For Part 1 of this series, please check out my Edwardian Corset Mock-Up video.
Changing the Pattern
To begin, I made the changes to my corset pattern which I’d determined from my Edwardian Corset Mock-Up. These included:
Raising the top of the corset by 2 inches (more on this dilemma later)
Removing a total of 2 inches of width from the corset’s top half. I opted to keep the hips the same to preserve the hourglass shape.
Brought up the centre-front point of the “v” shape at the bottom of the corset by 1-1.5 inches.
Something I should have done but forgot: truing up the seam lengths between the centre- front panels and the two on either side of it.
With the afore-mentioned extending of the top of the corset, I was faced with a dilemma. All of the bust panels had sides which slanted outward all the way to the top of the corset. Was I to continue the outward angle of these lines throughout the height extension (and risk creating a too-big bust area), or straighten out these lines to keep the same bust circumference (and risk a too-small fit, because generally the higher the corset sits, the more circumference it needs).
In the end, I opted for the “safer” option and continued the outward angle of the bust panel lines. If it became necessary I could remove excess width, whereas it would be impossible to add width which was not there. Well, it did become necessary, but more on that later ...
It was time. The most terrifying part of a sewing project, cutting into the fabric, was especially scary in this case. I was using coutil, a corset-making fabric which is especially crisp, almost cardboard like, and especially expensive. To make matters worse, I made a grave cutting error ...
Usually in sewing, one folds the fabric in half to cut out two pieces at a time. In the interests of accuracy however, I was cutting one layer of fabric at a time. Due to this change from my normal routine, I forgot to flip over the pattern pieces when cutting out the other side of the corset, resulting in fabric panels which were all exactly the same (as opposed to being mirror images of each other). To clarify, coutil fabric does indeed have a right and a wrong side, so there was no easy way around my error. With a pounding heart and exhalations of frustration I hastily placed the paper pattern pieces back onto the fabric, to see if there was enough coutil left to re-cut the offending pieces. Thankfully, there was just enough fabric left! Sweet relief. Next came the sewing, and later, another major roadblock I would have to fix . . .
Busk and Eyelets Drama
Pinning together my fabric pieces in order of their placement, I hand-basted some of the trickier curved seams. This allowed me to ease the edges together so they matched exactly. I placed the seams on the inside of the corset, later to be concealed under the boning channel tape.
Next, a facing had to be sewn onto the centre-front and centre-back pieces. For those unfamiliar with sewing, a facing is simply an extra piece of fabric sewn onto an edge of a garment and flipped underneath. This conceals the raw edges and strengthens the garment. In the case of corset-making, two layers of fabric are needed in the centre-front, for the busk, and at the centre-back, for the boning, both of which are “sandwiched” into the corset.
The busk-insertion went well, with the crowning glory being that my top-stitching around the busk came out perfectly (this part always terrifies me).
Installing the eyelets was not so easy. Even at the best of times, installing 40 metal eyelets using hand pliers is painful. This was not the best of times. I would squeeze the pliers around an eyelet with all my might in order to install it, and often with no apparent cause, failure would ensue. The eyelet would be smooshed into the fabric, improperly installed, leaving me to pry it out and try again.
Preface this by saying I am still unsure of the correct attachments to use in my pliers for this. I have watched videos from the manufacturer several times, to no avail. These videos seems to be bent on mystery, because it is notoriously difficult to ascertain which teeny tiny metal parts to use, despite the upbeat music and apparent ease-of-use. So, I switched metal attachments to the other possible option. This avoided the smooshed eyelet problem, but 50% of the time the seemingly installed eyelet would simply fall out of the fabric. I ended up using the first mystery-metal-attachment to get the eyelets in, and the second mystery-metal-attachment over top, because it seemed to install the eyelets more securely this way. Forgive me, this is a pitifully incorrect way of installing eyelets.
Next came the notoriously fated roadblock of this sewing project ...
T’was All Going Smoothly, Until it Didn’t Fit!
It was a perfect time to try on the corset. The busk, lacing eyelets, and centre back boning were all in place. I laced up the back with ribbon and got it on.
The corset had some serious fit issues.
