After making the chemise-drawer combinations, my next step was to make a late Edwardian corset.
The late Edwardian corset was quite a change from the early Edwardian corset, commonly called the S-bend. Instead of a focus on the straight-fronted torso and the small waist, the late Edwardian corset concentrated on slimming the hipline into a more tubular shape, which suited the new fashions for long-line, high-waisted, and slim dresses. Some corsets still did nip the waist in tightly, but the waistline was no longer the focus in the emerging fashions.
Generally speaking, the late Edwardian corset was often only made with one layer of fabric, boned with flat steel boning housed in casing strips, and with a split busk that reached to the abdomen. As the corset reached so low over the hips, it was left unboned below the hipline to allow the wearer to sit comfortably. To limit the strain on the front busk when sitting in such a long corset, there was often a lacing or hook-and-eye configuration just below the busk at the centre front. The addition of garters or suspenders helped to both keep the knee-high silk stockings from slipping down, as well as keeping the unboned lower portion of the corset in place. The undergarment was often trimmed with lace (and sometimes ribbon) around the top edge.
This new corset shape did occasionally dip below the bustline and become an underbust design. The prevalence of this lower corset style led to the invention of a new garment, called the brassiere, which was needed to hold up the now-unsupported bust. Overall, the bustline did sink lower during the Edwardian era when compared to previous eras, and I have found it quite difficult to even accurately identify a woman’s bustline on pictures of the period, probably because the Edwardian mono-bosom and pouching-effects of the fashion lead to less definition in the bust area.
Initially I had decided to make an underbust corset, as this type of corset was becoming common in this era. Consequentially I had also planned to make a brassiere to “hold everything up”. Unfortunately I was in such a hurry that I discovered after I had started that they also had corsets to bust level as well, which would have saved the need for a brassiere. Oh well…
I used the pattern supplied free by “Bridges on the Body”. This pattern is a reproduction of a 1911 corset that is privately owned by Bridges on the Body. This pattern does not reach to the bust, but reaches just above the underbust.
Bridges on the Body ran a sew-a-long in 2012 on Titanic-era corsets and has a page dedicated to all the steps involved. In this blog series, two corsets could be completed simultaneously, either the 1911 reproduction (pictured right) or the 1911 White Coutil Corset in Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh.
For my fabric, I used a rather bright pink cotton drill (flatlined with white cotton duck). I also used pink polyester ribbon for the boning casings and white cotton broadcloth for the bias binding. The lace was a white cotton cluny lace, and the embroidery was done with one strand of white cotton DMC embroidery thread. (B on the B – the supplies list)
The construction steps for this corset are located at Bridges on the Body, and were all posted during the sew-a-long. I did find it hard to find all the information scrolling through so many blog posts (as well as gleaning information from all the comments, especially when two corsets were being completed at once), but that is always one of the problems of completing a sew-a-long so long after it has been completed. Here I have attempted to put my whole process in one page, with some of the relevant links to Bridges on the Body. (A thorough read through of the Bridges on the Body posts is highly recommended!)
Step One: Print off the pattern and scale it up. I tend to scale up by hand on grid paper. (B on the B – scaling up the pattern)
TIP: There are grey lead markings on the pattern that did not come out in my printer, so it is worth marking them in. These markings include the underbustline and waistline and positions of the bones. Transfer these markings (including the notches) to your mockup.
As always, I did a mock-up of the pattern in calico. Bridges on the Body goes through how to slash-and-spread the pattern if you are wanting to enlarge the dimensions of the pattern.
Step Two: The 1911 reproduction is a one-layer corset and has facings on the front and back to house the eyelets and the split busk. (B on the B – making back facings and making front facings; sewing back facings and sewing front busk, loop side and stud side.)
As I was doing a two layer corset (a flatlined corset, rather than using the sandwich method), I decided to do my centre front and centre back seams the same as I normally do. Right sides together, I sewed the two layers of the back panels (one white and one pink) together on the centre back seam. (The boning that lies on either side of the eyelets will then be sandwiched between these layers later on.)
I put the front busk in my regular fashion, using Sidney Eileen’s instructions (How to insert a corset busk).
From this point on, I treated the two layers of the corset as one, in the normal manner when flatlining.
Step Three: All the panel seams were sewn, making sure notches and waistline markings were matching. Bridges on the Body gives information on the way the seams were sewn on the original garment. (B on the B – method of stitching the seams)
Step Four: I had decided earlier that the colour pink was a tad too bright and that a little white embroidery along the boning channels might really help. And – of course – I do love embroidering my corsets…
Whilst I have not often seen Edwardian corsets that have been embroidered (aside for a little flossing occasionally), I have seen a number of corsets from the Victorian era with embroidered boning channels. The particular style of embroidery that I have chosen is one I have seen numerous times on corsets from the 1880s. However, to be honest, I can not say that the embroidery really toned down the shade of pink!
