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It has been awhile since my last post, largely because I have spent the last two months working on a new Victorian wardrobe for myself. I have had plans to make an early 1870’s gown and undergarments for a long time and I have finally begun!

info (Source below).

1880’s corset in herringbone woven cotton, trimmed with dark red cotton embroidery and machine embroidered edging. (Source below.)

One of the most important aspects of this new wardrobe was designing and making a corset from this era, as it is needed to provide the correct shape for the outer clothes. I finally decided on a 1880 style of corset that I could use fairly safely for the 1870’s.

Pattern

I used the pattern drafting tutorial at Foundations Revealed to drafted my own pattern based on my measurements. This tutorial is perfectly suited to creating Victorian style corsets.

A late 1880's corset. From Norah Waugh's "Corsets and Crinolines".

A late 1880’s corset, from Norah Waugh’s “Corsets and Crinolines”.

Norah Waugh’s “Corsets and Crinolines” 1880’s corset pattern provided a guide to panel shapes and placement. There were 5 panel pieces on each side: Front, Side Front, Side, Side Back and Back.

I used two layers of white coutil, with the boning sandwiched between the layers. I added a floating lining of white cotton lawn. I used a combination of spiral steel boning and flat steel boning, with the flat steel being used on either side of the eyelets, behind the split busk pieces at the centre front, and directly next to the busk pieces. I used a straight busk, rather than the spoonbill busk in “Corsets and Crinolines”.

These are my pattern pieces, without seam allowances included,

These are my pattern pieces, without seam allowances included. The front was cut twice with a seam allowance on all edges, and then once with the centre front on the fold. All other pieces were cut 4 times with seam allowances added.

When cutting out the pieces, it is a very good idea to number each panel, mark the waistline, and mark the upper/top edge on each piece.

Construction

For the construction of this corset, I closely followed the instructions by Sidney Eileen on making a basic two-layer corset. For that reason I won’t detail all the specifics of what I did, but instead give you a general overview.

Step One: I began by sewing the busk in place. (How to insert a busk – by Sidney Eileen).

Step Two: Making sure I matched the waistline marks, I sewed all the panels together. The coutil lining layer was also attached at this stage. The end result is that you have two halves of a corset, that can be joined by the busk pieces.

The only seams not sewn are the side front seams.

The seams being sewn. The lining is attached to the outer layer on the centre back seams (far left and far right). The side front seams are the next ones to be sewn in this picture.

Step Three: I attached some 1 inch herringbone tape for the waist tape. (How to add waist tape to a corset – by Sidney Eileen.)

The waist tape is being attached to each seam allowance so that no stitching is seen on the outside.

The waist tape is being attached to each seam allowance so that no stitching is seen on the outside.

Step Four: The boning channels were sewn, and I also added some herringbone tape along the centre back edges (in between the layers), to act as a support for the grommets. The bones were also inserted here.

The boning channels have been sewn in.

The boning channels have been sewn in.

Step Five: I corded the front panels, as was often seen in this era. Having tried on the corset beforehand, I now realise that this cording was not just decorative, but provided extra support to the fabric as it holds the bust in place.

1880 corset cording

In order to cord the very tightly woven coutil, I used a large needle and an awl (and two grippy silicone thimbles) to pull the cotton cording through the channels. The cording channels were all handsewn.

Step Six: Next I set the grommets (Size 0) with a grommet setter, and laced the corset using the standard Victorian style of lacing. (How to lace a corset – by Sidney Eileen.)

Grommets and lacing completed

Grommets and lacing completed, the back view of the finished product.

Step Seven: I did some featherstitch embroidery on the boning channels at the sides, and did corset flossing to hold the bones in place. (How to Floss a Corset – by Sidney Eileen.)

The corset flossing detail

The corset flossing detail

Step Eight: The floating lining was pinned in place, with the raw edges at centre front and centre back turned under and handsewn down. The binding was sewn on the outside through all thicknesses and then turned to the inside to be handsewn down.

The lining is pinned down and the binding attached, ready to handsew down.

The lining is pinned down and the binding attached and turned to the inside, ready to handsew down.

The very last thing I did was to handsew some lace, threaded with ribbon, around the top edge of the corset. Very Victorian!

Here are the finished pictures! I can comfortably lace the corset down to 28 inches at the waist, and I have used this measurement for making the rest of my Victorian wardrobe.

The front view

The front view

1880 corset side

The side view

My next garment in my list to make will be my Victorian chemise.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: How to Draft a Corset – Regency Corset

My Regency Journey: Corset Construction

A Victorian Bustle

Sources and Relevant Links

Image Source: Augusta Auctions.

