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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Learning things and corsets

I learn things by doing. Not that I don't like reading, I do, I am a voracious reader but some things I really just have to dive in and do to understand properly.
You see, I have read all sorts of information about 18th century corsets, I have read books and blogs, I have pored over photos and drawings and I'm still kind of puzzled yet fascinated by them.
I have no idea if I could get one to fit my upper assets comfortably - what with the squashing issue.
And so in spite of having doubts about my ability to wear a boned corset comfortably I decided to see if:
a. I could make one
b. it would be comfortable enough to wear
c. it would not be a complete shemozzle.
Gosh I do love a challenge.
So I thought I would start off with a commercial pattern since drafting a pattern from a little picture is a bit too much of a challenge.
Oh and do feel free to shudder with horror as you read. Some of you I know are pretty awesome in the corset department but I'm not a re-enactor, so authenticity isn't important. In fact the only important thing is that I have fun making it.
So Butterick B4254 it is - mostly because it has THE LOOK and a front lacing version which I will need as I don't have a ladies maid to lace me up. Although it would have been better if it had the spiral lacing but maybe I could work that out instead of that criss cross rubbish the pattern shows which must be much more difficult to lace.
And I totally get the mock-up thing but my mock ups need to be a bit more complete than many others may need to do.  There was just no way I could measure up those pattern bits and work out if it would fit without sewing it almost to completion. 
And gee I love the bits of information pattern companies manage to leave out and the ambiguities in the patterns. Like where certain boning channels have been cut short in the front panel. Grrr.
I used the remaining material from my Quasi-18th century dress, a heavy weight calico and purchased boning in the fabric casing.
Anyway I made it up - well up to the point where I realised it would be too big, but that's Butterick all over for you. 
But the big thing was that I enjoyed it, I really did!  
I actually found it rather soothing - although I am glad I tied off the threads as I went.  And I don't regret using pretty fabric because I've found that unless a thing is appealing to my eyes I can't be bothered. As a darling friend of mine once said, "there is NO excuse for ugly".
So I am readying myself to have another bash - this time a smaller size.
This time I will also use two layers of canvas (bought from my favourite artist supplies store) and sew the channels rather than sewing on that material casing I bought the commercial boning in. 
And I've bought industrial strength cable ties to give them a go.  
And I plan... wait for it..... to sew my own eyelets!  I don't like metal ones and the cheap ones obviously would pull out so that'll keep me busy.
Totally mad. Barking!
Have a nice weekend.


  1. I tried that pattern once - yep, turned out too big for me as well. Butterick >:(

  2. I still have a perfectly lovely corset made from that pattern, but despite doing a mock-up in muslin first it still came out a tad too big to really be firm. I eventually had the perfect corset made for me by Lauren at American Duchess, and now I won't make a corset for me any other way.

    Good luck with the project, sounds like you are learning a lot!

    1. Thanks for that! I noted that there is someone on Etsy who will draft a pattern from your measurements - which I like the sound of - but that can wait. I shall perservere. Like I said. Barking.

  3. My first pair of stays was made using this pattern. I always go one size smaller than the envelope says, with any of the commercial pattern companies, and especially with corsets, although mine turned out short-waisted (that's just me, freaky long-waist, lol). In general I really like this pattern and I found it to be surprisingly historically accurate. The criss-cross lacing did exist in the 18th c., but was used for decorative motifs rather than any load-bearing lacing, so you are right to change the lacing to zig-zag, so much easier to manage when lacing in yourself.

    If you're looking for a good place to start for drafting your own pattern, I will share my secret -

    It gives you one big piece for each side of the corset, but you can slice it up into the pieces needed for the 18th c. styles. The fit achieved with this tool is really very very good.

    I look forward to seeing your stays when finished, so don't be shy! :-)

    1. Thanks for the tips and support Lauren. I wasn't sure whether to go one size or two sizes smaller or some strange mixture of the two as I don't have a very broad back - but I'm pretty statuesque in the front.
      And it's funny isn't it, most of us would love to be longer waisted not realising the issues it causes with the fit of clothes. Everyone has some issue to deal with.
      I will go and have a sticky at that link, it sounds interesting. Cheers S

  4. I made these stays a few years ago! They're lovely. In fact, I'm making a second pair right now. The first was ivory taffeta, but I wanted an everyday pair of stays, so the second is aqua twill. Commercial patterns are always too big, especially "historical" styles, so I did a mockup to verify that I needed to go down in size. I discovered that the shoulder straps were very uncomfortable---they forced my posture into an unnatural position, which gave me a backache that lasted several days. So, I removed the straps, making my stays strapless. Much better! I also raised the front neckline, so the girls wouldn't spill out, and adjusted the eyelets, so I could spiral lace. (You can find my sewing diary at my website,