Corseted Through The Century

I’ve decided to give myself the challenge of sewing one corset from each decade of the 19th century, hence the crafty title of this post. Ideally I should have announced this before I started on this project/challenge but the idea didn’t occur until after completing my 1890’s riding corset.
I’ve become quite obsessed with corsets recently, I really enjoy making them and I’m seeing great improvement with each corset I complete. I picked the 19th century for this challenge as the silhouette (affected by corsets) changes greatly over the century. What I also like is that each decade has a reasonably iconic corset style that sets it apart from every other decade making each decade different from the next. This means the corsets I’ll be creating will be visually different and keep things interesting in the construction process.

References, Sources and Patterns

I own three corsetry books that cover the 19th century.
‘Corsets and Crinolines’ Norah waugh, ‘Corsets – Historical patterns and techniques’ Jill Salen and ‘Stays and Corsets – Historical patterns translated for the modern body’ Mandy Barrington

Currently I’ve only worked from ‘Corsets and crinolines’ and ‘Stays and corsets’ but Jill Salen’s book ‘corsets’ covers the second half of the century quite well. As all three of these books are well used in the historical costume community I’ve found many blog post detailing others experience with these patterns which I’ve read to see if there are any complications or handy tricks about the patterns I can know before hand.

I won’t be making these in historical order, I’ll likely continue making them as I am now and picking the decade that inspires me the most.
Working backwards here are the completed corsets from this challenge already and those planned with patterns (or still need to be sourced). These patterns are not final, there are a few decades I’m lucky enough to have multiple choices for and decision on which pattern I use will lie with what sewing procedures I’ve already applied/want to use and if that corset will include them.

1890-1900
I’ve already completed an under bust riding corset (‘Stays and Corsets’ Mandy Barrington) from this decade however, as the fit wasn’t satisfactory I’ve decided to make another corset from this decade as well.
1890 Riding Corset
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The corset I’ve decided to “replace” the riding corset with is an 1890 wasp waist corset (‘Stays and Corsets’ Mandy Barrington).

I think the wasp waist corset is a much better representation of foundation garments in that decade rather than a ‘sporting’ corset. I’m actually in the process of drafting this corset up as I write this post making it the next most likely corset to be completed for this challenge.

1880-1890
I didn’t find as many references to 1880’s corsets in my books as I thought I would.
There was Norah Waugh’s (Corsets and Crinolines) 1880 black coutil corset which has a more traditional appearance to it. I make mention of the traditional appearance because my other pattern option is far from it.
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The only other pattern from this decade I could find in my collection is the 1885 gold exotic corset from Jill Salen (Corsets, Historical patterns and techniques). This corset is designed to allow for more movement as women begin taking a more part in working life. The corset is described as exotic by Jill as there is a subtle gold sheen to the fabrics used, enhanced by the eyelets.


I’m leaning towards the 1880’s corset from ‘Corsets and Crinolines’ as it has a more tradition appearance and I’d like for all of the corsets to be coordinated. The exotic corset does seam like a fun challenge and may be something I complete at another date.

1870-1880
I felt quite lucky to find two patterns for this decade, both corsets different from each other yet iconic. I’m happy to se both of the corsets involve chording in their construction, its something I haven’t attempted yet but am eager to try.
‘Corsets and Crinolines’ has a 1873 corset which is lightly boned but heavily corded.
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The other option from Mandy Barrington (Stays and Corsets) is a 1875 corded and quilted corset. I love the contrasting visible stitching on the original corset, I’m sure it looked more striking in it’s original condition.

Both of these corsets fit over the hips which is something I haven’t worked with yet and will be a new challenge. I’m not quite decided on which of the two corsets I prefer but I do like that the 1875 corset uses both quilting, cording and boning.

1860-1870
I’ve completed two corsets from this decade already. The first being one I completed last year (my first corset ever) from Simplicity 1139. I am very proud of this corset and it holds a very special place in my heart however, I outgrew (I’m not sure thats the right word to use in this context!) it when I lost 4-5 inches at my waist. I was overweight, healthy weightless. This corset has since been taken apart, the busk removed and recycled for my 1890 riding corset which the boning was also recycled into.
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The second corset I’ve made from this decade is also my most recent corset from my last post. I’m much happier with this one and the fit is more appropriate too! This corset uses the 1860 light French corset pattern from Norah Waugh (Corsets and Crinolines). It was also my first attempt using flossing which is something I want to incorporate into future corsets as it really does add to the historicalness of the corset.
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I’m happy with my most recent 1860s corset and it will be featured as the corset representing that decade.

