View Full Version : A firm foundation...

08-20-2006, 11:58 PM
In another of the 'lost threads' of the old forum, I seem to recall a discussion of various ladies' undergarments (not just the 'whys' and 'wherefores,' but also the 'how-to.') I've made my way through Mrs. Clark's wonderful "Dressmaker's Guide" and skirt/petticoat workbook, and am wondering if anyone has any experience in making one's own corset. I've done a lot of sewing through the years, and am not as concerned with the difficulty of construction as I am with the fit. (I'm about 5'2" and, um, "well-rounded.") I'm on a very tight budget, and would be pleased to have anyone's comments on patterns/kits versus ready-made/made-to-order.

For what it's worth (in case it makes a difference) what I'm aiming for is:
- more (not less) authentic
- lower class (farm, servant, nurse, or poor teacher-type)
- cotton work dress
- corded petticoat (no hoops)

Ladies, thank you for reading this. Any information will be appreciated. Gentlemen, ... well, no 'real' gentleman would have read this far... ;)

Scottish Songbird
08-21-2006, 12:32 AM
Hi Carole,
Did you try looking at Past Patterns? They have kits for corsets that you can purchase relatively inexpensive. I have never made a corset before, usually just buy them. I was also thinking that maybe you would prefer a work corset, due to the impression you are trying to portray. They are not as heavily boned. I have seen patterns, but can't remember where? I'll try and search and let you know what I find!:)

P.S. Hey Gentlemen, if you're still reading....oh my!!!!:o ;)

08-21-2006, 12:52 AM
I have seen patterns, but can't remember where? I'll try and search and let you know what I find!:)

I saw two patterns on Kay Gnagey's website (for boned corsets and unboned stays) and wondered how different they would be to wear.

Is Past Patterns one of the more 'authentic' sources? I think there was a list in the old thread, for dress patterns at least, and a discussion 'somewhere' about whose patterns were more accurate and why.

08-21-2006, 01:46 AM
Being of a very curvy figure myself I fell in love with the pattern from Laughing Moon patterns...whichever the one was that doesn't have gores. I found her instuctions to be excellent and she does have fitting advice included. I didn't find it too hard to make up...though, I've made lots of corsets in my time (so I started reenacting when I was 14 and boy have things changed in the last 9 years!). The stuff to make the corset itself really isn't all that expensive....probably running 20-40 for all the hardware plus 17ish for the pattern.
As for bonned vs. unbonned stay. I'm busty so I just don't think an unbonned stay helps support all that well, and I don't think it helps the figure in the least so I always wear a bonned corset even when doing laundry, chopping wood and all the other fun stuff I do while portraying a hired girl.

Shameless Plug: I have a bunch of stuff I'm looking to sell just because I don't wear it anymore....so if you are needing anything let me know and I'll see what is in the pile :-D

08-21-2006, 05:41 AM
Yes, Past Patterns is one of the more authentic choices for patterns. It sounds like you are looking for soft or working stays for your impression. I bought mine from Linda Gray for around $75, so making your own could save you almost half the cost.

08-21-2006, 07:12 AM
I'm just about to cut out my Past Patterns corset pattern today! I talked to Saundra Ros Altman last year when I was expecting and I wanted to make her gestational stay. I also was looking to make my own regular corset after the baby was born. She was able to recommend what she thought would be the best for me. I'm not big busted and I've also had a mastectomy and reconstruction after breast cancer so I'm a bit lopsided right now. She said the Madame Foy was relatively easy to put together and I should be able to fit it for me. If you are larger you may want to try a longer corset. I've been borrowing an older corset from our civilan coordinator and it's been so nice to have the extra support. Give Saundra a call and I'm sure she can set you up.
I've also gotten supplies from Corsetmaking.com and Farthingales up in Canada. Good luck.

08-21-2006, 09:05 AM
Some thoughts:

Avoid kits. While they may work for those with very average figures, I find that the boning lengths will not generally be "right" for those with curvy or difficult figures. Order boning and busk when you have finished a test version.

For that test version, use inexpensive cotton broadcloth or sateen in a double layer, and cheapo plastic boning to add minimal fabric support while you fit. This helps you see what wrinkles are fitting issues, and which were just unsupported fabric issues that will go away with addition of cording or boning.

As a curvy person, I like a little bit of steel... mostly at the center back for support at the lacing plackets. Your corset wants to live at your narrowest point (even a perfectly fitted one will want this)--boning keeps it where YOU want it, and denies it its natural inclination. Often, if there are problems with riding up and binding at the back waist, it's a combination of lack of back hip flare, and lack of back boning support.

Remember that body fat compresses easily. It's vital to fit the corset or stays snug and smooth with a steady gap at the center back for lacing. This can be accomplished by sewing in a "waste piece" at the center back (for the even pull you'd get from lacing) and fitting down from there, leaving a steady 3-4" "spring". When in use, this easily vanishes to 1-2".

Past Patterns corset/stay patterns are lovely and accurate; for very curvy folks, I also like Homespun Patterns Front Fastening Corset 1863 (http://www.jamescountry.com) This has a separate shaped hip panel, and is easy to adjust for waist height--perfect for those with very "sudden" hips. The Laughing Moon pattern has good reviews from many for ease of construction and fitting. Even the Simplicity Martha McCain Fashion Historian corsets can be useful, if you pick them up on the $2 sales days.

For an active impression, fit the corset gently (still smooth, but don't try for a lot of waist shaping or compression), allow generous hip flare in most cases, and bone lightly, supplementing with cording to stabilize and shape as needed.

Go for a fit that reaches the mid-bust/nipple line, and covers at least a handspan below the waist for hip coverage.

Making your own may involve a version or two before it's tweaked just right. For that reason, I like this construction sequence:

Seam outer corset.
Seam lining.
Lay them wrong sides together.
Stitch casings/cording channels
Bind top and bottom
Stitch in busk and set back grommets.

This sequence makes it fairly easy to take off a portion of the binding, reposition boning or cording, slit open seams to insert gussets for greater flare, trim and rebind the curve of the top or bottom edge... lots of alterations possible without remaking the whole thing. And, in the case of my Franken-Corset, the top edge will survive entirely unbound (but held together with a row of sturdy backstitch) for at least five years. :) Isn't pretty, but it's functional.

08-21-2006, 06:52 PM
Thank you all for your input. You've given me a lot of good information, and I'll be spending this evening (and more) following up on it. I'll let you know how it turns out.

[School starts next week for us. Those of you with young-ish children might recognize in me the symptoms of 'project-prep hyperdrive' ... ;) ]

Thanks again.

Faye Dufour
08-28-2006, 12:19 PM
I had my corset custom made by a lady who was a member of a re-enacting group I belonged to. I am not "well endowed", but am broad across the back, with a long torso, so having someone who could measure me and then try on a "muslin corset" to make sure it came down over the hips properly made a big difference. A well made, properly fitted corset is comfortable -- I can vouch for that having worn it not only under dresses, but also during my impression as a Religious Sister of Mercy (even at Chickamauga 1999 (aka "Chickadusty). It also give the proper "figure" for the CW era. Alas, my corset, along with everything else I owned was lost to Katrina. I re-joined the CW Discussion Forum because I missed talking about the era -- at least I can re-enact if only in my mind.

Faye Dufour