Wednesday 18 November 2020

Just a pair of stockings

I'm finding out this blog has been sadly neglected in the past years and there are lots of things I never posted about.

Like my stockings. Which I already made a couple years ago, for some HSM challenge or other - if I dug through the Facebook albums in the HSM group, I'm sure I'd find it, but I don't particularly care to do it right now.

It's my first attempt at sewing historical stockings (well, second, after a sort of rough mockup of my pattern), and they're nothing special in execution, wonkily sewn and not particularly historically accurate (there's lycra and machine sewing).

But they look the part.

And they contain three different tees, two thrifted, one of which was my orange tee from years ago after it stretched out of shape (and that's why I no longer wear lycra tees because if you don't have a dryer, they do sooner or later stretch out of shape while line-drying.)

The other thrifted tee was just bought specifically to make up for my lack of fabric in my original white tee.

That was my white Latvian tee, made in Latvia, from back in 2011. It got yellowish with use and also a bit stretched out of shape. (Don't believe people who say lycra assures your knits will retain their shape.)

So they are, in a way, a sentimental object.

And I'm currently knitting a wool(-ish) pair for colder days, so I decided these needed to be posted for the sake of painting the full picture.

My garters are two layers of plainweave cotton tape, paired up with vintage ribbon from my grandma. (I could have sworn I blogged about them and other stuff when I got them, but apparently it's one of a myriad of things I never blogged about.) I had ideas of embroidering some satin to put on the tape to make them really pretty, but that never materialised. So far.

Because it's "found materials", one of the ribbons is slightly different from the others. I actually rather like that my ribbons are mismatched and that my stockings are pieced. I often enjoy the mismatched and pieced items in museum collections more, because they have more... character, than the picture-perfect gowns that people are oohing and aahing over on social media...


Which reminds me - I've been pondering joining Instagram because that's where all the cool kids are these days, and when I blog I spend this huge amount of time writing blog posts that no one then comments on. So I eventually started reading their Terms of Use, where they keep talking about how it's aiming to be a personalised and up-to-date service, and yet somehow they fail to mention what it actually is, in the several paragraphs I got through. I backed out again at that point because a service incapable of telling you what it is that feels the need to instead keep wrapping pretty words around the fact they keep tabs on you... probably isn't something I want to sign up for, regardless of how many costuming friends are using it (and regardless of how many online services these days do the same keeping tabs thing). I've never been one of the cool kids anyway, why start now?

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Drafting sewing patterns in Inkscape: Setting up your grid

If you want to draft patterns in Inkscape (which is a free vector aka line-drawing program, aka the free alternative to Illustrator), your best bet is to start by setting up the auxilliary grid. I find that with the help of grids, I can turn paper patterns digital even without mucking about with scanners (which I don't have myself) and the correct resolution - more on that later, hopefully. But the best part for us historical costumers? If you set up your grid right, you should be able to do scaled patterns or draft those block / apportioning rulers drafts straight into your own measurements. (With the caution that things like bust cup sizes still won't enter into it - always do mockups.)

Although that's a step too far if you don't yet know how to set up the grid to your specifications. Which is something I've only just discovered how to do properly myself, so I'm happily sharing.

I'm sure there are other tutorials for this out there; but I often find it's easier to read tutorials written by someone coming at the problem from the same angle as you... so here's from a pattern-drafter and historical costumer to others.

Here's my sleeveless spencer pattern, digitised with the help of Inkscape grid, still missing its side piece for some reason. I'll have to look into why I stopped at that point; I suspect it's because I lost the paper pattern...

Now, up front, I'm Czech and my Inkscape is in Czech, so sadly I'm not always sure about the exact English terminology. If you have the same version of Inkscape, things should hopefully all look the same, though. Mine is 0.92.2 (5c3e80d, 2017-08-06). (Which reminds me maybe I should look for an update.) You should find yours in the Help section under About or some such.

