Tiny Corseted Waists of the Edwardian Era

If you research Edwardian fashion online for two minutes, you’ll immediately find hysteria about the poor fainting women, oppressed by their corsets and struggling to breathe. This is due partly to all the photographs we have of women with exaggerated hourglass figures that many people today find unnerving. Then we tend to assume that the waist actually is as small as the photograph would lead us to believe- but there actually may be several other factors going on, such as the optical illusion of S-bend corsets, the proportions of the clothing, Edwardian photoshopping, and many other possibilities. I’m writing this post in hopes of clarifying exactly how small were these women, what’s real, what’s fake, and how does Belle Epoque corsetry actually work.

First of all, it’s helpful to know that the Edwardian era was a highly aesthetic period in fashion history.

We refer to the rough era of the 1870s to World War I as the Belle Epoque, or Epoch of Beauty. The standards of living dramatically improved for the upper class at that time, and it was a relatively peaceful time for Europe and America, so people became focused on the aesthetic value of things as well as the practical. Whenever there’s a time of peace, fashion develops better and people have more time to think about how they dress. This is one reason why tightlacing started to become popular with some people in the late Victorian and Edwardian era.

Another thing that’s important to know is that people generally had different body types in the early 1900s than we do today.

If you were a 20 year old woman in the Edwardian era, you were born any time between the 1880s and mid 1890s, so you would have been accustomed to corsetry from an early age. While I am a proponent of wearing corsets for the health and beauty reasons, I don’t think you should have children wear fully-boned corsets with the intent of waist training them early on. But most people had been wearing corsets since childhood, and that makes your lower ribs and abdominal muscles quite flexible, so therefore you can reduce your waist more easily.

Here’s a child corset from the 1890s.

And here’s an 1892 ad for children’s corsets.

Another factor is nutrition and how it relates to overall body size. Victorian and Edwardian food was not nearly as sugary or fat-filled as it is today, and some people just didn’t get enough nutrition in general, so people were generally shorter and thinner at that time than they are today. Take my 1910 tea dress which I bought at an antique store. It is the perfect length and width for me. Do you know how impossible it is for a 5’2″ girl to find a long dress or skirt that’s short enough to fit these days? Pretty much nobody sells skirts that short unless they’re a brand that specializes in petite sizes. Shoes in the early 20th century were usually pretty tiny as well.

With all this being said, we can argue that Edwardians had naturally smaller measurements than people today (though I have seen plus size pictures of Edwardian clothing too, but it was less common back then).

So yes, people were smaller back then, but there were also optical illusion factors involved in corsetry.

First of all, one little-known fact about corsets is that the ones with big reductions, reduce way more at the sides than they do at the front.

To see for yourself why this makes sense, put one hand on your stomach and another hand on your back. Then squeeze your waist slightly as if you are trying to make it smaller. It doesn’t feel good, does it? It puts uncomfortable pressure on the diaphragm and gives you that panicky “I can’t breathe” feeling. Then, put one hand on your left side and one hand on your right side, underneath your ribs. You can squeeze your waist a lot and not feel uncomfortable, and still breathe just fine, because the sides are way more flexible than the front and back. Now use your common sense- if you were making a corset, would you put more pressure on the rigid front and back, or on the soft and flexible sides?

I love this picture of an Edwardian girl in her corset because the mirrors show us all the angles of the corset. Compare the front and back view with the side view. Do you see how, when viewed from the side, her waist looks bigger than it does from the front?

If you look at it from the side, it hardly looks like her waist has been reduced at all. But from the front, it looks kind of startling to a modern audience. This is one of the optical illusion factors of a corset. I find this fascinating because it can make you look like you’ve reduced your waist a lot when you’ve only reduced it a little bit.

The proportions of Edwardian clothing also help make the waist look smaller. Check out all the ways you can pad your bust out:

You can wear a ruffled corset cover…

Or padded “bust improvers…”

…Or a boned bust improver.

Padding out the bust makes the waist appear proportionally smaller. They also had hip pads to do the same thing.

You know what was another trick? Really big hats. If you think about it, you can pad your hips and bust to create a fake hourglass figure, but not really fool anybody because your head is still relatively small in proportion to your body, and so you just look bigger overall as a result. But if you have super long hair, you can pile it up in a really big updo, and wear a really big hat, making your head appear to be bigger and, therefore, your waist smaller.

Take this picture as an example.

Some people might be tempted to cringe at the tiny-looking waist. But take away the fluffy bodice, the poofy hair and the big hat, and you will observe that her waist is not reduced to an extreme at all.

Another point is that Edwardians sometimes photoshopped their pictures.

