The Costume Countess
My "Something Blue" Edwardian Corset
Updated: Jan 5, 2018
My biggest project this year will absolutely be my wedding dress and I will document the process as soon as I have a space big enough to work in again! I've designed a Turn-of-the-Century style gown inspired in part by House of Worth (sketches and inspiration to come in a later post!). While my dress will have some modern touches to it, the silhouette will be wholly Edwardian, and as with any period piece, to get the right look you have to start with the right foundations and work your way up to the final garment.
I have made many corsets before, but most were Victorian in shape, this is my first attempt at the "S-Curve" of the Edwardian era. I did not want to spend too much time drafting and experimenting, so instead I decided to go straight to the source and order a pattern drafted directly from an antique corset. If you haven't already, you should definitely check out Atelier Sylphe Corsetry on Etsy, she has a huge collection of patterns all drafted from original sources. After what was probably a little too much deliberation (there were so many to choose from!), I finally chose the "REF W Antique Edwardian" pattern and couldn't be happier.
After looking at the patterns I knew right away that I would want to lengthen the corset as I wanted this style to hit about mid-bust. I made a quick sample out of canvas to confirm my initial guess, and ended up lengthening it by about 3". I did not take any pictures from this stage, but I am happy to answer any questions about my process if you'd like to learn more about altering patterns.
With newly adjusted patterns and a second fit sample sewn, I was off to buy my fabric and trimmings. Nothing gets my blood pumping quite like fabric shopping, I combed through hundreds of colorful silks like an eager kid in candy store, until I found the perfect french blue silk dupioni. It was "the one," my something blue! From there I was on the hunt for lace and ribbon which took way longer than it should have, but I eventually decided on a beautiful antique french lace and silk ribbon for contrast. As always, I had my favorite Herringbone Coutil on hand from SewCurvy, I have never found anything quite as strong and it is a dream to work with.
There are many different ways to add a fashion fabric on top of your coutil layer such as roll-pinning, flat lining or fusing, all have their own pros and cons and everyone has their own preference. Roll pinning, while tedious, will give you the most professional finish, as this traditional technique of pinning on a curve accommodates the natural turn of cloth and eliminates excessive fabric buckling. For an in depth tutorial on roll-pinning, see this tutorial written by Barbara Pesendorfer on Foundations Revealed.
The picture below is just the dupioni before I roll-pinned it to the coutil:
Once I had each piece carefully pinned, I sewed the body together which is the quickest part of the process! I knew this was going to be a heavy duty corset as it was already taking shape from the earliest step. The heavy coutil and sculptural shape of the pattern pieces alone were enough to make the corset stand without any boning or channels!
For accuracy, I marked all of my boning channels on the coutil pieces before sewing. This step is not necessary but makes life a lot easier, especially when sewing over all of those curved seams. Next, I hand basted the channel tape in place, making sure to pin my waist tape where I wanted it first. The original corset this pattern was drafted from did not have waist tape, but I went ahead and added some for extra strength. In the picture below you can see the boning channels marked on the left and basted on the right.
Here's a view of both sides basted on the inside as well as the outside:
Next, I stitched down the sides of the tape:
Afterwards, I removed my basting stitches and carefully stitched down the center of each tape. This particular style of corset calls for double boning (two channels right next to each other) and as long as you account for this when deciding on your tape width, this technique is an easy way to achieve it.
Look how pretty all the channels look from the front!
Next I measured, cut and numbered all of my boning pieces. While you can do this beforehand, I like to measure directly from the constructed corset just to be sure. I decided to use all flat steel bones instead of a combination of flat and spiral steel and I am very happy with the result.
Once I had ground down the sharp edges of the bones on a belt sander, I moved on to tipping the ends to prevent wear & tear on the corset later down the line. Of all the tipping techniques I've tried including (but not limited to) tipping fluid, tape and even plasti-dip, using Plumber's Tape is my absolute favorite! Not only is it quick and easy, but it forms perfectly to the shape of your boning with just the warmth of your finger tips, provides plenty of cushion and is extremely affordable and easy to find. In all honesty, I don't think I will ever use anything else.
After tipping all of the bones and tucking them into their rightful channels, I sewed the top edge closed and moved on to my bias binding. This particular style of corset has an extreme shape along the bottom edge that allows the center front to dip down a little lower than a Victorian corset, eventually tipping the pelvis forward for that picturesque Edwardian silhouette. To make my life a little easier, I traced the top and bottom edges of the corset onto lightweight cardboard and used it as a template to pre-shape my bias binding.
It couldn't have been easier! I slipped the bias binding along each edge and slowly coerced it into place using pins and a steamy iron. Afterwards I was left with some beautifully shaped binding that couldn't wait to fall perfectly into place on my corset.
I machine stitched one side of the binding then finished by hand stitching the inside with a simple blind stitch. The corset could have technically been finished at this point, but I wanted to add the decorative lace. I played around with a few different placements before finally deciding on a more modern "V" shape that accentuates the waist instead of the traditional free-hanging lace from the top edge.
I then attached the scalloped lace trim at the bottom edge, sewing it in place with a teeny tiny blanket stitch that ended up looking like it was a part of the lace. With coutil this heavy, I prefer to use a curved glover's needle when hand sewing.
Almost there! The corset has so much structure with all of the steel bones that I needed to fill it out with my favorite corset "dress form" ---- a pillow ---- normal dress forms just don't squish enough! I can also work this way on a table or in my lap instead of on a traditional form which is an added bonus. For this particular style I also had to stuff the bust with a couple of tailor's hams before I could baste on the french lace.
After adding the final decorative touch of the bow, my corset was ready to go!
Once I add the garter straps at center front, they will help pull the center front down and back to tilt the pelvis forward and provide the flat front and S-Curve shape.
And that's that! Eventually I will add pictures of the matching garters and decorative flossing. Next step: making the ruffly shift to be worn underneath, but that will have to wait until I get back to Los Angeles!
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