1850-1860
I’m really struggling with this decade. From what I’ve read its a transitional decade from the stays of the past to more modern looking corsets seen in the 1860s. None of my three books have reference to this decade and finding anything online even after extensive searches through museum archives and other historical costume maker blogs its still difficult to pinpoint a corset pattern from this decade.
I’ve found a few useful sources so I’m going to leave them here for future reference.
1850 Lady’s Stay (L. Balis Patented September 5 1850 Source)

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This source is looking quite promising, although it doesn’t come with a pattern if you follow the link you can find more detailed descriptions and construction instructions. The image I’m using is actually from Wikipedia ‘History of Corsets’ where its referred to as a ‘girls corset’. It does appear to be an adult woman’s corset to me however which is further backed up by the first link posted. Children’s corsets were flat fronted and were for encouraging an upright posture, a strong spine and also for warmth.
The other helpful image I’ve found is also from the same Wiki, “At the Great Exhibition in 1851 Madame Roxey Ann Caplin was awarded the prize medal of “Manufacturer, Designer and Inventor” for her corsetry designs, as the only corsetmaker who get a prize by the Great Exhibition. This prize medal changed the corsetry of England.”
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Her blank stare into nothingness is scary I’m not afraid to admit that! There were a few other corsets from Madame Roxey however they weren’t what I’m after (pregnancy corsets, early child corset, petticoat suspender) so I’m just including this one. I like that this one shows different panel pieces more clearly, even though a back picture isn’t available I would feel confident in drafting it on my own after looking for more reference.
I was able to find one pattern 1853 stays from Godey’s Lady’s Book, my only issue is there little information about it on the source page. It does look reliable and correct for the period (to me) but I feel I’d be happier with more information.1853stays.jpg
1850 has defiantly been the hardest to source a pattern for and its looking although I may draft a pattern for myself instead. I may not have a pattern but I think I have enough reference material to push me in the right direction.

1840-1850
I was very lucky to find two patterns for this decade in my books. There is a small issue with one of them however which I’ll get to last.
‘Corsets and crinolines’ has a pattern for a 1844 corset to be boned on each seam. This corset is quite simple in appearance, featuring two bust gussets, a busk and the previously mentioned bones on each seam.
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The other questionable option is a 1840 Corded Taffeta Corset from Jill Salen (Corsets, historical patterns and techniques). The reason this option is considered questionable is as follows, Jill mentions that the corset has undergone some crude alterations at the front in the form of alternation buttons holes which have been fixed in place with cruder stitching indication that the alterations were made by someone other than the original maker. Jill also states that the corset represents a mixture of styles and its quite possible the corset could date back to as early as 1820. Except for the metal eyelets that date from after 1828 that could have been inserted over original hand-worked eyelets.

I do like both corsets however, I don’t feel using the second one is a true representation of this decade. Its quite possible that it was originally made twenty years earlier with alterations being made to it up until the 1840s. I want to make something that I know is period accurate for the decade and although the second corset is a unique piece I will be choosing to work with the first one from ‘Corsets and crinolines’.

1830-1840
I was only able to find one corset pattern in my books from this decade, though I am aware commercial patterns are available but I won’t be visiting those for this series (am I okay to call this a series?).
The pattern is from Jill Salen (Corsets, historical patterns and techniques) 1830-40 Rural corded corset and its buff orange. This corset has no boning and is supported by cording only. I’m going to leave this one until I’ve experimented with cording first. Its only just occurred to me that I’ll need to oder busk widths of boning for these earlier corsets, heres hoping my new bolt cutters will manage them!


1820-1830
I have two references to 1820s corsets from my books which I’m counting myself lucky for as the earlier I go to the start of the century the harder its become to find original sourced patterns.
The first is a 1820 white cotton corset from Mandy Barrinton (Stays and corsets), this corset has no boning but the two busks, supported by the cording. There is decretive stitching as well as four bust gussets.

