Let’s Try This Again: A (Better Fitting But Still Imperfect) Edwardian Dress from Butterick 6093

Cotton Candy Colored Edwardian Barbie!

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Butterick 9063 is based off of general fashion trends from 1912 (some possible period inspirations can be seen here). The construction is pretty straight forward and modernized, so Butterick calls this an “Easy” pattern. It’s simple exterior hides a slightly more complex garment, and after phutzing with it for a while now, I would call it more “advanced beginner.” My first version was very enlightening (and very blue):

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I made a lot of mistakes with my first version— chief among them being choosing the wrong size! However, it turned out pretty cute for a first try. My sister liked it and was bummed that it wouldn’t fit either of us. We share similar measurements even though our body types are quite different, so I decided to make another mockup attempt which, if it fit better, Amelia could have. I had a few more inexpensive cotton sheets lying around, so I let her pick one she liked. Laura, the queen of Shear Madness, had sent me a lovely embroidered dupatta which I though would make a good accent for collars and cuffs. A thrifted cotton shirt donated some UFO-shaped fabric buttons for a final touch:

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Amelia decided she liked the contrasting pop coral pink against the teal and while the single-sided collar is snazzy and all, maybe a symmetrical collar setup would suit her better…?

So I plotted:

Amelia Pink Dress Design

And together, we settled on a triangular collar similar to my first dress attempt, but this time on both sides of the neckline (the design on the left).

Previously, my dress had been much to small, especially in the hips. I could barely sit! If you ever tackle B6093 for yourself, pay close attention to your hip measurement and how much ease you’ll need to sit down otherwise:

With thoughts of wardrobe disasters floating in my head, I thought it might behoove me to cut the pattern according to the size chart on the back of the envelope. According to the chart, the best option for Amelia and I would be a size 16. However, the finished waist size would have been 34.5″– a whopping 4.5 inches of ease in what should be the most fitted part of the dress! Remembering how the size 12 waist was too small and knowing that the size 16 waist would be much too huge, I cut the hips a size 16 and tapered the waist down to a size 14. The fullness of the bodice in my first version seemed like enough to me, so I cut the bodice pieces out in the same size as before: 12.

That’s a lot of numbers. Unfortunately, they don’t all come in one envelope, either. However, I had raided Hancock fabrics during a pattern sale, so I had both size selections. After working with this pattern now for a second time, I have learned that mixing and matching pattern numbers in key areas is the way to go for a better fit. The way the dress is constructed means that most size adjustments need to be made on the sides of the pattern pieces rather than in the middle (like, say, slicing something for a FBA). Making post-construction alterations are also very tricky because of the side zipper and because the loose-fitting bodice is gathered to a tight, darted skirt, meaning you can’t let it out or take it in without taking the entire dress apart.

Thus, I prayed that 12b+14w+16h=excellent!

I didn’t take many progress shots, except this shot of me testing the fit on DumDum since Amelia is in far-off Colorado and thus unavailable for fittings:

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This is also right before I put the sleeves on. Seriously, the sleeves in this pattern confound me! As you may recall (and if you don’t, it’ll be fairly obvious in the picture below), my previous dress suffered from a case of muffin top sleeve caps:

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It’s like rabbit ears or plate armor…..or GAGA!

If you happen to be an extraterrestrial/pop star with shoulder protrusions, this is the pattern for you! However, if you are an average human attempting to mimic Edwardian fashion, the shoulders poofs are maddening. No one else who has made this pattern ended up with lumpy shoulders, but I ran into the exact same problem again with Amelia’s dress. Even with TWO rows of ease stitching, the sleeve cap was well over an inch too tall. I ended up just sewing further down the sleeve cap to achieve a smooth shoulder line. I can only conclude that I am either an idiot or cursed by some vengeful pattern witch.

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It always seems I must turn to sleeve voodoo to get things to work. Perhaps it is coming back to haunt me now?

In between tackling the sleevils and adding the collar buttons, I took on a temporary second job (just for this month). Lack of freetime notwithstanding, I finally got Amelia’s cotton candy Edwardian Barbie dress done!

