Most of the work on this new corset was completed during the sewing process, which you can read all about in detail in this previous post. The remaining steps were to starch and steam mold the corset, to floss the corset, and to add lace to the top of the corset.
First, the steaming. I did what I could to follow the description provided by the V and A regarding Edwin Izod’s steam molding process:
One of the most successful was the steam-moulding process developed by Edwin Izod in 1868, and still used in the 1880s to create elegant corsets such as this one. The procedure involved placing a corset, wet with starch, on a steam-heated copper torso form until it dried into shape. The result was a beautifully formed corset, whereby ‘the fabric and bones are adapted with marvellous accuracy to every curve and undulation of the finest type of figure’ (The Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion advertisement, London July 1879).
To begin, I made a solution of cornstarch dissolved in water. I put 2 tsp to 350 ml water, but wound up using only about 1/5 of that. On a scrap, I tried applying the starch solution with a spoon, but decided against that because it left a visible starch crust on the fabric as it dried. What I found worked better for even distribution of the starch solution was a spray bottle. I sprayed the inside of my corset (the coutil layer) until it was thoroughly damp, then put it onto Squishy (since I don’t have a steam-heated copper torso of myself available, darn!): she’s a squishable dress form that I had previously padded to be close to my measurements and proportions (that’s an important point, that she had my proportions–padding in the right areas so the corset would dry into my shape!) and covered with a plastic garment bag so the starch would stay on the corset. Once the corset was on the form, I steamed it all over using a Rowenta Steam-n-press hand held steamer about three or four times. Then I intermittently steamed it again while it dried overnight.
I only did one application of starch and I believe it had some effect. It’s not as stiff as cardboard and able to stand up on its own, as I have heard some steam molded corsets described, but it does seam to want to create the curves that were patterned into it with ease and I do think that the bones took on a little of the curvy shape during the drying process as well. (Here is an example of an extant very stiff steam molded corset. Look at how well it retains its shape! I want to do some more research regarding the Symmington corset company but that’s going to have to wait a bit.)
After the corset was dry, I flossed the boning channels using ivory silk thread and the flossing pattern from my inspiration corset. Unfortunately, I only had enough of the thread to floss the bottom of the channels… so I have to deviate from my inspiration a little and not have flossing across the top.
The last step will be to add lace across the top of the corset. I’d like to use the same lace that I’m using to trim my in-progress 1885 bustle dress, but I’ve only got a small bit left and I want to make sure the dress has enough before I use it on the corset. I’ve started figuring it out but am not confident yet that I have enough, so I’m going to hold off on taking absolute final pictures of the corset with the flossing and lace until I’ve officially decided that point. Regardless of the lace issue, we’re going to call this corset done, because it is entirely wearable at this point, just in time for it to qualify for the HSF/M #6: Out Of Your Comfort Zone!
Just the facts:
Fabric: A remnant of yellow silk duchess satin, a remnant of ivory linen, and white herringbone coutil.
Pattern: Created by me (more details in this blog post about mockups and this one about the pattern pieces themselves).
Year: c. 1885
Notions: 38 bones (34 of which are spiral steel and 4 of which are flat steel), a metal busk, metal grommets, cotton twill tape, thread, silk thread for flossing, and a lace for the corset (with the addition of decorative lace sometime soon).
How historically accurate is it?: As accurate as I can be using the research I’ve done and the materials that are available in 2015. I think it passes Leimomi’s test of being recognizable in its own time.
Hours to complete: Many! Patterning, cutting, sewing, finishing…
First worn: Only for fitting the mockup of the dress that inspired it–but I plan to wear it with that dress in August.
Total cost: The fabrics were all from the stash, as were most of the notions, except for the bones and busk, for which I paid about $50.
New techniques: Steam molding! But I also added a few new details to the corset construction process. Details in this construction in detail blog post.
Reflecting back on the process, I think I probably could attempt to starch the corset with a stronger solution or more applications, but at this point I’m satisfied and ready to move on to the many other things I’d like to sew this summer, including the 1885 bustle dress that sparked this project in the first place! (I’ve actually already moving ahead with that–I fit the mockup bodice over the corset and was very pleased! More on that in a few weeks hopefully!)
4 thoughts on “Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: Steaming (HSF/M #6)”
I think that the steaming process might have been more successfull with actual whale bones as they suck up the water and can be heat dried in shape. Much like hair at the hairdresser! For modern steel or spiral steel bones, the heat has less effect than pressure, I assume – at least with heat still beared by the fabrics!
But thanks for speaking about this technique, I never heared of that before!
Interesting note about the behavior of whalebone! I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but it makes a lot of sense… Thanks!
Fascinating project! I’m looking forward to seeing the finished corset.
In case you’re interested, here’s a link to the Symington Collection online: http://imageleicestershire.org.uk/view-item?i=11963&WINID=1436046779201
Thanks for sharing the link! 🙂