Reform Corset

One of my current client projects is a reform corset to be worn with a WWI nurse’s uniform. This corset presents an interesting challenge because while there are plenty of old advertisements to be found, images of existing corsets are hard to find and often don’t show much detail. Back views are even harder to find, although there is a Jaeger corset at the V&A with a photo that confirms they do lace up the back. In addition, the closest pattern I’ve found is Ageless Patterns’ corset waist for a 12-14 year old girl, and the V&A corset is also sized for a young girl, which isn’t very helpful when drafting a pattern for a grown woman.

Patterning the second draft.

Patterning the second draft.

So I’ve been slicing and dicing the pattern I do have, making it bigger, adding curves, and adding style lines similar to those on the V&A corset. My first draft was for the rough shape and size I would need, and the second draft focused more on the proportions of the front panels. Luckily, the photo in Underwear: Fashion in Detail appears to be nearly life sized, at least around the neckline and bust. I’m basing this on the fact that the buttons in the photo are approximately 5/8″ and the twill tape binding is about 1/4″, both of which make sense with the scale of the overall garment. The buttonhole openings are 3/4″ wide, measuring from seam to where the edge is bound, which is right for a 5/8″ button. So even though the overall proportions are smaller than what I need, I was able to get some valuable measurements that I could apply to my own version.

I’m not reproducing the Jaeger corset exactly, although I am drawing heavily on it for inspiration.  I’m leaving in a hip gusset from the Ageless Patterns corset, because several the other reform corsets have this detail and it seems useful in fitting a woman rather than a girl. I love the pleated bust gusset, but since my version will be in cotton and my client wants it to be washable, I’m doing a gathered gusset, which is actually more common in the other examples I can find. I don’t see any need to change the width of the buttonhole placket or the straps, other than length.  I intend to copy the method of making buttonholes by leaving spaces between folded and topstitched pieces of fabric rather than by cut and bound buttonholes, because I find the detail very attractive and think it will be sturdy, as well. I also like the quilted detail on the back of the straps and all the cording, so those will also be in my version.

Reform corset pattern draft.

Reform corset pattern draft.

Reform corset mocked up in muslin.

Reform corset mocked up in muslin.

The second draft fit really well, and my client reports that it is very comfortable.  The bust gusset starts at a good point right under the bust, but needs a little more fullness in the gusset itself so the gathers don’t have all their fullness pulled out.  The straps are a little short and I’d like to fine-tune the shaping on some of the pieces, and make the curves a little more elegant. It doesn’t need many changes, however, and I’ll be moving on to construction this week. Before that can happen I need to experiment with the fiddly details, like the strips of fabric that make up the buttonholes down the front and on the straps, and how to cord and bone it without losing too much width and making it smaller than it should be.

Also in progress for this client are a pair of chemise-drawer combinations, to be trimmed with tatted lace and embroidery made by my client’s grandmother, the beginnings of a 1912 long and narrow corset, and a princess slip. I’m also busty checking off items on my personal project list. I started an 1830’s corded petticoat and the 18th c. tall hat was finished over the weekend, with pictures coming soon.


Costumes for Sale

I am such a sporadic blogger that I don’t know if anyone is even still reading along.  However, I am selling off some of the sample pieces I’ve featured here, and I wanted to spread the word to anyone still following.  Time to clean out the closets and make room for new projects!

NOTE: Most of these are prototype garments and may be slightly flawed. All garments have been worn 2-5 times. I’m happy to discuss details if you have any questions/concerns. All sales final.

Regency Gentleman

Men’s Regency grey wool coat lined in black silk, blue silk waistcoat, and black wool breeches. Made to fit measurements Chest 38, Waist 34, Seat 40, Sleeve 32 1/2. $400

Small issues with lining on coat, lapels on waistcoat, knee bands on breeches.

