Pattern cutting

C1890-1900 THE ATHLETIC CORSET: PART 2

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

In part 1 I worked with a pattern developed from ‘The Athletic Corset’ as featured in ‘A practical guide to corset cutting and making’ by William D.F. Vincent.

Now I’ll go on to create my own corset.

Given both its likely date and its function-over-fashion design, this corset could have been constructed using a single layer of coutil, keeping it lightweight but durable for wear during sporting activities. For this reason I chose a black broche (a heavyweight coutil with a subtle dot pattern) and a strong powernet (in place of the elastic webbing)

The Athletic Corset pattern

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The corset was cut as follows:

  • 2 layers of broche to sandwich the busk: CUT 2 PAIRS CENTRE FRONT
  • 2 layers of broche for centre back eyelet panel: CUT 2 PAIRS CENTRE BACK
  • Single layer of broche for the rest of the plain pieces: CUT 1 PAIR FRONT, SIDE BACK, BACK
  • Single layer of powernet used in place of the woven elastic panels: CUT 1 PAIR SIDE FRONT

 

Preparing the Boning Channels

I decided to sew the corset seams wrong sides together, using external bone casings to cover the seam allowances. The pattern also indicated the placement of additional exterior channels, most of them down the centres of the panels.

I began with 27mm wide strips of broche, cut parallel to the selvedge, and used a 12mm bias tape maker to create  single bone casings for the channels covering the seams.

For the other channels I wanted double bone casings, so I cut those channels 52mm wide and used a 25mm tape maker for those. When applying them, I stitched close to the edge either side, and then added the dividing line of stitching down the centre to create the twin channel.

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Inserting the busk

The pattern used a simple flat steel busk. The two CENTRE FRONT pieces were placed right sides together and stitched in order to insert the busk in the usual way.

 

Preparing the FRONT panel

Following the marking on the pattern, the shaped dart in the FRONT panel was stitched closed before joining to either the centre front or side front pieces.

 

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A double bone channel was also needed on this panel. This will be the only one applied before the main construction, since it seems to disappear into the FRONT/CENTRE FRONT seam.

frontpanelpatternbone

The angled placing made positioning tricky as I tried to make the sides symmetrical. I was concerned about whether making the channel end in the seam would create awkward bulk, and whether I would be able to stitch down another channel to overlap the seam.

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Assembling the front section

I stitched the FRONT/CENTRE FRONT seams wrong sides together, and then the FRONT/SIDE FRONT seams in the same way. This was the seam where the broche met the powernet, so I used a secure stitch on either end of the seam to control the powernet whilst stitching, and stop it from slipping.

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CENTER BACK panel: Boning channels

I created the centre back edge by stitching CENTER BACK broche sections right sides together, then turning to the right side and pressing. I used the side of my sewing machine foot as a guide to create three equal channels for the eyelets and flat steels.

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Assembling the back section

I stitched the BACK/CENTRE BACK seams wrong sides together, and then the BACK/SIDE BACK seams in the same way.

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Joining front and back sections and applying bone casings

The front and back sections were joined wrong sides together. Again, secure stitches were used on each end to help control the powernet.

 

Applying the bone casings

I trimmed the seam allowances and pressed them down. (I turned the seam allowances in the powernet back onto the broche reasoning that stitching the boning casings onto the power net might cause the seam to crack under pressure). Then I applied the single bone casings over them, on the outside of the corset.

Then I applied the wider double bone channels to the centre front panel and side back panel. I should have used a double channel for the back according to hte pattern, but I found that the panel wasn’t wide enough, so a single casing had to make do instead.

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Boning

I used spiral steel boning throughout most of the corset, with flat steels either side of the eyelet channel in the centre back.

Binding

I wanted to use the broche for binding, but found that it would cause difficulty when sewing, especially at the ends. Instead I chose a satin finish pre-folded bias binding. I first machine stitched it to the right side and then flipped it over and top stitched in place.

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Eyelets

Finally I inserted twelve pairs of eyelets, as marked on the pattern.

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The Finished Corset

I was pleased with the finished corset. I love the textural contrast of the mesh to the broche fabric. My choice of a sheer mesh allows the undergarment or skin to show through, adding interest to an otherwise fairly plain design.

