This year, I am participating in The Historical Sew Monthly, formerly The Historical Sew Fortnightly. I am going to do my best to finish each project on time and also actually blog about said projects. So far, here is the post about the January Challenge, Foundations, still in January, the month the first challenge is due! Huzzah!
The first challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly this year is Foundations. I was at a bit of a loss as to what I wanted to do at first. I mean, there are a lot of options, it’s hard to narrow one down. Well, in the last week of December, the wonderful Marna Davis posted in the Historical Sew Fortnightly Facebook group that she had found a corded work corset at the Kingfisher Chisholm Trail Museum (http://www.ctokmuseum.org/) where she volunteers and had drafted a pattern from it. She believed the corset to come from the time of the famous land rush, and was willing to make the pattern available to us for a corset sew-along. As I am hoping to work at Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer this summer in the Railroad Towne, along with my husband, I jumped on it. I thought a corded work corset would be just the thing!
Original 1890’s Corded Corset
The original corset is made of a fine tan cotton twill and had measurements of 30″-24″-29″, without the two inch lacing gap, or spring, in the back. Thus it would fit someone with measurements of about 32″-26″-31″. This was not a corset designed for tight lacing and making a super fashionable silhouette. This was a corset designed for comfort and ease of wearing while doing one’s daily work. Also, amazingly, I only had to slightly enlarge the bust and slightly take in the waist for the pattern to fit me. Otherwise, I made everything to the same dimensions. The original corset only has two steel bones, one on either side of the back by the lacing, and a steel busk. Otherwise, all stiffening in the corset is done with rows of sewn-in cording. When I made my corset, I used the same number of rows of cording in each section as the original, since I was almost the same size.
The first step was finding the fabric. I managed to find a fine tan herringbone twill that fit the bill almost perfectly. It was sturdy and had almost no stretch. I also ordered in a separating busk and corset lacing. (I was out of both items.) I had some cotton yarn that was relegated for the cording, and I ordered in some safety buckles for the shoulder straps.
Then I cut it out and got to work!
Inserting the Busk
The first step is always inserting the busk. Awesome little antique bone awl given to me by my friend Cyndi.
Then it was on to the first set of cording. I stitched it in with a zipper foot, one row at a time.
First Set of Cording
You can see I had a little bit of shrinkage and some fabric from the inner layer to cut off. You can also see the waist tape I put in to avoid stretching out the waist.
Side Panel and Its Cording
I sewed the side panels on, each layer individually so the seam would be enclosed and neatly finished. I then sewed in the eight rows of cording in the side front panel, not forgetting the stay tape.
Front Half is Done!
Then I started on the back.
Back Panels with Lacing Eyes
First I sewed the boning channels, then inserted the grommets and the bones, and sewed in the four rows of cording on each back piece. There was not a lot of cording shrinkage with only four rows of cording– at least not nearly as much as with eight rows.
I then sewed the side backs to the backs the same as with the front half. Time for cording!
Back Half, with Cording
It was at this point that I realize I had forgotten the waist tape in the back half. Phooey. There was no way I was ripping things out at this point, so I just decided to soldier on!
I then made a flat-felled seam to sew the halves (quarters?) together, felling to the front to allow these tabs to lie flat towards the back. “But wait!” you ask, “What are those tabs for?” Well, the original corset has them, and they are a bit of a mystery. I am going to use them to buckle on a skirt-supporting bum roll or very small bustle. Even working ladies like to be somewhat fashionable!
Strap Placement Binding and Strap
The next step was to bind the edge of the corset where the strap attached and attach the strap. The next step was positively evil. I had to bind the corset with twill tape. Now you might think you could just sew the tape on all in one fell swoop by machine, but you would think wrong. I couldn’t manage to catch both layers of the twill tape while also catching the corset layer. It was always just two of three. Not always the same two of three. If I ever do this again, I am going to stitch the twill tape onto just one side of the corset edge, and then handtack it down on the other side.
But in the end, it all looked pretty good!
Completed Corset Sans Buckles
In the meantime, I had received a notification that the company I had ordered the buckles from did not have those buckles anymore. So I ordered new ones in. It took a little longer to get them in, but I was finally able to attach them last night and put the last final touch, a narrow lace edging, on. Yay!
But the proof is in the pudding, and no matter how good a corset looks on a sewing table, you don’t know how good it is until you have tried it on. So this evening, we had a mini photo shoot to show how it fits and looks on a body!
Finished 1890’s Work Corset
Front View 1890’s Work Corset
(Um yeah, that photo is a bit dorky.)
Fun fact: I made that chemise in high school. Really. And it fits just as badly now as it did then. The arm holes are cut way too high. I need to make a new one.
So here are my pertinent Historical Sew Monthly details!
1890’s Corded Work Corset: A Study in Tan and Cream
The Challenge: Challenge Number 1, Foundations
Fabric: 100% cotton twill.
Pattern: Pattern drafted from original corded work corset, supplied by Marna Davis.
Year: Late 1880’s to Early 1890’s.
Notions: Steel Bones, separating busk, cotton yarn, cotton twill tape, cotton corset lacing, #00 grommets, thread, lace.
How historically accurate is it? I’d say 98%. I used historical sewing techniques, a pattern taken from an original, and historical fabrics. The only majorly wrong thing is that the lace is polyester. I could have sworn it was cotton, and it feels like cotton, but there on the spool it says “100% polyester”.
Hours to complete: It would have been 8 if I had gotten the binding right on the first try. As it was, 12-14.
First worn: For photos.
Total cost: $30, counting the value of the bones and twill tape I had in stash.
Questions? Comments? I’d love to answer them! Just drop me a note below! Happy sewing!