So, yes, I've only just figured this out properly. In the post about drafting a corset from pictures, I mentioned that I had trouble switching my grid to milimetres... It's because when you change units, Inkscape is clever and retains the dimensions of your previous grid! :D

Setting up your grid is easier when you work in metric. You don't usually have to worry about divisions much - Inkscape works with decimal numbers, and your units work with decimal numbers, so it's quite easy.

Inches require more math and theoretical mathematical thinking. Which goes to show that inches are an older unit from a time when people just did things with physical measures that could be folded in half, instead of with mathematics in their heads...

So, to set up a grid for the first time, you go to File Properties, under the Grid menu, and set up a grid by choosing the type of grid you want (apparently it's "Rectangular" in English) and clicking "Create new".

(BTW: If you want to draft hexagonal patterns for patchwork, the other type of grid can help with that - which is something I should have realised about a month ago when I mucked about and struggled with trying to draft out the Golden Wedding Ring block...)

Make sure you have checked that the grid is turned on and visible (important!). The last option says something like "snap only to visible grid", which means that if you zoom out enough that you can only see your major, red lines, your nodes will only snap to the red grid.

And then you define the exact properties you want your grid to have.

Once you have once set up a grid, you can just turn it on or off, and just change the properties as needed - unless you want the other type of grid, or unless you removed / deleted it somewhere in the process, in which case you have to create a new one again.

This is how I get a "milimetre paper" effect with my unit being milimetres:


You go to the Grid menu on the right, choose your unit, and then decide at what intervals you want your lines to be. As you can see here, I chose to have my basic, blue lines at 1 mm and my major, red lines at 1 cm. 1 cm is 10 mm, so that's easy. Your basic lines will be at every 1 whole unit, in both directions (along the X and Y axes), and your major lines will be at every 10 lines (that's the last setting there at the bottom).

You can also check (bottom left) that you want your grid to display only as dots rather than lines. But personally I find the lines much easier to see and work with.

Note that whenever you change any of those numbers in the menu on the right, you have to hit Enter or click in another menu "window" for the change to take place. Other than that, it's pretty straightforward.

Where it starts to get a bit confusing is when you decide to change units. If I switch my units to cm, I get this:

Suddenly my lines are at every 0,1 of my unit (since 1 mm is 0,1 cm). My major lines are still at every 10 lines.

This is why I had trouble getting mms out of my grid when drafting my corset pattern - I did not notice that the numbers had changed when I switched units, so I could not understand why the grid resolutely stayed the same...!

(You could also change where your grid is centered on the X and Y axes. Those are automatically centered in the left bottom corner of your page. Messing with that is more trouble than it's worth for our purposes - we don't need that because frankly the page does not enter into the drafting process at all the way I do it - except maybe as a rough gauge for how many pages the printed pattern will take. If for some reason you wanted to change where your grid is centered, you would have to know the exact coordinates of the point where you want to move it.)

Of course, you don't have to have your major lines at 10. I can do a "half-centimetre" version by setting them up at 5 mms:

The only thing that bothers me about this system is that I'm limited to two types of lines, so I can't have both a detailed "milimetre paper" and mark 5 or 10 cms as well. If I want that type of super-helpful grid, I have to add more lines manually... which can interfere with my drafting a bit as those "objects" get in the way. Maybe there's still a way around that but I haven't figured it out yet...

Now, inches. As I said, inches require more math.

To help you, the various divisions translate into decimal numbers like so:

1/2 = 0,5

1/4 = 0,25

1/8 = 0,125

1/16 = 0,0625

And if you're math-and-numbers-challenged, you can write down those numbers or print them out on a piece of paper to stick at some place where you'll have it in sight and won't lose it.

(You can get those numbers easily with the help of a calculator by dividing 1 : your division number. If you need, say, 3/8, you then just multiply your 1/8 decimal number by 3... But part of the point of setting up our grids in Inkscape is that you avoid that further multiplication and just use your grid as a ruler.)

