For Halloween this year my sister and I went as witches.
Real, authentic, 17th century, running-from-Puritan witches.
Enter: 1693. You know, the period that (for me at least) is notoriously hard to find accurate information on.
So, enter: flying-by-the-seat-of-my-educated-guess.
One thing I knew for sure: of the most important pieces of my outfit this year was going to be my stomacher. Last year I ran short on time and didn’t have time to trim the dress I wore for our pirate-themed year. As such,the center front was a few inches short on either side and it was a real struggle to sew myself into my dress the night of and get it to close. I had to lace my stays really tight but it closed (although it looked terribly messy).
So this year, my resolution was to follow the wisdom of our ancestors and create an outfit that could be worn easily no matter how loosely I wanted to lace my stays.
Brief blurb about stomachers, to give a bit of background:
Stomachers were most popular from the 16th to the 18th century. Usually triangular in shape, they covered the front opening of a lady’s bodice and were worn by women of levels of society. Easier to make and more cost-effective than a whole new ensemble, they were a good way to bring variety to a woman’s wardrobe and they also accommodated her changing shape over the course of her life. See some examples.
I searched long and hard to find original source material that I could base my design on and one of the closest (and one of the only) pieces of artwork I came across was Mrs. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary by Anonymous.
Painted sometime around the 1670’s, it showed fashions a bit early for what I was aiming for but it was a good starting point. Analyzing her outfit, the key details are her short, rolled sleeves and the ladder lacing across what I had to assume was her green stomacher.
I looked up a few secondary art sources and drew inspiration from them, but relied most heavily on the details of Mrs. Freake’s outfit.
To make the stomacher, I started by drafting the bodice pattern and then the stomacher pattern on top of it. I apparently forgot to take a picture of that part.
But here you can see the shape. I sandwiched a single zip tie between two layers of cotton duck and zipped around the edges on my machine.
I had the idea to make it reversible, so I cut out a layer of fabric that would match my skirt and bodice and a layer that would match my purple petticoat. I stitched the brown layer down in the car on the way to my grandma’s house and added four tabs made from some tan twill tape that I randomly found around the house. Then I stitched the purple layer on on the way back from her house.
With and without creepy makeup
I laced my stays fairly loosely that night. My bodice was made to lace closed at the bottom, but it was very comfortable – and looked good – open all the way down.
I pinned it to my stays with straightpins and it didn’t budge an inch all night. I had toyed with the idea of adding a waist tape, but I’m glad I didn’t.
Here it is at the end of the (very long, very wet) night.
I wore the purple side for Halloween – it felt much more witchy – but I definitely want to do something fun with the “Puritan” side. Hopefully a photo-shoot (or something) once I’ve had the chance to make some accessories to go with the outfit. I didn’t have time to make any for Halloween night, but I found this time period to be really interesting and definitely want to revisit it once I’ve had the chance to do more solid research. Until then, here’s to Mrs. Freake! Thanks for the inspiration!
Fabric: White cotton duck, purple linen, brown linen blend
Year: c. 1680s
How historically accurate is it? I haven’t a clue. I was really just guessing on this one.
Hours to complete: About 3 or 4, altogether
First worn: Halloween 2016
Total cost: All leftover fabric from other projects, so cost was very minimal