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If the skirt looks a bit long, you’d be right. Amelia is much taller than I am. She wasn’t available for fittings, so I was pretty liberal with the addition just in case she wants to wear heels. I’m actually wearing my tallest pair of platforms (5″) underneath and it still puddles! I also took advantage of the sheet’s already finished hem, so hopefully she won’t need to hem it up (if you do, I’m sorry, Minnie!).

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The color of the cotton sheet really varies in photographs depending on the light. Sometimes it photographs as  as blush rose, other times, orange shrimp. It’s kinda funky.

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The pretty lace dickey is an antique, and unfortunately, not quite strong enough/big enough for wearing. It does make a nice dummy cover, though!

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I pleated the back instead of gathering it in this version to help combat the awkward back-poof I got with the first dress.

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I decided the skirt looked to plain and, well, bedsheet-like without some sort of accent, so I fudged an applique made from the dupatta scraps.

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The waistline of this dress really benefits from a belt or corsage to cover the awkward join where the faux wrap front meets. The pattern includes a belt, but I opted to add a little bow at the corner. It’s made from an antique stamped steel buckle that is handily dated on the back!

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I added a pin back so it can be moved if Amelia wants to wear a belt or wear it on her shoulder or something of that sort. I paired it with a cheap gauze scarf from Walmart as an impromptu sash with moderate success.

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Despite my (in my opinion) clever patterning, the dress still ended up larger than expected! It’s not horribly baggy, but I’m afraid that on my slim sister, it might look like she’s wallowing in a duvet. Ah, well! I have to send it off to see. If nothing else, it will make a passable Halloween frock!

Candy Colored Edwardian Dress Stats:

Queen-sized cotton sateen flat sheet – $3.99, Thrift Town
1 yard cotton fabric (to line collar and applique) – FREE! (Thanks, Nana!)
Embroidered teal georgette dupatta – FREE! (Thanks, Laura!)
22″ invisible zipper – $2.49, Hancock Fabrics
Thrifted white shirt (for buttons) – $4.59, Goodwill
Antique stamped steel buckle – $6.18, eBay
Invisible zipper foot – $11, Joann Fabrics
(Okay, so not part of the dress, per say, but very much needed!)

Total: $28.25
$17.25 if you don’t count the zipper foot. :P

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UPDATE!

Some of Butterick’s possible inspirations directly from the Delineator, Butterick’s ladies’ magazine!

Butterick 6093 Inspirations

From left to right:
Oct. 1912: Cross-over bodice with squared collar (from view A of B6093) and the lacy, squared cuffs with long button closure (View B)
August 1912 and September 1912: Brief fashion for single-sided curved revers/lapels/collars. The Aug. 1912 dress on the right has the lace overlay and single-sided wrap of View B.
Oct. 1912 again: Illustration of sleeves fashions including the lacy, squared cuffs with long button closure (this seems to have been a brief trend in fall/winter ’12)
Nov. 1912: THE SKIRT! This is the exact skirt design of View A in B6093 consisting of a tri-pleated/tucked wrapped overskirt and bow-bedecked belt!
April 1912: Another curved, single-sided lapel like View B (also paired with a square collar as in View A) and the possible inspiration for the lace overlay used in the promotional pictures. It is from a Bedell’s Fashion Book ad for Easter and Spring dress styles.
Sept. 1911: Shows an older dress (left) transformed into the newer fashion (right) with a single-sided lapel and wrapped overskirt (and lovely contrasting underskirt!)

Here’s the amazing link to scanned issues of the Delineator (Thanks again, Terri!) where you can find these images and so much more: http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000545715

Butterick 6093: Hiccups, Mixups, and a Mockup

My Too-Tight 1912

So this project began as many of mine do: a challenge. Back in August of 2014 (yes, it HAS been that long!), Butterick released two 1912 patterns in their Retro line, B6108 and B6093.

Butterick’s Retro line is made up of re-released/reworked patterns pulled from the Butterick archives. Most dresses are from the 1930s-1950s, carefully chosen to appeal both to the vintage loving crowd and modern seamstresses. So when Butterick boldly threw two 1912 patterns into the mix, the modern sewing community was less than impressed. One blogger even called them “the latest innovation in birth control!” And, judging by the release pictures, I can understand the confusion:

I actually like the styling of this one and the coat looks very well made, but I can see how with long line paired with such gloriously wide lapels would intimidate the modern fashion palette.