So if you want an inch grid divided down to sixteenths of an inch, you set it up like this:

With your basic lines being the decimal number for 1/16 (i.e. 0,0625) and your major lines at every 16 lines.

Just for fun: Because Inkscape goes that detailed with its decimal numbers in these settings, you can go extra-detailed with... what is it called, thirty-secondths?

And now you can give Vanessa's tutorial a whirl regardless of whether your pattern draft uses cms or inches.

As a teaser for how you would do the apportioning rulers stuff: Your X and Y measurements don't have to match.

Here's the same grid in inches:

So... yeah... just with some help from a calculator (you most likely have one on your phone), you can totally do the apportioning rulers drafts to your own measurements. Or create your own apportioning ruler / tape measure for doing it by hand. But more on that at some later point...

Wednesday 7 October 2020

How NOT to draft a women's sloper: Why the Breanna sloper for women does not work at all (unfortunately)

In the loquatious manner of old books, the full title of this blog post continues:

Containing therein an explanation of the fundamental importance of the difference between dart width and dart angle.
What shenanigans Marmota gets into when she has too much free time on her hands and wants a quick solution to something (Spoiler alert: It was anything but quick.)

I have to say right ahead that this was written back in May so some of the info about how the site is set up here is dated. The problems with the pattern remain exactly the same, though.

I also have to say right ahead that the sum total of my knowledge of programming is a neat zero, so I have no idea how the actual code works and cannot unfortunately fix it.

I do, however, by now know a thing or two about drafting sewing patterns, and about measuring and altering them to make sure they fit - seeing as I'm exactly the sort of non-average person is targetting:

In their system, back in May, the closer you were to a standard size, the more your diagram looked like a perfect circle. Mine was a perfect splotch.

So I can at least offer an explanation of why it doesn't work. Why the way they take those detailed measurements (that for the most part do make sense to me) and turn them into this pattern... results in a pattern that does not work at all. Long story short: the very base of the women's sloper is flawed and does not seem to take into account some fundamental truths of sewing and pattern-making.

Namely how you deal with darts and angles.

I hope that this post will both work as a (very detailed) review for other existing / potential users to see exactly why that particular covetable pattern (custom slopers are covetable, right?) doesn't work right now, as well as hopefully help the programmers do things better in the future when it comes to women's patterns. Because I do love the idea of OpenSource patterns!

(And maybe it will also help explain some things about drafting your own slopers. I learned a lot from this myself.)

Monday 11 May 2020

Throwback: The Andrea blouse and pattern

This dates back to the era of BurdaStyle as a website for OpenSource patterns, and BurdaStyle as a sewing community. Digging back, it seems I made this blouse in 2008? Definitely finished it in 2008. It predates this blog, and was actually one of the first items of clothing I ever made for myself... preceded by a "medieval" (ha-ha) dress and an evening dress! I always had a habit of jumping headfirst into sewing projects without regard for the order of their perceived difficulty ratings. :D

In retrospect, it's absolutely no wonder I've developed the sewing persona and habits I have if, out of the first three garments I ever made for myself, one was drafted based on a scaled draft, one was made from a heavily altered pattern, and one was a completely new design drafted from a basic sloper! There's no way I was ever going to end up the sort of sewist who buys and has to try all the newest patterns! :D

 Old photos demonstrating that my habit of wearing headscarves is already more than ten years old... and that my problem of finding well-fitting RTW trousers is a lifelong one.

That era of BurdaStyle as a sewing community is now definitively gone. Just like the blouse.

The physical object no longer fit me, and was worn and the colours washed out... so recently I cut it up and am in the process of turning it into patchwork pillowcases for my sister. Well, technically, I would be far more in the process of if the project were not currently 180 kms away...

(I wasn't even in the habit of visiting the BurdaStyle site for the past couple of years, so I was surprised to find out it was completely remade when I ventured there recently - I'm not sure when the change happened. But everything is gone. It's truly and fully nothing but a shop now, and as you can guess from the previous paragraphs, I definitely don't need it.)

