Corset Report

November 17th, 2011

I’ve been neglecting my blog lately. But I have some good excuses. And this is one of them.

On Wednesday, November 9, I took part in CINCHED: Historic Corsets & Modern Corsetieres. It was a production of the New York Nineteenth Century Society, with six corset makers, one master of ceremonies, one very efficient organizer, and an audience of more than 60 delightful (and hopefully delighted) onlookers. We each took turns, in chronological order from 18th through early 20th centuries, describing corsets that we’d made and detailing their historical backgrounds.


In addition to helping organize the event, held at Swift Hibernian Lounge (our favorite local bar), I also hand sewed a nearly perfect version of the 1855/57 corset. In purple silk!! Okay, I know purple silk isn’t historically accurate. Though I did find a very similar mid-century corset in white silk. I just couldn’t resist that purple. And it was wonderful to work with after six versions made from canvas duck. The fit is getting so close. In fact, I think I may have cracked the code with a new shape in the side seam — more on that later. For now, it just needs a few tweaks (mostly adding the extra half inch I shaved from the hip at the side seam into the stomach gore) and it will be a very wearable garment.

I guess the back needs a little work too, smoothing the remaining puckers. But it’s still close. Best part about wearing this at the event? One of the other corsetieres, and a professional designer, gave me some tips on making the gores fit better!

And yes, that’s me, parading around in my underwear in a bar. Again.

Photographs courtesy of Nidal Nasr, who generously volunteered his time and talent to document the event.

Canibalizing a Corset

October 28th, 2011

I am not good at letting go. But after years of suffering in it, and 9 months of kicking it under my desk, I decided to put my old corset out of its misery.

Old Corset

See how the bones are poking out at the top? And see how unlike a female body its shape is? I made it in 2006 to wear under an 1870s ball gown at “A Different Affair,” an Edith Wharton-themed dinner party at India House. Here’s the entry on the event from New York Social Diary. Scroll down to see pictures of me in my gown.

I was very thin in 2006, following a long illness, and the corset wasn’t terribly uncomfortable then. But as I gained weight, it became less able to handle my shape. By last spring, it was downright dangerous, with untipped metal boning (yes, I’m an idiot) digging into my underarm. I wore it to a 19th-century pub crawl, and had to strip in the middle of a bar because I was in such pain. That’s when I decided to retire it for good.

In case you’re curious, I used Past Patterns’s 1840s-1880s corset pattern. I’d already made their Edwardian corset, and adored it (still do). The 1840s-1880s pattern was well done (as are all Past Patterns), and easy to follow, especially since I purchased the kit. It’s a good, standard Victorian corset shape. Not particularly interesting, but safe for many periods of reenacting. The construction is easy, though I don’t know enough to tell if it’s accurate or not. It’s certainly very different from the two sets of period directions I’ve studied so far, but that doesn’t mean anything! After using a number of her patterns, I trust Ms. Altman as an excellent seamstress and proven scholar.

So why did I make such a dreadful botch out of a decent pattern? Well…I made it in a single day. No fittings. I even clipped my own boning and didn’t bother tipping the ends. Idiot. I also spent a day making a boned bustle which is still in existence, but with similar problems.

There was one thing worth salvaging about this corset though: the busk. So I cut it out before I threw the rest away (I should have given it a decent burial, but I’m in a hurry these days).

Cutting out the busk

You’re Invited . . .

October 3rd, 2011

Zoh and I are organizing a corset-making panel, with eight costumers, scholars, and designers each presenting one or two corsets. Most are historic reproductions, though there are also a few modern pieces, inspired by the rich history of the corset.

Corset Panel Invitation

We’re going to run it like an open mic, with Zoh playing emcee. Each presenter will show off their handiwork, talking about their research, inspiration, and construction. I just bought a 5-minute hourglass timer for the event — pun definitely intended. We’ll also be demonstrating the corsets, helping one another to lace. Afterwards, there will be time for the audience to meet the corsetieres and ask their advice on corset making. And of course, all this in an East Village bar!