Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Getting a Start on 18th Century Undies

Our first Summer Salon is just around the corner, and we'll be taking that day to focus on starting our 18th Century wardrobes from the inside out, by creating the foundation garments we'll need to support our ensembles!

For a basic 18th Century outfit you'll need a few essential undies, which we'll give you a rundown of in this post. We'll also give you a list of readily available patterns for all skill levels, so you can start gathering your materials and getting ready for our sewing day!  And don't worry if you're feeling a little overwhelmed at first. If you're costuming the 18th century for the first time, starting from the ground up is the best way to build your wardrobe, and our resident 18th century costumers will be available to help you if you get stuck.

The innermost layer is called the "shift" and was worn against the skin to protect the upper layers from body oils and sweat. This was usually made of linen, since it was widely available and could be inexpensive. Cotton muslin is today's equivalent. Shifts were fairly simple garments, falling to mid-calf, with lightly gathered sleeves that were finished with a cuff.


The next layer would be the stays, which shaped the body into the fashionable conical form, and provided a canvas on which the dress could be pinned. While most people think of stays as corsets, and they were boned with supporting materials, their function was to provide support for the bust, create a fashionable silhouette, and importantly, to provide support for the skirts by redistributing their weight from the waist to the torso.

 To provide a fashionable shape to her skirts, a lady had a couple of different options for skirt supports. During the first half of the century, panniers were the fashionable support of choice. They created the wide, flat silhouette that we see for a large portion of the 18th century. They were often constructed in the form of a skirt boned with reeds that was tied to shape with tapes.

Later, the fashionable shape the panniers gave was created by wearing "pocket hoops". These created the same shape to the skirts, but were somewhat lighter and more maneuverable.

If you noticed above, both of the skirt supports are worn underneath the stays. This helps prevent the skirt supports from shifting around or riding up.

During the last quarter of the century, the flat and wide silhouette gradually shifted to the back and was replaced with a bumpad or bumroll. These could be made of a variety of materials, from stuffed fabric rolls to carved cork.  We see the bumpad look in a lot of film and tv at the moment, even in shows set before the bumpad became popular!

With these basic garments, and a couple of petticoats, you can start building your 18th century wardrobe! But where do you go for patterns or instructions? We have a short list of readily available resources for you to check out! This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are the most freely available patterns and instructions we could find.

For Beginners: 

-  The new Simplicity #8162, 18th Century undies pattern, includes the shift, stays, and bumroll appropriate for late 18th century fashions.

-  Simplicity also has an older, out of print pattern that includes a shift, stays, pockets, and panniers. While Simplicity #3635 is out of print now, it can found fairly easily on ebay and etsy.

-  Simplicity's Pirates of the Caribbean inspired pattern, Simplicity #4092, includes a pattern for a pair of pocket hoops, as does their new 18th century dress pattern, Simplicity #8411.

-  The discontinued Butterick #4484 includes stays, large pocket hoops, pockets, and petticoat patterns. This pattern can still be found online on ebay and etsy.

Intermediate Difficulty:

JP Ryan's half-boned stays are a favourite among Rev War reenactors, as are their strapless stays.

-  The Larkin & Smith front and back lacing stays pattern is also very popular and highly recommended.

Advanced Difficulty:

For those comfortable with sizing up, drafting, or draping their own pieces, there are a few great online sources for making various underthings:

18th Century Shifts by Sharon Burnston is pretty much the shift-making bible. It will give you cutting layouts, fabric lengths, and variations for different decades, and her research is top notch.

-  The Marquise's website has been around for nearly two decades, and is still a go-to resource for 18th century costuming. In her How-To section, you can find instructions for shifts, stays, panniers (with variations for different decades), and much more. Definitely look around her site for lots of great information.

-  If you have a copy of the book Corsets & Crinolines, it includes several 18th century stays patterns, as well as a pattern for a grand pannier. If you don't have the book, most of the patterns are available through a simple google or pinterest search.

-  Katharine of Koshka the Cat has a free tutorial on how to create an easy, authentic 18th century petticoat.

If this is your first foray into 18th century costuming, we hope we've provided a helpful guide to get you started on creating your underpinnings! If you plan to join us for our Underpinnings workshop, feel free to start on your projects ahead of time, you don't have to wait for the class to begin work on your outfits. If you get stuck, we'll have some of our resident 18th century gurus at the class to help you out.

There will be enough outlets for 12 sewing machines, so feel free to bring yours along. We'll also have a handful of mannequins available in case you need to use one.  We hope to see you at our workshop in July!

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