Corsetiere

Ok.  It’s been a while, both since I wrote anything generally and since I wrote about this.

Hi!  I survived my first semester at grad school Mk. II!

I’ve been back in California for a week and a half or so now, and it has been nice to sleep as much as I want, dig through all of my fabric, and have access to a real tailor’s ham.

Ages and ages and ages ago (I think it was week 2 of the semester?) my coursemate Beth and I got assigned a dress for packing and handling exercises.  It was a really lovely, completely disintegrating tea gown in chartreuse wool with an inset panel of magenta and black microstripe faille.  After a couple of hours wrangling that in and out of boxes, and carefully padding it with tissue paper sausages, I was completely inspired to get back to my roots in Victorian costuming.

My first historical costume (pre the existence of this blog) was a natural form dress.  It had some issues, but it got me here.

Screen Shot 2019-12-26 at 9.20.58 PM

(that’s the best photo I have and this set is looooooong gone)

This time I wanted to do a little bit better, so I started at the very inside.  For that event I wore a white t-shirt with a modern underbust corset, petticoat, skirt, and bodice.  This time I wanted to make a chemise and corset and then the outer outfit, which has been through several iterations at this point…. but we’ll get to that later.

The chemise would be relatively simple, but I was less certain about actually making a corset.  The problem is that I have no torso body fat and a very solid, square rib cage.  I can’t lace down at all and I’ve yet to find/buy/make a corset that isn’t uncomfortable.

My plan was as follows:

  1. I know Atelier Sylphe on Etsy sells patterns taken from her extant corset collection.  Ok.
  2. If I find a pattern that fits my actual waist size (~24″ ish) it’ll almost certainly be too big for my bust and hips, as I am built like a 12-year-old boy
  3. So I make it as-is, pad the bust a bit and the hips a lot, and then hopefully I will have something resembling an actual shape without the discomfort!

It’s worth noting that most antique corsets assume at least a 10″ difference between the bust and waist, and usually a larger difference from the waist to hips.  I am roughly 32-24-33 so we have some futzing to do.

I settled on her Ref Z pattern after looking all of them over multiple times.  It is worth noting that I can’t actually remember why I picked that one– there are several with ~24″ waists– but after looking at a lot of late 19th C corsets I think this is c. 1892 at the earliest, and therefore at least 10 years late for a natural form style.  To be honest on my body I’m not sure it really makes much difference, since there isn’t much to be molded to a silhouette.  It also doesn’t have any gussets or cording which makes my life significantly easier.

I really liked the fine herringbone coutil from Sew Curvy, especially since it is specifically mentioned as similar to antique coutil.  I originally wanted to use the color “mink,” but it was sold out, so I went for “drab”

The theme for this whole set, at least initially, was a Wacky Victorian colour scheme.  I picked a correspondingly odd blue/grey/green from Piper’s to use for flossing.

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All of my choices here were based on lightness and comfort.  Although the pattern called for two layers of coutil I used one instead, with applied external boning channels and flat-felled seams.  Each of the seams has a piece of 5mm synthetic whalebone in the felling to help reinforce them.  I didn’t use any steel boning, partly because it is kind of a pain to work with, and partly because it’s much heavier and more rigid.

We’re going to skip over the entire process of making the blasted thing, because there isn’t much to say here.  If you’ve made a corset before you understand.  I will say that I feel I just barely had the skills to do this now, and there were still aspects I struggled with.  Certainly switching sewing machines in the middle didn’t help, as I had everything figured out for my machine in Glasgow and the stitch lengths and presser foot widths were suddenly different.

Also for most projects it really doesn’t matter that your needle is 0.5 mm off the center of a presser foot but for something like this it turns out it matters a LOT if one of your boning channels is 0.5 mm wider than the other and suddenly they don’t fit on your precisely measured and pressed 17 mm wide external bone casing that you are trying to apply neatly and evenly to the outside of your corset.

Either way it happened, the thing is assembled although still far from being done.

Screen Shot 2019-12-26 at 10.16.22 PM

I shoved one of the halves at my mom when I finished it going “MOM LOOKIE!” and she very helpfully responded with “Wow, why is it so wonky?”

*bangs head on sewing table a few times*

*explains to mom that it is not supposed to sit flat, that’s a good thing and a mark of a curvy corset pattern*

As predicted it needs some serious padding in the hips, and a small amount in the bottom of the bust cups just to help me….um…. fill everything out a little.  I haven’t figured out exactly how I am going to do that yet.  If I am organized I’ll do some real bust improvers and hip pads…. or I might just padstitch a bunch of batting to the inside of the corset.

The overall outfit plan has also changed.  I was sort-of waffling about the tea gown because I wanted to have a chance to practice going nuts with trim a la “hey they made this machine that helps us sew faster we should put trims on EVERYTHING NOW”

I mean

as you see a lot in Early Bustle and Natural form dresses

but tea gowns don’t tend to be that elaborate.

I was poking through Mood’s website looking for–something, I don’t remember– and I found yet another wacky digital print that screams Victorian for me.

Screen Shot 2019-12-26 at 10.25.16 PM

I don’t know, it just gives me Penny Dreadful vibes?  I love the little bugs, and online it looked like a perfect Turkey Red.

In person it’s a little bit pinker in tone, but I still really like it.  This is going to be a polonaise, and I am slowly acquiring a strange collection of trims to pile on it.  I still have the Truly Victorian fan tail skirt pattern from two years ago, so that is going under the polonaise in probably a chocolate brown with lots of ruffles and pleats.  I stole my mom’s copy of The Art of Manipulating Fabric for some ideas.

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