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Kate's Diderot Stays

Kate wearing her stays for the first time.

Last Christmas (2007), Andrew commissioned me to make a pair of stays for Kate. I didn't start them right away, mostly because I was just finishing up college and I actually wanted her input on them before I started--and she lives three and a half hours from my house. However, the next time we got together, I had some photos and swatches for her to look at, as well as a prototype pair (Holly's, actually) for her to try on. That done, I ordered fabric and got started.

The trick to these is that they're completely handsewn. I had everything cut out and ready to go, and then got word that I would not be working up north over the summer. That's when I decided to handsew these, which puts the start date somewhere during late March, 2008.

For me, though, handsewing the stays meant that I was much more likely to work on them in the evenings after work. At that time, I was still working at Hobby Lobby and wanted to spend evenings with my family. Handsewing meant I could sit in the living room and talk with them while working, as opposed to isolating myself behind a sewing machine.

The outer layer is linen from Fabrics-store, while the bones are sandwiched between two layers of cotton canvas. All the stitching was done with 100% cotton hand quilting thread, which is slighty thicker than all-purpose thread and now I do all my handsewing with it because I liked it so well on this project.

The inside--one of the side seams.

I started by turning the seam allowances on each piece (front, two backs) and topstitching them together. Then the boning channels were marked and sewn, which unquestionably took the most time of any single step in the process. They're only half-boned, though, so it wasn't as huge a project as it could have been.

The boning channels.

As always, I used cable ties for boning. I considered using reed, or even oak splits, as recommended by some of my online costuming friends, but ultimately it came down to utility. I wanted Kate to feel comfortable with the stays, enough that she would actually wear them. Having them be machine-washable means that she won't be worried about spilling things on them, sweating in them, or just generally wearing them as much as she wants. Also, availability--I would have had to order reed or splits, or anything else, really, and didn't want to have any extra expenses or waiting time.

Binding. The bane of my existence.

Actually, binding these wasn't NEARLY as painful as binding Holly's stays. When I re-traced the Diderot pattern, I cut down the number of tabs drastically. Once again, I toyed with the idea of using more period materials, but convenience won out. (Then why did I handsew them? I don't know. So I would actually work on them.) Kidskin was proposed as a binding material, or, failing that, using chamois from the automotive department at Meijer. But, again--I wanted these to be washable. I'm not sure about leather in the washing machine; it just seems like a bad idea. I eventually wound up using packaged bias tape. It just seemed easier.

I'm happy to be able to say that Kate was very pleased with the finished product and reports that she would gladly wear them all the time if it were feasible. She thinks her bank job might find it odd, though!