1911 Corset Sew Along: The Pattern

Remember this?

1911 Corset Sew Along

Well, I have been working on it for the past two months, even though I’ve been a bit lax on the blogging aspect of the whole experience. 

I started with the pattern. Following Jo’s very clear and easy to follow steps, scaling up the pattern to fit my apparently considerably larger than average physique was a breeze.

I added 1 inch to every panel of the pattern  including the hip gores. Although I wasn’t extremely convinced of the need for expanding the hip gores, I was keen to follow Jo’s steps exactly to see if it was any easier/more rational than the way I have been doing it. And the verdict? Most definitely.

I have a way of eyeballing and measuring and  guessing and hand drawing enlargements on a pattern  that works for me and has so far resulted in mostly perfect patterns…but it takes a while and often includes the strangest mistakes. In future I will definitely use Jo’s method first and then deviate as I see fit. The photocopier is my friend.

I used the 1911 longline underbust (“White coutil, trimmed broderie anglaise”) pattern from Corsets & Crinolines by Norah Waugh. The pattern consists of four full length panels and two hip gores. Jo suggested that we add 2 inches at the bottom to make it more consistent with other patterns being used in the Sew Along and because a small corset like this can very easily start to look boxy if width is added without also adding a bit of length.

First attempt at the 1911 longline corset pattern.

First attempt at the pattern. 1 inch has been added to every piece and 2 inches have been added at the bottom all the way around.

After the initial pattern drafting we made a mock-up. The mock-up was initially way to big in hip area, so I took out 1 inch from every hip gore (yes, exactly as much as I put in initially!) and then the mock-up seemed to fit quite perfectly:

Mock-up of the 1911 corset.

Mock-up of the 1911 corset.

After fitting the mock-up the pattern was updated with the changes. I took out the extra inches from the hip gores and redrafted the line of piece 4. The were also some further changes that were purely aesthetic in nature, such as the higher rise on the back 3 panels.

Second attempt at the 1911 longline corset pattern.

Second attempt at the pattern.

Analysis of the second attempt at the 1911 corset pattern

Next up: the beautifully evil fabric from hell (although of course I didn’t know it at the time…)


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: 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…

The Shweshwe Corset Part 3: The Layers

This particular corset or pair of stays will have four layers.

The four layers of fabric used in the shweshwe corset of pair of stays: plain blue shweshwe, navy blue cotton twill, cotton twill with iron on vylene, blue shweshwe with white pattern.
Foundation layers:

I started with the two base or foundation layers. I used plain navy blue (closest to the blue of the Shweshwe that I could find) cotton twill as this material is fairly stable and non-stretch. It is also has a nice and natural feel, it would allow the skin to breath (somewhat) and wouldn’t be too hot or uncomfortable. I used a medium weight iron on vylene on the outer of the two foundation layers (seen here in the wrong order; I changed the two base layers around after this picture was taken) in order to give it some extra stiffness and help the corset to appear smoother. The foundation layers are the ones that will be sewn together to form the boning channels that will hold the bones. These layers are responsible for the shape and structure of the corset.


The shell is the outer layer of this of corset and from very early on I had decided that this layer would be purely ornamental and would have nothing to do with the dynamics or structure of the garment itself. In other words, it will hold no bones in place, and in fact, the corset can function very well without it. I cut this layer of Shweshwe on the same pattern as the rest of the corset, panels and all, and will be hand sewn onto the foundation layers after the bones have been inserted.  The eyelets will be added through this layer and it will be bound with the rest of the corset.


Ideally (and somewhat historically) the lining should be added last, so that it could be removed and replaced easily without having to undo any part of the rest of the corset. Remember that corsets or stays were everyday garments, washing wasn’t a national pastime and laundering a pair of stays was a major operation (if ever attempted). When the lining wore through or became dirty,  it would be very economic to just be able to removed the old lining and replace with a fresh one. For this reason I will add the lining last. The lacing eyelets will not go through it and it will not be bound with the rest of the corset. It will be hand-sewn onto the inside of the corset almost as an afterthought.

On to the boning –>

The Shweshwe Corset Part 2: The Pattern

The pattern I decided on for this particular corset was  for a pair of half boned stays from Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines. As this is my first pair of stays or 18th century corsets that I attempt with something as conventional as a sewing machine (no cardboard this time!) the simplicity of the pattern appealed to me. I also really liked the delicate structural pattern of the bones. The direction of the boning in a corset like this is very important since it is only half boned, and a lot of the shape of the garment is dictated by the careful placing of bones.

Pattern for Half boned stays from Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh.

Pattern of stays from Diderot's L'Encyclopedie, "Tailleur de Corps". It is a half-boned stay, cut from six pieces only, the shaping being given by the direction of the bones. It would have the extra busk and the shaping bones across the front and across the shoulder blades. It might also be fully boned.

This corset closes at the back, but since I do not have several ladies to dress me, it made sense to devise a front closure so I could lace myself into the corset. Lacing into a corset with double lacing and the convenient looped “rabbit ear” laces is easy, but lacing yourself into the rigid boned stays of the 18th century would be impossible unless the closes in the the front. I also decided to add a separate stomacher, so as to allow me more freedom with regards to how tight I want to lace it and how much weight I plan to gain/lose in the next few years. In this way the corset would lace in the front over a stomacher that would show through the laces. For an example of what I have in mind, see the lovely corset in the image below. I’m also quite interested by the that seemed to have bits of fabric sewed between them to keep them from flaring open too far. This is something used in the Cardboard Corset to prevent the cardboard tabs from sticking out to far, and I might keep it in mind for use in the Shweshwe corset too.

Front lacing stays with stomacher from the Manchester Art Gallery

Front lacing stays with stomacher from the Manchester Art Gallery

On to the pattern. Since I had decided to lace it open in the front as well as leave a considerable gap between the two front panels (to allow for the stomacher) I ended up drawing the pattern completely wrong. I didn’t take into account that by opening the front up (and therefore making the panels slightly less wide , the shoulder tabs would move to the sides and sit under my arms. On the panel below you can see how far back the shoulder tabs are. If that corset was to lace shut in the front, the tabs would be fine, but as I intended the fronts to reach no further than the point of the breasts, the tabs were in completely the wrong place.

Initial front panel of the Shweshwe corset pattern.

Initial front panel, without the tabs at the waist.

So I redrew the front panel and moved the shoulder tabs forward. The now look like they are going to cover the breasts, but actually that are still running quite wide over the shoulders. Another change I made was to add several inches to the waistline of the corset, as the waist part of this corset was definitely too small for me. Over the centuries our waists have been steadily increasing in size while our breasts remained more or less the same. I cannot find the corresponding article online to substantiate these wild claims of mine, because the internet seems to be inundated with tedious accounts of how obesity is evil. This waist widening has nothing to do with obesity, however, and  it would seem from non-obesity related research that the female waist has been steadily disappearing for one reason or another. Hence the extra needed inches at the waist of this corset.

Final front panel of the Shweshwe corset pattern.

Final front panel, with the tabs at the waist. The shoulder tabs have been moved forward to accommodate the open front closure.

The back panel of the corset was relatively fuss free and easy to measure out. By and by I might mention that my mother (an old hand in sewing) said that the only reason I’m doing this with relative success and optimism so far is that I don’t know what I’m letting myself in for! The luck of the ignorant!

Back panel of the Shweshwe corset pattern.

The back panel.

The shoulder panel was by far the easiest, most boring and incidentally also the one that I find hardest to make work with the rest of the design (as it keeps flapping off to the side whenever I sew the corset).

The shoulder strap of the Shweshwe corset.

The shoulder strap.

On to the layers of fabric –>