The Black Corset

Of all my wardrobe “needs,” one could, very reasonably, argue that another corset should not be at the top of the list. My one pair of jeans has a rip in the knee and recently blew the topstitching around the fly (something I’ve never experienced before, by the way). My underwear drawer is just, well, sad. I have almost no leggings left.

But no, we’re resuming (after a three year hiatus!) the Victorian Sewing Circle, and my old corset is Too Small. I mean, so is the rest of my 1885 outfit, and I will have to restart the bodice I’d been working on for the “new” outfit to make a bigger size (and not accidentally use ticking for the lining. Ticking is great for many things, because it is very stable. It is not great for lining clothing that you need to move in.) But one must begin with the corset.

Black grommets, because apparently I ordered a 10-pack of antique brass busks but no matching grommets?!?

I have quite a few corset patterns roughly suited to the period, although most of my previous versions were based on Butterick 4254, which maybe isn’t the best starting point but that’s where I started and once I had it fitting well you might as well go on with it. Until it isn’t well fitting, of course.

All the “Victorian” corsets I’ve made have been paneled, but I enjoyed the gussets in the two regency style corsets I’ve made and was curious to try a later gusseted pattern. Especially as they’re a handy way to adjust the sizing very specifically.

Which brought me to Simplicity 2890.

The envelope pic isn’t terribly promising, but it did have gussets. Some internet searching (aka reading the reviews on revealed that it is in fact based on an original historical corset pattern from 1872 (despite the more 1860s vibe of the chemise.) This blog has a nice discussion of it. The internet also agreed that the pattern was lightly boned, short-waisted, and ran small.

Tech drawing, poor resolution.
Back view of technical drawing. Possibly even worse resolution.

Short waisted was fine by me. Lightly boned, I wasn’t too concerned about, as I’m looking for a comfortable rather than tight-lacing corset.i added 1/2” to each side-seam to hopefully make up for the “runs small” part (not adequate, by the way), and dove in.

My mock-up seemed promising, but some extra room in the hip would be helpful. However, I didn’t fully appreciate the issues of my mock-up fabric (which really wasn’t stable enough) and the fact that it wasn’t fully boned. When I tried it on, it seemed like opening up the front hip gusset gave me the extra hip spring I needed. But this was actually my too-flexible fabric “borrowing” the width from the front—-where I needed the width was right at the side seam. Since I didn’t realize this until my “final fabric,” version, I wound up doing most of my fit-futzing on the final version, removing a lot of the width I had added to the front hip gusset, and ripping out the side-seam to insert a gusset in the hip there.

Hip gusset in side seam. It looks thrown to the back here because the dress form is very small—on me it is indeed at the side.

This greatly improved the hip shaping, so I proceeded with construction.

I will say, I definitely prefer to topstitch my gussets in place as opposed to constructing them “normally” as the pattern instructed. There’s a fair bit of fraying around my gussets already from futzing with the seams to get them smooth with the “regular” method, which I will have to zig-zag over at some point.

So let’s talk about this pattern. What a weird, weird pattern.

First, it’s only two main pieces; almost all the shaping comes from gussets. This made the only other preemptive fit change I would’ve made, a swayback adjustment, impossible as without a side-back seam to absorb the angle change it would leave the CB line not straight.

Can you see how the bone casing stitching crosses the weird front seam line?

The single weirdest thing is that curved seam in the front. It isn’t a seam—it’s a tuck. A long, curved, narrow tuck. Why is it there? Does it add shaping? No. It does make it slightly easier to sew the gusset that emerges from it, but the other bust gusset doesn’t have one.

It does create a very attractive curving line across the corset front, which may be the only point of its existence, but then the bone casing runs straight up the front, crossing it, and at least partly diminishing its effect. Weird.

The other oddities may be effects of grading—I didn’t love how close the back hip gore is to the back boning, for example.

This was my first time, believe it or not, doing applied boning casings—Butterick 4254 uses the seam allowances for all its boning casings. I just cut 2.5 cm strips of my fabric (a bull denim, not a proper coutil as the sewing room gnomes have absconded with my coutil) and then ran the strips through my bias-tape maker and pressed. They are meant to be applied on the inside but I accidentally stitched the first one on the outside and I really liked the look. However, you can’t really apply ALL of them on the outside, as the end of the angled casing on the back is covered by the facing folding to the back, and the front boning casing crosses over that decorative front tuck so if you stitched it on the outside it would obscure that feature even more.

The pattern doesn’t call for a waist stay, but I added one, and I’m very glad I did as I think the waist shaping would be a lot mushier without it, especially in my not-coutil fabric.

Lacing gap is still wider than ideal.

While it gives a stronger shape than indicated by the cover model, it’s not a particularly extreme corset. The hip-spring before I added the gussets there was very gentle. I could probably have enlarged the bust gores a wee bit, too—I did sew them with narrower seam allowances to add a bit more room. The light boning gives it a less cylindrical, more organic shape than my other corsets. At least when it’s on me—not so much on the dress form.

I didn’t have to put much thought into the lace and ribbon selection as I only had two pieces of non-stretch black lace, but I love it. The lace is just a guipure from Fabricland. The “ribbon” is a rather battered chunk of vintage rayon seam binding that came from inherited deep stash—I should probably tidy up the ends, but it was the perfect addition, I think, to relieve the sheer black.

On the whole it was a fun experiment, anyway. It may not hold up very well, not being coutil, but I don’t exactly wear my corsets heavily either. And if it does fall apart, well, with any luck by then the sewing room gnomes will have returned my coutil and we’ll just call this version the mock-up.



Filed under Sewing

6 responses to “The Black Corset

  1. OK, excellent review. Very weird pattern but you look great in it! I can’t evenbring myself to clean my sewing (now work) table to make some freakin’ leggings. And last time I checked I didn’t have toddler twins 🙂 🙂 So you keep on showing me up. xo

  2. I almost wish I had a tech drawing of the corset to follow along with the construction… I’m not for corsets, but I do love structured designs and this is really fascinating as such. thanks for all the inside and outside photos and your honesty.

  3. The ribbon and lace is perfect. Nice job!

    I’ve been struggling with bras again, and wondering if a corset would be an appropriate substitute. I mean, I’m sure they used them for that, but extra layers on an already hot blooded woman….plus, my posture is abysmal, which this might also help with? Do you think it would be worth it? And do you HAVE to wear something under it? (Again, layers + hot = yikes!)

    • I mean, I’m not too sure about Victorian corsets, but Regency short stays are pretty much a push up bra 😂. I can’t say I’ve worn my corsets in killer heat ever, but I usually find the layers of cotton fairly tolerable. I wouldn’t recommend skipping the cotton under layer, though, though I might go with a knit tank top instead of a chemise if I were contemplating everyday wear. You can’t really wash a steel-bones corset so you don’t want it touching your skin a whole bunch. Posture—they can help with back pain as long as they fit well. If they don’t, it can just make things worse. If anything I’d say try it for fun, and see how you like it. 🤷🏻‍♀️

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s