Category Archives: Godey’s Lady’s Book

Ca. 1860 Corset Intense Details

This is a follow-up post to my last post: ca. 1860 Corset For Me! (HSF #4)That post has a short background on my reasons for building the corset, but it doesn’t mention other details, so that’s what this post is for!

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My new ca. 1860 corset.

So let’s start with more background, since this post is all about intense amounts of details! We’ll start with the pattern I made for this corset: you’ll notice it has bust and hip gores as well as that curved piece on each side of the front. The bust gores aren’t so unusual for a modern 1860s corset recreation, but I don’t see too many corsets made (and certainly not many corset patterns) with hip gores and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone reproduce an 1860s corset with that curved piece in front. I found these details intriguing and wanted to make this style for two reasons: 1, because it’s a style I haven’t seen recreated, but which I have multiple examples of in my research, and 2, because it seemed like it would fit into a new thought I absorbed a few months ago.

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1865-1867 corset, The Met

First, a discussion about the style. It seems like a lot of modern ca. 1860s corsets are cut with vertical seams that run from top to bottom of the corset to create shaping, sometimes with the addition of bust gores. (The corset on the right is an example of one from the 1860s that uses this style of seaming to create shape.) These corsets are cut with shaping in the seams to create space for the bust and hips, but an alternative to this is to use bust and hip gores to achieve shape for the body. The interesting thing is that hip gores do not seem to be very commonly used in historic corsets made by modern people, despite their use in historic clothing. I attribute this to the fact that shaped seams are easier to execute than inserting gores of any type, but especially gores that are not in a seam (like the gores in my corset). Also, I would think that pattern companies have an easier time grading patterns using the shaped seams, because the gores (particularly hip gores) really need a lot more individual adjustment and fiddling on a body than shaped seams do.

Second, about this new thought that I absorbed. While reading Merja’s most recent blog posts about corset construction, I was rather surprised by a simple statement that makes so much sense but which I haven’t necessarily followed in corset making  in the past (here are Merja’s gusseted 1870s corset, which has the sentence which mentions this magical new thought, as well as her 1880s purple corset and 1860s white corset with seaming like the Met corset, above, which exhibit the thought without it being explicitly stated). Essentially, she says that she always makes adequate space in the corset for bust and hips, so that the corset is only constraining her waist. Duh! A related thought is that when you tighten your corset you displace some bits to your bust and hips, so your corset really does need adequate room there to accommodate the normal and the extra. That makes so much sense and sounds so much more comfortable than having a corset that digs into your hips or pushes your bust around uncomfortably. I made the goal to take this approach for the new corset and all future corsets! and this new corset was my first attempt at really following this sound piece of information.

So given that the style I set out to make is one that I haven’t ever seen a pattern for, where did I get mine? Well, it’s loosely based off of one in Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh (the pattern is ca. 1873, pg. 80). I say loosely, because I started there, but then began combining pieces and changing the shape of them to suit my measurements and the seam placement that I wanted (most importantly the hip gore and that curved front piece). Interestingly, Waugh notes on a different corset pattern (ca. 1860, pg. 78) that the 1860s style of corset without bust or hip gores (more like what I seem to see in modern made ca. 1860 corsets like the one from the Met at the top of this post) was a style preferred in France. The English preferred the style of corset I am making with gores. (Merja’s white 1860s corset I mentioned in the pervious paragraph uses this French corset pattern in Waugh, if you’d like to see what it looks like made up.)

I wound up making two mockups to get the pattern the way I wanted it even after adjusting the pattern from the beginning (and still made a few alterations before cutting out my real fabric). The original pattern in the book had a waist that was much too small and a bust that was a little large relative to my measurements. Despite my changes, the first mockup was too short waisted, needed bigger and longer bust gores, smaller hip gores (I had overestimated how much ease I needed there), and a little bigger waist. The second mockup was still a little short (I added another ½” to the top), the hip gores were still just slightly too big, and the lacing gap between the back pieces was wider than I wanted it to be by about 3″. Ugh! I actually determined that last fact after cutting out and sewing up my actual fabric. Turns out my shoulder blade area is bigger than I thought. I had an inner struggle about if I wanted to take out the small stitch size flat felled seam to insert a piece or if I wanted to just let it go. Adding a piece won in the end, because I figured that I was spending so much time on the corset that I really wanted to be pleased with it and not have nagging doubts for the next number of years until making a replacement. (The piece I added is between the front and back pieces. You can see it easily in the first picture in this post. It’s a v shaped piece that extends from top to bottom.) Adding the piece actually wasn’t so bad, despite all my inner complaining and I’m very pleased I did it, because I am happy with the result.

