Updated: Nov 2, 2021
Zipper Cat Stays?
As you’ll know if you’ve read my “Tale of Two Corsets” article, I have been wanting a pair of 18th century stays for some time, and preferably with a zipper in front. When Modes4U (more on them below) offered to send me some lovely fabric from their store, I thought, ‘why not go full blown modern?’ I chose a cute print of kitty canvas from their store, and got to work.
Modes4U is the online fabric store which kindly supplied me with the fabric for this project. They have also kindly offered you, my readers and viewers, a code for 10% off your order: katherinesewing
Modes4U is based in Singapore, and sells a lot of high quality Japanese fabric - both solids and prints. Their store has so many options of fabric for historical, modern, or history-bounding garment creations. There are so many beautiful natural fibres, like cotton and linen, organic fabrics, solid colours, as well as prints - more muted, basic prints, as well as cute modern prints that could make a cute history-bounding garment. As mentioned above, I chose a canvas from their animal fabric line, which is made in Japan, with cute kitties on it. Their prices are affordable, customer service is great, and the fabric was high quality and easy to work with.
What Pattern Did I Use?
I used the Augusta stays pattern from Virgil and Scroop, which I can’t recommend enough, not only for the pattern itself, but also for their stellar instructions. Keep in mind that these instructions are based on the more traditional type of construction, so if you want to use the quicker approach that I used in this project, you will have to follow along with this video, and also check out Mariah Patties “Zipper Stays” video, which was my personal inspiration.
This pattern comes with a historical view, and a theatrical view. The main difference with the theatrical view is that it has a closed centre-front, while the historical view has lacing going halfway down centre-front.
In terms of sizing, this pattern has a straight fit and a curvy fit. The sizing is based on your bust measurement, so the straight fit has the waist 10” smaller than the bust, and the curvy fit has the waist 12” smaller than the bust. And of course, you can always grade between sizes. Personally, my stays were made-in size 36, with the curvy fit.
At first, having a 24” waist sounded pretty small to me, so I graded up a size at the waist. However, when I actually got down to sewing, and holding the stays around my body, I decided to resew the seams at the waist to make the fit smaller, in line with the original 36 curvy fit. This could have been due to sewing errors, which resulted in sewing the corset “too largely”.
Based on the pattern directions, I used my “kitty canvas” from Modes4U as the outer fashion layer, and two layers of cotton canvas from Amazon as the internal strength layers. At the time this seemed like a bit too much thickness to me, but I am glad that I used this method now the stays are done.
Because this pattern has a 1.5 cm seam allowance included, cutting out was as simply as tracing around the pattern pieces, marking notches, and cutting out.
A word about accuracy: it is always recommended to thread trace your stitching line, especially for stay-making. However, I didn’t do this, in the interests of speed. This project was a palette cleanser for me: after my complicated and painstaking Victorian corded corset, I really just wanted a quick and easy “make”.
A Modernized Construction Method
I used a very quick construction method for these stays, which eliminates the need for a hand-sewn in lining, as well as allowing one to sew tape over the seam gutters by machine (normally this would have to be done by hand.) For a look at the traditional stays construction, check out my 1790’s stays and my maternity stays articles.
I worked with my three layers of fabric as follows: a layer of “kitty canvas” together with a layer of the beige canvas, working as one layer. Sewn to the other layer of beige canvas.
The first step was adding my zipper to the centre front by sandwiching it between my fabric, right sides together, stitching with a zipper foot, and turning. I then added a boning channel directly next to the zipper.
I completed each subsequent seam by stitching the next panel, right sides together, and then turning and pressing. I would stitch the kitty canvas+beige canvas to the next panel of kitty canvas+ beige canvas. Then I sewed the single layer of beige canvas to the next panel of single beige canvas. After these seams were turned and pressed, the seams were all hidden inside. Later these two layers would be joined when I machine stitched fabric tape over the seams.
As I explain in the video, I prefer marking boning channels by eye. I consulted the pattern for this, and used tailors chalk to mark the position and direction of each channel, without worrying about being exact with the left and right sides of each channel. Later I would use my sewing machine foot as a guide to get this width uniform.
I will say that the drawback of this modernized construction method is that there is a higher likelihood of fabric “bubbling” since we are adding channels after the panels are attached to each other. It can also be more difficult to insert boning into all of the channels when the panels are already attached. In traditional stay construction, the boning is added when each panel is separate.
When it came time to insert the boning, I used a big roll of 5 or 6 mm German plastic boning (a type of synthetic whalebone). This is great to work with, especially for stays, because it is lightweight, easy to trim with scissors, and easy to smooth the ends. Some of my channels were quite snug, and I either had to trim my synthetic whale bone narrower with scissors, or at least use pliers to grip and shove it in.
Then I marked the placement of my eyelets. I used the folded paper method, but adjusted the eyelets at the waist area to be more closely spaced, because I opted to use the zig sag bunny ears lacing method, as opposed to the traditional spiral lacing of 18th century stays.
I added my two piece metal eyelets using a setting kit from Farthingales Corset Making Supply, a mallet, and a small anvil as a hitting surface. I love this hammer eyelet kit because it is much easier on the wrists than eyelet pliers.
Finally, it was time to bind the edges. I used 1 inch wide woven fabric tape from Burnley and Trowbridge. I first hand stitched the it to the inside of the stays using a catch stitch, the turned over and stitched onto the outside of the stays. This process can be hard on the morale, but it usually is done quicker than you expect.
Finally, after lacing it up, this modernized 18th century corset was finished!
How does it Fit?
These stays fit great, especially considering I hadn’t made a mock-up! They are very supportive, and give an accurate 18th century silhouette. The shoulder straps add extra bust support as well as helping to pull one’s shoulders back and stand straighter!
My only complaint is that I think the top edge of these stays comes up a little high on me, which could have been simply due to not trimming off enough of the included seam allowance before binding. Due to this, it does flatten my bust quite a bit. Overall, I would definitely make this pattern again! The next time, I will use the traditional construction method, and I may experiment with a wooden busk too!
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