In the previous tutorial we dealt with undergarments (drawers, chemise and a petticoat), and the crinoline cage is explained here). So, it is now time to tackle the gown itself! Again, since this series is mostly dedicated to the guests of … Continue reading
Since our next Victorian Ball has a Crinoline theme, I have promised a few tutorials and pattern reviews for the folks who are making their own kit. Sew Curvy joined the fun and now offers very attractively priced patterns and crinoline kits from the era ( just a few left in stock…), so I took advantage of the offer and grabbed a few patterns too.
Normally I don’t bother with commercial patterns much, underwear included as I draft my own, and for Victorian Era the patterns in Francis Grimble’s books are of a great help – so this was a bit of an adventure, trying to actually follow instructions. Which I did, to some extent… 😉 And so, below, a short tutorial on making a set of mid-victorian open drawers, a chemise and a petticoat.
Fabrics: cotton lawn (but any lightweight cotton or linen will do) and cotton lace, 3 buttons.
Finish – I went for modern finish as was squeezing the project in between commissions and stock-making, but it doesnt mean that you have to follow me and use the same techniques – if you have time, do go for a hand finish 🙂
1. find your size on the chart, trace the pattern. I traced it onto paper once, so that I dont have to cut the pattern itself.
2. trace the pattern onto the fabric – fold the lawn in half and you will only have to cut once!
3. once cut, I overlocked the side seams and the facing for the size. I decided to save time and forego front and back facings – not really needed, though they would give a nicer finish! Instead of a self ruffle I used cotton broderie anglaise lace.
4. Follow the directions for working the side openings/facings – they are explained fairly clrealy.
5. Fold the overlocked edges of the crotch opening (or follow instructions for facings there)
6. Gather the legs and top – I gathered mine using a ruffle attachment, but you can pleat or gather on a string, too (lower the thread tension, use the long stitch setting and sew – then just pull the thread to gather)
7. Gather the ruffle – again, several methods are possible, I gathered mine on an overlocker
8. Sew each leg
9. Prepare the leg bands and attach lace to them – the instructions are quite clear about how to do it.
10. Attach the waistbands – again, the instructions are clear!
11. Make buttonholes and attach buttons. Fot this project I used buttons from my secret stash of antique buttons 🙂
Ready! it took me just over 2 hours to complete the project – it would be about 3 – 4 if I wasn’t using an overlocker.
- Trace and cut the pattern according to your size (again, I found it runs a tad too big for my liking – but it is not a huge issue at all – and it is always easier to end up with a chemise an inch or two too big rather than one too small!)
2. Overlock the sides and sew together; (or sew the sides together and finish the seam by hand if you prefer.)
3. Add the shouler strap reinforcement bits. I admit the instructions here were not too clear so I did it my way… I supose as long as the edges are strong enough for a button, etc, that is all that matters
4.Overlock the sleeve (or hand finish) and attach to the armhole. You will need to gather a bit; I did it as I sewed.
5. Prepare the neckline and hem edge (overlock and fold, or hand stitch – up to you)
6. Add lace – I used a narrow broderie anglaise, as I had enough to use on the sleeves, neck and hem!
7. Add buttons and work buttonholes
The chemise is now ready!
I have also made another version of the chemise, too – the same pattern, just with no sleeves, and no buttoned-up staps – I simply sewed the straps together instead. The neckline is finished with an eyelet lace with the ribbon, which controls the neckline as it can be pulled tighter, if needs be.
Next stage was to put one of my corsets on (a suitable corset kit can be bought here: corset kit – the pattern is later but the style works for mid-victorian silhouette and is much easier to make – I have made a mid-victorian corset using a commercial pattern and it wasn’t exactly a success – you can read about it here).
All we need now is a petticoat.
Petticoats are very easy to make – so easy that there is little point in providing an actual pattern. Even ‘Truly Victorian’ provides a diagram and instructions for free – petticoat instructions
I basically used a length of cotton sheeting – a rectangular piece. The length was the circumference of the crinoline cage plus 1m, the lengh – measured on the crinoline, from waist to the ground. If you do not plan flounces, pintucks etc, but a basic one, keep it a bit above the ground. If you want lots of pintucks, make it longer.
This particular one has been made with 5 rows of big pintucks
a few tips:
- dont wast time measuring and cutton your cotton. i usually just ,ark how long i want the piece to be , nicj the fabric and simply tear it. it tears easily and along the grain, you you have a straight line with no hassle. disadvantage – you will get a few hanging thread to deal with. I use the same metod for cutting the flounce
- pintucks – for small, decorarice pintucks you see on chemises etc, I use a seam gauge and a pintuck foot etc – the detail is important. for the petticoats however, where i want my pintucks bigger, and where it doent matter too much if the pintuck is 2mm longer at one side, I save time by not marking them at all – i simply use my finger as a gauge.