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1864 corset, The Victoria and Albert Museum.

That’s all the aspects of choosing the pattern and executing it. Now I can move on to my inspiration for creating it. This blue corset at the V and A is the most thoroughly photographed piece of inspiration (click through, there are lots of different angles of the corset, and close up pictures!). As you can see, the blue corset has bust gores, that curved front piece, (and if you look at the pictures of the back…) hip gores, as well as useful close up construction photos showing the flossing, how the busk is sewn in, how the binding is sewn on, etc. You can also see great detail for things like how to sew the points of the bust darts and the tops of the hip gores: they are overcast near the tips of the bust gores and tops of the hip gores before being machine sewn with topstitching to the binding. I used this method in my corset, sewing the overcasting by hand. I found that it was very useful on the bust gores (since mine are set into a slit in the fabric, not a seam) because the amount of seam allowance near the points is negligible (like, less than ⅛”) and that would have been extremely frustrating to try and machine sew! Also, the overcasting kept the edges from fraying as I was working with them. It also adds an extra measure of stability and sturdiness to those areas.

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1839-1841 corset, The Met.

Other very useful images to me were this orange 1860s corset front and side views (with generally similar lines as the blue V and A one) and this 1862 Godey’s image of a corset (with very similar lines as the blue V and A one). (As a side note: Does anyone know what collection houses the orange corset? I’ve only been able to find images, but no real source.) These corsets provide a nice end date range for my corset pattern, because in the 1870s the corset begins to change shape. But to determine a good start date for my corset I had to look elsewhere. The Met has a corset dated 1839-1841 with similar hip gores and the front curved piece (great zoomable pictures including an interior view, click through the image!), but it does not have separate bust gores (they are cut in one with the front pieces as is usual for 1840s corsets) and it does not have a front opening busk (those weren’t in general use until 1849). The 1839-41 corset is more curvy than the 1860s ones, as you would expect from an 1840s corset, but it still looks like a forerunner to me! Waugh has an 1844 corset pattern (pg. 77) that has similar lines to the 1839-41 Met one, with bust gores but without hip gores or the curved front piece. These 1840s corsets are useful for determining the start point of my date range, which seems to safely be the 1850s. Thus, my corset is dated ca. 1860, which is just a shorter way of saying 1850-1870. That makes sense looking at the silhouette of the dresses from these decades, as well, since neither the 1850s or 1860s require the curvy shape of 1840s or 1870s corsets.

EDIT: The orange corset mentioned above is in the collection of the Manchester Art Gallery via this link.

I used all of these different images to look for construction details to use in my corset. Specific things I was looking for include: stitch size, width of the binding, method of sewing the binding, placement of bones, design of flossing, seam placement, method of setting bust and hip gores, location of topstitching, placement of eyelets down the back, finishing of the interior of the corset, and length of the busk. Some of these things can be determined by looking at the extant corsets I’ve shared in this post, but others required other helpful research. Specifically, the gusset construction method I used came from this image that Merja shared in her 1870s corset post. It’s from 1872, but is still relevant for my corset, because if you look at the blue and orange corset pictures you will see it used on the overcasting at the bust and hip gores. This image, from 1868, shows similar methods as well (and has a selection of mostly French and a few English style corsets if you’d like to see more examples of those).

And now, here are the close up construction details of my corset that I promised.

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An interior view of my corset. It’s important to me that the inside of garments is as nicely finished as the outside, as you can see. It’s a little hard to see, but the grommets near the waist are set closer together than the ones a the top and bottom.

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Details: Hand sewn overcast stitches at the bast of the bust gore and machine top stitching above that. Machine sewn button holes for the busk hooks (I’ve found this method to be much sturdier than leaving a gap in a seam on the edge).

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Details: The busk is top stitched around the top curve to keep it from moving. There is flossing at the top of the boning channels (every boning channel is flossed at the top and bottom). Machine sewn top stitched binding.

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Details: The top hook of my busk is a few inches below the top of the corset, so I added a hook and thread loop at the top to keep it closed. I used coutil cut on the straight of grain for my boning channels: the edges are pressed under and then they are topstitched into place and into the proper number of channels (keeps the inside tidy and doesn’t require extra notions!). The seam allowance of my bust gores is turned under and flat felled by hand with a whip stitch that only catches the coutil. The curved front piece is flat felled by machine.

