{JennylaFleur: Dress Diaries}

Gussets & Runners: romantic era stays

romantic era stays

Past Pattern's 1830-1840s stays

cotton drill, cotton muslin (lining), 1/8" hemp cording, steel boning, bias tape

Created as the foundation for my Cynthia gown, my first early 19th century stays were made to fit a model.

Completed 2002.




The Results:


January 2004
After our Twelfth Night Party.






The Dress Diary:

Spring 2003


The inspiration for this corset came from the film Wives & Daughters. I have never really liked the styles of the late 1820s and 1830s but thanks to W&D, they are growing on me and I can't make the gowns without the correct foundation ... so here we go ...

I am using Past Pattern's 1830-1840 Stays and will be making View B. The shape and techniques used to construct corsets changed little through the 1820s, 30s and 40s so I'm confident this pattern will work for a Wives & Daughters outfit.

I am not using cotton cording for the runners, but will be using hemp cord, like I did on my Renaissance bodice. It is probably more accurate anyway as the original corset utilized linen cord which is very similar to hemp. I'm really using it because it is so much cheaper.

Rather than linen, I will be making my stays out of cotton drill and muslin. This is, again a cost issue but I also prefer a fairy sturdy fabric for foundation garments.

I must admit to being a bit intimidated by the whole "gusset thing", so I decided that rather than try to fit them on myself, I would use a model for my first attempt at the pattern. My dear friend Adie happens to have just the right figure for this period and has graciously consented to be my pin cushion ... urr, I mean model ... for this project.

May 2 2003

I had actually started this project in late March, when I took my model's measurements and cut out the appropriate size toile. Due to some other commitments and projects I haven't been able to get back to the project until today.

Today I marked the toile in preparation for sewing it up. Not a terribly exciting first entry I know but dress-diaries have to start somewhere!

May 8 2003

Today I made up my toile and so had my first experience with a gusset. I now understand why costumers utter the name with a certain amount of dread in their voice. What a pain!

I could not get my head around the pattern's directions. You'd think that with a clear line drawing and some simple English words I could have figured out how to do it the way they explained but I couldn't. The whole sew up to the dot, leave the needle in the fabric and pivot thing ending in a sewn gusset eluded me.

After about an hour and four half finished gussets, I gave up on the directions and did it the only way that made sense to me. That is, to sew up a gusset side (bottom to dot), remove the fabric from the machine, flip the gusset under (matching right sides together and straightening the point), pining well and then returning the corset to the machine and sewing from bottom to dot again.

My method seems to work just fine and would be the way I would have done it, had I been hand sewing the garment so I don't think I am too off track. Gussets aren't too horrible once you get past the first one and can get the hang of them. Anyway, with eight gussets per layer I will have lots of practice. They do look pretty cool ...

On to Adie's first fitting ...

May 13 2003


Adie's first fitting was on Sunday. Yes I know, this is the ugliest fabric on the planet, makes a great toile, doesn't it?

Just as I thought, the style suits her perfectly and the corset gives her a lovely and flattering shape. Unfortunately, the toile did not fit. She has apparently lost a good number of inches since I measured her in March, so there is no gap in the back. That sounds familiar, doesn't it?! Good grief!

After checking Adie's new measurements with the pattern, I think that before trying to take off 3" off her current size, I will try a second toile in the next size down first and see how that fits. I'm nervous about trimming that much off (because this corset only has three seams) but the current toile fits her to perfection in the bust area and I don't really want to mess with those gussets. We'll see.

So eight more gussets await ...

May 19 2003

I made a rather quick and dirty job of the second toile, cutting and sewing it up in an afternoon. Adie's second fitting was Friday evening (no pictures I'm afraid). The second toile was an almost perfect fit, giving her a 4" gap at the top and bottom, a 2.5" gap at the waist and still a perfect fit in the bust. So, the only modification I will be making is to add 5/8" to the top (for modesty's sake). Pretty cool!

June 17 2003


I haven't been very good about updating this diary, have I? Opps! I cut out my fashion fabric, unbleached muslin and cotton drill, and have begun assembling the corset.

