Corset of the Month: Ribbon Corset

Corset of the month
So…I haven’t done this is in a while. Maybe a more accurate description would be “Corset of the every once-in-a-while”, but be that as it may, here is a corset of the month. It is a corset that I have been obsessing over for quite some time, and is quite possibly the reason why there hasn’t been a corset of the month for several months. So without further ado let me introduce the Ribbon Corset!

Silk Ribbon Corset circa 1900 - 1905 from Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen

This corset appears in Jill Salen’s Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques and is constructed entirely from lengths of pink floral silk ribbon. The ribbon is approximately 5,7 cm (2,25 in) wide 5,5 to 6,5 m (6-7 yards) were used. The side panel houses whale boning and the corset features a metal split busk opening at the front. 

There is some debate as to the accuracy of its representation here: it seems like it has been designed to contort the body extremely, or alternatively, has been pinned back around the unlikely shape of this manikin. I am leaning towards the latter, as the reproductions based on the pattern of this corset doesn’t seem to resemble this picture in any way.

Diagram of Ribbon Corset from Jill Salen's Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques

Diagram of Ribbon Corset from Jill Salen's Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques

The drawing accompanying the corset in Jill Salen’s book. Here it can already be seen that the actual shape of the corset may have been a bit over stylised in the main picture as here the waist is not nearly as small, nor are the sides as high ad smooth. This line drawing seems like a much more accurate representation of a corset that would have fitted a normal human being.

Pattern for the Ribbon Corset fron Jill Salen's Corset: Historical Patterns & Techniques.

Pattern for the Ribbon Corset from Jill Salen's Corset: Historical Patterns & Techniques.

Pattern for the Ribbon Corset from Jill Salen's Corset: Historical Patterns & Techniques.

Pattern for the Ribbon Corset from Jill Salen's Corset: Historical Patterns & Techniques.

From the pattern drawings in Salen’s book it is easy to see how the corset is constructed from ribbon. Regular corsets often have a waist stay (a ribbon running along the waistline across all the panels) for support, so it makes sense to create a corset that takes all it’s strength from the waist stay concept. The ribbons of the ribbon corset run horizontally as opposed  to the panels of a corset that would normally run vertically. Ribbons are at their strongest and most stable if a power is exerted on them in this way, and this ensures that the ribbon corset is in fact quite strong and not susceptible to warping.

Corsets made from this pattern:

Jill Salen's 1900 ribbon corset by Leimomi Oakes aka The Dreamstress

Jill Salen's 1900 ribbon corset by Leimomi Oakes aka The Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes who, as The Dreamstress, fascinates and educates with her wonderful and well-researched historical recreations has created this ribbon corset using the pattern depicted in Salen’s book. You can see her post on the ribbon corset here. There are some very nice pictures of her work, as well as some tips on making a faux-ribbon corset. Be sure to look at everything on this site, as the historical research and workmanship is superb!

Other ribbon corsets:

Black satin tight-lacing ribbon corset by Sidney Eileen

Black satin tight-lacing ribbon corset by Sidney Eileen

This is a tight-lacing variety of the ribbon corset created by Sidney Eileen. As can be seen on the photograph, this corset has a much more pronounced cinch in the waist area, created specifically for tight-lacing. This kind of corset can usually only be worn by tight-lacers who have trained their waists for this severe form of reduction. Many beautiful pictures of Eileen’s corset can  be seen here. She also shares a wonderfully detailed tutorial on how to make this particular corset. Well worth checking out as it covers every single thing that will have to be sewn on this corset. She also shares various other tutorials that cover both very simple techniques as well as much more advanced skills.

Now off to attempt some ribbon corsets of my own…


Corset of the Month: The Wedding Dress

Corset of the month
Or, more accurately, the alleged corset of the month. Yes, I am talking about the much anticipated, much discussed and much guessed at WEDDING DRESS OF THE DECADE worn by Kate Middleton, AKA Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. There has been much speculation on the THE DRESS , and the internet is so inundated with information, that it is hard to separate the useless tabloid info from actual hard facts about the construction of the dress.

Kate Middleton arrives at Westminster abbey in a wedding dress that is corseted.
Wikipedia already has some information, and it seems consistent with other seemingly reliable sources:

The dress was designed by English designer Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen.

Official statements noted that Middleton wished to combine tradition and modernity, “with the artistic vision that characterizes Alexander McQueen’s work.” She and Burton worked closely together in formulating the dress design.It has a lace applique bodice with detailing symbolizing the nations of the United Kingdom.