Corsets and Crinolines, by Norah Waugh – buy on Amazon

Draft Your Own Corset Pattern – by Foundations Revealed

Corset Making Tutorials – by Sidney Eileen

Cording Tutorial

Feather stitch embroidery – by Rocksea & Sarah

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A pair of transitional stays, c. 1790, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A pair of transitional stays, c. 1790, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Last year when I attended the Jane Austen Festival, I remember my sister saying how comfortable her short stays were. She felt well supported but not restricted from doing the things she wanted to do. One of the problems I have always had with historic costuming is how restrictive the fashions could be for women, which has the undesirable effect of making you feel uncomfortable when you are wanting to have fun! So for this reason, I decided to have a go at some Regency short stays for myself.

I had planned to do these as part of the Historical-Sew Fortnightly Challenge #3: “Under it all” (for undergarments), due February 11, but I have finished them a tad early!

The corsets, or stays, of this era were first “transitional” (where they transitioned from the eighteenth century stays to the new Regency style) and then they are commonly thought to have been either long or short, with usually little or no boning. The Regency style of stays really just provided posture support and helped to define a high empire waistline, with a “bust-shelf”, that was popular in the fashions of the day. In researching short stays, I have struggled to find information on historically accurate short stays from primary sources of the period (such as pictures, paintings or extant examples). If you are interested in historical research of the so-called “short stays”, have a look at Short Stays’ Studies by Kleindung um 1800, which examines some historical patterns and journals on the topic.

Pattern and Construction Details

Step One: First I drafted my own pattern using the method I used for my long stays (My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern). I found this process a lot more difficult to do than I had previously, mainly because I did not have much of an idea what these types of stays looked like. I could not find many extant examples online, except for modern historical patterns (such as Sense and Sensibility Patterns) that mention that they are based on extant examples and pictures of the era. I decided to do a toile out of calico, just to make sure that it fitted properly, and then I adjusted the pattern pieces accordingly.

Toile pattern pieces: Front, side back and back. I ended up taking of quite a bit at the side seams, and adjusting the curve of the side back.

Toile pattern pieces: Front, side back and back. I ended up taking off quite a bit at the side seams, and adjusting the curve of the side back. Gusset pieces are not pictured.

Step Two: I cut out the fabric, making sure I added the seam allowances. For these stays, I have used three layers of material: the outer and inner layer are white cotton broadcloth, and the interlining is cotton calico.

Step Three: Beginning with the front pieces, I sewed along the centre front seams so that the three layers were all attached and could then be turned with the right sides facing out.

Centre front pieces, turned right sides out. Shows the layers of broadcloth, calico and broadcloth.

Centre front pieces, turned right sides out. Shows the layers of broadcloth, calico and broadcloth.

Step Four: Again treating the outer layer and interlining as one piece, the side back and back pieces were sewn, leaving the front lining pieces free.

The side back and back pieces sewn in.

The side back and back pieces sewn in.

Step Five: For the gussets, I cut slits through all three layers in the top of the front pieces. The slits were marked on my pattern piece and are placed either side of the nipple area. For this reason it can be useful to have a bust separation measurement (the distance between the nipples) for that part of the pattern drafting. I used the instructions from Sempstress’s tutorial on setting gussets, which made it very straightforward.

Breast gussets pinned ready for sewing.

Breast gussets pinned ready for sewing.

Step Six: As you can see in the picture above, I began decorating the outer layers at this point.

  • Boning Channels: I decided to run a decorative stitch along the outer layer of the boning channels, just to make them pretty! I had a line of nylon boning on each side of the eyelets at the centre front, one line of boning on each side seam, and one line of boning running diagonally from under the arm, forward, to the bottom of the corset.

    The decorated boning channels and underbust cording

    The decorated boning channels and underbust cording

  • Cording: I did three lines of cording, with cotton cord, running horizontally under the bust on each side.
  • Decorative stitching: I added a bit of decorative machine embroidery stitching around the bust gussets. I also did some extra lines of this stitching along some of the back seams (see below).

    The bust gussets, with decorative stitching

    The bust gussets, with decorative stitching

  • Embroidery: Just because I love embroidery, I decided to draw out the outline of a little flower stem that I had in my stamp collection. Using a basic backstitch with some coloured embroidery thread, I followed the lines. So pretty!

    The Embroidery

    The embroidery on the side back panel. You can also see the decorative top stitch on the seam (to the left).

Step Seven: In order to complete the lining, I sewed the side back and the back pieces of the lining together. Then I laid it on top of the outer layers (wrong sides together) and sewed a decorative stitch as a topstitch along the back seam lines, through all the layers. For the side seams, the side back lining edge was folded under and pinned to the front lining edge, with the same decorative stitch being sewn through all layers. This seemed an easy way to get the lining attached without fiddling around too much with it!

