Friday 4 December 2015

HSM #10: Sewing Secrets - My sister's corset

I still only have this one picture of the finished thing; including accidental tea stains than happened after finishing. But my sister's been wearing it and reports it's fine, except next time please scoop down the underarms a bit more.

Much earlier than this challenge, my sister asked me to make her a corset, to wear as a supportive undergarment. It was the first time I've ever made such a garment, so there was much work involved - starting, upon arriving home with the materials (all from Sartor - oh the joy of a dedicated historical sewing shop in my own country!), with figuring out how to set the grommets. Because they didn't come with an implement, and it turns out all such tools start around 500 CZK. So there was a lot of experimenting and gradually more and more successful try-outs all through summer; now I have a home-made udělátko that still isn't quite perfect, but works well enough.

I needed to start with that, because I decided I needed lacing strips for mock-ups. It held me up terribly, but I think in the long run, it was the right decision, because a) now I have lacing strips for mockups that I've already used again for another garment, b) it was also a mock-up for the setting of gromments, so I was a bit more confident on the final garment.

After that, it was to the mock-up. And the pattern. I originally contemplated making the corded corset from the Chisholm Trail Museum, the pattern for which Marna Davis shared through the Historical Sew Fortnightly Facebook group, and other freely available patterns like that; but in the end, I decided all the resizing involved was too much of an uncertain work for something I was doing for the first time ever, and used the drafting tutorial on Foundations Revealed.

I still had to make considerable alterations to it. In part, I think, because I miscalculated some of the measurements (I tried to follow The Dreamstress' guidelines for negative ease, but I mixed it up somewhere along trying to follow the tutorial as well). In part, my sister suspected, because she may have lost some weight between the drafting and the trying on. In part because we were not quite sure just how high and low she wanted it to go until we tried it on. And in part, I think, because I needed to take it in a bit under the bust for it to really give the support needed - larger cup sizes are accounted for in the directions, but maybe not quite enough? The underbust doesn't enter the calculations, which I think might be a mistake for larger cup sizes.

This photo is from when I played around with the final cutting layout, I think, so the pattern pieces are mixed up. But it seems to be after the alterations. In the end, I made all the pattern pieces twice, so that I could be sure about the layout.

(The mock-up was made from my father's old discarded jeans. He wears exclusively Levi Strauss, so he commented that it's a very expensive mock-up. It's okay; I think I'm going to reuse it for a mock-up for myself.)

After we settled on a shape, and on lacing in the front instead of the busk because my sister struggled with it, I cut it out of coutil and sewed it up. Press all seams. Then I added a waist stay out of twill tape, caught with stitching on all the seams.

It was somewhere between this point and all the boning channels (just straight-cut strips of the coutil with edges pressed down) that it became a Sewing Secrets entry: there was blood. I didn't notice at first - when you prick your finger with a pin, it doesn't usually hurt all that much - so there was probably more than there could have been had I noticed earlier. Then there was more pricking of fingers in the later stages. It's the coutil's fault, I am sure; it's never happened to me before to such an extent, not even with the corded stays (which was the first item of clothing I ever bled onto).
First, I tried my cousin's advice with baking soda, which helped, and later, Leimomi's advice with my own saliva, which helped more.

You can kind of see the baking soda. You can't really see the stains, which is slightly better than the reality.

I inserted the bones - cut to size, with my sister's help, and tipped with cheap nailpolish - and here is where I made one of my mistakes I hope to do better next time, because I didn't close the boning channels.(The tipping of the bones was another thing that held it up: I had to wait for the nailpolish to dry. Next time, now that I know how long I need the bones to be, I'm doing that first thing, and sewing while waiting.)

Then the outer - after some rummaging through the stash with an eye to colour and fibre content, I settled on one of the old torn cotton damask duvet covers - torn in several places due to the late Bisha and Kaksi's ministrations (= cats), but still good and strong otherwise.

And then it was handsewing through all the seams that didn't have boning going over them, and the front and back edges. Another thing I hope to figure out how to do better next time; it's very time-consuming.

