Friday, January 31, 2014

Mid-to-Late 19th Century Corset

No Throwback Thursday yesterday because I'm all out of pictures (for the moment.  I'll have to go digging through old boxes to find more).

Instead I bring you: the corset-that-was-supposed-to-be-an-1860s-corset-but-I-changed-it-and-decided-to-make-an-1880s-corsets-because-it's-more-comfortable-and-I-wanted-a-blue-corset-and-I-can-because-that's-the-beauty-of-an-independent-studies-class. 

Do you recall the independent studies class I'm taking this year?  Do you recall that I'm supposed to be recreating an 1860s ensemble?  Good, we're all on the same page.  Adi, why on earth did you a) make an 1880s corset instead of an 1860s corset ('cause there is a difference!) and b) why did you make it blue?!?

Before I get to answer my own question, let me show you my research!  Because researching is fun and it is what I do in my spare time.  

According to a study of Édouard Manet's Nana by Valerie Steele in Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, custom made corsets in fine fabrics and lovely colors were strictly for those who could afford the price:
"By 1855 some ten thousand workers in Paris specialized in the production of corsets, and in 1861 it was estimated that more than one million corsets were sold annually there.  The majority were mass-produced, made of sturdy materials such as cotton twill with metal boning, and sold for between three and twenty francs.  There were also custom-made corsets in silk with genuine whalebone stays that cost from twenty-five to sixty francs, and lace-trimmed luxury corsets that cost up to two hundred francs.  The majority were white or off-white."
Conclusion: the average 1860s corset was boring.

For the sake of comparison, I've divided the corsets below into "typical," "atypical," and "very atypical" for the 1860s based on Ms. Steele's research.


c. 1865 front lacing corset

Cotton corset, 1866-67, at the Met.

Cotton corset, c. 1862, at the Met.


Embroidered cotton corset, 1860s

Silk moiré corset, 1860-70, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Very Atypical

1860s wool corset

Corset, 1860-1870

Hmm, no blue.  

Something I hear all the time in regards to the shape of the 1860s corset is that it is comparatively shorter on the hips because women's  hips would be hidden by their crinolines, so there was no need to smooth them.  The Corset: A Cultural History by Valerie Steele mentions that:
When the crinoline was in style in the 1860s, fill skirts made almost anyone's waist look relatively small, and most corsets were relatively short.
Since I didn't want to buy or draft a pattern, I used the same I used for this one.  I fixed the issues I had with it (namely that the bust was too big and the waist too long), and cut it down at the top to de-overbust-ify it.  The result was not pretty.  

(Please ignore the ceramics students in the background.  I share the studio with a ceramics class that meets at the same period.)

Ugh.  There was absolutely no bust support going on (which is a problem when you consider that a corset is first and foremost a supportive undergarment and is basically the historical equivalent to a bra) and the bottom felt awkwardly short on my hips.  To make it worse, the pattern pieces themselves are actually the paper embodiments of Frankenstein.  They have been cut up and taped back together so many times during the overbust class and then again when I revised it that they were barely working together. 

Time to rethink the whole deal: did I really want a short corset that would only work for a portion of a decade in history?  In terms of historical accuracy for my class, the answer would be yes, that is exactly what I want.  However, I realized that Adi, the person, would not be happy with a corset that is limited to the 1860s, especially considering the cost of making a corset with the proper materials.  I needed a corset that could work for a variety of styles in the mid-to-late 19th century period.

Then I remembered this gem that I'd seen a very long time ago:

Blue silk satin corset, 1884, at the Chicago History Museum
Without even mentioning what it so obviously resembles (and which I can't tell those of you who don't recognize it because of the whole no-mentioning it bit), I liked it because it has the longer hips I was looking for, it looks very supportive, and it's fun: it's a historical object that ties in strongly to a modern object related to a certain TV show I like.  Basically, it gives me free range to make a fun, but historically accurate corset (even though it's accurate for a period other than my target), that I will get a huge kick out of wearing.  

