1870s Unmentionables: Layer 2-Corset

Despite my long time love of late-Victorian silhouette and detail, it has taken me a long time to jump in to an outfit. This is partly because I didn’t have any immediate upcoming event at which to wear a bustle gown, but mostly because all of those underlayers are intimidating! You have to dig through a lot of non-visible structure before you get to the pretty dress, and once you’re there, the gown is no picnic.

Chief among these complicated structures is the corset. I have made multiple sets of Regency stays before, but as far as I’m concerned, those are nothing compared to the Victorian corset. So I dragged my feet for a long time, but after the dullness that is making chemise and drawers, the corset looked much more interesting.

And you know what? It was! I was shocked how much I enjoyed making this thing. Two rounds of test corsets were boring, and took me a while, but once I got to the real thing the process was surprisingly fun, and even more surprisingly fast. The only part of making the corset that took as long as I expected was binding the edges. Oh, and flossing, which took much longer than I expected.

I used Laughing Moon 100–the same pattern I used for the chemise and drawers. It has two corset options the Dore, which has no bust gussets, and the Silverado, which does, I chose the Silverado.

I started with a test corset. I didn’t take pictures of the first one because it was frankly embarrassing. I am very short, so I went ahead and shorted the pattern by two inches, which in my defense, I often have to do. Turns out, not this particular pattern. I made a second test corset, shortened by one inch, which came out much better.

I ended up shrinking the gussets by one size, trying that out, and then cutting the real fabric!

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I used a subtly-striped cotton twill as my outer fabric. When it came it was slightly lighter-weight than I would have preferred, but since I had a very strong backing material, I went ahead with it anyway. I anticipate needing to replace this corset in the next few years, but since I enjoyed making it, that’s fine with me. It will give me a chance to make one covered in pretty taffeta!

The first step in the actual corset build is inserting the front-closing busk, which is a little fiddly, but not nearly as involved as you might think from looking at them. For the hook side, you simply line up the busk with the seam-line on the correct front piece and trace around it, skipping over the hooks.

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Then you can simply sew the front and the front lining together at the center front as normal, but leaving gaps in the seam for the hooks to poke through. Then turn it right side out, put the busk in place, and stitch around it to keep it secure.

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And now: the knob side. You stitch together the other front and front lining as per usual, then line it up with the hook side on the table, as if it were closed in front, and mark a dot in the center of each hook.

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Then one by one, you open a hole at each dot with an awl, and put the knob side of the busk through and stitch it in place, just as you did with the hook side.

Ta-da! One finished busk!

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The back pieces come next–the fabric is sewn to the lining along the center back seam so that the grommets can go in now, when you won’t have to wrestle with an entire corset.

And with the hardware in, the real sewing starts.

First: the gussets. Bust gussets are just extra pieces of fabric that help the corset fit around your bust. They can be a bit tricky, since they are inserted into just part of a seam between two other full-length pieces, but I find them very satisfying when put in correctly. One side of the gusset gets sewn to one of the two corset pieces from top to the point at the bottom where the seam allowances on either side of the gusset piece would intersect. Then the other side of the gusset is sewn to the other corset piece from the top to the same point. The, with the extra gusset seam allowance pinned out of the way, the two corset pieces are sewn together below the gusset.

These gussets got some nice top stitching to keep them sturdy.

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The rest of the corset body is very straightforward sewing, which I didn’t bother to take photos of it, but I did take the last chance to check for fit when the outer fabric was all sewn.

And good thing I did too, because it laced completely shut, and I ended up taking 1/4″ out of each seam!

The other important thing to note when trying it on at this stage is where it creases at the waist. Since the waistline takes a lot of strain from the laces, it gets reinforced with a piece of twill tape to prevent it from stretching. I simply marked where the creases were at the waist and pinned the twill tape following that line.

And then stitched along each seam to hold the tape in place.

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That is the final thing that needs doing before the rest of the lining goes in!

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And now, the fun begins. Boning channels!

Because I wanted to reinforce the structure in every possible way, I first stitched in the ditch to hold the fabric and lining together securely.

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There are a total of 24 bones in this corset–one along each seam, two at center back, one down the center of every piece where there was space for them, and three in the middle of each side-front piece.

Before binding the edges, I basted some cute little lace along the seamline, where it would poke fetchingly out from under the binding.

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I bound the edges in bias strips of the outer fabric.

And now for the part I was most excited about! Flossing! Flossing is a kind of embroidery around the ends of the bones, which is both decorative and functional. It helps hold the bones still in their channels, and prevent them from tearing through the fabric with wear. It is much easier to replace some worn out flossing than to replace an entire hole-y corset!

I did my flossing using a dark teal cotton embroidery floss.

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My first attempt (right side) was a bit wobbly…

I did the wing shaped ones on either side of the grommets, then switched to criss-cross ones on the rest of the corset.

I watched North and South on Netflix while I was stitching, and Marionette was very happy to help.

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Flossing finished!

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I am so excited about this corset! I really enjoyed making it, and I’m actually excited about making another, fancier one in the future. It’s a pretty basic corset, but the little details make me happy.

I’m on to the bustle and petticoat, and then I finally get to start covering up all that under-structure with beautiful silk! I can’t wait!

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