I’m still so excited that we’ve finished the Augusta Stays pattern, and it’s on the market, and have so much I still want to post about it! But I don’t want this blog to become all-Augusta, all the time.
So here’s a totally non-Augusta post, catching up on some sewing I did back in October 2017 (eep!).
I bought some fabulous fabric there, designed by local artist @coppercatkin.
It had all sorts of tropical vegetables & spices: taro, tamarind and tumeric, papayas and mangoes. I immediately thought of my parent’s permaculture farm in Hawai’i, and knew exactly what I wanted to do with the fabric.
My mum loved the idea of 18th century pockets when I’d posted examples here in various blog posts, and thought they would be perfect for the farm.
It’s hard to find clothes that are both cool enough for Hawaii, easy and practical to wear around the farm, and with useful pockets.
So portable tie-on pockets like the ones worn in the 18th century would be a great solution.
I had a fat quarter of the fabric: just enough to cut out 4 pocket fronts. I would have liked slightly bigger pockets, but wanted to use as much of the fabric as possible.
The primary fabric was a lighter craft cotton, so I quilted it to a stronger cotton backing, to make the pockets robust enough for farm use.
I bound the pocket slits and outer edges of the pockets in bias binding, mixing up the colours I used for a bit more interest and fun.
Then I finished the tops with big, wide carrier channels, wide enough to fit a belt through, if needed.
And then the pockets got sent off to Hawai’i, destined to be filled with clippers and macadamia nuts, bits of twine, cherry tomatoes, handfuls of beans, packets of seeds, the occasional rambutan, and other bits and bobs that get picked up and moved about about the farm on a daily basis.
Well, at least two of them have lived that life…
My dad, you see, has a known habit of snaffling things we kids have made, or bits that he likes, for his office scrapboard wall. It’s got the original award-winning poem my baby sister wrote pinned up next to drawing by my middle sister, alongside some NZ memorabilia, a Croatian flag, and quite a few of my sewing gifts, including some particularly nice potholders that have never gotten to hold a pot!
I’ve learned that if I’m going to make small home-made gifts I have to make extras that can ‘go straight to the pool room’, otherwise none will ever get used for their intended purpose…
Today’s post is all about the questions we’ve been asked about the Augusta Stays. Can you wear them for different decades? What else could you use to bone them? Can they be made front lacing? What about strapless? And why did you include a theatrical version?
1. The Augustas are dated 1775-1789. Could I wear them for 1750s or 60s? How wrong will they look?
We’ve got a lot of questions from people wondering how well the Augusta Stays will work for other decades in the 18th century.
The Augustas were drafted to create the fashionable forward-thrust of the 1780s, and incorporate all the most common elements of 1780s stays: a very narrow front point and wide front bust, sweeping side bones, partial front lacing, and a high back. This combination of elements creates a specific silhouette: one particular to the date range we’ve given.
However the cut and boning layout we chose means it is possible to change the shape of the stays with padding and additional structure while you wear them.
The lack of horizontal bones on the Augustas (horizontal bones appear on approximately 50% of extant example of this style of stays) means it’s easier to alter the silhouette of the stays. You can slip a busk down the front between your stays and your shift, and get a more upright 1760s-70s posture. If you’re smaller busted, different styles of bust-padding can make the stays look more 1760-70s, or more extravagantly pigeon-breastedly 1780s.
Additionally, how much the stays are going to change your shape depends on your body. Some people have very malleable bodies that change quite a bit with different stays, some people don’t.
Amber has a very squishy body, so she can achieve a fair amount of waist reduction, and alteration in where her bust sits (high, low, pushed to the front, full and rounded to the sides, etc), which makes her shape look more distinctly different from decade to decade. However, as adaptable as her body is, it’s still going to be recognisably her body. You can only change your shape so much.
I wear the same size stays as Amber, but have a big ribcage, a small bust, and very little space between my ribcage and hips, so the changes I get from decade to decade are very subtle, and my shape isn’t hugely different in the Augustas or my 1760s stays. Only the most eagle-eyed person, with a background in 18th c silhouettes, and a familiarity with how my body looks in different pairs of stays, would be able to tell that I was wearing my Augusta stays, not another pair, under my 1760s francaise.
Ultimately, the stays are never going to be a perfect representation of the silhouette of any era except their own. If you’re really dedicated to replicating the most fashionable shape for every decade, you won’t want to use the Augustas for 1750 (for example). However for a costumer doing different decades, with limited ability to own a pair of stays for every decade they could be used as a reasonable all-purpose 18th century pair – especially if you experiment a bit with different busks and padding to change your shape to suit the decade you want to represent.
