How to Make
Create the Mood

1859 ball gown
under construction



an original chemise


gathered back


1860 original with plain yoke band
1859 corset cover with similar neckline

1859 Godeys Ladies Book:
instructions for modifying a chemise

pattern given with these instructions

Reproduction, modified, in muslin: all the paintings show the lace trim of the chemise, or maybe the corset cover, at the dress neckline.

The neckline must be cut out very small - the hole can be made larger, not smaller.


Once I had tacked the sides and tried it on I realised why the fabric is gathered into the neckline on the originals - the chemise fitted but pulled across the bust-line.


So a fabric piece was added down the front to give more ease when putting the corset over the top.

Noone was likely to see this chemise so there was no need to recut the whole garment.


the corset
two examples of 1890's corsets of similar construction which produce a small waist and rounded hips.

I made this corset some years ago and have worn it many times in an unfinished state. I used this opportunity to complete the edge binding and make minor modifications. The pattern I used, from Jean Hunnisett, left the back without bones. I found that additional bones were necessary to kep the back smooth.

Over the years I have put on weight and it also showed a little wear, so needed other small adjustments. Due to the complex construction the back is the only place that it is possible to add extra width.

Fabric relaxes with body warmth, so the corset must be re-tightened after about 20 minutes.

The corset sides should be vertical and the same width all the way up.

first put on

20 minutes later, tightened

This style (late Victorian) gives great emphasis to the waist which flatters my body shape. It is very comfortable to wear as it fits like a glove. 1850's/60's corsets produce a more rounded waist-line.

The bones were covered with red tape so that it the structure would be clearly visible for demonstrations and talks.

inside corset, being refurbished
The fabric is coutil.


The front is closed with the same busk as the originals, (metal eyes and buttons on two slightly flexible metal bars that link together).

Victorian ladies had rounded shapes. So the hips are not constricted, but moulded into rounded mounds, and the bust is lifted and contained, but not constricted.

The layout of the bones produces the fashionable body shape of the day.

This fan layout lifts and rounds the bust


Three types of boning were used: firstly Victorian style metal spiral bones used in the front.

I had little body fat when I first made the corset and found that the spiral bones were quite uncomfortable in wear. So thinner, more flexible, nylon rigelene was used at the back. The ends were melted slightly near a candle to prevent them working their way through the fabric over time.

spiral boning

rigelene boning, end melted

Washers are put behind the metal eyelets on the inside to help stop them being pulled out when the corset is laced tightly.

Boning (plastic-covered metal wedding dress boning) is placed in channels either side of these lacing holes to stop the fabric wrinkling when the corset is laced firmly.

wedding dress boning

For further information on making authentic Victorian corsets I suggest looking at these sites:

* Victorian corset patterns
* a series of short articles showing how to do details, for example metal eyelets
* draft your own corset pattern from scratch
* Jean Hunniset costume book of patterns drawn to modern figure shape and theatrical techniques, reviews,
* another corset book review

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last updated 10 October, 2012