Monday, January 28, 2013


V362: Corset Training - Week 1 Report

It's been a week of daily corset wearing, and it's time to report on all my findings!  Here goes...

Simplicity 9769 Is Not Your Friend
I started the week with a cheap eBay corset I bought for $15, but by day 2 I had sliced open the sidse and added two triangular gores to flare the hips, making the corset a bajillion times more comfortable.  Why?

Cheap eBay corset with added hip gores at the side, allowing that additional flare over the hips
When you squeeze your waist, that volume has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is down.  I found that rather huge hip flares are necessary, even when reducing a little, to keep the corset from cutting into the hips, and to easily and comfortably displace the waist.

This brings me to Simplicity 9769, and really ANY modern-made commercial corset pattern (with few exceptions).

After a few days of wearing my cheap eBay corset + hip gores, I put on my ole pink n' black standby, a corset I made years ago, using Simplicity 9769.  I intended to wear this mid-bust to an upcoming event, so I tried it on with the dress bodice, and quickly discovered how HORRIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE it had suddenly become.  I've been wearing this corset for years - what changed?

My willingness to be in pain.  That is, in all the years I wore this Simplicity corset, I unconsciously allowed myself to be in pain the whole day in costume, but after wearing a corset all day for just a couple days, suddenly I was quite unwilling to go there, especially after achieving the same results in a far more comfortable way with just a cheap eBay underbust.

What is missing from the modern commercial corset patterns is shaping.  If you want to reduce your waist even a little bit, you need some mega hip gores.  I don't mean just a gentle flare over the hips - I mean, like, these:
Symington  Corset, 1875

So that was the end of my pink n' black Simplicity corset.  Luckily I had Chrissy's mid-bust corset pattern, complete with nice hip flare, so I ripped the busk out of my old one, and set to work putting together this new one:

I didn't do a particularly good job, but it fits much better, and currently reduces comfortably down to 26.5 inches, with the capability of going to 24.5 inches.

*When you are looking for a corset pattern, look for one with hip gores, such as these: Ageless Patterns, Past Patterns, even Simplicity 2890.  Cut the hip gores the largest size you can, even larger than you think you will need - you will be surprised how quickly they fill out.

This week I wore the corset about 7+ hours per day, lacing it the tightest in the morning, and letting it out throughout the day, especially after meals.

I have eaten less in general, and my random, rampant snacking has gone down considerably.  I did eat a 1 lb. Qdoba burrito in a corset, but in general it's not a good idea to ingest big, heavy, salty, bean-filled food, or carbonated drinks.

I have had no trouble breathing, have been able to bend to tie my shoes, and even put air in my tires at the gas station.  Driving a car was no problem at all - I just needed to straighten my seat up.

Stand up straight! via

I am always aware of the corset being there, but I am just as aware of it being off, and not in a "relief" sort of way.  While wearing the corset, my posture is much improved, to be expected, but what wasn't expected is that when I take it off, I continue to hold myself upright instead of immediately slouching down into my "normal" super-slumpy position.  Just by standing more upright, my waist un-corseted looks a helluva lot slimmer, even at the same girth it was prior to beginning this experiment.

At the end of week one I am far more used to how the corset feels than when I started, even if I am still aware of its presence.  However, I recall what it was like when I started wearing a bra, or certain types of undies - holy moly, get these things off of me!!  Yet over time, and in getting bras and undies that actually fit and are made in a way that is comfortable for me (I prefer underwires, for instance, and find soft-cup bras extremely uncomfortable), I got used to these underpinnings, and now feel rather exposed when not wearing them.
The back lacing on my new corset - my bust is small, but my rib cage need more room. 
I expect the same will happen with the corset, assuming it fits as it should.  Already I want to make other styles to see how they fit and feel, and to find the right one for me.  I've learned that I need large hip gores and spiral steel bones, I'm small in the bust, but I need more room in the rib cage, and that when I get all of these things right, reducing comfortably and easily to 25 inches will be no big deal at all.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

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V361: Corset Training - Facing Questions and Issues


I've been wearing my corset now for 7 days, and within even this short amount of time, I have learned quite a lot about corseting, and also been asking myself some questions (possibly some questions you may be asking too).  Before I share my report for Week 1, I want to talk a little bit more about this whole idea and experiment.

