Corsetry experiment – 1884 patent by C.W. Higby

 Image

1884 patent by C.W. Higby; US Patent #294620

Now this one was a true adventure – and an intrepid one, for someone with my limited corsetry experience!  But when the challenge was announced on FB by the corsetry website, Foundations Revealed, I simply couldn’t say ‘no’ to it as I liked the lines of the particular corset in question. I must admit I regretted that decision a few times as the date for the article got closer – but my regrets stopped the moment I started working on it.

So, to take the things from the beginning.  As I said, I am not a particularly experienced corsetiere – I have made in total maybe around 30 corsets or so, and about 20 of those in the last year – but in these cases I was working from a selection of ready patterns. Yes, they needed adjustments and tweaking, but  generally the proportions and scale were there. I have never made a corset pattern on my own, though I have made loads for historical outfits and especially for the bridal side of my business – bodices, skirts, coats etc.

This one was a very different proposition. All I had was a drawing of the corset, a drawing of the pattern and an explanation of the patent online – http://www.google.com/patents/US294620. That’s it.  The rest was up to me.

Knowing that my own experience might not be enough, and also that I would need help with fitting the corset onto myself, I came up with a very cunning plan and decided to work on the item during one of my visits to Julia Bremble – a friend who runs ‘Sew Curvy’, a corset making and corsetry selling company in Oxfordshire. Her studio is great, both spacious and peaceful, and we seem to work well together, “stitching and bitching”. Also, since Julia is a professional corsetiere, I would have an expert on hand to nudge me in the right direction. So, one lovely morning in May, I packed my sewing case and drove over to Oxfordshire, and the work began…

What we know from the patent’s description:

  • The most visible feature was the lacing at the sides – I have seen corsets with side lacing, like the maternity ones, but the lacing was usually vertical. Here the side lacing is diagonal, curving gently.
  • The inventor states his aims clearly: the corset is to fit well and comfortably, allow for easy movement of the body and for adjustments, all the while being able to support as required of a corset.
  • Boning – diagonal cording or boning or any other suitable method is encouraged. From the picture it looks like boning /cording is placed more or less in the middle of each main section, and at the edges of the lacing parts.
  • No mention of the waist tape.

What we don’t know – or at least things that were not apparent for me:

  • How many layers? 2, 3, or 4 including decorative fabrics? Possibly much depends on the individual – and lining was not always present in the historical corsets, mainly because they were worn on a chemise anyway.  I decided to go with 2 layers of coutil, so that the boning/cording is sandwiched between the layers, with a lining added later.
  • Seams – somehow it appeared to me that lapped seams would work better on the curved lines of this corset – as they do on the Edwardian corsets, yet I wasn’t sure if they were used in 1884. So lapped or standard seams? In the end, and after a longish discussion with Julia, I opted for lapping it.

Pattern:

I printed out the pattern from Google and had it blown up to more or less half my measurements. Btw – this was almost entirely the only bit of maths I did, and it was probably a dodgy one anyway… I drew the lines on the original printout, where I predicted the waist to be (the point of the hip gore was my reference). I measured each piece on the line, added the numbers up and had ½ waist measurements of the piece.  From that I realized that to match my measurements we would have to blow it about 4 times bigger.  So for the ‘mini me’ version, 200 percent bigger would just do the trick

Image

 The idea was to cut the pattern out, put it together and see if the pieces actually matched up. I traced the pieces onto patterning paper,

Image

 cut them out and used masking tape to attach them all together. A useful tip – cut the paper with the seam allowance, it will be easier to glue it!

Image

Image

 What became evident was that the pieces matched well, but not perfectly – a few pieces in the front section were either a tad too long or too short to match smoothly – but not drastically. In principle, however, it worked.

The next stage was to cut out the corset in calico – but bigger so that it would fit a human being – I was not concerned about the precise fit, I simply wanted to see how the pieces worked together as fabric, on a scale I was a bit more familiar with. And so, I simply worked out that by making the pieces about half as big again, they should fit an adult human being.  This meant adding about 2cm all around to every piece.

Image

 Fortunately at that time Julia was too preoccupied with her own work (she was working on a lovely bridal skirt), or she would possibly have suffered a coronary seeing my ‘intuitive’ grading and sizing method. I must admit that maths and I are not the best of friends, and we try to avoid each other – for historical dressmaking this is just fine, and I love working with toiles, sculpturing the fabric to fit a body and then using the toile to adapt the original pattern. This method does not always work, however, and corsetry is one of those precise arts that do need at least some maths, so it is a bit of a trade-off. Here however, as I was just playing, I decided to give it a go.

I stitched all the pieces together, using ready-made eyelet tape at the sides, or punching the holes in calico – at the back I used an eyelet and bones tape that enabled me to have the back stabilized enough for the sake of the experiment.

Image

calico pieces stitched up

Image

and laced up

I held it against my body (as you do…) and realized that it was just a bit too big for me – but not too badly!