Again, nicely made, but the model is a bit overwhelmed by it (and the hair). Again, it’s not exactly to modern tastes.

1912 isn’t exactly a fashionable year by modern standards (and that polyester lace doesn’t help matters), but to the costuming community, the patterns held potential. B6108 was instantly a favorite and while the long-sleeved example dress frightened folks at first, once people realized that B6093 had a short-sleeved, lace-less option, the patterns flew off the shelves!

For a while, I couldn’t find them anywhere because they were bought up almost as quickly as craft stores put them on the shelves. However, earlier this year, I finally hit a pattern sale at the right time and snatched up a copy for myself. The cover bears the line drawing of both design options. Universally preferred View A lady in green on the left appears in her large, fashionable hat while the poor line model for View B casts down her eyes as though even she knew no one liked her.

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“God, Francis! I told the ladies you were going to be fabulous. I vouched for you, and you show up with handkerchiefs stuffed in your cuffs and only one lapel! Take your stupid little purse and go!”

Poor View B! I felt like it was getting way more hate than it deserved, so I decided to do a little research to find which original pattern Butterick based it off of. I contacted the company hoping that they would have more information, but they sent only a very vague reply: “These patterns are inspired by vintage patterns from Butterick in that year. Beyond that it would take some digging to get more answers from you.

I didn’t press them much further, but turned to my usual Googling method and found out that the lacy cuffs were a brief fad around 1912:

View F in this Sears Catalog ad has the same squared lace cuffs.

And the single-sided lapel? That was a larger trend that was popular throughout the 1910s, especially in 1911 and 1912:

The Delineator, 1911
The Delineator was one of Butterick’s pattern advertising magazines and I wish there full issues to comb through on the web so that I might see if there is either of the B6093 designs in them! How awesome would that be?! But, alas…

The Delineator, November 1911

Day and walking dresses, from 1912, “De Gracieuse”

Silk Dress, circa 1911-1915 (the seller dates it to 1915, but it looks earlier)

Donaldson’s of Minneapolis Evening Gown, circa 1914
This gown is from the Glenbow Museum website which has a tendency to not hyperlink well, so I am including the item number here: C-4600. This is one of those gowns that is dangerous to wear–I might drool all over it!

However, the illustration that most caught my attention was this one:

Mode Illustree, November 5th, 1911
From a now-defunct eBay auction, sadly. But at least the image survived!

I liked everything about it and it looked like a perfect candidate for transforming View A from shamed to acclaimed!

Aside from the single lapel, this dress design has fan of lace that stands out from one side of the collar. Perhaps this was what the designers were trying to emulate in their design? Having an asymmetrical lace drape was popular and could be bought pre-manufactured to add to your dress.

The American Dressmaker, April 1912

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Collars with side ruffles in the Sears, Roebuck, and Company catalog from 1912 (see the whole thing here!)

Here’s the dress plan I came up with:

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I planned to use some nice faux silk and a sari I had to make a nice dinner dress (I love dinner dresses), but I ran into a few hiccups along the way.

First, I couldn’t find a nice faux silk I liked at a price I could afford. Also, I decided that a nice cotton sateen would be better and more breathable. However, I failed to find that either. I usually find lots of cotton sateen sheets at the local thrift shop, but I failed to find ANY for nearly a month! So I settled for a plain deep blue cotton sheet. Turns out, that sheet would be both a blessing and a curse. I did luck into a 100% silk shirt that I plan to use to make a dickey…at some point…

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I cut out the pattern a few months ago, but then life happened and I hit a major sewing slump. By the time I picked the project back up, I realized I’d cut the dress a size too small! This pattern really does run true-to-size, so according to my measurements, I needed a 14 or 16. I’m between sizes thanks to my large bust, so I usually cut a 14 and do a full bust adjustment. This pattern, however, is designed to fit very loosely up top, so the bust size is more flexible. I should have cut a size 14, but instead, I cut a size 12! Guess I was in Simplicity rather than Butterick mode that day. Both companies follow different sizing charts and I fit a size 12 in Simplicity patterns. Oops! So I shifted focus from making a full dress to just creating a wearable (if I lose 5-10 pounds) mockup. Using the cheap cotton sheet worked to my advantage because I didn’t worry about wasting materials and it was easy to sew.

