Tag Archives: corset

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 Patternreview.com) 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.



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Brand-new pink corset

Of course as soon as I got the antique pink corset I wanted to copy it. If only to get a better sense of how it is shaped. 

This is not such a replica. If anything, it’s a crude approximation, with little of the delicacy and grace of the original. Everything is too heavy—the fabric, the boning, even (especially) the lace. It is excused only by the fact that I REALLY wanted to do a work project with this pale-pink Chinese brocade, because, um, gorgeous. 

The pattern is my altered version of Butterick 4254. The fabric is a Chinese brocade, the strength layer made from ticking. I’m out of busks, so since this is a work project I subbed in something we do carry at work—hook and eye tape. It’s not as pretty as a busk, but a bit more delicate, which is in keeping with the style of the original. It’s also really annoying to hook up, by the way. 

I made a number of poor choices in the construction, but I will say that the top and bottom lace hides any number of sins, and enhances the Victorian-hourglass impression as well. 

It also got some little pink bows (à la original) just in time for me to hang it up at work, but not in time for these quickie-bathroom-mirror pics. It is growing on me.

I made a princess-line chemise to go with it, mainly because a corset alone on a display mannequin looks a bit, ah, naked—fine for a contemporary corset, not quite the right look for a Victorian one. I was inspired by originals like this:

Although I didn’t want to do buttons, because time. Most of the princess-seamed chemises I could find online seem to come from 1900+, but The Home Needle (1882) mentions them so they were around. I couldn’t find any patterns I was super into, plus this is not exactly a proud piece of historical recreation, so I pulled out a princess-seam dress pattern, McCall’s M7189, in fact, though I think it doesn’t matter that much which exact one. I added a bit at the waist so I could slip it in without a closure, and deleted a bit at the top to add the lace neckline and straps—this took some interesting stretching and squishing of the lace to create the curve. There are two rounds of lace and I was completely astonished when it turned out to sit just right on my shoulders. 

Then I tried to save time while putting the ruffle on the bottom by using my ruffler foot to attach it, and had to tear it out three times because I made it too small. Dur!

All in all, though, I am satisfied with the overall look, given the limitations of my materials. 


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Pink Mystery Corset

A little while ago I took one of my besties from Cowtown, who was visiting, out for coffee and a little toodle through some of the local antique shops. She didn’t find anything, but one place that sells a charming, or possibly annoying, array of select antiques and hipstery artisanal doodads, had a shabby little antique pink corset on display. Naturally, I had to inquire as to the price. It was right (as it should be given that the condition is, well, let’s just say not museum quality. 😉 ), so I came home with an authentic Victorian-ish little corset. 

It’s quite a short corset, no more than about 28 cm (11″) at the tallest surviving part. (That’s at the bust area.)

At the side: 22 cm (8 3/4″)

At the back: 25 cm (10″)

Half bust: 38 cm (15″)

Most sadly, it is missing the front busk entirely, so I don’t know how big most of it would have been. Only the very top edge is complete: about 15″ per side. I don’t think it would have reached up to the full bust, so it’s maybe not actually as tiny as that first appears: 15″x 2 + 2″ lacing gap is 32″, which would actually quite possibly have fit me. 

Surviving half waist is 23.5 cm (9 1/4″), but this is short at least 2.5 cm (1″) and probably more like 4-6 cm. If the original waist was 11″ per side, that would work out to about 24″ total for a 2″ lacing gap—too small for me but a very reasonable Victorian waist size. 

It’s made of two layers of rather shattered silk in a pale ivory/blush colour; the outer layer has a brocade pattern of scattered tiny flowers.  There is a wide (6cm, 2 1/4″) lace trim both top and bottom, stitched down along a narrow pink ribbon. 

It’s made strictly in panels (no gores or gussets), six to each side, and boned along each side of each seamline, with two bones at each side of the back lacing. The shaping appears to be fairly slight, though it’s hard to get a good sense of the shape without stuffing it on something. 

The bones are stitched into ribbon casings on the inside. The binding was machine stitched on the outside, and then hand-stitched down on the inside. 

