green silk 1860’s corset – part one

I wanted to buckle down and get started on some serious sewing this week.  Well, yesterday I laid in bed all day, but today I followed through!  (I’ve been sick, though, so my excuse is that I need at least a day of rest a week.)

I talked a little bit about some corsets I want to make in my last post.  I love the corsets of the late 19th century, when they started to really become stylish – to my mind, corsets and stays up until about the mid 19th century were always an item of function; designed for a purpose (whether that was compressing the body into a conical shape, hiking women’s breasts up to their eyeballs, or creating a tiny waist) they did that purpose and that was that.  They didn’t really need to be pretty and so they weren’t.  Later in the 19th century, you start to see corsets becoming more elegant and artistic, with decadent fabrics like silk, satin, and brocade, elaborate flossing details, and layers of frothy lace.  I’ve been longing to make a late 19th century corset like this one:

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Just look at it!  That fabric!  That embroidery!  Ribbons!  Lace!  I don’t have enough experience making corsets that I was comfortable taking on a project like this yet, but I’ve dreamed about it.

Well, this week, I decided to get started on remaking my 1860’s corset – and I wasn’t all that excited about it, to tell you the truth.  I had some plain white twill to use which was just kind of… blah.  I had this idea that corsets from that time period were mostly boring, plain white, and that’s how I planned mine.  Boy, was I wrong!

I’m not hugely familiar with fashions of the early-to-mid 19th century; I don’t have as much interest in that time period as I do in earlier ones, like Georgian fashion and Renaissance fashion.  Flossing, in particular, was the detail I wanted to include in my corset, and I thought 1860’s was a bit too early for that, but after some research, I did find some examples of corsets from the 1850’s and 60’s that have flossing.

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These two corsets, both found on Pinterest, are dated from the early 1860’s (1864 and 1862, respectively.)  The dark blue one particularly is the one I used as inspiration for the corset I wanted to make.  My pattern – Simplicity 2980 – is not quite as curvy in shape, but has the same general construction – a paneled corset with bust and hip gores.

I dug through my fabric stash and, lo and behold, not a scrap of blue in sight – I did, however have this dress hanging in my closet, which I made a couple of years ago… and never wore.  It had a lot of flaws; the pattern didn’t go together well, it never fit quite right, and my construction technique was bad (raw edges everywhere!)  It’s made of green silk dupioni which I got on sale at the time, and I’ve been meaning to take the dress apart and use the fabric for something else, as it’s a waste not to.  Well, here was a perfect opportunity!

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I cut out my pattern in the smallest size this time; I didn’t make any alterations to it because my last one fit me really quite well.  I had added room around the bust when I made that one, but I no longer need to do that.

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My strength layer was white twill; my fashion layer is all cut from the skirt of the green silk dress.  I still have the whole bodice left, although the way the dress pattern was pieced together I doubt I’ll be able to get many useable pieces from it.

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I labeled and pinned all my pieces together one at a time, so that I wouldn’t get the gores mixed up or end up cutting two left pieces or something like that.  Then I basted all the silk pieces to the twill pieces to keep things from shifting about when I sewed.

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I inserted the gores – they all went in pretty well, if not perfect.  I was extra careful about it because I remembered that last time I made this pattern, I sewed the gores in way too widely, and had to take them in a bit.  The pattern gives you quite a bit of seam allowance, which I usually don’t for myself.  After the gores were in, I stitched around them with cream thread, to add strength as well as for the look of it.  I wanted to do the flossing in cream too so I thought the contrast would work.

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I sewed my boning channels in with twill tape.  They’re not perfect – some of them are a bit wonky, actually – but I’m not fussed.  I pulled all the threads through to the inside and tied them off, to prevent that ugly look of machine backstitching.  I got all of the right side boning channels in before I called it quits for tonight.

I’m going shopping at Vogue Fabrics tomorrow (hurray!) so I may or may not get around to finishing this corset tomorrow.  If not tomorrow, I’ll definitely finish it on Sunday, because I still have more I want to get done this week.  I’m aiming to get the shift and petticoat that go with this corset done on Monday and Tuesday.  I’m really itching to get started on the costume that requires these undergarments!

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2 thoughts on “green silk 1860’s corset – part one

    • Ellie says:

      I have seen some pictures! I’d love to recreate something like that… some day. I’m curious about the stays with sleeves; I can’t figure out if they were really worn as an undergarment, or were meant to be seen? Some of them are definitely pretty and elaborate enough to be outerwear.

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