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18h century Court Suit

18th c. court suit of blue silk taffeta with pink silk lining, embellished with machine embroidery and silver spangles. Coat and breeches ONLY. Waistcoat not for sale. Made to fit measurements Chest 38, Waist 34, Seat 40, Sleeve 32 1/2. $600

Issues with sleeves (mostly hidden), small issues with lining, breeches need closure added at the knee, small flaws in embroidery.

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Regency Stays

Regency corded stays with wooden busk and embroidery. Cotton sateen over coutil. Mix of cording, flat steel and spiral steel for support. Measurements when worn with 3″ gap at back: 51-45-54. $350.

Prototype garment, some changes were made during the process and show needlemarks/wear where stitches were changed, most noticeably right below the busk.

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Renaissance Woman

Renaissance upper middle class brown wool doublet with velvet ribbon and handmade trim, slashing, and handmade buttons, lined in burgundy silk. Matching open skirt of burgundy silk with cartridge pleated waistband. Doublet and skirt ONLY. Approx measurements Bust 48, Waist 40. Skirt hemmed for someone 5’4″, but hem could be let down. $500

Slight repairs needed on button placket. Nothing wrong with this one except the size!

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Lady’s Victorian Ensemble

Victorian blouse of sheer sprigged muslin lined in cotton, and pink linen walking skirt lined with cotton and interlined with crinoline. Made to fit measurements 52-40-56, and hemmed for someone 5’4″. Hem cannot be lengthened easily. Lace jabot not included. $350

A few loose stitches in the lining of the blouse. Nothing wrong with this one except size. Made with Truly Victorian 1893 Blouse Waist pattern and Laughing Moon Walking Skirt pattern.

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Regency Stays

This is my 2011 Double Period Project for Foundations Revealed.  I worked on this project in my free time around clients, and kept forgetting to take pictures of the process.  I took some notes for the dress diary, and will try to fill in as much as I can.


When trying to research stays suitable for 1800-1815, I kept getting distracted by stays from 1820-30.  I loved the cording and the embroidery and the details.  In particular, I loved the 1819 stays  and 1820 quilted corset in the Kyoto Costume Institute’s collection, as well as a pair on Karen Augusta’s site and a pair in the V&A.

1820 quilted corset. Kyoto Costume Institute.

1825-30 stays of cotton sateen with gold floss and brass eyelets. Karen Augusta #0081.

1825-35 stays with trapunto work. V&A T.57-1948.


The same design details caught my eye over and over.   I love the quilting and curved lines at the waist.  I also liked the boning fanning out from the busk, and the extra quilting along the back. Unfortunately, these stays are all much later than my target date of 1812, and the shapes are too curvy to go under the columnar Regency styles.

Thanks to the Transitional Stays article on Foundations Revealed, I had many more examples to look at.  A couple in particular caught my eye: the 1811 stays at the Missouri Historical Society and the 1815-25 stays at the Met.

c. 1811 stays. Missouri Historical Society.


1815-25 cotton stays. The Met 2009.300.3229.


These examples are a little earlier, enough that I could feel comfortable looking to them for inspiration for a pair of 1812 stays.  They still show the details of quilting, curved lines, and embroidery  that I like, while keeping the overall design much simpler.

Another interesting note is that these examples all have sewn-in straps instead of straps that are adjustable and tied in place with ribbons.  I like the clean look of the sewn-in straps, but realize I probably need the adjustability of straps that tie on. I decided to skip complete authenticity in order to have more flexibility later.


I decided to use the Mantua Maker 1800-20 Stays pattern as my base, and refer to pictures and scaled patterns in books for additional design details. For the most part, the stays are still pretty close to the Mantua Maker pattern, with the main adjustments being in the size and placement of the gussets.

Once the pattern was complete and the mock-up was fitted, I added design lines to the pattern for the layout of quilting and embroidery stitches.  I marked the area for the busk, and lines for additional boning across the stomach. I added curving lines of cording at the bust and waist with room for embroidery in between, and filled in the space with diamond-paned quilting. I also added some simple cording to the back, and ran cording along the sides of the bust and under the arms.


