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How to Learn Historical Costuming, Wear a Corset Discreetly, and More! | Sewing Q and A

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

Q: Is a dress form necessary for sewing?

No, but it is great to have if you want to learn to drape patterns, and definitely helps with fitting clothing for yourself.

I have a video and article all about how I made my own DIY dress form to my custom measurements, which can be done very inexpensively.

Q: What are the best historical eras to wear for breastfeeding access?

Women of all eras breastfed, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. There is always a way to breastfeed in all eras of clothing, especially if there are centre-front closures like buttons.

However, I am going to say that eighteenth century clothing can be very easy to breastfeed in, because everything had such a low neck. This means that one wouldn’t even have to undo anything in the front, just pull up and over and nursing. Also, if one is wearing a kerchief tucked into her low neckline, this provides a handy method of covering the top area while nursing.

breastfeeding mom sewing vintage style four boys sons family bench forest on demand
Most of my clothes allow me breastfeeding access from the neckline

If you are interested in dressing in one of the eras with a high neckline, like the Victorian era, either have buttons at the centre front, or wear skirts with a blouse or shirtwaist tucked in, that you can untuck and lift up to nurse in.

Q: What are the best resources for learning historical costuming?

The best way to learn historical costuming, at least at first, is to become really comfortable in your general sewing and pattern-creation skills. The reason for this is that since historical costuming is a niche area of sewing in general, it can often require improvisation to create certain garments and details in those garments.

You don’t want to rely on commercial patterns or pattern instructions, because often those things will simply not be available for a certain garment you wish to create. If you have a good foundation of sewing know-how (and this doesn’t have to be “by the book” sewing, it can merely be knowing your own preferred methods) then you can confidently work your way through creating a garment even if you have no pattern and no sewing directions.

Always start with inspiration and passion and excitement, because if you have that, you can create whatever you want. Where there’s a will there’s a way. I get a lot of inspiration from historical dramas, and a lot of my garments started with a seed of inspiration that was planted by a historical drama I watched. I currently have a lot of ideas simmering on the back burner of my mind, mostly inspired by historical movies and shows.

Janet Arnold books are amazing, and not only contain scaled down patterns but also

have construction details and details of the trim and decoration and lining on the garments. Personally, I find scaling up the patterns and then adjusting them to fit me arduous, and prefer to use her books as inspiration and details of the style lines, and then recreate this either through drafting or draping a pattern to my own measurements.

Foundations Revealed is a great resource and has a lot of free material especially for corset making. My first corset, made six years ago, was self drafted from a free tutorial on FR!

Youtube is a great way to get comfortable with historical sewing, by seeing how other people work and achieve certain silhouettes. However, always view "Costubers" as inspiration, not as a textbook. We are all sewers just like you, who have simply been doing it for a little longer, and decided to post our work on the internet. You need to find your own preferred methods of working.

sewing books metric pattern cutting
Books have been an integral part of my historical costuming journey

Here are some books I recommend:

Where to buy corsetry supplies in Europe?

Farthingales Corset-Making Supply ships worldwide and is my favourite place to buy corset supplies

Q: How to discreetly wear corsets day to day?

This takes time, practice, and finding your own way of doing things. For an in depth dive into this topic, pick up my "Victorian Custom Corset-Making" course.

Here are some ideas:

You can wear an underbust corset combined with a bra, especially a wire-free bra.

Corset styles like Regency stays and the later 1830’s stays come to mind, which had bust gussets that did not contain any boning. This is perfect for discreet corset wearing under your clothes, because there are not boning ends sticking up over the bust area, and therefore no ridges to show through clothing. It is possible that there still could be a top edge ridge, although this is somewhat dependant on what kind of construction method you use. For example, in Regency stays you could add a top drawstring, and I think this could help prevent ridging.

Corset covers are a great option specifically designed to cover ridges from corsets. They can be quick and simple to make, and don’t require a lot of fabric. I plan on making a video about that sometime soon. Alternatively, a modern tank top could probably do the trick.

Your outer wardrobe plays a part in how visible your corset is. Modern clothing items like stretch t-shirts are very bad at hiding corsets. If you wear a lot of things like this, I would say to gravitate toward an underbust corset worn with a wire free bra. Personally, I have chosen to move my wardrobe mostly toward woven blouses which are loose, so that way I don’t need to bother with a corset cover. Not only are they loose, but they tuck in and bubble out which completely camouflages any lines from a corset.

Some of my clothing items are form fitting and made from woven fabric, and I have a few thoughts about these, and my wardrobe is currently a work in process when it comes to that. First of all, if something is form fitting, a higher neckline will show corset lines more than a lower neckline. Also, a corset cover could be a great option if you are wearing anything form fitting.

Thirdly, don’t overlook stays as a corset option. Stays, especially my maternity stays, can be my favourite corset to wear under anything form fitting, especially if it has a lower neckline, closer to 18th century necklines. The reason is that my maternity stays and many stays of this era, had criss crossed horizontal boning right around the top line. The purpose of this was specifically to reduce any obvious ridges showing through the outer clothing from the stays. I wore these stays through my whole pregnancy and never had any issues with ridges. My latest pair of stays however, made from the Augusta stays pattern, did not have this horizontal boning near the top, and these stays do show much more visibly through my clothing. The next time I make a pair of stays, I plan on adding this horizontal boning.

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