Victorian Corset

Hello!  I am working on my third corset.  I posted my first one here in 2009 and made a second one soon after.  I am running into some fitting issues that I hope you guys can give me advice on!
So some quick background: my end goal here is a corset to wear under steampunk/late victorian outfits.  I don’t really want to start making any dresses until I have the proper foundation.  So anyone who knows their 1890’s corsets will be particularly helpful.

I started out by looking at 1890-1900 corsets, taking my measurements, and drafting out something that sort of looked correct, pretty much the same method I used to pattern my first two corsets.  Result of that first draft below.

Mockup #1

Yay first mockup!  On the whole, pretty good.  But as you can see, it laced completely closed and still had room to spare.  I also really wanted a much more dramatic shape to the waist (I think it is sometimes referred to as the hip spring?), but before I started mucking about with the pattern, I wanted to see what more boning and adding a waist tape would do.

Mockup #1 with more!

Waist tape added, and extra boning channels between all the ones that were already there. There is definitely a difference, and I like the support to my bust, but the waist didn’t change much. On to changing the pattern for mockup #2.

Mockup #1 changes

While I was still wearing the mockup, I marked out some changes I wanted to make.  Mainly, I raised the bottom edge, changed the bottom angle of the first two pieces of the pattern, and took in the waist by about 4 inches total.  I tried not to really change much of the bust or hip measurements.  Below are those changes in paper/pattern format.

Mockup #1 and #2 patterns

So the top is the pattern I used for mockup #1, no seam allowance included.  Bottom is the new pattern, with seam allowance.  Here is where I really hope more experienced eyes can help me.  The pattern was made from just eyeballing a bunch of 1890’s corsets and trying to make the general shape to my own measurements.  After taking in the waist, pattern piece #2 looks funny to me.  Should the left seam be straight instead of the right side?  I also feel like the waist line isn’t quite consistent from piece to piece.  Should I be able to draw a straight line through all the pieces and have the waist match up?

I made a mockup of pattern #2 out of some light blue brocade, and very dark green satin.

Mockup #2 Light Side
I love the shape!  Very pleased with the look of the waist, bust line is pretty close to what I want, and the ribs don’t feel too tight.  But there are still some kinks to wonk out, like the hips being too big (not very visible in the lacing gap since I had just loosened that area, and while I can just about close the waist gap in the back, it’s a bit too uncomfortable for me, so I need to add an inch back in.  Or just take away from the bust and hips I guess.

Below is the same mockup as above, just inside out.

Mockup #2 Dark Side

The hip is laced very loosely here, but even when I had it closed, I got the strange poking out at the center front bottom.  I feel like this is a problem I have seen with other corsetmakers, but I am not making much sense of the advice I am seeing.  Is there a way to get the pattern to shape like these corsets, curving inward and sort of cupping the belly instead of sticking out from the body at that point?

Mockup #2 Goof

This last picture is to illustrate a particular issue I am having with the angle of the front seam. The first mockup didn’t slant like this, and I specifically tried the second one on inside and out, and with different lacing methods, and so there is very definitely a tilt to the center seam. I was worried that maybe my body is just shaped funny after all, but the angle of the tilt changed directions when I tried it on inside out, so that means that there is something wrong with the garment, not me. I really feel like I sewed the seams carefully and identically, and made sure all the pieces were with the grain when I cut, so I don’t think that I just fudged the sewing process. I feel that maybe one of the fabrics, perhaps the brocade, just isn’t suited to this purpose, and is stretching in a strange way. Neither of the fabrics is very substantial. Do you think that trying the same pattern again in a canvas or twill will fix the issue?

Lastly, I feel like I am not getting very much bust support.  Will taking a bit out of the total bust measurement be enough?  Should I aim to take more out of the front pieces, or the back?  Or are more bones/cording the solution here?  Or is it likely because I am using cheap zip ties for the mockup boning, and everything will be perfect when I use proper steel or spiral

Mockup #2 Yay!

A more succinct list of questions:
1.  Looking at the pattern pieces, does anything scream out to you, begging to be fixed?
2.  Same question, but for the mockup?
3.  Should I make the waist any bigger, or just change bust/hips to match the waist so I get an even lacing gap?
4.  How do I get the center front bottom to stay close to my body?
5.  How do I keep the front busk from being tilted?
6.  Usual recommendation for more bust support?

I fully understand and will not be hurt if most of these questions can be answered with “Use the proper construction materials you fool!”

Thank you guys for any advice you can give!

UPDATE: JAN 27, 2013

A few months ago, I posted my mockup progress on a 1890ish corset. I actually all but finished it back in October and wore it as the support layer at Steamcon. I had the binding machined one one side, but wore it without hand stitching it down on the inside. Worked great under my Victorian dress, looked awful by itself. A few months later I finally finished that binding, and can show it to you guys :)

Yay Shaping!

Just as a quick visual summary, below are my first and second mockups.

Mockup #1Mockup #2 Dark Side

Adding the busk and other proper boning (instead of thin zipties) made a huge improvement in the overall fit.  Big surprise right?  :D

Center FrontLeft Front

I think there is still a tiny bit of tilt to the busk, but not enough to bother me.  I thought that the busk would be tricky to get in, but after checking out How to Insert a Busk by Sidney Eileen, and trying it myself, it was no problem at all.  Yay for easy sewing!

Right Back

I got most of my supplies from Farthingales, including the nifty lacing tape.  I honestly did not want to deal with grommeting, so I was thought that the lacing tape was a very clever alternative!  And it worked perfectly.  The only problem is that I did not figure the extra two inches it added in my patterning, thus the tape took up the amount of space I had intended for the typical 1-2″ lacing gap.  I can lace it closed very easily, and have enough room/squish to lace it down more, the corset as it stands is just too big for that.  I’ll remember it for next time.


I am very proud of how neat the inside is, especially compared to my first one.  It’s two layers, thin but strong brocade outside and canvas inside.  The bones are all spiral except for the front pair next to the busk and back next to the grommet tape.

Binding DetailExtra Bust Boning

The top of the bust line end up a bit too big, so before I bound the edge, I put a small and mostly invisible dart next to the bone that goes directly over the bust.  That dart made it fit so much better, and I haven’t found any issues with it yet.  The tiny bit of additional bust boning is just made from small plastic zipties.

Day 23 - New CorsetI feel pretty!

I love how I feel in it.
No back-muffin or bust over spill at all.
Even though there are improvements that could be made next time, I am very pleased with the overall shape of the corset.
I can wear it as an excellent foundation piece for Victorian costuming, which is what it was primarily made for.
I can also wear it under modern clothing, like above, although it takes a special outfit, and even then isn’t completely invisible.
It’s a very comfortable garment.
Even though I didn’t make it as an outerwear piece, I still think that it came out rather pretty.

Cons/things to improve next time:
No lacing gap, and a smidge too large.
The waist proportionally can be a tiny bit smaller.
The lacing strip does not match the fabric (I might be able to dye it though?)
Sturdier fabric might be good, and may reduce some of the slight wrinkling.
The very bottom of the front does not meet.

Bust: 36″
Waist: 26″
Hips: 38″
Length of Center Front: 15.5″


Cross posted to corsetmakers community.

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