Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: Inspiration

The first corset I ever constructed was from a modern historical pattern company. While the corset was fitted to my specific curves, the pattern pieces for it still created a basically cylindrical shape without a lot of hip or bust shaping visible when the corset was laid flat. (I’m wearing that first-ever corset in the pictures in this past blog post.) I’m not saying that shape is wrong for the 19th century, because there are extant examples, patents, and other information showing us that style, such as the corset below.

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French corset c. 1885, The Met

Looking at corsets from the last half of the 19th century, however, there are a variety of other styles that have more interesting lines and definitive flare at curvy points than the basic cylindrical shape. My c. 1860 pink silk corset is an example of a style of corset that uses bust and hip gores to create a more curvy silhouette. (I discussed this in detail in a post about that c. 1860 corset that you can read here. That post has examples of extant corsets showing that shape.) Here is a catalog page of corsets from the 1880s showing that same style.

In addition to the hip gore style corset, there are also a growing number of curvy seam corsets as the 19th century progresses. Some of these also make use of bust gores while maintaining the curvy seams to really provide shape. These all lead up to the s-shape corset of the early 20th century, but we’re not quite there yet in the 1880s.

Here are some extant examples of curvy seam 1880s corsets: black, light blue, and ivory (very similar to the one pictured above, but more extreme in its curves if you look carefully). The curvy seam corset style is what caught my eye for this project, because it is a style that brings new challenges in terms of patterning and because it will be a new style in my wardrobe when completed. Compare this to the the photo above and you can see quite a difference in terms of the cut of the pieces.

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Edwin Izod corset, 1887, V and A.

This Edwin Izod corset from the V and A is my inspiration. I’m intrigued by the shaping of the panels and the completed silhouette, but also by the construction method. The V and A gives some tantalizing information about the steam molding process patented by Edwin Izod and used to create this corset, just enough information to make me want to see if I can create some form of steam molding and discover how it might change the finished silhouette and wearable feel of the finished corset when compared to other corsets I’ve constructed.

From the V and A:

Fashion and technological innovation changed the shape of late ninteenth-century corsets. As the bustle replaced the crinoline and bodices contoured the figure, corsets became longer to achieve the desired hourglass silhouette. They encased the abdomen and enveloped the hips, and the amount of whalebone also increased to give a smoother outline and help prevent wrinkling of the fabric. This corset from the 1880s is composed of twelve separate shaped pieces and forty whalebone strips.

To improve shape, performance and comfort, manufacturers claimed numerous inventions. 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).

I’ll be coming back to the nuggets of detail contained in this description, because some relate to patterning and some relate to the steam molding itself, but those are topics for future posts.

* In case you’re wondering why I spell steam molding without a “u” but the V and A quote spells it with a “u”, check out this little bit of information.

Project Journal: 1880s Steam Molded Corset: The Plan

I have a number of corsets, some made for me specifically and some made for other ladies but which I wear, but there are still periods for which I don’t have any corsets that are really perfect. When it comes to the later 19th century, I’ve got a corset intended for the 1860s, whose style continues to be seen through the 1890s, and a corset from the 1890s that wasn’t made for me and doesn’t fit as well as I would like it to, despite the fact that I wear it rather regularly. The 1890s corset is being worn under most of the 1890s/turn of the 20th century garments shown here on my blog, but I’ve never shared pictures of the corset itself here before.

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1890s corset on the body it was constructed for in 2009. The pattern is from Corsets and Crinolines and has 4 elastic panels in the front.

Someday, I’ll make a new 1890s corset that is fitted for me using the features I like from the current one, such as the very comfortable elastic panels, but changing things such as the busk length (the current one is too long and pokes me in the legs when I sit or bend… it’s ok if I get it just between my legs, but has caused bruises when I’ve bent over unexpectedly in the past and dug the busk into my leg…) and creating more room the bust area. But I digress, because an 1890s corset is not on my to-do list for this summer.

What is on my to-do list is completing a summer dress from the 1880s (that I started back in 2013, yay for super overdue UFOs!). The skirt is pretty close to completion, but I’d been holding off on the bodice not only because the project has been generally on hold, which is most of the reason, but also because I really wanted to fit the mockup over the corset I planned to wear with the dress. The plan was to have a new specifically 1880s corset to wear. And now that the dress is on my to-do list again, the corset has joined in as well!

I’ll be doing a Project Journal series on this corset, because in addition to showing in progress pictures, I also plan to attempt to steam mold this new corset, so there will be lots of interesting information and success or failure updates. Next post in this series will be about my inspiration!

Picnic at the Lyman Estate

On the subject of summer picnics… We recently took advantage of a sunny Sunday afternoon to view two of the historic houses in nearby Waltham, Massachusetts: Stonehurst (completed in 1886) and  the Lyman Estate (built in 1793). We ended the afternoon with a relaxing picnic on the lawn of the Lyman Estate. Pictures often say more than words, so without further delay… pictures!