I sat down with my old pattern pieces, some blank paper, and a french curve template and trued up the pattern, adjusting the bust and the hips.  The paper pattern pieces are so beautiful now, I could weep with joy.  And it looked good when I made the second mockup.  The bust felt supportive and the hips flared out wonderfully.

Yay!  With the success of the second mockup, I was finally ready to buy the materials I needed.  (A note to readers in Los Angeles.  Richard the Thread is worth visiting in person when you need corset supplies.  The staff is so friendly and helpful and suddenly know me by name and know where I want to go to college and are rooting for me.)  

Though the 1884 corset is blue silk satin, it has been worn away to black in some areas, which is probably what makes it so similar to the certain objects I refrained from talking about earlier.  In order to keep the same color scheme going, I used blue dyed coutil and black bias binding.  The main difference is the use of trim: the 1884 corset uses a strip of the same blue silk satin fabric finished with an embroidered scalloped edge along the top, but I used some lace I had left over from my Halloween costume that I threaded skinny black ribbon through (there's a technical term for this kind of trim, but I don't know it). 

I'm ridiculously happy in this picture because making the corset was an extremely nerve-wracking experience, considering the failure that the last corset was.

(I should mention that I'm technically not done with this corset since I still have to floss it.  I'll be posting a more in-depth summary of the construction of the corset at another time.)

Also, since it's done on time, I can submit it as my first(!) completed Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge.  I'm using a steel busk closure in front and metal grommets in back.  Steel busks were invented in 1829, but were not common until after 1850.  (So basically, I'm using the fact that I can get into this and lace myself up without assistance as innovation.)

The challenge: #2 Innovation
Fabric:  Blue coutil
Pattern:  It started off as Simplicity 9769 the same way humans started out as just a few cells in the right place at the right time in the primordial soup of early earth.
Year:  1884
Notions:  White and black thread, busk, spring-steel boning, lace and ribbon, boning channels, twill tape
Historical accuracy:  Fairly decent.  Read this post again if you've missed that bit.
Hours to complete:  Twenty-ish.
First worn:  January 30, 2014

This corset has the honor of being the last garment I made as a minor and this post has the pleasure of being the first thing I'm posting as an adult.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rational Decision Making

I'm a nerd, so I love when what I am learning in school applies to something I am doing outside of school.  In my English Lit class last year, I had a tendency to remember the approximate time spans of various writing styles (Metaphysical, Neoclassical, Romantic, etc.) by the era's approximate corresponding style of clothing (17th century/Baroque/Jacobean, 18th century/Georgian, Regency, etc -- as I said, approximate).  So, I was understandably inordinately excited when I realized that I could apply the principles of rational decision making that I learned about first semester in Economics to help me come to a decision about crinolines.

I recently had to make a decision of what kind of hoop skirt I want for my 1860s underwear set that I'm making in my Foundations of Apparel class.  (Recap time: my school has allowed me to design my own class in garment history, in which I will be making the foundational garments of a young, educated woman during the Elizabethan period and the American Civil War.  It's awesome.)

I had a few options: I could draft my own crinoline using basic mathematical principles (which I would probably botch by making it overcomplicated and finding the volume of the hoopskirt oops I just mathed: it's approximately 42 inches to my waist from the ground, but hoopskirts don't go all the way to the ground, so I'm putting the y-intercept at 32 inches.  I found the x-intercept by using C=2πr and finding r when C=120 (the circumference of the lowest hoop) gives us x=60/π.  Then plugged the coordinate (60/π, 0) into the equation y=-(x^2)(n) + 32, and find the constant n, which is n=(2π^2)/225, so the curve of the hoopskirt is y=-(2π^2*x^2)/225+32.  The volume is then 2π∫ ((x)(-(2π^2*x^2)/225+32), x, 0, 60/π) = 18,334.649 cubic inches, or 10.610 cubic feet.  Whoa.  Sorry, what was I talking about again?), buy a pattern from any number of companies, or buy a kit.  After reviewing the different options available and comparing them to original crinolines and pictures from the era, I decided on the Wooded Hamlet Crinoline Kit.

