The Fat Reenactress

The Fat Reenactress

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 getting a stick in the eye....

post #13                                     Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Since I mentioned busks briefly yesterday, I thought I would expand on this subject today.  Simply put, it's a piece of wood used down the front of your stay to help keep the front of your stays straight, and reduce the strain that is put on the stay boning and fabric.It prevents the inevitable "ski slope" effect that most women get  (both thick and thin) from their bellies pushing up on the bottom of the stay, bending it forward.
 The length and size of the busk pretty much depends on how long your torso is. In other words....if you sit down, and the piece of wood spears you through " that area which you most value"....then chances are pretty good, it's too long.  Busks may be plain or carved. Some say that busks were carved by lovers and given as gifts. Romantic,yes. True? Who the heck knows.
examples of original 18th century carved busks from the Victoria and Albert Museum
Above are examples of some lengths and shapes you'll see in original busks.  Busks were made out of wood, ivory, or bone. Those that were ivory or bone could have scrimshaw/carvings on them  as well.
Example of a scrimshawed 19th century busk out of ivory
The carvings vary from flowers and hearts, similar to what we consider "folk art", to just initials or even like above, something more "risque". I've seen some very lovely wooden ones done recently that had chip carving done on them, very similar to the one below.
busk found on pinterest from  extantgowns.blogspot

Not all busks HAVE to be carved. This example, although dated 1800-1810, is a plain bone/ivory. It is also easier to date to this period because of it's length. My regency corset has a busk in it, cut specifically to my length, which is at least 4-5 inches longer than the busk I use for 18th century. Again, it is used in order to keep the front flat, and to reduce the stress on the support garment. This was DEFINITELY proven a couple of years ago when I took my busk out of it's "floating pocket" at the end of a loooong day in regency. My corset crumpled like a cheap paper bag. I could also feel all the rolls starting to come forward. Ugh. Who knew a stick held things together like that????

As to HOW these busks are attached or added, I have one word....magic.

Okay, so it's NOT magic. For my regency corset, it has a sleeve, or pocket, built into the front of the garment. I made my regency corset in one of the Burnley and Trowbridge workshops. In fact, you can see a blog write up about my regency corset posted earlier. (post #2 from 2014)  Here's an interior shot as a reminder.

not only do you see my busk in it's casing...but also my "bossom buddies".

For 18th century, you could also add a pocket to simply slide the busk down into. This works well with back closing stay....not front ones. (no place to put the pocket).  Or you could do what I usually do....just let pressure and gravity keep the bugger in place by sliding it in between my stay and my shift. My stays are usually laced tight enough that the busk stays pretty much in place. When I sit or bend, it WILL shift, but you WANT it to. Same goes for putting a pocket into your stay. Keep the top open, or have a slit near the top, as my regency one has. What this does, is it gives the busk some "floating"  room. if you stitch the bugger into the garment, your entire garment tends to ride up when you sit, or shift when the busk shifts (and it WILL shift)  It WILL work it's way upward by the end of the day...but if it's "free wheeling" can just push the bugger back down again. All you fluffy gals...this is NORMAL. If you are built like me, bigger waist and belly than boobies....well....guess what wins out in the age old game of push and shove. Yup. Belly bumps this baby up. You just have to push it back down. It's our lot in life. Live with it....or stitch it in and have the whole garment ride up.
Another option, if you are completely afraid of standing up and having your busk just "fall thru the cracks" to actually have a hole drilled into the busk top (some have it in bottom too) and stitch a string or ribbon into your stay, then this ribbon/string gets threaded thru the hole and tied into place.
example of hole in the busk of a rare 18th century busk dated 1777.

Plain busks may be found at Little Bits, LBCC on etsy, and also at Wm. Booth, draper. I got my extra long busk from Burnley and Trowbridge as I stated earlier, during one of their awesome workshops. I'm not sure if they sell them but it's always good to ask. Worse that can be heard is "no". I do have about 3 or 4 carved ones I'm going to be selling, of  different lengths. I've had them for awhile because no one seemed to know what the HECK these things were. At the few shows I set up at, they were always the Question of the Day.

So! Now you know!!!

Oh! And when in doubt, they are always a good double for a tongue depressor!!
Me and my sweetie, after a LOOOOOONG Jane Austen day!


  1. Busks are friends! I can't go without mine, especially because I'm very, uh, blessed... in the chestular department. I pretty much need a busk as wide as my stays, but the one I have will suffice. Some of these are gorgeous though!

  2. I remember not understanding the need for a busk. I'm not fluffy but the stays still curled and the petticotes put a definite "dent" in their shape. It was eye-opening the first time I borrowed a busk - so much more comfortable!
    Thank you for including the drilled busk! This helps support a theory I've had for a while that there must be a way to lessen "rise". I am short-waisted and, even though I shortened the busk about an inch (which made it slightly shorter than my stays), I was constantly needing to push it down. Sometimes it would sneak up unnoticed under my handkerchief and poke me in the chin if I looked down. I finally drilled two holes near the top that lined up with the stays lacing, threaded a ribbon through, around the lacing, and back and tied a small bow. It works perfectly! There is still some motion so my stays don't ride up but the need to push down the busk is gone. A short yarn needle makes this much easier or I suppose you could trim and wax the ends to make them easier to poke through the holes.
    Thank you for a lovely article!