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!