Yep, you heard me right. While there was obviously no digital technology back then, we do know that Edwardians would often hand-tint the photos with paint to alter the photo. Take a look at this picture.

I found some people on Pinterest hysterically screaming about how horrible this is. But it just kind of makes me laugh…. I mean it’s so obvious that this was touched up by hand! That would be super easy to do with the black background. Just grab some ink, do a few brushstrokes and there you go, you get a cartoonishly tiny figure. Often in this situation you just have to cut through the hysteria and get to the common sense. Your ribs could physically not fit if this picture were actually real. This picture represents an exaggerated beauty ideal that was not feasible for anyone.

All this leaves one final question. Did anybody actually do extreme tightlacing, where you reduce your waist by 6 inches or more?

I’m certain at least some people did. But not everybody. People who were really rich or famous, and could afford to not do physically taxing activities, did tightlacing much more frequently than, say, the working class people.

Here are some middle class women who are probably still wearing corsets, but obviously not tightlacing.

Meanwhile here are pictures of Queen Maud of Norway. Many historical costumers don’t think her pictures are photoshopped, but that she actually did tightlace.

Even in these pictures, though, you can still see that her bust and hips are padded out a bit, adding to the optical illusion.

I don’t have a problem with this. Some modern corset wearers, such as Lucy’s Corsetry, know how to achieve these sort of proportions in a safe way.

I hope you enjoyed this Corset Mythbusting post! I love doing these. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our ancestors were regular people, just like us, who lived normal lives and their clothing had to accommodate that. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Photos of Lily Elsie: My Style Icon

If I had to look and dress exactly like someone else, excluding myself, for the rest of my life, I would probably choose to dress like Lily Elsie. She is probably the most photographed woman of the Edwardian era and she represents the fashion ideal from that time. A quick search on Pinterest for “Edwardian fashion” or “Edwardian women” or “Edwardian actresses” or pretty much any other Edwardian search you can think of- it won’t be long before you discover Lily Elsie and the dozens of photographs we have of her.

Most of the photographs of her are from between 1907 and 1914, when her career as an actress and opera singer was at its peak.

Apparently she was extremely shy, and theater was pretty much the only outlet where she could come out of her shell. I’ve also read that she often underestimated herself in her performance abilities.

One way I can kind of relate to Lily Elsie is the way she had to friendzone a lot of gentlemen. She was reluctant to give her heart away to just anyone, and she had a lot of suitors as you can imagine… Apparently she once said that “I am always rude to men, and the ruder I am the more they like me.”

Unfortunately, she lived a rather unhappy life in her later years. In 1911 she married, but it was an unhappy marriage that only lasted until 1930. If I were to guess I would say the marriage probably was not her idea. She also suffered from several mental health problems in her older age.

Her career as a singer and actress was fairly short, partly because she didn’t have the strength to endure a full performance schedule. It is likely that she had anemia (iron deficiency). Apparently her colleagues were irritated with the way she often backed out of performances. Perhaps they weren’t respecting her sensitive personality, but it’s also very possible that she was high-maintenance and difficult to deal with.

Everyone at this time wanted to look like Lily Elsie. I can’t say I blame them! The “Merry Widow hat” came into style because she wore it in her iconic 1907 performance.

In the above picture you can see that she obviously had more of the Gibson Girl hairstyle and blouse style. It wasn’t long before she adopted the tighter Grecian hairstyles and slim, Empire waist dresses of the 1910s. The 1910s hairstyles are clearly more suited to her face, so it makes me wonder if she was one of the first people to make them popular.

Below is probably my favorite portrait of Lily Elsie.

By today’s standards, Lily Elsie’s round face, strong eyebrows and demure vibe would make her a bit of an “unconventional” beauty. The standard of how people want to look changes all the time. But I also think Lily Elsie had something very timeless and universally appealing. It’s sad that she didn’t live a very happy life, but learning about her and the world she lived in is truly fascinating.

 

The Underrated Awesomeness of 1930s Fashion

The 20th Century is an era that most people know something about, regarding the fashion. A large percentage of the population today (myself included) was born in the 20th century, and we have a lot of popular media portrayals of the various decades. People often have a vague idea of the flapper fashion of the 20s, the poodle skirts of the 50s, the bell bottom jeans of the 70s, and the shoulder pads of the 80s. Those are probably the best-known decades. Most people can even associate the 1910s with Titanic fashion, the 40s with World War II and the 60s with Audrey Hepburn. But what about the 30s? What the heck was fashion like in the 30s? It was the Great Depression then, so they must have not really cared about fashion…. right?

WRONG!

As I have come to realize in my 20th century fashion research, the 1930s is easily one of the best fashion decades of all time. Despite the economic hardship in America at that time, people still made an effort to look nice, and they made the most out of their restrictions on materials. In order to understand the fashion attitudes in the 30s, let’s take a step back and look at the teens and twenties.