This blouse was my first pattern of my own, drafted from a basic sloper (provided back then by BurdaStyle user JJ), based on my own design, my own idea, and so it will always be special.

The original idea counted on colour blocking or at least several colours / patterns of fabric, which I eventually scrapped in part because I did not have that many coordinating fabrics of the same type. I also played with the idea of back lacing which I think was quite "in" at the time (also, hey, I've always loved historical costumes), and scrapped that because, well, back lacing isn't very practical.

Also I named it after the little girl who was baptised the day I finished it, so even though I'm not sure how many times I've even met her after that, it is a rather specially named pattern that way.

 And as you can see, I eventually adjusted the back seams to echo the front more. It's much better balanced that way! And more fun! I dislike patterns that have inventive designs in the front and boring standard seam / dart configurations in the back.

The blouse used to have a record on the BurdaStyle site, including a single-size PDF download of the pattern, but as I said, that is now gone, and the record only lives on in the Wayback Machine  - without the PDF (and including my early confusion concerning invisible zippers if you go further back in history :D - it was a regular one). Plus there's my old Czech blog post - now picture-less. ETA: Actually, now that blog is gone, too (the platform is gone), and only lives on in the Wayback Machine.

I forgot to take more photos than these original ones before I took it apart. So you only have my word for all the beginner mistakes I made... such as trimming the seam allowances too fine as I zig-zagged them (together, too, I suspect - you can kind of see that it even affects the fit in the back), before I even tried it on properly. It wasn't that a big problem with this piece, but it's not a habit you want to maintain in general. :D

There's also the matter of my not knowing anything about understitching - so I topstitched around the neckline instead. Again, not a big problem with this casual blouse but not a habit you want to get into in general!

And somewhere between my forgetting some details from the drafting tutorial, the block I used having come without sleeves, and my generally not yet knowing the wisdom of measuring patterns against my own measurements, the sleeves originally ended up a tad too tight - so the underarm gusset was a necessity. One I fell in love with, though. :D

Looking at these photos now, and remembering how I did things compared to what I now know about my usual adjustments, I think I probably should have lengthened it in the upper part / lowered the bust point / raised the shoulder seam, too... I suspect that was also part of the reason the sleeves originally ended up too tight. Not having done that, however, does make the resulting pattern a bit more usable as a general pattern. :-)

... I kind of forgot about my old Czech blog; I don't use it anymore because that old Czech platform is pretty clunky. I now found out there that the thrifted pillowcase from which I made the blouse cost only 5 CZK (!!!), and that the yellow fabric I used for the teeny piping along the sleeves cost 10 CZK (and it cycles back to today because I think I have now used some of that fabric for face masks...).

That blog post is also a bit cringe-worthy because I had frankly no idea what I was doing or how to write about these things in a logical manner. :D


I retained my habit of drafting patterns on newsprint ads for many years after. I don't do it anymore, in part because we don't end up with them in the mailbox anymore (or only rarely maybe?). But it's actually not such a bad habit - if you don't mind drafting on already printed things and having to peer closely to see your lines! :D (I would always do the final markings in a black pen.) Re-using useless stuff isn't a bad thing to do; these days I still have a habit of e.g. taping together office papers printed from one side...

Here's the original pattern, as-is: Drafted at Burda size 38 in the bust (88 cm), c. size 36 in the waist (66 cm), widening back to size 38 (94 cm) or even 40 (98 cm) for the hips; the bodice lengthened in the waist to fit my long torso, and pretty narrow sleeves. No seam allowances.

Download original Andrea blouse pattern

I have an ambition of turning it into a more standard-size multi-sized one - but I'll leave that for the future (because it would hopefully also involve sewing a new version for myself and doing some sort of tutorial!).

Sunday 10 May 2020

A simple trick for clipping / notching seam allowances

It's another thing I learnt from Bilikis. She doesn't even describe it; she just does it whenever she notches seam allowances (so it usually ends up being sped up!).

