March 19, 2014

Beginning the Romantic Era Corset

Back to that Romantic Era corset, shall we?

Late 1820's stays from Corsets and Crinolines, page 76

The drawing above is of a late 1820's corset from Corsets & Crinolines.  Page 76 features a pattern taken from this corset in the collection of the Manchester Art Gallery (Accession Number: 1948.250).  All those crazy lines and patterns are cording, quilting or embroidery.  I've set my sanity aside long enough to convince myself to make this, or something quite like it.

The image provided by the Manchester Art Gallery is not the highest quality, and it's difficult to see the details.  Luckily, the V&A has a VERY similar corset.  So similar, in fact, that I thought the C&C pattern was taken from the V&A corset for a while!  A closer look reveals small differences, but overall the two are remarkably alike, right down to the vine embroidery in the curved waist sections and the scalloping in between the bust gussets.  I wonder if these were made by the same person?

Corset, ca. 1825 - 1835, V&A museum number T.57-1948
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I decided to use the pattern and design from the Manchester corset, fleshed out with details from the V&A corset.  I'm updating it to fit into the 1830s (though as we saw earlier, there's not a whole lot of differences between 20's and 30's corsets!) with a slightly more nipped in waist, and I'm making it strapless so that it can be worn under an off the shoulder ballgown.  I chose to swap the straight wooden bust for a split busk for ease of dressing.  It's not common on corsets of this era, but the split busk was invented in 1829 so it could have been in use in the 30's.  Keep in mind that for this project I'm not going for strict accuracy, though I do prefer to keep within the bounds of possibility. 

In switching out the type of busk, I wanted to maintain some of the super strong support in the front that would have been provided by the original straight one piece busk.  The most commonly available type of split busk today is fairly flexible and doesn't provide strong support, so I went looking for an alternative.

I can bend the lightweight white busk nearly in half with no effort at all,
but the heavy duty busk doesn't want to bend much, even under pressure.

I found an extra wide, heavy duty stainless steel busk at Sew Curvy.  Each side is 1 inch wide, for a whopping 2 inches across!  I'm confident that this super stiff busk will provide plenty of support. 

Scaling up the pattern proved to be pretty tricky.  At first I attempted a rough method that sometimes works, or at least gets you in the ballpark.  I scanned it into CorelDraw, then scaled it up proportionally until the total waist measurement of the pattern was 1/2 my desired waist (because, of course, the pattern is only half of the corset) and printed it out to see what it looked like.  The results were... comical.

Just... no.

Yup, that's the bottom of the corset hitting well below my crotch.  It's practically a minidress.  So much for that method.

What followed was a lot of unscientific smooshing and mooshing of lines in CorelDraw until I felt it was more or less in my size, then mocking it up.  I was able to Hulk out of the first mockup simply by flexing my abs (seriously, it burst at multiple seams and fabric went a-flying everywhere), so it was back to the drawing board to add more around the upper chest and hips.  After I got the fit right, the pattern pieces were proportioned very differently from the original, so it was a challenge to redesign the cording and embroidery to fit in the new shapes.

The redesigned front piece.  I used multiple colors to
help me quickly differentiate between lines indicating
boning, cording, embroidery, seams and cut lines.

It's quite a bit shorter overall, and obviously a lot wider.  I think it will end up looking like a slightly strange hybrid of late Regency and early Victorian, which is pretty much what I'm going for.  Now I just have to actually sew all of it...

7 comments:

  1. Huzzah! this is wonderful to see. Can I suggest that if the wider busk isn't strong enough on it's own (and it wasn't for my significant family chest) that you insert a flat steel behind each side. That really helped mine work properly.

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    1. That's a good idea! I was also considering the possibility of using a wide, heavy bone as an underbusk, which both gives extra strength and makes it so that you can't see anything through that sliiiiight gap between the two sides of the busk.

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    2. I thought about doing that too :)

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  2. I'm so excited to see this! You did so much work on this pattern! I would never have that much patience.

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    1. Sometimes it's less "patience" and more "bitter determination to not let this pattern get the better of me, no matter how long it takes." :P I think we all have our moments!

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