Monday, 2 January 2012

An Elizabethan Corset: drafting the pattern

And so it starts.  I decided that, in order to decide whether or not to buy a pattern for the Elizabethan corset  (farthingale and bum roll), I needed to make greater sense of the instructions on elizabethancostume.net.  The site has a generator which gives you the measurements and instructions to draw your own pattern and three pattern adaptations from it.  I input my measurements, drew out the pattern and got the bug... there will be no need to buy a commercial pattern!

As with most instructions, when the author knows a subject inside out and back to front, there is an implied level of knowledge that sometimes needs further explanation/clarification.  My basic template drawn, I have had a lovely couple of days researching the various elements: bones, busk, fabrics, and looking at finished corset pictures to work out the missing elements.  Having a level of corset building knowledge has been useful, but Victorian and Elizabethan corsets are quite different, both in design and construction.  Unlike a Victorian corset, an Elizabethan corset is less about narrowing and curving of the shape; rather it is built to shape an entirely flat, straight front and provide support to hold up the weight of the farthingale, bum roll and outer skirts.  It has only a back closure and none of the boning should be flexible, as it would in a Victorian corset; the front panel is solid side-to-side bones.  Moreover, and most interestingly, the centre front busk should be made of wood.  As an Elizabethan corset ends in a point at the front, mid pelvis no less, this measurement needs to be carefully considered if it is to be held firm by a carved wooden busk!  There are modern alternatives, mainly wider steel bones, but none would have the solidity of wood; I found a supplier of wooden busks, and one is ordered and on it's way.

I chose the most "complicated but comfortable" corset pattern, with eight tabs at the waist.  The bones in the corset continue into the tabs and it is recommended that half inch and quarter inch bones are used.  A sample pattern of the layout of the bones is provided and it was good fun translating this into a final layout for my corset; juggling width vs strength vs pattern.  28 bones and a busk in total.  I thought the Victorian corset was firm, but it had flexibility built in and far less boning; it will be very interesting to see what this feels like.

Here is a scan of the final pattern, with the boning channels and individual bone lengths marked in red.


It's certianly far simpler than the Victorian corset was, at this stage on that I was eyeing up a dozen or more pieces!  The instructions regarding the fabric layers and the placement of the eyelets are not the clearest; again having some previous knowledge is proving useful.  I am still not entirely certain about the back seam; I didn't want to use eyelet tape again (the sign of a small progression in skill, I hope!) and I know that for stabiility the eyelets should sit inside of one width of bone and potentially there should be another line of bone sat to the right of them.  I don't have space for that, so have gone for a single, stronger bone (13mm); however, I will take a look when the bones arrive and may switch it for two narrower ones.
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