Thursday, October 1, 2015

OMG Not a Match!

Taking a look at stomachers that are not the exact same fabric as the gown. 

Mrs Jacob Hurd, 1762, Metropolitan Museum of Art

This detail screen shot of her stomacher is fascinating.  Could this be the "puckered" stomacher?  What are the chains crisscrossing?  Ribbons most likely, with a deaths head button to secure them?  Interesting choice by the artist to paint the child's sash in the same color family as Mom's gown.

Another possibility for the "puckered" stomacher is this portrait by

Francois Hubert Drouais

I will still be on the lookout for more examples of this sort. 

A completely contrasting stomacher color to gown color gives an entirely different look. The color of the stomacher is repeated in the bows at the elbow. This follows the artistic rule of don't use a bold color only once.

Rhonda Cranston, Fralin Museum of Art
White stomachers are not an uncommon choice with a colored silk gown.

Princess Caroline of Wales, Essex Hall
And the reverse, white gown and pink stomacher and bows.  Again the color is repeated somewhere else, bows at the elbow and neck ribbon.

Mrs. Laura Keppel, MFA Boston
This time in blue, which I really like.  One of the interesting tidbits that I am noticing while looking at literally hundreds of images, is how many PLAIN silk gowns there are in portraits.  Decorated to the 10th power or  left undecorated.  Artistic license?  Easier to paint?  Or are we trying to over represent brocades and prints because that is what survives?  Did the brocades survive because the designs were so old fashioned too frumpy for remodeling?  Did the plain silks not survive in the same quantity because they were so easy to reuse?  Food for thought or thoughts plural.  

Portrait of a Woman, 1750, Yale Center for British Art
Another white and blue combination, with the hint of criss cross lacing on the front of what could be the foreparts of the stays.  Very plain gown, no bows or decorations of any sort.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More Early Stomachers or the Lack Thereof

A couple of 1740s portraits of women clearly wearing their stays as stomachers.    The decorative lacing is front and center on both of these ladies.

Annetje Kool, c 1740 by Pieter Vanderlyn

Peter Vanderlyn, 1741
Early stays with the application of silver trim that is not meant to be hidden.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Long fingers/tabs, broad back with a very tiny and long waist at center front are typical of early stays, as are the shoulder straps.   A number of these stays are mislabeled as 1780s stays due to the shoulder straps and long fingers.

Another very similar yellow pair from Les Arts Decoratifs, also yellow.

The bows are a cutsie add on by the photographer/stylist.  Ignore them and look at the shape of the stays and the lacing at center front.  The lacing does nothing.  It is purely decorative.

Does this trend continue into the later decades of the 18th century?  Yes it does,  and I will be looking at the 1750s and 60s next!   Truly the highpoint of all things stomacher, the 50s and especially the 60s are killing it with gorgeous stomachers and stays as stomachers continues too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ads for Stomachers

Most of us who are familiar with stomachers know that many are lost or separated from their original gowns.   The smallest part of the ensemble, easily put aside (aka lost) when a gown was remodeled later in its life.  The stomacher was often made to match the gown and petticoat, the crowning glory, but limited in scope to the gown it was made for.  A stomacher that did not match a particular gown would be useful for mix and match between a variety of gowns.

So where did these random stomachers come from?  You could buy the fancy ones, which makes sense.  Much of the embroidery and/or decorations on these stomachers is professionally worked and available for sale or import depending on where you were.  The ads in England feature ready made stomachers as well as those ads placed here in the colonies.

Pennsylvania Gazette, November 28, 1754

The ads only hint at what these might look like.

Boston Newsletter, November 1, 1764

Can we assume silver lace?  Silver embroidery?  Silver, like gold goes with just about any color gown. 

Boston  Gazette, May 21, 1764

This ad is a little more descriptive, but only a little, "black and colour'd pucker'd", hmmm…. Is puckered what they are calling the ordinary ruching technique we see on gowns as trim?  Or is it the same as the pucker'd cuffs we see on later 1770s gowns?  I am going with the puckered cuff comparison and will hope to come across one as I search for images of stomachers on gowns.  I don't remember ever seeing an original with that technique, similar, but not quite the same. 