Having worn and tested the corset with lots of bending and stretching, I felt that it was supportive, yet the stretch mesh panel provided me with some freedom of movement. The corset could be laced closed, reducing the waist but not being too restrictive.

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I was pleased with the cut of the corset around the cup shape and under the arm. It was cut low, allowing full movement of the arm, yet still had good coverage of the breasts. The pattern could easily be adapted for use as a fashion corset.

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The corset is cut short at the back, allowing the wearer to bend and sit comfortably.

I liked the idea of the double bone casing, providing both additional support and an eye-catching feature.  A contrast colour could be used to make them stand out.

I would probably remove the dart from the pattern for future use, and instead take the fullness out of the front panels from the sides. It could be tapered a little more at the centre front/front seam, bringing the corset closer to the body.

Vincent’s Athletic Corset does perform as advertised. It’s a comfortable, everyday corset, providing control and shape for the wearer whilst allowing considerable freedom of movement.

 

This sample is available to buy from my ETSY store.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

1878 H.S. STRAUSS PATENT 208049

Initially when I came across this patent found here, I liked the simplicity of the pattern pieces with the multiple rows of stitching and bone channels used in the bust area. I was most intrigued however by the unique shaped bone pocket (seen in figure  9) that would be applied to the exterior of the garment.

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PATENT OBSERVATIONS

PART 2: THE LETTERS

  • In the drawings, Figures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 represent the several patterns of which the base of each half of the corset is composed. Fig. 8 represents one-half of the corset expanded, but without perspective shading, the dotted lines indicating the seams. Fig. 9 represents the hip-piece cl enlarged, and also a portion of the piece (1 broken away, showing the bones and the under seam.

CUTTING INSTRUCTIONS

  • Each half of the body of the corset is composed, first, of seven patterns, as shown in the drawings, numbered 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. In cutting these patterns, Nos. 1 and 7 may be doubled by folding the material on their outer straight edges. Nos. 2, 3, and 6 consist of two pieces each, cut to the same pattern, while No. 208,049, dated September 17, 1878 application filed June 26, 1878.
  • N 0s. 4 and 5 may be single or double, as de sired. The pattern Fig. lhas the usual hooks, and the pattern Fig. 7 has the usual eyelets.

CONSTRUCTION NOTES

  • When the pockets are formed in the several patterns 1 2 3 6 7 all the several patterns are sewedtogether. The best way of sewing them together is as follows: The edge of Fig. 2 (shown inthe drawingnearest to Fig.1) is sewed to Fig. 1 on the edge nearest to it. These pieces Figs. 1 and 2 are laid together sothatthe sides of said pieces which are on the inside of the corset when the corset is finished will face each other, and the edges of the parts are thus on the outside of the corset when the parts are expanded, and the inside of the corsetis smooth, the seams being what are called hidden seams. All the patterns are thus sewed together, the edge of the piece of each higher number (shown in the drawing nearest the lower number) being sewed to the edge of the lower number nearest to it. When all the The pockets formed in the 5 seven patterns Figs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 have been thus sewed together, the shape of the whole forms one-half of a corset so shaped as to make the form desired.
  • The hip-piece d, Fig. 9, is a narrow strip, with its sides parallel about one-half its greatest length, with a gore-shaped or flaring lower part, having pockets for bones of decreasing length, as shown in Figs. 8 and 9. This piece at is sewed over the outer side of the corset, so that the seam connecting patterns Figs. 4 and 5 comes under it at or about the heavy dotted line shown in Figs. 8 and 9 by the letters 0 o. This piece, while giving shape to that portion of the corset, also serves as a protection or shield for the hips, upon which the outer garments may lie.

