Friday, April 17, 2009

Corset construction the old way

One of the things I've wanted to know, was the mechanics of the corset. Not just the how to sew one, that's easy. Any good pattern, such as Laughing Moon #100, or Truly Victorian #110 are excellent for victorian, Saundra has some really good ones, including but not limited to soft corsets, and an S-curve over at Past Patterns.

But that doesn't exactly tell you how to make one from scratch does it?
Instead of wishing I could afford a good teacher, and instead of scrimping till it hurts to afford a book or whatever's available or will be available, I decided to start pushing myself to study on my own. Which led to a path I had missed before.

Connecting Don McCunn and his book How to Make Sewing patterns + to the Workwoman's guide, via google books, originally published in 1838 author unknown, + Lara corsets who has generously shared her vintage corset gallery for study, + corset patents with patterns.

How they all connect, when none are specifically a corset making manual? Well, think about it. Someone way back in the beginning, had to have started it all. And they didn't have a teacher, nor a manual, nor any inkling how to even sew one. But they did have sewing knowledge. Thus Don's book is the first connection.

He explains, at a very affordable price I might add, the basics of fabric manipulation. How to create a dart, why it's there and what it does. How to turn the dart into fullness instead of a dart. How to move it around, change it's shape etc etc. He has a great class on the subject as well, where darts and their manipulation are the main focus.
Still what does that have to do with corsets?

Simply put, the bosom gores, the hip gores, all darts of one sort or another. Which means, anyone with a knowledge of darts and how to use them effectively, can create a corset. With gores, without gores, in any style you like. And it can be done without the math.

The connection finally hit when I read the Workwoman's guide. Although before the modern corset era, it does explain how to draft and create a soft corset. It reminded me of another site I'd looked at but dismissed too quickly, called La Couturiere Parisienne, that has a pattern plate showing at the bottom, the make up of the corset. See it here.

You'll notice at the bottom, there's a corset pattern. Although it has curved sides, and the one in the workwoman's guide is straight, when I compared the two you can see how the basic corset shape is nothing more than a square of fabric, measured to the waist measurement. But a square this size won't fit over the bosom, or the hips. However, if you make a cut over each bosom, and one over the fullness of each hip, insert a triangular gore, you get the curve. The wider the bottom of the gore, the more curve.

The solid lines represent the side of the square, the dotted lines represent where the fabric will be pushed out to if gores were set in.
By changing the shape of the gores, you get different effects. For example:

One dart slice, or gore allows the fabric to spread and thus curving. But it's limited to how far it can go. If you're a bit more bosomy, you'll need more curve. Thus two gores cut into the fabric:

Allows more curve. More room, i.e a bigger bosom area. It's the same for the hip. Place a gore by cutting the fabric over the fullness of the hip, or area you need more room, and you'll get your hip gore. By changing the shape, you get different results. A triangle gore gives you more room, but it's limited by how far it stretches. By cutting the fabric differently than just a straight cut, you can gain a square shape rather than triangular.

Which gives you more room, and more room for manipulation as well. By going the same route as for the triangle, you can create a wider bottom, and get more room at the edge, creating a wider curve.

This is basically why some corsets have square gores, and some have triangles. One gives more room, and more curve than the other, without causing the fabric to wrinkle or stretch. If you take the square gore and make one side a little longer than the other, you can get more curve on one side, keeping the other side straight.

This works really well over the side hip area, when you want a little fullness on the side toward the back, but you don't want to create too much flare in the front. Unless of course you have a large tummy and do want more flare up front, but most need it either at the side, or toward the back where it rounds out into the bottom area.
By putting a triangle gore in the front over the front hip area, and a square gore over the back fullness, you can keep the front a bit more snug while giving the fullness required at the side and back.

For later Victorian corsets, without gores, the gores are simply turned into fullness. To create a waist that reduces more, without forcing you to make huge gores to compensate for the much smaller waist, darts can be placed along the waist to allow the fabric to curve inward, and seam lines are cut where each dart runs, which divides the corset into pieces. It's all on how you manipulate the fabric. Take a peek at the corset patent site, and compare the patterns. You'll notice they come in all sorts of shapes, some looking like a complicated puzzle.

By combining these elements, a custom corset pattern can be generated easily, by draping the fabric, and manipulating it to get the desired results. If you get a headache from the math side of drafting, and or you're limited to only following directions because drafting by paper from scratch just eludes you without a step by step process, you're not alone. Nor are you limited, once you get the hang of fabric manipulation.

Patterns for a long, long time, were nothing more than shapes on paper that a tailor used as a guide. He would use other methods, such as tying knots along a rope to keep tabs on measurements. And he'd drape the fabric, making his marks and pinning it into shapes, then sewing it to create the piece or wardrobe. Something couture houses still do today I might add.
If you're new to fabric manipulation and don't know how, there's a book you should try called The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff.

Note: Not a computer tech, have no clue why some images flipped sideways in blogger. LJ doesn't do this. Hmmmm. Have to ask hubby about it when he gets home, if I remember to.
Second note, the croquis I used for doing the corset sketch is from Don's book, How to Make Sewing Patterns.

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