Over the past few months, a discussion about wearing historical costume for everyday occasions has made the rounds in some online costuming groups. This reminded me of how much I love wearing Regency underpinnings with modern outfits. Half a year ago, I finally got around to making the Regency-era morning belt I have wanted to make for so long now. Since then, I have worn it under historical costume, but it has also had more than a few cameos as a bra replacement. Worn over a fitted camisole or t-shirt, it is super comfortable, much more than most modern bras. And, since a morning belt involves next to no lacing, it comes on and off more quickly than a pair of stays. :)
In today’s post, I will share the research and drafting / making process with you, so you can go on and make your own morning belt. The research has proven a little tricky, since extant examples of Regency-era morning belts are scarce, or at least somewhat hard to identify. But more on that in a moment!
Some Morning Belt Research
The one thing that has kept me from making the morning belt for so long (years, actually!) is that fact that this style is one of the least documented known Regency undergarments. The closest surviving examples to be found today are various sets of boned half stays. Examples of this are the Utrecht half stays Sabine has taken a pattern from and this corselet held at the Musée Galliera:
Since only very little information on the wearers and the occasion of wear exists, we can only assume that they have been used for morning / undress or maternity wear. And it seems very likely. Still, I have always missed a clear link between these examples and the ominous “morning belt” from period texts. So I did a little digging.
On a whim, I started searching in French. This way I stumbled into a period book I had not know before the “Manuel des dames” by Madame Clenart, whose real name was Élisabeth-Félicie Bayle-Mouillart. You can access the full text here at Gallica. This is a second edition from 1833, but the content seems to date back to at least the early 1820, so it is a great resource for the mid to late Regency era. And it really is pure gold, it does no only hold advice on corsetry, fashion and manners but recipes for cosmetics, perfumes and some laundry directions for dress fabrics, among other things.
The corsetry chapter lists many types of stays, featuring suggestions on stays for maternity wear and instructions on turning a regular pair of stays into a corset à la prasseuse (the period equivalent of fan-lacing). This chapter also describes mornings belts and gives some instructions of how to make them up:
In short, this extract gives the following hints for the construction of a morning belt (from what I could gather with my very basic French):
Half-stays for the morning are about 8 to 10 inches high (I understood this to be the back length), corded or lightly boned. The top part is shaped like it would be in a regular pair of stays, but the back ends in two long tabs that tie at the front with thread ribbon. They are very convenient for dressing in the morning, plan on going on a bath later or when you are in a hurry to get dressed. I do not know about you, but this sounds perfect to me on an average morning!
Fabric suggestion include white cotton or coutil for summer and nankeen or grey cotton canvas for winter wear. A lining in a matching colour is also suggested to make the morning belt more durable.
From this I gathered that morning belts also featured the crossover back tabs seen in the half stays above. Although they do not quite resemble those in the Galliera example, but come very close to those of the Utrecht stays.
On a side note, you can also find this kind of crossover wrapping for shape in a more unusual Regency-era garment. This bust (under-) bodice at the Victoria & Albert Museum:
After gathering this information, I finally felt confident to delve right into drafting my morning belt.
Since this has been my first venture into drafting a piece of corsetry, I decided to use these drafting instructions for short stays by Mistress of Disguise. They also work wonderfully for actually making short stays. ;)
I started by following the instructions given for the front and back / side back pieces. The only thing I did differently was to use a slightly longer back length (9″ instead of the given 8″). For the bust gussets I cheated and used my size gusset from the Laughing Moon #115 pattern. I left out the straps and included them in the back piece later on.
To create the crossover back tabs, I turned to the pattern for the Utrecht stays by Sabine as a rough guide. First, I created the overlapping section at the center back. For this I drew two lines. The first was a straight extension of they stays’ bottom (underbust) line. Its length was equal to about 1/8 of my underbust measurement. I redrew this line later. Then I connected the end point to the top end of the CB line with a diagonal.
From here I rotated the back pattern piece outwards until the diagonal line was perfectly vertical. I will show you what I mean by this on the finished pattern piece in the picture below. When cutting out, the straight grain will run along this line, too. (Sorry about the slightly rumpled look. For some reason I could not find my original pattern draft…)
Now I elongated the vertical line by the length of my side back piece (again 1/8 underbust) plus two or so extra inches that would got over to the front at the sides. At the bottom edge of the line, I drew a perpendicular that was 2 1/2″ long. This marks the later front width of the tabs. Now I went back to the original bottom edge of the CB line from the initial draft. and connected it to the end point of the short perpendicular line with a long curve.
For the strap, I did a similar thing. I extended the top of the long vertical line by the desired strap length (14″ in my case). Again, there is a perpendicular line at the top edge, 2 1/2″ long. From its end point, I drew another line, parallel to the vertical. To get the length of the line I calculated my strap length – shoulder to underbust length at CB. This way I made sure that only a narrow strap shows at the front.
To shape the top curve, I extended the curve on top of the side back piece, across the back piece, until it reached the end point of the parallel. The finished back pattern looks like this: Originally the strap was a part of the back piece. But when doing the final mock-up, I decided to make it into a separate piece to reduce some of the strain on the fabric. The seam runs in a spot where the mock-up had a little pucker. There is now no pucker in the end result. ;)
Making Up The Morning Belt
When making morning belt, I used up the leftovers from my long stays. Thus I made them out of two layers, an outer layer of white cotton twill and a sateen lining. After putting in the gussets and sewing together the individual layers, I joined them together by stitching through the side and side back seams. This minimized the amount of basting at this stage and made for nice, extra durable seams on the finished corset.
For the light boning, I used four rows of cording with 1/4″ kitchen twine over the side back seams and two rows of cording plus a small piece of heavy-duty cable tie at the side seams. For the busk, I made a teeny 4″ wooden busk from a paint stirrer, using my own busk tutorial. With some hindsight from the last time though, I did not oil it as profusely as the last one. ;)
After adding four hand-bound eyelets to tie the straps to the front, I started binding the morning belt with cotton bias tape. I bound the short edges of the bottom tabs individually then sandwiched the twill ribbon that ties at the front in between. Then I went about the remaining binding as usual. The top binding at the front holds a small 1/2″ drawstring that keeps the ladies in check.
On the dress form, the finished morning belt looks like this. It fits much better on my ( somewhat more squishy) self and I really love how it came out.
Now I am so happy that I finally got to make this piece of Regency corsetry for modern ladies in a rush to get dressed! :D I hope you enjoyed this rather long post and it has shed some light on the making of a morning belt. If you have questions, please feel free to ask them here at any time. Wishing you all a lovely rest of the week!