20th Century

The Athletic Corset pattern

C1890-1900 THE ATHLETIC CORSET: PART 1

NOTE  *This article was originally published January 2017 for Foundations Revealed. The link can be found here.

This is the first part in a two part series discussing ‘The Athletic Corset’ pattern as featured in ‘A practical guide to corset cutting and making’ compiled by William D.F. Vincent. (More about this book here.) This article will discuss the pattern and how I have interpreted it whereas the second will focus on recreating the corset and my methods used in its construction.

As someone active  in various sports I was intrigued by the corset and its fit considering its purpose. Perhaps I could test it out to see how viable it is to wear as a functioning garment whilst playing sports?

I haven’t used elastic/ stretch fabrics before in ‘true’ corsetry (excluding contemporary  lingerie/basque making) so it would be interesting to see if there were any benefits to the fabric properties, and whether this would enhance freedom of movement during sporting activities.

The Pattern and Observations

The Athletic Corset pattern

  • The pattern was constructed in 12 pieces, 6 panels per side. I will rename as follows for the remainder of the article: Working right to left, Centre Front, Front, Side Front, Side Back, Back, Centre Back.
  • Centre Front – features a 2 part opening straight busk. According to the measurements on the scaled pattern the centre front should measure roughly 10.5 inches (27cm). A double bone is positioned in the centre of the piece. (A wide single casing is used, but stitched to create two channels.)
  • Front – Double bone running into the CF/F seam. Small shaped dart extending from the hem for additional shaping to the front panel.
  • Side Front (Elastic Webbing) – runs the length of the garment. Used to promote ‘freedom of movement’.
  • Side Back – wide panel with a double bone positioned in the centre of the panel. Quite a lot of shaping shown for the hip.
  • Back – features a double bone positioned in the centre of the panel. No indication of being on the inside or the outside of the garment.
  • Centre Back – Has twelve pairs of eyelets at the back for lacing, with a bone on ether side.

Looking at the pattern, it can be noted that there is only a small reduction to the waist area overall, presumably to allow the wearer some freedom of movement during wear. Although there is shaping over the bust and hip area, the seams are relatively flat in comparison to other corset styles that would create a fashionable, narrow-waisted silhouette when worn. Even with the additional bone channels, the garment is only lightly structured considering the small number of panels on each side. There is no indication of the construction methods used, but I am going to assume that bone channels were created in the seams joining the panels for extra bones.  Whilst making the corset I will decide whether the additional bone channels were placed internally or applied to the exterior of the corset.

Having only the diagram of the pattern to refer to, I knew little else about the corset, particularly the date. The book in which it appears could have been compiled as late as the 1920’s, and features styles typical of times significantly before its publication. Although I could guess, I preferred to do some further research into sports corsetry, looking at advertisements and publications to try to anchor this style to a rough date.

 

History

The reinvention of the ancient Olympic games in Athens in 1896 had a huge affect on how society viewed physical activity and the impact it had on dress and fashion. Sports provided an opportunity for the sexes to interact, and generated the beginnings of competitiveness amongst men and women. “Women were now participating in various games, tennis, cycling, skiing skating and soon began to eliminate pieces of their clothing that for daytime wear made their daily lives more efficient” (Doyle). Whilst corsets were still an integral part of women’s dress, they were being manufactured with a lighter, less structured mindset and with less coverage of the body to promote freedom of movement for sporting activities. For the first time, fashion books and magazines promoted diet, exercise and proper foundations. Corset companies advertised the sports corset and its benefits to the weathy lady of leisure.

Corsets were adapted, many featuring bust sections that were cut low under the arm, allowing the wearer full ease of movement over the upper body. Riding styles were cut high on the hip to provide comfort when in the saddle. Invented in 1820, elastic panels (trademarked ‘Lastex’ in 1931 for strips of rubber covered with silk, cotton, wool or rayon to form a yarn) wasn’t favoured in corsetry until the 1890s, when it was introduced into the popular new riding and sports corsets styles.

As women entered the work force during the First World War, factories and workplaces imposed strict regulations governing dress while working. The traditional rigid boned corset was slowly disappearing in favour of lighter support and freedom of movement. Most women from the 1920’s still wore some kind of corset, corselette or girdle (Steele), often utilising the elastic panel webbing for support and control.

 

Ferris Bros. Corsets, New York

Sherwood B Ferris and his brother Murray Whiting Ferris established the Ferris Bros. Company in 1878. Known best as the manufacturers behind the ‘Ferris Good Sense corset’, theirs were considered healthier than the traditional corset for girls and young women who were not cinching the waistline too tightly.

