Monday, July 29, 2013

Artefact Focus: Up close and personal with 1750s Stays

Corset, sateen/linen/metal, England, c.1750. Powerhouse Museum, Sydney - A8211-33

I'm currently in the process of writing a blog post about the history of corsetry for the Powerhouse Museum on behalf of the Australian Dress Register. As a result I was able to go down to the basement and have a look at all the extant stays and corsets in the museum's collection.

As Australia only began to be colonised by Europeans at the beginning of the long nineteenth-century (the first fleet reached Australian shores at Botany Bay in January 1788), most of the museum's collection is from the nineteenth century to present. During the 1980s the museum bought up a great deal of eighteenth century textiles (which I may blog about later), however these stays were donated by the Australian underwear company Berlei Hestia. I wasn't able to view the acquisition records so before its donation to the museum I don't know of any other provenance. It would be interesting to know how Berlei came to own it - maybe someone brought it with them to Australia as an heirloom, or maybe they just bought it at auction, who knows?

"The corset probably began life as a high quality garment, possibly for formal dress. It is likely that it was much worn and passed on either into lesser service as a second best or onto servants or other persons. This corset is anomalous in that it has no shoulder straps. It is possible that stomacher of this corset was joined at a later date to make a simpler back fastening."

The stays are made of sateen and linen, are fully boned with longer straight bodied front, straight cut at top, without shoulder straps and lace up at the back. It would be interesting to know what colour the stays were originally, as there appears to be two different colours of material used, one for the front piece and another for the side and back pieces.

The stays are fully boned with whalebone (baleen), with the boning placed between multiple layers of buckram linen and anchored in place by rows of parallel stitching. According to the conservation notes at the museum, there is a horizontal bone around the top front, although I didn't see it. As the sewing machine wasn't invented until the latter nineteenth century the stays are completely hand sewn - look how neat that stitching is!

Boning detail, buckram, centre front seam and yarn loops.
There is also a centre front seam with binding and a series of yarn loops (which you can see in the lower left hand corner in the picture above) that run down both sides of front to base, possibly for attaching a stomacher?

Centre back fastening with bound eyelets
There are ten bound eyelets down one side of centre back to just below the waist. The other side now missing and opening stitched together.

Lower tabs bound with leather
Lower edge tabbed below waist and bound with leather as you can see in the picture above. The tabbed area and eyelet side is also lined with finer fabric.

Leather trim around the top of the stays
The top of the stays as well as the tabs are trimmed with leather that now worn white and has a vandyked edge, and this trim extends from side front around to back.


I couldn't really get a good view of the lining due to the way that the corset is mounted for display, however, according to conservation, the linen lining has been replaced several times (this is possibly its third lining), attesting to the fact that these stays saw a lot of use and were possibly re-gifted many times.

I hope this has been interesting to anyone who is interested in eighteenth century fashion, costume design or for anyone who is planning on make their own set of mid century fully boned stays. If you want more information here's the link to the stays on the Powerhouse Museum website:

And don't forget to check out the Australian Dress Register!

1 comment:

  1. 3 cheers for the person that did those stitches!!! I don't even think with my sewing machine I could sew such even rows with such "in a straight line, same exact length" stitches! Thank you for the info and I will check out the Australian Dress Register!