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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m happy with my most recent 1860s corset and it will be featured as the corset representing that decade.
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)
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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