Ca. 1860 Corset For ME! (HSF #4)

Unfortunately, I’m a few days late completing my project for the HSF Challenge #4: Under It All. I tried really hard on this one and was definitely motivated to keep working consistently by the fact that I wanted to get it done for the HSF challenge. I was held up by a severe cold that took me out for about a week and other dealing with life things. So while I’m late, I’m super glad and excited to be done with this project (especially because the last two days have included a lot of flossing, and my fingers/hand muscles are so done with that for awhile)!

The last ca. 1860 corset I built for myself was made in 2006 or 2007 (you can see it in this post). It’s been worn more times than I can count and has stood up to the test of time and tension well, especially considering it was the first corset I ever made! But the time has come for a new corset for this period–one that is made to fit me using all the skills in pattern making and construction that I’ve gained over the last 7 or 8 years.

I realized while working on this corset that aside from building my first corset to fit me in 2006 or 2007, the only other stays or corsets I wear with my historic clothes that were made to fit me are my 18th century stays, my short Regency stays, and my c. 1825 long stays. I wear other corsets from 1895 (hm, I don’t think there are pictures of this on the blog), 1903, and 1913 but none of them were constructed to fit me (though I did construct them beautifully!). I’ve made them work and they sort of fit me, but all of them have problems because they were made to fit other people: a busk that’s too long, being a little small, especially in the hips, or being too big and needing a tuck. So it occurred to me that I should probably invest in making a few more corsets made to my measurements for the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Sounds obvious, but it was a revelation to me when I sat down and thought about it!

So that’s what this project is: a ca. 1860 corset made to fit me!

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Hard to see the details in this picture, I know. There will be detail shots and lots of commentary in an upcoming post!

I have lots of other thoughts and inspiration to share with regard to this project, but I expect it to be lengthy, so I’ll be writing it up in a separate post. Plus, I want to post about my completion of the challenge as soon as possible. So for now, the very much condensed details.

Fabric: 1/2 yd ish of white herringbone cotton coutil and ½ yds ish of slightly slubby pale pink silk satin.

Pattern: Created by me, though I began with a corset pattern in Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines and made lots of changes to it.

Year: c. 1860.

Notions: Metal boning, metal grommets, a recycled metal busk from my old ca. 1860 corset, regular weight ivory thread, and heavy weight ivory thread for flossing.

How historically accurate?: Pretty darn accurate, I’d say. I wanted to create a corset using the seam lines found in extant garments, but which don’t seem to be much recreated. I used construction methods that are accurate as far as I know. Let’s say 90% because you can’t ever quite make it to 100% if it’s modern, can you?

Hours to complete: A lot. I didn’t keep track, but I’ve been working on this for  at least 2 or 3 weeks, and some of those days have been a full day’s work on the corset, not just evenings.

First worn: Has not been worn yet, but will be worn to a ball in March.

Total cost: Free (all stash materials)!

Project Journal: 1822-1824 Ensemble Part V: Almost Finished Petticoat

Recently, at Fezziwig’s Ball, I was able to wear my almost-finished 1820s ensemble. You can see pictures of that event, which includes pictures of the ball gown, walking dress, muff, and tippet in this previous post. In that post, I didn’t get to share pictures of the petticoat that went along with these 1820s garments, so that’s what this post is about! For the record, after the ball I simply starting taking off layers and having my friends take pictures so I would have evidence of all my sewing (while I still was wearing the proper hair style and accessories!).

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Ok, I’m making a funny face (I think my eyes are closed)… but it’s full length picture of the petticoat! You can see the shape, and the cording, and the lace at the bottom.
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I didn’t get to finish the neckline before the ball… so you can see how that right shoulder seam is starting to split. I’ll have to repair it before finishing the neckline.

This simple white cotton petticoat has 16 rows of cording to help it stand out. It is entirely hand sewn and closes in the back with ties. Close up photos showing the construction of this petticoat are in this previous post.