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Years of use have caused my busk to have a bend in it at my waist line. See how it curves up from the table in the middle? Impressive, really, that my body can permanently change the shape of metal.

I’m hoping to get pictures of the corset on me this weekend at its first ever wearing. Hopefully I’ll be able to share those in the near future!

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Annabelle, adorned with flowers

Over the summer I built Annabelle, a white flounced 1860 ball gown, in order to have an alternative to my dark blue 1860 ball gown. My intention was to adorn Annabelle with flowers, as in my inspiration fashion plate from Godey’s Lady’s Book (Annabelle is based off of the gown on the far right); however, I did not have time over the summer to add the flowers.

September 1860 "Dressed for a party" (Fitting title, don't you think?)

I decided to wear a be-flowered Annabelle to the Commonwealth Vintage Dancer’s German Cotillion last week. My original plan was to hand make the flowers from hand painted pink silk organza. I started on that endeavor, but the process was time consuming and so I have only made perhaps 100 flowers (first: cut 5 rounded point shapes, second: fray check the edge all around, third: gather the center of each flower). Each flower is about 1 1/2″ across. When I went to sew the flowers on the dress I realized two things that made me change my mind about using them: the flowers were too small for the scale of the dress and I would need so many more hundreds to make the look work. In the end I used purple millinery flowers, from the fantastic stash I mentioned in the post about my 1860 hair crescent, to adorn the dress. I actually really enjoy the purple flowers and the scale is far better for the overall look as well.

Annabelle with flowers!

I used matching flowers plus a few others in the pink family to create a wreath for my hair to match the dress.

Annabelle back

Matching hair wreath

If you would like to see what Annabelle looked like without the flowers, you can visit the following posts and see pictures: Of Flounces and Dance Cards: Part I and Ochre Court 1860s Ball 2011. And, to finish off this post, here are a few pictures of Annabelle in action at the German!

Playing dance games at the German Cotillion

Playing dance games at the German Cotillion

Pleated trimming on 1860s gowns

I absolutely love the use of pleating as a trim motif in the 19th century! I also admire the immense amount of time and fabric required to edge the dresses of the 1800s in pleated trim.

Take a look at the dress below and note the rolling wave pattern of the pleated trim on the skirt as well as the pleated trim on the sleeves. You can see that the trim is made of the same fabric as the dress, which was a technique often employed in the 19th century for the trimming of gowns.

c. 1862 Afternoon Dress at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Now, take a look at this dress from 1860-1861 (which was also include in this post). Doesn’t the trim style look familiar? Yes, it’s a more bunting-like placement of the trim, but the idea is exactly the same as the dress above!

1860-1861 Dress at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

So now that we’ve looked at a few actual garments with the pleated trim, let’s look at some fashion plates. You know, I went through about 50-100 fashion plates from 1860-1865 and I was surprised by the lack of plates that included dresses with pleated trim! Considering that I have frequently seen pleated trim used on existing garments I am intrigued by their relative absence in fashion plates… I wonder if pleated trim is just challenging to execute when creating a fashion plate? Certainly I found some with bands of trim, and perhaps those could have been executed with pleated trim when constructed?

Godey’s Fashions for September 1861
Godey’s Fashions for September 1862

In both of these fashion plates the ladies on the far left are the ones I’m looking at and think that they are wearing dresses with pleated trim. The one from 1862 as especially clear detail that shows the trim being pleated. It is interesting to note that these two fashion plates correspond directly with the two existing dresses at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Of flounces and dance cards: Part I

PART I: Of flounces…

Flounced 1860s dresses seem to be pure confections: cupcakes iced with lace and frothy ruffles. That is the vision in my mind while I was looking for inspiration for my latest crinoline dress.

Fashion Plate from Godey's Lady's Book September 1859 "Dressed for a Party." (The dress on the right is the inspiration for my latest gown)

I already made one 1860s dress for myself. Named Belle, it is a dark blue satin and velvet gown with a three tiered skirt. It’s very heavy and a dark color: neither of those two features seemed fitting for a summer ball in temperatures around 80 degrees! And so I decided to create an all new gown… in my head this one is named “Annabelle.” (I hope you are also amused by the name!)