(A short video of how to make them fast using your finger as a gauge can be found on my instagram account. ( here)
I also opted for a flounce, also with pintucks and lace 🙂
Once the pintucks and the flounce were on, I simply gathered the wasit (there will be lots of fabric to gather – about 4.5-5m) using the ruffler attachment
Then attach the waistband, buttons, etc, and you are done!
If you are wondering why pintucks and flounces instead of a simple petticoat, well, they do have a function! PIntucks were used a lot on children’s clothing – as they grew up, the tucks were released and garment lengthened, here however the tucks are not only a decorative feature, but a practical one – they hide the shape of the cage and they stiffen the edge a bit more, hanging better; the flounce has the same function – this fills in the empty space between the cage’s end and the ground, preventing the ‘lampshade effect 🙂
There are a few beautiful petticoats still surving – you can fing some on my pinterest page
Now you are ready for a skirt and a bodice – or a gown. I have already written a post on a day dress – here.
I hope you found this little tutorial useful, the tutorial on how to make a gow bodice and skirt is here
Oh, and if you dont sew, dont worry,:-) chemises, petticoats, corsets and whole outfirs are now available in our online shop ! There are already a couple of nice dresses and a few petticoats there, more undergarments will be added shortly
And a few outtakes:-) i knew the chamber put would come in useful!
This one was a very exciting commission – a friend who often works as Queen Vic needed a new corset.. and a new bodice and a train to go with the skirt she already had.
After a session of looking at different portraits and photographs of the Queen, with Eve pointing out which features she’d like to include in her bodice or train, we got some sketching done…
Fabric was next – and here we were lucky as got a length of beautiful silk brocade from Quartermasterie – all that i need to grab was silk taffeta for lining and pleats and some lace and buttons….
The corsets was made first – and it is a rather jazzy affair, so wont be shown here to preserve the dignity of the monarch, but i bet now a few people who’d meet Eve at work would be wondering what lingerie secrets her clothes hide ;-0
Bodice was a lovely blend of the 1880ties and earlier fashions – sporting a version of pagoda sleeves, apparently quite a favourite of the queen. we also added detachable under sleeves, for colder days .
The lace was simply lush, though applying it took some time, and the underside of the pagoda sleeves was also trimmed with lace, a more modest version.
The train was just fun. The construction was simple – a slightly shaped rectangular fabric, plasted and with tapes and buttons to allow the wearer to bustle to up if needs be. But it was recreatingthe pleated trim from one of the original photos that was interesting….
The train has a baleyeuse ( the dust ruffle) made of black cotton lace buttoned up – they were a truly delightful frilly affairs that made life so much easier – you wash only the ruffle as your skirts are protected.
The pick up day was also a shoot day as we offered Eve a mini session – the results below! Hope you like the final result:-)
Eve’s page is here – enjoy browsing! Queen Victoria
Amazing memories from the evening – and not only evening, the whole weekend was a whirl of activities, pretty frocks and splendid food, all in even more splendid company!
We started on Saturday afternoon arriving in Bath a tad later than expected ( the traffic on the slip road was very bad and many of us were stuck there – in fact, so many that we were considering a picnic on the roadside….), but unpacked, changed and walked over to the Crescent for a few relaxing hours of picnicking…. The weather was perfect, food lovely, and as a perk we got to witness the balloon take off…. and of course we took photos….
The next day saw us making last minute preparations, strolling around the town and slowly getting ready,,,
The workshop started at 3 – and we practiced our quadrilles, lancers and waltzes for good 90 minutes – the practice was fun, but also cane in handy at the ball – you not only know the basics of the dances, but you recognize the people, so you are able to relax in a more familiar environment. our Dance master, Stuart Marsden, kindly provided Carnet de Ball tickets – beautifully made, and very practical – at the end of the practice people were making arrangements which dances they were to dance with who – really cuts on the chaos on finding a partner in the evening!
We will be using them next year as well, an excellent idea!.
After the practice there was time to go and have a cuppa and a rest ( and for us organizers to get the photographers, musicians etc set up and ready), and then time to change into the evening’s finery….