Front view

Front view

Back view

Back view

Step Eight: The straps were attached. The eyelets were hand sewn and laced with a length of cotton cording. The garment was then bound with bias binding around the top and bottom edges and around the armholes.

It took a few hours for me to draft the pattern, almost two days to get the toile adjusted and looking right, and then three full days of my holidays to sew it. The total cost was approximately $12 AUD. As the fabric, sewing thread, embroidery thread, and boning, were already in my stash box, the only thing I actually bought was the cotton cording and the binding (which came to $5).

I am really pleased with the fit. It really does pay to do an accurate toile first for less fitting dramas later. And I am really pleased with how pretty it is!

For more Regency costumes, go to My Regency Journey.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern

My Regency Journey: Corset Construction – construction of a pair of long stays.

Sources and Relevant Links

A pair of transitional stays (pictured), from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Another example of a cotton Regency corset (c. 1800-1825) – from the National Trust website

Cording a corset

How to set a triangular gusset – Sempstress

Achieving a proper fit with Regency stays – by Oregon Regency Society

Making Hand Sewn Eyelets

Examples and pictures of Regency era underwear – Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion

Jane Austen Festival, Australia – website

Historical Sew-Fortnightly – hosted by Dreamstress

‘Short Stays’ Studies, by Kleidung um 1800 – a great blog post looking at a book published in 1810 by J.S. Bernhardt, on the construction of a ‘new’ sort of stays.

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Plate XX, from Diderot’s Encylopedie. Title Translated: Tailor of bodices, closed bodice and open bodice, front view.

Corsetry, or stay-making, was an important craft in the eighteenth century – as much as dressmaking and tailoring. Every woman wore one, and even the poorest women still owned the basic garments – a pair of stays and a petticoat – even if she could not afford a gown over the top.

Stay-making was generally a male-dominated field of work, though females could make stays as well.

Sarah Hurst (1736-1808) spent her youth as an assistant to her father, who was a tailor in Horsham, England. She records in her diary on 31st July, 1762, that she “begin[s] making Mrs Hurst a pair of stays.” On the 13th August, she records that she “Finish[es] Mrs Hurst’s stays and she greatly approves of them.” Sarah had been staying with the Hurst’s for a short holiday and, despite being busy almost every day, she still managed to finish handsewing the stays in two weeks.

This week I was sorting through some boxes in my wardrobe and I found an unfinished eighteenth century corset that I started 13 years ago. I got it out and then remembered why I had put it away! I had made a few corsets before this one (and have made some since), but the tabs on the bottom of the stays had me completely stuck! I just didn’t know how to cut and bind them properly.

With a sudden burst of motivation, I decided that I should try and finish them, and here is my finished product! Sorry about the quality of the photos, as they were taken on my phone.

The front (shown over my Regency chemise)

The back

The outer layer is a peach and cream brocade, with a lining of calico. The boning channels are in twill tape and I have used plastic boning. The stays are bound with some peach-pink satin bias binding. The seams and channels have all been sewn with a sewing machine, but I ended up hand-sewed most of the binding. This made the tabs much easier to bind! The eyelets are hand worked and it is laced with the spiral lacing common to the 18th century.

Unfortunately, the top is a bit too big and the waist is a little too small. Obviously the last 13 years and 5 pregnancies have had an impact on my figure! Nevertheless, I am so pleased to be finished it. It means I can start another one that fits a bit better!

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern

My Regency Journey: Corset Construction

Sarah Hurst’s Diaries: From 1759 to 1762

Sources and Relevant Links

The Encyclopedia of Diedrot and d’Alembert, translated and available online.

The Diaries of Sarah Hurst, 1759-1762: Life and Love in Eighteenth Century Horsham, transcribed by Barbara Hurst, edited by Susan C. Djabri. – buy through Amazon

Corsets from the 18th century, (1700-1750) from the Kyoto Costume Institute

Corset, Panniers and Chemise, (1760-1780) from the Kyoto Costume Institute

Corset (c. 1770-1799), from the National Trust Collections

How to lace 18th century stays

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A Regency silhouette, showing the "bust shelf"

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.

The cut-out pieces (except the bust gussets, hip gussets and shoulder straps)

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.

The front and side back sewn (not felled yet), with a design drawing for the placement of the various decorative effects.

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.

Front detail: cording, quilting, boning, machine embroidery and busk-pocket hand embroidery.

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 two back pieces, with one boning channel sewn.

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.

Back detail

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.

Bust gusset detail

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.

Front view

Back view

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.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: In the beginning…

My Regency Journey: How to draft a corset pattern

How to Make a Regency Poke Bonnet in Ten Steps

Relevant Links

How to do Flat Felled Seams

Cording a corset

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

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The first stop on my Regency Journey is drafting the pattern for my Regency corset. I did a short corset-making course a few years ago, where I learnt the art of moulage in dressmaking, and I will be putting some of those skills to good use!