I think of the 1910s as a transition era and the 20s as a backlash. The 20s is not my favorite, because they rejected everything I liked about the Edwardian era- the feminine curves, the ruffles, the lace, the sense of dignified elegance. Instead they opted for boxy dresses that are pretty much flattering to no one. Thankfully, they didn’t get rid of ALL the good things- at least they kept the sparkly beading and the overall sense of class that we just don’t seem to have anymore. And there were some benefits to the 1920s, including the fact that no one was forced to cover their ankles anymore, and there was no shame in bare arms or deep necklines.

By the time the 20s came to a close, people had pretty much gotten the backlash attitude out of their systems. After ten years of wearing unflattering dresses, but at the same time making the statement that it’s okay to show a little skin, we started to make actual progress again. Desire to flatter the figure + confidence in showing off the body rather than hiding it + early 20th century classiness = absolutely gorgeous 1930s fashion.

Some of the things I love most about 1930s fashion are the low backs, the figure-hugging silhouette, and the insanely awesome sleeves.

First, let’s talk about the low backs. This was just starting to become a thing in the 30s. People started to say “It’s okay to show the legs and arms now, and a little bit of cleavage, so let’s show off our backs too.”

In addition to the celebrity photos, we also have dress patterns and fashion plates that offer a low back.

One thing to keep in mind about the 30s is that people were pretty skinny, in general. With the Great Depression, people weren’t able to eat as much, and the foods they had were not nearly as fattening as they are today. (They actually had advertisements for supplements you could take to gain weight on purpose!) And if you’re skinny, one of your greatest assets is your back. That’s probably one reason why it was so popular to have those plunging backs in the evening dresses. Keep in mind that this wasn’t the case for day dresses- nobody would be out dressed like this during the day doing their normal activities.

In these pictures, you can also note the silhouette which I really adore. The skirts were slim and clung closely to the hips, and they often had bias-cut (diagonal) seams in order to achieve more of a curve. I also love the flare at the bottom of the skirts, and the accents at the shoulders. 1930s fashion is most flattering to rectangle shaped (boxy) and hourglass figures. The day dresses, while not quite as dramatic as the evening dresses, have this same flattering, elongating silhouette.

(Man, if everyone in college dressed like that today, I would love that so much!)

(Does the style of the above dress look familiar? Cold shoulder tops were actually a thing in the 30s! And a very popular thing, just like it is today. I believe this is when it started.)

(I love those oxford shoes with that classy outfit! Could we just adopt this sort of look as the standard for casual wear again? Please?)

Granted, not everybody was able to dress like that all the time. For the people who were really hitting economic hard times, they didn’t have the means to keep up with the trends like this. But notice how these day dresses and evening dresses are pretty conservative on the use of fabric. The skirts are pretty slim, and usually about knee length for the day dresses. Compare that to the poofy princess skirts of the 1950s, when most people could afford to do that!

Finally, here are some of my favorite examples of Epic 1930s Sleeves. They were so creative with sleeves in this decade- from Grecian cape sleeves to cute ruffled sleeves to peasant sleeves with cool slits…. well, just take a look for yourself!

(The picture above shows more evidence of the cold shoulder.)

(Look at those awesome slit peasant sleeves!! We need to do that today, since peasant blouses are so popular right now.)

 

There are countless other examples of awesome 1930s fashion. Take a look at my 1920s-50s board on Pinterest. You’ll have to filter through the 20s, 40s and 50s pictures on there too, but pretty much all fashion from the first half of the 20th century is pretty awesome.

All this discussion of the 1930s brings me to the official announcement of my next project….

*drum roll*

…a 1930s inspired Snow White gown! Sometime last year I decided to draw Snow White in the style of her movie’s decade.

30s Snow White- Illustrator

I never thought I’d be making an actual project out of it, but I found out that this year/next year is the 80th anniversary of Disney’s Snow White (premiered in December 1937, released to the public in February 1938, I believe.) So I thought, how perfect would it be to actually make this dress! I already bought a pattern that I’m going to use for the skirt. I’m going to draft the bodice myself.

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I want to make more progress on the 1912 ballgown before moving on to this, so stay tuned!

Plus, Snow White is the only brown-eyed Caucasian princess. (Believe it or not, Belle doesn’t exactly have brown eyes.) She would probably be my best choice for a Disney princess cosplay anyway!

It’s sad that people have forgotten a lot of the cool fashion trends of the 30s, but some of them seem to be coming back. I would love to revive even more of this decade.