With this petticoat I wore my short sleeve linen chemise and pink 1820s/30s corset. Both of these things were made last year and have been worn multiple times since then (especially the linen chemise, which gets worn often!). I finally have pictures of me (versus Squishy, the dress form) in the corset! Granted, it’s not a particularly exciting picture, but sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

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1820s/30s corset. You can read more about the inspiration and construction by clicking on the links. Clearly, I haven’t actually quilted a diamond pattern on the front like I planned to do when it was built…

And just for fun, I thought I’d include this fun picture of me getting ready for the ball. One of my friends is on an “artsy photo” kick… I didn’t even know she was taking this picture, but I like it! I especially like the mixture of modern and historic that is me in my chemise and corset putting on mascara… they had modern mascara in the 1810s, right?!?

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Hee hee! (My putting on mascara face…)

1812 Short Stays, Sleeveless Chemise, and Under Dress

Remember I recently shared with you the square necked 1812 Ikea curtain gown? And I promised pictures of the accompanying undergarments? Now is the time! Please forgive the silly black and white checked walls in these photos… I took the opportunity of having people around to take photos of me in the garments, despite the lack of a fitting setting.

Chemise and short stays.

The chemise is constructed of linen, and despite its rather cute a line shape, it is actually just a tube with shoulder straps. The front has a draw string across it to help it shape over the bust, which I think is part of the reason the front looks so evenly distributed and full. As you can see, I chose to make a sleeveless chemise, specifically for the square necked gown.

Back view.

The back of the chemise is cut low and square to fit within the shape of the square necked gown. Next is a closeup of the stays so you can see more detail.

Short stays.

In this photo you can see the drawstring on the chemise. You can also see the front lacing stays better. They are essentially the same basic shape as my longer pink stays, with a few differences. The pink stays have a simple front, back, hip gusset, bust gusset construction, whereas these new stays have a back piece, side piece, and then front piece with the bust gussets. For this pair, I think I actually could do without one of the bust gussets, since it looks a little big. But it’s WAY too late now to change that! I had to cut the area under the arm pretty low to be comfortable, and I also had to move the straps a few times, especially in front. If they are too far out they cut into your arm joint when you try to move–not comfortable, let me tell you–but they needed to be pretty wide in order to accommodate the wide neckline of the square necked gown.

The stays are white cotton twill layered with two layers of cotton canvas, except the gussets and straps, which are just one layer of the canvas and one layer of the twill. The stays are bound with white cotton bias. They are boned (only at center front to stabilize the eyelets) with plastic wire ties. Despite the light boning they are quite stable when laced up. And let me just say how much easier it is to get dressed when your stays lace in front! So easy! Love it!

These stays were stitched by machine. I needed them done quickly and I wanted to be able to dance and sweat in them without having spent lots of hours hand sewing them. Also… at some point when I washed them (after the 1812 Guerriere weekend, when they were wet through from sweat) they got streaky. Now they are mostly off white, but still have bright white streaks. So I didn’t feel the need to make them super pretty and spend the time hand sewing them. I did hand sew the eyelets for the lacing. I thought about doing spiral lacing, but then when I made the eyelets I forgot to space them that way… so they don’t spiral lace.

Under dress.

The other new undergarment is this under dress–needed because of the sheerness of the dress fabric. So here it is. The skirt is the same dimensions as the square neck dress, and mounted to the bodice in the same way. The bodice also uses the same pattern, except that the front is not gathered. There is a small tuck on each side of the bust, but that’s it. The straps on the under dress are similar to the straps on the chemise and stays, so that they don’t interfere with the sheer sleeves of the gown. The under dress ties in back at the top and where the waist is. The day of these pictures one of the lower ties came off, so you can see the gap where a tie would normally be. Below the ties are an opening of about 8″ that allows me to get in and out of the garment. It all looks quite a-line in these photos, but with the dress on top the whole thing looks much more columnar.

Back of the underdress with the missing tie.

I think I’ll do another separate post with some of my research images for the sleeveless under garments. So for now, this is it!

Project Journal: 1815-1820 Regency Ensemble Part II: Corset Construction

Well, it’s been a little bit of time since I shared with you my research and plan to build a Regency corset to accompany my 1819 gown. I’m excited to say that I was successful! The corset is complete, although I still plan to quilt a diamond pattern along front rib section within the next few months (I’ll share photos of that once it is complete). You can see the diamond quilting in the photos in the link, above.

