Apparently I am fixated on making myself a functional pair of short regency stays.
I’m in the middle of a third (handsewn!) attempt right now (see attempt one, attempt two). For most costumers this process would be fairly simple but it just hasn’t been for me. My first pair gave me a nice enough shape but the centre front bones were pretty uncomfortable when lounging around on the grass while reenacting. The second pair, the daffodown dilly stays, had pretty much the same problem. The wooden busk, while shorter than the spring steel bones of my first attempt, was still ridiculously uncomfortable while sitting on the ground. I want to be able to MOVE in these things. I’m portraying a working class woman so I don’t believe I should have to sacrifice movement in order to wear a supportive garment. I’ve collected a (very) few images of women on campaign and they all show women bending and lifting in a way I wouldn’t be able to with a long (or even medium) length busk without some serious lack of comfort.
I get that clothing of the past felt different to wear and this "difference" that we feel is often translated to "discomfort". I just want to be clear that that is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about women who traveled without chairs and worked hard and had to have freedom of movement. These image show quite clearly that they had these things. I don’t believe that the challenges that my body gives when tailoring these garment are insurmountable or that no woman in this period had the same shape that I do. There has to be a way and I’m going to find it!
My most recent attempt is based off of of this pair from the V&A museum. They appeared in the copy of Underwear: Fashion in Detail that I got for Christmas.
The original was made in cotton with a linen lining and various hints of silk ribbon and trimming around. I made mine out of a plain weave "linen look cotton". Unlike most linen look fabrics, this one doesn’t have visible slubs. I’m pretty sure they labeled this as linen look just to have something to say about this unremarkable fabric! The key to the supportive nature of these stay is the combination of very tight underbust band and a centre front busk. The band is quite tight but not uncomfortably so and, most importantly, still allows for great freedom of movement. The boning I experiment with was 5mm wide plastic whalebone from Vena Cava here in the UK. I cut the bones and rounded the ends with a nail file. This was quite satisfactory as I got these lovely rounded ends. I bought the narrow width because I have very little room in the centre front for bones despite their importance for the design. Despite doubling up the boning in front, the plastic boning just didn’t cut it. It was far to flexible and lightweight for this.
I added some colours just so you guys could see what is going on. The red is a single plastic bone that runs under the band. The green are the ends of the gathering cords. The whole armcyce is unfinished because I need to secure and trim the ends of the gathering cords before I can finish the casing for the bone. I have to finish THAT before I close up the armcye.
The centre busk/bones are both the answer to my problems and the source of them. Too long and they limit my movements and are really uncomfortable. Too short and they don’t do their job and support the whole structure the way they should!
My plan is now to acquire some very strong and short spring steel bones. I send Vena Cava an email asking if they can shorten these bones to the length that I need (11.5cm) since I don’t have the tools to do it myself. I’ll cover them tightly in fabric and sew them along 2 or three sides to the inside of the centre front. The plastic bones that are there will continue to function and will help keep the lacing straight and the wider bones will probably cover them on the inside. I’m hoping that the pressure of the band with press down enough on the relatively inflexible bones so that they will in turn push against the weight of my bust forcing the structure of the stays upright. I’ll just have to try it and see. I only hope that this structure isn’t as restricting as I found other straight and rigid busks!
Wow this turned out super long and kind of rant-y. Kudos if you made it through!