Due to the afore-mentioned raising of the top of the corset, there was way too much width in the top of the corset. Way. Too. Much.
I pinned out what felt like a sufficient amount at each seam, except for those directly over the bust. Somehow the waist was too big as well, evidenced by the fact that there was no lacing gap in the back, while there should have been a 2 inch gap. The only explanation for this is that the seam allowance I’d sewn the pieces together with was slightly too small. In normal garment sewing this kind of thing is fine, but corsetry demands total precision and I paid for the lack of it this time.
By unpicking part of the curved hip panel seam, I was able to access the waist seams and pin out a total of 4 cm (about 2 inches). With much trepidation I re-sewed these problem seams, and voila! The corset fit. I breathed a sign of relief! Some corset-making fairy must have helped me through that part, because I’d been by no means confident of the outcome. Next came the most time consuming part of this sewing project ...
Marathon of the Boning Channels
The most time-consuming portion of this corset project surprised me: it was the boning channels. This was partly because it took planning and an order of operation to get the boning channels into their proper places, overlapping in some cases yet with no raw edges showing. Then there was the sheer amount of seam lines I had to sew - especially when some of these seams ran through very thick areas of fabric. I had to coax my machine through these sections.
Inserting the boning itself also took longer than expected. Each strip of boning channel tape can hold two strips of boning, but only if the boning is narrow. Apart from the centre front and centre back, I used synthetic whalebone (German plastic boning) throughout. Unfortunately half of my synthetic whalebone was of too wide a width. The only redeemable part of this was that (thank goodness) you can trim synthetic whalebone with scissors. So not only was I having to cut and file the boning to the right length, but I also had to trim the boning along the width. The developers of this synthetic whalebone did an amazing job at simulating baleen. The trimmings of the boning really appeared and felt like fingernails.
In Pursuit of Longevity
The last corset I made, a “Pretty Housemaid” Victorian corset, has not fared well. This is due to mistakes I made during construction that resulted in areas of weakness- especially where the fairly sharp edge of the spoon busk comes up against the fabric of the corset. So, given the sheer amount of labour put into corset making, I wanted to make sure this Edwardian corset would last a long time. Whether I was successful is yet to be seen, but I did my best at assessing and strengthening any areas of weakness in this corset. How did I do this? Through using what I’m sure is a historically inaccurate amount of boning. I added a total of 10 extra
strips of boning than what I’d originally planned (5 on each side). These include: an extra spring steel curved bone at centre back for a total of 3 bones at each centre-back (rather than the usual two), two extra strips of boning in the middle of the first front panel (near to the busk), and two extra strips of boning in the waist area.
Admittedly, some of these, especially the waist boning could have been omitted if I had planned the original placement of the boning channels more precisely. Yet I can forgive myself, given that I only had a single sheet of pattern paper to instruct me, and that with precious little information on the boning channels.
The pattern is sourced from Nora Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines pattern book (which I do not own), and it may have given more information than the pattern itself did. This lack of know-how when it came to the boning channels caused more issues that were not revealed until I tried on the finished corset.
I finished the corset edges with the same boning tape, machine stitched first onto the inside edge of the corset, then folded over to the front and hand-stitched down.
Final Thoughts and Things I Would Change Next Time
The moment of truth- trying on the finished corset.
I loved it. Who ever would have guessed that an S-bend corset-a somewhat misunderstood and feared style - could be so comfortable? I like “S-bend” posture it creates, as well as the longline cut of the hips.
So, what would I change next time?
I found an illustration of this corset from its era which showed boning channels sewn separately from the seams lines, running more vertically over the corset. Many of the pattern pieces are quite slanted and swooping, and the most slanted pieces in my corset (around the waist area) have some horizontal wrinkling now that I have worn it. If my corset had had vertical boning over these areas, I believe that would have counteracted this horizontal strain. Hopefully this is merely an aesthetic problem and not one that affects the structural integrity.
In terms of the shape, the next Edwardian corset I make will have a more dramatic hourglass shape.
What About You?
Have you ever sewn a corset? Do you have any insights about Prym Eyelet pliers? Have you ever gotten halfway through a project only to discover it does not fit? Let me know in the comments below!
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