If I was travelling for an event with limited luggage, and the need to do a bunch of different decades in the 18th c, I would pack my Augustas, instead of my 1760s pair, simply because with a busk and bust pads I can make the Augustas look 1760s-ish, but I can’t make the stiff, upright silhouette of the 1760s even begin to approximate the prow-front of the 1780s.
2. Do they have to be boned in synthetic whalebone (German Plastic Boning)? Can I use cane? Or cable ties? What about steel?
The Augusta Stays pattern only includes instructions for working with synthetic whalebone.
However, if you’re familiar with using cane or cable ties, it’s very easy to adapt the pattern to accomodate either of those. You just have to check the width of the boning channels as you sew them, and adjust them if you need them to be a bit wider to fit cane or cable ties.
Cait used cane in her stays, because that’s her preferred boning material:
We strongly recommend against using steel bones (spiral or straight) in the Augusta Stays. They will make the stays very heavy, and significantly less comfortable. You also won’t be able to achieve the subtle shaping that really makes the silhouette. Spiral steel won’t provide the right support, and straight steel won’t fit into the curved boning channels.
3. Can the Augusta Stays be made with full front lacing?
Amber and I haven’t experimented with making the Augustas front lacing, but it should be pretty easy to change the boning layouts slightly, and extend the lacing all the way down the front, so you have front-and-back lacing stays. With careful measuring and a bit of experimenting you could even omit the back lacing, so they were front opening only.
However, you’re unlikely to get as much support, or as much of the desired silhouette, with front lacing stays.
4. Can the Augusta Stays be altered to be strapless?
Absolutely. This is a really easy change: just leave off the straps, and bind the back of the stays where the straps would attach. Don’t worry about the angles at the top of the stays: these appear in extant 1780s stays without straps.
The stays won’t give quite the same ‘shoulders back, front out’ high-fashion shape without straps, but they will still work. You may also find that you don’t get as much back support without straps.
If you do make strapless stays, and decide you don’t like them without straps, you can always make up straps later, bind them separately, and whipstitch them on to your stays.
5. What was the inspiration for including a ‘Theatrical’ version?
The goal with the Augusta stays was to include full, detailed historically accurate instructions.
But we also realised that some people need stays that give the correct silhouette, but don’t have the time, means, or inclination to do all the handsewing.
So the ‘Theatrical’ version was born. We altered the pattern to remove any elements that are tricky to do without hand-sewing (except the binding, because its even tricker to do by machine without a lot of practice and the right machine), and wrote a full set of instructions for creating the stays by machine, using tips and tricks from theatrical costuming.
The changes to the pattern, the most noticeable of which is removing the front lacing, which requires eyelet holes too small to do except by hand, results in stays that are visually more neutral, and thus easier to adapt for a lot of uses.
Although the silhouette is still basically 1780s (unless you use stays or padding as above), the look is classic 18th century of any decade, so they work for theatre costuming, where strict historical accuracy is often not as important as overall effect.
You can trim and alter the stays to be whatever they need to be. Want a fake stomacher effect on the stays? Can do! Faux front lacing? Not too hard. Steampunk stays or Rococopunk? Totally. They can be anyone from Madame de Pompadour to Little Bo Peep.
While we’re really glad we did the Theatrical version, it did mean writing, illustrating, and editing two completely different sets of instructions It’s basically two full patterns for the price of one…
Any more questions? I’ll include them in the next questions post!
A quick guide to where to find materials for your Augusta Stays. There are a lot of specialty materials needed, so working with a supplier who is familiar with historical staymaking (for View A), or corsetry (for View B) will make the process a lot easier.
In addition to the ones listed, many local fabric shops will carry suitable linens or wools, and with the theatrical stays your fabric imagination can go wild, as long as you achieve the right level of support and strength with your mix of materials.
Have I missed a supplier? Let me know in the comments! I’m most familiar with US & UK suppliers, so a huge thank you to readers who advised me about suppliers in other places.
Sartor has almost everything you need for the historical version of the stays, as well as everything you need for the theatrical stays.
They carry beautiful linens, silks (including the reproduction fabrics they are famous for) and a very small selection of wools, as well as synthetic whalebone and linen thread. The only things they don’t have are linen seam tapes and binding, and sewing tools.
Has a wide range of corsetmaking supplies, including coutil, lacing cord, grommets, and synthetic whalebone (German Plastic Boning). Their GPB is a type I’m not familiar with, and comes in 7mm rather than the 6mm called for in the pattern, so you might need to adjust the width of the boning channels to accomodate it.