I hope you take a look at my Pinterest board, and don’t forget to answer the reader survey if you haven’t already. It will help me get a better feel for the type of people in this audience so I can create more content that’s relevant to you. Thanks for reading!

Making Edwardian Combinations (Chemise and Drawers)

One of the disadvantages about living in the Edwardian era is that you never got to show off your chemise, corset or petticoat- even though those foundation garments are absolutely adorable! I absolutely love some of the more “scandalous” photos from the 1900s and 1910s of the girls in their corsets and petticoats.

Victorian Undergarments | The Dusty Victorian: Victorian Underwear in my Laundry Room - Part I

Resque ladies of the 30's | When the skirts grow shorter, underpants grew shorter too. Through the ...

Edwardian undergarments

pinup, early 20th century style

underpinnings.  I think she has just unfastened her bodice.  Corset (no cover) tied at back.  Petticoat (or drawers, i guess) must be held low in front by the corset hook.  Chemise under the corset.

I know these girls were probably “being bad” by the standards from back then, but I just love the look of those ruffly drawers and petticoats worn with corsets! That’s why I was super excited to make my combinations to be worn under my 1912 ballgown.

A quick refresher for those who don’t know/remember much about underwear in the 1900s and 1910s: No one would ever wear their corset right up against their skin. There’s no way to wash all the oil and sweat from your body off the corset, and who would want to feel that rigid boning right up against their bare skin anyway? That’s why they wore a chemise under the corset. A “combination” is just a chemise combined with drawers. A chemise is a knee-length, strapless dress (with short sleeves or straps) and drawers are wide, short “pants” with an open crotch. (Meaning it’s wide open at the bottom…. so you can use the bathroom without having to completely undress. Awkward, yes, but very practical if you’re wearing, like, three skirts!)

Here are some examples of combinations from the era:

http://www.antiquedress.com/item369p.htm

http://www.antiquedress.com/item4873.htm

Edwardian Chemise

As you can see, these things look like dresses, because the drawer legs are so wide- but they are actually more like rompers. Even though these garments are the least likely to be seen, they still have the full detail and elegance of Edwardian fashion- complete with lace insets, ruffles, pintucks, you name it. They also supported the “pigeon breast” silhouette from that time, with a lot of volume and drooping in the bust area.

Now that you know roughly what a combination chemise is and what it looks like, let’s dive right in to the process involved in making one!

~Drafting the Pattern~

As some of you may know, I prefer the flexibility of drafting everything I sew (figuring out by myself what the pieces should look like) instead of buying a pattern. There would have been no shame in buying a good pattern from a place like Old Petticoat Shop, since these patterns are typically made by historical costuming experts. I tend to have a lot more fun drafting things myself or at least making my own pattern, but I wanted to do it right this time. It’s hard to create the right silhouette if you have a modern brain and no instructions. So, luckily enough, I stumbled upon this amazing resource from archive.com! It’s The American System of Dressmaking, a dressmaker’s textbook…. printed in the early 1900s! The version I found had the copyright renewed in 1910, so I figured it would be current enough to work with my project.

I could talk forever about this textbook and how cool it is (and they even made a creepy prediction about the drastic change of fashion in the 1920s, well before anyone knew it was coming….) But basically, it had instructions at the very beginning on how to draft a basic bodice, so I had to learn how to do that before following the instructions in Chapter 17 on drafting combinations. If anyone’s curious to try this themselves, the basic bodice drafting instructions start on page 57, and the instructions for the combinations start on page 509. It’s kind of hard to follow the language if you don’t know all the terminology. For example, you have to know that “waist” sometimes refers to the narrowest point of your figure, and sometimes it refers to a blouse. I just looked up all the terms I didn’t understand.

I’m not going to go through an in-depth explanation on how to follow these directions- I’ll just say that I followed them as closely as possible and made some minor alterations as needed. My pattern looked roughly like this.

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It’s a pretty generic bodice with roughly triangular pieces for the drawer legs, but the most important thing to notice here is that the waist is slanting downward- that proved to be pretty important in supporting the pigeon breast shape. I don’t think I would have thought to do that myself.

As you can see by the ruler, I drew the pattern to one eighth scale or something like that, so I had to rescale all the measurements when I translated it to the actual fabric. I cut the bodice and drawer pieces separately, since most of the extant garments have a waist seam.

~Construction~

After I cut out all the pieces, I had seven in all: two bodice fronts, one bodice back, two drawer fronts and two drawer backs. They had to be stitched together vertically at the sides and horizontally at the waist. Obviously the center front had to be left open and so did the center seams at the drawers. Before stitching the bodice pieces to the drawers, I had to gather them. Usually I do the drawstring gather method, by basting (loose stitching) the fabric to be gathered and pulling it to the desired length.

