Category Archives: 1880s

1885 Night Sky Fancy Dress

It has been a goal to make a specifically fancy dress outfit for years, but particularly since I made a makeshift 1860s flower basket fancy dress outfit in 2015. This May I had the perfect opportunity in the form of a fancy dress ball!

I decided to make an 1880s bustle dress because I already had all the undergarments, including my still-new-feeling 1880s steam molded corset, and because it’s a period of dress that I rarely wear, especially for dancing. I wanted to experiment with dancing in a bustle to see how it worked and what it felt like.

Design-wise, I was inspired by Mrs. Alice Gwynn Vanderbilt’s Electric Light fancy dress outfit made by Worth in 1883, but wanted to adapt the idea to fabrics I already had on hand. Since the fabric I came up with was navy blue, I decided on Night Sky as my inspiration.

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Mrs. Alice Gwynn Vanderbilt’s Electric Light fancy dress outfit, 1883

I started my outfit in January and worked on it over the next four months or so, but despite all that preparation time I was still working on it right up until the day before the event. Luckily, I did the vast majority of the work of cutting, sewing, and fitting before March and April when I became super busy. Tasks left at that point included finishing the bodice edges, trimming, and closures.

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In addition to the Mrs. Vanderbilt’s inspiration I also looked at other 1880s skirts for draping ideas and other 1880s fancy dress outfits for trimming ideas. You can see the most inspiring images and extant garments on my Pinterest board for this project here.

For ease of documentation, I’ll do the facts as with the HSF:

Fabric: 2-3 yards of navy blue cotton twill for underskirt, 6ish yards of navy blue polyester charmeuse, 1ish yard of pink cotton twill for flat lining, and 1-2yds of silver net.

Pattern: My 1885 Frills and Furbelows Bustle Dress pattern, adapted for evening and for the style of skirt desired.

Year: 1885.

Notions: A 3yd tinsel garland, 6 star brooches, 3yds of navy polyester ribbon for lacing, hook and bar closures for the skirt, and thread.

How historically accurate is it?: 90%. Recognizable in it’s own time, certainly. Reasonable construction, certainly. Materials, not so much. It was much more important to use what was on hand than to purchase new fabrics, especially since this is an outfit that I don’t see getting a lot of use.

Hours to complete: Tons. I didn’t keep track. Bustles are fussy and require lots of time with a dress form to achieve an elegant drape.

First worn: May 21.

Total cost: Most of the fabrics were in the stash with the exception of the silver net and most of the notions were purchased cheaply on eBay. Let’s say $20.

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For the photos I wore the dress with my black Seaburys and the new rhinestone shoe clips that I purchased in March. It was quite sparkly and elegant, but for dancing I changed into navy blue velvet flats. They were just as cute but did not get the special treatment of being shown off in photos.

I had the grand idea to use my curly hair ends flipped up on top of my head like the curled fringe popular in the 1880s. It’s also long enough that I was able to make the bun shape on the back also using only my natural hair. I pinned in star brooches to match those on my dress as decoration.

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All in all I’m quite happy with the final result! Dancing in the bustle was just as easy as any other Victorian style. The differences were that all the extra fabric was behind me making some movements more challenging due to space such as during a quadrille, and that the bustle and layers of fabric on the back gathered a fair bit of momentum when turning, creating quite a swish!

Construction wise the only change I would like to make after one wearing is to bone the center back edges so that the back lies flat when laced onto my body and to sew in a matching fabric piece behind the lacing holes to hide any white from undergarments that wants to peak out. I’ll also need to wear a different chemise or tuck the top down so there’s not white cotton poking out at the armholes. However, these are minor changes and I’m not sure when I’ll have the opportunity to wear this again so it might be awhile before they happen.

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For this ball we set up a double sided picture backdrop, one side of which you’ve already seen. The other side included a large stuffed jaguar/panther I dubbed Jaggy for the night. You often see backdrops in regular Victorian photos as well as fancy dress photos. Unfortunately, with my heels on I was too tall for them! Oops! Being too tall inspired me to take some fun sitting photos.

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Hanging out with Jaggy.

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Tired after a night of dancing.

For decoration out of the ordinary, we had the lucky and unexpected use of the fabulous blue and turquoise lanterns in many of the pictures as well as multicolored paper lanterns with lights inside. We put the lanterns around the room in glass vases as bouquets. First, a picture from the set up part of the evening. Second, a picture with some lanterns creeping into the photo.

