Of Corset Works!

This was another of those projects that hit me at a time when I was 'otherwise engaged'!  I was  working on some bridesmaid outfits (the pink ones you can see elsewhere on the web site), and the boned bodices inspired me to have a go at something I'd been meaning to play with for a while: an Elizabethan corset!

As usual with me. I did a bit of hunting about and fidgeting with ideas until I came across one I thought looked like it would both work and be reasonably authentic: Drea Leed's wonderful website and her Elizabethan Corset Pattern Generator!  Way hay!  All the fun and none of the sums!  The geometry had already been worked out!  I fed it my measurements, and printed out all the instructions (I work better from sheets of paper, 'coz I can scribble notes in the margins!) and off I went...

I put out a call for comments on this pattern in a couple of places, and they were all positive, so the next thing to do was to quarry in the loft for supplies of fabric...

pattern.jpg (102548 bytes) Here you can see the odd shape of the pattern.  The center front is at the right hand side, and the center back where the lacing will be is at the left.
pattern&notes.JPG (116745 bytes) I was a little puzzled at first by the way my pattern wasn't quite the same shape as the one in the illustrations, but some reassurance from Drea soon put me right!  I may have to trim the bottom edge a bit when I try it on for the first time.
fabric.jpg (41696 bytes) I thought I'd make the body of this with some stout cotton canvas trousering, and line it with some of the calico I used to line the wench bodice.  Fabric shopping in the loft again!
Bottomline.JPG (54000 bytes) After cutting and trying this round me, I knew the bottom edge needed 'editing'!  Here you can see the new line drawn in.
re-cut.jpg (64820 bytes) This was the new profile: much closer to the pictures, for some reason....
firstbone.JPG (48217 bytes) The first bone is in!  Here you can see that I have also added a strip of fusible tailoring interfacing to help stabilize the fabric when putting in the eyelets.  There is also a strip on the lining side.

This is a Rigeline nylon boning fused to a canvas cover.  You just stitch it into place through the cotton edge.  It's fairly light weight, so we'll see how it does!  I stitched this first one through both the outer canvas and the lining.

holemarks.JPG (38120 bytes) Here you can see the marks for the eyelets: there will be eleven pairs.  You can also see how the paler lining wraps round the edge opening and finishes it off neatly.  This means the first line of boning is very firmly stitched in, and shouldn't work loose.  The intention is to sew the remainder of the boning to the inside of the outer canvas only, and to fix the outer canvas and the lining together at the front where the busk pocket forms, and at the sides.  The top and bottom edges will be bound.

While not as ridged as some steel boning, the advantage if this stuff is that because it is bonded to the canvas casing and stitched through, it can't shift about the way that boning in casing formed by stitching pockets or channels in the lining and canvas can.  It's also finer but more ridged than the Rigeline made of  strands of stiff nylon line woven into a strip.

Holecutting.JPG (87139 bytes) Here you can see the hole cutting!  I need to cut and sew each hole individually, as even with the stabilizing strips of interfacing, the canvas can fray.  
eyeletplate.JPG (70962 bytes) This is the nifty eyelet plate fixed to the bed of the machine.  Eyelet sewing is done with the feed dogs down and no foot on the machine.  The zigzag stitches are formed in the slot in the plate.
oneyeletplate.JPG (35791 bytes) Here's the cut eyelet squidged down over the eyelet post.  You need to cut the holes very slightly smaller than the eyelet plate post, so they are a snug fit.
1stpass.jpg (39419 bytes) And this is me going round the hole!  The trick here is to go fairly slowly, turning the cloth at a steady rate, so the stitches are even.  The other thing to remember it to lower the presser foot to get the tension on the thread!