I chose a cotton sateen for the outer layer of the stays, but opted to use coutil for the inner layers.  Most of the examples I looked at seem to be linen or cotton, and some appear to be only one layer.  I’m a plus-sized girl, and I didn’t really trust plain-weave cotton or linen alone to provide the support I need.  I know coutil is sturdy and would do the job, even if it wasn’t totally period-correct. I chose to use two layers of coutil, one flatlined to the sateen and one as the inner layer, so I could stitch boning channels between the two layers. This would also allow me to encase all my seams between the layers, and not have the stitching show on the inside of the stays.

I stitched several samples of the cording, playing around with width between rows of stitches and multiple strands of cord. I was using Sugar ‘n Cream cotton for the cording, and decided 2 strands had enough substance when sewn into a channel.

I also experimented with crossed rows of stitching, to see if I would need to change how I stitched the diamond-paned section. I discovered that I could ease my needle and cording in between the machine stitches where they crossed without breaking them.  This made sewing the actual channels much simpler and cleaner.

I found that the size of the cording channels made a huge difference: too wide and the cording lay flat and without texture, and too small and the cord was almost impossible to insert.  I used my stitch-in-the-ditch foot and adjusted my needle position to allow me to stitch precisely at the measurement that looked best with my cording and fabric.

I started with the front panel of the stays, and marked out the stitch pattern for the cording and embroidery. I left extra fabric at my seam allowances, since I anticipated that the cording would take up a bit of fabric.  I basted the coutil and sateen together, then started stitching.  I stitched each row of cording one line at a time,  first the widely spaced rows that made up the grid, and then a second pass to make the narrow channels for cording.

The embroidery is stitched by machine.  I tried to use patterns that looked simple and similar to the ones on existing stays.  I wanted a soft color that would not show through a white dress. Gold seems to be a common choice, but not really my favorite, so I finally settled on a soft lavender.

Detail of cording and embroidery.

Since the busk was tapered, I needed the opening to be at the top of the corset.  I noticed that several period stays had extra rows of cording below and above the busk.  Since my busk was a little shorter than the length of the stays, this seemed like a good detail to add in.

The cording was inserted with a yarn needle from the back side of the coutil, under the sateen, and back through the coutil. The hardest part was keeping a grip on the needle while moving it through the channels.  Since the needle is in between layers of fabric, and the channels were fairly snug, it was hard to hold it and pull. By the end of even this small amount of cording, my hands were very sore. Slightly wider channels would probably  make the process easier.

I stitched all the cording channels and inserted cording before the sections of the stays were sewn together. This meant I needed careful placement, since some lines of cording matched up across seams, and others ran very close to my seam allowance.


Cording along side and back of stays.

I put flat steel boning at each side of the busk and at center back. I also added boning channels on the sides because I didn’t think cording alone would be enough, and the corset was wrinkling up without some sort of boning.  Flat steels poked out too much, and reed wasn’t strong enough on its own, so I settled on spiral steel for the 3 channels on each side.  Not period, but it keeps the fabric smooth and is flexible enough to be comfortable.

I ended up needing to wear the stays before I had a chance to bind them. I’m glad, because not only did I need to adjust the boning as mentioned above, I also found that it came up too high under my arms and needed to be adjusted.  The busk was another issue – I had measured the busk before I ran the lines of cording below it, but hadn’t accounted for the space I would need to add eyelets at the top to tie it in place.  I needed to deepen the busk pocket and shorten the corded area, which unfortunately left some marks on the sateen when I took out the stitching.  I also narrowed the straps slightly and cleaned up some curves.

In order to wear the stays before they were finished, I put in grommets and tacked the straps in place with stitching. Later, I removed the grommets so I could hand-stitch eyelets instead.  I added eyelets for the straps and at the top of the busk, and used twill tape to hold them in place.

