That is to say, alterations are complete to the first pair of early 19th century stays, and now they work: I can sit down, and the dresses look the way they should. Click here for a Pinterest board of stays for visual references for mid- to late-18th and early 19th century stays.
The first pair of early 19th century stays I tried to make using Past Patterns’ Transition Stay pattern, all by hand. They were beautiful, but beyond redemption and failed to fit despite muslins and multiple alterations. The pattern is based on the Connecticut Historical Society stays at left; search for 1963.42.4 in the CHS online catalog.
I sent the sad remains of the transition stays to Johnston, and made a muslin from the Past Patterns’ Corded Stay pattern, which is very similar to these stays at the V&A. I do recommend using a sewing machine for speed, and a long hook for pulling the cording, though your mileage may vary.
While the finished stays looked good and appeared to fit, there were certain… idiosyncrasies… that concerned me. Among them was the tendency of the busk to pop up and attempt to greet my chin whenever I sat down. In general, even laced up snug, the garment seemed determined to ride up with wear.
So I tried them on again yesterday with a different, shorter busk slipped in between the the shift and the stays: the busk stayed put. While the stays were about 15″ long, my lap-to-bust length when seated is about 13″. So I undid the binding top and bottom, shortened the cup gussets, shortened the bottom edge, tacked it down, re-bound the stays, and, when Mr S got home, handed him the busk to cut down. I tried the whole contraption on again: Success! The busk stayed down, the breasts stayed up, and we seem to have a winner. It was thanks to the Oregon Regency Society’s page on fitting stays that I reached the conclusion that I needed to reduce the gusset length. I knew from comparing my stays to my friend’s stays that I needed to reduce overall length, because she has to add at least 1.5 to 2 inches to patterns I use…and her stays were the same length as mine. So if they were the right length for her, they were wrong, so wrong, for me.
Where did I screw up? Probably in not testing the muslin with a busk, and in not testing the muslin by sitting down with the busk. As long as I remained standing, the unaltered stays were fine. So, however you plan to wear your garment, test your muslin. We’re not dress forms: we move and lift, push and pull, crawl under and over things. You will need to test your muslin out by moving, not just standing in front of the mirror. This will be more challenging for some (Going to plow in stays? Maybe you need to push a chair around the house in a muslin) but at least sit down, bend over, and test a muslin the way you would a pair of jeans in a dressing room. If you do already, good for you! If not, you’ve been warned. Failure to squirm will eventually catch up with you.