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B6093 has a curved, semi-circlar collar/lapel. My inspiration image and most of the period fashions I found have triangular lapel shapes, so I tucked and folded the pattern tissue until I got a shape I like. Folding the tissue rather than cutting it is a great technique because you can make alterations to this particular cutting without damaging the original pattern. That way, you (or someone else) can go back to the original design in the future.

Otherwise, I pretty much made the dress directly from the pattern. I did opt to mix it up a bit and use the short sleeves from View B to match my inspiration dress, but I followed the directions pretty much to the letter.

Butterick lists this pattern as an “Easy” design.

NO. FALSE.

Easy, to me, is something like a drawstring skirt or Simplicity’s Jiffy pattern line from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (only 2 pattern pieces? Sign me up!). The Easy designation on this pattern is really a misnomer. While B9063 isn’t difficult, it’s definitely not Easy unless you have prior sewing experience. It has set-in sleeves, hand-tacked facing (for this mockup, I cheated and used iron on hem tape. Worked like a charm!), interfacing, lining, collars, sewn-in pleats, and an invisible side zipper all of which can be–and in my case, were–finicky.

When I got about 3/4 done (and got distracted with secretary dresses), I discovered that when I put the wrap top together, it gaped–a LOT: a whole two cups worth, and we’re not talking bra sizes…

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Ah, the flattering pictures I suffer for costume science!

Patterns are drafted for a B cup. I have DDD/F breasts, so usually I have to do a FBA to get my girlies to fit. Dresses in 1912 still had fairly full tops and are meant to skim over the breasts, not fit to them. Hence, this pattern has a ton of design ease built in (over 7 inches!). It is designed to be worn over a dickey or blouse to keep it appropriately modest, but this much gaping, even over a blouse, would be far too much! Turns out that you must fiddle with the amount of cross-over to get it to lay properly. In my case, that meant closing the V up a bit, subtracting bodice length, and fiddling with the distribution of the gathers in the front to keep my “two scoops” contained!

The invisible side zipper scared me, but it turned out okay considering that I don’t own a zipper foot. Indeed, I own an invisible zipper foot–which would be just the tool for the job if it wasn’t for that fact that it was invisible because it didn’t exist.
I own a very basic Singer “Simple” machine. It works great! But, it did not come with a zipper foot. It came with a button hole attachment and even a button attachment, but no zipper foot. What sort of weird logic is that? Most Easy and Beginner patterns out there require zippers, not buttons, so I don’t know why Singer chose to include button attachments with their beginner level machine. Ah, challenges!

So I sewed that sucker in without a zipper foot! YEEHAW!

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It is definitely not invisible, but it works! A raging success, considering I just jammed it under the regular presser foot and prayed.

Speaking of jamming and praying, with the help of my Rago 821 waist nipper, I was able to stuff my size 14/16 body into this size 12 dress to get few photos!

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I love the 821 because it does a good job of smoothing from underbust to hips like the columnar corsets of the time did.

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Here, you can see how blousy the top is. If I had the B cup bust this pattern was designed for, the flounce would be for even front-to-back. As it is, when I make a “real” dress out of this pattern, I will pleat the back rather than gather.

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Ah, those little sleeve crowns! They are from the sleeve head being too tall at the top. Otherwise, the silhouette is very flattering on my body type. The Edwardian era is gold for inverted triangle body shapes!

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The pattern has a very long, open kick-pleat on the side seam. It’s not historically appropriate, so I just added a gore made of the sari fabric to fill it in! It’s a nice little accent piece now.

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Sitting in this dress was a trick. While the top is very loose, the skirt is very slim. I don’t have huge hips by any means, but the skirt was far too tight even though I have the recommended hip measurement for a size 12 (36″). If you have a large derriere or thighs, going up a size or two in the hips would be prudent!

Here’s the dress on my more-to-size sewing dummy:

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I think I did a pretty bang up job of nailing the inspiration image. I have the trim for the bottom saved if I ever lose fit into this dress and want some more pizzazz.

