An Edwardian Adventure in Corsetry

A talented friend of mine (publisher of Foundations Revealed) was desirous of a new Edwardian corset, made as authentically as we could manage, with a view to creating an extraordinary silhouette. As outlined in one of her blog posts (click through to see the toile/fitting photos), we are doing this not by forcing her naturally athletic and straight body into wild curves, but by adopting a more cohesive Edwardian approach. In short, the corset is only part of the story…

Corsets, perhaps due to their close relationship to the body or perhaps through their sculptural object-like quality, do have a fetishistic element to them. They function with beautiful appeal when presented in isolation. A corset shown solo on a mannequin has a peculiar charm and perhaps this is partly why we often think of the corset separate from other garments. But of course, the proportions of those other garments matter, when the corset is actually used as a shaping garment. Possibly no-where more so than in Edwardian corsetry.

The corset may, for example, have been bought by waist size, cut for a fashionable silhouette. I have seen extant Edwardian corsets with ribs folded and sewn tighter, clearly being too curvy for the lady who owned them and there does seem to be wide suggestion that historically, late Victorian and Edwardian corsetry (being essentially mass-produced) wasn’t tailored to fit. And thus, they perhaps didn’t “fit”, in the way we mean the word.

For Cathy’s new Edwardian corset, we took this approach. Ie: pitch to create the fashionable silhouette through whatever era-appropriate means possible, rather than making a corset (and subsequent ensemble) to “fit”. Using “ideal” measurements from Edwardian sources and a pattern taken from an actual 1900’s corset, we have created a piece that fits when padded. By adding hip/backside pads, a flouncy bust improver, and of course layers of other garments including the final glorious dress, we hope to create a corset that functions as the foundation of an opulent and extravagant ensemble. Because without that classic and dramatic Edwardian shape, even the most stunning Edwardian gown can be slightly lacklustre.

It’s all about proportion combined with surface detail, tone and texture. So despite the fact that the corset alone is very plain, you can probably understand why I am thrilled and excited for this project overall!

I shall cease waffling now… Here it is.

This corset, being so heavily historical, was made with a single layer of duchess as per so many of the extant Edwardian corsets I've seen. Interior casings made from the same fabric hold artificial whalebone in place, whilst the construction is as authentic as I currently know to make it! Those of you who attended my 2014 class at the Oxford Conference of Corsetry have heard all about these special seams in the context of the Birds Wing style of corset (many many panels per side, even up to 22!), but truly I think that this particular style of patterning (swooping, straight-ish seams and large hip gussets) is what they were born to do...
This corset, being so heavily historical, was made with a single layer of duchess as per so many of the extant Edwardian corsets I’ve seen. Interior casings made from the same fabric hold artificial whalebone in place, whilst the construction is as authentic as I currently know to make it! Those of you who attended my 2014 class at the Oxford Conference of Corsetry have heard all about these special seams in the context of the Birds Wing style of corset (many many panels per side, even up to 22!), but truly I think that this particular style of patterning (swooping, straight-ish seams and large hip gussets) is what they were born to do…
Despite being made in an Edwardian shape, I do suspect that this mannequin isn’t giving us the most accurate sense of how the finished piece will fit Cathy. Not least because its hips are too small. I cannot wait to see this corset in context, all padded out for intense Edwardian curves. And yes, there are ripples. With a single layer of duchess and no soft body or padding inside, this is to be expected! I would be very curious to attempt steam-moulding on a piece like this (just need to figure out how), to see if that helps make it ever more authentic-looking or smooths out some of the ripples. But otherwise, I do not mind them. It’s the nature of satin, and the ways I know of removing them would involve some level of compromise on the overall authenticity. The only concession to authenticity that we have deliberately made is to hand-finish the bias binding… Most of the antiques I’ve seen use straight-grain fabric, selvedge or ribbon/tape for the binding, machine sewn. In corsetry there are many niches. Many types of corset, many types of maker, many types of client. It’s simply a question of the corset being “fit for purpose”, whatever that purpose may be. Doing an historical project every so often is a lovely change from our usual work, it keeps me on my toes.

So there you are, something a little bit different for us. I believe Cathy’s plan is to add suspenders to the front and sides, plus decorative flossing and/or other embroidery. I cannot wait to see!

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