Those of you familiar with the kit are wondering: of all the options, why did Adi choose what is arguably the most expensive one and the one for which general consensus says is the hardest to assemble?

The answer is rational decision making.

I compared the costs of each option versus how much I liked the option (based on its quality and historical accuracy) versus how much I was willing to pay for the option (based on how much I liked it).  Economics says to choose the option with the greatest marginal benefit when the marginal cost is subtracted: in other words, choose the option that has the greatest positive "how much I am willing to pay" minus "how much it costs."

For me, that ended up being the Wooded Hamlet kit because I value historical accuracy a lot.  A lot a lot.  Beaucoup.

Cage crinoline, 1860s, at the Met

Cage Crinoline, ca. 1862, at the Met. 

Cage crinoline, 1862, at the Met.  

Cage Crinoline by the Royal Worcester Corset Company, 1862-62, at the Met.

Crinoline, ca. 1860, at the Met
Obviously, the choice going to be different for everyone based on their tastes and their finances.  And it helps that my parents are generous.  

So now I'm off to assemble the kit.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday

I've actually dressed as an Ancient Egyptian twice, thanks to a childhood of surprisingly enthusiastic Passover seders.

Here, I was all decked up in a dress (thrift store find) with some abstract designs.  To me, the figures look more like the human figures on Geometric vases.  I had an awesome collar made from a donut cut out of some sheer fabric.  My bracelets, serpent crown, and my crook (I seem to be missing a flail) were made from aluminum foil.  I remember being really excited that I got to wear mom's dangly gold earrings.  Being ever the pragmatist, I finished the ensemble with a pair of dorky sports sandals.

Funerary amphora, 750-480 BCE - note the human figures in the center

Throwback Thursday Sum-Up

Age at Time: Third grade?  Fourth grade? Between 8 to 10 years old.

Costume: Ancient Egyptian pharoah 

Event: Purim 

Level of embarrassment (sale of 1-10, 10 being deathly embarrassing): 6.  I would be fine with this, except for the shoes.  They're killing me.

My mom just came over and read over my shoulder.  She maintains that I was adorable and that she deserves a shout out for starting me off in historical costuming from a young age.  Here's your shout out, mom.  HI MOM!  YOU'RE AMAZING!

This second one also utilizes thrift store finds (the dress and the pants, I think) and the same kind of donut-of-fabric as a collar, but with a different fabric.  I have a rake because I was portraying a farmer for a history presentation in 6th grade.  I really went for the part of a glamour farmer and I did up my eyes in the classic Eye of Horus design with some eyeliner and wore my mom's leather sandals.  I think my glasses and my watch were nice final touches.

Throwback Thursday Sum-Up

Age at Time: Sixth grade, 12 years old.

Costume: Ancient Egyptian farmer

Event: Ancient Egypt history presentations in sixth grade 

Level of embarrassment (scale of 1-10, 10 being deathly embarrassing): 8.  Just, urgh.  Middle school years are embarrassing, regardless of circumstance.

And now, because I am an art history nerd, I'm doing something new-ish for Throwback Thursdays.  When a costume is historical, I'll write a little bit about the clothing of the time period.  At some point I'll update the past posts so they, too, can be mocked for their inadequacies.

I do not know of any extant Ancient Eygptian garments outside of what was placed into sarcophagi with mummies.  (If I've missed some new find, let me know in the comments!)  I'm relying here solely on sculpture and fresco, so I am missing any written record of clothing that could exist.

Pharaoh Menkaure and His Wife, 2490-2472 BCE

Though Pharaoh Menkaure is clearly wearing a kilt-type garment, the only evidence that his wife is even clothed is the hem of her dress.  I'm not sure if that's her real hair or a wig.

Prince Rahotep and His Wife Nofret, c. 2580 BCE

Nofret is wearing a white robe/garment thing; her hair is a wig.