The Good Sense range also advertised bicycle and athletic corsets for the eager sporting woman. These corsets supposedly gave the body ‘healthful and graceful full support’. Advertisements published by Ferris Bros. give us a really clear insight into the corsets’ intended purpose, being especially designed for women who enjoy healthful exercise.  ‘An indispensable garment for the woman who rides a wheel, plays golf or tennis, rows a boat or climbs a mountain’. From looking at these advertisements I decided to date the corset pattern somewhere between the latter part of the 1890’s and the early 1900’s. Although I looked at many, these two seem to reflect our pattern the most closely.

Ferris Athletic corset waist advert

 

“Ferris Athletic Corset Waist is especially designed for women who enjoy outdoor sports. Faultless in outline, it meets every requirement of fashionable dress and yet there is neither restraint nor pressure. Elastic bands at the sides yield to every breath and movement; comfortable shoulder straps support the bust in any position and keep the shoulders from drooping.

FERRIS ATHLETIC WAIST is the most healthful, restful, graceful, garment a woman ever wore.”

Ferris Bros corset advert 1903-good sense athletic waist Ferris

“The Outline of Health – There is an old fashioned notion that an athletic waist is ugly. This perhaps is the reason so many woman still embrace the torture of health destroying corsets. They do not know the principles of the FERRIS GOOD SENSE ATHLETIC WAIST.

The above illustration is a photographic reproduction. Note the lines of beauty. See the elastic expansion on the side that allows the waist to breathe when you do, that permits you to turn and bend and swing with perfect ease and grace.”

 

Pattern Planning Stages

My initial approach to the corset draft was to scale up the pattern to life size and use it as a block, amending as necessary to my own measurements. Looking at the centre back depth from my printout, I used my home printer to scale the pattern up by 170% as a rough starting point. Ten minutes and some cutting and sticking later, I had my basic block to work from.

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Measurements

  • Overbust: 76cm
  • Underbust: 67cm
  • Waist: 62cm
  • Top hip: 71cm
  • Full hip: 84 cm
  • Over bust to underbust: 5.5cm
  • Overbust to waist: 14cm
  • Point of bust (POB to POB) 19cm
  • Waist to top hip: 10cm
  • Waist to full hip: 20cm

I then made a table to work out my corseted measurements. I decided to work with with a 3″ reduction throughout the corset pattern. (2″ for the lacing gap and the then a further 1″ to provide minimal cinching to the waist. Referring to the corset pattern sketch showed quite minimal shaping.

 

Natural Reduction Corseted
Bust 76cm 7.5cm 68.5cm
Underbust 67cm 7.5cm 59.5cm
Waist 62cm 7.5cm 54.5cm
Top Hip 71cm 7.5cm 63.5cm
Full Hip 84cm 7.5cm 76.5cm

 

I would now work with the block as a net pattern (no seam allowances.) Comparing my measurements to the block’s overbust to waist depth measurements, I found that I wouldn’t need to reduce or lengthen the corset in this area. I made a table to compare my own measurements to those of the block to see the differences and identify where the pattern would be amended.

 

Block 1/2 my desired measurements
Difference
Bust 44cm 34.25cm -9.75cm
Underbust 37.9cm 29.75cm -8.15cm
Waist 30.9cm 27.1cm -3.80cm
Top Hip 40.75cm 31.75cm -9cm
Full Hip N/A N/A N/A

 

  • I would take a lot from the bust and hip measurements in comparison to the waist.
  • I would take more from the front overbust area than the back, reducing the bust capacity, as I have a a petite frame and this area will gape.
  • I would take out though the side back panel as this was the widest panel for the hip measurement, reducing capacity.
  • I did not want to take out much from the side front panel, which would be cut in the elastic webbing.

 

Drafting the Pattern

Initial stages

  • Vertical lines to represent the centre front and centre back
  • Horizontal line to represent the bust
  • Horizontal line 5.5cm down to represent the underbust
  • A horizontal line 14cm down from the overbust line to represent the waistline
  • A horizontal line 10cm from the waist to represent the top hip
  • A horizontal line 20cm line down from the waist to represent the full hip.

 

5.

 

I then drew around the pieces, matching up the waist and overbust lines, lining up the centre front to the vertical line for the front.

6.7.

I drew in a line to represent where the busk would sit at the centre front, and also the small waist dart in the front panel. I reduced the overbust measurement first, taking most out from the centre front/front seam and spreading the remaining amount among the other pieces.

8.

