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.
~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.)
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.
~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.
Here are all the pieces after they were cut out.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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