Mid-Victorian corset project – and pattern review

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a few months ago I got some fantastic check wool that just screams 1860 or whereabouts, so I knew I would need to make the undergarments first. So using our usual Stitch and Bitch session with Sew Curvy, I decided to tackle the project then. The pattern was bought, the plan was hatched – and I set to make it happen. I had two aims in sight – firstly, to make the thing so that I could wear it with the future Dickensian  frock; the secondary aim was to check whether the pattern runs true to size and if I could use it as a foundation for the off the peg corsetry range for that period – I am a fairly standard size 12 ( with bigger boobs but that’s easily accounted for), and experimenting with other corsets, patterns and sizes it usually transpired that if the size 12 was ok for me, the other sizes ran true and worked ok on my models/clients.

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On receiving the pattern  I realized the construction is relatively simple – and very similar to late Regency corsets I have already dealt with. Lots of gores, so fiddly, but  not too badly. I was a bit surprised when I studied the pattern and realised that the pieces does not actually end up looking like the picture on the front, but hey, was ready to give it the benefit of the doubt..

And so the size 12 was cut out in calico, with the gores as suggested for my measurements.

The mock up was ready in no time…

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And that’s when the problems started. True, you don’t expect mock ups to fit perfectly  straight away and there is always adapting, tweaking etc going on.  This one however, if it was to work at all, needed serious re-engineering…

1.  what struck me first was that it closed shut t the back – although it was supposed to have a wide gap…

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2.  It was evident that much more boning was needed – but that is not an issue, was expecting it with chest my size.  What I did not expect however was  that it would move my boobs sideways, hiding them under my armpits…. well, at least trying to.

3.   I also didn’t expect  a corset to make me look pregnant…

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notice that huge gap in front – despite being laced shut in the back, there was loads of room in front … so much, that I could actually stuff a tailor’s ham under it…

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Amazing.

Needless to say, my waist remained as it was – with a minimal reduction of 0.5 inch – despite  the claims on the instruction  – ‘ This type of corset was to reduce the waist. Note the wide gap at the back- this is normal spacing.’  Hmmm… fail,  I think…

At that point  one thing was certain – this is not a pattern to use for standard sizes corsets. If it was taken from an extant garment, then the garment was intended for a person with narrow hips and protruding belly ( maternity maybe ?), and replicating it in different sizes would mean replicating the weird proportions  on a bigger or smaller scale.  The side boobage overspillage could be controlled with playing with the gusset shapes and sizes, and in fact you can see period corsets of this type still sporting straps, like their predecessors – adding straps would most certainly help control the issue. As would actually adapting the whole front panel and cutting it in two, with a curving seam – as shown on the  cover picture. As a matter of fact, that seam features on every other picture of a corset  printed int he instruction/information leaflet – so it is a bit puzzling that  the actual pattern doesn’t reflect the construction.

I was almost ready to give up and not to waste my time on a project that I wont be able to use for my business – but  a cuppa and a nice Danish pastry restored my spirits a bit ( was suffering from a rather bad cold that week too) and  I decided to  have a go –  stay with the pattern and just adjust the gores etc to make it wearable.

 

The following changes were made:

1.  bust gores were adapted to entice the boobs from under the armpits and to stay more or less in front of me.

2. waist was reduced, side  seam made curvier to accommodate my hips and displaced blubber 🙂

3. front gore and panel was adapted to limit the pregnant look.

And with these changes, I decided not to waste any more time and make the thing.

I used a cheaper fabric – but still a lovely and authentic one – strong cotton drill.

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preparing for gore insertion….

 

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gores inserted – the corset has 2 layers, so there was 16 gores to insert…. joy….

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all layers with gores , ready to be sewn together…

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the backs with lacing channels

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marking the channels with disappearing pen ( love it – the marks fade relatively quickly so it sort of forces you to deal with the project now and then…)

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busk inserted, all pieces in place. the gores are flosses with blue thread at the corners for extra safety

 

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sewing boning channels – some were just sewn between the two layer, some were an added tape – the tape also secured the gores a tad more. just in case…

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ready to bone!

then eyelets  were added and I was able to try it on, just before it was time to drive back home…

The result – Well, there was some improvement. Boobage  less shy, staying more or less put – not ideal, but better than before.  Back – now sporting a wide gap as it theoretically should.  Pregnant look – better, though still could do with improvement.

 

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I must admit that although it started looking more or less ok, It was not very comfortable – and still not really getting the waist reduction I am accustomed to. I am rather squishy, and can reduce my waist y about 7 inches with no major problem – here the reduction was just about 2 ( which is a standard), but not a comfortable one – my hips still felt constricted. I did not particularly like the wide gap at the back either – and the back panel could do with some additional boning.

