“Spring is like a perhaps Hand in a window (Carefully to And fro moving New and Old things, while People stare carefully Moving a perhaps Fraction of flower here placing An inch of air there) and
Without breaking anything” - e.e. cummings
On the festive day that I write, St.Brigid’s day or Imbolc, I am in my apartment with my dog and spouse. We are home-bound due to snow, and it seems like spring is a million years away. But we have survived winter before, and to prove it our house is awash with the dried flowers of springs past. There are also roses on the antique vases we rescue from antique shops and pansies pressed into our old books. There are even flowers in our tea (bergamot and lavender). We tend our indoor plants with gentle love, hoping they will return the favour with cheerful blooms and vivid green leaves.
This spring will mark one year since I decided not to buy any new clothing, and to thrift and mend instead. Interest in sustainability lead me to rediscover sewing clothing from scratch, and to begin to learn in earnest. It was a short walk from there to historical costuming, and my world cracked open. Wild shoots of inspiration, determination, and excitement burst forth and my life will never be the same. On this, a traditional day of transition from the bitter winter to the grace of spring, I wished to make something to represent the bright, beautiful hope I feel.
My goal (see: challenge) was to use as few new items as possible. I recently inherited fabric and supplies from my mother, who gave up dressmaking before I was born. I used the RedThreaded 1780s stays pattern because of the relative flexibility in materials and techniques. If I didn’t have a particular skill or a piece of equipment, I could adapt and still maintain the integrity of the pattern. The American Duchess dressmaking book, as well as their YouTube channel, was another important resource.
To maintain the theme of sustainable use, I doubled the mock-up as my lining layer. I used a combination of hand-sewing and machine stitching based on my energy levels and the level of difficulty. The outer coutil layer was cut using as little fabric wastage as possible, and this worked to the benefit of the pattern matching.
I made the bias tape myself using scraps from an old 18th century cravat my mother made for a costume several years ago.
The original pattern called for cross-lacing but recommended spiral lacing for more historical accuracy. I referred to several online tutorials to learn the method when setting the grommets.
The only materials that were purchased new for the stays’ construction was a few yards of cotton twill tape and plastic boning. I bought the stays in bulk from a wholesaler, and the boning in a large reel, which I was able to cut to size and keep additional length for future products with little waste.
1 yard Covington floral cotton coutil fabric 1 yard cotton/poly blend broadcloth Less than one roll of Dritz ¼” plastic boning 3 yards of ½” cotton twill tape 1 yard white cotton scrap for bias tape 19 steel grommets RedThreaded 1780s front-lacing corset pattern (PDF purchase online)
What was it like to compete this year? What would you say to someone who is on the fence about entering next year?
I found out about this contest after I had decided to make the stays, but before I knew how, when, with what, or anything else. This contest gave me a deadline, a theme, and incentive to finish. Placing in the contest is secondary to the thrill of challenging yourself to a new (or improved) skill! Don't think about winning, think about what you could learn!