When you have a curved seam that needs to have the seam allowance clipped into / notched, it can be a tedious and slightly perilous job. But if you fold your piece at the spot where you need to clip, and cut into your seam allowance along the fold, both sides of the triangular notch at once like this...

 ... it goes much faster and it's much easier to ensure you don't snip all the way into your seam (without needing to bring a craft knife into your sewing room and move your project to a cutting mat!)

Really simple, eh? :-) It barely rates the name of tutorial but... it's supremely helpful, and clearly isn't common knowledge, so let's tag it with that, too.

Sunday 12 April 2020

He's not here, he's risen

And it's Easter Sunday and I'm alive.

Which, given the current worldwide situation, and my last post featuring a flu, is far less of a given than it may normally seem.

There have been sudden upheavals in my life since the last post.

But it's Easter Sunday. It's still Easter Sunday. I watched / listened to a service, and I sung Easter songs.

It's sunny outside and it's Easter Sunday.

... I can't get enough of that fact, possibly because I did not get to share it with many other people "live". But in a way, that's the only element missing from my requirements for Easter Sunday - it's sunny, and trees are in white bloom, and I did get to sing my two favourite Easter songs, and listen to a sermon. So that's the absolute majority of my personal Easter requirements checked, so I'm doing pretty well all things considered.

I had a bit of a habit, in the past years, to post at Easter - I even have a tag for it. So it seemed like a good opportunity to rear my head in the blogosphere again.

And I'm making things. They're not always the things I thought I would be making this year. But that's practically tradition with me by now. So, yeah. Nice worsted things, or finishing the whole of my folk costume? Probably not happening anytime soon.

Hand-knitted socks? Happening sooner than I thought. Right now, one. In about three days, I expect to have a pair, and then on to more. (The least enjoyable part is casting on. With most of the rest, I can sit in front of a computer and watch things, like videos from the Ffestiniog Railway with my father.)

Knitted mitts of a vaguely historical nature are happening.

New Regency stays based on Bernhardt's Fig. F (which for some reason not many costumers have used so far, despite the greater ease of adjustment with more seams?) are probably still happening.

Also, historical recipes are still happening every now and then, although I don't think that's anything I will ever document with much consistency. There has been Welsh rabbit. There will be something with eggs from Rettigová (and I should probably take care to document that). Beyond that it's anyone's guess.

* * *

Aside from Sunday services online, and regular fixed-days-of-the-week calls with mom, what's helping me along is videos from Kate on The Last Homely House channel. Kate is great. Kate has four cats. And chickens. And a goose. And bees. She's creative and imaginative and friendly and fun.

What's getting on my nerves right now is town PA. On Easter Sunday. They could have done that on Saturday instead, blegh. Especially because they're right now reminding us that going to church is not good and you should only watch services online. A bit late for that, folks, I've already done that. :D

But that was the last announcement for today. It's still sunny, and it's still Easter Sunday, and I think I'm going to cast the rest of my stitches in the garden. There were supposed to be photos in this post, but I have better things to do.

Monday 17 February 2020

Deciphering Historical Clothes: A c. 1840 corset & Drafting a pattern from photos

I've been stuck at home with a flu for over a week. After the first couple of days when I really felt awful, I now feel mostly okay except for a bit of a cough, a bit of a temperature and the fact any sort of physical activity tires me very quickly.
So I'm stuck mostly sitting down and trying to invent ways not to go crazy with boredom and do something more productive at least with my mind.

Which in Marmotaland sooner or later means DECIPHERING HISTORICAL CLOTHES.

I have corsetry on my mind, what with deciding that I need to make myself new Regency stays (my size has changed so much that I eventually figured out altering my old ones was probably more trouble than it was worth, alas). Along the line, I got to wondering about some 1830s-1840s corsets without bust gussets (I always have the 1840s low-key in my mind because the discontinued kacabajka adventures hang over me), and that led me to this c. 1840 corset in the Met.