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Fancy dress outfit, check!

Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: Finished Corset Photo Shoot

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I’m excited that the 1880s corset I made last summer is finally, actually, finished! I got around to adding the finishing touches, lace and ribbon around the top, over the fall. Now there is nothing left to sew, and, after two wearings I can say with confidence that there are no little alterations I want to do! Yay!

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The first wearing was in August last year, with my 1885 frills and furbelows dress. The second wearing was in January this year, under my new 1899 evening gown. Both times I found the corset to be extremely comfortable to wear. And in January, I was able to get pictures of the completely finished corset! So, without further explanation, here is the corset in its finished form. (If you didn’t get to read all the intricate details of the patterning, construction, and steaming process, you can see all past posts here, in the project journal.)

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The super frilly petticoat was a great prop for these photos! (I’m much better at looking natural rather than awkward when I have props!). It’s from 1903 and was finished in 2011. I’ve worn it many times but have never taken photos of it on me. It’s entirely silk, with two layers of flounces, both made of multiple gathered circles and edged with wide lace in a scallop pattern. It closes with a silk ribbon that threads through the waistband in manner described in Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques. It’s decadent to wear–it makes rustling sounds, has great body, and when you take it off it stands up on it’s own! I can’t remember how many yards of fabric went into this petticoat, but I know it was a lot, with all the circles in the flounces!

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In these examples, you can see the petticoat being worn with clothes on top: I’m wearing it to wade at the beach in 2012 and to give volume to a summer ensemble in 2012, but I’m also wearing it under probably every outfit you can find on the blog from the 1890s or 1900s, even if you can’t see it. (If you’re curious, here’s what it looked like in a half finished state.)

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Awesome petticoat aside, this corset is pretty decadent to wear, also. Silk, tons of curvy seams and bones, perfectly fitted, lovingly, painstakingly, and beautifully sewn… what’s not to like!

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Thanks to the usual camera toting culprit for doing a corset photo shoot with me in the midst of getting dressed for a ball! You know who you are.

(As a side note, it’s a challenge to take historical clothing underwear pictures that look reasonably like historical photos and images but don’t go into the modern lingerie photo direction. See the inspiration here and here? I tried this as well as the standing pose in the second link, but awkward really describes the outcome. But I think we did pretty well in the end. It’s amusing to feel these photos are revealing when I’m quite dressed by modern standards… Do you feel the same way about taking pictures in your historical underwear?)

Belated HSF 2013 #13: 1885 Frills and Furbelows

For my 300th post on the blog, I thought I’d share a dress that makes me smile. This dress makes me smile because of the frilliness of it which reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, because of the fact that it was very enjoyable and comfortable to wear, because I love that it is a UFO from 2013 that is finally complete, and because of the stunning backdrop I had for the pictures of it, which also remind me of Anne of Green Gables.

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I wore this dress to the Nahant Vintage Dance Weekend Formal Tea and Seaside Promenade in August. It was also the first outing for the my new 1880s steam molded corset and my recently made 1885 straw hat. I am pleased to report that they were all comfortable garments and accessories to wear. Being heavily boned, the corset was very supportive and thankfully didn’t feel heavy, and because it is shaped exactly to my body it was super comfortable–smoothing my figure without squishing it uncomfortably. The dress was perfectly reasonable to wear, with the exception of sitting, which required a slight sideways perch that was a bit precarious. And the hat stayed in place perfectly with two hat pins, as you can see from the pictures where my head is tilted in various directions.

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This dress has an association in my head with the puffed sleeves that Anne wants in Anne of Green Gables. While being from the wrong decade, it seems exactly like the sort of dress covered in frills and furbelows that Marilla wouldn’t waste fabric on. And just like Anne, I would often rather have the ridiculous, fashionable styles in historical clothing than the plain and sensible ones!

MARILLA: I’m not going to pamper your vanity. These are good and sensible dresses. This one is for Sunday, and the others you can wear to school.

ANNE: I am greatful, but I’d be even more grateful if you’d made this one with puffed sleeves.

MARILLA: I cannot waste material on ridiculous looking frills and furbelows. Plain and sensible is best.

ANNE: I’ve always dreamed of going to a picnic in puffed sleeves. I’d rather look ridiculous with everyone else than plain and sensible all by myself.