I put the eyelets in before all the boning because it was easier to do this as I have to turn the garment through 360 degrees twice as I sew each one, and this is easier with less boning.  To make the eyelet good and strong, I sew it with a stitch width of 3 mm on the first pass, and 4 mm on the second pass.

completehole.JPG (63035 bytes) Here you can see the nicely sewn eyelet!  MUCH better than a nasty metal grommet, and smaller and neater than over-sewing a grommet to hide it!  I get good dense stitch cover with this thread from Empress Mills, in Lancashire.  It's 50's weight, so slightly thicker than the standard cotton machine sewing thread.  It's more like a quilting thread than buttonhole twist, which tends to be too stiff for this sort of work.
alleyeletsdone.JPG (103168 bytes) All eleven pairs of eyelets sewn!  You have to admit that looks WAAAAAY better than a whole row of massive shiny grommets!

For garb sewers, whether or not a sewing machine does decent eyelets should be towards the top of the list of features looked at before buying.

Ok, so for real authenticity I should poke holes with an awl and buttonhole stitch the eyelets by hand, but for an experimental garment made out of a gash bit of fabric, I'm not going to THAT much trouble!  I'm not sure I could poke a big enough hole with an awl in this densely woven fabric anyway!

bones.jpg (81176 bytes) Here is the front of the corset about half way through the boning process.  I pinched some from the bridesmaids and had to got out for more!
woodmarking.JPG (86134 bytes) At this point I really started to need the busk...  And after a trip to Royal Tunbridge Wells for boning (I bought another 10 m!), another  twenty-four 11 mm plastic buttons to cover, some buttonhole elastic and a few odd other bits for other projects, DH bought a bit of hardwood skirting board  - a whole eight feet of it, because this is the length it comes!  - and started committing woodwork...


cutting.jpg (294734 bytes) He cut it roughly to shape, following a pattern I gave him
sanding.jpg (47963 bytes) Sanded it down...  See the nifty way he arranged the belt sander to get the results we needed!
finishing.JPG (50566 bytes) It was finished off with a fine grade of paper, had a pair of holes drilled at the top end...
finishedbusk.JPG (16058 bytes) And there it was, done!  Didn't he do well! 
inpocket.jpg (77501 bytes) Here it's being tried in the pocket for the first time.
pocketed.jpg (72944 bytes) Snugly hidden away in the pocket!
ribbon.jpg (67923 bytes) Here you see me putting the ribbon round the top and bottom edges.  I won't use this again - it's way too stiff.  I need a good alternative, and I don't think they used bias binding!
frontstraight.JPG (32713 bytes) Here you can clearly see the straight front of the corset.
backview.jpg (63527 bytes) And the back laced up quite snugly, with some help from a handy bloke I know...

Hmm...  With hips like these, do I really need a bum roll?  Possibly a small one!

underarm.jpg (27495 bytes) This shows the curve under the arm.  We'll take better pictures when I have a proper chemise rather than a T-shirt!
frontview.JPG (56151 bytes) Here I am in all it's glory!  Well, it was quite a fun exercise, but there are a few things I might do differently next time...  It's not as pointy at the bottom as I expected, but the pattern is a full 14" top to bottom.  The busk measures 13".


Oh, dear!  I said 'next time', not 'if I do another one'!  Oops!

So, given that I am unlikely to attend a faire in period garb in the near future, was it worth the effort?  Well, yes, on the whole.  It was an awful lot easier than I thought it might be, though I might do quite a few different things next time round.  Some will be purely for my convenience (like serging the edges of the fabric, if I use this again, because it frayed rather a lot!), and some will be for greater authenticity.  The boning worked, up to a point, but I really needed a bit more than I used here, and next time I might well spring for the heavy duty steel stuff, and make the pockets properly.  I think it certainly needs stronger boning along the back edges, and if I did it with the pocketed boning, I could slide it in after making the eyelets...

Another idea I had was to use a bit of the stiff buckram like stuff I used in the wench kit bodice, as a sort of interlining.  And I'd quite like to do one with the boned tabs...

I think before I do that, however, I'll do another bodice for the wench kit, and then my lilac satin court dress...  Now for that I shall need some trims that look a tad more authentic than those I usually see in the local shops!  Do I go for wire woven metallic trims?  And what sort of pattern should they have?

Email: Kate if you have any helpful suggestions!

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