Atelier Nostalgia (who has recreated it and whose blog post directed my attention back to this particular one) noted that it has no bust gussets. Which she says was unusual but I think it was actually quite common at that particular point in time and soon ceased to be so for some unknown reason - plenty of the c. 1830s corsets are simple "princess seamed" affairs. She also noted that the museum helpfully provided lots of detailed photos.

Those photos are, of course, ideal for deciphering.

Behold my usual messy colour-coded pictures:

Blue is for seamlines between pattern pieces.
Purple is for boning and the front busk.
Red is for the very narrow boning channels which may involve narrow baleen (is it possible to make baleen so narow? I have no idea), or cording, or even reed - which you can totally still use in Victorian corsets! To which this 1863 patent by Lavinia H. Foy attests with this sentence: "Rattan and whalebone strips can be inserted in the usual manner..."
Green is for grainlines. Sorry for making it so pale; I didn't want to cover the details underneath too much with all my scribblings, and went a bit overboard on the transparency. It should be easier to see in the full size. (What's not accounted for in my pictures and what I did eventually figure out is that the front hip gusset is also cut on bias. I am still not entirely sure about the back gusset but I think it might be on straight of grain.)

The corset is made from satin, which is a beast for determining grainlines even in real life, let alone in photos. Luckily, some of the photos are VERY detailed, allowing me to make a better guess, especially because in some places the fabric is a bit worn, which exposes the yarns more and makes it less of a quesswork. Also the lining (see additional photos at the museum site) is plainweave, which also helps; although I think the lining doesn't quite match the outer, it does more or less correspond to it.

What struck me was that the centre front was not cut on straight of grain, and neither was the side piece - leading my train of thought straight back to my Regency stays enterprise and the Bernhardt stays, specifically Fig. F.

There are definite similarities between this corset and the Bernhardt stays when you look closely (aside from the aforementioned, the hip flare is basically just an addition to bring the corset lower down the hips). That got me so excited about this corset as a possible sort of missing link between Regency and Victorian styles that I went ahead and roughly drafted out the pattern for myself in Inkscape, more or less following the principles lined out in Cathy Hay's Corset Making Revolution article. (ETA Nov 2020: Sorry, that's no longer available. The Foundations Revealed website has changed the way it works and there are no free articles now.)

And it worked.

Well, obviously I haven't made a mock-up yet. But my experiment did yield a pattern that looks like a good starting point for that. It's also similar to this possibly early 1850s corset on the Abiti Antichi site (which still has shoulder straps and on the other hand seems to have some sort of proto-opening-busk), so it's probably a very good basic style for the 1840s mid-19th century.

But more than that, as Atelier Nostalgia also noted, it's also a style that you can find it later corsets as well. And not just the 1850s. It looks surprisingly similar in principle to a couple corset patterns in patents from the 1860s and 1870s on the Haabet site.

And, from my browsing of museum collections, it also looks like a style that, with slight variations, carried all the way to the 1880s. Most 1880s corsets tend to have wider fronts, though, and are usually more along the lines of the gussetted or princess-line corsets you can find in commercial patterns. But you can still see elements of this sort of construction even in some later corsets.

The difference being mostly the fact later corsets have opening front busks, cross-lacing, and tend not to go so low on the hips. Many of them also utilise bust gussets instead of the bust seams of this particular style.

All this basically means I've developed a method of drafting a certain kind of Victorian corset pattern that can work, with various alterations, for a period of about 50 years from the end of the 1830s to 1880s! It's different enough from the commercial patterns I'm aware of, and yet ubiquitous enough in museum collections that I think I really hit on something here.

This is what I eneded up with. It will still nead fine-tuning, especially in the underbust area, but it's definitely a workable start.
(The exclamation mark on the left means my division of the waist is imprecise because what I really needed was decimal point numbers and I couldn't do those quite so easily in Inkscape without changing the grid - which is a bother, so I'll get around to that in paper stage. Basically at this point there is zero waist reduction and I think there needs to be at least a little bit of it.
The exclamation mark at the front hip gusset means that particular seamline is in serious need of truing - and the hip gusset will need some slashing-and-squishing after I get around to altering the waist.)