On the walk up the drive to Stonehurst, I passed this street sign, which was just begging to be photographed!
The main stair in the front hall of Stonehurst.
Also in the front hall. Stonehurst has all these cute little nooks and benches. This one was my favorite!
Then on to the Lyman Estate, which has a very different feel. Light, airy, and Grecian… perfect for Regency!
The ballroom of the Lyman Estate house.
A fireplace at the opposite end of the house. Those tiles are really neat.
One of the bedrooms upstairs. This house is often used for weddings, so I think this is often the bride’s dressing room.
A painting of the USS Constitution! Fitting, considering our summer adventures relating to the Constitution. 1805.
Lovely flowers outside the front door.
The greenhouses at the estate are open to the public year round. This was where I visited last year for the Regency Holiday Tea.
Finding an appropriate picnic spot.
Taking a turn about the garden. Isn’t this a super cute picture???

Very Purple Quilted Slippers

Recently, while looking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Collection for entirely unrelated items, I came across these very purple quilted slippers. I like them, but I also feel they are a little loud. Quilting? And purple? And velvet? And bows? There’s just a lot going on. They look pretty comfortable, though! How do you feel about these? And can you imagine what sort of dress would go with them? Perhaps a white cotton flounced one with purple trim

1865-1885 Silk Slippers (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part XI: Time to celebrate!

As a finishing touch to my Women’s Tailoring Project, I thought I’d share some silly pictures from my photo shoot with you! We received many strange looks and even had strangers whipping out their cameras to snap photos… I’m sure they were very confused about what was going on!

How many people fit behind a bustle???
Can a bustle hide behind a tree???
Waiting to cross the street...
Squeezing between cars (...I mean carriages...)
Let's all promenade!
Laughs are good, too!
Wait for me!
Strike a pose!
Don't forget to smile!
Trading hats and looking great.
Cut! I DID IT!!! Time to celebrate!

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part VIII: 1883 Gallery

Oh my goodness my 1883 tailored bustle dress and undergarments are finally finished!!! YAY! Let’s glory in the beautiful pictures and the fabulous clothes… Since I can’t decide which pictures I like best, you get to see more than a few.

1883: Wool skirt and jacket with velvet trim. Wool hat trimmed with velvet and feathers.
1883 Bustled Skirt
1883 Bustled Skirt
1883 Skirt and Jacket
1883 Skirt and Jacket
1883 Jacket and Hat
1883 Undergarments: Petticoat and Corset Cover.
1883 Undergarments: Bustle!
1883 Undergarments: Chemise and Corset

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part V: Fitting 1883 Tailor Made Suit

As you saw in my last post, the undergarments for my 1883 look are complete. The understructure, especially the corset and bustle, is essential to the creation of the silhouette in 1883: without these pieces the exterior garments would crumple and sag. The thing is, the exterior garment is tailored to fit this exact shape: if that silhouette is not created by the undergarments then the exterior garments just don’t fit!

Let’s take a look at the exterior garments. First, the skirt. This skirt is many layers: the one you can see now I call the “foundation skirt.” It is the part of the skirt that hangs from waist to floor without any draping on it. In reality, the foundation skirt is actually made of two layers. The first layer is the one you can see with the velvet knife pleats along the hem–the knife pleats are 10″ high (ending just above the tabs in the wool)–but don’t be fooled, the knife pleats are attached to a cotton underskirt that extends up to the waist. Why? Multiple reasons: 1-this skirt is already super heavy with just one layer of wool and the velvet trim, and I haven’t even added the drapery yet; 2-the skirt is already super warm as well, it would be too warm with velvet all the way to the waist; 3-the Victorian mindset was to not waste precious money on beautiful fabrics that weren’t seen, so this technique of using cotton underskirts edged with fancy trim is very common; 4-velvet rather than cotton would add more bulk  to the circumference of the waist, and the goal is to make the waist as small as possible. You can’t see the pins, but I did have to make alterations at the waist, since the bottom edge was already finished. There are more skirt layers coming: a gathered and draped “back drape,” and an asymmetrically pleated “front drape.”

The jacket is the other exterior garment. This garment is actually a really good example of the alterations I almost always have to make before I am able to finish a garment. The left side is how the garment fit when I put it on my model. On the right side you can see all my safety pins moving and adding darts to make the jacket fit better. Although it looks wrinkly, once I stitch all those alterations it will actually allow the jacket to fit smoothly over the torso. You can also see my mockup collar on this jacket.

What comes next? Well, because I needed to basically take out all my front darts and seams and move them, I had another fitting with my model before starting to finish the garment. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera! I’ll try to finagle pictures, but they’ll be coming later. After the second fabric fitting I move on to finishing my garments completely!