Then it was time! The doors opened at & and the guests started to arrive, dazzling us with their lovely creations. Drinks, chatting and photos made for a relaxed atmosphere – and since almost all the ball participants had been at the practice, people relaxed and chatted with their old and new dance partners. Traditionally, we started with a polonaise… It was a bit crowded, once all the people filled the Grand Ballroom, but Stuart managed to direct the dance nicely ! And from then on, it was all dancing….. Spanish waltz was great to get everybody relaxed as you change partners a lot and get to know people, and then it was the amazing Lancers, Quadrilles and Waltzes galore…. My personal favourite was the Cotillion waltz – simple, yet amazingly romantic, danced the the sweet notes of the waltz from the Merry Widow. Dimmed lights, romantic music, swaying on the dance floor in flowing silky gown – breathtaking. The buffet break arrived just in time to rest our weary feet and get some sustenance for more dancing. And food, provided by Searcy’s was glorious – beautifully presented, abundant ( and there was lots left!) and yummy – I must admit loved the desserts particularly… Then more dancing followed – with a few spontaneous waltzing breaks when folks just kicked their shoes off and took to whirling Viennese waltz at a moment notice ( our own Sissy here was the main culprit – though quite a lot removed their shoes at that point, myself included…). The evening ended with a Flirtation finale – lots of fun! And all that fun was mostly due to the utterly amazing musicians – Alexis Bennett and the Liberty Belles, and our talented Dance Master, Stuart Marsden ( yes, the same one who has worked with BBC on Poldark, and many other projects…). The event would not have been the success it was without theses guys – so a huge thank you! And while all the dancing was taking place, our photographers, Mockford Photography, were busy taking photos…. And did I not mention that there were some spectacular frocks and very dashing gentlemen around?
Needless to say, by the end of it I could hardly walk ( need better shoes for next year….). but somehow I made it to the hotel, and although exhausted, I was still buzzing with the excitement – the night was so much better than I had hoped for! there was just enough time to have a mini after party for the staff ( amazing how many people you can squeeze into a single Travelodge bedroom) and then it was time for sleep. And about 4 hours later we were up again and getting ready for our breakfast at the Pump Rooms….. The yummy breakfast ( and live music too!) was followed bu a short wander around town and some photos…. Then it was time to go home and tend the very sore feet…. Altogether, I must say the event fr surpassed my expectations. Music was delightful, fool glorious, venue splendid and the people – well, let me just say that you were all such a friendly and polite bunch of folks! Everybody was relaxed and yet on their best behaviour – and that makes such a difference! it was also a good call to go for historical rather than an eclectic affair like the previous one – since most of the dances were called, the dance floor was always busy, only clearing up a bit at the end, as the pure exhaustion took over ( it was quite an exercise , especially the few more energetic dances…). So thank you all, staff and guests alike for making it such a wonderful occasion! Also, many thanks to all the people who sent their photos:-) And, guess what – we are having another Ball next year! The venue and caterers have already been booked and the tickets are on sale ( early bird prices valid till September), so put the date in your diary – 7th May. We have the same set of musicians and Stuart booked too – and next year we have an optional dress sub theme – Crinoline. We are already working on different offers for the ticket holders ( discounted rates from dressmakers and product suppliers, or, for those who make stuff themselves, special offers on corset, crinoline and Victorian patterns and kits from one of our providers too). You can follow the news on the facebook pages:
The event per se – Victorian Ball 2016
Page : Prior Attire Victorian Ball
Tickets and more info here – Victorian ball tickets
and the previous ball Spectacular!
We have recently been doing a few habits, so I thought I put a post about them together:-)
Over the winter I have been working on a bespoke one – based on my 1885 version , but in luscious bottle green superfine wool, with burgundy braid decoration. The colour combination worked very well and suited the client’s colouring ( and the horse’s ) well – and we were lucky enough to grab a few photos when we delivered the habit to sunny Devon.
Another bespoke habit for another client is happening too, I will post the photos as soon as the work is finished and we get some pictures.
In the meantime, let me introduce to our latest batch – somehow earlier habits, destined to become stock items.
It all happened as I was working on a certain secret project ( details soon)- we had a horse booked for a side saddle at Historic Equitation, and the day before I found myself ending the commission work earlier that expected – so had a few hours free, and 6 metres of some rather lovely green cloth…. the temptation was too much! I went for the simplest look I could think of: no decoration, purely utilitarian, roughly 1860 look -with big skirts and plain, short bodice – based on this look.
