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A pair of transitional stays, c. 1790, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A pair of transitional stays, c. 1790, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Last year when I attended the Jane Austen Festival, I remember my sister saying how comfortable her short stays were. She felt well supported but not restricted from doing the things she wanted to do. One of the problems I have always had with historic costuming is how restrictive the fashions could be for women, which has the undesirable effect of making you feel uncomfortable when you are wanting to have fun! So for this reason, I decided to have a go at some Regency short stays for myself.

I had planned to do these as part of the Historical-Sew Fortnightly Challenge #3: “Under it all” (for undergarments), due February 11, but I have finished them a tad early!

The corsets, or stays, of this era were first “transitional” (where they transitioned from the eighteenth century stays to the new Regency style) and then they are commonly thought to have been either long or short, with usually little or no boning. The Regency style of stays really just provided posture support and helped to define a high empire waistline, with a “bust-shelf”, that was popular in the fashions of the day. In researching short stays, I have struggled to find information on historically accurate short stays from primary sources of the period (such as pictures, paintings or extant examples). If you are interested in historical research of the so-called “short stays”, have a look at Short Stays’ Studies by Kleindung um 1800, which examines some historical patterns and journals on the topic.

Pattern and Construction Details

Step One: First I drafted my own pattern using the method I used for my long stays (My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern). I found this process a lot more difficult to do than I had previously, mainly because I did not have much of an idea what these types of stays looked like. I could not find many extant examples online, except for modern historical patterns (such as Sense and Sensibility Patterns) that mention that they are based on extant examples and pictures of the era. I decided to do a toile out of calico, just to make sure that it fitted properly, and then I adjusted the pattern pieces accordingly.

Toile pattern pieces: Front, side back and back. I ended up taking of quite a bit at the side seams, and adjusting the curve of the side back.

Toile pattern pieces: Front, side back and back. I ended up taking off quite a bit at the side seams, and adjusting the curve of the side back. Gusset pieces are not pictured.

Step Two: I cut out the fabric, making sure I added the seam allowances. For these stays, I have used three layers of material: the outer and inner layer are white cotton broadcloth, and the interlining is cotton calico.

Step Three: Beginning with the front pieces, I sewed along the centre front seams so that the three layers were all attached and could then be turned with the right sides facing out.

Centre front pieces, turned right sides out. Shows the layers of broadcloth, calico and broadcloth.

Centre front pieces, turned right sides out. Shows the layers of broadcloth, calico and broadcloth.

Step Four: Again treating the outer layer and interlining as one piece, the side back and back pieces were sewn, leaving the front lining pieces free.

The side back and back pieces sewn in.

The side back and back pieces sewn in.

Step Five: For the gussets, I cut slits through all three layers in the top of the front pieces. The slits were marked on my pattern piece and are placed either side of the nipple area. For this reason it can be useful to have a bust separation measurement (the distance between the nipples) for that part of the pattern drafting. I used the instructions from Sempstress’s tutorial on setting gussets, which made it very straightforward.

Breast gussets pinned ready for sewing.

Breast gussets pinned ready for sewing.

Step Six: As you can see in the picture above, I began decorating the outer layers at this point.

  • Boning Channels: I decided to run a decorative stitch along the outer layer of the boning channels, just to make them pretty! I had a line of nylon boning on each side of the eyelets at the centre front, one line of boning on each side seam, and one line of boning running diagonally from under the arm, forward, to the bottom of the corset.

    The decorated boning channels and underbust cording

    The decorated boning channels and underbust cording

  • Cording: I did three lines of cording, with cotton cord, running horizontally under the bust on each side.
  • Decorative stitching: I added a bit of decorative machine embroidery stitching around the bust gussets. I also did some extra lines of this stitching along some of the back seams (see below).

    The bust gussets, with decorative stitching

    The bust gussets, with decorative stitching

  • Embroidery: Just because I love embroidery, I decided to draw out the outline of a little flower stem that I had in my stamp collection. Using a basic backstitch with some coloured embroidery thread, I followed the lines. So pretty!

    The Embroidery

    The embroidery on the side back panel. You can also see the decorative top stitch on the seam (to the left).

Step Seven: In order to complete the lining, I sewed the side back and the back pieces of the lining together. Then I laid it on top of the outer layers (wrong sides together) and sewed a decorative stitch as a topstitch along the back seam lines, through all the layers. For the side seams, the side back lining edge was folded under and pinned to the front lining edge, with the same decorative stitch being sewn through all layers. This seemed an easy way to get the lining attached without fiddling around too much with it!

Front view

Front view

Back view

Back view

Step Eight: The straps were attached. The eyelets were hand sewn and laced with a length of cotton cording. The garment was then bound with bias binding around the top and bottom edges and around the armholes.

It took a few hours for me to draft the pattern, almost two days to get the toile adjusted and looking right, and then three full days of my holidays to sew it. The total cost was approximately $12 AUD. As the fabric, sewing thread, embroidery thread, and boning, were already in my stash box, the only thing I actually bought was the cotton cording and the binding (which came to $5).

I am really pleased with the fit. It really does pay to do an accurate toile first for less fitting dramas later. And I am really pleased with how pretty it is!

For more Regency costumes, go to My Regency Journey.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern

My Regency Journey: Corset Construction – construction of a pair of long stays.