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part IV: Fitting 1883 Undergarments

I’ve put together my actual fabrics! First to fit is my 1883 undergarments. These garments are essentially finished and ready to be worn.

The first layer is a cotton chemise with intersecting zigzag pattern lace insertion at the hem and simple lace edging around the neck opening and armholes. The tie is navy silk ribbon.

The corset is blue cotton twill flatlined with coutil for stability and grey silk shantung boning channels. The top is edged with black lace and off white silk ribbon. The bust also features cording across the front panels as well as flossing at the top of the boning channels.

It’s hard to see the corset detail in the first picture, so here’s a close-up. You can actually see the cording in this picture. The waistband is decorative as well as helping to cinch in the waist. The top and bottom of the corset are bound in bias silk shantung.

Here’s a small back view as well. It looks like I could have laced the bottom half a little tighter!

The next layer is the cotton corset cover with pin tuck decoration and navy silk ribbon threaded through lace around the neck. The front closes with pearl buttons down the front. You can see the corset cover detail in the two pictures below

After the corset cover is the bustle itself! It is constructed of off-white striped cotton with hoop steel bones inserted into the horizontal channels. The bottom is finished off with a nice box pleat.

Back bustle view on the left!

On the right you can see the pin tuck detail on the corset cover.

After the bustle comes the petticoat! It is constructed of cotton with lace edging. Here’s a front and side view. You can also see the pin tuck detail on the corset cover in the front view bustle picture.

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part III: Mockups

I reached a point where all my patterns were complete! The next step was to make a mock-up, or toile, of each garment. My mock-ups are made out of muslin: their goal is to determine what changes I need to make to my patterns so that the garments will fit well before I cut and sew the garments out of my fashion fabrics.

By eliminating major fit issues in my mock-ups I am able to achieve a better fit in my final garments with fewer alterations. In these photos you can see the pins that mark the areas of the garments that I need to go back and change on my patterns so that the fashion fabric garments will fit better.

Look 1: 1883. In my brain this is the “bustle dress.”

1883 mockups--including the bustle!
1883 mockups.
My inspiration "cheat sheet" for this look.

Look 2: 1903. This is the pigeon breast dress.

1903 mockups.
1903 mockups.
1903 garment inspiration "cheat sheet."

Look 3: 1913. This is the tubular suit look.

1913 mockups.
1913 mockups.
1913 "cheat sheet" for garments.

Yay! My project is on its way to becoming actual garments. There’s still more work to do, but it’s inspiring to see it beginning to take shape!

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part II: Patterns

The first step of this women’s tailoring project was to research what exactly I wanted to recreate. That being finished, I embarked on the next task: to create patterns for each of the garments I would be building. Each look is made up of about 8 separate garments: a chemise/combination, corset, corset cover, petticoat, blouse, skirt, jacket, and hat (the 1883 look also includes a bustle). To create the patterns for these garments I used a combination of the methods mentioned below.

Basic Sloper: a starting point for patterning

The simple undergarment patterns such as the chemises and corset covers were drafted using my models’ measurements. Pattern Drafting for Fashion Design, by Helen Joseph Armstrong, was a great starting point for creating these shapes.

The corset patterns were adapted to fit my models from the book Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh.

The petticoat patterns were created using a combination of methods. For all of them I found an image I wanted to recreate, then I either used the drafting method I used for chemises and corset covers, or I used a historic pattern that was lifted from a historic garment like the patterns for the skirts and jackets (mentioned below). The images came from a wide variety of books, including The History of Underclothes by C. Willett Cunnington, Everyday Fashions, 1909-1920, as Pictured in Sears Catalogs edited by JoAnne Olian, and Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazaar, 1867-1898 edited by Stella Blum.

For the outer garments (skirts and jackets), I used patterns from historic garments that were resized to fit the models who will be wearing the garments. The patterns are lifted from historic garments and printed in books such as Patterns of Fashion 2: Englishwomen’s Dresses and Their Construction C. 1860-1940 by Janet Arnold, Turn of the Century Fashion Patterns and Tailoring Techniques by S. S. Gordon, and The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930 by Norah Waugh.

In addition, I also consulted a variety of books to get more background information about the fabrics and colors, method of construction, and look, name and use of each garment. Other helpful reference books include, but are certainly not limited to, English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations by C. Willett Cunnington, Underwear: Fashion in Detail by Eleri Lynn, and Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques edited by Kristina Harris.

For the hats, I found an image I liked and then used millinery reference books to get more information. Millinery books included From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking by Denise Dreher and Edwardian Hats: The Art of Millinery by Anna Ben-Yusef, edited by R. L. Shep.

More coming soon! Next, a look at my mockups of these garments!