Friday, June 2, 2017

18th Century Undergarments

My blog has been rather quiet for a couple months because I moved across the country in April. In March we listed our house in Montana for sale, and we completed the sale and moved out on April 20, then five days later, purchased a house in Williamsburg, Virginia. We have now been living in VA for over a month, and I finally have had time to do some sewing now that our house is mostly unpacked and we're settling in.

We now live only 15 minutes away from Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestowne. I want to start attending events and activities at CW, and hopefully other 18th century-themed events elsewhere, so I had to get crackin' on some new costumes. Because I had no pieces of 18th century clothing yet, I started from the skin out, which means undergarments. These will be the foundation pieces I'll use for all my 18th century costuming.

First up is the shift or chemise. I had made a simple cotton one for Regency, and I will probably continue to use it for 18th century, as the only difference is the length of the sleeves and fiber content. It's perfectly passable underneath a dress. However, I knew I would need more than one shift, so I made another out of a lightweight linen with the proper, elbow length sleeves. I considered adding ruffles at the elbow, or a cuff, but ultimately decided to leave it plain, as I will likely wear different "engageantes" or sleeve ruffles that are removable and can be transferred onto different dresses.

 The construction is simple and goes together quickly. It's rectangular construction, with two underarm gussets and two side gores. The neckline is a drawstring and only has to gather a little bit. The shift is a very important layer: it absorbs sweat and body oils, keeping your stays and outer garments cleaner; and it helps keep the bust in check with the stays on. Without the shift, my bosom tends to pop out of the top of the stays. I didn't use a commercial pattern for the shift; there are tons of patterns online and you simply adjust for your measurements.

I needed proper 18th century stays, and waffled on whether to buy them or make them myself. Turns out I ended up doing both! First I made stays, using the American Duchess for Simplicity pattern. Then Redthreaded announced she was going to start making front-lacing 18th century stays, so I preordered those. They arrived last week and are awesome!

Left: my "Outlander" stays.   Right: Redthreaded's stays.

 I started the gold stays back in April, once I knew we were moving. I purchased the Simplicity pattern designed by American Duchess, as I wasn't ready to tackle scaling up a pattern from my costuming books, nor did I like the style of any other commercial pattern. I liked the shape of this one, and that it had a front-lacing option. The fashion fabric is a cotton/silk damask, and the lining is cotton duck. I didn't need interlining as the two fabrics were heavy enough. The boning is zip ties, some .5" and some .25". There is only front lacing, no back lacing, as I found it unnecessary to have both. The back has a center seam now. No pic of the back because I have a hideous back tattoo.

 Overall I would recommend this pattern, but I did have to do considerable adjustments to make it fit me, I had to do two mock ups, and it still doesn't fit me properly. I'm not going to fault the pattern for this, as it's our responsibility as costumers to do enough mock ups and adjustments to make things fit right. However, as I researched heavily to see how other people managed with this pattern, hopefully my review will help others, like the reviews I found helped me.

Issues or things to fix for next time:
Pattern was big. I cut a size down from my actual measurements, as I'd heard this pattern ran big. It was very large, so then I took it down more. Problem is, I then had to add to the bust while take away at the waist. I don't have crazy curves (37.5 bust, 29 waist uncorseted), so this should not have been a major problem. But it was. I had to add a seam down the center back so I could take in the waist enough to not make it overlap in front, and it's still not enough! Next time I would do a significant adjustment to the bust and waist at every seam. Shoulder straps are too short. Waist is a smidge short, and I'm not even long waisted. It's serviceable for now, but I knew as I finished these that I would have to make another set.

I have made the vow that I will only wear front lacing corsets/stays from now on. They are so much more comfortable for me! With back lacing, my breasts get smashed and compressed, with little lift. I end up in pain after a couple hours. Perhaps my breasts are just too squishy, as they flatten easily with back lacing. With front lacing, I have real cleavage and lift and support. Never again with back lacing. Never.

So this is where Redthreaded comes in. Around the time I was finishing my gold stays in April, Redthreaded announced that she would be making her 18th century stays front lacing, with a lower neckline. I ordered them the day the preorder went live! I ordered the Medium size, and they fit absolutely perfectly. Not a single adjustment needed. I can get my waist a full inch smaller in these stays than the other ones, and remain comfy. Highly, highly recommend. If she releases a pattern to buy for them, I'm going to get that, and make a pair in a fun fabric with hand bound eyelets instead of grommets, so it's more historically accurate in case it ends up on view. This set is perfectly fine so long as I don't have to show them at an event. Loving them!

Next up is a quilted petticoat. I wanted a petticoat to wear underneath other petticoats and dresses, that would provide serious pouf. It will likely never be seen or worn alone, because I'm not sure that the fabric is historically correct enough. It is a quilted cotton or matelasse, where the fabric itself has a diamond-pattern quilting effect, but it's not two layers of fabric with batting inside. That would be too heavy in the Virginia climate! I had the hardest time finding 100% cotton, linen, or silk that was quilted. I didn't want any blends, especially polyester. Most quilted or matelasse fabric is used for upholstery nowadays, so they put polyester in the mix to add durability. Therefore, finding something in a solid color, all-natural fiber proved too difficult.

I found this 100% cotton on Etsy, but it has a striped pattern in addition to the diamond stitching throughout. I know they had striped fabric for petticoats, and I know they had diamond-stitched petticoats. I don't know if they had striped and diamond-stitched together. I found only two examples that kind of resemble what I made, both extant garments from the late 18th century. I decided that the likelihood of the petticoat being seen is slim, so stripes it is!

I also made a bum pad, to be worn underneath the petticoats. It adds a lot of pouf around the hips, and some at the rear. I used the bum pad from the same Simplicity pattern as the corset. Made of medium-heavy weight linen, with a self-fabric ruffle, and twill tape ties. It's one piece in a crescent shape, with three sections to be stuffed. I used pillow batting, very sparingly. When I stuffed it about half way full and tried it on, the shape was too full and it looked extreme. I already have plenty of junk in the trunk, so the pad made me almost comedically large in the hip. I removed some batting, and I'd say it's now 25% full of what it could be. Much more reasonable. This bum pad is for wearing under daywear and "light formal" gowns; I have a set of pocket hoops to wear under the sack-back or Francaise gowns.

Here's how it looks under some petticoats. The aqua is a light silk taffeta, then the quilted petticoat, and the dark blue is on top of the bum pad and the quilted petticoat. It definitely gives the right effect! The pouf is much more pronounced when the bum pad is on my body; my dress form has basically no hips or booty.

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