Pennsylvania Packet, February 2, 1772

Now this one is interesting.  What my friends is the difference between French and Italian flowers?  Are they noticeably different?  Is one paper the other silk?  I don't know.  Does anyone?  For real?  Not speculation?  If you do please share with notations.  

An interesting note, there are zero ads or mentions of stomachers up to 1731 in our colonial newspapers.  The first mention is a woman struck by lightening.  

New England Weekly Journal. (Boston, Massachusetts) • 10-11-1731
Is a "tagg" a sliver ornament or clasp of some sort?  Not sure, but the poor soul was badly burned. This came from a search for the word "stomacher".  A search for "stomachers" revealed the first stomachers for sale in 1749.

Boston Evening Post. (Boston, Massachusetts) • 02-27-1749
This is the first advertisement in the colonial newspapers of stomachers for sale.  Curious that it is so late. When you search sometimes the results are interesting in their lack of citations as well as when we hit so many. 
Daily Post (London, England), Thursday, March 7, 1728
This is is the first advertisement in the British Newspapers that I could find.  Bringing up a question, what is a "slit" stomacher or is it a "flit"?    It is mentioned with "bodice" so one can possibly assume it was part of a set of stays.  This came from a  search for the word "stomachers" and the same ad comes up first in a search for "stomacher". 

The lack of stomacher hits sent me to the Old Bailey online.  Often they have much more, since it seems like thievery was as frequent as purchasing in 18th Century England.  The very first mention of the word stomacher was in 1684, stolen along with a "girdle". 

Hannah Rider, 25th February, 1713

This thief was accused of stealing both "boddice" and "stomacher", again linking the two as possibly the stay/stomacher combination.  Many of the early mentions of stomacher are with "pair of bodice", or with "jumps".  Will go into more detail later, but this is extremely interesting, to me anyway.  Not having any preset ideas on early stomachers, I am finding the results of the searches fascinating.  

But not making too many assumptions, much more work to do before that. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Early Stomachers

Moving forward from the 17th century to the early 18th century.

What is going on with the stomacher?

The stomacher has to become separate when you want to do something to it that makes the separation necessary, such as embroidery.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
A great many embroidered stomachers survive, especially from the early part of the century.  Most often the embroidery is silk with heavy metallic elements as well.  The shape and form of the stomacher are in line with the shape and form of the stays they are put on top of.

This early version is a long tall sally, narrowing at the bottom with two fingers on either side.  This will work on a pair of stays with similar styling such as this example from LACMA.


Broad and full at the top, narrow waist and lots of fingers are typical of earl 18th century stays.  They are also typical of much later stays in the 1770s and 80s. This makes it difficult for many museums to assign a proper date and you will find many of these types of stays mislabeled as later.  The dead giveaway is the broad back, sweeping ropes of braid or ribbon all down the front and the spade at the bottom.


Another early stomacher, this time you can see clearly how the design is worked so that the tabs will be seen as they flare out over the stays.

Some serious dating to this style from an embroidery how to book, 1725, in the Victoria and Albert Museum.  

Form following function.

Early stomachers still reflect the criss cross lacing on the stays.  A popular look that hangs around a long time.

Metropolitan Museu

To my eye some of the most beautiful embroidery of the 18th century is done on early stomachers and aprons.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Don't Have the Stomacher For It?

Research is ongoing, still exciting and still turning up information to share even after all these years.

This past summer Larkin & Smith had two exciting opportunities for research, writing the standards for the "Stamp Act" 1765 event in Newport, Rhode Island, and as two of the coordinators of the Old North Foundation Fashion Show to be held in Boston on September, 30, 2015.

So with those two projects, lots more time was spent looking at images for those details we often overlook.  And now that they are almost completed, will have more time to research and write.

One of those details is the stomacher. We receive lots of questions.   Should it match?  Should it just match the gown?  Should it match the petticoat?  How should we trim it? What does a lower class woman use for a stomacher?  All kinds of questions and frankly all kinds of answers.  So here goes,  I am taking a look at stomachers if you have the stomach for it.

