Challenge #7: Monochrome – 1880’s Corset

Sorry for the absence, Sophia and I were busily working on our Costume College outfits.It was our first time going to College Costume and it was an amazing experience, but more about that in another blog post!

I want to preface this post by saying that I’ve been neglecting a huge part of historical sewing until now – this is my very first corset! Fitting garments and making a correct shape for a garment is totally different pre-1920, and I made a ton of mistakes. I hope if you are reading this before making your first corset you can avoid some of the mistakes I made.

I used the Norah Waugh 1880s corset pattern for shape, and the style of an 1880s corset in the collection of Kent State University Museum.  Check out the original details here!

I didn’t take many detail photos, but the museum description details list this corset as two layers, one layer of silk brocade and one layer of silk moire lining. Because generally corsets are made of coutil, I purchased a brocade coutil for the outer layer and a cotton coutil inner layer (because I couldn’t find a silk moire lining that wasn’t taffeta, and I could only find a cotton moire fabric in the correct color).

I made a muslin of the corset as is without boning, and the bust was definitely too big but the waist and hips were debatable. This was my first mistake. If you decide to make any corset pattern sew in bias strips to encase the boning, and do not get lazy about boning! I had an idea that the corset would get smaller when I put the boning in, so I ignored the fact that I only had a 1″ lacing gap in back when I made the muslin (if you’re not already aware, there should be a 2-3″ gap in your corset when you first wear it- if I’m wrong about this please let me know!).

I put together the body in coutil and the lining in cotton moire separately. First I added the cording between layers in a similar way to The Dreamstress tutorial, then I sewed both layers together separately. I added the boning channels to the outside of the corset as bias strips made from the brocade coutil. Then I topstitched them down, so the channels were on the top of the corset and the stitching was visible on the lining.

After all the channels were sewn, I added the spoon busk (using a method from Bridges on the Body here). You can also use a second method that’s a little cleaner- draft a facing pattern and sew them together with gaps in the stitching for the “hook” side to stick through. Then I inserted the boning – I used a spiral steel boning, my second mistake! Never, ever use spiral steel boning in your pre-1920s corset. It’s too stiff, and it does not form to the body the original 19th century (or earlier) or even early 1900s corsets do. Always use plastic whalebone or, less expensively, plastic zip ties. These are so much closer to the original whalebone, because when they heat up (due to body temperature when you wear it) they form to the body. You can even preemptively iron whalebone on a tailors ham to the correct shape. I didn’t learn this until after I completed the corset and took a class at Costume College from Luca Costigliolo, a true master of historical costuming who is a true master of historical sewing techniques and wrote a couple of doctrinal books along the way.

Finally, I added the flossing, and then the binding as a finish! I used a silk satin ribbon for top and bottom binding, you can also use a bias strip of matching coutil. For even further finish, you can use the lace finish of the original at the top edge, and thread a little ribbon through it (the original term for this escapes me, I’ll update this post when I remember!).

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Things I learned:

  1. Always add boning during the fit stage! This is extra important, because a corset will stretch during wear and a 2″-3″ gap is necessary to achieve the correct shape when you lace it! When you get a 1″ gap like I did, it’s impossible to create the correct shape and will eventually stretch to be unwearable.
  2. DO NOT under any circumstances use spiral steel boning. It’s not accurate, and it’s incredibly uncomfortable. You will not get the correct shape of the 1880s era or any era pre-1930s. I cannot emphasize this enough. I spent days and hours on the pretty flossing for this corset, but I will remove this to replace the spiral boning with plastic whalebone from Wissner or just regular zip ties.

I’m sure I should have learned some 3rd or 4th things, so please add a comment if you’ve learned some tricks that I haven’t mentioned here. My finished 1880s corset photos are below!

The Challenge: #7- Monochrome

Material: Cotton Coutil, Cotton Moire, Spiral Steel Boning (DO NOT USE THIS!), Steel Spoon Busk via Corset Making Supplies, Cotton thread for flossing (also not correct!), lace, silk ribbon, cotton rope for cording.

Pattern: Nora Waugh’s 1880’s corset pattern

Year: 1880s (ish- not specific!)

Notions: Cotton thread, lace, silk ribbon

How historically accurate is it? 60%, I’m not sure how cording was actually inserted, boning is incorrect, thread for flossing is incorrect!

Hours to complete: 30-ish.

First worn: at Costume College, Friday Night Social- July 29, 2016

Total cost: A shameful amount… I think I spent around $150. Don’t use spiral steel boning!

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