Updated: Nov 2, 2021
Why Wear a Corset?
Corsets are basically torture devices, right? From the days of male chauvinism and female oppression, right? Wrong. In fact, corsets have been around for hundreds of years, and I would argue, they were conceptualized and championed by women. Many men of the times openly disliked corsets for being “deceptive”.
Of course, corsets complement classic skirts and dresses by creating a smooth, hourglass silhouette. However, corsetry goes far beyond the merely cosmetic.
Having worn a corset on most days over the past year, I can personally understand why corsetry as a tradition has survived for hundreds of years.
I had my three babies in a period of four years. My abdomen could use some support! When it comes to “postpartum shape-wear”, corsets are the most effective. Wearing a corset has cured my hip pain, brought my abdominal muscles back together, strengthened my core, and transformed my posture from slouching to upright. An upright posture improves our mental and emotional outlook, as well as how others perceive us. Also, wearing a tight, supportive garment around the abdomen feels like a constant hug: comforting and reassuring. Mentally, it tightens the focus: putting my corset on in the morning signals that it is time to get work done and to be efficient. Taking it off in the evening signals it is time to relax.
Why an Edwardian-Era Corset?
Specifically, why did I want an “S-bend” corset? My previous corset, a “Pretty Housemaid” corset from the Victorian era, has become extremely worn. It's had multiple repairs and I fear it's on its last legs (partly due to errors I made in the construction). I still enjoy the Victorian shape of corsets but I was ready for more of a “flat tummy” corset, and the Edwardian era is known for that.
I recently listened to a woman’s-health expert being interviewed. She attested that many health issues women experience are caused by the masculine, straight-backed posture we have been told is the correct way to stand: with belly sucked in and pelvis "tucked-under". However, women’s spines are quite different from men’s: they are designed to have a deep inward curve in the lower back.
Hearing this, I instantly thought of Edwardian “S-bend” corsets - they create this exact posture. Upon some research, I found that these corsets had been marketed as “health corsets” for the lack of pressure they placed on the abdominal organs. But upon making the mock-up, did it live up to these expectations?
Where Did I Find the Pattern?
Sadly, my sole corset pattern book did not have any "S-bend" patterns, so I turned to Google. Finding a free pattern sourced from Nora Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines, I printed it out. It was scaled-down on a grid, so as to fit all the pattern pieces on one page. To get them to real size, one must redraw them using one-inch graph paper. This is straightforward. Many will remember in school art class copying pictures using a grid. It's just like that. I drew my pattern pieces, traced them out and added seam allowances. However, I made some mistakes during this process that came back to bite me.
Sewing the Mock-Up
First, I sewed the centre-front pieces together and added the facing to the centre-back piece (a facing is needed to create “sandwiched” boning-channels). Upon completing this, I sewed the curved hip panels into the spaces allocated for them. This was a slow seam to sew because it is so curved, but it was so satisfying to see the instant structure created by these curvaceous hip panels.
Next, I marked the boning channels for the centre back. For the centre-front, I set to work inserting the busk. Pin-marking where the busk loops would be, I sewed the on-again, off-again seam to hold the loop side of the busk in place. For the matching centre-front piece, I marked where the busk knobs would be before poking holes through and inserting this side of the busk. I hand-basted along the edges of the busk to hold it in place.
Next I pinned and sewed the boning channels which were marked on the pattern, and added some interior boning channels using boning channel tape along the seams of the corset.
Feeling the hip panel could use some stability, I even sewed some boning channel tape along this seam. Inserting spring-steel bones for the centre-back lacing closure, and synthetic whalebone for all the other boning channels, this mock-up was almost complete.
Shortcut Turned Out Not so "Short"
Normally for a mock up I would use store bought lacing tape - a band of fabric with boning channels and eyelets already installed. This wouldn’t work for this corset mock up, since the centre back edge is not straight - it has a slight concave curve in it. So, to simplify lacing I simply used an awl to poke holes through for the lacing, not bothering with eyelets. It was still challenging to poke the lacing through these holes, because they would close up soon after using the awl. I had to re-use the awl right before lacing through each individual hole, and then use a tapestry needle to pull the lacing through.
Trying it on: Big Adjustments needed
Why didn’t I try an Edwardian corset sooner? I thought as I tried it on.
This mock-up created the most dramatic hourglass shape I’d ever experienced, while also being the most comfortable corset I’d ever worn. However, there were several things that needed to be corrected before sewing the final corset.
The first problem I noticed was that the bust-line, the top of the corset, came much too low. It fit more like an underbust corset. At my drawing board I decided to raise it by about 2 inches. As raising the bust I continued the outward angled line of the pattern pieces, which will widen the bust circumference so it will still fit when it came up higher.
Usually corsets should have a 2-inch lacing gap in the back. This allows for lacing it tighter over time (as your waist shrinks and the corset stretches) as well as to prevent the boning and eyelets from sitting directly over your spine.
This corset mock-up could lace closed comfortably, meaning I would need to remove width from the corset panels. In the end I decided to leave the width as is in the hips, and reduce the width of the panels in the top half of the corset only. It would be better for the corset to be a little loose in the hips than to lose the dramatic “hip spring”.
I'd made a mistake during the pattern drafting which resulted in a gap in the bottom v-shaped edge of the corset. I’d drafted the two pieces on either side of the centre-front an inch too short. Even with that corrected, I found that I would want to raise the bottom centre-point of the corset, creating a shallower, less dramatic v-shape.
What About You?
Have you ever sewn a corset? Would you like to? Do you love the process of making a mock-up, or dislike it? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments below. Be sure to watch the video below to see exactly what I just described above!
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org