And so, when I got back home I decided to make one more change to it  – basically to  diminish the gap, and by doing so adding more boning to support the corset better  there.

I cut off the lacing bit  and added a  narrow panel there – just enough for 2 bones that , unfortunately spoiled the decorative  look of the diagonal boning, but it has made a huge difference in wearing the thing –  it is still not the coziest corset ever, but as least I am confident I can wear it for a spell of time.

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Then all the bones were flossed, edges bound and it was ready to put on and take some photos….

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the outside, finished…

 

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and the innards

 

For the photos I improvised  a vaguely mid Victorian hairdo, put on my chemise and long drawers, stockings, shoes – and decided to play with a cage crinoline I recently bought from a friend… the results below… 🙂

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And so, as you can see, not  a complete success, but at least a wearable item. I am still not very happy with it, and so I foresee a next round here  Will pattern the darn thing myself,  and will cut the front panel in two, as shown on the period illustrations…  it wont happen immediately, as i have a business to run, but one day, we should have words together , this type of corset and I  🙂

 

credits:

all sewing notions, fabric, boning etc – Sew Curvy

photography – Pitcheresque Imagery

 

 

12 thoughts on “Mid-Victorian corset project – and pattern review

  1. I have the exact same body type as you and I’ve experienced the exact same set of corset woes, especially the escaping boobs! The “pregnant belly” thing is actually pretty standard in that type of Victorian corset, especially if a woman has been corseting a while and carries her weight low. Some corsets are just designed to squish your poof downwards instead of evenly up and down. Waistlines in the 60s and 70s were so high it was more important to be slender up top than down below. You find that crescent shape in a lot of photos of voluptuous ladies in the 1880s and 90s, too, like this one: https://img0.etsystatic.com/002/1/7105481/il_570xN.400894034_2u8a.jpg

    • I have no problem with a nice rounded belly, the blubber has to go somewhere after all, – the probelm in this case it that the flesh is not distributed evenly, like in my later Victorian corsets – I then get a nice wist reduction, and a very comfortable hip. this one here however pushes all the surplus flesh to the front – and not only below the waist level but at the waist level as well. nice belly below the waist is fine, but belly at the waist level and minimal waist reduction is, in my opinion a fault in the pattern. I will keep on expermenting….. must admit the more i look at the pattern the more i am convinced that all they have done here is to adapt their regency corset pattern ( which is not too bad, actually – needs tweaks, but nothing like this one, so fine), and just failed to do so properly – and am getting quite angry about the fact that the picture on the cover does not actually correspond to the pattern inside! i have just found their original site and their recreation of the garment looks nothing like the picture either – very disappointing ( https://www.mantua-maker.com/Corset_Patterns.html). still, it was a valuable experiment and I have learnt a lot – and no doubt will continue learning as i get to grips with it again in the future! 🙂

      • It’s maddening when the pattern illustration looks nothing like the finished product (MM’s Late Victorian Corset isn’t quite as bad, but still suffers from an illustration that doesn’t match the shape of the finished garment at all)! Despite the pattern flaws, your version turned out so pretty. You always make such gorgeous clothes!

  2. I wish I had read this before starting on my corset, this pattern is truly terrible! Doesn’t look anything like the lovely picture on the front of the pattern. I’m not even going to finish making it, not worth the steels. Thank you for your review.

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  5. Izabela, have you written a post anywhere summarising your thoughts on the currently available corset patterns by decade? Personally I’m interested in Regency, 1840s and 1890s corsetry especially. How well do you think these periods are served by the ready drafted patterns available for purchase?
    I’ve never made a corset before and I’m only just about to begin an introductory pattern-drafting course. I’d love to learn to draft patterns for corsetry, but I forsee it’ll be a while yet before I’m ready. Does Julia Bremble’s book cover pattern-drafting for corsets? Any tips on other good resources?
    My guess is that drafting a pattern for a corset depends on a) knowing your own measurements and b) knowing what silhouette the corset is supposed to create… am I right? *head scratch*

    Thanks! Anna

    • No i haven’t – mostly because i very rarely use commercial patterns, i simply draft my own – so nothing to review. JUlia does cover patternmaking in one of her advanced corsetry patternmaking classes, but not in the book – techniques and adjustments only

      • Thanks for the reply! Eventually I’ll look out for Julia’s classes on pattern-drafting for corsetry, as I am interested, but it’ll be a while yet before I’m ready for that. My first pattern-drafting plan is a 1950s summer dress with kimono sleeves and a flared four-gore skirt. My grandmother made one in 1952 that I love to wear when the weather is warm; and it’s probably easier than corsetry. 🙂
        I’ll start corsetry with a commercial pattern, to practise the skills. People say TV110 is good…

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