The cloth was fantastic – it draped beautifully. W e used the habit for the shoot and for some riding, and had a short photoshoot at home too – with and without petticoat ( period solution as either corded petticoat or turkish trousers in the same fabric ( so that when the skirt billowed at speed while riding, the legs would be modestly covered). As you can see, the skirts are very long to cover the legs, and although they look lovely when mounted, they are a bit of a pain while walking. Ladies either carried the skirts, flashing the petticoat, or used buttons t o hitch them up – as shown on this fashion plate from La Mode Illustree
btw, lots of more images on my Pinterest board
I was wearing a corset, white blouse and a velvet ribbon neckband,styled my hair and restyled my top hat a bit to achieve the look:-)
Once we were done with shooting, I shared the photos and put the habit in our online shop – and was flooded with likes, shared, questions etc – and the habit sold within 12 hours, surely a record! not only that, there is now a queue of side saddle ladies awaiting news whether it fits the lady who bought it – just in case she returns it….
As a business minded person, I just couldn’t ignore this situation – and since had a bank holiday looming ahead ( which I had hoped to leave free to rest – silly me…), I decided to act on it. Luckily I was picking some cloth for commissions from my wool merchant, and while at it, I picked a few lengths suitable for habits…
A very busy time with a sewing machine followed – and I just managed to get 2 habits done for another scheduled side saddle session – this time with lovely Jane on her Zara at a very well kept Wakes Manor Livery Yard
I experimented with a slightly later look for these two – the first one was based on a fashion plate from Harper’s Bazar, 1873 ( the sitting lady)
I used the lovely soft dove grey cloth, edged with black and decorated with velvet ribbon.
Work in progress…
The habit is now available in our online shop, at a discounted price -details here
The second habit was based on this one from the MET
I liked the edge treatment and tried to emulate – I used piping and topstitching combination
and it fitted me well – really like the look!
Then it was Jane’s turn – it fitted her well too – and kudos to Jane who wore a corset for the first time – and not only wore it, but rode and jumped in it too ( part of a secret video project I am currently working on..)
and yes, there is a corset underneath all that!
This habit is also available in the shop – Here
I have enjoyed making these – and now have plans over summer to work on a few more models in a few sizes options – I already have nice berry coloured cloth and dark green twill put aside for the purpose:-). Although they are stock items, each habit will be a little bit different, so that each is unique – nothing worse than going into the Historical class and finding another lady wearing the same model! And of course if you want something special there is the bespoke option with fittings ( and a different price bracket too….)
Many thanks to all involved in the project so far – greatly appreciated! And a big thank you to the photographer – images courtesy of Pitcheresque Imagery
I have done a lot of earlier Victorian (1876-86), but i have not really ventured into the 90ties ( though I did make a 1895 Ripple jacket for my Christmas outfit last year), so the Belle Epoche ideas had been brewing awhile here…
and then, a few moths ago, I saw this on Pinterest
I mean – huge skirt ridiculous lapels, mega-sleeves, a very ugly hat – how can you not love it!? I immediately pinned it onto my 1890ties board and started planning…
It was a longer project i planned to do more or less over the Christmas break here – I don’t celebrate it, but many of my clients do, so there is a bit of a free time to carve for my own projects there:-) I wanted to make as many bits as I could in the gaps before the commissions and hopefully shoot it with a wintry landscape, should we be so lucky as to get any snow here.
starting ith the foundations..
I already had a corset cut to a Symingotn pattern ( patterned by Cathy Hay) – I made it for my wedding 3 years ago, when I was just starting my corsetry adventure, and so it doesn’t fit particularly well ( the back laces form () at the back, never a good sign.. ) Still, it survived 3 years of extensive use, and it looks nice and is very , very comfy…
Since I now had an excuse to make a new one, i set down to work. I redrafted the same patter to fit me better, and this time made it a one layer affair in a lovely mink coutil from Sew Curvy. I also decided on external bone channels – and you can see the details on construction in the little video I put together – Here.
The blue flossing and external tape worked well with the mink colour and I put some antique lace at the top too.
It fits nicely and is comfy, and once it is properly seasoned ( worn for a bit, so that it adjusts to my body) i bet it will close in the back. Both corsets are 27″ waist.
The petticoat was easy – I used my old antique one:-)
To get the proper width of the hem, an underskirt was often worn too – there are a few existing ones , and whereas some are made in cotton, there are a few made in silks, with rather nice lace – a very elegant affairs!
I hunted out some nice lace on etsy and used leftover silk from my Regency gown
I used up 12 metres of that lace… all gathered and sewed in two tiers – to the hem and to the flounce
The skirt was next. I used a Truly Victorian Pattern for the Ripple skirt and it worked a treat! I made mine in boucle wool, with stiff cotton lining.