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My dress form has a longer torso than me, so the dress hangs better on it. If you are short waisted, you may want to shorten the top of the skirt so the hips fall in the correct place.

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I haven’t made the dickey yet, so I tucked some antique lace into the neckline.

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I added the little rosette from the drawing by cutting motifs from the sari scraps and mounting them on a pinback.

 Despite my stumbles, this pattern went together quickly. It took about a week of sewing 2 hours a day, so 14 hours? Was it Easy? No. Is it suitable for a beginner? I’d say yes. It uses basic techniques and combines them to form an interesting, pleasant-looking design. If you’ve had a bit of sewing practice and are ready for a more complex project, this is a good candidate. I am not a serious seamstress and made a lot of errors from the start, so I wouldn’t say that my experience is what you should expect. If you have the right tools (*cough* zipper foot *cough*) and pay careful attention to sizing, then this pattern will go together very nicely. I certainly like my mistake-filled mockup and look forward to fixing the mistakes in a future dress!

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Dress Stats:

Butterick 6093 – $1.99, Hancocks or Joanns…I don’t remember
Full sized cotton flat sheet – $2.99, Thrift Town
Sari – $22.49, eBay (I still have the bulk of the sari left over since I only used the first yard. So, like $5 worth?)
Pinback – $0.79, Hoby Lobby
1 22″ “invisible” zipper – $4.43, Walmart
Iron-on hem tape – leftovers from a $1.49 roll so free-ish

Total: $16.69

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See my latest version and updated review!

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Buying an eBay Corset Part II: Historically Accurate and Off-the-Rack

Finding a Historical Victorian Corset on eBay

This article is a continuation of Part I, so check out that article first for more information.

Let’s start this off by saying I make just enough to get life done and I don’t really have time to attend tons of events anymore, so I feel guilty investing $500 in a custom corset that I will wear in public, at most, 2 times a year. For that much, I could pay rent and buy two-weeks worth of food! I am also impatient, lazy, and incredibly miserly. I don’t live in a place where corsets can be bought from a shop or ordered from a tailor. All I have right now is myself, my cats, the desert, and an internet connection. So, as every penny-pinching lady in my family has done before me, I used what I had on hand: DSL and hours of mad scrolling.

Okay, to begin, here’s what I was after:

Athletic Corset, circa 1885

“Ball’s corset company specialized in creating healthful corsets and those appropriate for active wear. This particular type of corset was flexible, made possible by the shirred elastic sections over the interior coiled wire spring system. It was designed for women to wear while participating in athletic activities such as horseback riding, while still maintaining the acceptable silhouette of the period. According to Ball’s advertising, incorporating the coiled springs into the corsets was a ‘revolution in corsets.'” -The Met

The 1880s produced the “classic” corset shape, so it is the easiest to find. I wanted a corset that was simple and functional. Ribbons, lace, and brocade are all gorgeous, but a corset is like a bra: pretty things look great alone, but can sometimes be a nuisance under clothes. I wanted something I could wear under anything without worrying about strange bumps or bright blue brocade showing through a thin gown. I stumbled across this corset in the Met and I immediately knew that this was the corset I needed. The side springs I knew I probably wouldn’t find, but most modern corsets have spiral steel boning which is more flexible and comfortable than other types of bones, including plastic. I wanted something that would give me a more period-appropriate size and shape without suffocating or stabbing me.

Criteria for my Cheap eBay Historical Corset:

Budget of $75 (including shipping)
White or cream
Satin or Cotton
Back lacing
Spiral steel bones
Overbust
Capable of reducing waist 2-3 inches
1880s in shape

LET THE SEARCH BEGIN!

Here are four tips I learned when shopping for a corset:

PICTURES LIE. It applies in life and it applies to corset buying. Live models are especially deceiving because they make the corset look like it will make you smaller and hourglassed. However, Photoshop exists and these ladies are naturally tiny. Look for photos of the corset itself if you can. The worst listings are the ones where they’ve stretched or warped the picture so you can’t even tell what shape the corset is! GAAAAAA! Also, be on the lookout for fakes.

Make sure the corset has all steel bones. Many sellers will list “steel bones,” but the piece itself will actually only have a few while the rest are plastic. Some even list steel bones, but are all plastic with a steel busk.