I then reworked the waist, top hip and underbust, taking out the necessary amounts. A lot of the hip adjustments were made at the side back panel. The inner lines would would be my new seam lines. I drew in lines that would form the channels in the centre back piece for the eyelets and bones, making minimal amendments to this piece. I trued the seams (checking that the seam lengths were equal) and amended them where necessary. Finally, I added the seam allowance to my finished pieces (highlighted in pink).

9.1011.12

Toile

I made a simple toile of calico to test the pattern. In place of the pattern’s “elastic webbing” I used a strong powernet, which was likely to be my final fabric choice. It seemed quite a difficult fabric to source in small quantities. For the purpose of the project, powernet would have to do.

I used a very simple construction, including just the busk and the boning either side of the lacing eyelets.

13141516

I checked the fit the corset on me before putting it on the mannequin. I was pleased with the toile, I would only have to make a few adjustments. My measurements are virtually the same as my mannequin, so for ease I marked up some of the style adjustments using fashion tape.

Although the style was low under the arm for ease of movement, I decided to add a little height to the front of the corset to give a little more coverage/modesty for the wearer. The corset did come high to the top hip and the back and the centre back depth was short. I decided to add a little to the height and drop the lower centre back, rounding the hem for a smooth curve. The elastic side panel does look a little distorted with with some with some slight pulling on the seam. This should be corrected once boning is applied in the final corset.

171819

Pattern Amendments

Center Front

  • Raise centre front/front upper seam by 1.5cm, curving to nothing at the center front.
  • Pinch 0.5cm from overbust seam to overbust point.
  • Pinch from waist to low hem by 0.5 cm, as it stands away from body.

Front

  • Raise front seam/centre front seam by 1.5cm.
  • Take out side front/front seam by 0.5cm, blending to 0cm at waist, as side front upper is distorting slightly at the seam.
  • Pinch from waist to low hem 0.5cm to bring it back toward the body.

Side Front (Powernet panel)

  • Reduce side front/front seam by 0.5cm, diminishing to 0cm at waist.

2220

Side Back

  • Raise side back/back seam by 0.5cm
  • Lower side back/back seam
  • Lower hem by 0.5cm

Back

  • Raise back/centre back by 1.5cm
  • Lower back/centre back seam lower hem by 1cm
  • Reshape for smooth curve

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In the next article, I will use the amended pattern to construct the corset and discuss the seam methods used to piece it together.

 

Bibliography

Doyle, Robert. Waisted Efforts: An Illustrated Guide to Corset Making. Halifax, N.S: Sartorial Press Publications, 1997.

Steele, Valerie. The Corset: A Cultural History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

 

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C1905 BACK SUPPORTING BODICE: SYMINGTON CORSET COLLECTION RESOURCES CENTRE (BARROW-ON-SOAR, UK)

Museum Reference

C210

Summary

Dated: 1905

Back supporting bodice designed to alleviate upper back pain and shoulder stooping. There are 48 flat steels for support from the side and around the back. The bodice would have been worn over a camisole or bust bodice. The eyeletted straps extending from the back and over the shoulder cross over and wrap around the front attaching to the heavy duty brass hooks down the front edge. To see how it would be worn follow the link.

Construction notes

The back supporting bodice is cut as one panel of cotton with darts used to create bust shape. The garment is strengthened with bone casings containing groups of four 6mm flat bones. The bodice is bagged out and finished with a double row of topstitching.

The centre back of the garment features 9 sets of eyelets spaced 2cm apart with flat boning used on either side for support.

Dimensions

Centre front depth 37.5

Centre back depth 20cm

1905 symington back supporting bodice

Back view showing bone positioning. Hooks on front for straps to attach to.

Back Camera

Eyeletted straps from built up high back

 

Back view sketch with garment dimensions

 

 

Front view sketch with garment dimensions

 

C1941/42 AVRO LACED BACK CORSET WITH BELT (UTILITY) PART 1

Summary: Avro laced back corset with belt

Maker: Avro

Model: UB902F Utility 1941/1942

Place of Origin: Britain C1941/42

Materials and Techniques: Cotton Coutil, rayon elastic inserts, metal eyelets, steel

Outer: Two part corset comprising of 5 panels either side in a single layer of coutil. It has a split front busk and lacing at the centre back supported each side with two bones of flat steel. The centre front and centre back panels are faced. Seams are backed with single casings of herringbone weave tape encasing the boning. The top and lower edges are bound in a ribbon tape.

Inner: The corset features A deep underbelt with wide elastic panels attached into the side seams of the outer corset. It features a hook and eye fastening at the front that sits directly beneath the busk.