Why Am I Doing This?
This is a good place to start.  Despite all the positive comments I received on my starting post, there are some people who think this is pretty darn crazy.  I too have been asking myself, through the week, what the point of trying this is - I don't intend to wear a corset for the rest of my life.  I don't intend to try to reduce my waist down past, at most, 24 inches, and will most likely stop at 25 inches.  I am not a fetishist, and I don't wear the corset 24 hours a day.

But the harder question is - is this just so I can look better in costume?  I would be lying if I said I didn't want to look nice in historical costumes, but that is not the sole reason I am doing this.  Primarily it is for study - I want to see what the effect is, if any.

This is the effect wearing a corset from
childhood had on Victorian women.  At 29, my ribcage is
already fully formed and I will never put enough
pressure on my lower ribs to deform my bones
like this.
What About Health Issues?
Everyone knows corsets are bad for you, right?  WRONG.  That is such rubbish, and instead of believing everything I've heard or read about, I'm going to see for myself.

I'm not disfiguring my body, not compressing my intestines, not pressuring my lower ribs, and not constricting my lungs.  I have no pain, can breath just fine, and have had no trouble doing my normal daily things, which included, this week, putting air in my tires, eating a Chipotle burrito, tying my shoes, driving a car, and hiking.  I should add here that it is absolutely *vital* that the corset fit correctly, but more on that later.

Of all the bad things I could be doing to my body, where does wearing a corset fit in, exactly?  Instead of wearing a corset, I could be... eating large amounts of fast food, taking drugs, smoking, and drinking, taking dieting pills or starving myself, all of which have far worse effects on my inner workings than merely wearing something tight around my waist all day.

Do I Have Body Issues?
For the record, no.  I love my body, even when I'm having a "fat day."  My figure is perfect for the 1920s and 1930s, but no matter what time period I'm wearing, I wear the proper undergarments to match, because they not only shape the body to the proper silhouette, but they support the clothing worn over the top as well.  This experiment comes from curiosity about the past, not from body issues.

This is pretty much me - on the left, my normal self, posture and all; on the right, the effect of good underpinnings.  This image is from the 1930s.
Social Stigma
What is it about corsets that make my experiment with them "silly" or "crazy?"  Why is this any different than wearing shapewear, underwear, or even a bra?

This is NOT my goal
Corsets fall outside what we currently define as "normal," whereas bras and underwear are within that sphere, and expected by society.  Would you go out without wearing knickers and a bra? (granted, some women do, but it's not the norm).  Women in the past wouldn't go out without wearing their underpinnings either, be those girdles and garters, chest-flattening devices, a corset, or stays.

Society recognizes corsets today as sexual items, and tight-lacing as a fetish.  To historical costumers, wearing a corset represents something totally different, but when someone wears a corset outside of a costume event, why does it suddenly return to the sexual fetish, and become "crazy?"

Learning From Doing
I can see already that in addition to all that I have learned about corsets and my own body already, this experiment is most definitely a social one.  I am fascinated by how people are reacting, be they for or against wearing a corset every day.

So...what do you think?
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Saturday, January 26, 2013

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V360: New Shoe Goo to Play With (And You Can Too!)

...and by "Shoe Goo" I just mean cool stuff like leather paints, creams, and polishes.  Good stuff.