It was made of satin and featured a lace applique bodice and skirt. The lace bodice design was hand-made using a technique that originated in Ireland in the 1820s called Carrickmacross, which involved cutting out the detailings of roses (symbolising England), thistles (Scotland), daffodils (Wales), and shamrocks (Ireland), applying them to the ivory silk tulle individually. These lace appliques were hand-made by the Royal School of Needlework, based at Hampton Court Palace. The dressmakers used fresh needles every three hours, and washed their hands every half an hour, to avoid marking the fabric.

The bridal train measured 270 cm (110 in). Hand-cut English lace and French Chantilly lace was used throughout the bodice, skirt, and the underskirt trim. With laces coming from different sources, much care was taken to ensure that each flower was the same colour. The whole process was overseen and put together by hand by Ms Burton and her team. The “ivory satin bodice is padded slightly at the hips and narrowed at the waist, and was inspired by the Victorian tradition of corsetry that is a particular Alexander McQueen hallmark. On the back are buttons of 58 gazar and organza, which fasten by means of Rouleau loops. The underskirt is made of Cluny lace over silk tulle.”

The main body of the dress was made in ivory and white satin gazar, using UK fabrics which had been specially sourced by Sarah Burton, with a long, full skirt designed to echo an opening flower, with soft pleats which unfolded to the floor, forming a Victorian-style semi-bustle at the back, and finishing in a short train measuring just under three metres.

To partially fulfill the “something blue” portion of the British wedding tradition, a blue ribbon was sewn inside the dress. The design for the bodice of the dress featuring Carrickmacross craftmanship was the “something old”.

I am, however, most interested in her very sculpted waist visible in the wedding photographs. The only mention of this is the short sentence of Alexander Mcqueen’s penchant  for corsetry and suggestions that the bodice was narrowed at the waist: “The ivory satin bodice is padded slightly at the hips and narrowed at the waist, and was inspired by the Victorian tradition of corsetry that is a particular Alexander McQueen hallmark.”

All in all a  description which strikes me as not being nearly detailed enough. So I will do some guesswork of my own. A dangerous thing, I know, but with a dress like this everyone wants to get in their two cents worth and I am no exception!

I did some sleuthing and found pictures of Kate’s waist sans wedding dress so I could compare the two.

Comparison of Kate Middleton's waistline in her wedding dress and without her wedding dress. Her wedding dress is clearly corseted to a certain degree.
The red line is Kate’s waist in her wedding dress (clearly…) and the green line is Kate’s waist in this lovely figure hugging but non-shaping pink gown. It is clear from these two lines that there is a big difference between Kate’s waistline with and without her wedding dress. Some degree of waist-cinching is definitely going on there.

Comparison of Kate Middleton's waistline in her wedding dress and without her wedding dress. Her wedding dress is clearly corseted to a certain degree.

When the lines are closely inspected, there are several indications that Kate is actually quite heavily corseted, and not only slightly narrowed at the waist. Remember that Kate is a very skinny girl. As can be seen by the green, non-corseted line it is clear that her curves are very minimalist and flowing, and not at all the kind of figure that lends itself to corseting.

When dealing with corsetry there is always the “squish-factor” to consider. In other words, how “squishy” a body is dictates how much it can be squeezed into a different shape. Women with more squishy bits can easily be corseted into Victorian shapes, whereas women with fewer squishy bits can usually only muster a small change. The reason for this is that it is easier to displace fat and muscle to create a tiny waist. Skinny women have very little fat that can be displaced and can therefore usually only achieve a small cinch on the waist.

For Kate Middleton, who is almost officially the least squishy person in the world, achieving such a big difference on a waist that is basically just bone and well-toned muscle, is quite an achievement. This not only indicates that the corset was carefully made with a specific amount of cinching involved, but also that it was laced quite tightly.

There is also a slight convex curve above Kate’s waist when she is wearing the wedding dress that is not present in the pink gown. This line is usually the result of the ribcage being compressed and straining against the boning and fabric of the corset.

Two types of corsets. The purple one is a tightlacing corset with a much more pronounced curve.

This image shows two different kinds of corset on a slim model. The black corset on the left is a regular corset designed for a modern figure. It has a nice, elegant curve that creates a waist in keeping with contemporary fashion. This corset is what most women today would buy and wear as both evening wear and support. The purple corset on the right is a tightlacing corset, designed to create a much more dramatic curve, and can create quite a severe cinch even on very slim figures.