The underbelt is constructed with a double layer of coutil which sandwiches the woven elastic panels. The additional underbelt in the garment would have been constricting, providing firm support to the abdomen and flattening the stomach.

The corset features 2 sets of 28mm suspender joining the outer and inner corsets with metal suspenders and adjusters.

21.5cm Busk

19 sets of eyelets spaced 2cm apart

Construction:

The corset is machine stitched  (13 stitches per Inch). The panels are joined together using the felled seam method encasing all the raw edge and pushing the seam toward the back. The seams have a double row of stitching. 18mm bone casings are applied to the inside of the garment. The front two bone channels do not follow the panel shape stitched down vertically instead.
The corset is boned using flat steels either side of the eyelets at the centre back and wide 9/10mm spiral steels in the bone casings. The spiral steels do not finish the entire length of the bone channel providing some ease of movement for the wearer

Dimensions

Cf depth: 34.5CM CB depth 37cm

Waist circumference 26″: Hip: 35″

Label:

UR170G, Avro Corsetry- UB902F, Laced back corset with belt, Specification 9033, Type 3, Size assortments, 26 x 32, 33 x 36

UTILITY CLOTHING

The Utility scheme was introduced toward the end of 1941 in response to the shortage of raw materials and labour for the war effort. Utility clothing was marked with the CC41 ‘controlled commodity’ mark. The mark meant the item met the governments austerity regulations and assured customers that the clothes were reasonably priced and of good quality.

The board of trade sponsored the creation of several ranges of utility clothing which were subject to austerity regulations. They restricted the amount of cloth, type of decoration and also the amount of time for manufacture. (Limitation of supplies cloth and apparel order 1941).

These restrictions also applied to the manufacture of corsetry. Steel that would have been used for corsets was used in favour for munitions. As men went to war women replaced mens roles in the the factories and the demand for practical clothing grew.

With regulations in place and CC41 marked clothing became popular skirts hems rose. Waists were nipped in conserving fabric for the war effort. Slacks were also worn made popular by the film star Katharine Hepburn. Silk and wool were highly uncommon. Silk was used for parachutes and wool for soldiers blankets. Cotton was also rationed though not so heavily. Rayon became the number one choice of fabric for the 40’s as it was readily available and relatively inexpensive.

To further economise, the Making of Civilian Clothing (restriction orders) was passed in 1942. This forbade wasteful cutting of clothes and set list of restrictions that Tailors and dressmakers had to work to. For example, dresses could have no more than 2 pockets, 5 buttons, 6 seams in a skirt, 2 inverted or box pleats or 4 knife pleats and no more than 4 metres of stitching. No unnecessary decoration was allowed.

The term ‘Utility’ became synonymous with austerity shortages and rationing.

1913 STRAIGHT FRONT CORSET: SYMINGTON CORSET COLLECTION: COLLECTION RESOURCES CENTRE (BARROW-ON-SOAR, UK)

Museum Reference

D1

Summary

Dated: 1913

This corset is constructed in two parts made from white open weave cotton and printed with blue mock chain stitch circles. The cotton net was lightweight and breathable allowing air to pass through the holes and kept the skin cool when worn making the corset suitable for summer wear.

This long line style corset is cut under the bust line and finishes over  the thigh with a  dipped hem at the back to sit over the buttocks. The actual waist line was lifted higher than the natural waist so that extreme restriction could not be achieved. Corsets from 1910 featured a straight front but their function was not to compress the waist. The S- bend corset was cut low freeing and no longer supporting the breast. It pushed the stomach and pelvis in, hips and buttocks back and the shoulder and bosom forward creating the pouter-pigeon mono-bosom that was popular with Edwardian fashion.

The corset fastens at the front with a 10″ flat narrow split busk that does not run the full length of the garment. The bottom is left open at the front. The corset is firmly boned with flat steel double bones encased in channels at each seam. Even though the cut of the corset is long the bones only finish part way down the channels to allow some ease of movement to the lower half of the body though still providing support and control. The corset features 4 x plain adjustable suspender.

Trimming is minimal on corsets of this period, most only having lace around the top edge. This corset is finished with a layer cut from the cotton net applied to the upper edge and is  bound at the lower edge with twill tape.

Dimensions

Waist circumference: 24″

Side Depth: 18″

UNDRESSED EXHIBITION: A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR: V&A MUSEUM: LONDON, UK 

COTTON COUTIL CORSET 

Record Number: V&A: T.90δA- 1984 – Given by the family of Mayer Yanovsky

Summary: 

Dated: C.1890

The corset is made of two parts from a single layer of light brown cotton coutil with single external bone casings in contrasting dark brown coutil. The corset is reinforced by an extra panel of the dark brown coutil that wraps around the waist designed to reduce the risk of the whalebone breaking.

