Hot! Work in Progress: Leather Stays – Making a Mockup Part I

I don’t know if it’s my contrary nature or what, but I really love doing things that are underrepresented in the reenacting hobby.  I love obscure impressions like the Spanish Civil War, and I especially love getting to make or wear something unusual.  The hassle of making traditional linen stays is one of the things that has kept me out of the 18th century side of the hobby for so long, so I was excited to find out that stays made out of plain, thick leather were not uncommon in the lower classes and that they are relatively easy to make.  Since I am trying to go low-class for my campfollower/refugee impression, they seem like a great opportunity to showcase something that is very underrepresented in the hobby.

I will be using the Mill Farms Jumps/Leather Stays pattern to base this off of.  It will be made out of 8-10oz leather, perhaps even lightly boiled, which will then be scored to provide additional flexibility. Marc and I chose this pattern based on advice from folks on the various reenacting forums and mailing lists, and because it is for a version of stays that is less structured than typical boned stays.  The pattern is for a pair of “jumps”, which were often simply made from very heavily quilted fabric, and they were worn by pregnant women and some working women as a more flexible alternative.

Tomorrow night we start working on the cardboard mockup for the stays, so stay tuned for further updates!  Nobody anywhere on the internet has ever documented their process for making leather stays, and I intend to change that!

 

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  1. “I don’t know if it’s my contrary nature or what …”

    Hahahaha, probably. I <3 your contrary nature!

  2. Leather Stays were my first stays! I like them, I just need to recut them.

  3. did the leather stays come out. and where can i see/get copy of pattern to use? am trying to make my first set of homemade reenacting clothing. would appreciate any help that you can provide. thanks

    • As you can see by looking at the other posts about the stays, they are not finished yet. As I mention in the post (with a link), I used the Mill Farms pattern to base them off of, but made my own pattern. If you look at my second post on the subject, you can see my process, step by step: Making A Mockup Part II

      If you are interested in making a pair of leather stays, feel free to follow along!

  4. Kudos to you! I made a pair of leather stays last year out of VERY heavy leather from a pattern of my own devise. Documenting that process on ye olde blog is one of my goals this spring. Hopefully leather stays will gain more traction among the lower-to-middlin’ set of 18th century reenactors in the coming years. I look forward to seeing your progress!

    • What are you defining as “very” heavy leather? I’m going to be going up to Tandy next week to look at some leather, but at the moment I’m looking at something in the 8-9oz range. What did you use?

      You should definitely document it! The complete and utter lack of process documentation online is why I’m being so thorough with it on my own set.

      And yes, I hope it gains some traction without becoming the new “thing” to do. It seems to have not been uncommon among the lower classes, but I have never seen a set being worn at an event. Then again, many of the campfollowers I see at events are far too well-dressed to have ever been an actual campfollower!

      • You’ve inspired me. I’ll try to get some pictures and production notes posted in the next week or so.

        My leather was in the vicinity of 12oz. A leather-working friend described it as “nearly shoe sole-leather.” I cut the stays in one piece from the center of the hide in an effort to use the natural grain of the leather to my advantage for flexibility. I scored the outer surface lightly and then re-scored the lines with a wartenburg wheel to give it the “look” of stitching. My stays only lace down the back. At the time that I made them, I was unaware of any surviving front-lacing stays that were 100% leather. Since then I’ve stumbled across two pair that are front and back lacing (and sides as well on one of them!) I may, at some point in the future, cut the leather to accommodate front lacing. They are VERY hard to put on without assistance as they are now, though I really love the smooth rigidity of the front surface.

        From my experience, the stays mould well to the body with wear, and sweat is your friend. I haven’t worn mine in a few months, but I plan to put them on wet and try to re-form them a bit when I next have a chance. The moisture and humidity from wear (or wet-forming) does wonders for flexibility and general fit. I’ve made a few alterations to mine since the original cut. Namely, I trimmed the top of the back down by nearly 2 inches, deepened the under-arm area and trimmed the tabs to be shorter AND cut them slightly higher so that they would allow more movement at the hip.

        • Do you think that 12oz was too heavy or just right?

          Do you have photos of the two pair you mention, or any other photos of leather stays? I have found very, very few.

          • One of the 2 pairs is on page 122 in “What Clothes Reveal” by Linda Baumgarten. They were made for a child, but were cut from four straight pieces of leather and laced at the front, back and sides. The lacing is leather cording as well.

            The second pair was in a flickr pool that I discovered about 2 years ago. Regrettably, I have lost the link and I can’t remember how I found the picture in the first place. If I come across it, I’ll send it your way. This is a link to one of the non-front lacing pairs I’ve seen, though they are of the layered, “pliver” variety of leather rather than heavy solid-cut construction:

            http://www.flickr.com/photos/demode/4640219423/in/photostream/

            For modern interpretations, there used to be an Etsy seller who offered them (and she had a picture of a pair she’d made) and I have recently seen a model/artisan on DeviantArt who had a pair of leather front-lacing stays with a leather stomacher. If you’ve Googled “leather stays,” then I’m sure you’ve seen those, though.

            If I had it to do all over again, I’d get a slightly lighter weight of leather. Not much, but maybe 10oz rather than what I used. The only real downside to the leather stays is the rigidity. It’s a good thing, but it spoils you. The lovely, incredibly labor-intensive linen stays that I made feel like a bathing suit compared to the leather.

            Also, I used an edge-rounding tool. (Can’t remember the bloody name of it, but it also came from Tandy.) It basically just cleaned the hard angles of the outside edges of the leather. I used a box-cutter for the actual cutting and the edgey-tool thing really made a difference in the finished appearance.

            I’ll let you know when I get the post up about the stays that I made. I sent my email address in a previous post. If you’d like to email me about it, feel free.

  5. Regina from Blue Hen Bakers has a pair of leather stays as I recall. I can’t imagine them becoming the new “thing” to do. 🙂 It’s hard enough to get a lot of campfollowers into stays or jumps in the first place.

    • Well, one of the reasons that many people don’t have stays is that they’re difficult to make. I think that if they weren’t so time-consuming, more people would wear them, and leather stays are really quite easy.