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

Last night Marc and I went over to our friends Chris and Natasha’s place for our weekly sewing night.  Marc worked on his double-breasted waistcoat project, and I made the cardboard mockup/pattern for my leather stays.  With a brief stop for some delicious boeuf bourguignon courtesy of Chris, both of us worked pretty steadily for a good three hours or so.  Olaf, their cat, attempted to help.

Olaf says: "I will help hold down the cardboard!"

I started off by cutting out the pattern piece from the Mills Farm Jumps packet that I was working off of.  I then traced the shape onto the cardboard and cut the first side out.  I used scissors, but if I had to do this again, I’d use an Xacto knife.  After the one side was cut out, I used it to trace a copy onto another piece of cardboard and cut the second half out.


Once that was done, I taped the two halves together in the front, since I want these to be back-lacing stays. After I did that, I tried them on and had Marc tape me into them to see what fit and what didn’t. I knew that due to my large waist and hips, this pattern would be far from fitting properly “out of the box”. I was right, and though the front was the right length, the sides weren’t anywhere near curved enough (in fact, the curve was in the wrong position entirely), the armscyes were tiny, and the back had a 12 inch gap!

I took it off and laid it back on the cardboard and cut two corresponding 6 inch pieces to fill in the back. Even though I knew they would likely be cut off, I added a section to the curve of the armscye as well, just for consistency’s sake.


Once these pieces were added to the sides and taped on, I put them on again and once again had Marc tape me in.  At this point, we started marking out new cutting lines.  We cut about 2.5 inches off the hips, completely changed the curve and size of the armscye, cut down the strap tie-ons in the front, and just generally fiddled with it until it fit better.  However, once these adjustments were made, there was now an overlap, rather than a gap, in the back.  With the overlap in place, we drew a straight line down the back where the cut should be.


So, I took it off once again, re-cut the back along the new line, and then put it back on again, with Marc once again taping me in.  This time around it pretty much fit.  Marc made a few minor adjustments and then I took it off again, cut more off, and then taped on new tabs along the bottom where I had cut the previous ones off.  After those final adjustments, I tried it on for a final time.


Once I had confirmed that it fit the way I wanted it to, I took it off, laid it out on a clean piece of cardboard, traced the outline, and cut out a new one out of a solid piece of cardboard, the same way that I will eventually be cutting the final version out of leather.  I cut around the tabs for the final version, but also lifted them up on my mockup and drew in a line where the “true” waistline is, so that I would know how far to cut in the tabs.

Once it was fully cut out, I tried it on and had Marc tape me into the cardboard stays. In order to soften the cardboard up a bit first, I walked back and forth over the cut-out stays, and folded it repeatedly along the “grain” of the cardboard (which should be vertical for the purposes of this project, to simulate normal boning).  It’s still not as soft as the leather it will eventually be made out of, but this was the final product:

Though there are some minor adjustments that still need to be made (two more tabs added to the front, narrowing of the strap tie-offs, adding a place for the straps to attach to in the back), the cardboard part of this project is done.  The good thing about working with leather is that it’s relatively easy to modify, so I can make the pattern off of this and then trim it down as necessary (this is why I always cut large – you can always make things smaller, never larger!).  All in all, I think they came out well.

At the moment I’m looking for a good source for the leather.  I’m looking for 8-10oz leather, probably closer to 10oz in order to more closely mimic the stiffness of boned stays.  The leather stays will never be as stiff as boned ones, but depending on the type and treatment of the leather, I should be able to get close.  Tandy is always an option, but if anyone can recommend a smaller business where I might actually be able to talk with someone who understands the idea behind this project, that would be even better and would be much appreciated.

So, what do you folks think?


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  1. Following with interest, as I am actually using the same pattern to make my wife a set of leather stays for this years season in the UK (may do linen ones on the same pattern, but can’t sew for toffee). I am using a 2-3mm thick leather which has some movement, but can still provide the support she requires. However I am making them in two halves with front and back lacing and a stomacher plate on the front, as it makes it easier for her to put on while we are also sorting my kit and getting the kids dressed. I am staring at the leather and pattern with trepidation, but this is giving me the confidence to have a go (only 1 year vets here!)

    • I’m glad to know that this is helping you! I should be posting more soon, so keep checking back and feel free to ask questions if you have any!

  2. I used leather from Tandy, as I was a noobie but I was able to go to the Essex MD location and talk to the people in the store and they were pretty knowledgeable. Have you looked at Crazy Crow trading post on the web?

  3. Using cardboard for the mock up – brilliant!! I also plan to make leather stays and I think this will help a lot.