Making an Early 18th Century Stomacher from an Old Pillowcase

May 24, 2013

HSF Challenge #9: Flora and Fauna

I know I said I wasn’t going to post Historical Sew Fortnightly challenges here, but I’m all about making historical costuming fun and easy and making a stomacher for an 18th century gown is a project even sewing-machine-phobic me completed with little fuss. First of all, here’s my final stomacher:


Early 18th Century style Stomacher, circa 2013

I based my stomacher’s look off of these examples I found online in the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The bright colors, especially the yellow binding on the second one, appealed to me. The 18th century was all about crazy color!


Embroidered Linen Stomacher, circa 1710

Stomacher, circa 1710-1720
This stomacher has matching tabs that were fashionable during the first decades of the 18th century.

Embroidered stomachers were very popular, especially during the early decades of the 1700s. I am no seamstress and definitely not a skilled embroiderer, but I found a simple, cost-effective solution– an old  crewel embroidered pillow case with a perfect Georgian-inspired motif!

Crewel Embroidered Pillow Case, circa 1975-ish

I’ve seen lots of crewelwork pillows in my time. They were really popular as a homemade or kit craft in the 1970s. If cutting into a pillow makes you queezy, there are also lots of crewel fabric samples available online, but be prepared to pay handsomely for them since most are designer and hand-embroidered. In my case, the crewel embroidery is wool thread on a cotton duck background.


There are a few bits of missing crewel here and there since the pillowcase has seen better days. I consider the missing bits an element of my “costume dirt:” little imperfections and wear that make an outfit look like real clothes I live in everyday. After all, if this was really 1710, I would be wearing this stomacher day to day, and it would get grimy, thin, and patchy just like my favorite 21st century t-shirts.

Most 18th century stomachers were linen or silk, but since wool and cotton are both natural fibers and would have been available, I feel no shame using them at all. I did however, use poly-cotton blend double-fold bias tape to bind it, but I’m ridiculously cheap and miserly. Poly-cotton is what WalMart had, so that’s what I used!


My goal was to include both of the large flowers in the stomacher design, which required cutting the stomacher a little longer than fashionable for the 18th century, but for an early impersonation (roughly 1710-ish), it’s a fine length, especially on a taller person. It works much better proportionally for my 5′ 9″ tall sister than it does for 5′ 6″ tall me! For a template, I used the “bodice” piece from the Simplicity Pirates of the Caribbean dress (Simplicity 4092), which I purchased for 99 cents at Hobby Lobby’s super-huge pattern sale! Huzzah!

The pattern’s thin tissue allowed me to see through to the design and position the flowers right where I wanted them. I then followed the pattern directions for boning the stomacher.*


* It is important to note here that I have never sewn boning channels directly into a lining before in my life (I’ve always used applied casings) and I hate sewing on the machine, so I am super proud of my hideously ugly results! I even added an extra two channels for more support since the pattern only called for 3. For bones, I used 1cm wide zip ties from Lowe’s Hardware store. Zip ties work wonders! I highly recommend them.



It’s “sew” much easier to do it by hand, but I was crunched for time. I was a foolish, lazy individual and didn’t start working on this challenge until the day before it was due. I only used the machine for the back of the stomacher since I knew it would be hideous, but since the machine stitching was the back, no one would see it when I had it on. So, congratulations! You are now privy to my machine-sewing secret! I am not sure if this information should be considered a privilege or a burden…

Stomachers from the 18th century could be boned or unboned. The modern pattern I used required boning to support and smooth the fabric since most modern women do not wear stays under their dresses. I boned mine because I’ve worked with period Victorian garments long enough to know a few extra bones here and there really improves the way a garment performs on the body.

I then loosely whipstitched the raw edges of the lining and the crewel embroidered fashion (top) layer together and bound the edges with double-fold bias tape in a really bright yellow. I used basic fell stitches to bind the bias tape to the front.


My handstitching is much better than my machine sewing, thank goodness!

I added four tabs to the sides by unfolding the half-fold of the bias tape and making loops. I must admit, I love the bright yellow. There are quite a few antique examples of stomachers with bright yellow binding, and it was what really inspired me to get moving on this project. Eventually, I plan to make an equally cheery yellow gown or petticoat to match.

Gown with Embroidered Stomacher, circa 1700-1729

CaptureI have some sunny yellow cotton in my stash that might make the perfect compliment to my flowery stomacher. I draped it over my dress form a tad and it looks like enough to make a dress. Now to find the time to sew it!

HSF Stats
The Challenge: #9 Flora and Fauna
Fabric: Cotton duck with wool crewel embroidery, cotton sheeting
Pattern: A stray bit of Simplicity 4092
Year: Early 18th century
Notions: Poly-cotton double-fold bias tape, cotton thread, zip ties
How historically accurate is it? 65%
Hours to complete: 3 hours
First worn: By Simplicity, my dress form.
Total cost: $24 for the fabrics, $2 for the bias tape, $6.75 for the zip ties (pack of 20) and $1.50 for the thread

6 Responses to “Making an Early 18th Century Stomacher from an Old Pillowcase”

  1. Cynthia Says:

    You are as inspiring as you are talented.
    I commend you for embracing the fashion of yesterday.
    You keep history alive!
    Tank you.

  2. Cathlin Says:

    I think it’s just beautiful!

  3. You took recycling to greater heights!

  4. Sarah Says:

    This is genius!! What a great find and the fact that you could turn it into a very historically accurate stomacher is awesome! :)

  5. Jaq Says:

    You are a wizard.

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