The front panels feature sections of horizontal cording around the bust providing support and strength to the corset. The corset is finished with flossing- a decorative embroidery technique used to hold the bones preventing them from working their way out of  the casings.

The corset is bound by a twill weave tape at decorated around the upper edge with machine made cotton lace.

S-Bend corset (From the Hopkins Collection)

Summary: 

Dated: C.1902-1909 (probably British)

Corset made from cotton, silk, whalebone (baleen), metal busk  and machine made lace trimmed with replacement ribbon

The S bend corset was cut low freeing the breasts but pushed the stomach and pelvis in, hips and buttocks back and shoulders and bossom forward.

WHITE COTTON CORSET WITH TRAPUNTO WORK

Record Number: V&A: T.57-1945

Summary: 

Dated: C.1825-35 (Britain)

Constructed from corded and quilted  cotton, silk thread and whalebone. The corset features both bust and hip gussets. 

Trapunto derived from the Italian “to quilt” is a method of quilting that utilises two layers of fabric, the underside of which is slit and padded to produce a raised surface.

The corset features a wide concealed busk to the centre front which seperates the breasts and helps flatten the stomach.

WHITE RIBBON CORSET

Record Number: V&A: T.18-1958

Summary: 

Dated: C.1900 (possibly British)

With the reinvention of the ancient Olympic games in 1896, women began taking part in various physical activities and games including tennis, cycling, skiing and skating. Although corsets were still an integral part of women’s clothing, styles were being manufactured lighter and less structured.

The upper edge of this corset finishes under the breast. The ventilated style corsets were becoming more popular for the sporting woman allowing freedom of movement and healthy respiration for the wearer.

The sides are boned providing support and allowing for some waist constriction.

COTTON NET CORSET

Record Number: V&A: T.92&A-1984

Summary: 

Dated: C.1900 (BRITAIN /GERMANY)

Made in two parts which which fasten together at the front with a straight metal busk, This corset is made of cotton net allowing air to pass through the garment which helped keep the skin cool during summertime. The corset is reinforced with a white cotton diamond shaped waist band and single external bone casings that sit over the top.

The corset reaches from just over the bust to the curve of the hips slanting down to a point at the front.

GERMAN ERSATZ (AUSTERITY) CORSET

Record Number: V&A: T.44-2015

Summary: 

Dated: C.1917-1918 (GERMANY OR AUSTRIA)

Made from canvas weave paper twine, this corset is an example of the ersatz (substitute) clothing produced in Germany or Austria in response to the severe textile shortages during the First World War.  ‘Maintaining a supply of underwear was important to civilian moral. corsets were particularly important. without them most women felt undressed’

The corset features metal boning finishing part way down within the channels to allow for freedom of movement around the hip. The corset is trimmed with woven silk and linen ribbon.

GIRDLE LITTLE X: SILHOUETTE [SALOP] LTD

Record Number: V&A: T.291-1993

Summary: 

Dated: Early 1960’s (BRITAIN)

LYCRA, Nylon, lurex trim with metal suspender clips

Designed by Anne- Marie Lobbenberg for Silhouette in 1958 proved very popular with young women. The all elastic girdle provided light control and two way stretch

Advertisements focused on its functionality and the freedom of movement it allowed, promising that it ‘wont wrinkle, roll over or ride up’

The corset incorporates Lycra the brand name for elastane [spandex] a synthetic stretch fibre produced from polyurethane in 1959.

BUST EXTENDER: SPIRELLA CORSET COMPANY

Record Number: V&A T.348-1996

Summary:

Dated: 1910-1914

“The Spirella corset company marketed this style in its 1913 mail-order catalogue as a ‘bust extender… for the person who is too thin or scant in chest development”

The bust extender is constructed from a cotton covered frame of spiral steel boning designed to emphasise the ‘monobosom’ that was fashionable at the time. ‘The monobosom was the result of the S-bend corset that left breasts unsupported, and was exaggerated to create an unnatural ‘pouter pigeon’ chest that puffed out over the comparatively tiny waistline’.

The bust extender would have been worn over the top of the corset and inside the bodice of the dress

Trimmed around the neckline and arm holes with a cotton lace trim.

CORSET WITH SHOULDER STRAPS (UNKNOWN)

References
Ehrman, E (2015) Undressed. V&A Publishing. London