10 March 2018

HSM #2: The Amazing Garsault Stays

My Garsault stays, worn over a working class shift and an
under-petticoat from an 1990s Ikea fabric based on an 18th
century print (sadly not in the authentic red/black colorway).
There are four amazing things about these stays:
  • They fit me.
  • They're done.
  • I think it's a clever cut.
  • The cut comes from a well-known book of the period—but has gone unnoticed in the costuming world anyway!

There are also some not at all amazing aspects, mostly because I've been cutting corners:

  • The back lacing is substituted with a sewn-on fabric scrap.
  • I'd planned to just zig-zag the tabs, but then my hip started hurting (no, it wasn't the stays that caused it!), and I couldn't go downstairs to the sewing room, so I decided to bind the tabs while recuperating. I only finished half of it before my hip was better, and then left it at that.
  • Tracing paper marks are clearly visible on the outside.
  • I gained a few pounds around Christmas, so I have to leave a larger lacing gap than originally intended (I'll be working on that...). 
  • This type of lacing gap, without a stomacher, is shown by Garsault, but front lacing sans stomacher produces a kind of 'washboard flab'... pulling the shift taut under the lacing helps though.

Pattern and sewing

I've made a few stays mock-ups over the years, and always failed—they all made my back hurt within minutes... No matter how I altered my pattern, the next mock-up was always just as bad. I'm not sure why I have this problem; it could be my swayback, or long rib cage, that affects the fit.

Outside view. A scrap of fabric is basted to the back lacing gap.

Last Summer, things were finally looking up. I realized how the stays in Garsault's 1769 book L'Art du Tailleur were cut, altered my latest pattern version accordingly, and made a mock-up. Surprisingly, my back felt fine in these even after half an hour, so I decided this was the way to go. (Edit: I describe the cut in detail in Continental stays 2: The Garsault stays pattern).

Inside view. Garsault's interior view shows reinforcements across
the side front seams at the waist; I used wide twill tape for mine.

I knew there was still a risk that the fit wasn't good enough to wear the stays for hours on end, so I decided to fix all pattern issues I could, and then take all possible shortcuts to get a pair of usable stays. Therefore these stays are made of cotton, with machine sewn channels, and I've sewn eyelets at the front opening only. The center back edges are prepared for eyelets and boning, but the lacing gap is filled with a piece of stitched-on fabric. That way, I can add back-lacing at a later stage. The stays are sewn from two layers only; the seam allowances are hemmed or whip stitched to the inside, and there's no lining. I bound the top with 12 mm (½") twill tape, attached with zig-zag in a single step. Half the tabs are hand bound with 6.5 mm (1/4") twill tape, which I also used for lacing.

The lacing gap is about 2.5 cm (1") too wide, part because of
weight gain and part for fear of cracking a rib—many years ago,
I cracked a floating rib when I was lacing up my wedding corset
for fitting the gown (it shows as a slight bulge on one side of my
chest, to the right in this pic).

The gusset is significant of Garsault's cut. The
gusset's boning forms an inverted V here.

The facts

The Challenge: #2 Under.

My submission: The Amazing Garsault Stays.

Material: Sturdy unbleached plain weave cotton.

Pattern: My own, altered to mimic Garsault's cut as described in Continental stays 2: The Garsault stays pattern.

Year: 1769, and probably some years before and after.

Notions: Zip ties, twill tape, polyester sewing thread, 50/3 linen thread, beeswax.

How historically accurate is it? The cut is period correct, which means the stays will give me the right shape, which is the primary requirement for a pair of stays. But they wouldn't stand any sort of close inspection in their current state, so they get 30 % on the Peacock scale.

Hours to complete: I have no idea—I've been working on them on and off for six months, and my sewing sessions usually last about 5-15 minutes each, so I don't bother to keep track.

First worn: For the photo shoot.

Total cost: About $12 worth of fabric and notions, mostly from stash.


  1. Congratulations on finally finding a stays pattern that is comfortable and wearable for you. I like your idea of sewing them with shortcuts, but being able to alter them later on. First of all, they are finally finished and wearabe and that is what's important. And they look great and certainly give you a very good shape!

    1. Thank you! I was pleasantly surprised that a good shape and support was achievable with so few pattern pieces.

  2. They do look right, from my inexpert point of view. :-)

    (By the way, the link to the post on the pattern doesn't work - it's not a nice public URL but what I assume is a personal user interface link from Blogger...)

    1. Thank you, Hana! I'm no expert either, but I think the cutting of stays is a really interesting subject.

      I'm glad you found the broken link - I've fixed it now. :)