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This dress was started in 2013. I had grand hopes of finishing it that summer for the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge #13: Lace and Lacing

Lacing is one of the simplest and oldest forms of fastening a garment, eminently practical, and occasionally decorative.  Lace has been one of the most valuable and desirable textiles for centuries, legislated, coveted, at times worth more than its weight in gold, passed down from one garment to the next over centuries. Elaborate and delicate it is eminently decorative, and rarely practical.  Celebrate the practicality of lacing, and the decorative frivolity of lace, with a garment that laces or has lace trim, or both.

And while I did make significant progress on the skirt that summer (getting all of the trimming figured out, cut, and assembled, as well as getting the skirt base and side panels constructed), I didn’t get anywhere near far enough along to have a wearable outfit. So it sat in my “in-progress” sewing box with hopes to be worked on, but didn’t really make it to the top of my sewing list again until this summer. I had enlarged and sized a pattern from Janet Arnold in between 2013 and 2015, even cutting and assembling a mockup, but that had been waiting for a fitting because I wanted to wear my new specifically 1880s corset with the dress and the new corset didn’t get completed until June. Once I had the corset done, I set to work on the dress again, fitting the mockup bodice, finishing the skirt, and making the bodice, as well as a slight delay while I made the hat to match. It’s handy to make a hat part-way through the process of making the dress, because you don’t wind up running out of time at the end and not having matching accessories!

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The first inspiration for my dress was this white summer dress at the LACMA. The skirt was pretty much directly taken from the original, except for the back, which has a cascade of fabric instead of tucks as on the original–I figured there was already enough fluff for me on the front of the dress. I originally planned to edge all the front ruffles in lace as well, but ran out of lace. Running out of lace also made me rethink how I was going to trim the bodice. I went back to my inspiration boards and found these dresses with inspiring bodice treatments: a seaside ensemble and an afternoon dress with very different fabrics and intent, but I thought this could be adapted for my summery seaside dress. I had only a few yards of lace left when I got to working on the bodice and I decided to save some for edging the top of the 1880s corset because the shape of the lace is perfect, but that didn’t leave me much for the bodice. It turns out I had just enough to execute the final trimming plan I decided on.

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Since this was originally intended to be part of the HSF, here are just the facts:

Fabric: 7ish, I think, yards of cream satin stripe cotton, 1/3ish of a yard of blue polished cotton, and 1.5 yards or so of cream polished cotton for flat lining the bodice.

Pattern: Created by me, but the shapes are based on a dress in Janet Arnold.

Year: 1885.

Notions: 9 yards of ivory lace, hooks and eyes, scraps of white cotton for finishing off the bodice edges, and vintage ivory buttons.

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. It definitely passes Leimomi’s test of being recognizable in its own time.

Hours to complete: Tons over two years.

First worn: In August 2015.

Total cost: I bought the all the cottons for super cheap, probably $3/yard, the lace was probably about $8, the buttons were a few dollars, and the rest was from the stash, so around $30-$35.

There were so many good pictures it was very hard to limit myself for this post! So here’s some more, with a bit of commentary to go along with them.

We had a beautiful day for the Tea and Promenade. It had been very hot prior to this, but the day of the event was a little cooler and the stiff ocean breezes made for a temperature that felt perfect for me in my layers and ¾ sleeves. The formal tea part of the day was at Egg Rock on Nahant (the same location as the Formal Soiree I attended last August). There was a lovely concert inside the house as well as guests lounging around outside, including me, playing croquet. At that point the stiff breeze had me worried that my hat wouldn’t stay on without pulling at my hair, so I chose not to wear it for awhile. (Thank goodness I gave it a try later, though, because it is perfect with the dress and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss wearing the two together!)

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After the concert and some refreshments, the guests assembled for the promenade. As you would expect, we stopped traffic, attracted stares, and received questions from the more brave souls who would talk to us rather than just making up stories in their heads about our unusual clothing. The promenade took us to East Point, former site of the 19th century Nahant Hotel. The hotel is no longer standing, but there were stunning views of the Atlantic and the rocky coast to clamber on!

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Not me, but such a gorgeous view and cute picture that I had to share it, too!

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Some of us decided to head back a little early so we could stop at a small beach we had passed on our way to East Point and go wading! After the walk, the cold Atlantic water felt quite good on our feet. Here I am with stockings and shoes off, ready to head into the water.

