A Tale of Two Corsets | Making Victorian and 18th Century Corset Mock ups
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of childbirth. It was the epoch of breastfeeding. It was the season of a mummy tummy, and it was the spring of trying to fit into historical clothing, but not having any appropriate foundation garments!
Corsets for Postpartum?
I’ve spent the past year travelling with you guys through a pregnancy of making historical clothing, and now here I am, a postpartum mama, with a changing figure, breastfeeding to accommodate, and what can I say? I need some new foundation garments!
Having spent the 9 months of my pregnancy craving to make all the corsets and not being able to, I have resolved that now I will simply make every style and every era of corset available. I will make all the corsets!
Two Opposite Types of Corsets - Which is Better?
This video will be focussed on the creation of two very different corset mock-ups. In fact, I would consider these two eras of corsets to be on opposite ends of the corsetry spectrum, in terms of their shape and silhouette.
We’re going to make a late Victorian spoon-busk corset, with a curved front which actually accentuates a round tummy shape, and a very curved and accentuated bust area. Secondly, we will be making a pair of 18th century stays, with a very flat front, flattened bust, and conical shape.
We’re going to analyze how they accommodate my slight mummy tummy, my need to breastfeed 1000 times in a 24 hour period, and overall how they fit and make me feel. My main concerns are the ability of the corset to shape my figure, reduce my waist a tad bit, but also feel comfortable and not compress my body very much at all. So let’s jump into it!
Where Did I Get the Patterns?
If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you’ll know that I love drafting my own custom patterns. Both of the patterns for these corset mock-ups were self-drafted according to my own measurements, using the book “Stays and Corsets” by Mandy Barrington. If you want to learn more about this book check out my “All About Pattern Drafting” article.
When making the Victorian corset patterns, I completely followed the instructions from the book, because I wanted that exact look. With the 18th century stays, I was a little more ambitious. I followed the instructions for the top half of the stays, but eyeballed the bottom of the stays. I did this because I wanted a longer pair of stays than the pattern in the book, but I liked the style and overall look of this particular pattern, other than the length.
The way this book works is by first walking you through the drafting of your own custom bodice block. You then use this as a “skeleton” to draft each corset pattern on top of. Each section for each corset in the book begins with a few charts, with one column for your bust, waist, or hip measurements, and corresponding columns telling you the width that each corset panel should have based on your body measurement. It’s a great system!
Making the Victorian Corset Mock-Up
As mentioned already, I completely followed the directions for the drafting of the Victorian corset. When it came to grainlines, however, looked at similar patterns from other corset drafting books and chose a creative option. This was where each panel was placed slightly on the bias of the fabric. If you want to see how this turned out, keep reading!
This mock-up was made with a single-layer of canvas which I found on Amazon. I traced off the pattern pieces, added seam allowance, cut out and labelled each one. Then, I sewed them together with a 1 cm seam allowance, and pressed over a tailor’s ham.
To add the spoon busk, I added a centre-front facing. The video has more details on busk installation if you are curious.
For the lacing eyelets, I used some handy lacing tape with pre-installed eyelets and boning channels. I bought this from Farthingales corset making supply. For the boning channels, I used 1-inch wide woven cotton tape wide enough for two bones per strip.
Finally, I laced up my corset and tried it on!
How Did it Fit?
This turned out to be one of the best-fitting corset mock-ups I’ve ever made. As a long-waisted person, I’m used to having big discrepancies in the length of my corsets. The great part about drafting my own was immediately having the bust-line and waistline be in the exact right place.
The main issue in the fit was that lower centre front had a weird issue with protruding. It also needed to be lengthened to accommodate the busk length, which was 14”. I wore this mock-up day to day for a few days, which turned out to be a great idea! I realized it was a bit too loose overall, and the panels being cut on the bias probably didn’t help matters. So, in the end, I decided to make the waist and back-bust area smaller, and to cut my panels on the straight of grain, except for panel #4 which is slightly off-grain.
I later made a second mock up where I made the bust a bit tighter and higher, reduced waist at the centre back panel more, and took more out of the lower centre front.
Making the Stays Mock-Up
Now let’s get into the construction of the 18th century stays mock-up.
These were made with two layers of the same canvas from Amazon, so I could sandwich all of those criss-crossing boning channels. I used the traditional stays construction, where you work with one panel at a time.
I began by tracing around my pattern pieces, adding seam allowance, and cutting out. The next step was adding the boning channels. I marked them by eye, consulting other similar patterns. To get the width of the channels correct, I used alternately my Patternmaster ruler or a strip of the boning to trace around.
Then I stitched the boning channels! When getting to an intersection of boning channels, I would stop and pivot the fabric in order to leave the intersections free of stitching. I used the same eyelet lacing tape for the centre back, and cut my boning with my kitchen shears and inserted into the channels.
Criss-Cross or Spiral Lacing?
I really am scared of closed front corsets and stays, but I hadn’t bought a zipper for these stays so I went ahead and closed the front. I cut off about 11 or 12 yards of lacing cord, and used criss cross bunny ears lacing. However, halfway through I realized I wouldn’t have enough length so I alternated eyelet holes, leaving half unlaced.
The Fitting Fiasco
Unfortunately, these stays had an awful fit! They were very difficult to get over my head, and very hard to tighten the lacing on my own, especially with the alternating eyelet holes, because the back would buckle outwards. Total fail!
Once I had them on, I realized the stays were too tight. Due to my previous mock-up being loose, I had over-compensated when drafting the stays.
Because the front is unattached to the sides at the lower half, it bent outwards and gave me a protruding tummy shape. Unflattering! It also felt way too tight overall, and put way too much pressure on my postpartum body. The biggest problem with the fit, in my opinion, was the bust-to-waist ration. The bust too small, in relation to the waist. The stays produced a cylindrical shape, very uncomfortable and not my favourite aesthetic.
The stays were also SO hard to get off. I had to do a funny wiggly jumping dance to get them off of myself without completely unlacing them.
I was able to get them on my dress form, lacing them loosely to maintain my body measurements. I am still planning on using them to drape at least one 18th century pattern.
Was This a Fair Comparison?
This was really not a fair comparison, due to errors on my part in the drafting of the stays. So my final conclusion will simply have to wait until I have completed a decent stays mock-up. I was not able to wear the stays at all because the fit was too bad.
The Victorian corset on the other hand, has felt absolutely wonderful, because it fits so well! I did complete a second mock-up where I corrected most of the fit issues. The corset has the perfect amount of figure shaping while still feeling comfortable. Easy to take on and off. Easy to breastfeed in, compared to my Edwardian corset which I had been wearing, because the top line is much lower on my figure.
Which is Better?
The motto of this video is NOT "Victorian good, 18th century bad". I wore well fitting 18th century maternity stays throughout my pregnancy and adored them. Like I said, a full comparison between these two styles will simply have to wait until I have completed a better fitting pair of stays.
I will say that I love the Victorian spoon-busk corset for a postpartum figure! It is comfortable, and supports my tummy in a way that feels natural and doesn’t produce any awkward protruding points at the bottom of the corset.
I intend on either using a zipper front for my next pair of stays, or at least having some partial front-lacing. I will probably use the Augusta stays pattern because I like the look of it, and don’t feel like making another one or two stays mock-ups to test a self-drafted pattern.
At the time of this writing, I have actually completed the final version of the Victorian spoon busk corset, and it will be the subject of a highly in-depth online corset-making course! So stay tuned for that!
Do you have a preference between these two corsets? Would you try making either of these? Let me know in the comments section!
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