Early Regency Elastic Garters : A Tutorial

It has delighted me to see how many of you are also enamored of all those gorgeous period garters. It feels wonderful to be in such good company. But, admiring is only one side of it all. As costumers, we all love to also re-create the fashions we adore. To get you started on your own pair of drool-worthy garters, here is the promised tutorial on how to make “elastic” early 19th-century garters.

Before we start, it has to be said that the finished garters will not be made in a completely historically accurate way. This is because we will be using elastic cord instead of wire springs to elasticize the garters. Modern elastic varies greatly in its elastic properties, as opposed to the material available in the period. But the end result of this tutorial will be very close to the period look. So, here we go:


You will need:

  • 12″-15″ of elastic cord, approx. 1/8″ wide.
  • 2 pairs of “double” hooks and bars, normally used for in-seam skirt closures.
  • A short length of matching double-fold bias tape, about 6″ long.
  • Needle and thread (matching for the seams and optionally another color to accentuate the cording channels).
  • Four 4″ wide pieces of sturdy cotton fabric, according to your measurements (see below).

Placement and Measurements:

You can place the garters just below, or just above, the knee. To find out how long your fabric pieces need to be, measure snugly around the place of your choosing. For the two front pieces, you will divide this measurement by 2. Then you add 1 1/4″ to it, to get a 5/8″ seam allowance on either side. For a sample calculation: I decided to wear my garters below the knee and measured a leg diameter of 16″. So I ended up with a front piece length of 8″ + 1 1/4″ = 9 1/4″ by 4″ wide.

Obtaining the length of your elasticized back piece is a bit trickier and depends on the bit on how rigid or stretchy your elastic cord turns out to be. First, you need to stretch your elastic cord to see, how much of it is required to go across half your leg diameter. Typically, the amount will vary somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 of your measurement. With my cord, I needed 6″ to stretch over the 8″ of the finished back piece. Now you can decide if you want a (nearly) flat back piece when wearing your garter, or rather a more ruffled look. Both seem to have existed for period garters and it is up to you, what you like best.

For the “flat” look, you simply take your halved diameter and add a 5/8″ seam at one end. If you would like to shir and ruffle your back piece a little more, you are now going to double the measurement of your elastic cord and add the 5/8″ allowance to that. This is how i did it and I came out with 6″ x 2 + 5/8″ = 12 5/8″ by 4″ wide. Now that you have your measurements, you can go ahead and cut 2 pieces of each.

Making up the garters:

First, fold all your pieces so that the two long edges are touching and press.

Step 2: Add your embellishments to the inside of the folded front pieces, steering clear of the fold and seam allowances.

Next you can decide whether you would like to add embroidery to your front pieces or if you want to ornament them with pieces of patterned ribbon instead. You will be placing your embellishments on one half of the folded front pieces. Since you will later turn them inside out, remember to put the adornments on the inside of the folded piece, making sure not to work over the fold line and seam allowances.

Step 3: Add cording channels to the sewn-up back pieces.

Now you will work on the folded back pieces: Sew along the long, raw edge on either piece, taking up a 3/8 seam. Leave the short ends open, trim the seam and turn inside out. Add two cording channels that are wide enough to hold your elastic cord, starting your first seam about 1/2″ from the top and bottom edges. If you are using 1/8″ cord I recommend you place the cording lines 3/8″ apart (as you can see, mine came out a little too narrow for easy cording).
Optional: Add a fifth seam in between the channels for decoration.

Step 4: Feed the elastic through the channels and secure.

After finishing the channels, cut four equal lengths of elastic cord, according to the calculations above. Feed them through the channels, using a bodkin and, if necessary, a pair of needle-nose pliers. Make sure that a little bit of the cord peeks out at either end and secure it, using straight or, even better, safety pins.
Stay stitch on both sides, close to the edges. This step is crucial, since elastic cord develops a life of its own otherwise. I forgot this when first making up my pair and ended up taking apart and re-cording them because the elastic came loose.

Step 5: Embellish your fronts, fold them back over and mark.

Once you have finished decorating the fronts, fold them back over, right sides facing. Measure 2-3″ from the left edge and mark the point. Now, sew along the right edge of each piece, as well as the long edge, up to the mark you just made. Turn inside out. Your sewn-up fronts will then look like this:

The front piece after sewing and turning.

Step 6: Attach the back pieces to the top side.

Now, place your back pieces on top of the fronts and pin in place. Carefully sew them to the top layer of the front pieces only, while taking up a 5/8″ seam. Make sure to move the back layer out of the way completely. Trim the seam a little, fold the back piece into the front and press.

Step 7: Hand-finish the back of the join.

To finish the front-back join, flip over the pieces. Fold the raw short edges on the back in by about 5/8″ and press, making sure to cover the entire raw edge of the back piece. Finish the side seam and the remainder of the long seam by hand, using a slip-stritch.

Step 8: Bind the raw back edges.

At this point, your garters are nearly down. All you need to do now is cut your length of bias tape in half and use it to bind the remaining raw edge on your back piece. Do it as you would bind a corset, stitching “in the ditch” on the top side and securing the folded-over side on the back with slip stitches.

Step 9: Attach the hook-and-bar closure.

At last, you sew the hooks and bars to close your garters. The double skirt hooks are the closest thing to the, often ornate, hook closures used on period garters. But they do well enough. It works best to attach the hook on the back end, and the bar on the front. If you look at extant pairs, you will find that the bar usually goes on the “pretty” side, right next to the embroidery. Since the modern hooks are not so pretty, I opted to put them on the undersides instead. ;)

The finished product. =)

And your garters are done! Here is a look at my finished product. But I have a feeling that yours will be all the prettier. If you get to try out the tutorial and make your own pair of garters, I would love to see how they turned out.

I will be back with you very soon, once the exams are all over. By then, I am hoping to have some news on my new Regency day dress as well. Now, back to fixing the garter I forgot to stay stitch… See you all very soon!

Cheers, Nessa

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