Oh, and hey- I finally managed to create some 4-way seam intersections that looked okay! This is the best it’s ever looked for me, I’m quite pleased!

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As always, the part that took the longest was finishing the seams! For the side seams at the bodice and drawers, I used this super helpful technique called French seams, which I discussed in the analysis of the antique tea dress. They work wonderfully for fine fabrics like cotton voile! Here’s how mine turned out at the side seams of the drawers.

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(By the time I learned about French seams, I had already done the waist and didn’t want to rip it apart again, so I finished them a different way.)

For the center front, I wanted a facing with buttons, so I just cut out long rectangles on the grain (as opposed to on the bias), and pressed them and stitched them to the front. When I make bias tape or plain rectangular strips for finishing edges, I press them in three steps: First, fold it in half and press it. Second, turn one of the edges in towards the crease, and pin it, and press it. Third, repeat step 2 for the other edge. Here’s steps 1 and 2:

This is the most efficient way to press bias tape or plain rectangular strips before stitching them over a raw edge. It saves you a lot of mistakes, as opposed to trying to do all three steps at once!

After stitching that onto the center front edges, I had to stitch the buttons and button holes on by hand. I used to have a buttonhole foot, but I somehow lost it…. Oh well, the Edwardians didn’t have buttonhole feet either! Surprisingly, it didn’t take too long.

Next, I added a ruffle to the bottom of the drawer legs. I originally cut the drawer legs too long, so that they were almost tea-length. I just cut off the bottom so that I had thick strips of fabric, and gathered the tops and reattached them to the bottom of the drawers.

And then…. there was a problem. A BIG problem.

The one drawer leg came out to be, like, three inches longer than the other!

I don’t really have an idea how this happened, but I think I was trying to make some adjustments to the inward-facing edges of the drawers and I didn’t check the symmetry, so the one leg came out to be much longer than the other.

I don’t have any pictures of my mad rush to get this massive blunder fixed, but basically I had to try to adjust the waist to pull up the longer drawer leg and let down the shorter one. My neatly finished waistline took quite the beating as a result, unfortunately. But I did manage to make the drawer legs look (almost) even, as you can see in this picture.

Edited in Lumia Selfie

As you may already know if you’re one of my Instagram followers, this produced another set of problems. The drawer legs were now too short! If you go back to the top of this post and look at the vintage photos, nobody had a drawer leg that was shorter than the kneecap. Drawers from this period ALWAYS covered the kneecap. I knew that I would feel really unhappy about this project if I didn’t do something about it, so I decided to add a second ruffle to the bottom.

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I cut out the new ruffles out of large rectangles (making sure they were thick enough to make the drawers the proper length!) and gathered the top with the drawstring method. I stitched them close to the top of the first ruffle, as you can see above, and trimmed the raw edge short enough that I could stitch down the previous French seam and cover it. It looked pretty good this way!

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(When the previous French seam was even, anyway…)

Adding the second ruffle helped SO much, and it added to the overall cuteness! Keep reading for the final pictures, but first….

~Embellishing the Neckline~

If there’s anything I learned from my antique 1910s tea dress, it’s that you simply cannot neglect the details in any Edwardian era pieces. It doesn’t matter if it’s underwear or outerwear, you really need to go the extra mile and add some sort of embellishment, even if it’s unseen or it doesn’t add to the functionality! This totally goes against the grain of our fast-paced modern lifestyle. I wanted this piece to have some of the excellence that the Edwardians would have put into it.

I had known from the beginning that I wanted to have lace at the neckline, but how to attach it? I found a great tutorial from Sew Historically about doing the “bermuda fagoting” stitch, which basically looks like a bunch of neat little holes in the fabric. I followed the tutorial and picked up threads from the lace in addition to the other fabric. It came out really beautiful, in a subtle kind of way.

~Final Thoughts~

For me, this is one of my best projects yet because I learned a lot from it. Mainly, I learned a lot about overall neatness and finishing seams properly. This is the first project where I can, with pride, show you pictures of the final product turned inside out!!

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Yep, that is inside out, people!! You can see there is some roughness at the waist because of all the adjustments I had to make to it. And there is some unevenness at the ruffles because I was in a hurry to do those. But otherwise, it came out really neat and pretty symmetrical.

I’m also really pleased with how the shape came out. There was a lot of fullness and a nice round shape at the front. I attest that to the downward-sloping slant of the waistline and the extra room for gathering.

Overall, I would rate this piece as 95% historically accurate. The 5% missing comes from the fact that my lace and the ribbons are polyester- boo! But the rest of the fabric is cotton voile, one of the most common fabrics for Victorian and Edwardian undergarments. The construction is 95 to 99 percent accurate since it was drafted from instructions from a 1910 textbook. The shape came out pretty accurate, with the rounded bodice front and the flared bottom at the skirt.