I've finally been able to get some Angelus products in the shoe shop, particularly for painting all the dyeable leather shoes we sell.  Angelus Leather Paints are my favorite, so easy to use, and give great results.  I painted each of these shoes with Angelus Leather Paints...
Pemberley painted and decorated with Angelus Leather Paints, petersham binding, and ribbons.
Devonshire painted with Angelus Leather Paints, with applied rhinestone, and bound in bias.
Devonshire painted with Angelus Leather Paints, bound in bias.
We've also got Angelus shoe polish and shoe cream to match each of the colors of footwear we sell, including the red for Kensingtons.  Polishing has an *amazing* restorative effect on leather shoes.  For an example, I used Angelus shoe cream and shoe polish on this decrepit pair of antique Edwardian button boots...

What they looked like when they arrived, and what they looked like after applying the shoe cream and polish.  Unbelievable transformation!
So now you can get these handy items in the Accessories section at  We've got:

I'm really looking forward to painting a pair of white 23Skidoo spectators in black and gold (or silver!), and decorating the heels while rhinestones, inspired by some of the amazing gilded leather shoes in the Shoe Icons Museum

Oh, the possibilities!!!

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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V359: "Green Acres" Bustle - Progressing on the Bodice

I haven't been sewing consistently, but I have made more progress on the bodice for this giant green bustle dress.
It's beginning to look like the end - needs finishing on the bottom edge, sleeves, a whole boat load of trims, and some interior structures...
Last time, I had pinned the darts and side seams in place.  I set about stitching them, then re-stitching them, and then stitching them yet again!  All this to keep taking in the waist, after realizing that my dress form was not corseted enough.

I was pleased to see the silhouette looking more correct after tightening the waist considerably, but I am a little nervous now, too, because I have not added the boning in yet, and that will make the bodice "shrink" overall.  It is currently fitted to about 26 inches, which is my corset training goal, so with the much will it shrink?

There is an apron that will go with this eventually, but for the upcoming ball, I will be wearing just the bodice and skirt.
In these photos, one sleeve is without trimming, and just pinned on.  The neckline edge is finished, but lacking in the gobs of trimmings that will fill the neckline.  the whole bodice is not so very far from complete, though - good, because my deadline is February 2nd!
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Monday, January 21, 2013


V358: Rudolf Nureyev Exhibition at the de Young, San Francisco

Chris and I popped over The Hill for a photo shoot this past week, and while we were there, we visited the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park.  On display was a rather wonderful exhibit of a great many ballet costumes from famous ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev's career.  I snapped a few photos - I know, snapshots of costume displays in dimly lit museums aren't the best, which is why you should, if you can, go see the exhibit for yourself, and bask in the glory of beautiful dance ensembles!

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

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V357: Beginning Corset Training - Day 1

My New Years Resolution for 2013 is to experiment with corset training.  Nothing crazy.  Nothing extreme. I'm just curious about the effect consistent pressure on the natural waist will have on my very modern body.

Anyone who studies historical costuming will notice the quite large differences in proportion throughout different periods.  We come to expect an exaggerated difference in Victorian proportion, because we know they wore corsets, but there is also a rather large difference between 1950s proportion and now.  Why is this?

The answer is quite simple - we no longer wear anything tight around our waists.  No really - think about it - with the exception of the occasional off-the-rack dress or pencil skirt, next to nothing in ready-to-wear clothing is designed to fit at your natural waist.  Sewing patterns from the major pattern companies don't even fit at the natural waist.

The effect this has on our modern bodies is that there is no constriction to the waist whatsoever, and so it is free to do as it likes (not necessarily a bad thing).  If you are like me, and you have a sweet tooth, or a Jack-In-The-Box tooth, then that nipped-in waist may go out the door rather quickly.

Here is my body.  I am a tube.  This is the result of low-rise jeans
So I'm curious to see what effect a confined waist has on my body.  I'm also interested to see if this day-to-day training will have an effect on my costumed silhouette, as I have read that corset training allows one to reduce the waist far more than previously, when wearing a corset.