First a little back history.  In order to appreciate the evolution of fashion, looking back before looking forward can be helpful.  One of the best looking back places to go is Bunka Gakuen, a treasure trove of early fashion prints.

Some really interesting ones, all French, all around 1695, with many design features found on later gowns that start here.  Really.  The mantua itself is the precursor to the gowns of the 18th century.

So much to see that changes over time thru the 1750s, 60s and even the 1770s.  Let's see how many design elements transfer over, into and thru the next century. 

Stripes going around the arms.  check
Small ugly dog.  check
Sleeve ruffles. check
Robings/folds on either side of center front.  check
Front opening.  check
Lace at bosom.  check
Decorations filling in center front.  check
Small choker necklace of pearls. check

Looking closely, she is not wearing a stomacher, the lace we see is on top of her stays.  Not a separate garment.  

We see it here as well, clearly noticeable chevrons on top of the stays.  You can even see the binding at the top of the stays.  Just to make us crazy her stripes are going down her sleeves.

I thought this plate was also of interest.  We certainly can equate with the concept of bows down center front.  Bows are still big, just ask Kate  Spade.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Original Stays

A line drawing is nice, but seeing the original is even nicer.

The extant stays we used for our new pattern follow the convention of fashion fabric on the foreparts (front) only.  With the back and side panels in plain linen.  This is inline with so many other pairs of stays and the mindset of " if it don't show it don't matter".  The ultimate 18th century guideline.

Before beginning to pattern the stays, we needed to try them on a person.  Measurements are good, but there is nothing like having flesh to lace up to determine the actual size of the person the stays were originally made for.  Well, it turns out I was the person.  They fit me perfectly.  They were amazingly comfortable for the short time they were on.  Nothing at all like any other pair of stays I have ever worn.  And no harm was done, it was no different than placing a pair of stays on a mannequin.

The foreparts are green worsted, laced shoelace style over a stomacher.  We are using a repro stomacher since the original is long gone.  I have used the shoelace arrangement for some time.  It does do something different than spiral lacing.  Because you are pulling equally from both sides, it provides more compression and more shaping to the front.  The sides ride relatively high under the arms, but not uncomfortably so.  What the sides do is help control all the wiggly flesh under the arms that most of us have.  Some skinny minnies don't have any, but most women do.  In our workshop classes we call it schwable.

The back of the stays are not quite even steven.  Leading one to wonder, if these had been made ahead of time and then taken from the shelf and made up into the stays.

The back is spiral laced, the top of the stays are bound in white leather, the bottom only in leather in the front sections, the back bottom of the stays are bound in linen tape.  All the stitching appears to be by the same hand.

The front lacing holes are in a much darker green silk/mohair thread so when making the reproduction, I decided to go with the darker green of the silk twist.  There is obvious fading and damage to the outer fabric of the stays.

So a nice worsted was obtained and the sewing begun, using a silk buttonhole twist and linen thread for the back panels.  The original was sewn with 8-10 stitches per inch.  I ended up with 11-12SPI.

One thing a pair of stays will do for you is improve your backstitch.  I started with the back linen panels first, counting threads and by the time I reached the wool, muscle memory took over and the stitches were just as even as counting the threads.  As an apprentice staymaker for many years, I will say this pair was/is my master piece.

I varied somewhat and did leather all around the bottom.  I also decided on artificial whalebone as the boning material of choice.  In the past I have used all kinds of reed, some very good. Riven oak and pounded ash were also good. For a reproduction of a 17th c pair of stays for Plymouth Museum, I did use artificial whalebone and was very impressed with the look and feel of the finished stays.  And the same holds true for these, not only the look but also the feel is just like the original.  Having worn them in mid80 temperatures, I can vouch they are no hotter than anything else I have ever used as boning.  Unlike the zip ties a lot of people use, this is a corsetry product and does not have a memory. In other words it can be reshaped with heat if necessary.   I am happy with the shaping, the feel, the look and comfort level of these stays.  I am hoping they work as well for everyone else.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

New Stays Pattern: Now Available

The 18th Century Wish List

Hand made shoes, 18th century patterned brocaded silks, a well made pair of stays.  What do these things have in common?  They are all pretty darn difficult or impossible to find or when you find them completely unaffordable.  

