When I started teaching costume construction at Toi Whakaari: the New Zealand Drama School last year, I decided I should do some of the projects that the costuming students do as part of their coursework, so I knew how the garments were taught and constructed in the course. It was also a good way to familiarise myself with ‘my’ industrial machine.
Every costume shop has its own ‘house rules’, and, while there are general method groupings, there are literally an infinite number of ways to make any specific costume item.
Every year the first year costumers build a theatrical version of a historical style from the foundations out: boned undergarment, petticoat and skirt supports, dress, accessories, hat. Last year the theme was 1780s, this year the students are doing 1570s Elizabethan.
I chose to make the 1760s stays the students make some years, as they have elements common to a lot of the different eras of boned bodices.
Since we’re teaching costuming for stage & film, not historical costuming, they are machine sewn and use modern materials.
And…it still took me a year to finish them.
Basically I just got stuck getting the fit right, and faffed about with that for 11 months…
But they are (finally) done!
They are made from two layers of cotton duck (midweight twill weave), with a decorative layer of vintage embroidered cotton (from my grandmother) at centre front.
They are boned with German plastic whalebone.
All the boning channels and seam stitching were done on an industrial machine.
They have metal grommets, and use X cross lacing, instead of spiral lacing (I’m not going to lie, this part really stresses me!).
They are bound with cotton twill tape.
While the body of the stays were machine sewn, I did the binding by hand, because I enjoy hand sewing, the students do theirs by hand, and I did much of the binding while on the road and away from sewing machines at the annual Toi Whakaari trip to Manutuke Marae.
I also did reinforced the top of each tab with hand-sewing, rather than by machine.
The binding only took me a couple of days of concerted sewing. And then they were finally done!
I’ve got two more pairs of 18th century stays on my sewing schedule for this year: one totally handsewn and historically accurate, and one a combination of hand and machine sewing. And I’m DETERMINED that neither will take me more than two weeks!
None of this ‘year’ nonsense…