My current measurements, here for the public, are:

  • Natural un-bound waist - 28 inches
  • Victorian corseted waist - 27 inches (or 26 if I really squeeze)
  • My goal - 25 inches
  • My extreme goal - 24 inches

I've started off with a very simple, light-weight corset I bought on eBay.  It's no great thing, and cost less than a pair of jeans, but it came with a steel busk, and is the proportion I wanted - an underbust with a short length - to be able to wear with jeans and under sweaters every day, without being noticeable.  By no means is this a work of corsetry art, but it fits as well as my old Victorian, my own make, and reduces my waist gently and comfortably to 27 inches.

This corset, day 1, give a comfortable 1 inch reduction to my natural waist.  I have 2 more inches I can squeeze, to close the gap in back, before moving to a more curvaceous corset.
I plan to wear this until the edges in back are touching - there is about a 2 inch gap right now - and while that is happening, I will be working on an authentic Victorian corset, drafted by Chrissy of The Laced Angel, that includes all the hip and bust fullness necessary to achieve a considerably smaller waist.

My overall intention with this experiment is not to deform my body, but to study the effects, and to attempt to improve my proportions when wearing historical costumes.  I will report my progress regularly here. :-)
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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V356: A Few More Antique and Vintage Shoes

Well, here I am again to show you more historic shoes from my rapidly growing collection....

Wedding Slippers, 1870s.

These are a perfect example of an 1870s slipper.  They have a slightly squared toe, a delicious little heel, and a large decoration on the vamp.  They meet all the hallmarks of formal footwear for 1860-1880, and though they've seen better days, I'm really proud to have this example in my collection, and especially to be able to use these old dames to create the upcoming Civil War/Bustle Era dyeable satin pump, "Tissot," coming out later this year.

Gold Brocade Evening Mary Janes - 1920s

This pair of dance shoes was given to me by Sharon and Bob Collier.  They're a gorgeous example of what we might think of as Flapper shoes, but they weren't avante garde or shocking at the time, just really lovely, dressy shoes.  They're a far cry from the basic black Mary Janes you find in the stores today, eh?

I love these black suede 1940s Slingbacks because they are so iconic for this decade.  These beauties underwent a heel-shortening at some point in their life, and the balance is thrown off, but aside from that, they're a great example of basic 1940s footwear.

This last pair is my absolutely favorite.  They gorgeous red leather 1940s peep toes with adorable bows on the vamp.  They look like new!  If we ever do 1940s reproductions, these are at the top of my list (don't I wish these originals they fit, though!)
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Monday, January 14, 2013

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V355: Green Acres Bustle Gown Progress

Little by little this gown is coming together.  It's complicated!

Please forgive my lack of backdrop - working on a better system!
I have all the trims on the skirt now, and just need to sew up that side seam, install the placket, and stitch the trims over the seam, to make it all blend together.  'Course, instead of doing that, I jumped into making the bodice, after being reminded that there is a Victorian ball in early February, and I *gasp* haven't got a thing to wear!

The bodice is based on Truly Victorian TV420, 1879 Cuirass Bodice, with my alterations: I split the back to accommodate the volume of the bustle, tweaked and shortened the hem shape and length, and cut a deep square neckline.  I also intend to use my own 3/4 sleeve pattern.

It's not much to look at yet, but so far it is going together easily, and I hope to have it completed soon-ish.  You can see in these photos, most stuff is just pinned in place, to get an idea how it might look when finished (minus the 10 tons of trim on the neckline, mwahahaha)
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Sunday, January 13, 2013

V354: Antique and Vintage Proportion You Can Easily Achieve

I received a copy of Authentic Victorian Dressmaking Techniques recently, and found an interesting little blurb on standard pattern measurements (in this case Butterick), for 1905.  It showed a 10 inch difference between the high bust and the waist, for all sizes, and a 17 - 23.5 inch difference between the waist and the hip.