The blouse – well, in this instance i ran out of time a bit and used a blouse I found on ebay, from Cotton Lane. Thy make pretty neat shirtwaists, that are not too different in construction from the proper stuff – and as I dislike sewing shirts etc, I simply plan to alter this one – I will remove the sleeves, cut out the pin tucked panel and the cuffs and sew them onto a proper, leg of mutton style sleeves in the same cotton. I will need to re-insert the collar too, to fit my neck better, but altogether I think it should pass muster – will update this post once it is done ( february, as want to wear it for the next market! )
And then it was time to think about the coat….
I wanted to make it in green wool and line with cotton. When I went wool shopping i was irrevocably drawn to the wool I used for mu 1876 February dress – lovely , napped fabric, soft and warm. I couldn’t say no…
The lining was a rather pricey cotton flanelett – light, but soft, with a slight nap, to keep me war,
Other ingredients included rabbit fur, linen interlining for the lapels and collar, tape for channels and lovely buttons made by Gina B.
Looking at many original coats and patterns from the era, it is easy to notice that the coats dould me made either with bodice and skirts cut separately or together. I decided on the former – and adapted a pattern for the skirts from one of the coats shown in this book – 59 Authentic turn of the century patterns
The bodice getting ready… I adapted a pattern of my old Victorian bodice and played with a mock up untill I had the correct shape of the lapels… took a few goes…
The ‘sleeves of doom’ were quite a challenge. I found a pattern for the sleeves in the same book and played with them – they consisted of a normal sleeve, lined, and a puff . the sleeves are cut on the bias, to achieve the fitted forearm, and the puff is interlined and stiffened with layers of net…
But the net and pleating wasn’t enough to achieve the desired look. shoulder supports were needed.
I found a few pictures of them, and in the end settled on the wire and tape ones. they go inside the puff, and are tapes are sewn onto the undersleeve.
I must admit that try as I might, the pleated effect seen on the original escaped me ( I almost got there with cartridge pleating but realised in the end that i would have to have more fabric – and a different shoulder support, possibly with the wired running in the other direction, so that the pleats fill in between… just a theory.
Still the sleeves did work out quite well…
time to attach the skirt to the bodice… the bodice was boned on every seam and has a waiststay as well.
Thebuttons were next – they are decorative items, as the coat closed with hooks and eyes under the fur trim:-)
The hat was simply an adapted hat from my 1876 frock – i simply drew the line at making an ugly hat and decided to temporarily re-arrange an existing one – and since the brim was wired, it was easy to shape it differently, add feathers and a bow:-)
On the day we used a new backdrop for some of the pictures ( no snow here, alas) for a cheesy Victorian postcard look, with the props being a few things we picked up on ebay – antique sledge and skates 🙂
it was time to get dressed – and I realised a bit of a mistake as soon as i put the coat on – the skirts were voluminous and heavy, squashing the shape of the Ripple skirt, and dragging on the floor 😦 so that’s another thing I will need to sort out before a proper outing – cutting the hem short and probably adding a bit more stiffening to it too, to help it flare out.
Apart from that I am very happy how it all turned out – and hope we will see some proper snow at some point to take better pictures!
as it is – the results below:-)
The cost.. ouch…
corset – materials and labour – approximately £300,
underskirt – lace – £90, silk £30, labour £90 – £210
ripple skirt – fabrics – £50, labour – £150 – £200
coat – fabrics and notions – £100, labour £300
cheap blouse – £35 😉
total – approx £1000….. plus the hat…
Altogether it was not the most expensive but not the cheapest set either – but it is comfortable, stylish and more or less practical ( once you get used to the enormous sleeves) so I will be wearing it quite a lot for the markets etc, I think:-)
And yes, I do love the sleeves… Power dressing!!!! 🙂 hope you like it too 🙂
usual credits – Dressmaking – Prior Attire
photography – Pitcheresque Imagery
corsetry supplies – Sew Curvy
Buttons – Gina B Silkworks,
Wool – Bernie the Bolt
cotton lining, notions – Tudor Rose Patchwork
Fur – GH Leathers
“Oh my, this must hurt – how do you breathe in this?!” – Many re-enactors, (and modern corset wearers), will recognize that remark, whether as a comment under a picture or spoken at an event. I have heard my fill over the last few years, when dressed in Victorian kit, and the discussions that followed were equally interesting and illuminating for both parties.
Recently I have been browsing through Pinterest boards looking for images of 1895 corsets, and noticed several nice pictures – yet it was not the pictures that captured my attention, rather the comments and descriptions below that were even more arresting…..