The dummy isn't quite the right shape for this corset, but here it is!
Corset back

This corset is constructed of two layers of pink cotton twill with a layer of coutil sandwiched between them to provide stability and support. I began construction by flatlining the coutil to the outer layer of twill. I sewed the non-gusset seams (the front and back pieces) together in these flat lined pieces, leaving the inside twill layer for later. Each gusset had all three layers flatlined together and sewn into place with the seam allowances pressed away from the gussets themselves. Then I went back and basted the inner twill pieces into place that had been left aside. I turned under the seams on these pieces and hand sewed them over the seam allowance of the gussets so that no seam allowance was showing.

After completing the inside construction I bound the edges with purple bias silk taffeta, scraps from another project. The final step was to create eyelets. I decided to do these by hand in purple cotton embroidery floss. Each eyelet is reinforced with a metal jump ring that is caught under the thread on the inside of each eyelet. This reinforces the edge of each eyelet and keeps them from stretching out of shape when laced. The jump rings are only visible on the inside of the eyelets, where the stitching is bulkier because it passes over the rings.

Hand sewn eyelets, on the outside

The corset is lightly boned at center front and center back. I struggled over what material would be best to create the 2″ wide center front bone. Eventually I remembered a suggestion from a friend, Carly, who had used a creative option for boning that I decided would be perfect for this project. Home supply stores such as Home Depot and Loew’s sell plastic wire ties that are about 3/8″ wide and which come in lengths up to about 20″. The ties are a good 1/8″ thick, strong, but still bendable. They have a similar tension to a steel bone, but are a little thicker. And the nice thing is that you can cut and shape them easily with scissors! Of course, plastic boning is not historically accurate, but it is functional and affordable (a pack of these wire ties is about $5, and there are about 12 per pack) and creates a boned garment that feels similar to one boned with steel bones (and once you finish the garment, who would know?).

In this corset, each side of center back has a single bone. The 2″ wide center front bone is actually 5 wire ties attached to one other with (shhh!!!) masking tape! This is an experiment that I hope will work (I have slight fears that body heat might one day cause the tape to lose its grip and the bones to start to move around in funny ways, or worse, that the tape will leech sitcky goo onto the fabric that will stain the exterior). I put the center front bone in between the layer of coutil and the inside twill, so even if the masking tape does one day create stains, it is unlikely that the stains will make it to the outside of the corset.

For now, success and wearability!

Project Journal: 1815-1820 Regency Ensemble Part I: Corset Research and Patterning

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving!

I have a whole list of projects to work on during this Thanksgiving period: I need to reinforce some trim and closures on various gowns that will be worn during the next few months, I need to build a flowered hair accessory (I hesitate to say wreath) to match my blue 1860s ball gown, Belle, and I need to construct a Regency corset! I’ll pass over the stitching of the trim and closures (because, really, I don’t think that would be an exciting post) and save the hair ornamentation post for later. That leaves us with one more topic… The Regency corset.

I don't have very many good pictures of this gown (I'll have to get some!) but I'm on the far right. Click on the link to the left to read more about this ball!

Here’s the background on this plan: I have a Regency dress that I built last February. At the time, I could not build the undergarments that would accompany this gown at that time. (You can read the story of the dress here.) Now I have time and so I plan to backtrack to this project and make the right undergarments! I have a chemise which will work (you can see it under my 1780s corset in the photos in this post) because chemise styles were unvaried from the late 18th century through the first quarter of the 19th century; however, I do not currently own a Regency period corset!

First of all, what is the Regency period? The term brings to mind Jane Austen books and films and general ideas of the early 19th century, but upon closer inspection Regency is actually more specific than I was thinking. I’ve got two relevant definitions for you from the Oxford English Dictionary.

  1. Noun: Senses relating to government or rule by a regent. Usu. with capital initial. The period during which a regent governs; spec. the period in France from 1715 to 1723 when Philip, Duke of Orleans, was regent, or in Britain from 1811 to 1820 when George, Prince of Wales, was regent.
  2. Designating a style of architecture, clothing, furniture, etc., characteristic of the British Regency of 1811–20 or, more widely, of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, featuring neoclassical elements often with Greek and Egyptian motifs.

