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