructions on how to size up an original 18th century stays pattern. Without any written instructions and no pattern drafting experience, this was a crash course in pattern drafting that had me going pink in the face with frustration. In the end with more than a little bit of help, all was well, though class ended a good hour and forty minutes later than it should have. I left the class on Saturday with pattern pieces chalked onto my corset fabric. Our homework was to baste the chalk outline of the pattern (and to secure all three layers of fabric together). I was a little surprised to learn that we were expected to hand sew (I had not gathered that from the class description). I went ahead and bought linen thread and beeswax to strengthen the thread, and got to work. The next day, we assembled the pattern pieces and wound up with the following product:
I know it doesn't look like much, but this is a PERFECTLY fitting corset, made especially for me. Mark actually sewed us all into our corset so we could be sure we had the right fit, and helped us make a few minor last minute tweaks. It's up to me now to chalk the final pattern, take apart the corset (it's only basted together), rebaste the chalk lines, hand sew the boning channels, insert the boning (I think I'll use ash reed), and bind the corset in white leather that I purchased this weekend. I think this is going to take a couple of months to complete, but I really want to take my time and get a perfect set of stays. If all turns out well, I may use some leftover silk taffeta to cover the corset and make it fancy.

Now, you can't expect a group of costumers to get together in Williamsburg without going out on the town in costume. We went to one of the Williamsburg taverns for dinner and had a great time. I know the photo above is dark, but I like the candle light effect.

Here we are in a bit more well-lit photo. The ladies on each end of the photo are members of my Tuesday Night Costumer's group.

BIG thanks to my husband for driving me down to Williamsburg. I know he enjoyed taking a tour of the local ale factory and playing WoW online in the hotel room, but I know it wasn't his preferred way to spend the weekend. Thanks Dave! Hope you're ready to go back up in November for the gown draping class. :)

Friday, September 05, 2008

Still Working!

Hey all,

I don't want you to think I've stopped sewing again all of the sudden. I had to take my sewing machine in to be was really overdue. It's supposed to take 'several weeks,' but that's not holding me back! That just means more time to cut out patterns.

First up is a Halloween costume for Calypso. I know, I know, it's waaaay too cutsie and something I thought I would never be doing, but I just couldn't resist the urge. Plus, all the neighborhood puppies are getting costumes (seriously), so I just had to get in on that action.

Here's the costume I'm going to make:
It's already cut out, so I'm just waiting for the return of the sewing machine to sew it up (It's one of those super easy, will probably take me an hour or two projects).

Next, I'm going to cut out the cape that I would like to sell on eBay, and then I need to cut out my new side hoops. I have an event in September (movie release of The Duchess) and in November (a historical ball) that I need the side hoops for. Then, I need to cut out the back rump pad pattern that I purchased from Wingeo patterns. I'm taking a Robe Anglaise course in Williamsburg in November, and I'll need a rump pad instead of side hoops for the later 18th century sillouette.

This weekend is VERY exciting: I'm going down to Williamsburg for an 18th Century Stays workshop. By the end I should a complete, or almost complete, set of new stays that have been properly fitted for me (one of my new friends from the Tuesday night costumer club has very generously agreed to bring her second sewing machine for me to borrow). Wohoo!! I should have pictures for you next week.