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This whole outfit just feels so cute and playful, I love it!

If you haven’t already, would you be so kind as to fill out my reader survey? It has questions about how you found the blog, what you like and dislike, what you would like to see more of, etc. I’d love to hear your feedback so I can write content more relevant to YOU! Thanks for reading!

Making Edwardian Bust Improvers

If you have at all followed my research about the Edwardian era (1901-1914), you may remember that the era is defined by a very curvy, full-chested silhouette. In order to make this possible, having the proper undergarments is a must, especially for those of us who don’t naturally have that kind of curvy figure!

If it’s been a while since you last read my analysis of the Edwardian era, or if you are checking out this blog for the first time, feel free to check out my previous posts on the fashions of the era.

Titanic Era Research, Part 1

Titanic Era Research, Part 2

~Why Make an Edwardian Bust Improver?~

To sum it up briefly, the silhouette from 1910 to 1914 had a long, slim skirt and a high waistline with a well-defined bust. To pull this off, you need slim hips and a slim waist, and a full chest. The super-long corset of the 1910s helps slim the waist and hips, but how do we handle the bust?

There were lots of options in the Edwardian era for those of us who are more on the flat chested side. One of these options is the ruffled corset cover.

(You could wear one of these cute ruffled tops over your corset to smooth out the harsh lines of your corset, and help out your bust in the process.)

I actually made one of these back in April, but didn’t finish it- I found that it doesn’t work very well under a tight bodice of a ballgown, because the ruffles kind of bunch up in a funny way and show through underneath the bodice. It sure came out cute, though! (If you follow me on Instagram, you have already seen this picture.)

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It’s a shame that it didn’t work out to wear with the ballgown, but it will work great if I ever make a loose everyday 1910s blouse in the future!

I still needed a solution to the bust problem, though. One problem with Edwardian corsets is that they’re so straight in the front and the cause you to lean forward- and this creates a gap between your body and the top of the corset. Combine that with being flat chested and there will be a really harsh transition line between the top of the corset and your body!

The solution I chose is to make a pair of padded bust improvers, or “falsies” as they used to be called. Most 1910s historical costumers have made one of these, based off a version we still have from the era- it is in a museum somewhere today.

These go into the top of the corset, and not only help increase the bustline, and also help smooth out the transition from the top of the corset. Atelier Nostalgia explains this very well in her blog post.

In this picture of a corset and bust improvers made by another historical costumer, you can see what I mean about the gap between the top of the corset and the body, and you can see how the bust improver fills it in.

Zeitenzauberin: Edwardian Underwear - how to wear bust improvers

~How I Made Mine~

Thankfully, the Edwardian bust improver is rather easy to make. It only took me about 3 or 4 hours to make mine… which is nothing compared to the 60+ hours required to make a corset! I would encourage anyone who is a beginner historical costumer to try one of these. They’re really easy, and they can even be worn today if you have a prom dress that’s too big around the bust or whatever.

Materials: Less than half a yard of cotton voile, white thread, batting (normally used for stuffed animals or pin cushions or whatever.) Some people embellish their bust improvers with lace, but I didn’t have a good kind of lace for that, so I left mine plain.

Pattern pieces: I made this out of three pieces- two large circles and one roughly rectangular/heart shaped piece. The latter, I made by measuring myself horizontally over the bust line and deciding where I wanted to stop on either side. It was about five inches tall, and I free-handed the peak at the bottom. (I believe that is there to help keep the bust improver deep down in the corset, so it doesn’t ride up.)

To make the circles, I laid my fabric over a bra that’s slightly too large for me, and folded it down around the edges and traced a circle around the bottom.

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Here are all the pieces after they were cut out.

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Construction: The construction was super easy, literally two steps. Step One was to machine stitch around the edges of the circle (in a long, loose stitch, like a basting stitch) and pull it like a drawstring so it would gather into a round, 3D shape.

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Step Two was to fill each rounded circle with batting, and stitch them onto the rectangle/heart piece. There we go, the construction is done!

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Finishing the Edges: As always, finishing the edges took the majority of the time for this project. For the left and right sides, the straight edges, I did a really tiny rolled hem. Those are pretty tricky on fabric that frays easily, like cotton voile, but I was able to simplify the process. First, I just folded the edge once and stitched it down as close to the edge as possible.

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After that was stitched, I turned it over one more time and stitched it again. That’s much easier than trying to fold it over twice and only doing the stitching once! Stitching it two times makes it much more even. I’m pretty pleased with how it came out. The rolled hem is 1/8th of an inch wide.