HISTORY

CORSETS OF 1878

1887

American corset found at the Metropolitan Musuem (USA) is dated at around 1878. The upper edge is cut flat across the bust and the front lower finishes over the hips slanting to a deep V shape. The corset similarly to the patent appears to feature multiple boning by rows of parallel stitching creating the channels. Bust gores give this corset extra shape.The decorative stitches (flossing) at the lower edge prevent the boning from forcing its way out of the channels. The corset is finished with a deep lace along the upper edge.

light blue silk corset with flossing 1870-1885

American corset dated 1870-1885 found at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston USA (Accession number 201:616). Constructed from light blue silk the corset features a straight busk front with double gusset at the breast. Heavily boned all the way around the corset has multiple rows of stitching sandwiching whalebone between the layers of fabric. The gussets also appear to be corded providing additional shaping and support to the bust area.  Decorative flossing is used in white contrast thread to hold the bones at both upper and lower edges.

Pattern Draft:

My  first pattern draft based on my measurements. I enlarged the pattern pieces of the patent as a rough base for the piece shapes amending each piece accordingly. I renamed this pieces as follows from left to right CENTRE FRONT, FRONT, SIDE FRONT, SIDE, SIDE BACK, BACK, CENTRE BACK

I realised when I made up a toile of the pattern I needed to increase the body length of the entire corset pattern from the over bust to waist by 2cm. I extended the pattern from the waist and reshaped the pieces.

PRE CONSTRUCTION
Prior to commencing construction there were a few preparation stages (not photographed) beginning with the fabric cutting. I chose a dove grey spot broche coutil. I liked the sturdiness of the fabric which would be suitable for the single layed panels.

  • Cut a double layer of coutil for the CENTRE FRONT/ FRONT/ SIDE FRONT/CENTRE BACK  (2 pairs)
  • Cut a single layer of coutil for the SIDE/ SIDE BACK/ BACK (1 pair)
  • CUT a single layer of coutil for the additional bone pocket (1 pair)
  • I prepared all the bone casings. I cut strips of the coutil of approx 36mm wide (following the selvedge) I Used a tape maker to make 18mm bone casings. 5mm spiral steel boning would be used in the double channels

CONSTRUCTION

Inserting the busk: I decided to add a modesty panel behind the busk to stop any flesh showing through the gap of the fastenings. This was created by using a panel of folded coutil and inserting it into the studded side busk seam.

The seams were then joined wrong sides together of the CENTRE FRONT and FRONT panels (double layer together)  The seam was covered externally by the bone channels.  These were positioned centrally over the seam. I edge stitched on either side before using the edge of the foot as a guide to stitch down the centre of the casing to create a double channel.

I then machine stitched rows of channels approx 8mm wide as indicated on the pattern pieces.

The panels were joined in the following order. All the seams joined wrong sides together so seams appear on the garment outer

  • FRONT/SIDE FRONT (double layer of coutil). More rows of stitching creating bones channels following the pattern.
  • SIDE FRONT/SIDE
  • SIDE/SIDE BACK
  • SIDE BACK/BACK
  • BACK/CENTRE BACK

Close up where you can just see the rows of stitching for the bone channels in the front and side front pieces

 

Creating the bone pocket: The bone pocket (figure 9 in the patent) was an additional panel that would be placed over the top of the seam between the SIDE and SIDE back panels. This would strengthen the corset whilst maintaining lightness- using just the single layer of fabric for the SIDE/SIDE BACK/BACK pieces. I developed the pattern by drawing the shape on my initial toile, cutting and retracing  to get the shape.

Toile of the bone pocket. Channels stitched to figure out the number of bones to go in the pocket.

The seams were pressed under on either side before the panel was top stitched into place. Rows of stitching creating channels were made following the front of the pocket.

Rows of stitches were created in the pocket for the boning channels using the machine foot as a guide parallel to the front of the piece.

Boning: Spiral steel bones were cut to length and tipped before being inserted into all the channels. Flat steel bones were used either side of the eyelet channel to provide stability.

There are a total of 50 bones in this corset. A combination of spiral steel and flat steels at the centre back. Over 8 Metres of boning is used.

One half of the corset. A close up showing the boning inserted into the channels.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION STAGES

Binding: I chose a silver raw silk slub fabric binding for the upper and lower edges. The binding was made cutting the fabric on the bias grain and pressed using a 18mm tape maker.

Eyelets: Finally the corset was eyeletted using silver metal eyelets to match the busk. 12 pairs of eyelets were used in keeping with the patent illustration.

THE FINISHED CORSET 

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