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Reform Corset

One of my current client projects is a reform corset to be worn with a WWI nurse’s uniform. This corset presents an interesting challenge because while there are plenty of old advertisements to be found, images of existing corsets are hard to find and often don’t show much detail. Back views are even harder to find, although there is a Jaeger corset at the V&A with a photo that confirms they do lace up the back. In addition, the closest pattern I’ve found is Ageless Patterns’ corset waist for a 12-14 year old girl, and the V&A corset is also sized for a young girl, which isn’t very helpful when drafting a pattern for a grown woman.

Patterning the second draft.

Patterning the second draft.

So I’ve been slicing and dicing the pattern I do have, making it bigger, adding curves, and adding style lines similar to those on the V&A corset. My first draft was for the rough shape and size I would need, and the second draft focused more on the proportions of the front panels. Luckily, the photo in Underwear: Fashion in Detail appears to be nearly life sized, at least around the neckline and bust. I’m basing this on the fact that the buttons in the photo are approximately 5/8″ and the twill tape binding is about 1/4″, both of which make sense with the scale of the overall garment. The buttonhole openings are 3/4″ wide, measuring from seam to where the edge is bound, which is right for a 5/8″ button. So even though the overall proportions are smaller than what I need, I was able to get some valuable measurements that I could apply to my own version.

I’m not reproducing the Jaeger corset exactly, although I am drawing heavily on it for inspiration.  I’m leaving in a hip gusset from the Ageless Patterns corset, because several the other reform corsets have this detail and it seems useful in fitting a woman rather than a girl. I love the pleated bust gusset, but since my version will be in cotton and my client wants it to be washable, I’m doing a gathered gusset, which is actually more common in the other examples I can find. I don’t see any need to change the width of the buttonhole placket or the straps, other than length.  I intend to copy the method of making buttonholes by leaving spaces between folded and topstitched pieces of fabric rather than by cut and bound buttonholes, because I find the detail very attractive and think it will be sturdy, as well. I also like the quilted detail on the back of the straps and all the cording, so those will also be in my version.

Reform corset pattern draft.

Reform corset pattern draft.

Reform corset mocked up in muslin.

Reform corset mocked up in muslin.

The second draft fit really well, and my client reports that it is very comfortable.  The bust gusset starts at a good point right under the bust, but needs a little more fullness in the gusset itself so the gathers don’t have all their fullness pulled out.  The straps are a little short and I’d like to fine-tune the shaping on some of the pieces, and make the curves a little more elegant. It doesn’t need many changes, however, and I’ll be moving on to construction this week. Before that can happen I need to experiment with the fiddly details, like the strips of fabric that make up the buttonholes down the front and on the straps, and how to cord and bone it without losing too much width and making it smaller than it should be.

Also in progress for this client are a pair of chemise-drawer combinations, to be trimmed with tatted lace and embroidery made by my client’s grandmother, the beginnings of a 1912 long and narrow corset, and a princess slip. I’m also busty checking off items on my personal project list. I started an 1830’s corded petticoat and the 18th c. tall hat was finished over the weekend, with pictures coming soon.

3 Responses to “Reform Corset

  • Did you complete your reform corset? If so, do you have any images?

    • Hi Lorna, it is almost finished, but still needs binding and buttons. Once I am up and about again, it’s one of the first projects on my list to finish and then I’ll get some photos of it.

      • Fabulous! I look forward to seeing them, I’m about to embark on one myself from a French fashion mag from 1890 for bicyclists and gymnasts 🙂

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