Not too long ago, I was again able to be part of the annual Returning Heroes Ball hosted by The Commonwealth Vintage Dancers. I decided to wear Annabelle again this year, even though I’d worn her last year, because I’d just worn Evie and Belle at the 1860s Dance Weekend in November.
Each time I’ve worn Annabelle, I’ve been slightly disappointed with the various incarnations of flower hair wreaths I’ve attempted to match her: the first wreath and the giant mass of flowers. So this year I decided to try again to see if I could get something I like. There are quite a number of evening dresses decorated with flowers right about 1860 and many of them are depicted in fashion plates and portraits with matching flowers in the hair. Here are some examples: 1859 fashion plate, another 1859 fashion plate, a third 1859 fashion plate, 1861 fashion plate, 1861 portrait, 1862 fashion plate, and 1863 fashion plate. For this new incarnation, I decided to try a different style from what I have for my other two evening dresses (Belle has a crescent and Evie has a hair wreath). The style I settled on I’m calling a headband. It creates a halo around the face and extends down towards the ears, but does not connect across the back of the head. Instead, the hair must be interestingly arranged to fill in the back of the head. Here’s an example of the headband style using flowers that match the dress from 1862. And here is the fashion plate that Annabelle is based on which shows a headband style hair wreath worn with the dress.
In addition to my new headband, I was also able to wear my new ca. 1860 corset and my still rather new purple paste jewels (a matching collet necklace and drop earrings) from Dames a la Mode. They worked wonderfully with my outfit (of course, I did pick the purple knowing it would match multiple outfits…!) and I enjoyed wearing them again.
The ball was lovely, as usual, and filled with well dressed people and more uniformed gentlemen than we have seen in recent years. The dancing was well executed and the intermission boasted a lavish spread of refreshments that both looked and tasted scrumptious.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Remember in my last post I promised pictures of the finished ball gown now known as Evie? The time has come! I had a hard time narrowing down the options (because of course I wanted to share ALL of the good pictures), but I’ve tried to limit myself to only the best of the best. This post will focus on the completion of my dress, Evie, but there are two more posts coming soon that will share some of the other photo series as well as pictures of the ball itself!
These photos are the idea of my friend with the camera. She wanted to take series of pictures of us in our modern clothes, 1860s undies, and then dressed in our 1860s ball gowns: all in the same location and the same pose. It’s a neat idea and the results are great, not only because it provided lots of pictures (yay!) some of which are of things I don’t have pictures of (like my 1860s undies), but also because you can see the time passing through the evening by looking at the light in the photos. They start in the afternoon, proceed to early evening, then finish at night. Not all the series are a complete set, but all around, it’s pretty cool. Which series do you like best?
Series 1: To The Right
Series 2: What A Change
Series 3: On The Stairs
I’ve never been able to get pictures of my 1860s undies before, so this is exciting! I’ve got a chemise, corset, drawers, cage crinoline, and petticoat (in addition to stockings, shoes, jewelry, hair wreath, gloves, fan, and gown). The crinoline is entirely hand sewn, except for the waistband. The measurements of the hoops are taken from an extant crinoline, and I believe the circumference of the bottom hoop is about 120″. The crinoline closes with a hook on the waistband. The other pieces are machine sewn and trimmed with lace, pin tucks, and ribbon. The chemise slips over the head and the drawers close at the back with a button and loop arrangement. (And that poor petticoat does need a press… but I threw it in the washer and dryer a while ago and since it doesn’t usually get seen I haven’t taken the time to press it.) The petticoat ties around the waist. As you can see, the crinoline stops mid-calf, so the intense petticoat ruffle really helps keep the shape for the skirt below that point, in addition to keeping my hoops from showing as horizontal lines through the skirt of the gown.
Want to be further amused? Look at the apparently changeable feathers on my hair wreath. Sometimes they’re brownish/gold and sometimes vivid green! They really do seem to change color depending on the light!
I don’t think I’ve mentioned it yet, but the basic pattern for this gown is essentially taken from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 2. The trim however, is based on two things. Thing 1: the skirt trim is from the fashion plate I shared with you in the first post of this project journal. Thing 2 : the bodice trim is based on this gown, below. I went through a lot of phases trying to decide how to trim the bodice, since I didn’t really like the fashion plate bodice trim. In the end, I decided on this look: a graduated ruffle (just one, in my case, to match the one ruffle on the skirt) that gets longer toward center back, a triple pleated bertha that has a swoop towards center front rather than being straight, and a big trim thing right at the center (in my case, a rosette to match the skirt, rather than a bow). It’s pretty hard to see the front of my dress in these pictures I’ve shared so far, but there are some coming up in the next two posts which will show off the front of the gown better, so stay tuned for that!
While getting dressed we might have been making silly faces for the camera while the owner walked away…
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!).
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.
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?!?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!