Regency is a more specific period of time than that of the overarching Georgian period, which includes the reins of George I, George II, George III, and George IV of Great Britain. The Georgian period is from 1714-1830 and sometimes includes the years 1830-1837 as well. 1837 marks the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign, which is where the term Victorian comes from.

Upon reflection I realized that I had forgotten the year my dress is from! Certainly it is Georgian, but is it really Regency? I had made the gown in a rush and so I had to retrace my steps and really think about what specific span of years the gown fits into to answer that question. It turns out that the gown is, in fact, from the Regency period: it is from 1816-1819! Whew!

Once that information was determined, I could move forward and research the corset shapes and patterns of that specific period (that is, 1816-1819). It turns out that patterns in Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines jump from the late 18th century to the 1820s; however, I did find images of extant corsets from the first part of the 19th century. “Oh well,” I thought, and used the images and the 1820s pattern in Corsets and Crinolines to drape a pattern.

Here are some of the research images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve included a wide span of years so you can see the development of the corset shape over time. Note the bust and hip darts as well as the beautiful quilting that begins to define the waist by the 1840s.

c. 1811 Cotton Corset
c. 1811 Cotton Corset Back
1815-1825 Corset (I really like the simple lines and straight forward color combination in this garment: this is my most inspiring image. It is interesting that the lines of this corset are so simple, relative to these other examples. This corset seems to be lacking hip darts or an inward angled front panel plus side panel.)
1820-1839 Cotton and SIlk Corset (the embroidery on this corset is great)
1820-1839 Cotton and Silk Corset Back (I especially like the back)
1830-1835 Cotton Corset
1830s-1840s Corset

I am including these last ones because I think they are lovely, even thought they are not from the period I need to build. I’ll have to keep them in mind for future!

1820 Corset (this is in the Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute)
1830-1839 Cotton Corset

Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part V: Completed Stays

Wohoo! My 1780s stays are complete! I think they turned out quite well. They certainly resembles my inspiration image. You can see that image and read more about the construction of these stays by reading this previous post.

Finished front
I used 1/4" linen tape for the lacing
The lacing holes are hand sewn eyelets
Side view
Side front view

I made the chemise as well. It is just a simple linen tee shape without set in sleeves. It is mid calf length and has a low neckline in front and back.

Soon I’ll post pictures of the finished 1780s exterior garments as well!

Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part IV: Construction of Stays

c. 1780 Corset at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

As I mentioned in my last post in this Project Journal, I decided to make a pair of stays like the one to the right. I like the unique features of these: specifically the use of colorful fabric, the fact that this is fully boned, and the cording in each seam as well as the absence of shoulder straps and tabs. I adapted a pattern from Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh. The pattern I started with had straps and tabs but I eliminated those elements to reproduce the pattern of these inspirational stays.

Cane boning

I decided to use cane boning for these stays for a few reasons: 1) I wanted to try a new material for boning 2) cane boning is period correct for the 1780s 3) given the amount of boning needed for a fully boned pair of stays the cane boning was much more cost effective (you can see the quantity on the left–it was about $15 from Wm. Booth, Draper) and 4) the cane boning seemed like it would be super easy to manipulate and, most importantly, to cut (and it was! normal scissors easily cut the correct lengths needed and it was easy to round the ends a little bit as well!). I actually only wound up using approximately half of the cane boning that I bought, so that means that I have plenty to use for another future project!

The silk that I decided to use as my exterior fabric is a fabulous damask. I originally thought about stitching my boning channels through the exterior fabric (as in my inspirational piece) but decided against that idea on this fabric, because it would really have just been way to much going on with the pattern and so many stitch lines. You can see the silk pattern a few pictures father down.

Stitching the boning channels

I didn’t want to stitch boning channels through my silk so I started the construction process by stitching the boning channels through two layers of cotton. You can see that I drew lines on the fabric so I could make nice, straight lines. The nice this about this is that I covered the pencil marking side with the silk, so on the inside of the finished corset all you can see is the stitching with no indication of pencil lines!

