Using Synthetic Whalebone in Redthreaded's Georgian Stays Pattern
When we developed our Georgian stays pattern we had not experimented very much with synthetic whalebone. Now, several years later, we love the stuff! While our patterns recommend the more theatrical choice of steel boning, it is quite simple to use synthetic whalebone instead. Be sure to check out our blog post comparing synthetic whalebone to steel.
Synthetic whalebone comes in many widths, though most vendors only stock a few. The 6mm X 1.5 mm is the best choice for our patterns if you intend to use the boning layout as-is. This width perfectly fits the 3/8” wide bone channels as marked on the pattern.
Synthetic whalebone is generally sold by the yard or meter. Many vendors offer a price cut if you order at quantity. You can measure the length of each channel on your pattern, or, use this handy chart. We've erred on the side of 1-2 meters extra in these requirements.
Sizes XS-XXL need no pattern adjustments. You can simply substitute synthetic whalebone for the suggested steels in all channels.
Plus sizes will need a little bit of adjustment. As patterned, there are several 1/2” wide steels across the front. These will need to be re-drawn into two 3/8” wide channels. Because this will make each “pair” of double bones 1/8” wider than the current markings on the pattern, some channels may run into one another at the bottom edge. That's OK, just choose which channel you would like to continue to the edge, and which one will end.
New bone stitch lines drawn in red.
Cutting & Finishing
Synthetic whalebone can be cut with sturdy scissors, wire cutters, or the like. The ends should then be rounded and smoothed down. This can be accomplished in a few ways. You can snip off the corners with your scissors or cutter, and then file the end down with sand paper or a nail file. You can do it all in one go with a dremel, sander, or grinder. Yet another option is to melt the end with a lighter, but this produces fumes.
If you do use a dremel or other power tool, we recommend wearing a mask and goggles to protect against particulates and dust.
You may still wish to use steels at your lacing edges, as they tend to provide more reliable support on these edges.
One great thing about synthetic whalebone is that it can easily be cut down if you discover that you need to shorten your stays at your final fitting. This is much trickier with steel.
If you're feeling adventurous, our basic pattern shapes can be adapted for a whole range of bone placements and designs. Extant stays show endless variations in channel quantity, angle, and placement. We love the 4mm synthetic whalebone for fully boned stays and the narrow channels on lighter, late 18th century shapes.
Reed is of course a great historically correct option. However, a majority of stays were boned with baleen, not reed, based on our research. We also have had issues with reed breaking over time with wear, which is not something that is acceptable in items made for sale to the public in our opinion. We always encourage folks to use the boning that works best for them.
Thank you for this advice! What are your thoughts re: using half-oval (split) reed instead of steel or synthetic whalebone? A chum of mine swears by it for her Tudor stays and it appeals to me as something that’s both lighter in weight than steel but also a renewable resource.