1670 Corset Part I

The 1670 corset is a project I’ve been working on for ages. It’s an entirely hand-stitched cord-boned corset with a wooden busk. The style is based on an extant corset on display at London’s Victoria and Albert museum. It’s a placketed corset, which means there’s a separate center piece and the body of the corset laces in front of the placket. Sometimes plackets were used to add girth to a corset when a woman out-expanded hers, but based on the design I believe this corset was intended to be worn with a placket.

According to the museum, a corset like this would have been worn by an upper-class woman, and would either have been worn as a support garment under a more formal bodice, or worn with a matched skirt and sleeves as an informal garment, such as in her home.

The corset is made mostly of things I had lying around. I think I spent about $15 in materials for this corset and a skirt made to match it.

My corset is three layers. The innermost layer is 100% cotton muslin. This is the white visible everywhere that’s boned. Then there’s a layer of middle-weight canvas, such as you might find on the thinner end of tote bags. I bought the canvas at the fabric store for less than $10. This is the dark blue visible on the inside of the placket and the triangular back piece. The placket is not lined in cotton, but instead has two layers of canvas. The outermost layer is a silver satin-finish cotton bedsheet. I made a silver skirt out of the same fabric.

The corset is stiffened with a wood busk and hemp cord. The hemp is a theoretically period boning technique on par with broomstraw boning. We think women used these materials when they couldn’t afford whalebone, but there’s no hard evidence. The use of these alternatives are inappropriate to my pattern because this style would have been worn by someone who could afford whalebone (the original was silk!) but I decided that I don’t care.

I saw tests on broomstraw that showed it to be an effective, flexible, and breathable alternative to steel boning, and I was inspired to put hemp to the test! Each stripe you see on the white fabric is an individual hand-sewn channel, each with a length of cord. There are 114 channels total.

The busk is a carved wood piece that I cannibalized from an elizabethan corset I bought several years ago that never fit me correctly*. I already had a busk, but you can order them online for about $10.

At this point, I’ve finished boning the garment and I’ve put all the pieces together. The placket is completely finished, but the body has one more section where the silver outside needs to be stitched to the canvas. Then black satin trim will be applied to the body, and I’ll add shoulder ties that will hold the corset’s armholes closed (and allow the corset to be adjustable), and I’ll add eyelets. Then it’s done!

I don’t remember how many hours of work have gone into the corset, but both it and the skirt have been 100% hand stitched… no machine work whatsoever.

*By “never fit me correctly” I mean it was too short on my torso, the steel boning slipped out of the channels the ONLY time I wore it and by the end of the night the steel had pierced my side in six places, leaving me with a very feminine and impressive scar for about two years. Don’t buy corsets from Sofi’s Stitches. Just… don’t.

Update: Upon closer inspection, I realized and half-remembered that the channels for the boning are in fact machine-stitched, but everything else is hand-stitched. I had originally planned to do everything by hand, but since the channels needed to be very straight, very plentiful, and very private, I caved and did them on the machine.

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