I am assuming these are real whalebones. I’ve never actually seen the real thing to compare. 

They are flat, thin, very light, and still quite springy and flexible. 

The lacing runs through tiny handstitched eyelets, no metal grommets, so it wouldn’t have stood up to heavy tightening. 

The lacing appears to be original, and is a wide, flat woven tape that compresses very tiny to go through the tiny eyelets. It is tipped with long, dark metal tips at the bottom ends, but all the extra length is pulled out and tied at the waist. 

The pink ribbon anchoring the lace has teeny bows at both front and back ends. 

It’s quite exquisitely delicate. I only wish the busk, or whatever front closure was used, had survived.

I have some thoughts of my own about the age and kind of corset it may have been, but I’m so far from an expert I hesitate to throw them out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts. (Especially if you know a good method for taking a pattern from such a fragile item!)


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Underbuster Parfait

Last summer at the local Fringe Festival, i bought a costume piece from a local leatherworker (Of The Gods’ Blood Armory, fyi)—a steampunk-y (or maybe that’s dieselpunk?) faux gas mask. It was an impulse purchase, completely unjustifiable by any measure except that I was supporting a local artisan, and I love it to bits.

But it obviously needed an outfit. I have a few bits of army surplus gear from here and there, but nothing at all cohesive, and the army-greenish colour is not part of my usual palette. A corset was an obvious pairing, but I didn’t have any fabric that immediately spoke to me.

Except that I did. Whilst digging through the stash looking for something to complement the sweaterknit for my dad’s cardigan, I stumbled on this textured faux-suede that I acquired when a co-worker was de-stashing. It’s olive green, although that particular variety of olive green that looks mostly brown under fluorescent light.

The pattern is a further tweaking of Butterick 4254, underbustified, but at this point I couldn’t tell you anything else about what changes I made. Except that I felt like I had finally wrapped my head around a construction order that let me fit as I went, with the result that this is the comfiest corset I’ve ever made. It’s a bit big, in that I can lace it completely closed, but the shape is just right. (I was aware that it was coming out big and left it that way as it’s an “outer” corset and I wasn’t sure how much bulk I might add with garments underneath it. Anyway, I wouldn’t want it any tighter than it is when laced closed…

First off, this is NOT the sturdiest method of making a corset. It’s the same one I’ve used for all my corsets, and I havne’t burst a seam yet, but I’m also not wearing any of them for days on end. Five or six hours at a span, rarely more than once a month, and I’m not going for more than an inch or two of reduction.

anime-070It’s the method described in “The Basics of Corset Bulding” by Linda Sparks (mainly used because that’s the book I have. 😉 for making an alterable corset. You construct the front piece with the busk and the back pieces with the grommets, first. Then the other pieces are sewn together, and the seam allowances stitched open to make bone casings. But this time, I put in the bones around the grommets in the back, and then tweaked the fit—finalized some seams and added bones, and tweaked a little more—and so on until everything was just right.  This let me get the fit I like, the shape I like, AND end up with a super comfy corset, so I’m pretty stoked.

anime-162For fun, I added small sections of cording in the front. I think a bigger or firmer cord would’ve been a good idea, but they were fun.

And then I completely failed to take blog-worthy photos for almost a year. Sorry?


Walking with Wendy Marvel and Terry Bogard.

Well,it finally got an outing at the local comics expo this fall, and I managed to wrangle my sister-in-law into taking photos beforehand, so meet my  vaguely-airship-pirate outfit! (It’d be really nice if I could manage to blog the girls’ outfits, too, but we’ll see how I do. Oh, and the pants I’m wearing, which are Vogue 9210. They’re fun. And hard to photograph.)

anime-084My sister-in-law shot us amidst gorgeous autumn leaves, which are lovely and natural and not really suited to an outfit that demands wrought iron and gaslight, but I wasn’t willing to go further than the next-door park on that particular morning, so I’ll take it.

anime-73That’s the same white pintucked (not made by me) blouse I wore last year, come to think of it.

anime-138The camo coat wasn’t actually the best topper for the outfit—it kinda swamped the corset & hip decor, though it looked cool from certain angles. I have enough of the  faux suede left to make a matching jacket; I’m thinking something cropped and faux-military would be fun. Maybe in another year?