Comparison of a normal corset line with a tighlacing corset line. The tightlacing corset creates a much more pronounced curve. When the two curves are isolated and compared, the difference is clear. It is also clear that the second, tightlaced curve more closely resembles Kate’s waist when she is wearing her wedding dress.

It certainly makes an argument that Kate was rather tightly laced or corseted when she wore her wedding dress. The big question that remains for me, however, is whether the boning was built into the bodice of the wedding dress itself, or whether Kate wore a separate corset as an undergarment under the dress.

The Wikipedia article seems to suggest that the bodice of the dress itself was what created the curve, but there are several factors that that might mean that Kate wore a separate corset underneath her dress.

Firstly, the dress is very accurately sculpted over breasts that look less that soft. In other words, the bust of the dress itself seems sculpted rather than sculpting: it exercises no pressure on the tops of her breasts or the kin under her arms (although Kate is so skinny it’s really hard to tell). The bust underneath the dress seems very clearly sculpted and kept in perfect position. This might also just be the fact that Kate has very neat, small breasts that do not need a steel structure to be kept in place. However, the softness of the material under the bust is not in keeping with corsetry. There are no rigid lines of the boning or panels of the corset (and a corset needs those to function properly). The under bust part of a corset would also tightly hug the body to keep the bust in place, but instead the line from the point of the breast slopes gently down towards the waist. It really doesn’t look like the bodice is offering any support or has anything as rigid as boning sewn into it.

Is she wearing a corset underneath her wedding dress?

In this picture where Kate is sitting down, it can also be seen how the bodice of the dress almost creates a soft fold under her breasts, definitely the sign that it is not made rigid in any way, at least not above or below the bust.

Another consideration is that the dress closes at the back with buttons, whereas a corset or anything trying to create a cinched waist the proper way has to have laces at one point or another. Corseting the bodice of the dress directly is possible, but I wouldn’t want to put that kind of pressure on such delicate buttons, especially if the whole world would be watching.

My (possibly uneducated) guess would be that Kate wore some sort of corset underneath her wedding dress. It is also possible that the dress was only lightly cinched in the waist area alone and that the hips were more heavily padded that we are made to believe in the Wikipedia description.

This is, of course, all wild speculation and the truth of the matter remains to be discovered.

* All pictures of corsets are from Fairy Goth Mother.

Corset of the Month: Black & Yellow

Corset of the month

Welcome to Corset of the Month! From now on I will do a monthly post sharing a corset that caught my eye / inspired me / that I covet.

First up in what I hope will be a long line of wonderful garments, is the Black and Yellow Corset. This is in no small part to honour my current obsession with black and yellow…

Back corset with yellow flossing and yellow lace. Yellow stitching between the cording over the bust. Straight busk.
This particular corset comes from Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen and dates from 1890-1900. The corset is made from black sateen with yellow flossing (the embroidery that stops the bones from tearing through the fabric). There is more yellow embroidery under the horizontal cording over the the bust and the garment is rounded off with a black and yellow lace trim on the the top edge. The bones are encased in surface bone casing (the casing is sewn onto the surface of the corset, as opposed to sitting between the layers or in the seams) and it has a straight split-busk fastening. The corset has extra bones with the busk to strengthen it and prevent the busk from breaking under the strain of bending over during chores. This may mean that corset was constructed for a working woman rather than a lady of leisure.

A very similar corset appears in Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh and it is said to date from the late 1880’s.

Black corset with yellow flossing. Cording over bust and yellow and black lace trim. Spoon busk fastening.
This corset is made out of black coutil and also features yellow arrowhead flossing at the top and bottom to keep the bones in place. There is also horizontal cording over the bust (with yellow stitching in between) and a black lace with yellow ribbon trim along the top edge of the garment. The most pronounced difference between this corset and the one from Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen is that it has a curved spoon busk fastening instead of a straight busk. The other marked difference is in the pattern: this corset’s pattern has only ten panels while the previous one has twelve.

Other sightings:

Lacing Yourself Into a Corset video by Lace Embrace.

This video features another version of the black and yellow corset. The video is somewhat blurry, but from what I can tell this corset is also black with the same yellow arrowhead flossing at the top and the bottom to hold the bones in place. There is no yellow trimming along the top edge, but the top of the busk is adorned with a yellow bow. Make sure you watch to the very end: this is a VERY good and informative video on how to lace a corset yourself. It seems obvious, but if you don’t follow these simple steps you might get yourself tied in a knot that you can’t get out of. And I’m speaking from experience here…