When you find a corset with all steel bones, make sure the listing says how many. Many are all steel boned, but only have 8 or 10 bones. If you just want the support so your gowns sit right, these are fine for that, but they will not effectively reduce your waist or give you an hourglass. A really good corset will have 16-24 spiral steel bones with a few flat steel ones in the back by the laces. You can find corsets with even more bones (up to 60!), but most are from professional corset makers…far out of my price range.

Laces should always be in the back. Check out the picture of the laces to determine if it is properly laced or not. First, check what it’s laced with. Shoestring laces are generally stronger and more discreet than ribbon laces. Second, check how it is laced. If it ties with a bow at the top or bottom, either the manufacturer knows nothing about how a corset functions or it’s just for looks. Either way, skip it. Look for laces that are knotted at the bottom and have long tying loops in the middle of the back. Why the middle? Well, if you want your waist to be smallest, it makes sense to have the pulling ends where you want to pull in the most!

After a few hours of searching and a few days of arguing with my wallet, here’s the one I settled on:

Satin Corset, circa 2012

It’s satin, fully boned with 20 spirals, 6 flats, and has a steel busk and grommets in the back. It is cotton lined as well with sturdy cotton waist tape and a modesty panel (I removed it). Most corsets advertise a 4 inch reduction in waist size, but fall short. This one actually gets you down 3 inches– more on that later! The size charts you find in most listings will list natural waist sizes next to the corset size, for example a 22 inch corset will fit a natural waist between 26 and 27 inches (usually considered a size s-xs). Measurements, however, vary from seller to seller, so check those charts closely! For example, the chart for this particular corset listing looks like this:

I have a 28 inch waist. Do you see the quandary? According to their chart, I would fit in anything from a medium to an xsmall! I decided to go with the average, a small. If you are looking to reduce your waist at all, make sure your natural waist measurement falls in the middle or top of your size bracket. For example if you have a 30 inch natural waist and they suggest a large for 30 inch to 34 inch waists, go down a size.  However, trouble again arose when I tried to select a size from the drop-down menu:

According to this new menu, a 28 inch waist was actually the very upper limit of the small’s capacity! This is the hardest part of buying an off-the-rack corset online: measurements. However, I opted to go with the small. I paid $59.95 for my corset, well under my budget. I was a little miffed that I found a similar one at a Chinese wholesaler later, but Glamorous Corset Boutique on eBay was stateside so I didn’t have to mess with customs, plus they shipped super fast and free so I received it in the mail in just 4 days! Would I buy from them again? Yes.

After getting my new corset in the mail,  it was time for the moment of truth: the initial try-on. Prior experience in theater had educated me that the first time you try on a fresh corset, you will need help lacing it because the garment has not yet molded to your body. My sister agreed to help me and much stereotypical tugging and pulling occurred.

You can lace yourself up by tightening the consecutive “rungs” of your corset from top to middle then bottom to middle, but it’s fun to have someone else to giggle with as you hold onto a doorway! For those of you who have never laced before, it’s important that you don’t try to lace your corset as tight as you can right away. If you lace too tight too quickly, you’ll experience all the problems we’ve come to associate with corsets: shortness of breath, back pain, bruises, chafing, and sore ribs. If you lace slowly, however, your corset will bother you no more than your bra– sometimes less! For example, we laced 28 inch me down only to 27.5 inches. That may not seem like much, but remember a corset and a liner/chemise adds thickness over your body, so my waist was actually down to about 27 inches. That’s quite enough for the first fitting. I pranced around the house freely in it. Here I am after three days of wearing it at 26 inches:

I know, I know, tied at the front, but the strings get really long and I have a rambunctious small kitten that kept following me around attacking my corset strings as they slithered behind me! Also, you can see how the hips are a little too big.

It’s important to wear your corset for a few hours a day to get used to it before tightening it further. How tightly you can lace your corset depends on your body type, especially your fat-to-muscle ratio. I highly recommend reading the Dreamstress article “What Size Should Your Corset Be and How Tightly Should You Lace It?” for more information. It’s an amazing post and answers almost all the questions you might have about the general function and fitting of corsets!