"Annabelle" my new 1860s ball gown

As you can see, there is one crucial element missing… the pink flowers! My goal is to make the flowers by hand from silk organza and to be perfectly honest, I ran out of time. I just decided to wear the dress as-is and finish the flowers later. I also ran out of time to bone the front, as you can see by the wrinkles along my tummy. No worries though, as I’m sure I’ll be able to wear this gown again.

"May I have this dance?" Side view of Annabelle.

In order to be to light and breathable, Annabelle is constructed entirely of cotton. The skirt has a medium weight cotton foundation to which cotton voile flounces are attached. The bodice is three layers of cotton for the sake of being opaque: two of medium weight cotton and one layer of voile. The layers are flatlined together and treated as one piece. The flounces on the skirt and bodice are cotton voile edged in narrow white lace.

This gown was flat patterned using research from books by Janet Arnold, Norah Waugh, and Kristina Harris.  View this post about patterning from my Project Journal: Women’s Tailoring to see which titles I used and get a smidgeon of bibliographic information. The skirt pattern is fairly simple: a big tube cartridge pleated at the waist. The bodice has narrow v-shape seams front and back with puffed sleeves and a flounced bertha. It is worn over a chemise, corset, double thickness bum pad, hoops, and petticoat.

While this dress is eventually intended to be a reconstruction of the dress in the 1859 fashion plate above, I was also inspired by these other, similar fashion plates for further information. Enjoy!

Fashion Plate from Godey's Lady's Book October 1859 "The Soiree"

Fashion Plate from Godey's Lady's Book August 1859 "Godey's Fashions for August"

Bolero and Zouave jackets of the mid-19th century

Throughout the 19th century, civilian clothing for men and women imitated all sorts of military uniforms in cuts, trim styles, and names. Let’s look at some women’s styles from the the mid-19th century inspired by military wear.

First: the Bolero style jacket

From Peterson's Magazine August 1865

Popular during the mid-19th century, the Bolero is simply a short jacket, usually worn open in front, often fastened at the neck. In the mid-19th century Bolero jackets were worn in all sorts of colors and with all sorts of trim; however, they were often seen in military uniform colors and with trimming styles reminiscent of military trimming, especially braiding.

1863 Bolero from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

c. 1860 Dress with Bolero Jacket and braid trimming

Second: the Zouave style jacket


From December 1859 Godey’s Lady’s Book

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Zouave jacket as follows: “A woman’s short embroidered jacket or bodice, with or without sleeves, resembling the jacket of the Zouave uniform.” The following quotes are included in the OED definition:

1859    Ladies’ Treas. Sept. 285/1   One of the most decided novelties of the present season is the Zouave jacket.
1859    Ladies’ Cabinet Dec. 335/1   Nothing can be prettier for the interior than the little oriental jackets which we call to-day Zouaves.

During the 19th century, this style gained the most popularity during the 1850s, when French Zouaves were fighting in the Crimean War, and during the American Civil War in the 1860s. You can see a few images of Zouave uniforms by looking at this post from a few weeks ago.

The description of the above image from Godey’s is as follows: “Morning-dress for young ladies, of plain merino or cashmere; the skirt trimmed by an inserting of velvet, several shades darker than the dress, with a row of buttons passing through it, and bordered by a rich braid pattern, known as the Greek. The Zouave jacket, which we have before spoken of, forms the waist. It is modelled from the Greek jacket, and has a close vest, with two points; the jacket, itself, rounding over the hips, and fitting easily to the figure. A Gabrielle ruff, and neck-tie finish it.”

Further information about this style was included in the Chitchat section of the same issue of Godey’s: “The Zuoave jackets may be made in black cloth or velvet, for home wear, with skirts whose waists have “outlived their usefulness.” They are especially suitable with dark silks, and a waist of this kind with a black silk skirt will do any amount of street service. Black silks are trimmed with a combination of black and crimson, black and purple, etc. when intended for dress occasions.”

c. 1862 Dress with Bolero from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Given the description (above)  from Godey’s about the Zouave jacket fashion plate, I think this c. 1862 dress from the Metropolitan Museum of Art falls into the category of a Zouave jacket rather than a Bolero. Clearly, this yellow dress has a jacket with a double pointed vest silhouette, rather than the Bolero style of the jacket with a blouse underneath. Regardless, this dress is quite fabulous! The pattern matches the trimmings exceptionally well in terms of style, and the whole ensemble is quite wonderful (including the crisscross braiding and tassels!).

The quotes are from the digital Godey’s excerpts at the University of Vermont, which can be viewed here.