Sunday, May 23, 2010

Blue 1860's Corset and Hey Days Living History

I am finally getting some "finished" pictures of my new reenacting corset. Last year I made a nursing friendly corset that was boned lightly with cable ties and used cable ties and hook and eyes in place of a center steel clasp busk. Malachi is still nursing, but not as much as he used to and is in fact down to a nursing session or two every other day now. :( I figured the time was right to make a new corset. This one is made using the LM Dore pattern and it has a steel busk down the front, which does definitely make a difference in the overall shape as it gives a separation to the bust, whereas the hook and eye closure on my other corset gives more of a monobosom effect. I still used cable ties for the rest of the boning.
I wore it for the first time last weekend at Naperville and experienced some stretching and my bodice kept gapping at the bust point. This problem grew worse as the day went on. All week I have been a little worried that I could not fix this problem. Then I came across some great advice on the Sewing Academy message board from a highly reputed corsetiere, Kay Gnagney. She says: "But I would also suggest trying different chemises - I found that the chemise really influenced how my breasts (D) settled into the corset cups. I have chemises of different styles and cuts and the difference this makes is definitely noticeable; it can add or detract from comfort and fit. . .The chemise is essential to the way a half high corset works, and pulling it down is very important.If it is loose above the corset in the front, when you move, bend over even just a bit, your breasts are able to fall upwards into the pouch created by the loose chemise. And when you stand up, they will not be able to fall back into their proper spot in the corset, NEVER. So now the breasts are uncomfortable posiotioned/squished somewhere at the top edge of the corset or above. Not good."
(in the above picture, the gap at the back is not totally even, but after this picture was taken I tightened up the corset again to make an even gap. My "squishable flesh" is more squishy on the bottom than on the top. :) I tried pulling my chemise down and yesterday had a chance to try out my corset again. After David got home from work yesterday afternoon we made a trip to a little living history encampment our unit was doing. I made sure my chemise was pulled down firmly over everything to keep it in place. I put on my corset before we left and tightened it again about a half hour once I put it on. I then put on my dress. It hooked together well in front. I had only about a 1/4" overlap but it was an overlap! And best of all - no gapping at all during the whole afternoon and evening! Everything stayed exactly where it was placed when I dressed. No stretching of the corset either.
Here are a few more pictures from our living history. I dressed Malachi in a tunic that belonged to David last year. He really should be wearing a dress but I just finished washing and ironing and starching all his petticoats and dresses and didn't feel like having him inevitably get them dirty just for a few hours of wear. Mrs. G. from Pastoral Symphony Farm made this tunic. I love how the colors looked on Malachi; they really set off his eyes. :) David and a licorice stick. He lost a button from his tunic while playing in the sand, but thankfully shell buttons are a dime a dozen and I have a ton of them here. I wish there was a reliable source for reasonably priced china buttons. :( I need to make both boys lighterweight cotton twill hats. It was HOT yesterday! Yet they both refused to take off their wool caps. You know you are a reenactor when your pre-K toddler thinks it is normal to wear wool in the summertime. :)
David and I



  1. The corset looks awesome! And that red dress is one of my favorite reenacting dresses you have made. :) *Thumbs up* :)

  2. You have such a handsome family, Sarah! Your dress looks great and I'm glad to see that Malachi can wear the tunic, but *where does the time go*? :-)
    Mrs. G

  3. He sure does have gorgeous eyes! :) And I love the reenacting wear you make. I so wish I could make myself a corset like that! :)

  4. That really seems like a good advice to remember about corsets and chemises!

  5. I love that blue corset. I'd never really realized you could do colored ones. You're a wealth of information.

    Our plans have changed a little: we'll be going to Pittsfield in modern dress, which gives me an extra 2 weeks before our first event ever in Jacksonville. I think I'm going to employ those two weeks in making a corset -- if I'm going to do this, I ought to do it right. Did you do a post about how to use cable ties / hook&eyes instead of a busk? I'm not goign to be able to order one for this corset and have been trying to figure out an alternative.

  6. Jackie, I thought about you on Saturday! I wish you didn't have to work Saturdays; it would have been fun to get together since we were so close by. :(

    Mrs. G, I really don't know where the time goes! It's amazing. . .I wish I had more time to sit and savor each minute since the boys are changing so fast. Especially Malachi. He really isn't a baby anymore!

    Lauren, thanks! Corsets really are not hard at all, they are just a bit fiddly in the beginning when you are fitting your muslin. Once you have a fitted pattern, it is a piece of cake. . .really. I love making corsets, I think they are my favorite historical garment to sew! :)

    Hana, yes, I am sure going to remember that advice from now on! I can't believe I've gone so many years without knowing that. It has helped so much.

    Jenny, for my cable tie and hook and eye corset, I put a cable tie at each front opening edge of the corset instead of inserting a steel busk. When the corset was totally finished I sewed hook and eyes to the inside of the corset, so that the edges met edge-to-edge. It is more flexible than a steel busk but honestly, I find it more comfortable and I will still wear mine whenever I don't feel like wearing this blue one. It still gives a period correct shape and is easy to wear. And I never had any problems with that corset stretching. I'm so glad you are getting some extra time to get your things together! It makes so much less stressful to not have such a close deadline! Hope you have a great time at Pittsfield and I really really hope we will be able to make Jacksonville so I can finally meet you! :)

  7. I love you corset. It looks great.

  8. By the way, I found your old post on Week in a Feminine Dress 2008, about the picture you got from your grandma. I don't know if anyone has answered your question since then, but I know I can: yes, those are 1870s fashions. They look like early bustle period to me... I don't have any experience with sewing them (I have almost zero experience with sewing any historical fashions, in fact; I'm just starting), but I'm sure that's a starting point you can use if you ever decide to really recreate one of them. Kendra from Demode & Katherine from Koshka-the-cat, two costumers whose sites I like, seem to have made several dresses from that period, so maybe they could help you?