Click to visit the Dreamstress blog

Eventually, I got this corset to close fully at 25 inches: the perfect waist size for wearing extant or reproduction Victorian pieces. I am rather “squishy,” so wearing a corset actually feels great!

My waist at 25 inches. That makes my measurements 36-25-35.

I love how this particular corset draws you into a gentle hourglass without jabbing you– praise the corset gods for flexible, spiral steel bones! For historical waist reduction, aim to reduce your waist about 2-3 inches. Keep in mind that as you wear your corset, it will stretch and mold to your individual body, so you shouldn’t share corsets with someone else.

No matter how many pictures of bare-skinned models you see, if you corset without a liner, you will get rope burns on your back.

Corset Burn. It doesn’t hurt during, but afterwards…..yikes!

I use a regular $3 cotton tank from Walmart as my liner/chemise. Many corsets come with a “modesty panel” flap sewn on one side to protect your back, but I remove mine. Unless they are also boned and floating (not sewn in), these flaps will crumple and get in your way. It is much, much better to wear a separate garment underneath you corset instead. I like modern cotton tank tops with some Spandex in them. These will hug your body and not wrinkle up. Wrinkles are the worst! I also like full-stretch tanks from Rue21 and the like for the same reason. They bunch even less than cotton, but you will sweat more. Which brings me to the next reason to always wear a liner: hygiene. Corsets should never be washed in a machine and shouldn’t even be hand washed if you can avoid it. Water will corrode the steel bones. A liner is easy to change and wash. Wear one!

The biggest challenge for me is “the Girls.” I am very top heavy and they are not…well, I hate to admit it, but they are neither firm nor perky. Victorian gowns (and many modern clothes) have a higher bust level than mine, so it’s impossible to fill out a dress properly without extra support. In addition to my new overbust corset, I like to wear a bra underneath. It’s not very historically accurate, but it’s in the spirit of these:

Bust Enhancers and Cover, circa 1890

The only issue with the corset I chose is that it’s made for someone with a B cup, so my 34 DDs runneth over at times, but a tight chemise/shirt or a bra keeps them in check. The hips also wrinkle a little because my 35 inch hips are Barbie-tiny, but 1870s-1890s gowns have full skirts fluffed out with petticoats anyways, so you cannot tell. Also, it means that I have no problems sitting or even riding a bike, which, by the way, I totally did:

1 hour after that first photo of me: Sweatier, but very pleased. Proof that a good liner will save your day (and your corset)!

It’s good to exercise if you plan on wearing a corset for long periods of time. Since the bones in the corset are doing all the work fighting gravity, your abs go on vacation.

In addition to being exciting, relatively simple, and cheap, buying an off-the-rack, mail order corset is super historically accurate!

This corset advertisement is from the 1897 Sears, Roebuck, and Co. mail order catalog. I have a Sears catalog from 1902 that still has the same kind of listing, just different styles of corsets since the fashionable shape began to change. Both catalogs feature a whole section of corsets ladies can send for by mail. At the top of the section is always a fitting guide that offers the same advice we follow today! Most Victorian ladies were on a budget, so buying the best, most fitted corset was out of their reach. It’s quite historically accurate for your corset to be a little wrinkled in spots, or even for the top edge to be visible under your dress if you are wearing everyday clothes, so don’t worry if your eBay corset doesn’t fit like a glove. For example, this photograph from my collection shows a young lady with the same fit problem I have:

I am very happy with my current corset! I’m giving up my press-on nail habit for the next year to save for my next corseting adventure.

Goodbye, perfect nails. Hello, perfect waist!

I’m going to finish my “Teacher Dress” soon, so you can see the corset in action. :)

Here’s a handy-dandy list of things to look for in a good corset and why.

16-24 Spiral Steel Bones
A steel-boned corset is weighty and will pull you in comfortably.
Cotton Lining
Helps keep you comfortable and strengthens the corset.
Waist Tape
Keeps the seams from pulling and helps compress the waist.
Center-back Cinching
You want to tie your corset at the waist, not the top or bottom.
Strong Busk
A wide busk will not deform or twist. Always loosen your corset as much as possible when clasping and unclasping the busk.
4 to 5 inches smaller than your natural waist
Allow extra space to lace it tighter than your natural waist.

Happy Corsetting!