Larkin & Smith hope we have just shortened that wish list by one item!  A great pair of stays that follow the traditions of 18th century staymaking are now within reach!

The  Front and Back Lacing Stays pattern is printed, envelopes stuffed and available online!

The pattern is taken directly from an existing pair of stays in our collection.  It is available in a wide range of sizes, from a  32 inch bust to a generous 50 inch bust.

Fitting point: take your measure while wearing a well fitting bra. Having the girls up where they should almost be will provide a more accurate pattern size choice.

Many of our customers have told us our English Gown Pattern is like having a workshop in an envelope.  We have tried to do the same with this pattern, and have also taken it a step farther and are offering kits with all the material requirements.

We decided on the good, better, best concept for the materials, but even our most basic kit will yield a lovely pair of stays.  We are trying to knock down the obstacles to obtain a reasonably priced and good pair of stays.  You only buy what you need, so we have varied the kits by size in each category as the larger sizes obvioulsy need more materials.  Keep checking in as our fabrics will be changing frequently, some of them are very unique and have short yardage available.
All the complete kits contain linen foundation fabric, outer covering fashion fabric, linen lining, binding materials, boning and of course the pattern.  Our experience examining extant stays was put to use in the choice of materials available.  No funky colors, weird upholstery brocades or drapery fabrics, you know the ones I mean.  

We are also offering kits in a materials only version for those who already have a stays pattern they have worked with previously. 

You may want to mix and match our stay making supplies and make up your own version of a kit.  In each case, you’ll have everything at your fingertips to create a fabulous, great fitting pair of stays.  And with our detailed instruction guide, even a novice sewer can create a pair of stays to be truly proud of.  

Materials Only Stays Kits-No Pattern Included

The instruction booklet will guide you in making your stays every step of the way.  We have included directions for machine sewing and hand sewing the channels, both versions follow the same instructions for assembly based on the original pair of stays.  Diagrams, line drawings and photographs will provide a spiral bound 18th century staymaker's apprenticeship.  (And it will not take 7 years to learn!)

Making a pair of stays is an investment of money and just as importantly, time.  Stays should fit well, be comfortable, and provide a stable foundation on which to build an 18th century wardrobe.  We think our first stay pattern will meet all of those requirements.  We are very excited about it and hope you all are too!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Tying the Knot

No one is getting married, engaged or becoming thunder buddies for life.  We are tying knots today.  A simpler process one could not encounter in all your 18th century projects.

Grab a Ham

Pitfalls: None (just don't fall on the way to get it!)

I have a bunch of hams acquired over the years.  All you need is one.  I like the long narrow one for sleeves when making fringe, but it does not matter in the least for this particular fringe.

For this trim, I happen to have on hand a suitable base with some modifications.  This was purchased because it has the look of the foundation of many 18th century trims.

It is not made of silk, the down side, but rather man made fibers.  The upside is that it looks right, which is really all we can ask.

In order for this trim to work the way I want, the snail part has to be removed.  A small snip.  A pull.  Bye Bye snail, hello foundation.

Tie the Knots

Pitfalls: Not enough silk in your fans. 

Cutting fans too long.

Making fans too far apart.

Making fans too darn big! 

Strand your silk, thread your blunt tapestry needle and get going.  I am using  Au ver a Soie-Soie Ovale, four strands all together.

Tie a knot.  Leave a 1/2 inch tail.  Thread the needle thru the trim.  Tie another knot, leave a  1/2  inch tail.  Trim as needed.  I like my fans to be no more than 3/8 inch long after the knot.  Even smaller if I am making 3 fan or 5 fan flies.