Close boning channels with whipstitching (bad form, as indicated above), insert grommets, bind the edges.

Here you can see my udělátko, made with my father's help: it involves an old wooden cutting board, a drilled hole, a piece of metal with identical drilled hole, screwed over to protect the wood, a screw that fits in and is filed down somewhat smoother, and a hammer. It's crude, it doesn't always work perfectly, it was a lot of work to perfect and is still a lot of work if the screw gets stuck in a hammered grommet,; but, well, it works and it was made with materials found at home.
(The head of the screw pushes the grommet down while its "leg" prevents it from distorting, you see. More or less, that's how it works, I think.)

 I embroidered the year of making to the inside, because I've decided that I'm going to do it from now on with all clothes I make, after seeing extant items with dates and remembering how useful it is for historians.

Just the facts, ma'am:

The Challenge: #10 Sewing Secrets
What's the Secret?: A) Way more blood stains from pricking my fingers with pins (and therefore, following Leimomi The Dreamstress's advice, also my own saliva) than is polite to admit. B) The lovely cotton damask of the outer is actually an old duvet cover. C) The embroidered date on the inside.
Fabric: white cotton coutil, pale yellow and white cotton damask
Pattern: my own, drafted according to the tutorial on Foundations Revealed (and then considerably altered to fit in the mockup stage)
Year: cca 1880s - it was made to my sister's specifications first and foremost, but I've seen a number of extant 1880s corsets that seem fairly close to what we ended up with.
Notions: white thread for sewing, beige twill tape for the waist stay sandwiched between the layers, 5 mm wide steel boning + super-cheap nail polish for tipping, pink cotton bias tape, variegated yellow embroidery thread for flossing, nickel-covered grommets, white flat corset lacing (+ white flat shoe laces for the front lacing)
How historically accurate is it? Close but no cigar. I think most or all of the techniques I used are plausible or accurate (except nail polish and lacing all the way in the front), but probably used in ways that are not really.
Hours to complete: Waaaaaaaaaaaaay too many; it was my first time making something like this, I made mistakes and ran into trouble and probably made things unnecessarily complicated for myself
First worn: all the time around the house and first time out to a Thanksgiving dinner with an English Christian group, according to latest reports
Total cost: I think the boning, grommets, lacing and the coutil (just 1/4 of the amount we bought, yay!) was around 750 CZK or a bit less? The nailpolish was just 10 CZK, binding and twill tape given to me, outer fabric from the stash / recycled.
So apparently with my sister wanting a lightly boned corset in neutral colours and fabrics, and deciding on lacing in the front instead of a busk, we managed it for just around 30 USD. But that's definitely not counting the work...


  1. Far out that is great, and maybe we should be sourcing our corset supplies from your local shop as that is a great budget!

  2. Heh. It would probably come much more expensive with the shipping to New Zealand! Have you seen their historical brocades, though? Those might be worth the shipping. :D
    To tell the truth, though, I was really surprised with the budget myself when I counted it out - although I think a huge part of it also lies in the fact that I didn't use a pretty silk for the outer! That would immediately add about 400 CZK to the price. Plus I managed to snatch the boning as a remnant bag with about 7,5 m, which was just about the right amount for this corset - I don't know if that was marked down, but it might have been.

  3. Looks really good! I'm in the middle of making a new one but the last time I made one was almost 10 years ago!

  4. Hana´s sister here - I´d like to add that the amount of work in that corset is huuuuge (not hours, not days, but months and months). And the corset is definitely something I would save from a burning house. And it fits so perfectly that it breaks the myth of corsets being torture instruments. After some experimenting, I´ve found a way to lace it without reducing lung capacity too much - so no 19th century fainting :-) For me, it´s more comfortable than a bra, because it takes weight off my shoulders. And it makes me sit upright without forcing me :-) I feel like a beautiful woman wearing it.

  5. Wow, I'm so impressed that you tackled this project~it seems so time intensive and overwhelming to me. Great job and thanks for the nice, long post with details. :)