In order not to make this post too long (more than it already is), winding and difficult to navigate, and in order to make it easier to make stuff linkable (I'm not flattering myself to think this will be linked, am I?), I will eventually put the whole drafting method for this particular style in a separate post, probably after I've had a chance to make a mock-up and really see how well it works. Although now that I have shared an actual flat pattern draft, I guess you could also just apply Cathy Hay's method to it without waiting for the next post. :D

And when I get around to physically drafting this pattern, I'll definitely do some sort of further pictorial comparison between it and the Bernhardt Fig. F to prove my point. It's not quite immediately obvious - especially because the distribution of seams is a bit different - and I don't think I'd have thought of it had I not been drafting the Regency stays just before. But that front dip, slight bias in the front and bias on the side (also just slight in the Bernhardt stays) did make me wonder. If you lengthened the two back pieces and the front tip of Fig. F, and introduced hip gussets, you would get something approaching the 1840 stays and all those subsequent styles!

What I will share here regarding the drafting is this: I knew, instinctively, that this drafting method might work because I've done it before with my first Regency stays. I looked at lots of photos of extants. Focused on seamlines and where they sit on the body. Drew myself some technical drawings. And drafted the thing in a grid following my own measurements in a method similar to what Cathy Hay does - except that I used a lot more measurements to make sure it really fitted me.

So yes, this can totally be done just from photos - as long as they are decent quality and you have more than just one view. Look where the seamlines sit on the body. Find the underarm line (3 in my plan below). Find the waistline (C) and underbust line (B - in this case it's a lower underbust). Figure out the grainlines. Go from there.

In this particular case, I was lucky because the museum even provided a flat photo, so I could use that as my rough starting point for a flat plan (and use some common sense to account for the distortion).

If you don't have a flat photo - I didn't for my Regency stays, both because there aren't that many online in the first place and because the stays were an amalgam of many individual garments - draw yourself a sort of gridded flat plan first, not bothering with exact measurements for now. Make several such plans if it helps you to make sure you understand how it goes together.

And then you fine-tune that plan with actual measurements. Make your default horizontal lines the length of the biggest measurement of the main pattern pieces (excluding gussets), minus your preferred lacing gap, and go from there, leaving gaps where your other horizontal measurements are smaller. Or (like Cathy Hay) go with the bust, overlapping your pattern pieces in places where you're bigger (hips).

Meaning that for this particular corset - with its bust seams - I went with the bust measurement for my horizontal lines (and added the gussets for my hip / upper hip measurement, which is slightly bigger than my bust). For my Regency stays, I went with the underbust (because I was using both bust and hip gussets and really needed them to fit snugly at the underbust).

If you're drawing on paper, it may help to start with a scaled down pattern (in pencil!) to see at one glance if you're really going in the right direction. Your scaled down first draft can also double as a draft for your boning layout. (Or do it like I did now and draft your pattern in a grid in Inkscape or similar vector graphics program - that has the advantage of allowing you to correct mistakes cleanly, including the "back" function.)
That draft is your first dry run. It will help you catch any mistakes and things you forgot to take into account before you draft full-scale on paper. (There will totally be mistakes and things you forgot to take into account. On my first run through this pattern, I completely forgot to take into account the bust-to-waist difference in the back, and the fact you want your corset to dip in the underarm area. Among other things.)

And even then, always make mock-ups. :-)

You could apply the method to other items of clothing as well, but what with them not sitting close to the body like a corset does, and involving things like pleats and gathers and sleeves, that will involve even more trial-and-error. But it can totally be done, as Sabine of Kleidung um 1800 and Bránn both demonstrate. Especially if you start with something simpler like an apron, and something in a patterned fabric like a check that makes it easier to determine pattern shapes.

So that's my five cents concerning drafting from photos. And 1840s corsets. Some people seem to think the 1840s are boring. I hope I've just proven they're far from that.