Saturday, July 13, 2013

New 1860s Corset

When planning out my summer sewing, I decided right away that the HSF Challenge #13 — Lace and Lacing would be a perfect opportunity for me to make a new mid-19th century corset. You can see my current corset in this post. It has served me well for almost 3 years, but it is starting to show its age. I never loved the fit that much to begin with — it doesn't have quite enough flare for my rather curvy hips, and sort of smooshes my bust instead of supporting it. Several of the bones, particularly the ones in the sides and back, have permanent bends in them where my hips jut out below the waist. And now, after years of dancing and sweating in it, the bones and busk are starting to show signs of rust. Time to make a new one!

My old corset is made from shaped panels; I knew I wanted the new one to have gussets instead. Many costumers out there on the internet have suggested that gussets provide better shaping for us curvier ladies, and my limited experience with them suggests this is true. My Edwardian corset gets much of its shaping from gussets, and that thing is not only curvalicious, but also gives me a smaller waistline than any other corset I've made, by a full inch! 

As for a pattern, I picked up Simplicity 2890 at a pattern sale a couple years ago, suspecting that it would be my next corset. It is a simple gusseted corset taken from a period pattern from 1867, and calls for single-layer construction, with flat-felled seams and minimal boning (only 6 bones aside from the ones at the back lacing and 4 short ones in the upper back). The corset has a fairly short and curvy shape, but I went ahead and added extra width to both of the bust gussets and the back hip gusset, just to be sure it would be curvy enough. I think I added about 1/2" to the curved side of each bust gusset (a total of 2" added to the bust circumference), and about 3/4" on each side of the back hip gusset (a total of 3" added to the hip circumference).

Aside from that, I did not alter the pattern at all, other than to change the rather odd method of boning that the pattern called for. I won't even try to explain what the pattern asked me to do with the boning, because I read it through once, didn't understand it, read it again, finally grasped what it meant, decided it was silly, and put the boning in the way I always do: bone casing tape applied from top to bottom along the placement lines. This straightforward approach meant that I needed bones that were on average 2" longer than what the pattern called for. Take note: if you decide to make this pattern, put it together first, decide whether you want to follow those silly instructions, and then buy your boning accordingly. 

Enough talking, here's the corset: 

Front view — I'm pretty happy with the shape and fit. The straight, tidy waist is particularly pleasing.

You can see a little more detail here. I'm hoping some of those wrinkles will smooth out as it stretches and forms to my body. 

The side view really shows how great the bust support is — a much more rounded, natural shape than my previous corset. 

See how much curve this corset gives in the back hip area?

I'm very happy with it. It's comfortable and pretty, and the shape is much better than what I was getting with the old one. I can comfortably lace almost an inch smaller at the waist than I could in my old corset (though I probably won't since I have so many dresses made at the larger waist measurement). 

The Challenge: #13 — Lace and Lacing

Fabric: White cotton coutil

Pattern: Simplicity 2890

Year: ca. 1867, but I will probably wear it for 1850s-1870s

Notions: 12" busk, 10 spiral steels, 4 white spring steels, 1/2" bone casing tape, 5 yd corset lacing, 5/8" twill tape for binding, size 00 grommets

How historically accurate is it? Aside from substituting steel boning for the whalebone that would have been used in the period, I would call this very accurate.

Hours to complete: maybe 7

First worn: will be worn at Costume College 2013

Total cost: The coutil was leftover from my Edwardian corset, so about $35 for the busk, bones, tapes, and lacing.


  1. Wow, this is great! Excellent job. The fit is perfect and it looks very comfortable.

  2. Beautiful
    so lucky too, what an incredible price.