Just a few examples:
* ‘They are lovely, but so uncomfortable’ ( on this pin )
* ‘This is a victorian corset which was used to create the perfect hourglasss figure. This is gorgeous but I can’t imagine wearing it. No wonder Victorian women passed out all the time! …They couldn’t breathe ‘ ( on this )
*’Vintage 1910-1918 Fashion Corsets….women used to be laced up so tight in these corsets that they sometimes endured cracked ribs…..can’t imagine! All for the sake of having a tiny waist….’ ( on this pin)
*’how many ribs do you think had to be removed so the ladies could wear this torture device?’ ( on this pin)
*Talk about taking appearance to extremes! In the 18th – 19th century, it was fashionable to either surgically remove smaller rib bones or crush the waistline into an impossibly small size in order to achieve a “waspish” waist. Incredibly dumb!’ ( on this)
There are more, but no doubt you get the idea…
Well, I have been wearing corsets for work and for going out for the last 7 years – and earlier-period stays for even longer…. I have also been making Victorian, Edwardian and modern corsets for the last 7 years ( I think I’ve made about 200 altogether) so have managed to learn a bit about the history of corsets and their day-to-day use….
Let us have a look at a few popular myths.
‘Their waists were tiny!’
Some of them, probably yes – there are always people with smaller waists, especially when tight-lacing, but by no means was that the norm.
*Extant corsets have waist measurements from roughly 18″ to 30″ or more – and considering that they were not meant to be worn closed but with 2″ gap, and allowing 2-4″ tissue displacement (the so-called “squish” factor), the original waist circumference could be anything from 22″ to 40″ or more. Jennifer from Historical Sewing explains it very well in her own blog.
*optical illusion factor – crinolines, bustles, hip pads, bug sleeves, sloping shoulders and V-shaped blouse cut and decoration – with these, it was easier to emphasize the waist, which looked smaller when contrasted with hide hips and/or shoulders.
*extant clothing and corsets are usually small – this is true, but again, there may be several explanations for the fact that it is the smaller items that have survived to the present day:
primo – people did tend to be just a tad shorter than nowadays – so different proportions…
secundo – and that is just my theory – it seems to me that a lot of surviving clothes belonged to teenagers and very your ladies. I have owned, handled and seen a great deal of the clothing with labels pronouncing that they belonged to ‘Miss Smith’ or ‘Miss Brown’ – so at that time mostly unmarried, young women (of course there were exceptions). Since they were only worn for a limited time, once young miss outgrew them, (or got married and had babies etc), they were stored ready to be handed down as necessary to the next generation. Clothes that were worn by grown-ups don’t seem to survive that well – mostly because they were worn much more thoroughly, but also because they were remodeled, restyled, etc, so that the original gown could be used for many years.
This is just a theory, discussed with a few fellow costumiers, but there might be a little truth to it too – I would be interested in other people’s opinions!
*photoshop. No, really – at least the Victorian/Edwardian version of it. Most of the fashion plates from that era are drawings. It is easy to draw a tiny waist…. The reality however is a bit different. A quick search on Pinterest of Google images will show just as much – or better still, a book I happen to have here – Victorian Costume for Ladies 1860-1900, with over 350 original photographs. Yes, there were a few tiny waists in evidence ( and let us bear in mind that early attempts at editing was already done – by taking the photograph, concealing unwanted bits and taking the photograph of the retouched original – an excellent blog post on Victorian/edwardian photo shopping by Cynthia from Redthreaded here), but looking at the photographs from the era you will find that the majority of ladies are far from willowy. They look natural, with comfortable sizes of 10-18 or more….. the book is amazing, and recommended! Below a few snaps from the book:
Also, interestingly enough, have a look at the Victorian burlesque dancers – the lovely ladies are definitely much more substantial than our “size 0” models…..
The chorus of fairies in the burlesque Ariel, Gaiety Theatre, London, 8 October 1883
The fact is also backed up by the original patterns – they encompass a variety of sizes. I use Francis Grimble’s books a lot, and if you have a look and do some maths, you will see that many garments are not that small waisted at all. Plus the names are rather endearing – ‘ a jacket for a stout lady’, or ‘a bodice for a medium size lady’, ‘a bodice for well-developed ladies’, ‘bodice with narrow shoulders and back’ – etc. A superb resource!
All together I think we can safely agree that the incredibly small waist myth is just that – a bit of a myth….
Corsets are so uncomfortable!