Image

Image

A miracle! I actually had a proper toile there! I quickly stitched up the centre panel, taking an inch off it, moved the back eyelet tapes in by another inch as well, attached wide flat steel in the front, (a masking tape job), and asked Julia to lace me in.  It was still too big, but it was possible for us to work on it – marking the areas where we needed more room and the ones where we needed less…

At the same time, the shape created by the long lacing strip in front suggested that the pattern may be adapted and made into a nice modern corset, or maybe a steampunk one. So we left one half of the pattern as it was, true to its Victorian original, and started to play with the other half, eventually coming up with an overbust  shape that looks like a big heart in front .

Image

playing with the toile – one side is the original Victorian pattern, the other one is being built up into a modern Steampunk one…

ImageImage

 What I learnt from the toile:

*The side back lacing panels need to be longer.

* It is still too big at the waist, but the back top and the hip could do with more space (1/2 an inch more at the top back and an inch at the hip).

* The sweeping curves are rather pretty….

Next step – adapting the pattern slightly and tracing it on the coutil, to make the sample corset in my size.

Planning boning channels too– I decided to go for boning as opposed to cording, and bone the corset in 4mm spiral wire in the middle of the pieces, with the 5mm going in the lacing at the sides, and  flat bones at the back lacing.

Image

preparing the proper coutil, marking channels here!

Once traced, I cut the pieces out, pinned them together and started sewing….

Image

cutting out!

Channels first – I sewed them on the a and b pieces.

Image

sewing channels

Image

The side lacing strips were sewn along the edges on the wrong side, flipped over, pressed and a channel was stitched just next to the edge.

Busk was inserted into the front pieces and laid aside.

Pieces were stitched together using lapped seams (for a detailed tutorial I do recommend Sew Curvy’s DVD on corsetry – worked a treat for me!). This involved careful pressing on each piece’s seam allowance, then aligning and pinning – but though time consuming, it was a relatively hassle-free procedure.

Image

Image

 Side lacing piece and busk piece were connected last – and we have the first quarter ready!

Image

Image

The process was repeated on the other side piece

Image

 Back pieces:

and b pieces and the side lacing strip were sewn together first.

ImageWith the back panel, the long a piece needs to be boned before attaching the back lacing panel – it is the only piece with the boning channels closed up during the construction.  Once that is done, the back lacing piece is attached.   And the whole is repeated on the other side.

Image

back panel ready

Image

one back piece ready, the other in progress!

There are now 4 pieces – and they all need to be boned.

The boning I used, as mentioned before, were lovely 4mm and 5m spiral steels, and flats for the back lacing piece

Image

Image

all pieces boned!

Once I had all 4 pieces boned, it was time for some eyelets. Quite a lot of them actually, as I used about 90 of them. Since it was an experimental sample I didn’t want to waste that many proper eyelets on something that might not work, so I dug out a little pouch of 100 yellow eyelets that looked funky and could go to waste.

Image

 Once that was done, the sides could be laced – and I simply had to go for the yellow Russia braid I had handy on the mock up…

Image

 The moment had arrived – I could actually try the thing on!

Image

side….

Image

front… and backImage

Image

hip unlaced – looks better!

The first impressions:

  • Very light and comfortable
  • Definitely not giving me my usual 27” waist – here  only a slight reduction, to 29-30”
  • It picked up the asymmetrical features much more than usual – I very rarely  have to adapt the corset patterns  because of my slight asymmetry, but here it showed more, especially at the back –my slightly asymmetric back muscles meant some of the boning at the back was a bit too low (see the back view ). So channels will have to be undone and re- stitched a bit lower in that piece.
  •  The corset had a bigger wrinkle at the back/side – I put it down to the lack of any boning along the seam of the two a pieces at the back – and decided to add 2 channels running parallel to the seam there.
  •  Hips felt a bit too tight and constricted when the side lacings were laced up – but loosening the laces resulted in a much better fit, and looked better too!

Not too bad. I readjusted the boning channels on the side and hip, and stitched additional ones on both sides of the seam between the two back a pieces

Image

more channels added!

Next step – flossing. At that stage I rather liked with black and yellow combination, so flossing was done in dark yellow cotton thread.

Image

flossing detail

Image

 I also decided to add lining – since it looks as if the thing may actually be wearable, I might as well make sure it feels nice if I decide to wear it outside the Victorian setting, (it does have a certain steampunk look to it, even in its original form!) so cotton lining was stitched to every part of the corset

Image

 Then there was only binding left to do – and adding some yellow lace I found in my stock. It was ready to wear!

Image

binding….

Image

all bound, lace added, time to put it on!

the result….

Image

side view, hip laced

Image

front view

Image

back – asymmetry much less pronounced

Image

front, hip unlaced

Impressions – as stated before, very comfortable, providing lots of support, but not giving as much pronounced waist as my usual corset does; Still, a perfect choice to wear around the house, for country dancing or  for riding too. – I have since used it for a Steampunk Amazones shoot , for riding sidesaddle and it worked perfectly!

