Blood, Sweat, and Whalebone

Actually, steel.  Be that as it may: the corset is done!  I suspect that it will be an audition for doing it again, now that I know how it goes (I found an error in the directions–or at least an omission, and contacted the pattern maker, who very obligingly gave me the answer I needed, and promised to go fix the directions at once for the next hapless corsetière.

When we left our hapless home-seamstress, all the gussets had been made and all the layers pinned together.  Now comes the fun part.  First I basted the top so that everything lined up, and tacked all the gussets and seamlines together–you really don’t want continental drift in the underlayers of your underlayer, as it were.

Everything basted and tacked, I made a pocket for the busk to go into.  What’s a busk?  A flat piece of bone, wood, or latterly steel.  The modern ones are often jointed in the middle for flexibility, but the whole point of the busk here is to render things less flexible and more constrained.  My busk was about 14″ long, and slightly wider at the top than at the bottom, so I had to top stitch the layers to make a pocket, and then edge the top in two layers so there was a finished edge to the pocket (the bottom edge will be closed in binding, later.

You can see that I also sewed the channels for the stays.  As noted: steel stays (which came in around Miss Tolerance’s time, give or take), 1/4″ wide: two pairs for the back, and one at each seam, plus a set between the bust grommets and one that rides up the side from one hip gusset to just under the arm.  With only one exception, I managed to make all the channels just about the right width: snug but not so snug I had to have an argument with my fabric.

Once all the stays were in place, I started binding the edges.  This is tedious.

It’s also the process during which I did something I haven’t done in years: stabbed myself so badly with a pin that I actually bled on my fabric.  So I have made my blood sacrifice to the Gods of Sewing, and have the blotch to prove it.

Once all the edges were bound, it was time to put in the eyelets.  Next time I do this (if there really is a next time) I may want to use larger-bore eyelets, but these were what I had.  Basically, you poke a hole in your fabric using an awl, then fit one side of the grommet through the hole and use the tool to crush the other side of the grommet onto the first side.  It takes a little hand strength and patience.  Actually, this whole project requires more patience than fabric.

And here it is, all grommetted!

And laced!

But without me in it.  Because infrastructure should remain, err, infra.  Dig?

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2 responses to “Blood, Sweat, and Whalebone

  • Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

    I’m in awe — I’m going to try making a chemise and drawers first, and then think about a corset. Or hope I get enough of a book advance to pay my friend’s DIL who is a professional costumer.

    Did you arrange a snap pocket of some time so that in an emergency, you can pull a tool out of a stay channel? (It worked for Amelia Peabody — why not you? I realize that Sarah probably doesn’t wear a corset much, if only because who would lace it? But having a file blade in an emergency appeals!)

  • madeleinerobins

    Awe is not necessary–aside from time and finicky-ness, it’s not as difficult as I thought it was going to be. And with my figure, just a chemise was not going to cut it–I need major boning to create that silhouette.

    My theory with Sarah is that she binds her breasts when going out in male drag–less for the sake of imposture than for comfort. If she’s wearing women’s clothes she likely wears short stays rather than these long ones, and (because I made her and therefore can decree these things) as she’s not terribly chesty, and with proper lacing can lace them up herself. For state occasions I don’t doubt she can call for a maid from Mrs. Brereton’s to help her out…

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