A moulage is essentially a mould of an individual’s upper body, obtained by their body measurements. An adjustable dressmakers dummy works well as a moulage (however the vertical dimensions of the dummy are not usually adjustable). The moulage can then be used to form a sloper, which is basically a two-dimensional pattern of this body shape, designed to fit the body like a glove. The sloper can then be used to draft practically any pattern by merely changing the design features.

For instance, once you know how big the waist is and how far above the hip line it sits, you can make a skirt with any feature (pockets, thick waistband, full-skirted, etc…) to fit these body dimensions, merely by changing the design of the pattern.

Using some of these techniques, I will be drafting a Regency corset pattern to fit me! The benefit of this is that the resulting garment is very comfortable and should fit soundly.

Whilst I have completed a short-course in corset-making, I am unfortunately no expert in the area of drafting patterns. One day I would love to learn the art of pattern drafting more thoroughly.

Steps to Drafting a Corset Pattern

Step One: Take your circumference measurements (of bust, waist and hips). Also take the vertical measurements, i.e. how far apart your bust line is from your waistline and your hipline. I also took my under-bust measurement. A bust separation measurement (the distance between the nipples) is also useful to help with the bust gusset placement.

Image Source: Readers Digest – Complete Guide to Sewing

Step Two: Mark them out on a sheet of paper. You will have three horizontal lines representing the position of your bust, waist and hips. The lines should be the same distance apart vertically that they are on your body. (But the length of these lines are irrelevant, i.e. the length of the line representing the waist should not be the circumference of the waist. Instead, just make them long.)

My three measurements (red horizontal lines): Bust, Waist, Hips.

Step Three: Begin to draw your pattern. I have conveniently skipped over the making-a-sloper part, and moved straight to the pattern drafting! At this point, it is important to determine the particular design features of your corset. An eighteenth century corset looks different to a nineteenth century one, so look carefully at the design features you want to include.

My pattern design (blue outline)

Some Regency design features of this pattern include: gussets to enable a breast cup, hip gussets, a busk in centre front (to increase rigidity), and shoulder straps (not shown). The actual gussets (which are triangular-shaped pieces designed to be inserted to give shape to a garment) are not shown here, but the vertical slits where they will be inserted are. I decided to partially make my corset and fit the gussets and straps once I could try it on.

Some tips in sketching out your pattern:

  • Patterns are usually drawn without seam allowances first, and then these are added later.
  • They are also usually drawn next to each other in the way they will be sewn.
  • Divide your circumference measurements (of bust, waist and hips) in half (as the pattern will only deal with half of your body). Use these halved numbers to help you make the pattern fit your body. For instance, if you add up the waist measurements of each pattern piece, they should add up to your halved waist circumference to fit correctly because you usually cut two of each piece.
  • For this particular pattern, the gussets in both the hipline and bustline change the measurements required. I allowed for two 5cm breast gussets on each side (so I subtracted 10cm from my halved bust measurement), and one 10cm hip gusset on each side (a subtraction of 10cm from my halved hip measurement).

You can use this method with any corset design. This is a Regency corset (1815), but I have also used this same procedure with a Rococo corset (1750) and a Victorian corset (mid-1800’s).

Step Four: Once your pattern is drawn accurately and matches your body measurements, overlay another piece of paper on top and trace the pattern pieces. Add the seam allowances (1.5cm is fairly standard).  Add the grainline, which is usually perpendicular to the waistline, unless you are cutting pieces on the bias. If you are cutting a piece on the bias, the grainline will run 45 degrees from the waistline. You could also add notches or some other guide to help you position the pieces correctly for sewing (I didn’t do this).

Tip: Use a dressmaker’s dummy to place your pattern pieces against to double check your measurements. I found this very useful for armhole placement (and to give myself the confidence that I had done it right!). The downside to this is that sometimes the dummy does not have the correct vertical body measurements.

Step Five: Cut out your pattern pieces, pin them on your material and you are ready to cut it out and begin your fabric work!

My pattern pieces pinned down, with seam allowances added.

The next step on My Regency Journey is constructing the corset!

Go to My Regency Journey to view all of my posts in order.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: In the beginning…

How to Make a Regency Poke Bonnet in Ten Steps

Relevant Links

History of Corsets – This site contains many corset designs from different eras

Achieving a proper fit with Regency stays – by Oregon Regency Society

Examples and pictures of Regency era underwear – Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion

An example of Using moulage to draft a Regency corset pattern – Sempstress

Draft Your Own Corset Pattern – by Foundations Revealed (The topic is Victorian corsets, but the same principles apply.)

Jane Austen Festival – website

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