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And here I am, wading in my bustle dress!

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There’s this picture of two ladies in bustle dresses from 1885 who look like they are collecting shells. That’s what I had in mind when I took this next picture, although looking at the 1885 picture again I see that the ladies in the picture are still wearing their stockings and shoes… I guess I’m pretty scandalous for 1885 in my bare legs and feet!

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Here we are, the whole wading group. It was a pretty fun adventure. I don’t think I’ve been wading in historical clothing since Newport in 2012.

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HSF/M #7: 1885 Straw Hat

This month’s HSF/M challenge is “Accessorize.” In preparation for the first wearing of a new 1885 outfit next month, I made up a hat to match.

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I chose to make a flowerpot shaped hat, a style that is quite common in the mid-1880s. You can see other examples of this style and others on my 1880s headwear Pinterest board.

The straw base of this hat has seen multiple previous shapes that failed in creating a look I was happy with. (You can see one of the old iterations in this previous post from 2012. And as a side note, I really need to wear the other clothes in that post again–it’s been awhile and they’re cute!) So I was happy to reblock the straw into a new shape (that I am very happy with!).

IMG_2398I made my hat block out of packing foam stuff that I masking taped around a lysol wipe container–make do with what you have, right? To begin, I wet the straw, then used a paintbrush to cover the straw with a layer of my sizing (a bit of elmer’s glue dissolved in water–no formula, I just winged it). In order to keep the straw in place while the hat was drying overnight I used yarn tied and pinned in strategic locations to keep everything in place. I wanted to use twine, but we’d run out, so I made do again. As you can see, there is a random seam in the middle of the hat crown, because in the past it had made sense to have a crown separate from a brim, but for this hat I needed some of the old brim to become the crown. (The seam was later covered by the tulle trimming.)

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My inspiration for the trimming of this flowerpot hat is this fashion plate. The lady on the left happens to be wearing an outfit in the same colors as my outfit and the fashion plate is dated only one year later. I used materials I had on hand, but was inspired in general by her trim placement and scale.

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Side view.

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Side back view.

Just the facts:

Fabric: A bit of blue silk shantung for binding and a length of 6″ wide tulle.

Pattern: None.

Year: c. 1885.

Notions: French crinoline for binding the straw edges, thread, millinery grosgrain for the inner hat band, elmer’s glue for sizing, and vintage millinery flowers.

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. It definitely passes Leimomi’s test of being recognizable in its own time.

Hours to complete: All hand sewn, so a few mostly on the brim binding. Then a whole lot of days debating over the placement of the flowers–actually sewing them on didn’t take very long.

First worn: Has not been worn yet, but I have plans to wear it in August.

Total cost: Free! All from the stash!

Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: Steaming (HSF/M #6)

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.

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Steaming the starched corset on Squishy.

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!)

Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: Construction In Detail

This corset is made up of three different fabrics, all sandwiched together and flat lined. The outer fashion fabric is a scrap of butter yellow duchess silk satin that just barely fit all my pattern pieces (whew!). The inner layer is a white herringbone cotton coutil. Sandwiched in between these two layers is a tightly woven slightly off white linen. I chose this fabric for a few reasons: #1, because it was in the stash and an odd shaped scrap not likely to be used for a garment that required large pattern pieces; #2, because it didn’t have any dye that might leech through onto the yellow silk; and #3, because it is tightly woven enough that I’m not worried about the bones poking through it over repeated use.

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The three layers of fabric in this corset.

I decided to use three fabrics instead of the usual one (coutil) or two (coutil and a fashion fabric) for two reasons: #1, because I wanted an extra layer of fabric between my silk fashion fabric and my inner coutil layer so there would be less chance of any sort of spotting from the starch; and #2, because applying boning channels of any material would have been incredibly bulky and challenging with all the curves and bones on seams, but by having a third layer of tightly woven fabric I could sew boning channels anywhere I pleased without adding bulk.

After cutting out all 12 pieces in each fabric I machine basted the layers together so nothing would be sliding around creating bubbles while I assembled the pieces. Most of the basting wound up being removed as I moved through other steps in the process–either during the grading of the seams or while inserting bones.

Once the layers were flat lined I put the grommets in the two back pieces. Normally, I do this later in the process, but this time it worked well placed here. I used size 0 silver grommets. They are a little larger than extant corsets seem to have, but they are what I had available. After that, I assembled the pieces along their vertical seams. Then I graded each seam so that when it was pressed towards the back of the corset it would be less bulky.