Sources and Relevant Links

A pair of transitional stays (pictured), from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Another example of a cotton Regency corset (c. 1800-1825) – from the National Trust website

Cording a corset

How to set a triangular gusset – Sempstress

Achieving a proper fit with Regency stays – by Oregon Regency Society

Making Hand Sewn Eyelets

Examples and pictures of Regency era underwear – Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion

Jane Austen Festival, Australia – website

Historical Sew-Fortnightly – hosted by Dreamstress

‘Short Stays’ Studies, by Kleidung um 1800 – a great blog post looking at a book published in 1810 by J.S. Bernhardt, on the construction of a ‘new’ sort of stays.

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A Regency silhouette, showing the "bust shelf"

The second stop on my Regency Journey is the construction of my corset. Corsets of this era were not made to flatten the bust, as they were in the mid 1700’s. Nor were they made to restrict the waist, as they were in the Victorian era. They were made to “lift and separate” the breasts to form a type of bust “shelf”.

The corsets, or stays, were either long or short with little or no boning. They really just provided posture support and helped to define a high empire waistline that was popular in the fashions of the day.

Making a Regency corset has been a challenge: first drafting the pattern, and then figuring out the steps to put it all together! I decided to make some long stays for my Regency costume.

Making a Regency Corset

Step One: I first cut out the fabric, using my drafted pattern pieces, making sure I had added the seam allowances.

The cut-out pieces (except the bust gussets, hip gussets and shoulder straps)

In the Regency era, sometimes up to four layers of material would be used for a corset, for instance a cotton sateen for the exterior layers and then some linen for the inside layers. I have used three layers: an “unknown-satiny” outer layer (obtained as a remnant), a cotton lawn interlining and a cotton lawn lining. After discovering some cotton sateen in my local fabric shop, I would definitely use it next time as it is a nice soft cotton whilst still being sturdy.

Step Two: Putting the satin layer and lawn interlining together as one, I sewed the front and the side back together. I used felled seams (as is used for modern day denim clothing) throughout. Felled seams usually have three lines of stitching, and are known for their added strength and neat “fray-less” appearance.

Step Three: My next task was to decorate and strengthen this front/side section. In the Regency era, corsets were strengthened by cording and light boning. Embroidery and quilting were also used. I drew a basic design on the lawn interlining, drawing on some of my research of period pieces. Some of these areas would be corded, some embroidered, some quilted, and some boned.

The front and side back sewn (not felled yet), with a design drawing for the placement of the various decorative effects.

Whilst white embroidery seems relatively common on Regency era underwear, there are none that I have discovered that have coloured embroidery. Indeed, most of the Regency era underclothes are quite plain when compared to the embroidery in the Rococo era only 50 years before.

However, I can never resist a little embroidery! The design on the front busk pocket is a simplified version of one I have seen on a Regency gown.

Front detail: cording, quilting, boning, machine embroidery and busk-pocket hand embroidery.

Step Four: I then switched my attention to the back pieces. Treating the sateen and interlining as one, I sewed the lining to it on the centre back seam, right sides together. Then turning it to the right side, the boning channels were sewn, leaving a space for the hand sewn eyelets.

The two back pieces, with one boning channel sewn.

The back was then sewn to the side back with a felled seam, leaving the lining free. I hand sewed the eyelets with a small blanket stitch and laced it up with cotton cording.

Back detail

Step Five: Then I started on the lining. The lining front and lining side back were sewn together and then pinned (wrong sides together) to the embroidered outer. I sewed through all thicknesses when I did the third line of stitching on the felled seams, thereby attaching the lining to the outer layers.

Step Six: I cut slits through all three layers in the top of the front section for the bust gussets. The slits went either side of the nipple area, so it can be useful to have a bust separation measurement (the distance between the nipples) for that part of the construction. I used the instructions from Sempstress’s tutorial on setting gussets, which made it very straightforward. In the end, I didn’t need to put the hip gussets in. A bit of decorative embroidery was added around the breast gussets.

Bust gusset detail

You can see from the picture above how the breast gusset forms the lower support for the the bust, and the chemise forms the top part of the “cup” support. There is also a short strip of boning to the left of the picture (right next to each armhole), which helps push the breast to the front, a bit like an underwire bra does.

Step Seven: I attached the straps, once again using felled seams.

Step Eight: The garment was then bound with bias binding around the top and bottom edges and around the armholes.

Front view

Back view

An aluminium ruler works well as the busk, which slides in and out of a pocket behind the dark green embroidery. The ruler (busk) is a little too short, which causes the centre front to bunch in a little. I am undecided whether to find a different one or just shorten the busk pocket.

Overall, I am really pleased with it!

I have bought my ticket to the Jane Austen Festival, and am VERY excited! Next item on the Regency Agenda is the chemise to wear underneath, which you have already seen in some of the photos.

Go to My Regency Journey to view all my posts in order.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: In the beginning…

My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern

How to Make a Regency Poke Bonnet in Ten Steps

Relevant Links

How to do Flat Felled Seams

Cording a corset

How to set a triangular gusset – Sempstress

Achieving a proper fit with Regency stays – by Oregon Regency Society

How to make Hand-worked Eyelets – Sempstress

Examples and pictures of Regency era underwear – Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion

Jane Austen Festival, Australia – website

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