I start with the Custom Corset Pattern Generator and the instructions from the Elizabethan Costuming Page. My measurements are: Bust-34", Waist-28", WaistToUnderarm-5" (yes, I'm short-waisted), CupSize-B, and CenterFrontLength-12". The generated pattern shows up on a grid to one-inch scale, which is cool, because my pattern paper already has a one inch grid. A little tracing, and my basic pattern is ready. The basic pattern doesn't include tabs, though, so when I move on to the directions, I choose those for making a boned tabbed version. Here's the pattern with tabs drawn on:
It looks small to me, especially since the stays of the time were supposed to push the bosom up and have a long line down the front.
INITIAL FIT TEST
So, while I'm washing the red fabric which I intend to use for the exterior, I cut out the plain cotton lining (green, not that it matters). I choose to cut two pieces, instead of cutting the Center Front on the fold, because it's hard to lace myself in and I don't have a maid. Instead, I'll make a pair of bodies, with a back that laces to adjust the size and a front that zippers or closes with hooks and eyes, for a smooth line and easy donning.
I pin the lining to myself to test the fit of the pattern as drafted:
Doesn't it look short? Perhaps I measured the waist-to-underarm wrong. The pattern generator said to pick a spot a few inches under my arm, about where the top of my bra band would run, and measure from there to the waist. Maybe I should have picked a slightly higher spot? Maybe my bra band sits lower than average? As it is, the top of the bust line sits just on my nipples instead of above them. I'm almost certain it should sit above them so when I bone the whole thing it'll push the bosom upward.
Despite my uncertainty, I'm sticking with this pattern for now, on analogy with a recipe: you try it once as written to get a baseline, then make changes the next time. Besides, I know very well the diameter will shrink when I bone it, so that'll make it snugger, which may do the push-up job for me. And if it doesn't work, I will know how to alter my pattern for the next attempt.
My boning materials are plastic bones, metal bones, and fiberglass spokes from a broken umbrella. I trim with kitchen shears (no way am I risking nice scissors on these!) and arrange them by size. I trim the stays a bit shorter than the fabric because I know I'll need to bind the edges of the fabric later
I sew by hand; hand-stitching boning channels makes it easy to get the channels really tight around the bones. I sew one side of the channel, insert the bone between the layers, then sew the other side.
This hand-sewing occupies me while watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix. I bind the edges:
Binding the tabs is interesting. I slide the bones out to make the tabs more manipulable. The inside curves are easier, because I can bend one tab out of the way and it makes almost a straight line (left picture, below). The outside curves are harder... I have to pin the curve and ease the extra into tiny folds.
The result is pleasingly neat, but the further into the project I get, the more convinced I am that these stays are wrong for the Elizabethan era! They are too short, and really will be more like a waist cincher than a pair of bodies. Here's the project half-done:
And here's me holding the finished half against myself:
In the left-hand picture, I'm holding it at my waist as it should be, with the tabs flaring over the hips. My breasts are level, at the point where my bra holds them normally. In the right-hand picture, I'm holding it up high on my bust, trying to imitate the bosom silhouette of the 1500's. When the bust is right, the tabs sit at my waist instead of flaring out below it.
SO WHAT TO DO?
Though they are half-done, and represent a lot of time and work, I decide to set them aside and re-draft my pattern. I will probably finish them at some point, but right now my priority is getting a foundation for my modern Elizabethan outfit. So... back to the internet for more research, and back to the drafting paper for more work!
Quilting, dressmaking, and history plied with the needle...
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