Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Dress Journal #10: Corsets & Crinolines 1

     The innermost layer is done, so it's time to move on to creating the shape necessary to support the visible layers. By this, I mean the all-important corset and the petticoat(s).

The Corset

     First things first: In my book, the corset is not to give one a tiny, Scarlett O'Hara waist. It is not the 19th century version of Spanx. Instead, it is the 19th century equivalent of a good long-line bra: it provides support for the bosom. It also helps to transfer the weight of petticoats, crinoline, bustle, and skirt(s) to the hips in a more comfortable fashion than having all those drawstrings and waistbands sitting right on top of unprotected hip bones. I don't believe in tight-lacing: if that's your thing, more power to you, but I need to be able to breath, drive a car, and actually move and work in a corset, so I need to be comfortable, while having the appropriate shape and posture. As I'm both very short-waisted (all my height is in my legs), and thick-waisted (primarily due to age), I need a corset that will support my bosom without digging into my legs when I sit, and allow the freedom of movement that a lot of 21st century tasks (like driving a car) require. When I wear a properly fitted corset, my measurements don't change, but my shape does.
     During the times that women wore corsets, many women wore light-weight corsets for more strenuous activities such sports. In that respect, the corset was rather like today's sports bra. Many of these "active" corsets were of lighter materials, and frequently stiffened with cord rather than steel to allow the torso more flexibility. Really stiff cord is hard to find: on the other hand, weed-wacker line is not, so that's what I"m using to stiffen this particular corset.
     I started with the corset pattern from Simplicity 9725, then made adjustments to the pattern to fit my torso without requiring a great deal of tight-lacing. I'm using a heavy cotton twill and, unlike the pattern, this will be made of two layers sewn together to create the channels for the weed-wacker line. This corset is white, so I can wear it under light-colored outer layers. I am also parting from a traditional 19th century corset by using hook-and-eye tape rather than the more popular "pop" front busk: I have a terrible time getting the busk fastened by myself, and would like to be able to dress myself.
     The construction is fairly straight-forward. I number each of the pieces to keep them in order, and fairly quickly have the two halves of the corset ready to be sewn together. Before I start sewing the layers together, though, I sew the edge binding onto the "fashion" (outside) layer, so once the weed-wacker line is in, I can turn the binding over and hand-stitch it down. Once that is done, it's the mindless sewing of channels for the weed-wacker line, following the seam lines to get the correct contours. After several hours and lots of thread, I have two very well-quilted halves of a corset. Time for stiffening.
     I'm using .080 weed-wacker cord, and it takes a lot: the better part of a 175' roll of the stuff. Fortunately, it's not expensive (less than $10) and can be cut with a pair of cheap scissors. It's also stiff enough I can thread it into each of the channels without any additional tools.
     The biggest part of corset-building is a lot of handsewing. Binding the top edge. Binding the bottom edge. Stitching down the lace beading. It's slow work, but it's now done, and with a couple of adjustments, the corset is finished.
     Over all, it took about 4 6- to 8-hour days to build and finish this corset. Now, I can move on to the crinoline.


  • Chemise
  • Drawers
  • Corded Petticoat
  • Corset