Butting In

We like to pose pictures because it makes them more interesting and it's fun to use period prints and paintings for inspiration. When we were kidding around with this one at the Hermione event, we had no idea it had been posed before.

Dueling butts on Rowes Wharf

Lewis Walpole Collection 1786 #786.05.16.02

This one uses a more modern theme, and it's for you ladies and gentlemen who worked so hard to create some really first class impressions.  And there are no buts about that! 


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Larkin & Smith Stays Pattern

It is going to print this week, and the pattern will be available next week for sale.  So what is it like?  Why are we so excited by it?

First,  it is a copy of an original pair in a private collection.  So all the details are straight off the extant garment.  This is not an amalgam of multiple pairs of stays.

It is front and back lacing.  In our classes we are frequently asked for that style for ease of dress, so we decided to make that pair first.  In an ideal world everyone should have both a back and front lacing pair and a back lacing pair.  Many of us are on our own, dressing in parking lots and behind trees, you never know where!

We have been making stays and teaching stay making for over 13 years.  It all started with one of Mark Hutter's first classes in stay making, I fell in love with them and have been making and studying them ever since.

Steph and I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to examine and study 18th century stays in small New England collections such as the Colonial Dames, Duxbury Historical Society, Memorial Hall, Deerfield, Litchfield, Connecticut Historical Society and in larger collections such as the Museum of London, Leeds, Colonial Williamsburg, Liverpool Merseyside, Norwich, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum.

All of that research and experience is brought into the instructions.   It is a spiral bound apprenticeship in 18th century stay making.

Front and Back Lacing Stays 

The instructions are fully illustrated and take you step by step through the process.  Both machine and hand sewing channel directions are included, but even if you sew the channels by machine the stays are assembled in the exact same way as the original pair, by hand.

No weird machine workarounds.

There are two sizes per pattern, starting at size 32 and all the way up to size 50.

We are providing for sale on our website all the materials in a good, better and best format at different price points. Making a good pair of stays should be an achievable project for all budgets.  We will be putting together full kits for sale as well, they will be going up on the web this weekend.

So stay tuned. (yes, the pun was intended).  We will announce when the pattern is up for sale on the site.

Plus more blog posts to come on stays, material, boning etc.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Bows in Boston

After all the blog posts, all the controversy re the flowers and hats (did not see any BTW),  all the work of the organizers, the Hermione has come and gone from Boston. Mon Dieu, what a crowd she drew.  Unlike many of the other ports she tied up right downtown.  Tourist central.  Steps from the meccas of Faneuil Hall, Freedom Trail and the North End.  Many of us did not have the opportunity to board, the crowd was so huge, and the line so long.  But that being said, a good time was had by all as you will see.

So how did it turn out?  I was brought to tears (actually was), by the turnout of our women in Boston.  Bows on the Bosom, hair piled high, the ladies and gents showed off the Best of Boston.

The girls captured it. What else can I say.  They were amazing.  

Backs against the wall, trying to find some shade, the variety of colors, hats and gowns were a visual treat.

The photo ops were everywhere.  

The Bow!

The Butts!

Steph and Hal in conference.  What next?  1760s, Newport, Rhode Island!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Seeing Sailors

Jack on a Cruise 1780 Lewis Walpole Collection
Where there are ships, there are sailors and L'Hermione will be bringing French Sailors -- ooh la la!  So be on your guard girls, you may not be able to resist their charms.

Given the number of satirical prints of sailors with young ladies, "chechez les femmes" appears to be their pastime while on shore leave.  Or perhaps it is the sailors who were really the prey?

A Sailor's Pleasure 1781 The British Museum
Easily a look that many young girls could reproduce.  A calico or printed linen gown, print handkerchief, check apron and a black silk covered hat.  Her gown skirts stylishly brought up in the back.

1781 Lews Walpole Collection
Some serious signals being sent out by both Jack Oakham!

An English Man of War taking a French Privateer 1781 Lewis Walpole Collection

An English Sloop Engaging a Dutch Man of War 1781 Lewis Walpole Collection

So careful girls beware those Jack Tars, or should we say Jacque Tar?