The binding is cotton sateen, finished at 1/4″ wide.  I stitched it by machine to the front side of the stays, then wrapped it around and finished it on the inside by hand.  The only exception was the curve at the bottom of the straps, which needed both sides sewn by hand.  I ran a ribbon inside the binding at the top of the bust gussets so I could gather them in as needed.

Finished stays.



The Importance of Correct Corseting

by Clarice I. Wile

The Modern Priscilla, March 1911

Fig. 1 A Novel Shaped Corset of Embroidered Batiste

Inasmuch as, all through the coming season, we are to be debarred from the charming, not to say daring, color schemes which have been devised for our benefit and beautifying, it is obvious that, if we wish to achieve success and distinction in our dress, we must pay particular attention to our contours. And as, for their desired perfection we are almost entirely dependent upon our corsets – practically all our day and evening gowns being destitute of any boning in the bodices – we are prepared to appreciate to the fullest extent the beautiful shaping of the new corsets, that are made with careful regard to the comfort as well as the smartness of their wearers, now to be found on the market.

Fashions in corsets for this year are entitled to some attention, although they have, in print, long since been discounted and are at present simply matter-of-course affairs. They are also the outcome of the change in fashions of gowns which began to materialize a year ago.  The vagaries of waist-line fashions and the rather morbid craze for an attenuated physique, frankly outlined, which have lived through several seasons of popularity and are still desperately opposing the change to normal lines, are no longer in power and the feminine cry already is a familiar paraphrase – long live the waist line.

If you will just notice the gowning of an up-to-date woman you will see that the lower edge of her belt or girdle or the cord at the bottom of the latest waists defines the normal waist line. It has no dip at the front, but instead curves slightly upward over the hip and across the back. This indicates that the corset she wears, also thoroughly up-to-date, is shaped to her figure at the line just described.

This season the straight up and down silhouette is the fashionable one, the aim being to give the effect of an uncorseted figure. To gain this end, the lightest of corset fabrics are used. Some of these materials are very handsome, the brocaded fabrics in particular are most alluring, and there are some chic linens and coutils embroidered from the bust to the waist line as a new feature.  The tricot, or silk jersey, on account of its strength and suppleness, is used to a large extent. In fact, one of the features of the new corset lies in the character of the material used rather than the cut. The long hip line must be preserved, and the waist curving, therefore, one of the important features. In order to make the flexibility of the figure pronounced, very little boning is resorted to, and great ingenuity must be shown to give this much desired flexibility where it is essential to use any amount of boning. The harness of hose-supporters, which has created so much ridicule, has been lessened, and although the corsets are long, the bones do not extend below the hip line, all of which makes a plea for comfort.

The most important feature of the new corsets are the long waist lines, decidedly long, but in every way comfortable. The garments fit so perfectly at the lowest possible line that they cannot be moved after once placed in position. It is possible to take hold of the top of the corset and pull it up as hard as you like, without moving it half an inch. This is undoubtedly an unusual achievement and one which has been needed for a long time. The long waist is maintained even when the bust of the corset is very low, and even the wide belts worn on dresses give no appearance of shortness of the figure. Aside from this, the new corsets are better in value than those of preceding years. The boning is stronger, for the importance of good stays in long corsets has been made apparent, and an excellent quality of hose-supporters has supplanted the rather questionable affairs which have been used on really good corsets.

The average woman is not in a position to buy a different corset to wear every day in the month, and many women who never have a corset made to order though abundantly able to do so, might follow with advantage some of the practices of the rich in their over-the-counter buying. Women of fashion, it seems, pay little personal attention to the ordering of their corsets, leaving the selection to their corsetiere, whom they pay by the year as would a parent trying to correct defects in her child’s lines. The new corsets, as made by corsetieres to change the present line of the figure to more natural ones, are expensive, and part of the cost for them lies in the care given to their designing and fitting, both of which must have as much attention as the gowns under which they are to be worn.

