Another Way Of Spiral Lacing – Or Not?

After posting about the finished stays yesterday, a little confusion arose about how to lace them in a period way. Of course, we all know that spiral lacing with offset eyelets was the most period-correct method of doing it before cross-lacing came around. But, when I looked at the stays, I had to frown: The eyelets on the sewing pattern were not offset, and so they were not offset on the finished garment, either. And still, the instructions suggested to use spiral lacing with the parallel eyelet set-up. How can that be?

The pattern cannot be at fault, since it is very closely based on an extant pair of long stays. And JoAnn Peterson, the pattern author, really knows her Regency garments and provides great research for all the sewing patterns she publishes. If she does not use offset the eyelets, she does it for a reason.

So here is what I found: Offset spiral lacing does not seem to be the only extant method of doing up garments. Up to the 18th century, the majority of documented bodices and stays were constructed with this lacing method in mind, since it provides the proper structure for tightening a corset. This is also what Jen Thompson’s research on spiral lacing suggests. Please do check out her blog for her finds and a very in-depth spiral lacing tutorial.

But this is not the end of the story. Offset spiral lacing has a sloppy little cousin: The parallel spiral. While researching period lacing methods, I lucked into a very old article with an engraving of 17th to 18th-century lacing patterns:

Diagram of extant lacing patterns from the 17th/18th century. (Please click image for article.)

Now look at pattern A and compare it to pattern E. Drawn up tightly, they would create a somewhat similar picture. The article’s author also admits that pattern E was the most common lacing style he has found in historical sources. But A definitely also existed in documentations. If it was used in corsetry, though, remains hard to say.

With this picture in mind, I went back to the pattern envelope of my stays, and looked at the pictures there. It turns out that pattern A was exactly what JoAnn referred to as “spiral lacing” in her instructions. So this is what I did. Now my stays look like this:

Parallel spiral lacing on the stays.

What does this mean for you as a costumer? If you want to imitate spiral lacing on stays or bodices with parallel eyelets, you do not have to resort to ladder lacing (pattern B above) right away, if you do not want to. You can try and use parallel spiral lacing instead. Even though the historical evidence remains somewhat patchy, it will get you a little closer to the desired effect. Maybe “closer” is not 100% accurate, but at the moment, it will do for me. ;) Using it has made self-lacing a bit easier than with the previous crossed pattern, too…

Wishing you a calm and happy week!

Warmly, Nessa
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