I finished the gussets last week, boy those took forever! I've found that gussets are not that difficult (once you get used to them) but they are time consuming. There is a lot of marking and pinning, plus to do it right I have to go slow. However, they are done and look, I think, pretty good.

I began sewing the runners this weekend. The runners, or boning channels, are 1/8" wide and are in an interesting pattern. To the right is a little doodle I made this weekend. It's not to scale or anything but it gives the basic idea of the runner pattern. The pattern is pretty but it requires one to stop, measure and mark the next section, rather than just sew runners forever (like I did on my Ren bodice). I've found it easiest to sew a marker runner, measure, mark, sew that marker runner and so on. Then fill in those two or three sections before stopping to measure and mark again.

One of the proofs of my insanity it that I thoroughly enjoy the monotonous work of sewing the dozens of straight stitches that make up the runners. I don't know, I just get a lot of satisfaction out of it. It's a good thing too because even though Adie is not a very big person, I'm going to be at the runner sewing for a while I think, one 1/8th of an inch is not very wide! What I have not enjoyed is tying off dozens of sewing threads that make up the runners. :> Just wait until I get to cord all those runners ... eek!

June 19 2003


I have finished sewing the runners! After a very late night of straight stitches on the 17th, I finished them yesterday morning. I spent the rest of the day and this morning tying off the threads (monotony is the word that comes to mind ... ) and attaching the back pieces. According to the directions I should have corded all the runners before touching the back sections but it made more sense to me to attach them now, before I insert all the cording.

I started cording the runners today. I am cording them with hemp cord that is 1/16" wide. I am using two lengths of cording to fill my 1/8" runners.

Cording the runners ... that sounds so simple ... However, because most of the runners are closed on one end (34 of them being closed on both ends) really it is a rather labor intensive process. Click here to see how it's done.

Runner Math

My sister timed me while I was working today and the average time to cord a runner from start to finish was 110 seconds. The after counting the runners (approximately 134), that equals 4 hours of solid cording. Okay, remind me why I am doing this? Oh right, because I am a crazy woman ... ah, huh.

June 25 2003

I've finished all the cording! Yay!!! I don't know if my sister's timer or my math was off or what but it took me way longer than 4 hours to cord that corset! All told it probably took me twice that.

I have finished half of the eyelets ... almost there ...

June 29 2003


I've finished the main part of the corset! The eyelets were finished earlier this weekend. They are hand-sewn with a buttonhole stitch (like my 1910s corset). They are in a spiral lace configuration. This period of corset is a transitional one, from the earlier spiral lacing to the modern cross lacing so I could have used either method. I went for the spiral because it is easy to lace up one's self and it requires a shorter length of lacing.

I finished the binding last night. I used 2" wide bias strips of the muslin left over from my 1910s corset. I sewed them with a 3/8" seam and hand finished the inside.

Today I had Adie try on the corset for the first time. It fits to perfection and looks really cute! She was not too hip on that long busk but reported that the corset was, overall, comfortable. She said she could breath easily, sit (on the edge of a chair *wink*), recline a bit and reckoned that she could eat while wearing it as well.

While she had it on, I tried on the sleeves. Interestingly enough, the sleeves are supposed to be finished and attached after the rest of the corset is complete. This worked well for me because I was concerned about their fit. I didn't even cut out the sleeves with the rest of the corset pieces.

Sure enough when I tried the toile sleeves with the corset, they really didn't work right. They are supposed to be attached to the corset back then adjusted in the front before attaching there. When I tried this on Adie, instead on the back lying flat, one side of it stuck out oddly. In the end I found that "attaching" to the front and adjusting in the back was the only thing that worked. I don't know if this is an "Adie" thing or if it is because I am fitting this historic pattern on a modern body or what ...

July 1 2003

I cut out the new sleeves yesterday and today I began cording them. The sleeves have one width of cording along the two long sides. (I know there is a better way to say that but it's alluding me at the moment!).

