If you’ve been following me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Cali-Sews-148515631843994/ you’ll know how long I’ve been working on this darn Victorian outfit. The more I’ve studied, and the more I’ve read, I’ve come to understand the importance of the foundation garments in achieving the “correct period silhouette.” All this means is that the biggest difference between an historical reproduction garment looking right and looking like a modern interpretation in costume form is how it fits over one’s curves. If you watch some of the old 1950s and 60s westerns, the women’s curves obviously follow the mid-century ideal, and not the 19th century ideal. The only way to properly achieve the right historical look is to dress like our forebears from the skin out.
For the last 2 years, I have been bringing myself up to speed on Victorian underwear.
As a lifelong aficionado of all things Victorian, I really thought I knew enough.
I was wrong.
Seam placement matters.
I was pretty confident that I had chemises and drawers figured out. But I knew that with my limited budget, I wouldn’t be able to afford to purchase a properly fitting corset from one of the many wonderful vendors out there. I had to LEARN how to make and fit a corset.
There are so many patterns out there, and so much advice. I started with a corsetry group on Facebook. I learned a lot about corset construction and fitting, but I really had to quit the group before I could make much progress. There were too many Internet trolls in the group who were quick to criticize and mock newbs’ efforts. It was more of a here-let-me-show-off-how-great-I-am-and-how-superior-my-skills-are group and less of a here-let-me-help-others-learn. I have been sewing for more than 40 years. I don’t have time for that crap.
I did start with some free corset patterns online, but they came with no instructions on construction or boning. I made one of those to start with, just to get a feel for how corsets came together. I liked the lines of my muslin mock-up. It would have fit me perfectly 30 years ago. Unfortunately, middle-age and pregnancies tend to shift a woman’s curves around, and while I have always been well-endowed, now I was pudgy too. Anything I found was going to have to be drafted for my measurements.
That was Corset Mark 1.
I made one more from that pattern before I realized its silhouette was from the wrong decade. So much for Corset Mark 2.
Corset Mark 3 was Laughing Moon Silverado corset pattern. I used cotton duck and got the bright idea to sew it on my great-grandmother’s 1926 treadle machine. Yeah. I know. Not my brightest idea. I couldn’t get the bust gussets right. I couldn’t get it to properly support my girls. It kept folding up on me. Now, I know women back in the 1870s and 1880s were just as big and busty as I am. So, it was back to the drawing board.
Enter Corset Mark 4, fondly referred to as “Franken-corset.” Mark 4 was a mish-mash of elements from each of the patterns I’d used before. It supported the girls just fine, but it flared out at the top and over the hips. Honestly, Franken-corset was very uncomfortable to wear.
I set it aside for nearly a year, trying to figure out what went wrong. During that time, I lost weight and my figure changed…again!
Enter Corset Mark 5.
Now, it’s been 2 years since I embarked on this adventure, and I still haven’t gotten past the corset. No bustle, no petticoat, no Victorian dress to show for it. I am nothing if not persistent.
Fortunately, during that year, I found some wonderful, helpful costumers online, and some great resources.
The pattern I’d bought two years earlier, the Laughing Moon Victorian underwear and corset patterns had two corsets. I decided to make the Dore version this time, and I used my new Brother machine to sew it on. I followed all of the expert advice. I cut a muslin first. It required at least two alterations. The bust was slightly larger than I needed and the waist was in the wrong place for my figure. I adjusted the waist placement, took in the bust as needed and it fit perfectly! Hooray!
We went camping and I took the muslin with me to use as a pattern for cutting out the twill. It was another two weeks before I could get that done. More fitting and boning, eyelets, busk insertion and laced up that bad boy!
And laced it.
And laced it.
The back pieces met.
There is supposed to be a 2-3 inch gap between the back pieces to allow for adjustments. Corset Mark 5 is too big.
There will be a Corset Mark 6 in the future. But for now, I will use the Mark 5 in the interim. It’s comfy. It supports as it should. It gives me the proper silhouette.
Now on to the rest of the undergarments. I’m on a deadline to have everything ready before December 1 for Victorian Christmas. Fingers crossed that I make it.