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Susan Sto Helit

Sask Expo Selfie!

This weekend is the local comics convention. A few weeks back I bit the bullet and bought tickets for the kids and I—we had been to the one in Cow Town, but we’ve never been to this local one (this is only its third year running.) This local offering was definitely a bit more budget-friendly, even without the seven-hour drive each way. And while it’s much smaller than the Cow Town event, it was still plenty big enough to wander around, and being local I knew several people with tables there, which makes it nice. 😉 The hubs declined to join us, alas… somehow the prospect of escorting a passle of teens hither and yon through bedlam and mayhem didn`t appeal to him. I can`t imagine why.

Joker, Elf, half-ass-Ninja-Turtle, and Wendy Marvell.

Joker, Elf, half-ass-Ninja-Turtle, and Wendy Marvell.

Tyo went as a generic elf (it was that or wear the Batgirl costume I made her last Hallowe’en), in a couple of my costume/dance pieces that she tried on in a fit of playing dress-up one night, and totally rocked. Moms out there, you know: that moment when your daughter steals your clothes and looks way better in them… yeah. I still love her. Mostly.

Syo wanted to be Wendy Marvell, a character from her current Anime obsession, Fairy Tail. Which outfit deserves its own whole post, so I won`t go into it too much except to say, it went well, better than I had anticipated, actually.

Still life with rat.

Still life with rat.

Me, I went as Susan Sto Helit, arguably the best female character in the whole Discworld (with exception of Granny Weatherwax, of course. And Lady Ramkin is pretty awesome also. Actually, there are lots of awesome females in that series…) I knew I wanted to cosplay her at some point as soon as I heard that Terry Pratchett, the author, had died earlier this year. He was one of my favourite authors, maybe my most favourite. His books are the most amazing blend of humour, wit, fantasy, and social commentary, and I will miss him terribly.


Now, Susan actually appears in the movie The Hogfather, based on the book of the same name, so I could`ve gone with that version of the character.

Everyday Susan

Everyday Susan

But a) I hate to be bound by one person’s imagining of a literary character, and b) I was busy making Syo’s costume and with a few liberties I could throw a Susan costume together pretty much entirely from pieces I already had on hand, if I didn’t try to match the screen version.

Fancy Susan (with Death, her grandfather.)

Fancy Susan (with Death, her grandfather.) This would still be fun to make at some point, of course.

All I needed was the wig and the Death of Rats, which are what really make the costume, of course.


Back view, not that you can see anything with all the hair.

OK, I’ll be frank here—the main reason I’m posting this is that I wanted a reason to post cool and self-indulgent pics of the costume. This post containers very, very little sewing. So there are way too many boring pics of me standing by my  fence (not even in cool dance poses) and if you click away now I will be completely not hurt at all.


A fair chunk of the costume, including the key elements that make it recognizable (wig and skeletal rat, as I said before) weren’t even things I made.

Blouse & Vest

Blouse & Vest

The blouse is a pseudo-Victorian-looking thing I yoinked from my mother last spring when we did all the historical costuming stuff,* and the vest is a really-too-small piece that belongs to Tyo. She wears my clothes, I wear hers, I guess. Sometimes it works out. As long as I don’t try to do up the top button, anyway.


I wore a pocketwatch, because it just suited. Although technically for the character a big fancy hourglass would’ve been better.

My mom had actually purchased the little skeletal rat for her own Hallowe’en decorating, so I was able to borrow him, and all I had to do was make him a raggedy little black robe.

The Death of Rats.

I haven’t sewn anything that small since I stopped making Barbie clothes when I was about fourteen. Plus I decided to use some scrap black knit (so I didn’t have to finish anything) that is a beast to cut and even worse to sew on a regular machine (and no way I was trying to maneuver something this tiny through the serger). Let’s just say it was not a couture creation. I do like how his (inaccurately bony) ears hold the hood in place, though.


