November 13, 2014

The Late Victorian Corset: Part 1

So its time to construct a new corset! I have been making "corsets" for a long time now and by that I mean, I made boned corset-like bodices a lot when I first started sewing. Then I became crazy obsessed with the 18th century and switched over to stays. So I have mostly made stays since I switched over to more accurate historical sewing, meaning I have never actually made a proper Victorian corset. What?! how have I made it this far in life without a Victorian corset? I may never know. Busks always terrified me, I didn't have a clue how to sew one into a corset. Also I would have had to order one online as no where in Colorado sold them!

I finally overcame my fear of busks and learned how to sew a "real" corset last Spring when I made my Edwardian corset. I used the most excellent Truly Victorian Edwardian Corset pattern which luckily fit me perfectly right out of the gate. I followed their instructions very closely, made a mock-up first, and the resulting corset is one of my favorite things I have ever made. That said, it won't work for bustle era costuming, so its back to the sewing room!

Seeing as I had such a good experience with the Truly Victorian pattern I came really close to ordering their basic late Victorian corset pattern. What stopped me was just how generic the pattern seemed to look, it didn't have the pizzazz or the crazy hourglass waist definition I was looking for. After all, back when women wore corsets everyday, there was a huge variety to choose from and also the very real option of just having them made to order for your exact shape. These were essential everyday garments, not one off special occasion pieces or something that had to last through one night at a costume ball.

So I looked at other commercial patterns, I looked through my costuming books and then finally I looked through Pinterest. What I really wanted was a corset just like Merja's (of Before the Automobile fame, drop dead gorgeous costuming). Luckily she says in that post which pattern she used for the corset, the late 1880's corset pattern in Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh. Now sadly I don't own this particular costuming tome, but luckily this particular pattern is floating around the internet!
found on pinterest
So having decided on a pattern I first had to scale the pattern up from its minute size on the bottom of this page. I used the drawn ruler guide as my sizing guide and printed the pattern to actual scale over six pieces of 8.5x11 computer paper.

Soon I had the pattern from the book scaled to actual size and was ready to measure and see just how tiny this extant corset had been...

Measuring the corset's waist it was just 20.5 inches! Woah that is a tiny waist! The bust and hips came out roughly to 30.5 inches which are also tiny. My measurements are pretty much all around 10 inches greater than this corset pattern which mean I have to seriously re-size this pattern for it to fit me. I knew I would have to make adjustments but 10 inches is a lot of room for error! So its lucky I found this master class by Cathy Hay (of Your Wardrobe Unlocked) that explains how to size a corset pattern to your own measurements using a fair share of math. I don't particularly like math much so we will see how it goes.

The plan is to re-size the pattern to something workable and make a muslin that I can draw on and correct to really finesse the pattern into one that works for me. I would love to end up with a great Victorian corset pattern that I could re-use to make more corsets down the line. For this first one, after the mock up of course, I'll be using some leftover black silk and I want to use mint green flossing and silk ribbons as accents. When I eventually make a bustle I'll use the same mint green for a cute set of Victorian under clothes! I really am excited to dive into bustle era costuming in 2015!


  1. That is such a classically beautiful corset design. Wonderful choice! I wish you the utmost of luck with resizing the pattern and of course creating the corset itself, too. Happy sewing!

    ♥ Jessica

    1. Thanks Jessica, I have actually re-sized the pattern now and made the mock up and everything is going quite swimmingly to my delight!


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