You can see the pencil guide lines on this side of the corset
On this side there are no pencil lines!

I did want my silk to roll around the center back opening on each side and then be included in the seam attaching center back to the next piece, so I stitched those silk pieces into the seams of the cotton. I just kept the silk out of the way while sewing the boning channels. Then, once the boning was complete, I stitched the remaining silk pieces to the flapping center back pieces and turned the whole thing so that the silk was on the outside with the seams facing the side of the cotton that had the pencil lines drawn on. Thus, the silk is just a covering for the cotton, it is not actually attached into the seams of the cotton except on the inside at the side back seam. You can see what I mean in the pictures below.

Stays with the boning channels sewn (you can see that only the center back silk pieces are attached at this point)
Stays with the cane boning inserted, before the silk is sewn on
The silk has been attached (you can see the cording and the pattern on the silk in this picture)

At this point the stays are almost finished! The last few tasks are to bind the edges (I’ll be using bias strips cut from the same cotton as the cording and lining) and work hand sewn eyelets along each side of center back. More pictures to come!

Project Journal: 1780s Ensemble Part III: Undergarments and Sources

I’ve decided to build a Robe a l’Anglaise, in addition to a chemise and pair of stays to wear under it. You can look at this post to see pictures of the Robe a l’Anglaise. The style of stays that I plan to use is the one below left: no straps allow ease of movement in the upper body, which is more suitable for dancing. The corset on the right is from the same period: I include it for informational and comparison purposes. Many stays at this time were either made of patterned or colored cloth, as these two are, and I enjoy the use of color on the undergarments.

c. 1780 Wool and Linen Corset and the Metropolitan Museum of Art
c. 1780 Silk Stays at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The chemises that were worn under these stays were fairly simple and almost always constructed of linen. Here are a few examples.

c. 1780 Linen and Cotton Chemise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
1780-1800 Linen Chemise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
1790-1810 Linen Chemise at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I’ve collected some interesting (and sometimes conflicting) information regarding clothing from this period: these sources below were most helpful.

One of the best resources for this project is The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930 by Norah Waugh. This book has images, patterns, contemporary quotes and construction details. It’s a great reference book to have access to for historic projects. Another wonderful reference book is Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860 by Janet Arnold. This book is great supplement to Norah Waugh because it has an abundance of great drawings to explain the construction of garments. Another book that I know would have been useful to have is Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail by Avril Hart and Susan North.

This website is also a great resource: La Couturiere Parisienne. It includes a fantastic collection of fashion plates, paintings, construction and pattern information, as well as fabric and color research for clothing from the 1400s through the 1900s. (Just a quick note that it can be viewed in English or German, and if you suddenly find yourself viewing it in German look to the top right for a little icon that you can click to switch it back to English.)

In terms of the materials needed for these items I found a great source for this project and future projects here: Wm. Booth, Draper. This website has all sorts of great things. For example, low prices on yardage of linen, cotton, and silk (in 18th century patterns and colors) and cane boning for corsets.

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part X: 1913 Gallery

Here we finally are, at 1913! Let’s look at some truly lovely pictures!

1913: Wool Suit. Wool Hat with matching Taffeta trim.
1913 Suit and Hat
1913 Suit and Hat
1913 Suit and Hat
1913 Suit and Hat
1913 Jacket and Hat
1913 Skirt, Blouse and Hat
1913 Blouse and Hat
1913 Undergarments: Corset Cover and Petticoat
1913 Undergarments: Chemise and Corset
1913 Corset

Project Journal: Victorian Women’s Tailoring Part IX: 1903 Gallery

Well, we just got to see my 1883 tailoring project. Now let’s enjoy taking a mental stroll with my 1903 tailored look! Again, there are lots of pictures to see!

1903: Wool jacket and skirt trimmed with cotton velvet. Velvet covered buckram Hat.
1903 Skirt and Jacket
1903 Skirt and Jacket
1903 Skirt and Jacket
1903 Blouse
1903 Skirt and Blouse
1903 Undergarments: Corset Cover and Petticoat
1903 Undergarments
1903 Corset Cover
1903 Undergarments: Combination and Corset
1903 Corset