The second is a pair of 1820s white cotton sateen stays from Norah Waugh (Corsets and crinolines). They are lightly boned with a centre busk and elaborately quilted around the waist.
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Both of these corsets are fantastic pieces and I’m really not sure which I prefer of the two. I’m not sure how well scaling up the Norah Waugh pattern will go as its fitted over much more of the body than more modern corsets, I can of course make alterations and check measurements before beginning the final pice. I think Mandy Barrington’s pattern may be more straightforward in that respect.

1810-1820
Another difficult decade, none of my books cover 1800-1820 so the first two decades became an online search. While I was sourcing for later decades I came across museum archives which rarely would yield patterns in their collections. Most of theses are from large pattern sheets that featured numerous patterns on a single sheet overlaid and outlined with different lines (usually a unique combination of dots and dashes that related to all of the patterns for on individual product) and if you were lucky within the mass of lines there might be numbers thrown in two which coordinate to different projects. Heres an example from March 1897 by Mode Illustree in Paris France
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I’m getting off topic here but I just wanted to explain that I had come across pattern sheets like this for corsets however they were too difficult to render without photoshop which I don’t have access to outside of term time and I’m not paying for it…
Back on topic! I was able to find museums with completed patterns for some corsets and I ended up with one for this decade.
This is an 1811 Corset in the collection of the Missouri Historical Society, the pattern isn’t in as good quality as some of the others I’ve complied but I’ve seen worse on my search and will count myself lucky for coming across this one!


1800-1810
Found that with the later decades the early decade corsets look quite similar with small alterations to style/shape/fit decade to decade so I was ready for something visually different with the first decade of the century. The solution? Short stays.
After some in-depth Pinterest lurking I was able to find this blog post ‘Short Stays’ Studies containing some amazing research as well as various patterns from the decade. Life saver. There are a few patterns available on the blog but the one I like the best would have to be Bernhardt’s patterns ‘F’, I think I prefer its style and shape to the others.PatronF_kleidungum1800.jpg
It will need to be rescaled but that will be easy enough to do! Thank you very much Kleidung um 1800 for sharing your work!


And that is one pattern, multiple choice or sufficient research for one corset for ever decade of the 18th century. I’m very excited for this project and I think it will be considered a huge accomplishment when I’ve completed it. Hopefully I will still be as excited for corsetry after I’ve finished and not put off the idea entirely. I haven’t given myself a deadline for this huge project as I don’t want to stress myself out over it and rather just enjoy the process but if I were able to complete this by the end of the year that would be fantastic.
I will be documenting each corset/stay here on WordPress as well as major pictorial updates on instagram!
If anyone has any 19th century corset sources I’m missing out on and would like to share that would be greatly appreciated.

Thank your for reading
-Nivera

1860’s Corset

I was still in the mood for corsetry after completing my 1890’s riding corset and as I was in need of a new 1860’s corset as I outgrew my old one (lost weight) it seamed like the best choice.
This is my first corset from Corsets and Crinolines!! I feel really proud to say I’ve made a corset from that book and it will not be the last.
I used the 1860’s light French corset pattern.
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I did a lot of reading from others who’ve made this corset before to familiarise myself with it before beginning. I did make one major alteration to the pattern and that was removing the busk. The main reason for this is that I wanted to make a flat front corset because it meant I wouldn’t have to make a corset cover to protect the top fabric layers from the split busk. Me lazy? No. I also didn’t want to order a busk and have to wait for it to arrive. I wasn’t feeling a busk for this corset.

I scaled the pattern up to have a two inch reduction, I think I’ve got the hang of scaling patterns up now which opens so many more books for me.

After scaling my patterns I laid them out over my fabric following the grain lines. I’m using a different fabric for my corset this time, cotton drill. It’s cheaper than coutil but has similar properties. Although it does fray a little bit overlocking or zigzagging fixes that easy. I’m also using a different boning channel technique this time round, this time I’m boning between two layers of fabric which meant my fabric was folded twice to compensate for the extra layer needed.
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The seam allowances were then drawn onto the fabric (not included in the pattern) which were 1.5cm. I read now that 2cm is recommended for corset seams which is something I’ll be applying to future projects.
Because I adapted the pattern so that it removed the split busk and replaced it with a single busk the area would be reinforced with thicker steel bones (7mm) than the bones used everywhere else (5mm).

The patterns were then cut out.
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I then began the tedious process of transferring boning channels with carbon paper, pinning the lining fabric with the carbon markings together and then pinning the top layer pattern pieces together.