I embroidered the channels after I had sewn and “stay stitched” (or top stitched) the panel seams, but BEFORE the boning channels were stitched.
Step Five: Next I did the boning channels on either side of the eyelets. These channels had not been embroidered, so it was fairly simple to top stitch those at the required distances. As I normally do, I inserted a length of twill tape in between the layers of the corset to reinforce the fabric for the grommets. Then the channels are sewn through all layers. (Sidney Eileen illustrates this method in “Preparing the Grommet Area”.) You can see my twill tape poking out in the photo in Step Three.
Step Six: The 1911 reproduction corset did not have a waist tape, but I have made a habit of including one in almost all of my corsets to prevent pressure on the waistline. (B on the B – waist tape)
The waist tape was pinned in. This could have been tucked neatly under the back and front facings (if only I had done them – silly me!), so I had to fold the waist tape over at the ends and top stitch it so it didn’t unravel.
Step Seven: Once the waist tape was in place, I pinned the ribbon for the boning channels in place over the top of the waist tape. The boning channels were topstitched from the outside so as to preserve the embroidery. (And -yes- I was flying a bit blind with the ribbon placed underneath!)
In terms of boning placement, go back and look at the original pattern and note the grey lead markings. If we number the seams from 1-4 (going front to back), and then number the panels from 1-5 (going front to back), then there was two rows of thin boning (each 1/4 inch wide) on seams 1, 2 and 4. There was one thicker bone (1/2 inch wide) down seam 3. And there was one extra line of two rows of thin boning in the middle of panel 3.
Step Eight: The flat steel boning was inserted.
Here is where I ran into problems… Believe me, the TITANIC PANIC was justified!
Point 1: When using flat steels, it is imperative that the steels run straight up and down the body. Generally speaking flat steels are only used on the centre back and centre front of a corset, as these areas almost always run truly straight up and down on the body. When flat steels are used on the curves of the body, they often twist or stick out and it can be painful to wear a corset that does this.
Point 2: This style of corset often used flat steels on ALL the seams throughout the corset. This means that the seams were made to run perpendicular to the body, and any alterations you make to your seams during the fitting stage can alter this.
TIP 1: If you make alterations during your fitting stage, make sure you do a mock up WITH boning channels AND flat steels along the seam lines. (I didn’t…)
TIP 2: If your bones do twist in your mock up, experiment with changing the angle of the boning channels until they sit flat against you. For instance, pressing the flat steel into the curve at your waistline should show you how the bone will behave when your corset is done up. You can EITHER alter the seam lines to reflect the new position of the channels (as the boning channels did cover the seam lines in the 1911 reproduction example) OR you can put up with your seams being in the wrong place and sew your boning channels in the new position.
TIP 3: If you finish your corset and discover that some of the flat steels do not lie flat against your body, replace those flat steels with spiral steels. This will ensure that your corset lies flat against your body (in the same manner it did in your mockup, anyway), but will still give you the support of flexible boning (though not the same rigidity as flat steels).
I changed the bones in seams 1 and 2 for spiral steel boning, which did help the corset sit flatter against my body at the front. I tossed up the idea of removing the boning channels and resewing them straighter on my body, but this was complicated by the fact I had already embroidered my boning channels in their current position. I am still considering taking out some more of the flat steels (in panel 3 and in seam 3 particularly) and replacing them with spirals, as I feel this will improve the way it fits.
Step Nine: The grommets were set and the corset was laced up. The top and bottom raw edges were bound with bias binding, and the lace was hand sewn to the top edge.
Step Ten: The garters can then be sewn in. I am still waiting on my garter attachments, so photos of this step will be added later. (B on the B – garter building)
And now for the finished pictures. The garters will pull the corset down so it sits in place better. The horizontal wrinkles can be fixed with some flossing, which hold the bones firmly in the channels. I also want to put two eyelets and some lacing under the split busk to reduce any strain when sitting. Its not perfect, but it will work for the moment, and maybe one day I wouldn’t mind re-doing this corset.
The next item in my Titanic wardrobe is a princess slip.
Making a Victorian Corset (1880s)
Sources and Relevant Links
Image Source: A pink coutil corset, c. 1910-1915, from Corsets and Crinolines: Unique Vintage Clothing and Antique Fashion.
Image Source: An advertisement for corsets in 1912, from Sense and Sensibility Patterns.
Image Source: Titanic-era Corset and Pattern – by Bridges on the Body
Bridges on the Body – 1911 corset: All the steps in one place
Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh – buy on Amazon
How to insert a corset busk, by Sidney Eileen (Sidney has many corsetry tutorials in the “Sewing” menu of her blog, which can be very useful!)
Dressing for Dinner on the Titanic: Early 1910s Evening Dress, by Demode Couture
“Titanic” Theatre Restaurant – Williamstown, Melbourne, Aus.