The second stop on my Regency Journey is the construction of my corset. Corsets of this era were not made to flatten the bust, as they were in the mid 1700’s. Nor were they made to restrict the waist, as they were in the Victorian era. They were made to “lift and separate” the breasts to form a type of bust “shelf”.
The corsets, or stays, were either long or short with little or no boning. They really just provided posture support and helped to define a high empire waistline that was popular in the fashions of the day.
Making a Regency corset has been a challenge: first drafting the pattern, and then figuring out the steps to put it all together! I decided to make some long stays for my Regency costume.
Making a Regency Corset
Step One: I first cut out the fabric, using my drafted pattern pieces, making sure I had added the seam allowances.
In the Regency era, sometimes up to four layers of material would be used for a corset, for instance a cotton sateen for the exterior layers and then some linen for the inside layers. I have used three layers: an “unknown-satiny” outer layer (obtained as a remnant), a cotton lawn interlining and a cotton lawn lining. After discovering some cotton sateen in my local fabric shop, I would definitely use it next time as it is a nice soft cotton whilst still being sturdy.
Step Two: Putting the satin layer and lawn interlining together as one, I sewed the front and the side back together. I used felled seams (as is used for modern day denim clothing) throughout. Felled seams usually have three lines of stitching, and are known for their added strength and neat “fray-less” appearance.
Step Three: My next task was to decorate and strengthen this front/side section. In the Regency era, corsets were strengthened by cording and light boning. Embroidery and quilting were also used. I drew a basic design on the lawn interlining, drawing on some of my research of period pieces. Some of these areas would be corded, some embroidered, some quilted, and some boned.
Whilst white embroidery seems relatively common on Regency era underwear, there are none that I have discovered that have coloured embroidery. Indeed, most of the Regency era underclothes are quite plain when compared to the embroidery in the Rococo era only 50 years before.
However, I can never resist a little embroidery! The design on the front busk pocket is a simplified version of one I have seen on a Regency gown.
Step Four: I then switched my attention to the back pieces. Treating the sateen and interlining as one, I sewed the lining to it on the centre back seam, right sides together. Then turning it to the right side, the boning channels were sewn, leaving a space for the hand sewn eyelets.
The back was then sewn to the side back with a felled seam, leaving the lining free. I hand sewed the eyelets with a small blanket stitch and laced it up with cotton cording.
Step Five: Then I started on the lining. The lining front and lining side back were sewn together and then pinned (wrong sides together) to the embroidered outer. I sewed through all thicknesses when I did the third line of stitching on the felled seams, thereby attaching the lining to the outer layers.
Step Six: I cut slits through all three layers in the top of the front section for the bust gussets. The slits went either side of the nipple area, so it can be useful to have a bust separation measurement (the distance between the nipples) for that part of the construction. I used the instructions from Sempstress’s tutorial on setting gussets, which made it very straightforward. In the end, I didn’t need to put the hip gussets in. A bit of decorative embroidery was added around the breast gussets.
You can see from the picture above how the breast gusset forms the lower support for the the bust, and the chemise forms the top part of the “cup” support. There is also a short strip of boning to the left of the picture (right next to each armhole), which helps push the breast to the front, a bit like an underwire bra does.
Step Seven: I attached the straps, once again using felled seams.
Step Eight: The garment was then bound with bias binding around the top and bottom edges and around the armholes.
An aluminium ruler works well as the busk, which slides in and out of a pocket behind the dark green embroidery. The ruler (busk) is a little too short, which causes the centre front to bunch in a little. I am undecided whether to find a different one or just shorten the busk pocket.
Overall, I am really pleased with it!
I have bought my ticket to the Jane Austen Festival, and am VERY excited! Next item on the Regency Agenda is the chemise to wear underneath, which you have already seen in some of the photos.
Go to My Regency Journey to view all my posts in order.
How to set a triangular gusset – Sempstress
Achieving a proper fit with Regency stays – by Oregon Regency Society
How to make Hand-worked Eyelets – Sempstress
Examples and pictures of Regency era underwear – Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion
Jane Austen Festival, Australia – website