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For the top edges, I just cut some bias tape, pressed it, and stitched it over the raw edge. (For anyone who is new to sewing, we always finish an edge with bias tape if the edge is curvy.)

For the edges around the circles, I didn’t want to do bias tape because that would take up a lot of fabric, and it would be just about impossible to do a rolled hem because the edge is curved. So I just stitched close to the edge two times for each circle, and then trimmed the edges. It’s not the best way to finish an edge, but it works for this project.

Final Picture:

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It fits really nicely under the corset and it looks really smooth under a tight ballgown bodice. You’ll see more pictures of how it fit some other time!

As for the accuracy, I would give it a 85-90%. The batting was polyester (I couldn’t find cotton batting), so that detracts from the historical accuracy. The shape is pretty accurate- it looks a lot like the museum piece, and it really helps to create the full, low bustline from the 1900s and 1910s. I think the actual Edwardians would have embellished this with lace or something. I can always do that later if time allows for it.

I hope you found this post to be helpful! If you haven’t already, please fill out my reader survey. These are questions about how you found the blog, what you would like to see more of, why you read the blog, and so on. I really would love to hear your feedback so that I can make sure this blog has content that’s more relevant to YOU! Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Well, Enough About Me!

By now you’ve probably heard quite a bit about my costuming adventures. But now it’s time for me to hear a little about you! I want to get to know my readers better so I can make sure this blog has content that’s a bit more relevant to you.

So, if you would be so kind, would you take a few minutes to fill out these survey questions?

Thank you so much! Don’t forget that you can type out a custom answer for most of those questions. Please leave comments on any of the posts- even if you don’t think you have anything to say, I’d still love to hear from you!

How to Teach Yourself to Sew

People often tell me, “Wow, I could never sew the way you do!” Or, “I wish I had that kind of talent!” Hearing comments like that makes me kind of sad, because I think there are lots of people out there with unused potential. They think they can’t sew and that they wouldn’t be able to if they tried…. but that’s the problem, they never really gave it a real try!

I used to be one of those people who thought that sewing was such a distant, difficult skill to learn and that it would never be “my thing.” When I was very little, my grandma taught me how to use a sewing machine, but I used it so infrequently that by the time I would try it again, I had forgotten again. But costuming and fashion design was a part of my life even as a little kid. I used to love making sketches of princess dresses. I used to hand-sew little costumes for my stuffed animals. And as I came to be a teenager and I began to write a fantasy novel, I always sketched out the characters’ costumes. That was the point where I started to wish I could make my fashion sketches real. I was at the exact same position as many of my friends and readers- wishing I knew how to sew, but I had no idea how to get started.

Thankfully, I had a friend who knew how to sew cool costumes and one day I just asked her if she could help me create a Jedi costume I had sketched. She walked me through, step by step, how to make a basic Jedi tunic and tabards out of basic shapes like rectangles. That came out to be my first Jedi costume, the one I mentioned in the Anakin cosplay post:

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Trust me, I knew nothing back then about finishing seams or adding darts or making nice attachment methods like zippers, hooks and eyes, snaps, or anything like that.

That Jedi costume was the only one where I ever used assistance from another live human being. From there, my guide was all YouTube and costuming blogs! And that brings me to this post today. I want to address anyone who dreams of creating their own clothes or costumes, but feels intimidated by all the complexity involved in sewing and doesn’t know where to begin.

First of all, I know how you feel! Nobody starts out instantly an expert at anything. I started out as a beginner too. Look through my costuming portfolio and you’ll find all sorts of fraying polyester edges, crooked underarm seams, ill-fitting bodices, you name it. Those are all beginner mistakes that everybody makes, but they’re necessary if we want to learn from them and become better at our craft.

If you want to learn how to sew clothing well, you also have to know that it is a time commitment. Costumes and apparel are some of the hardest things out there to sew. They’re much more oddly shaped and structurally complicated than, for example, tablecloths. Lots of people who sew make beautiful crafty things for their homes, but costumers are a bit harder to find. One reason for that is because it takes so much time to become even halfway decent at costuming. So if you are serious about learning costuming, you will manage to find the time for it even if you’re really busy. But just know that you won’t become like Firefly Path on Instagram overnight. If you don’t want to invest the time, you won’t be able to get much past the beginner threshold.

