Patterning a corset from scratch

Patterning a corset from scratch is like playing chess. You make your move then the corset makes a move right back at you. Having some experience would probably help but I want to make the corset first.

I have a couple of retail corsets but they aren't all that comfortable. I think they were designed for women and my form is more male. I can put a whole hand underneath from the top and bottom, and the tight bit at the waist gives me back pain. I want to fix that with something home made, and also wanted to produce something in an 1870s style to act as a foundation for a future project.

I'm really bad at thinking things through before I start a project. Instead I justify myself as being creative while I figure stuff out as I go along. I have no idea what I am doing but normally have a better learning experience when I give something a shot. I'm going for a single layer corset made from cotton coutil.

I started off by printing out an 1870 corset pattern, but while my weight is lower than average my waist is still 15 inches wider than the pattern and that demands a logic change more than any adjustment. So I found a DIY pattern on the internet and drafted it on paper to my own measurements. The sections came out an odd shape - probably they weren't expecting someone with my measurements to come along and I made their maths go wrong. So I decided to pattern a corset myself.

Patterning (and structural engineering for corsets)

patterning with a ribbon on the dressform

Patterning went well. I marked out the dressform with narrow ribbon pinned to the dressform, and taking inspiration from the 1870 pattern I spaced the seams at the top evenly at 3 inch intervals, then put the seams at the bottom closer together at the front than the rear as the stomach is going to be the bit that needs the most support. The seams were kept straight as I want to cover them with boning channels.

Corsets are all about tension and compression. The structural part of the corset will need fairly straight edges top and bottom to maintain tension.

It is possible to use the bones a bit for compression which should allow some deviation from a straight edge top and bottom. Also boning should help with fundamental issues with patterning. If they are intentional then good, but I'm leaving the top of the boning channel open in my mockups to help detect unwanted issues.

Draping

draping on the dressform

I draped in calico and ended up with a nice pattern. The photos show the rear panels cut out from the first drape. The second attempt at draping the front is in progress because I forgot a couple of things on the first attempt.

OK I didn't forget the breastforms on the first attempt and had other ideas, but decided things would work better if I included them under the corset. The V shaped Victorian bodice ideal will not happen without breasts.

There is some creasing around the princess line because of the pins and because the seams are slightly different lengths on either side. Sewing a mockup quickly fixes that but will require the top and bottom to be marked up again.

I went straight to a mockup without drawing out the pattern. I just copied the new right side panels directly from the left side I had draped. This reduces accuracy but the right side in the mockup is only really there to tension the left side, and as long as the front and rear seams are straight and in the middle you can keep modifying the left side and pattern it later.

The first mockup

the first mockup

I was surprised to find the mockup was a very tight but comfortable fit. It was draped with a 2 inch gap at the back, but I forgot about that and had sewn the whole thing together. The right side had come out a bit big so true compression was only around 1 inch overall.

Without boning the mockup wants to follow the bust shape quite strongly which isn't quite what I intend for this corset. What I really wanted from the mockup at this stage was to check the top and bottom lines were roughly OK so I could order the busk and boning at the right length and would be able to reuse them in the final corset. The boning and busk will need to be in there before further adjustments as they will affect the fit. Also I found calico too stretchy so the next mockup will be in coutil.

While they were on order I added a 2 inch panel in the back to represent the lacing and that made the corset was too wide generally. I removed around 1/8 inch evenly from every seam for around a 1 inch total reduction. Then I tried it on again, breathed in, and worked out how much I could pinch the seams at a few different heights on the corset. This ought to help with a starting point for the next mock up.

I am deviating a bit from the 1870 corset. Victorians used them to push the breast upwards but I want to hold them where they are so am going slightly higher with the top of the corset. It is far too high in the photo but I'll wait until the second mockup before I decide the height.

Drafting the initial pattern

The iniitial pattern

The photo shows the finished pattern with the 1870 corset pattern from the Prior Attire book (positioned above). It is reassuring (ignoring the differences in waist size) that the majority of panels taper in and out in a similar way given that my version was made from first principles rather than a pattern. The pattern is only for one side, and is numbered 1 to 6 from front to back starting on the left.

To draft the pattern I pinned each panel from the mock up onto paper, then used a pin to prick holes along the seamlines. After removing the mock up I lightly penciled lines between the pinholes. The line was a bit oddball so to make it smoother I used a steel TIG welding rod pinned at both ends of each curve and pushed it to represent the curve as well as possible, then used that to draw the template line. I don't like the bendy curves normally used for this sort of thing as they don't tend to hold a smooth curve so well.

At this stage I had a snugly fitting pattern that perfectly followed my belly curve. From the breathing in experiment above I wanted to remove 1 inch from the bust and the lower ribcage and 2 inches from the waist. I was only working on one side so needed to reduce by 0.5 inches and 1 inch respectively.

First step was to find the panels where the belly curved outwards (that was the 3 panels to the left). I replaced the belly bulge with a straight line and in total that got me halfway to target. I noticed the Victorian pattern had the most waist curve on the middle (side) panels which makes sense as that would pull the whole belly inwards. I removed the rest from those panels with half removed from the side seam and the rest from the two seams on either side. I removed material from both panels of each seam but I can see a potential problem with the maths with an alteration on one seam having an effect on the next, but this is just a pattern for another mockup and I expect the seams can be straightened after another trial fit.

For the bust I took a little off the seams between the first 3 panels because the bust is at the front. The lower ribcage looked after itself after connecting everything together with smooth lines.

Second mockup first fitting

First fitting of the second corset mockup

Something went wrong! I used cotton coutil for the second mockup so I could be working with the same stiffness of material as the final corset. I must admit it didn't go as planned, but it's worth a photo as it is good to see other people's mistakes. I really have no idea what I am doing.

The photo was the first fitting. The lacing gap should have been 2 inches all the way from top to bottom, but it ended up miles out. I thought at first it was sitting too low, but the breast and waist lines are pretty close.

I forgot to put the boning in at the rear edge beside the lacing eyes which might account for some of the wrinkling at the back. The center front isn't boned yet either.

Apart from the pressure on the hips and armpits the corset is comfy - there is no pressure on the spine, possibly because I haven't used a waist tape. Also it is quite lightweight so hopefully won't be too hot in the summer.

Second fitting

Second fitting

I figured out the problem - I don't know how to lace a corset! I had laced from the top which pushed the belly downwards. It's the belly I want to reduce, and starting lacing at the belly makes the lacing gap straighter and also improves the shape. The top is still too loose - in the photo I haven't tightened the lacing much above the waist.

Having the upper back less tight improves the shape. A wider upper back allows for a greater taper to the waist, and also reduces bulges at the back and arms.

Now I have something to work with. The top is a little loose around the bust so that will need some fiddling, and the bottom edge of the corset is now tight on the hip bone which causes back pain.

The wrinkling at the back and the boning pushing out suggests the back is longer than it wants to be. If I draw a line 90 degrees from the lower back there is no fabric on that line to hold the tension so it will tend to pull up. Victorian corsets often tapered upwards towards the back so I'll do some shortening.

Materials

I bought 1m of cotton coutil from Sew Curvey along with all the other stuff you need to make a corset.

More later....

I'm just writing as I go along as it helps me figure stuff out.

The corset is in white, but don't worry I'm not planning a wedding. The white will match the white linen chemise which will be worn underneath. I've not made the chemise yet but I do have the real linen.

So far the thing I have figured out is I need to take up cycling again.