This is very true, as most of the ladies who ever bought a modern generic size cheap corset can say…. Ill fitted corsets can be a torture – I have had the dubious ‘pleasure’ of trying on a few of the corsets-UK modern items, and though no doubt there are women who will find the fit comfortable, for me it was a very painful experience – and not because of the waist measurements. It is usually the hip and rib part that is too small – not enough hip spring can be very uncomfortable! As a result, I ended up in a ‘corset tube’, which did not reduce my waist, but rather pinched my hips and ribs…
However a well-fitted corset can be a real blessing. I am a comfortable size 12, with 34F bust, and I find Victorian and Edwardian corsets a pleasure to wear. My natural waist is 34″ and I usually lace to 27-28″ if I know I am wearing the corset for a whole day. They support my bust from underneath – so my shoulders don’t ache from carrying the burden. They help me maintain my posture – this is a godsend especially for markets and events when I have to be standing for long periods – for example, the last 2 weekends I spent working with the public, standing for 6 hours with a short lunch break. Normally my lower back would be screaming – but in corset I could feel the comfort of the ‘exoskeleton’, keeping me upright and supporting my back…
Also, in the last few months I have been suffering from costocondritis – a painful condition of the ribs ( connective tissue), that made wearing a modern bra impossible – the band sits just on the painful parts. But a corset, laced just enough to support the bust from underneath was a real blessing – as a result I ended up wearing mine for a few weeks daily, just in order to work – and only swapped for a soft bralette once the acute stage subsided.
Why the difference between the modern and traditional corsets? Apart from the fit issues, the style is also important – modern corsets are usually overbust, designed to be worn on their own. Historical pieces are usually mid-bust – and a well fitted corset squeezes the waist, but accommodates the rib-cage and supports the bust without compressing one’s lungs (so normal breathing is not impaired). Mid bust corsets are more comfortable to wear as they do not ‘ride up’ like many modern overbust corsets when sitting. 🙂
Some Victorian corset feature a spoon busk – which is gently rounded, accommodating the belly ( the famous fashionable rounded belly of the time!), so the internal organs were comfy, but the support and fashion was achieved at the same time,
I have recently made a replica of a 1880 one – and it is one of the most comfortable corsets i have ever owned.
Of course, the materials used for quality corsets which can be used everyday are very different to the plastic-boned viscose jacquards available in mass produced versions….
Let’s remember that corsets were worn every day, all day and women were not sitting idly looking pretty. They walked, danced, worked, rode, played sports – all in corsets. True, sport corsets were shorter (especially important for riding), but still, they were all practical garments… In fact we now have a group showing people doing a variety of activities in corsets ( Corsets in Action)
In my Victorian corset I have danced ( video here), skated
and ridden side saddle.. in a mock up first –
and in a proper habit
It is also a myth that you cannot bend in a corset as it is impossible to bend from the waist. Well, try bending from the waist without one – you won’t go far…. Humans are designed to bend from the hips!!
A brief demo – my apologies for the style of the pictures but grabbed my corset as I was writing this article and took some pictures to show that it is possible to bend…
And so, in my opinion if the corset is well fitted, laced properly (not too tightly), it can be very comfortable. This refers to both modern and historical wear – well-made corsets will support your back and bust and won’t crush your ribs.
True, if you are wearing a corset just for a photo-shoot, it is OK to lace tightly- I can get to 24″) for fashion corsets, but then I don’t spend a day wearing them…
No wonder women fainted all the time!
Here there is some truth to it – but this mostly refers to the lightheaded feeling you can get if you take off your corset too fast, after wearing it for a long time… As the blood rushes down more abruptly, it is indeed possible to swoon…. so gradual lacing and unlacing is recommended.
It may also have happened if your fashionable women laced too tightly….. more for a fashion’s sake than practical.
Women had ribs surgically removed!
With surgery as dangerous as it was in Victorian times? with no antibiotics to battle the infection? Really very, very doubtful…. plus, again, neither medical or the photographic evidence doesn’t really support it…
Corsets deformed silhouette and caused medical problems
This can be very true if laced excessively, I dare say. Yes, your body will change if you are a trained tightlacer, and wear a corset from early on. We are all familiar with the drawings showing how the organs move and ribs deform and there may be some truth in it. At the same time many of us have seen modern MRI imagery of a corset being worn – and as it turns out it is not as bad as we thought, with the organs being moved in exactly the same way pregnancy would affect them – here the results of the experiment as presented by Lucy Corsetry
Also, corsets did not cause pneumonia, colds, consumption etc. You need viruses, bacteria or fungi to cause the infection in the first place. As for the argument that you breathe differently with a corset on – If you do, then the corset doesn’t fit you properly. Opera singers wore them on stage, singing their hearts out…. 🙂
I do however think that if you wore a corset day in and day out, unless you stayed active, you were in serious danger of suffering from muscle atrophy. Corset supports you very well ( many people with back problems find them great for pain relief!), but it does all the work your lumbar and core muscles usually do. So unless you are an active person and keep in shape, using the muscles, prolonged use of corset will weaken the muscles. Also, an interesting point, discussed with a medical friend as a possibility – many more women than today suffered from prolapsed uterus – usually after the birth. The reason may be just that – long use of corset, weak muscles, especially in the late stages of pregnancy – and bad things may have happened. Again, just a theory here.