 Image

 The side-adjustment lacing is useful as the corset can be adjusted for a more energetic activity in seconds. It may also be used during pregnancy, I suppose, but since I have never been pregnant, I have no experience with which to compare…

Although made as a prototype sample, I think it is more than wearable – though for that purpose I will need to get better laces than Russia braid – I will either use black laces or white ones (and dye them yellow…. 🙂

What I have learned and would do differently next time.

  1. The spiral boning works well, but more is needed at the back than is indicated on the original drawings.
  2. Chatting when marking boning channels can result in wonky channels – the front channels are slightly offset as a result…
  3.  I would use silk for flossing
  4.  …I would use better eyelets too; (The ones used here were without washers)
  5.  If I want to keep the side lacing laced up, I will need to add another inch on each hip…

Having said that, the next project will be making the steampunk version of this corset, so I may employ some different techniques and materials…

Many thanks for Julia  from Sew Curvy for help with fitting and expertise! 🙂

Corsetry fun – Stitch and Bitch July 2013…

Image

 I love a good stitch and bitch – alas I do not have a lot of people with whom you get the balance of stitching and bitching just right, not too much bitching, and just enough stitching is usually pretty elusive. Well,  with Julia from Sew Curvy, we can do it perfectly well. We chat , we sew, we compare patterns, techniques etc – and we enjoy ourselves a lot.

 We come from different sewing backgrounds  – Julia’s is predominantly corsetry, including bridal, mine is mostly historical costuming, including bridal and steampunk; which mean that we have enough in common to connect and enough differences to learn from one another. A perfect mixture.

 I have visited Julia’s studio before  on other occassions – i taught classes there and we already enjoyed a sewing session there, when Julia was kind enough to assist in making a 1884 Higby patent corset  ( a nice adventure, recreating an authentic pattern 🙂  and going from this:

Image

 through this:

Image

the mock up

 and finishing with this:

Image

Image

 This time I was also on a mission – I wanted to have a go at the prototype of an underbust that Julia created. I wanted to make it entirely from the scratch, using the components available from Julia’s online shop. There was some debate about which fabrics to use – I do love the broche and sateens, ans was spoilt for choice – but in the end we settled on the luxurious red sateen, with an even more luxurious black lace.

 Having made up my mind, I set to work,tracing the pattern and cutting the fabrics, and Jlia was busy finishing some waist training samples  for her Etsy shop.

 I have to admit that apart from sewing and chatting a lot of lacing in was going on as well –  over the day both of us tried the waist training corsets, underbust samples, oversbust and the Edwardian ones. Obsession?

  we started with one of the corsets from my recent bridal collection

Image

too small for my bra size, but still looking pretty good….

And then Julia tried on my edwardian  number…

Image

Image

Just by comparision, here is both of us, in our natural, uncorseted forms…

 me:

ImageImage

and Julia:

ImageImage

 and then on goes the waist training sample in black sateen…

ImageImage

And another sample, this time in broche.

ImageImage

It was interesting to see that the same corset created a slightly different silhuette on different body types – though it still fitted fairly well.

 

 

It was even more evident when we put on Julia’s personal underbust – a lovely piece in broche, with distinctive flossing.

IMG_00000515   IMG_00000517

and me in the same piece – the corset closes at 22″ waist and I can only dream of such a number – but it looked pretty good at 26″ – just an inch less than my normal, comfort corseted measurement.

Image

Image

After all that excitment of lots of lacing, it was time for lunch…

Image

well…..

just joking – what we did have was this:

Image

Julia’s superb egg mayo sandwiches and fruit as my contribution.

 After lunch it was time to get some work done in earnest…

 The red sateen was constructed ( i loved the eyelet setters there so much, I bought them straight away!)

Image

  Julia kept an eye on my frolicking wiht the corset, just to make sure everuthing was up to scratch…

Image

 and then helped me lace into half finished piece…

 

Image

Not too bad! a few minor corrections and I was able to get enough done before leaving the studio. I took the lace with me to stitch it on the corset in the evening though…

 The evening continued with more chatting, and a rather nice meal – with Pimms, obligatory for British summer! 🙂

Image

great local takeaway!

 Marley, Julia and Paul’s greyhound was his usual charming self too…

Image

 Next morning, it was time to get back to the studio – with a few hours to go before I had to leave, it was just enough time to finish the underbust. Here trying it on, without flossing…

Image

Image

the back…

 that’s what the underbust looked at that stage..

Image

inside…

 Quick consultation resulted with choosing simple Vs as flossing pattern, and the result!

Image

nice and comfy!

Image

close up

 Very happy with this sample, not sure whether I want to keep it or sell it on –  but we did take stock of all the components that were used for it – and I think Julia and Sew Curvy might have a surprise for you – a ready made corset kit, everything you need to create your own piece!

Image

 At that point I had to pack up my toys and leave – but something tells me it is not the last of our sessions… 🙂

 useful links:

 Sew Curvy shop and facebook page

Clessidra Couture – Julia’s bespoke corsetry, page and website

 and my own humble bits, page, and website

  hope you enjoyed the corsetry oveload…… 🙂