This got very confusing at times! As the pattern looked very similar un marked!

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All of the panels were then sewn together and I was left with watch would be my top layer and lining layer of the corset.
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The two layers then needed to be joined together, I used a hand basting stitch and ‘sewd in the deep’ joining the layers together wrong sides together stitching in between the seams.
This basting stitch ensures that the layers are sitting flush with each other mirroring perfectly. This is crucial when sewing the channels.
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Next the boning channels were sewn using the carbon markings on the lining/wrong ‘right’ layer. The 7mm busk bones were sewn with 1cm channels while the 5mm bones in every other channel were sewn with 7mm channels. Some of these channels were next to seams so to create the line of stitching for the channel on the seam I sewd in the deep from the top layer of fabric to ensure the best accuracy so the top stitching would be hidden in the seam.
After the boning channels were sewn I sewd the stopper along the bottom edge preventing the bones from poking out. At this time I also zigzagged the sides and bottom edges to prevent any further fraying.
54b5ebf0e22cf40e710a7c9a4e948b41277800d7r1-969-556v2_hq.jpgNext the boning was cut and inserted into the channels, which was made much easier with the new pair of bolt cutters!!! Previously I’d just been using wire cutters but I kept blunting them and my mum wasn’t too happy with that!
The bones were also cheaply capped before being sewn in. I did this with masking tape, this just blunts the edges and stops the sharp corners of the steels from tearing out with wear. I am yet to use proper steel boning caps for a corset. I’ve also heard that nail polish works quite well so I may try that with my next corset.

The top stopper was then sewn in, sealing the bones in place.
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I was then able to do a test fit, this would mean I could see what the waist reduction was like and if I needed to take the bust in (I have a small chest so I run into this issue with corsets often!)
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I found that the corset only offered 1” reduction in my waist, which was disappointing. So I decided it needed to be taken in. The bust area was surprisingly okay so no alterations were needed there.
The next time I scale a corset I’ll scale it down to the waist reduction size I want minus 3cm and see if that gets better results.
I took the corset in by 3cm at the CF. This meant taking it apart… luckily it was rather easy and the alteration was quite straight forward. I removed the two bones acting as a busk as well as 0.5 to each side of them. I added a lot onto this pattern to begin with so removing it didn’t cause any issues.
After the alteration was made I re sewd the boning channels in as well as the top and bottom stoppers that had to be removed. The CF isn’t quite symmetrical as it was previously but it’s not as noticeable as I thought it would be.

I had originally intended to make bias tape for this corset because I again decided to be lazy and Oh Boy did it backfire. I decide it would be easier to bind the edge with satin ribbon as I had a coordinating colour in my collection. Machine sewing didn’t work as the ribbon was thinner than that it really should have been for it’s intended purpose and the machine stitched created bulk. So of course I had to slip stitch it into place.
And once it was slip stitch into place on the from it had too be whip stitched into place on the wrong side.
All of which took me a considerably longer amount of time that it would have to make bias tape and sew that on.

I was very happy to have the binding finished, at first I though the satin looked a little tacky and ‘costumy’ but I remembered that this is a Victorian corset from the 1860’s, the Victorians owned OTT.
What are you thoughts?

For this project I had promised myself I would give flossing a go as it looks very pretty and ads so much to the historical factor. I picked out a flossing technique (the most basic stitch I could find) and got to work.
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And I’ve got to say, despite being a simple stitch it really does look very nice!!!
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*The two above photos were taken in bad lighting and don’t reflect the true colour of the fabric*

I’m definitely going to try out something more complex with my next corset. I’ve seen some amazing feathered flossing that look stunning in a contrasting colour.
With the flossing done, so was the corset!!5c26870e2c151a3e66a2def056206ab11455de8fr1-539-734v2_hq.jpgf7ce8ee7ad4d449cb5e77f05274ba8ace527348er1-750-1334v2_hq.jpg
I unfortunately forgot to save photos of the back of the corset and I’m not putting it on again just for that! I can say that I am able to achieve a full closure which I’m pretty happy with. However, I’m going to be using and binding metal eyelets for my next corset. Although my hand sewn eyelets are very pretty I don’t think they could take the tension of me cinching any smaller so I’ll need that reinforcement.