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A graded seam.

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And here’s what it looked like with all the seams graded and ready to go.

Most of my previously made corsets have flat felled seams, some of which are used as boning channels and some of which are not. I prefer this method because it provides more strength along each seam than any method in which seam allowances are left pressed open. In this case, though, 3 layers of fabric getting flat felled was very thick, so I decided to try a different method. I bound each seam with ⅝” cotton twill tape, not worrying about the fact that the graded fabrics closest to the original seam were not encased in the binding.

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All the seam allowances bound with twill tape.

The seam allowances were all pressed towards the back, but not immediately topstitched as with a flat felled seam. Instead, they were caught and stitched down as I stitched boning channels. Some of them have boning channels that run all the way down the seam while others are held down by boning channels in enough places that, when combined with a binding on the top and bottom edges, will be sufficient to keep the binding flat and not allow any of the graded seam allowances to peek out.

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With all the boning channels in place the bound seam allowances are caught in enough places that they won’t flip around.

Another detail unique to this corset is related to stitching the boning channels. Often when I flat fell seams for corsets I don’t also topstitch right along the seam. For this corset, however, I stitched an extra line of stitching next to the fold of the seam allowance. This detail is taken directly from my inspiration corset at the V and A. While this might provide a little extra strength, I believe it is mostly a decorative and flattening stitch.

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On the left you can see how the seam has not been topstitched next to the fold, while on the right you can see the extra line of topstitching.

I was able to stitch most of the boning channels prior to inserting any of my boning. This corset was intended to have 4o bones, as the V and A description states, but wound up with 38. Unlike the original, which has whalebone, this corset has ¼” spiral steel bones except for the bones that flank the grommet channel, which are ¼” flat steel.

This is the first corset I’ve made that uses this much spiral steel. Usually I use flat steel, but these boning channels are much to curvy for that. The spiral steel definitely lends itself to the curviness of the corset, allowing it to shape to my body rather than making it a more cylindrical shape.

This is also the first corset I’ve made with this much boning. I’d say it has about double the usual amount of boning. That, combined with the three layers of fabric, make this one heavy corset (and heavy duty, too!)! Unfortunately, I don’t own a scale to weigh it, but the weight is surprising every time I pick it up.

The back of this corset has diagonal boning channels that bump up against a seam on one side and the grommet channel on the other. I order to sew those and also get a bone in them, I first stitched the bottom line of stitching, then inserted a bone and used a zipper foot to sew very close to the other side of that bone to create the channel. These diagonal back channels are where I lost 1 bone on each side of the corset. My estimates must have been off, because I had one bone that was way to long for the channel, but eliminating it fixed everything. I was ok with that deviation from my inspiration corset by this point in the process.

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My boning channels got a little wonky up near the top (where the presser foot is), but it almost looks artistic, and is symmetrical on both sides of the corset. And I was ready to be done by the time I reached these boning channels!

The above picture shows another corset trick, also. When I’m stitching boning channels that end partway across a panel, rather than at the top or bottom, I leave my thread tails and do not backstitch. Once I’ve completed the channel I flip the corset over to the wrong side, use a seam ripper to pull both thread ends to the inside, hand tie them, and snip them close. That leaves no tiny thread ends on the outside of the corset making little shadows that look un-tidy. The method works wonderfully!

Once I finished the boning channels I put the busk into the two front edges of the corset. I thought I’d show you how I like to do those steps in more detail. After the steps that are pictured, I turn the extra seam allowance under the busk on the inside (trimming it if I’ve left too much) and top stitch with a zipper foot right next to the edge of the busk. On my older corsets, I stitched a straight line from top to bottom, but on more recently made corsets I curve around the top and bottom of the busk to keep it from sliding up and down (another detail I’ve noticed in extant corsets).

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I’ve found that putting both sides of the front busk on a fold is nice and sturdy. I’ve also found that creating buttonholes for the loops to poke through helps minimize wear and tear on the corset over time as well.

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I make sure to make the buttonholes just larger than each loop and placed exactly so there are no bubbles anywhere.

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For the other side of the busk, you can see that I’ve roughly marked a fold line as well as the placement of each knob. Again, these have to be exactly placed.

