Tag Archives: reconstruction era fashions

Finished Project: Blue Corset from 1868

I just put the finishing touches on this today, and I’m so glad to finally have it done!  I started the mock up for this sometime last year.  I really wanted a corset I could wear to get a decent silhouette for late 1860s/early 1870s gowns.  I have one Victorian corset I made myself, but it’s more appropriate for the 1880s and didn’t give me much form.  I started reading up about how women who weren’t endowed got their shapes, and talked to other costumers about it.  Jen of Festive Attyre was especially helpful in figuring out what to do.  This corset has sort of revolutionized my thinking about making them, and I’m glad to say that I’m no longer paranoid about making corsets.  It was revolutionary to me to realize that I could make myself fit a corset shape, and fit a corset to fit *me*, when my shape is so not what was the period ideal for the Victorian era.

When I started thinking about this project I knew I wanted a blue corset, like in Edouard Manet’s painting Nana, from 1877.  Although later than this corset by nearly ten years, I have always loved this painting and knew I wanted to mirror this color scheme when I made mine.

The pattern for this corset came from Francis Grimble’s Reconstruction Era Fashions book.  It was reproduced from an original Harper’s Bazar pattern from 1868 and then scaled down by half.  I re-enlarged the pattern and did my mock up. I found in the mock up stage that the original sizing of the corset pattern was several  inches too big for me, so I did some adjustments at the side seams, and some smaller adjustments to the hip and bust gussets, but made sure to leave enough room and not over fit it, so that I had room to pad out to achieve close to a period shape.

The original pattern called for boning across the back, but I decided I would rather have cording as I thought it would be both more comfortable and more decorative.  My husband was a darling and did the grommets up the back for me.  That’s one thing I really don’t like to do!  The chemise I am wearing is an antique in my collection.  Although I wouldn’t really wear it under clothing for fear of damaging it (although it is quite sturdy), it was fun to wear for pictures.  I need to make one along similar lines someday.

I should also mention that when I went to do my boning channels I realized I missed a tuck that was called for that went from the bottom of the front bust gusset to the bottom of the corset.  Oops?  Since I had already done all my fittings without this tuck I just decided to leave it be, but that accounts for one of the bust gores having a squared off shape at the bottom rather than a point.  Doesn’t bother me, but in case others wanted to try this pattern I thought it should be mentioned.  And as with all period patterns of this age, no seam allowances were included in the original pattern.

The fabric I used was white cotton coutil, to which I flat lined blue cotton sateen.  I was sick for quite a few days last week, so I used the opportunity to do something I don’t usually do- and embroider a little motif up the front of the busk and add some flossing.  I don’t have much skill at this sort of handwork, but it was fun to do and I think it looks kind of pretty!  My initial thought was to do flossing and add a contrast binding and wide lace at the top, but I really like the simplicity of these accents and I’m glad I didn’t go with my first plan.

Just like today, women would pad out what nature didn’t give them naturally.  As I mentioned previously, I was on a quest to get a bit more of a Victorian shape than I had naturally or with my previous corset.  When I took my mock up of this corset to work with me, I had some help from a theatre perspective and found that they still use this trick. One of the “tricks of the trade” are to use men’s tailoring shoulder pads and place them strategically at the sides, both at top of the corset, and at the bottom, to create more of an hourglass shape.  Then you can use little pads in the front for extra support- to create a bit of a shelf.  I tried this, and lo and behold, I actually had a decent shape for the era! Much better than I had had previously.

Since this project was done in conjunction with the Dreamstress’ great group, The Historical Sew Fortnightly, here’s the info required.

The Challenge: Under it All

Fabric: Cotton coutil, cotton sateen

Pattern: Reproduced Harper’s Bazar pattern from Frances Grimble’s Reconstruction Era Fashions Book.

Year: 1868

Notions: Metal spiral and flat steel boning, corset busk, grommets, corset lacing, cotton embroidery floss, stay tape, thread, set of pre-made shoulder pads, cotton quilt batting to make two more pads, white muslin to cover shoulder pads.

How historically accurate is it?  Looks accurate on the outside (embroidery inspired by, rather than reproduced authentically from, period examples), but the inside and construction are done with modern methods.  The gussets were flat lined then serged, and applied with  lapped seams rather than flat felling.

Hours to complete: Several.  From start to finish, perhaps around 10 hours, including several mock ups and time to enlarge and alter the pattern.

First worn:  Not worn yet other than for photos

Total cost: Didn’t keep track but I’m guessing $35-40ish, not including the book cost.

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