I did make two elements of the costume. The skirt I blogged here, and while it may not be the only long black skirt in my wardrobe, it has been the one I reach for the most, at least in the winter (since I oddly don’t often reach for full-length black wool-blend skirts much in the summer…). In a perfect world I would’ve make a real Victorian skirt, but this one did the job just fine.

The other part is the little black underbust corset, which I made back at the beginning of the summer. It was supposed to be part of a costume I’m making for for a friend, but has a number of flaws, so I’m going to call it a prototype—first, I couldn’t find my pattern pieces, so I cloned the pattern off my boring corset with Press ‘n Seal. This was not a bad way to do it, but I “lost” a teeny bit at each seam due to turn of cloth that I didn’t think to accommodate for, so it ended up being just that little bit smaller than I was aiming for.

Underbust corset, with other costume elements.

It also isn’t quite as curvy as I wanted—I think to do with cutting down the full-length pattern to basically a waist cincher. And then I didn’t fully bone it, and I used spiral steel along the back lacing—not a good idea, incidentally—and didn’t leave quite enough seam allowance for the binding in a few places and, well, it’s fine for my own use but not something I’m proud enough of to sell.

All in all, it was pretty nice to just throw something together from what I had (because let’s face it, at this point I have quite a bit). In the end, the hardest part was probably adding the black streak to the white wig I found… via Sharpie marker. Maybe not the best way to do it… 😉



*FYI, and in case I don’t manage to blog it again because I’m terrible these days, we are doing another Historical Sewing series this fall, only more hands-on—bring your own project! And yes, the first date is next weekend.

A Victorian Sewing Circle

at the Marr Residence, 326 11th Street East, Saskatoon, SK     


Sunday September 27                  

Sunday October 18                         

Sunday November 15                    1:00-4:00 p.m.  each date

Come join us this fall at the Marr Residence for a Victorian Sewing Circle! We invite you to bring your historical sewing project to spend the afternoon sewing, planning, and sharing information about historical costuming in Saskatoon. 

We provide space, basic sewing equipment (straight stitch machines and pressing equipment), light refreshment and—best of all—lively discussion and learning about historical costuming, especially with regard to the periods interpreted in the house (1880s-1920s). Marr Residence volunteers will also be on hand to provide guided tours and information about the history of the house.


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Regency Underoos


Sense & Sensibility Patterns Regency chemise and short stays

 It occurs to me that I’m establishing a bit of a pattern here. I’ve made another set of historical underclothing. Hmm. If you go back and include the fairly-mediaeval bliaut I made way-pre-blog (hand-worked eyelets up each side, dude), that was basically an underdress as well… well, let’s just say I have yet to produce any historical outer wear of note. Hmm. Maybe I should give up and just go with “underwear across the ages”. 😉

Regardless of what that says about my sewing inclinations (or maybe just my attention span), I have made another set: Regency underthings this time, perhaps aiming for a date around 1805, although frankly I’m trying to restrain my latent authenticity Nazi and don’t feel like researching ’til my brains ooze out my ears. But I kind of spent a bunch of time on vacation last month pinning Regency fashions, since they’re some of my favourite (and arguably considerably more translatable into a modern aesthetic than anything much before or after), and then I got it into my head that maybe it would be a fun Hallowe’en costume. One impulse purchase of the Sense & Sensibility Patterns Regency Chemise and Short-Stays pattern (PDF), some serious grumbling over the printing thereof (not pre-tiled, layout not at all paper-maximizing), and a very very small piece ofsome very scrumptious embroidered silk and, well…



  I didn’t really follow the chemise pattern, partly because I only printed half of it, but mostly because I prefer a gored construction method, and I’m pretty sure it’s still historically accurate. I did copy the neckline, but otherwise I used the same two-gored construction I did for my Victorian chemise. In hind-sight, I wish I’d done the single, asymmetrical gore (more “old fashioned”) but I forgot at the time. Apparently I need to make another. Because I really need another historical chemise. >_< Add rectangular bits for sleeves and the last couple of square scraps for gussets.


