Making a Hand Carved Corset Busk
I have always been amazed by how much effort our historical ancestors put into tiny intricate details that may never even be seen! The perfect example of this are the beautiful hand carved corset busks of history!
What is a corset busk, you ask? Wooden busks were regularly used in corsets up until the invention of the split metal busk, and they provided support, stiffening, and figure shaping both to the corset and stays, and to wearer of said corset. When I made my Regency stays, since they contained no boning, the main method of stiffening was the wooden busk in front!
What is a “Sweetheart Busk”?
What were carved “sweetheart busks”? Well, considering that busks were worn literally next to a lady’s heart, it was considered a deliciously romantic gesture for her lover, fiancee, or husband to carve an intricate design into a wooden busk and present it as a gift. These carvings were stunningly detailed, tiny, and often contained designs symbolic of love and marriage.
When the lovely Rebecca of Wild Rose Atelier offered to send me one of her stunningly high quality wooden busks to carve a design into, I jumped at the opportunity. When it arrived in the mail, I was very impressed by the quality. They are hand carved by an artisan from maple wood, are deliciously solid and luxuriously smooth, and offered me as a beginner a wonderful introduction into the art of busk carving. If you are looking for a wooden busk for a corset or stays, especially if you plan on carving it, I can’t recommend Rebecca’s busks enough! Finally, the great thing about Rebecca’s online shop, Wild Rose Atelier, is that it is a one stop shop for all of your historical costuming accessories, like stockings, garters, and even stunning bespoke corsets! Now, on to my busk carving adventure!
A Mysterious Romantic Corset Busk from 1773
In my copy of Patterns of Fashion 5, I found an extant carved sweetheart busk. This busk was from 1773, and was very likely a token from a lover as the design contained a double heart motif, and the extant busk itself was carved from sycamore wood. Apparently, sycamore groves and lovers have a strong poetic connection. I would soon find a clue in the design about the two lovers involved in this particular wooden busk . . .
The Mystery of the Six Petal Rosette
Incidentally, the design on this 1773 busk contained several six peal rosettes, which I immediately recognized! The home I grew up in as a child, which my Dad built from top to bottom, contains several of this exact symbol. My Dad is a carver, and had carved this symbol into beams of the house, as well as furniture that he’d made. Intrigued, I did some research on the six petal rosette, and found something very interesting! It is a traditional symbol of protection for the home, and was often traditionally carved into beams of homes! This leads me to believe that the couple involved in this particular busk were probably engaged or married, as that explains perfectly why this busk would have home protection symbols carved into it.
It was time to carve my version of this design into my wooden busk! Where to begin?
Pencilling the Design
I began by marking guidelines on my busk with light pencil strokes - like the vertical centre line, as well as the half and quarter points of the length of the busk. This would serve as guidelines for my diamonds I would later carve.
Then, after drawing the outline of the diamonds, six petal rosette, and heart motif that I wanted to carve, I gradually refined the design by adding more and more details. Sadly, I wouldn’t end up having the carving skills to fully render all of these tiny details, but if one wanted a very intricate design then wood burning could be a great alternative option! Time to carve the design! How would I, as a total beginner, manage it?
Carving the Design
After penciling in my design, it was time to carve it in! I experimented with different types of knives, but quickly discovered that it was simply not practical for me at this time and with my existing tools to attempt to hand carve this tiny design. Instead, I opted to use my Dremel drill, which is oh so handy though not historically accurate.
After some experimentation, I realized that the best approach was to begin with a larger size ball-shaped bit, and after getting the lines deeply engraved with that, I made them more crisp and defined with a narrower, pointier bit. This part was really quite quick, and although it is not nearly as nice as historical examples, for my first time engraving any kind of design, I am quite pleased with the results!
If you are in the market for a wooden busk, I can’t recommend those from Wild Rose Atelier enough - whether or not you plan on carving a design!
Is this something you would ever try? Have you ever been amazed at how much effort historical people put in to such tiny, hidden details like a wooden busk? Let’s talk about it in the comments!
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