Fig 2. A Front Laced Corset With Some Special Features

A new advice to women when putting on a corset has just reached me and which I believe will be a help to you, as it is an important one concerning proper corseting. When the new corsets are put on, the lacers are to be left wide apart and the hooking is to begin at the top, but before drawing up the lacers, pull the corset down in the back as much as you used to pull them down in the front. Slip the hand inside below the waist, first over one hip and then the other, gently pulling up the flesh and pressing the corsets downward. This keeps the stays in place and prevents them from riding up or giving that old-fashioned slant to the waist line. Then the lacing helps to accentuate this effect.

Another new idea devised recently, and with good results, is to draw the lacers downward instead of upward. If this is done, you will notice how the figure gains, and the most perfect lines will result from doing this, while the health of the woman improved at the same time.  This is the normal position for the body to assume.  The new corsets, when properly adjusted, give the back a different curve. Instead of making the figure slope in at the waist with a sway back effect, the spine assumes almost and outward curve there and the abdomen is held in a normal position instead of being drawn inward and upward until it loses itself in other parts of the anatomy. The position does not make the woman look stoop-shouldered. It gives her the proper balance of the body once more and takes away that unbending and cuirassed effect which suggests the stiff corset at once. The silhouette of the latest figure shows the bust in normal position, neither pushed up under the chin nor pendant. The new corsets are responsible for this agreeable effect. The high bust corset never did give a woman good lines. The low busted corsets worn even up the lengths from shoulders to bust and bust to belt, restoring the artistic balance in line that has been absent from the silhouette of the past three or four seasons.

The new corsets are long-waisted and low busted. Although the new waist lines in some of the costumes are higher, it is certain that this rule will be followed in all the gowns of this season at least, but this effect is the result of the position of the girdle and has nothing whatsoever to do with the figure line or change of the corset model. The corset is fitted exactly to the natural waist line and will not slip up and down. It is impossible to even pull it up after it is laced into place. This is a great improvement, because many corsets designed to give the perfectly straight hip effect slipped either up or down every time the wearer changed her position, the hose supporters being depended upon for waist-line adjustment.

Corsets are still quite long below the waist, the extension skirt being a very important feature of all the better grades, but the lines are easier, owing to the very slight hip curve. The waist line in a natural position and and the low, full bust allow a perfect freedom for the upper part of the body, which is shaped into firm, graceful lines by the adoption of a soft, perfectly fitting bust supporter or brassiere.

In the illustrated plates we are showing two types of the new long corsets which are in every particular indicative of the season’s requirements as regards style and comfort. They are corsets chosen as embodying the features which are essential to proper corseting at the present time.

Figure No. 1 shows a novel shaped corset which is long over the hips and shorter in the back and front. It is made of embroidered batiste.

Figure No. 2, as will be noted, is a front-laced corset, which has in addition some special features, as soft top clasps to avoid under pressure, round full bust, and complete support.

This article is accompanied by an ad for a Thomson’s “Glove-Fitting” corset.

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New Year’s update

I keep saying I am going to blog more, and then the days get away from me and I am silent for far too long.

Last fall was busy with a few big projects.

1) a complete overhaul of a client’s Civil War era wardrobe and all the underpinnings. This included day bodices, evening bodices, travel coats, and the works!  Nothing picture-worthy, but fun to work on.

2) a custom set of Regency stays.

3) another appearance at our local Fiber Arts show, this time with Mr. Forest in his 18th century nobleman’s outfit.

4) some Christmas crafting, including hand-embroidered stockings and pockets (no pictures yet) and some machine-embroidered pockets.  As well as aprons, a dolly, and some other crafty, non-costume gifts.

5) testing out patterns, ordering supplies, and making lesson plans for my first teaching gig, a late Victorian corset class.  In the end, I settled on TV110 for the pattern, and have a nearly finished new corset for myself – it just needs a little more flossing before it is finished.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of the machine-embroidered pockets. Not period-accurate, by any stretch of the imagination, but the pattern has a Jacobean influence, and the recipient doesn’t give a fig about accuracy, anyway.


18th century machine-embroidered pockets for Z.