    Also, I'd like you to know that your boys' dresses are really lovely, which surely has to do with them being blue and white, my favourite colour combination. :-)
    I'd like to learn more about the cable ties & hooks and eyes technique as well, if you can share. I don't think I'd easily acquire busks where I live (Czech Republic), so I'd like to know something about the alternatives if I ever decide for a later period than regency (I really like 1840s fashions).

  9. The corset is lovely! I'm glad you had a great time, you all look wonderful. I have an apron of that same tunic material - it must be a popular Civil War choice. It is so nice now that reenacting season has begun again, and so fun to see everyone's events!

  10. You realize that reenacting is going to mess with all of your sons' sense of time. It'll only be a few years before the following conversation takes place at school:

    TEACHER: The Civil War was fought a long, long, time ago.

    DAVID/MALACHI/JUDAH: No, it wasn't! My dad fought in it last weekend!!

    Noah Briggs

  11. Absolutely gorgeous! The construction of your corset looks superb, and it looks almost comfortable. :)

    Y'all have such blue eyes. I used to tease my husband before we got married that all of our children would have brown eyes and brown hair (like me!) since his father has brown eyes and brown hair, and both my parents have brown eyes and brown hair ... but now I'm holding out hope that the Lord sees fit to give us a little one with blue eyes like y'alls and my husband's! It's such a beautiful shade of blue - almost china blue.

    Have you checked EBay for china buttons? I feel like I've seen a bunch there for not too much money, but I could be incorrect..


  12. Hana, thank you for that info about the picture! I have it hanging in the hallway and I always wonder about the appx. date of the fashions in it. I love it, thanks for letting me know what era it is from! I will try to get some photos of the cable tie corset up this week. It has been worn a lot, but still photographable I think. :)

    Lissa, that is too funny about the tunic material! :)

    Noah, hah, yes, I have wondered sometimes too what reenacting may do our boys sense of time-past. So far they seem to "get it" but who knows what they may think/say when they get older.

    Luci, thanks for the tip about eBay! I haven't checked there in a while so ought to do routine searches in hopes of finding some.

    David and little David both have brown eyes, but for some reason blue eyes seem dominant in our family. My dad and one brother and one sister have blue eyes; my mom and anther brother and another sister have brown eyes. Davids mom and two of his sisters have brown eyes. David is so dark, I was suprised we ended up with blonde haired and blue eyed babies! Little David does take after his dad (his hair is getting darker and is really a light golden brown now) I think it would be fun to have a dark brown haired, blue eyed little girl sometime. :)

  13. Sarah,

    Your dress is beautiful. Of course, you are a lovely lady, and so the two rightfully compliment each other. :0) Thank you for sharing.

    P.S. I'm not sure whether it was you or not, but I have heard some women say that an every-day corset is actually more comfortable than a bra. Do you find this to be true and if so, which kind would you recommend?

  14. Oh, corset wearing for every-day! :) It may have been me that said corsets are more comfortable than bras. A lot of other corset wearing women I know feel the same as well. . .anyway, I personally think that a well fitted and properly worn corset is *much* more comfortable, and flattering, than a modern bra.

    A modern bra is usually a band of elastic around your underbust with cups to hold your bosom, in varying degrees of coverage and support.

    A corset is a firm undergarment that supports the bosom well, and also provides stability and shape and support to your midriff area, your waist and your hips. Since in a corset your bust is not supported by a flimsy band of elastic right beneath it, or straps digging into your shoulders, but supported and kept it place by its position fitted onto your hips, it is way more comfortable (for me) and does not shift around.

    Now, that being said, a corset can be very uncomfortable if it is not made to fit you exactly and if it is not worn properly. Tight lacing is very uncomfortable. A corset that is too long or too short or too narrow or too wide is uncomfortable. So it will take time fitting a muslin or purchasing a good corset from a respected maker to get one that fits you like you want it to.

    For me, I have worn corsets on a daily basis on and off since last year. I have several styles and personally find the 1860's corset to be one of the most comfortable ones I have. The others are comfortable too, but are harder to put on/take off since they do not have the front seperating busk.

    I wear a 32 DD bra size and it is SO HARD to find ANYTHING close to that size in the stores. I am currently making do with 2 bras that are kinda-sorta okay as far as fit goes, but alternate with corsets/stays and the difference is amazing. Actually David recently went to a specialty bra store on his lunch break at work to try to find a bra in my size and later told me the cheapest one they had was around $60! He ended up not getting one and told me later it would be cheaper, and probaby more comfortable for me to just get materials to make more corsets. :P

  15. Great post! I've been having the same problem with my corset, mostly because (I think) I'm using a t-shirt instead of a chemise....awful, isn't it?

    I REALLY like the blue corset! It's beautifully fitted too.

    Sarah Jane I have the SAME problem with modern bras, only I'm a 32 DDD! I found out that Nordstrom sells 32 D, DD and DDD, and if you watch for sales you can get stuff as low as $24.00, which was a profound relief to me. :D


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!