Flat felling, be hand and machine

  I did all the long seams flat-felled on my machine, but I can’t quite wrap my head around flat felling the gussets by machine, and I never do a very good job of matching things up so my seam allowances were, ah, wonky… So I felled those seams by hand. Hand-sewing: for fixing fuckups. 😉

  I made hand-worked eyelets for the neckline drawstring to pass through. However, not being overly bright, I worked them in the BACK of the neckline. Oops. I’m not really happy with the neckline anyway (I did a fairly terrible job of applying the bias tape drawstring casing) and it seems a little high so when/if I get the time and inclination Imay redo it. 


Coffe, coffee everywhere. 😦

 The short-stays were more fun, and slightly less of a comedy of errors. Aside from the part where I dumped an entire cup of coffee on the pattern and fabric. We won’t speak further on that. At leas the silk is pretty coffee coloured to begin with. 


Ticking lining

 I used ticking for the lining and interlining, rather than coutil, mostly because a friend had recommended it as a locally-available alternative to  coutil, apparently very low-stretch due to the tight weave. Though I’m not sure this was the best project to test it out as the short stays are very lightly boned. The softness of the ticking wouldn’t be too much of a problem in a fully-boned corset, but might be an issue in something that has less boning than some of my bras. Though at least initially it seems to be working. I used the maximum amount of boning suggested (the instructions are pretty thorough in going over various options for boning and cording and even quilting. And there’s an online version with extra photos, too.)



 Speaking of which, I added some quilting to the back, which is completely unboned, for a wee bit more support. It looks nice, anyway. 


Back view

 I wanted a coordinating silk in a solid to make my bias binding (the idea of trying to make a binding out of my embroidered silk was a bit horrifying) but there was naught to be had. So I threw authenticity out the window* and went with a very modern polyester satin bias trim, which was both fast and easy and a great colour. 


Front. My dressform does not squish as well as I do.

 I made my eyelets by hand, as per period (and not nearly as many as that damn mediaeval dress, as I reminded myself constantly) but reinforced with metal jump rings. Although I’m not sure how often this was actually done, (I did read about it, though, somewhere) it was fun to try out and the resulting eyelets are nicely circular and sturdy. 


Eyelet inside, with jump ring.

 After studying my Pinterest boards, I opted for spiral lacing. Regency seems to be pretty much right around when the switch from spiral to crisscrossing lacing happened, but more of the extant garments and images seemed to me (in a very unscientific survey) to be spiral-laced. (Or have holes spaced for spiral lacing even if their laces are currently cross-laced.) 

The bottom of the stays is designed to have a drawstring to hold them down. I left the channel open but haven’t tried to thread it—my rib cage  doesn’t exactly taper downwards, so I’m not convinced it would help with anything. 


On me. Hopefully I’ll have better pics eventually

 I cut a size 12 (same sizing as big 4 patterns, as far as I can tell, how nice), with the B-cup gussets. I optimistically auditioned the C-cup versions but, ah, no. I also cut down to a size 10 in circumference, though I didn’t mess with any of the vertical measurements. 


Shoulder tie.

 The only actual change I made to the pattern was to have the straps separate in the front and attach with ties. Not so much because I thought there was anything wrong with the pattern length but just in case, y’know. Plus I had this fabulous matching velvet ribbon. I think I set them a little further apart than the original pattern would call for—this isn’t inappropriate for the period but would probably be too wide for a lot of people (including my dress form.) They seem to stay fairy well on me, though—though I haven’t tested them under heavy movement yet. 


Lift and separate!

It was a pretty darn fun project, anyway, however ridiculously impractical. And quick.  And now I can think about a Regency gown for Hallowe’en.

Although first I’m gonna need another petticoat. 😉

*if there was anything left to throw out after I chose my embroidered silk; I haven’t been able to find anything in period even remotely as ornate as my silk. 


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