The inside of antique bodices.
Any chance we get we study existing bodices from our favorite era. If we want to produce the fashions our ancestors wore then studying them is how to start.
So in your research you probably came across a wide range of bodices that had a bit of twill or ribbon tacked to the inside at the waist level. Sure, it looks functional with a hook on the end, but why is it there? What’s its purpose? Let’s look at bit more at this fully functional piece.
It’s sad in our current supply of modern clothing that waist tapes have gone the way of the couture do-do bird. Even as “recent” as the 1950s and 60s, everyday dresses had waist tapes tacked inside. But somewhere in the search for loose comfortable clothing this support element disappeared from contemporary consciousness.
You’ll find a few reasons for why a waist tape was put into a bodice, the main one being to keep the bodice in place around the body and prevent it from shifting. The tape is nearly always tacked at the center of the bodice, and with the tape wrapping around the body the bodice doesn’t stand much of a chance to go a-wandering.
In dresses, by firmly tying the dress around the waist it takes pressure off the shoulders and moves some of the weight of the skirt to the waist. Less stress on any area of a garment means less risk of rips and tears (a good thing!).
For front-closing, Victorian bodices from the 1850s to the 1890s, a waist tape helps keep the back of the bodice right up against the body, thereby assisting in the small waist appearance (what we want right?!). The bodice back is pulled tight to the figure with the tape that is fastened at the front.
Use this bit of knowledge as a clue to getting the historical silhouette right.
What to Use for a Waist Stay Tape
The originals we see most have a very fine example of a waist tape. Goodness! It looks like a cross between ribbon and twill tape. And most of them are. Waist tapes need to be sturdy and tightly-woven – they get lots of tension.
Originals were printed with the couture fashion house name. (Worth labels, anyone?) The tape was used as the identifying tag in the garment just like the labels in our modern clothes today. Only the designer houses had printed tapes.
For historical reproductions a basic 1″ wide cotton twill tape is perfect. I don’t recommend less than a 3/4″ width, and there’s no need to go wider than 1.25″.
And cotton really is preferred. I know polyester tapes (such as Wrights) are found everywhere. But as with all our materials in making period clothes, the lowly waist tape should also be from natural fibers. Cotton petersham ribbon works very well.
Cotton is common but you can find linen tapes that will work too, silk only if you care to spend money on a silk twill or grosgrain ribbon. 🙂 In a pinch, cut a double layer straight strip of twill fabric and make into a soft belt.
And don’t use bias! Duh. It will stretch out and not give the proper support that waist tapes are made for.
How to Sew in a Waist Stay Tape
Our ancestor dressmakers knew what they were doing. So following their example let’s tack our waist tapes at the same points.
For starters, the waist tape will go around the inside the bodice at… wait for it…. the waist area. (Oy! That was unexpected.)
But seriously, don’t think that it needs to go higher or lower or wherever. It gets tacked to a few seams on the inside right where the bodice sits at the waistline. Remember the tape holds the bodice to the body; the waist is a focal point of the entire dress. So the tape secures it to our smallest area.
Cut your tape the same length of your waist measure over all your undergarments, corset and skirt waistband. Add an inch or more for overlap and closure and any other little bit for finishing the raw edge.
I like to halve my tape then pin to the center back seam of the bodice. I’ve seen tapes tacked only to the side back seams and some tacked to the side backs AND the center back seam. Attach as you need for proper fit and alignment of the bodice.
Pin and tack tape to the side seams. Again, some originals will have the tapes tacked to the front darts as well, but for us it depends on if we need to hold the garment close to our figures in front. You may only need tacks at the back and sides.
Use catch stitches or cross stitches in a row over the width of the tape securing to the bodice seam allowances. If you have bone casing on those seams tack to that.
Put the bodice on over your corset and undergarments. Wrap the tape ends around to the front and cross over. Sew on two sets of hook & eyes or one hook & bar to close. It needn’t be super tight but must be snug to keep the bodice in place.
And don’t feel bad if you have to rip out some of the tacks and move the tape up or down. (I’ve done it a few times.) It’s difficult to know exactly where the waist is on the bodice versus the best placement of the tape to hold it to your figure over your skirts. Fortunately there’s only a few tacking points. 🙂
Do you put waist tapes into your historical bodices? Can you tell the difference they make than other bodices that don’t have them?