You also have to set realistic goals for yourself. Do you think a historically accurate 1912 ballgown would have been a feasible idea for my very first sewing project? For anyone sewing for the first time, I would advise that your first project should be something simple, one or two pieces at the most. Like a blouse and skirt or a Jedi tunic. It shouldn’t be one of your dream projects, because your first project will be the lowest quality project you ever make. I would also recommend you don’t make a historical costume your first time dressing. You want to learn modern techniques of sewing before historical techniques. Make sure you avoid structurally complicated things like lots of darts, pleats, princess seams, or pintucks. (Though just trying one new technique like that might be helpful!) Finally, I would also advise that you do NOT make your first project from a pattern. Patterns are full of complicated lines and weird terminology and can be extremely confusing for a new costumer. You’ll learn how to use those in due time. It’s more intuitive to draft it out of basic shapes like rectangles.

From there, you can focus more on your long-term goals. If you dream of being an expert at Victorian costuming, don’t go off making an 1880s bustle dress immediately. As your skills develop, you can try simple but relevant things such as just the chemise. Then eventually you could work your way up to the petticoats and corset cover, and finally the corset and bustle itself.

Once you’ve got your level of time commitment and your goals figured out, you need to know where to look on the Internet for tutorials. There’s plenty of stuff out there, and that’s the beauty of being a costumer in the era of the Internet! You just have to know where to look.

  • For the raw basics such as how to use your sewing machine and what sort of supplies you need, those are really easy to find on YouTube. Though it’s probably even easier to get a real person to show you the very basics. If you have a friend or relative who does quilting, they won’t know any costuming stuff but they can certainly help you figure out your sewing machine! Make sure that, in this raw basics stage, you learn about adding seam allowances and hemming edges.
  • For learning the basics of drafting (making something without a pattern), there’s not really a general guide on how to draft everything in existence. Instead, search for specific examples based on what you’re trying to do. For example, you could search YouTube for “drafting a basic blouse” or “drafting an A-line skirt.” Whatever drafting tutorials you watch, it will probably give you at least something applicable to your specific project. If a video is so complicated that you don’t follow it, search for a different video, or look up the terminology they used. Don’t pretend to understand something if you actually don’t.
  • For learning how to use a pattern, search the Internet for the exact pattern that you’re making. Chances are, someone else made it too and they have a tutorial on it. They might be able to help clear up any confusing parts. Again, always look up terminology you don’t understand! I have to do this all the time!
  • If you’re making a cosplay, search for the name of the cosplay and just see what comes up. Searching for “padme meadow dress” brings up the Jedi Council Forums thread and some other various blogs relating to making the Padmé meadow picnic dress.
  • As you get more comfortable, search the Internet for ways to make your costuming more professional. In my opinion, the #1 Way To Make More Professional Costumes is by finishing seams properly, so make sure to search for seam finishing techniques. Search for these techniques as they are specific to your fabric type- for example, you may want to search “how to finish seams on chiffon” or “how to finish seams on denim.” Chiffon and denim are extremely different fabrics, so they will have different techniques for finishing seams. Other good things to search for are darts, pleats and gathers.

As you watch tutorials and read blogs, you will easily figure out what other things to look up. My list above is not extensive. My rules for sewing research on the Internet are simple: look for people who have already made what you’re making, and look up everything you don’t understand.

Here are some specific resources I use consistently in my costuming adventures:

  • Padawan’s Guide. This is a thorough and extensive site for any Star Wars related costuming, and their advice is relevant to both new and experienced costumers. They have both a website and a Facebook page- the Facebook page is updated more recently. Plus, on Facebook, you can privately message the members and ask questions directly. Here’s the Facebook page and here’s the website.
  • Lucy’s Corsetry. Both on YouTube and on her website, Lucy teaches you pretty much everything you need to know about making and wearing corsets. I learned how to insert eyelets, busks and steel boning through her tutorials. I can’t recommend it enough! Here’s her YouTube channel and here’s her website.
  • Ralph Pink. Ralph Pink is a corsetiere from Australia or something, and his YouTube channel has helpful videos on drafting corsets. Plus, he has free corset patterns on his site! Here’s his YouTube channel and here’s his website.
  • Jennifer Rosburgh. She has created this amazingly helpful website about sewing 19th century costumes. I don’t do 19th century just yet, but her articles relate to pretty much any type of historical sewing. If you need to make a petticoat for anything, read her site. If you need to know how to make ruffles, read her site! She gets really specific about techniques that are pretty universal to sewing. Even if you aren’t a historical, I still recommend you check out some of her articles. If you are interested in costuming, read her site.
  • Sew Historically. This is a really helpful site with tons of helpful Victorian and Edwardian sewing information, and there are some other great DIY tutorials and recipes and all kinds of crafty stuff. Lina, the author, has made and bought a lot of Edwardian and 1920s stuff. Here’s the site.

I think that’s about it! If you’re interested in costuming, I hope this post has inspired you to take up some research, and that you find these resources to be helpful. If you did, please let me know, I would love to hear from you!