18th Century Half-Boned Stays – Part One


I hope you all are having a fabulous Monday!

I’ve been working on my half-boned 1780s-1790s stays for a while now (since my first and second posts about my Charlotte Corday dress recreation, which these stays are for), but only now have enough work done for a proper post. To be fair, if high school hadn’t started, this post could have happened a while ago, but c’est la vie.

A lot of this post involves me doing things and then redoing them because I changed my mind. In the end, I’m glad it happened, because I’m very pleased with how they came out, but it did take a while. It was my first time making stays though, and I honestly had no idea what I was doing when I started, so just the fact that they exist is a miracle.

Just for reference, I am using the construction method outlined by Rococo Atelier in her 18th century stays tutorial.

B4254 (1)
Butterick 4254

I started with Butterick 4254 view A, but only for the pattern pieces. I really didn’t like the horizontal boning or the arrangement of the vertical boning on the front panel. So, I went to Pinterest and found some layouts that I found more appealing.

from Diderot's Encyclopedie
from Diderot’s Encyclopedie
from Couture Mayah (click for photo credit)
from Couture Mayah (click for photo credit)

Both of these featured vertical bones becoming more diagonal as they moved away from the center, which I found more visually appealing and useful for creating the figure. They both have horizontal bones as well, which I (semi-accidentally) chose to ignore, partially because (let’s face it) I have A-cups so there just really isn’t that much for the boning to push up.

I traced the pattern pieces onto sturdier paper and redrew the boning channels. As it turns out, I made them 1/8″ too wide and before I fully decided what I wanted them to look like, so I ended up redrawing them multiple times on the actual fabric as I changed my mind over and over. Such a pain.

I also had some hiccups with the fabric. When I first started this project, I went to Joanns and bought a yard of a white cotton upholstery weight fabric for the base layer, planning to use a cotton from my stash for the self-fabric and lining.

I cut out the pieces, painstakingly marked out the (eventually wrong) boning channels and got ready to sew.

Well, that was fine and all, except that I started having doubts. So I did more research and realized that the fabric I really wanted was a cotton duck canvas. And I realized that I didn’t have a nice cotton for the self-fabric. So back to Joanns I went, and I came back with three more fabrics: an off-white cotton duck canvas, a grey cotton, and a semi-sheer cotton-linen blend (for the lining).

Now the original white fabric was obsolete, except for the boning channel markings. Not relishing the idea of marking them all over again, I decided to make my corset 4, not 3, layers: self, duck canvas, white upholstery, and then the lining.

layers of the stays - 18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached

I basted the top three layers together with long hand-sewn stitches, both parallel and perpendicular to the boning channels. I am soooo happy I did this because it meant I really had no problems with the layers of fabric moving as I stitched the boning channels.

starting to sew the channels - 18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached
you can kinda see the basting stitches in this picture

I also made myself a test piece of fabric so I could get my tension and stitch lengths right. I can’t stress how useful this was, especially since it made me realize I had my boning channels too wide and that I had to remark them.

So then I remarked the boning channels. It was a pain, and, at one point, I got so confused by the overlapping lines that I took out my sister’s colored pencils and started using bright orange. Let’s all just hope that doesn’t come back to bite me at some point in the future.

With all the lines marked, I started sewing channels. I kept the pieces separate while sewing them, threaded and knotted all the threads on the backside instead of back-stitching, added plastic boning (yeah, kinda screwed up the historically accurate materials there), and then sewed all the pieces together.

stays boning channels - 18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached
if you look closely, you can see the obsolete pencil lines and all the different colors I resorted to using to mark the correct lines

sewing them together - 18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached

Just for future reference: sewing two pieces of fabric that refuse to bend the way you want them to is just as much of a pain as it sounds.

18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached

18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached

I also zig-zagged around the tabs’ edges and cut out the fabric between them.

tabs - 18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached

And that’s how far I got in my first sitting. Then I waited around for two weeks or *cough* months before finishing the construction up.

I realized that the pattern was a little small in the waist, so I let out the back-to-side-front seams a 1/4″ on each side at the bottom. I also realized that I wanted two more bones in the front, so I sewed two more channels.

This is why you sew the channels when the pieces are separate and unboned. OMG it was such a pain trying to maneuver the thing through my sewing machine. Bleh.

18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached

So … onto the lining!

I started by whip-stitching down the seam allowances. I trimmed the canvas and upholstery layers and then folded the self fabric layer of the seam allowance over and stitched it down.

seam allowances - 18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached

Then, I pressed the seam allowances under on the lining pieces and then hand-stitched the individual pieces down to the seam allowances of the main layers.

lining - 18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached

It was such a pain. I’m not the best hand-sewist on a good day, though I think I can hold my own at invisible hems, and trying to hand sew over boning keeping you from bending the pieces the way you want to … not good.

So it’s not the most invisible stitching.

18th c half-boned stays | Strings Attached

But it works!

The last thing I did was add 15 hand-sewn eyelets. I started the holes with a tapered awl from Joanns and then widened them with a chopstick. I used two strands of 6-strand embroidery thread for sewing the eyelets.

eyelets - 18th century stays | Strings Attached

It was super tedious, but well worth it, especially once I gave up on the tedious buttonhole stitches. By the last eyelet, I was actually starting to like the process.

eyelets - 18th century stays | Strings Attached

You don’t even understand how much I wanted to try this thing on. It’s crazy.

But then I got to!

18th century stays | Strings Attached

I’m super happy with how it gives me the classic 18th-century silhouette.

18th century stays | Strings Attached

I’m not super happy with how the edges aren’t parallel in the back, but I’ll live. It’s not as uncomfortable to wear as I thought it would be—mostly, I just feel really, really accomplished 🙂

18th century stays | Strings Attached

I still have to do the shoulder straps and the binding, but all the main construction is done!!!

What do you think? Have you ever considered making or actually made 18th century stays before? I’d love to hear about yours! I feel like I’m part of a special club now lol 🙂

Thanks for reading, as always

Samantha 🙂

4 thoughts on “18th Century Half-Boned Stays – Part One

  1. So have you looked at JP Ryan’s half boned stays pattern at all? Because I made it and I was MASSIVELY disappointed, but this gives me hope. Who would have thought that a modern commercially available pattern could produce this! Not me!


    1. I looked at the JP Ryan pattern but Joanns was having a sale on patterns so I just hoped for the best. Also, the Butterick patterns reviews on pattenreview.com were pretty good, though they advised going down a few sizes (which I did). I also redid the boning channels. But I really liked it overall and it’s AMAZING for a commercial pattern on the historical side 🙂


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