Isis Leading the Queen Fresco in the Tomb of Nefertari, c. 1199 BCE

I hesitate before using something that has any kind of mythological subject because I don't know how much of the clothing is symbolic or is just the artists' imagination.  In other words, I have no idea what's up with the brownish red dress.

Meryt Before Sennufer in the Tomb of Sennufer, c. 1410 BCE

The straps of Meryt's draw here are separate from the rest of her dress and she wears a wig.  Dress is form fitting, but opaque.

Banquet Scene in the Tomb of Nebamun, c. 1370 BCE
The noblewomen seated in this banquet scene wear sheer white dresses.  They have stylish wigs and not-so-stylish domes of wax on their heads.  The wax would melt in the heat and release nice aromas.

Bust of Queen Nefertiti, c. 1348-1335 BCE
I added this bust of Queen Nefertiti for no other reason than it makes me happy.  The bust was made as a model for workshops so the queen herself would not have to stand in every time they wanted to make a likeness of her.  It was buried when Amarna (the city) was destroyed and is in remarkably good condition today.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

2014 Project Planning

At the moment, I'm defining "planned projects" as the ones that absolutely must get completed by a certain point.

I've been toying with the idea of wearing an 1850s-60s ballgown to prom in May.

Jewelry/bertha inspiration

Bertha inspiration

Left image for skirt trim inspiration

In June, I'm attending an 1860s immersion weekend at a historical home in Missouri, so I need a few dresses to wear during the event.  I'm planning on three gowns because I already have fabric.

Brown dress inspiration

Brown dress bodice trim inspiration

Blue dress skirt trim inspiration

Blue dress bodice inspiration

Yellow/brown checked dress inspiration

I promised my sister a dress based on the now out-of-print Vogue 1171 and I'd like to get it done by February 17th because arbitrary due dates are really good motivators, especially when announced in a public area.

I have an Epic Master Plan Schedule of Tasks for everything, which means I will be highly productive.  The hard part is sticking to the Epic Master Plan Schedule of Tasks.

A note on the sources of the images: though I have been converted to Pinterest for its ease of pinning, I am still "old school" about saving the images I really like directly to my desktop using the drag-and-drop method, which means that the sources tend to get left behind.  Bad habits require time and patience to mend.

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 Year-in-Review

I took month off from bloggering (yes, bloggering) to focus on finishing the semester and then voyaging to Portugal, but I'm back and very happy to be able to recount the last year of my costuming exploits.  I'm impressed with what I've made in 2013.  Seriously.  I am darned impressed with myself.

This year-in-review covers only what I made in 2013.  It is a celebration of material objects rather than a recollection of all the costume events I went to last year.

I started off the year in January with a 1950s petticoat and circle skirt (the petticoat is pictured here under my yellow circle skirt, haha) just in time for the Steampunk Symposium aboard the Queen Mary.

Then, by March, I finished three outfits for the MSCF Fashion Show, a corset, and a Blingy Necklace.  It's a good thing I'm doing this year-in-review now because I've never posted any photos of the completed necklace.

Sometime by the end of the school year (May), I finished a pair of sterling silver hatpins using the cuttlefish casting technique, which I've used before to make this pendant.  The hatpins and I spent a summer apart and then it was a while until I had an excuse to use the photo studio, hence the no-pictures-until-now.

Sometime in June I made a pair of historically accurate drawers and an 1870s/1880s bustle (with not-so-historically accurate materials).  My sister kindly modeled the bustle for me, but failed to resist the urge to chicken dance.  Sigh.

July brought with it fun with a long bustle skirt, power tools, and a military ego, all rolled in to one obnoxiously fun-to-wear gender-bent Victorian Darth Vader.

In October, I decided I was in serious need of an Edwardian costume.

In my Special Studies class at school, I also made an 1860s chemise, another pair of drawers, and an Elizabethan smock.  I only managed to take pictures of the Elizabethan corset mockup.

Next up with be a brief rundown of the projects I have planned for 2014!