Cathy Hay (peacockdress) wrote in corsetmakers,
Cathy Hay

Testing an original 1890s pattern

© Leicestershire County Council Museums Service

So I've shown you corsets from the Symington's collection before - for newbies, Symington's was a long running and very successful corset company in Leicestershire, England, who have left us a rich legacy in the local museum collection. They collected competitors' work as well as keeping their own, giving us a great snapshot of what original Victorian and Edwardian corsetry looked like.

What you may not know is that in another museum storage facility, elsewhere in Leicestershire, is their pattern book. From what I've seen, I'm guessing that this was a record book showing style, cut, fabrics, details - perhaps a tool for costing up possible new styles, perhaps a record of past ones. In all, there are around 600 patterns - you may have seen one or two of them used as illustrations in the Waisted Efforts book.

© Leicestershire County Council Museums Service
Click to enlarge any photo

The pattern is a beautiful object in itself, don't you think? You can see the pattern pieces, the boning placement (note that bones at the front are narrower than those at the back) and even the flossing design - both the pattern and the placement. There's no date, but judging by the patterns nearby in the book, we're looking at late 1890s (laracorsets, do you agree?)

On the opposite page there's a table of other details, almost indecipherable - a shopping list of notions, colours of flossing threads (all indecipherably romantic), and so on.

So I printed the photo above and traced the pieces off it - the photo luckily shows the pattern almost completely flat, although the centre back edge wasn't quite straight where the page begins to turn into the spine of the book, so I straightened that up (dashed line). The difference was slight even there, so I left the rest.

I found the bust, waist and hips as best I could, and measured this small version of the pattern. Comparing these to my own measurements showed that this small version was just about half size, more or less, so I blew my traced version up to life size by telling my printer to fit it on four sheets of paper.

Then I measured the big pattern and altered it to fit my measurements. I'm ridiculously short waisted, so I took a big chunk out between underbust and waist, but overall, bizarrely, the hardship was minimal - the red lines here show my new pattern.

(I promise, I feel for anyone who finds that most patterns seem designed for anorexic pygmies. I've had my share of those kind of patterning experiences too. I was lucky, this time - it isn't always this straightforward!)

So a-mocking up we will go.

Apart from the gap at the back being too narrow, the fit at the waist and below it is great. Above the waist, I've shortened it too much (bust is too low) and the bust area is too big (I knew the bust curves on the front and side front shouldn't be the same shape, honest guv.)

But what bothers me and disappoints me is that that beautiful swooping curve at the top edge results in some alarmingly unpleasant overhang at the sides. I'm going to have to raise that edge right up if I want to keep this level of reduction (2" at bust and hips, 3" at waist) and not spill over everywhere. It looks as though the solution is to have no reduction at top and bottom edge, but I don't like it just fitting like a normal top; perhaps a small reduction will do it. Or perhaps not. Do you think this type of swoop at the sides is destined always to fail in this way?

More to play with at the sides will give me more bust support too - I'd like to get some steels in the side of the bust to pull it in towards the centre front.

Unfortunately this means I've got to re-cut the pattern... oh well, back to the drawing board.
Tags: advice|fitting help, book|foundations revealed, drafting|from scaled pattern, pattern|historical source, timeline|1820-1900 victorian corset
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