Still, usually women did stay more active than we nowadays believe – and so managed to keep at least some reasonable strength in their core muscles ( horseriding was great for that !).
Well, I think I’d better stop – if you have any other remarks or comments, please do so, very interested in others’ opinions and experiences!
Our youtube video, showing Victorian activities in corsets – here
…and a comprehensive read on the myths are covered here and a few more – by Yesterday’s Thimble – here
…also, an interesting article by the Pragmatic Costumer – here
Hope you can find the article useful – best wishes from Izabela of Prior Attire!
If a place is as fantastic as St. Audries, one cannot stay away from it for long – and so, just over 3 years after our wedding there, we were heading back – this time for a ball the … Continue reading
As Halloween was approaching and I noticed a few bits of non historical fabrics in my store room, an idea was hatched – we will do some Halloween photography! We mentioned the idea to a friend at one of the markets, and she volunteered lending us some of her corsets for it. we mentioned it on facebook and withing minutes we had more contributors and models agreed on, and time set asid e for some Halloween/Goth/Victoriana fun.
We started with an organic look for a pumpkin queen – my Spring Petal Dress had a remake ( a brief encounter with spray paint), and after an afternoon of drilling and carving the pumpkins ( the jigsaw power tool was perfect for it!) we were ready…
and on the day we prepared the set for the Pumpkin Queen in the nearby woods… the results below:-)
Next day was the big day! our make up artist, Sammm Agnew arrived just after noon, and the models, Gem and Hannah followed shortly after.
My workroom was transformed into a make up and hair styling centre…
and we shot several different looks around the house… the results below – wherever possible I provided inks directly to the products featured as many of the items are actually available to purchase straight away 🙂
Innocence Tainted – Gem is wearing a silk skirt and a corset by Prior Attire… Head by Samm Agnew!
Victoriana – the ladies of the night;-)
The girls are sporting Victorian attires – the purple one has sold already, but the chocolate pumpkin one is still available here
Pumpkin corset – Hanna had a quick transformation and here is sporing a silk corset with black lace decoration from Prior Attire matched with a black skirt
Demon Bride – Gem had a go at the wedding dress that got damaged in the fire – with a festive spray of blood….
and then got quickly into this stunning piece by Wyte Phantom
Even our MUA vamped out her make up , donned a lovely corset ( again, Wyte Phantom) and a skirt ( Prior Attire) and jumped in front of the camera
and after having my face and hair transform to fit with Vampish Gothic criteria, I joined her:-) The overskirt, corset and posture collar by Wyte Phantom, flouncy skirt ( sold already, sorry….) and the fascinator by Prior Attire
and that was it for one long day – but it was not all! 2 days later lovely Miss Lilian Love joined us for a classy corsetry shoot – and in one evening we shot some more Halloween stuff and some elegant vintage inspired stuff with superb corsets from Clessidra ( there will be a separate post on that, here’s a teaser)
and the Halloween stuff –
again, we put Lilian in the Wyte Phantom corset and a Prior Attire skirt
As you can see, it was a lot of fun ( tiring, but fun!) and that was not the end of it – the following weekend saw us at a Halloween ball from which I had a very special creation – but that a topic for another post! 🙂
Make up and hair – Sammm Agnew
models – Gem and Hanna Bow, Miss Lilian Love,
photography – Pitcheresque Imagery
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.
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
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,
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!
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.
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.
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!
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 .
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.
Once traced, I cut the pieces out, pinned them together and started sewing….
Channels first – I sewed them on the a and b pieces.
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.
Side lacing piece and busk piece were connected last – and we have the first quarter ready!
The process was repeated on the other side piece
A and b pieces and the side lacing strip were sewn together first.
With 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.
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
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.
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…
The moment had arrived – I could actually try the thing on!
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
Next step – flossing. At that stage I rather liked with black and yellow combination, so flossing was done in dark yellow cotton thread.
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
Then there was only binding left to do – and adding some yellow lace I found in my stock. It was ready to wear!
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!
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.
- The spiral boning works well, but more is needed at the back than is indicated on the original drawings.
- Chatting when marking boning channels can result in wonky channels – the front channels are slightly offset as a result…
- I would use silk for flossing
- …I would use better eyelets too; (The ones used here were without washers)
- 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! 🙂