I’d really like to make a corset with cording or one that’s quilted next so I’m looking into those at the moment! Right now its a three way tie between 1880’s, 1870’s and 1840’s.


This corset takes me in by two inches and even though the reduction is small it has a great affect of my silhouette. 27″ is what I was aiming for with this corset and I’m pleased to have constructed a corset capable of that however with my next corset I want to achieve greater reduction. ‘Good’ corsets should be able to cinch you in by 3-4″ and thats something I’d like to do with my next one.
I shouldn’t have to say this but I’m in no way suddenly fascinated with achieving a small Victorian waist. My corsetry will remain safe and I’d never push myself to a health concern, I don’t wear my corsets long enough to do this anyway! My corsets are still only being worn for historical costumes and I won’t be making them apart of my daily wear any time soon. The main reason I want to make a corset capable of cinching me in smaller is because I see it as a showcase of the corsetry skill and its something I really enjoy and want to become better at.

So what are the thoughts on my latest corset? And what do you think I should make next, 80’s, 70’s or 40’s?

I’m back working on my 1860’s ballgown again and am hoping to have it completed by the end of next month, so long as my lace appliqué and sequins order comes speedily.
Updates coming soon.


As always thank you for reading
-Nivera

1890’s Riding Corset

My latest project which I completed in just two days! I recently got the book ‘Stays & Corsets’ by Mandy Barrington and decided to test out the patterning process from is with one of the simpler corsets from the book.

The corset pattern is dated to the 1890’s and is based on an existing surviving garment from the era.

This was a simple corset to put together, I had originally intended to make a lining so that the channels would be concealed (as seen in the original) but decided against it *was lazy* and went with good old twill tape channels instead.

Drafting/Construction

The first thing I did was draft a basic block with alterations to make it corset friendly.
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I then drafted the pattern according to the books instructions.

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And then cut the pattern pieces out.

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The patterns were then pinned to my cotton coutil following grain and a seam allowance of 1cm was added to internal seams while 2cm was added to CF and CB to allow for a busk and eyelet facing.

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When the patterns were cut out I transferred boning channel lines over with carbon paper for ease of identification.

The patterns were sewn together with the 1cm seam allowances and twill tape were pinned over the boning channel indicators.

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This was then sewn down.

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Facings were then made up for the CF and CB.
The CF facing was sewn to allow for the loop side and the hook side.
The CB facing was sewn to bulk up the eyelet area (prevents tearing) and to allow for a concealed boning channel opposite the twill channel with the eyelets running down the centre of the two.

The busk was then sewn in (this busk is from my first corset which is why some paint is missing from it with wear and tear).

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Bias tape was sewn onto the right side of the corset at both edges. And was then slip stitched into place on the wrong side.

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13 eyelets were marked evenly either side of the CB down the eyelet channel.

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Each eyelet was punched and hand sewn.
I’ve hand sewn well over 100 eyelets for costumes now and have managed hone the skill down to roughly 10 minutes each, which I quite proud of considering it took me twice as long when I first started!

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And with the eyelets finished so was the corset!

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Here’s a picture of the original surviving corset the pattern is from.

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Issues/improvements

Overall I’m quite pleased with the construction, my issues come from the fit.

As far as I’m aware I followed the books instructions to the T, at no point was I confused, it was a very simple process for me. Both drafting the pattern and constructing the corset itself. However, the corset only takes my waist in by half and inch where according to the pattern it should be taking me in by 3 inches.

My other issue with the fit is the bottom of CF, it doesn’t sit flush to me and there’s and abundance of extra fabric there which is visible in photos. It should be tight and it’s not, there’s so much extra fabric that it’s so loose the bottom hook of the busk keeps coming undone. It is however an easy fix, I can alter the bottom edge with a dart and bring the extra fabric in.

I think where I went wrong was in the block draft so I will be drafting a new block for future corsets from this book and see if that resolves the issues. 

Final thoughts

It’s a good corset but it’s too big for me and doesn’t give the reduction I’m after. I plan on making a wasp waist corset from the same book and will be drafting a new block for it.

Overall I made this corset to try out the book and it’s drafting methods. Which even with the result I got I do quite like. And it’s given me a good insight into flat patterning corsets on a block.


 

Has anyone else drafted this corset or used this book? Are there any secrets I’m not wear of?
Feedback is always welcome!

Thanks for reading,
-Nivera