Caroline's corset blog

Musings and progress from Caroline - projects she's working on, tips and tricks, and thoughts on corsetry

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  1. Agnes Strickland

    One way to fuel some inspiration is to visit a museum or gallery - luckily I have a wealth of them here in London that are all free so I can pop in and out at leisure. I was in the National Portrait Gallery the other week and walked around the entire gallery, not reading anything but just looking for something that might catch my eye as a possible idea for my next design.

    This portrait is of Agnes Strickland (1796-1874) painted by John Hayes in 1846. She was a historian lead by the motto 'facts not opinions'. I love this motto which has never been more apt. So many opinions not based on facts floating around the ether it's exhausting isn't it?!

    Here is some more information on her if you're interested; Agnes Strickland - Wikipedia

    I love her outfit - the beautiful chemise under a velvet bodice and full skirt with the laced front detail. You can see how much padding there would have been in the side bust area to give it that undefined silhouette. So I went out and bought some velvet and got to work on the bodice. The final design will be a little more modernised; maybe a front opening rather than laced back, and probably no padding. Velvet is challenging to work with - every line of stitching is a tug of war, but it feels so soft to the touch and always looks high end and a bit special. 

    My mock up isn't authentic in terms of its construction by any means, but I hope I have managed to create a similar silhouette to Agnes's. It was my first time working with velvet - I'd like to say it will be my last, but it probably won't be!

    Just a word on 1840s bodices for anyone in the historical camp (and how my mock up/pattern/ instructions differ).

    I originally started the pattern with the obligatory 2 bust darts usual in 19thc. bodices however after playing around with it I realised I preferred the front to be split into 3 separate panels - a more modern interpretation although later in the 19th century the front panel was often split rather than darted. The following pic shown how I morphed the darted version Padding was a into the split version;

     Darts to separate front panel

    Padding was another notable difference. In the original portrat you can clearly see that there is padding in the shoulder and bust area - this was common in wide necklines where the sleeves were almost off the shoulder.

    The padding also gave a lovely smooth shaping to that side bust and bust area although some photos of this era show bodices with little to no padding.

    Other aspects to 1840s bodices are narrow sleeves with a small arm opening. The bodice opening was at the centre back and would have had spiral lacing or hooks that hook into worked small eyelet holes (rather than an eye which would have increased the bulk). I made mine front opening as I don't have a maid to help me fasten the back! Although I give an option in the pattern to include the lovely laced detail as the upper centre front, I didn't add this to mine. You can get away with minimal boning if making a short bodice that stops at the waist, but any extension beyond the waist does need boning. Bones did often stop at the waist but be mindful that the skirts underneath would have given a lot of padding so annoying bones digging in at the waist wouldn't have been an issue. On a modern version I'd extend the bones to the bottom. My short version in fact only has boning at the centre front but bones can be added at the side and centre back seams. Channels would be felled to the lining or even slotted into the large darts at the front which would be then trimmed down. One other difference is that I made a lining and simply faced it to the wrong side; in the 1840s they would have flat-lined the lining to each panel and then sewn the panels as one piece. The insides of extant examples often look quite rough with simple overcasting stitches to finish the raw edges. Shoulder seams and sleeves would always have been hand-stitched in, even after sewing machines became common use.

    Hopefully I'll be able to grade this in sizes UK8-26 and create short and standard length versions. This will be my June Patreon pattern if successful!

  2. IMG_0131 1

    Every design needs an example for marketing photos, and I use this opportunity to fine tune the seams as I move towards my final pattern. The initial draping work is achieved with calico fabric which is always going to present differently than using coutil (non-stretch corsetry fabric) so I need to test the pattern in coutil; the recommended fabric (mock up coutil will often be incorporated into the final garment as the inner strength layer or even as the outer if making a single layer and it hasn’t become damaged or warped in the process).

    At this stage it is good practise to start the instructions – I note down every step being carried out including all the fine details such as the best way to press the seam allowances.

    If the initial toile showed some oddities in terms of fabric wrinkling, I may also slightly adjust the fabric grainline on one side so I can compare the two sides and use the better angle. I’ve learned it’s best not to get too pernickety about this though as you can fall down a rabbit hole appearing weeks later with maybe only a slight improvement; there are so many panel combinations and tests on angles you can do that it can become very confusing.

    It is important to always take notes and mark up versions on the test patterns. I have a system in my CAD pattern of copying the whole pattern over (left to right) with each amendment / date – the working CAD drawing can end up quite large with all my changes over time.

    Once the corset was made up in coutil to my size, I boned it minimally and tried it for size and comfort. I’m lucky in that I am a standard size so I can try the ‘out of the box’ size without any need for adjustment. A lot of corset makers prefer a highly boned corset, but I prefer to bone as minimally as possible and let the fabric do the work. The rule of thumb is a bone every 2’’ of waist but for initial testing I may only bone every 4’’ – this is worst case scenario and will show me what extra boning is required.

    At this stage I found that the bottom panel needed to be pulled higher and tighter towards the centre front to stop it splaying outwards; it helped with the rounded hip shaping that I was trying to achieve. This was the only change I needed to make to the pattern.

    I finished the inner coutil layer by sewing in the extra boning channels I thought necessary and pressed under the top and bottom hems. Structural corsets like this where you are not using the body itself to fill out the hips benefit from the strongest, most sturdy of fabrics as the outer layer, and leather is perfect. When using leather as the outer layer I don’t roll-pin; leather has a slight stretch and if I make it to the same size as the coutil inner layer it will mould nicely (snap to size) when on the body. Here is the just the leather layer– you can see even without the coutil that it is holding its shape nicely;

    I faced the leather to the coutil inner layer and pad-stitched it in place ensuring the seams were lined up. The seams can often mismatch by a mm or 2 but as the vertical stretch is important I stitched the seams where they fell on the coutil rather than the seams to prevent ‘bagging’. Once I was happy with how the two layers were faced, I sewed the centre back boning channels through both the leather and coutil, inserted the bones and eyelets, and secured the top line by sewing the leather in place by folding the leather over the coutil and securing it on the wrong side.

    I hand stitched the leather outer to the coutil at the bottom most horizontal seam to give it some vertical tension and to keep the two layers from shifting.

    I had sewn together only part of the hip panels in 3mm thick felt to give it the structural support it required over the hip but found it dropped a bit at the side back, so one more felt panel was added and voila; a fully rounded supported hip that I had intended.

    My CAD base pattern and corset prototype is now complete - now for the final part; grading this complex pattern into different sizes and testing, plus finalising the instructions which may need diagrams to be drawn to illustrate the process.




  3. Coming up this Friday for my Patreon patrons is an off-the-shoulder design that was a good look for Christmas but I didn't quite get it finished in time! Never mind, with wedding season just around the corner it is definitley a bit more special than a standard modern corset design.

    IMG_9172 1

    The outer fabric in this sample is wool and moulded the coutil strength layer beautifully.


    Now available here in my website, and Payhip and Etsy shops in the following sizes;