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Then I use an awl to open up the weave of the fabrics so I can push the knob through.

After that, I was ready to bind the bottom edge of the corset! Sewing all 38 boning channels took hours (this corset is thick and sewn with small stitches, another detail I’ve noticed in extant corsets), so I was excited to move on to the next step. Luckily, I thought ahead and realized that there are three vertical bones on the back panels that dead-end at those diagonal channels–the bones for those channels had to be inserted before I sewed the bottom binding on. I didn’t take a picture of that exact step, but I did take a picture of the assembled corset with boning channels before I bound either edge.

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You can see the vertical boning channels in the back that dead-end at the diagonal channels and you can see that the diagonal channels that don’t reach the top edge had the bones stitched in as I went along.

The bottom binding is bias strips cut 1″ wide. I had to do a lot of piecing of my small scraps to have enough binding for the entire corset (see that seam just to the right of the busk in the picture below?). I stitched them first to the right side of the corset with ⅛” seam allowance on my bias, trimmed my corset seam allowance to just about ⅛”, folded the bias over the edge, turned the raw edge under on the wrong side, hand whip stitched the bias down on the inside (slow, but a more effective method than pinning in this case), then turned the corset back to the right side and topstitched very close to the edge of the first fold. This narrow topstitched binding seems to be common on late 19th century extant corsets and looks very tidy.

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Bottom binding sewn on.

Then came the struggle of the bones! I really struggled with this! I spread the job out over about a week and worked on it a little each day because it was hard on my fingers and wrists. The spiral boning condenses when pressure is applied, so pushing it through tight boning channels was a challenge! I wound up wrangling the corset bones into submission using a thimble, pliers, and a chopstick to help out my hands. Turns out that especially at the boning channels on seam lines, where the seam allowances were thick, I should have made the channels a little wider to make getting the bones in easier. There were one or two channels I finally resorted to unpicking and then restitching after inserting the bones for part of their length. In the end, victory was mine and I was able to move on and bind off the top edge of the corset. This was done in the same way as the bottom edge, being careful to be symmetrical between the sides and avoid sewing over bones.

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And here is the result! It’s wearable at this point, but not quite complete.

Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: The Pattern

The previous post in this series compared the two mockups I created while finalizing the pattern for the new corset. This post let’s compare the pattern pieces themselves.

Since my inspiration corset is only shown from one angle in a single photo, I had to use other information to extrapolate information for the areas not visible in that photo. As I mentioned in my previous post, I began the patterning process with the 1880s corset pattern in Corsets and Crinolines. That, combined with observations of other 1880s corsets, and the information below from the V and A description of my inspiration corset, all helped inform my decision to have 6 pieces in each half of the corset.

This corset from the 1880s is composed of twelve separate shaped pieces and forty whalebone strips.

The image below shows the pattern pieces from my first mockup compared to the pattern pieces from my second mockup. At first glance they are basically the same, but upon closer inspection there are subtle differences. It’s the same idea I’ve been repeating in every post about this corset: the lines aren’t really that different, but the curves on them have been exaggerated (this is especially noticeable on pieces 1 (CF), 3, and 6 (CB)).

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Center front is on the left and center back is on the right.

You might also remember that I mentioned in my previous post that I had changed the two pieces closet to center back after the mockup. Here are the two original 5 and 6 pattern pieces from Version 2 compared to the newer 5 and 6 pieces from Version 2.

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On the left, pieces 5 and 6 (CB) Version 2.1, as seen in the mockup. On the right, pieces 5 and 6 (CB) Version 2.2, updated after the mockup.

I think the change in the pattern pieces is pretty obvious when they are compared side by side. You can see the inspiration image of the back of an 1880s corset that prompted me to make this change in my previous post.

Determining where the boning channels would be was an essential part of the patterning process, due to the immense number of bones and their specific placement between seams on the inspiration corset. I looked very closely at the inspiration corset to determine where the bones would be located on the front pieces of the corset. For the back pieces, I used the mention from the V and A that the inspiration corset had 40 bones to figure out how many additional bones I needed after the front ones were planned and information gathered from back views of other 1880s corsets to determine bone placement. You can see that the pattern pieces from Version 2 have short vertical lines drawn on them to help me envision where the boning channels would be as I created the pattern. Once I was satisfied with the shape of the pieces and the location of the boning channels I was able to move on to the cutting and construction… more on that soon!