18th century clothing, alterations, authenticity, common dress, common people, living history, Reenacting, stays, women's work
We have been here before: terrible stays, stays in need of minor mods, and “it isn’t history till it hurts.” New this past weekend was the Busk Bust Blister (Bursting) which didn’t make History hurt, but sure did bring a sting to the wind-down afterwards.
These new stays are, so far, the best I’ve ever had and well worth the blood, sweat and swears it took to make them. Gowns do seem to fit better over these stays; they held up well at muggy Monmouth and in polar Princeton, but the last two rounds at Ti left me feeling like I’d taken a hoof to the ribs.
What gives, kidneys? At least this time I made it past Fort Ann and all the way into a private room in Glens Falls before I had to free the sisters and release the lower back.
But this time, there was a bonus: the previously indicated Bust Blister. On the left side (I’m right handed), I developed a fairly robust .25” x .125” blister that crowned the top of a nearly 2” red mark, mirrored on the right by a less red and slightly less long mark. The culprit?
The Busk of Doom, of course.
Strictly speaking, I should not sport a busk when I desport as Captain Delaplace’s serving woman, or as a refugee cooking up the last of the bread, eggs, and milk. I’ve earned these marks and (potential) future scars by dressing above my station, and need to adjust accordingly.
Step one: Rounding down the busk edges (now in the capable hands of Drunk Tailor).
Step two: Foregoing the busk when working.
Step three: Wearing partially-boned stays when working.
Two is the easiest; three is the hardest. Which do you think I am, therefore, actually contemplating as a necessary next step?
But of Course: Step Three, Pathway to Finger Cracks and Stained Stays.
Fortunately I have people close to me who will ensure that I work through steps One and Two before embarking upon step Three, but I certainly want to know more about (and will look much more closely at images of) working women in the third quarter of the 18th century. My suspicion is that women who are performing labor that requires movement– up and down before a fire, back and forth across a floor, bending over a tub– may not be wearing stays made in exactly the way high style stays are made for ladies who bend over an embroidery hoop, glide back and forth across a ballroom floor, or move up and down the stairs of a well-built home they supervise.
Or my busk pocket is too big, my busk edges too square, and my actions too fast and continuous.
What are these women wearing? They certainly look fully boned. What can I change to make my stays work better for working? No matter what, where there are variables, there are experiments to run, and that’s what really makes history fun (even when it hurts).
Hmm! My own experience with half-boned stays was mostly just that I snapped bones more often – so not my preference for hard labor. I don’t ever wear a busk, and the center-front boning on my stays is angled, not vertical, which allows for a certain amount of movement, but isn’t an easy alteration… You’ve just confirmed my suspicion that busks are torture devices. I wish that could have been proved without my friend getting boob blisters though!
Angled, huh? Well, I think we just found a possible pattern problem here. Happy to have confirmed your suspicions and spared you the experiment!
Donald C. Carleton, Jr. said:
Re: busks, perhaps the women working in the Sandy vignette were wearing whalebone busks–wouldn’t that material be more flexible than wood? Maybe you need a modern whalebone substitute!
My guess is that they’re busk-less, though the baleen would certainly have been more body-conforming than the splints that are in my stays. I don’t think I can really warm up a historic busk to see what will happen, and nipping some baleen from a local museum would be a felony….
I have a very small, 3/4″ baleen strip that supports the center front seam of my stays. I do a ton of work in mine, they’re fully boned back-lacing stays, and so far that little busk has done the job. Like Eliza’s, my boning at the front is very slightly angled. I’m also in desperate need of making new stays – mine are about 4 years old, worn daily, and all of the boning around the waistline is busted. Every tab is pretty much hinged. I did alter the pattern from the first I had drafted because the front points were way too high under my arm – okay if I wasn’t doing much more than sitting, but this girl works and needs to move.
Oh – and I also have a cherry busk that for a set of halfboned stays issued to me for work. It’s a pain – I only wore it if I’m doing fancy dress up things because it’s so still. I replaced it with a strip of scrap tin (occupational temp fix) because I needed something for every day work that was more flexible.
Anna Worden Bauersmith said:
I was going to ask how much leeway you have for bone placement and if you have evidence for diagonal boning for this era. From the previous comments, it sounds like some have tried it. I find diagonal boning in my mid-nineteenth century corset makes all the difference for ease of functional work. Despite being many decades apart and a different structure, I wonder if the same premise is applicable. In the years of less fluff and better fitness, I was able to do a good deal of work without issue, bending, lifting, pushing, hauling.
Oh, and that was with the heavier, thicker (not wider) spring steel bones because I won’t use the more common, thinner bones as those are what left the scar on my back from one snapping. It is just now faded twenty years later.
It’s interesting. The boning in the stomacher is straight up and down, not angled. I need, clearly, to study more stomachers, so that I can alter the pattern for this one and see how that works. The previous stomacher had angled boning. Sometimes instincts work better than patterns…
Oh, that sounds sad on the comfort front, but very real on the actually living and learning history front. I’m curious to see what you find, but I would think that hard working and hard moving women would have had less boning to compensate, despite the way they might be drawn.
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