I Need Coutil

March 21st, 2011

I’m working on a new mock-up, trying out the reworked stomach and hip gores for my ongoing battle of the stays. I am so tired of mock ups. So last night, I started day dreaming (can one day dream at night?) about the far-distant time when I will finally make a real, functional pair of stays. It seems I need coutil. Though I am not sure if the coutil I need is the same as the fabric currently sold under the name coutil.

According to Godey’s 1857 (via Peterson’s 1855) stay pattern, I need half a yard of material. But what kind of material? The Workwoman’s Guide says “If for ladies, they are made of satine, or best French jean… if of an inferior quality, they are made of white, brown, grey, or nankeen jean… and lined with calico between the doubles.”

According to Dictionary of Textiles, 1920:

Corset Jean—Very strong, stout jean, made of pure cotton or linen, in twill or broken twill weave, in white, and for corsets, etc.

Coutille—French jean of zigzag pattern for corsets. See Coutil 4.

Coutil—1, French and German stout drills, made of linen, hemp or cotton; 2, French and English fabrics, made of pure cotton; used for bedcovers, drapery, trousers, etc., often printed; 3, a fine worsted trousering in France; 4, very strong, stout cotton or linen fabric, woven in herringbone twill; used for corsets.

Satine—Cotton satin, see sateen.

Sateen—Stout, lustrous piece dyed cotton fabric, made in satin weave (see) either in warp or filling flush. Also comes printed or in stripes; used for lining dresses, skirts, shoe lining, etc.

Which would explain why the 1840s stays in the Met Collection that I posted about last week look like they are made of polished cotton. They are satine!

An important note — while The Workwoman’s Guide stays are meant to be double-thick and lined, the Godey’s/Peterson’s are single layer. So satine may be too flimsy for that kind of construction. I may eventually try the pattern with a double layer, but for now, I just want to get it right as written. I believe a nice stout coutil is what I’m after.

There. A hopelessly arcane and dull post with absolutely no pictures. Blech.

  • zoh says:

    Maybe an upholstry store would have the sort of herringbone twill cotton or linen fabric you are looking for?

    Also I am guessing you saw this page:

    • eva says:

      I hadn’t seen Kay’s page, but am glad you shared it! She makes a good point about the herringbone not being seen in the mid-19th century. I’ve only seen silk, sateen, and twill. Not that I’ve examined many originals of course!

  • Lyndell says:

    Yes – for a proper corset you need Coutil / Coutille. It is the best fabric still available in the 21st C – you need a fabric with minimal stretch for a proper repro. lace-up corset. Hence the herringbone weave (it is the most stable of the weaves – BTW twill = herringbone weave, gabardine = diagonal weave) and Coutil is the most dense (high thread count) herringbone weave available. Also, the first jeans (the trousers) were made of jean (the fabric) – appropriate given that tight Jeans are the modern gal’s corset?

    Traditionally Polished Cotton is cotton given a post-weave treatment to make it shiny – when I was a child (way back in the 60’s) the ‘polish’ sometimes eventually washed off. A Sateen is like a Satin in that there are floating threads on the surface – the Wikipedia articles have useful info – the floats in Sateen are caught down (in the weaving process) more often than in a Satin.

    You can always use gorgeous satin fabric as the top layer of your corset – and keep the strong but unattractive coutil as the under / next-to-skin layer.

    All the best with your corsetry –

    PS: I’m a costume maker – with a obsession about what was worn underneath!

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