The sleeves are made of one layer of the drill so the cording is basically inside a rolled hem. I really hate doing rolled hems but luckily the length of the sleeves are not that long so it's not too bad. I am sewing them according to the "reproduction method" in the directions or, in other words, completely by hand. The modern method, using the sewing machine, look rather complicated. Sometimes doing things by hand is the simplest ...

October 31 2003

I really don't know what is wrong with me but I have not been able to get myself motivated in the last 4 months to finish those dumb sleeves. What can I say, I'm a very lazy person with stuff I don't want to do. I am now making a dress to go over this corset and the sleeves won't work anyway so, to put it bluntly, I'm ditching the sleeves. The corset looks, fits and stays up fine without them so ... bye, bye!

I wouldn't recommend this for a C cup or larger or if you are going to wear it for 8-12 hour periods at a time but as neither is in my case I can get away with it. Of course I'll pack the pieces away to "finish someday" (ha!) but I'm declaring this corset finished - yay!!

I'll get some good pictures of this corset on both Narcissa and Miss Adie but don't hold your breath as it will probably be after the New Year before they make their site debut!

January 2004


These pictures were taken after the corset had been worn for about 5 hours.


The hemp/drill "softened" a bit from body heat but the stays were still very supportive.



More Resources:

| cording tutorial (link) |

| cliff notes on busks (below) |

On the Subject of Busks:


I realized that I never really talked about the busk in this diary - bad Jenny! When I began researching Regency stays, I found the term "busk" to be incredibly confusing. It's one of those case in fashion history where the "technology" changed but the name did not. So answering the question "what is a busk" depends on what time period you are referring to.

A Very Short History of the Busk

Busks seem to have arrived on the scene in the 16th century. They gained popularity throughout the 17th & 18th centuries. These busks were made of wood, ivory and whalebone. They were placed in the center front of the bodice or stays, in a busk pocket, which was either a separate piece whipstiched unto the garment or a large channel stitched into the garment itself. The busk was typically tied into place with "busk lacings" on either the top or bottom of the pocket. In the 16th, 17th & 18th centuries, it was fashionable for the busks to be narrower at the bottom and wider at the top, forming an elongated "V".

The arrival of the high-waisted "Empire" or "Regency" fashions in the late 1790s saw drastic changes in corsetry. The busk, however, was as necessary as ever. It was not until the coming of the fashion for small waists and tight lacing in the 1840s and 1850s that the now straight busks were discarded.

Busks made their reappearance in the 1860s looking quite different from their processors but with the same name. The new front-opening busks consisted of two steel stays, one with metal loops, the other with metal studs over which the loops fit when closed. This type of busk was used up until the girdles of the 1920s.

Regency & Romantic Period Busks

Busks of the early 19th century were made of traditional materials of wood, ivory, horn and whalebone. These materials were sometimes lavishly carved or scrimshawed. They were thin (no more than 3/16" thick), 1½-2" wide, and 12-15" long with rounded ends.

The main difference between the 1800-1825 busks and the 1825-1840 busks seems to be the thickness, the later busks being thinner but I'm not 100% sure about that. The busk making instructions in my pattern calls for a finished busk of 1/8" thick.

A Busk for Me

There is discouragingly little information on these early 19th century busks and I have yet to find someone who sells them pre-made. Luckily the pattern I'm using has both very good historical notes and directions on how to make one. If you are interested in making your own Regency/Romantic period busk, this pattern is a great resource!

I, however, am a lazy person and didn't feel like going to all the bother of getting out the wood working tools for my stays.

The best "cheater" suggestions I've found are to use plexiglas, a paint stick or a 14" ruler. My first thought was to use a paint stick (we have tons in the house) but mine were a too short (11-12"). I looked around town for a 14" ruler with no luck. I was looking in my Mom's desk drawer the other day and found two 15" wooden rulers. Hot dog! We got them ages ago at the Virginia State Fair. The ruler is an 1/8th of an inch thick and should just fit in the busk pocket, lengthwise, once the binding is sewn.

So look around your house and think outside of the box - you'll be amazed at what you can find!


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