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 –>

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