Have you ever wondered if there were other periods in history when people had negative attitudes towards traditional, boned corsets? We all know that much of our modern day society is rather "anti-corset". But is our time period unique in history? I would argue, no. If ever there were another period when society felt negatively towards boned corsets, it was the Regency period.
In this article and video, we will learn:
How I made a reproduction of a real 1820’s corset, from a self-drafted pattern.
A secret for making complicated corset cording go quickly and smoothly compared to what you imagine
How to insert bust gussets (what not to do)
Demo of created hand worked eyelets for spiral lacing (full video)
What makes regency corsets different from ALL the other eras,
Whether or not Regency corset could be an option for a daily modern corset wearer!
Finally, I will tackle the most common criticism of this type of corset, which is the wooden busk. Is it constricting, and does it prevent natural body movement?
The Pattern and Mock-up
My inspiration for these Regency stays was an extant late Regency corset from 1820. I drafted the pattern to my own measurements, using directions from Mandy Barrington's "Stays and Corsets" book. One of the coolest things about this pattern is that the centre-back edge is curved. I love this in a corset, because my own back is naturally very curved, and this feels oh-so-comfortable!
Next, I made a paper mock-up by taping my paper pattern pieces together. This technique doesn't eliminate the need for a fabric mock-up, but it does allow me to eliminate any glaring errors from the pattern before making the fabric mock-up.
For my fabric mock-up, I experimented with cutting the pattern pieces on the bias, since learning that this was something that was done in that period. I liked how that looked in the mock-up stage, but ended up cutting my final stays on the straight of grain, mostly due to forgetting!
In the mock-up, the main change I made was to make the bust gussets a little longer, because when I'd drafted my pattern I had experimented with making them shorter - but I didn't like how it ended up fitting.
Cutting Out the Fabric
Since these stays would be fully corded, I needed two layers of fabric: I opted for coutil and cotton sateen. I traced around my pattern pieces, added my seam allowance, then cut these out of the coutil. This pattern has only two body pieces per side, plus two bust gussets and one hip gore per side.
To cut out the cotton sateen, I first traced out my coutil panels which already had seam allowance, then cut out my sateen, leaving a generous margin of excess seam allowance. Why did I do this? The cording technique I will be teaching you uses a lot of extra fashion fabric, and so we need to be generous when cutting out.
Inserting the Gussets: Right Way vs. Wrong Way
I used two different techniques for each respective side of my stays. One turned out not so great, which I learned from. In the first method, I worked with the coutil and sateen gussets as one layer, and sewed them first to only the sateen body panel, before hand-stitching the coutil to the gussets on the underside of the work. This technique would have worked fine if I had machined the gussets to the coutil, then hand-stitched the sateen in place. The reason I hadn't done this was because I needed to have visible top-stitching on the sateen fabric.
On the second half, I used the more standard technique of stitching the sateen gussets to the sateen body piece, and the coutil gussets to the coutil body piece, before attaching them together in the next steps.
Creating the Busk Pocket
I opted to create an inner pocket to hold my busk out of chamois leather. I first created a "mock" busk pocket on the front of the stays, by stitching two lines down the centre-front area, and adding strips of cording on either side.
Then, I sewed a sleeve out of the chamois leather, of the correct width to hold my wooden busk. I hand-stitched this to the interior of the stays, taking care that my stitches would not show through to the front of the stays.
Creating the Cording (Secret to Easier Cording)
These stays contain a lot of intricate cording - one of my favourite historical corset details. I used an easy cording technique, which cuts the time spent at least in half. Instead of first sewing the cording channels, then pulling the cord through with a tapestry needle (an arduous process) - I machine stitch the cording into the channels with a zipper foot, as I go.
These stays are entirely corded, meaning that there is no boning (other than at the very centre-back. The way the cording is arranged around the bust cups helps to give underwire-like support to the bust area.
Attaching the Panels
Since the original extant stays I was copying had no visible felled seams, I opted to stitch the seams connecting the body panels to the inside of the stays, then hand fell them, so that my stitches wouldn't show through to the front. These felled seams are so narrow and rigid that they act as extra rows of cording!
Eyelets and Binding
One of the final steps was the eyelets and binding of these stays. For a detailed explanation of how to sew hand-worked eyelets, check out this article and video.
I first marked the placement of my eyelets, then poked one hole at a time, before stitching each one by hand.
Next came binding the edges: I made bias binding out of quilting cotton, and stitched it in place by machine in two passes. It was a little tricky around the ends of the straps, but with a little fiddling it came out looking quite neat!
One of my favourite elements about these stays is the hand-quilting. I referred to the original stays, and lightly drew on the lines where the hand-quilting needed to go. There were two types of decorative hand-stitching used in these stays: lines of back-stitch that form a criss-cross pattern, and wavy lines of stem stitch. These went much quicker than I had expected, and add so much character and dimension to the finished stays!
How Do I Like It?
I absolutely love this corset! For the past couple months, I have been taking a break from daily corset wearing, but let me tell you! If you are wanting to try corsetry as a beginner in your modern day life, this late Regency corset is a great place to start! Why is that?
The main reason is that this corset has all the back and posture support, deep pressure therapy, and stellar bust support of a corset, while being soft, flexible, and highly comfortable!
This particular late Regency corset especially creates a bust shape that could easily be translated into a modern day wardrobe, without anyone needing to notice that you are wearing a corset!
Now let's tackle one of the most controversial elements of Regency stays: the wooden busk.
What Makes Regency Corsets Different?
Believe it or not, I would consider the Regency period to be similar to our own modern time period when it comes to their views on corsets. True, they were still wearing what most modern people would deem “a corset”, but that was only because that was the only method of bust support available at that time, with their current materials.
Boning in corsets was actually looked down upon and considered something to be avoided, if at all possible. This is especially interesting when one considers that the Regency period came right on the heels of the 18th century, when corsets (stays) I were some of the most heavily boned, stiff garments of all the historical periods! Pendulum effect, anybody?
During the Regency period, what they were trying to achieve was an aesthetic modelled after that of classic Greek and Rome. Think of those Greek and Roman statues, and in fact, even the architecture of Greece and Rome. When I put on these stays, I feel like the embodiment of a stone pillar in the Collaseum!
In Defence of the Wooden Busk
Does the presence of a wooden busk cause constriction, and the inability to bend over? NO, and in fact, I would argue that the presence of a wooden busk can be an aid to proper posture when bending over and lifting things. Let me give you some background.
I am a mom of four, and through the course of my four pregnancies, births, and postpartums, I’ve learned a lot about the proper physiological ways to stand, sit, lie down, bend over, etc. to minimize problems like pelvic and back pain, a badly positioned baby in utero, and pelvic floor problems. One of the biggest most important of these points is the proper way to bend over. Although it may be many people’s tendency, bending down from your waist is one of the worst ways to bend over, especially if you are lifting anything up. Though most people may be able to bend this way without experiencing any issues, these things can add up, especially during natural life events like pregnancies and postpartums, carrying babies all day, etc.
That is one reason why I love the centre-front support of the wooden-busk. It is a constant physical reminder to bend properly, from my hips, or even into a full squat, and not to bend and hunch forward from my waist.
Even issues that everyone knows are not great but are still most people’s tendency, like slouching, are completed prevented by the wooden busk and shoulder straps of this type of corset!
Thank you for joining me on this Regency stays exploration!
Let me know what sewing projects you are working on!
Did I inspire you to try making a Regency corset? Let me know in the comments section!
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