Here's the 1898 Butterick size chart, from The Delineator, Volume 52, Issue 5:

These measures were NOT taken on the nude form, but over all the underpinnings ladies were wearing - corsets, bust improvers, hip pads, and whatever else ladies were oomphing themselves up with at the time.  You will see in the 1898 chart that a 34" high bust corresponds to any waist measurement between 18" and 24" but no greater than that "10 inch rule."

These charts are *very* interesting because they represents the ideal proportions for 1898, and 1905.  Let us compare to the modern, 2013 Butterick standard of measurements:

"Chest," indicates the high bust measurement, or just "bust" used in the Victorian charts.

So... in about 100 years we've gone from a 10 inch difference between the waist and high bust, to a 6 inch difference; and about a 10 inch difference between the hip and waist, versus a 17-23.5 inch difference.


The answer is obvious to us costumers - a little squeeze here, a little fluff there, and you've achieved the ideal hourglass figure.  Don't be deceived though - just as much fluff was added on as corseting was reducing the waist, as these items will show:

The Met, 1890 - overbust corset with extra puff added to the bust.
LACMA, 900 - this is a "bust improver."
Whitaker Auctions, 1890 - another example of fake boobs to give a girl some oomph up top
The Met, early 20th c.  This is a hip pad.
The Met, 1950s - Hip Pad, yes, mid-20th century!
That last photo brings up another really good point - the 1950s.  This decade parallels the Victorian era in so many ways - big skirts supported by crinolines comes to mind, but it also goes back to that ideal figure, best illustrated by Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn's dressmaker measurements were 35 bust, 22 waist, 35 hip.  Her studio measurements were 37 bust, 23 waist, 36 hip.  The difference comes from padding and waist control, using bullet bras, hip pads, and girdles, not so very different from bust improvers, hip pads, and corsets of the 1890s and 1900s.  Of course, everday women weren't shaped this way, just like we aren't today (unless you're lucky), but if we can take away anything from this research, it's this...

You too can easily achieve the ideal proportion of your time period through judicious use of the very same tools that women of the past employed.

Camille Clifford is *still* famous for her hourglass figure, but how much of this could be an illusion?
So in my own corset, I have a comfortable 27 inch waist, but my bust is only 34 inches, so I need to oomph it up  by 3 inches.  My natural hip is 37 inches, so if I want to achieve the correct 1905 silhouette, I'll need to add a total of 7 inches (yikes!), through the use of bum pads and petticoats.

You *don't* have to corset train or reduce your waist uncomfortably to achieve these results! Women have been adding to their tops and bottoms for centuries, to make their waists look small, and you can too. :-)

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Friday, January 11, 2013

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V353: 1920s Knickers Pattern

Hi all!  Miss Emily, of My Vintage Visions Blog, sent over this adorbs little original 1920s knickers pattern.  Aren't these just sweet?  /want/

I'm off to cut my hair like the illustrated model on the pattern there.  Maybe I'll make some knickers when I get back, and run around the house singing "Chicago" show tunes, teehee!
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Thursday, January 10, 2013

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V352: New Vintage Shoe Acquisitions

Well, I've been on eBay entirely too much...again...acquiring vintage and antique footwear for our quickly growing collection.  All the shoes I nabbed aren't even here yet, but I wanted to share with you a few of what's come in...

This pair is interesting, because it sortof "breaks the rules" of dating shoes.  They don't make it easy!  I suspect that these date from the early 1890s, because of the shape of the toe, and the knock on heel.

Nancy Rexford, in her book Women's Shoes in America, 1795-1930, notes that the knock-on opera heel, with a ridged neck and a shield-shaped heel tip, was common in the 1890s.  The squared-off toes and side-seam placement look back to the 1880s, though, so perhaps this shoe is transitional.

Made of ivory kid leather, with thin leather soles, this lovely pair of wedding slippers also has some interesting ribbon ties that appear to have been attached later, with rough stitches and raw edges right on the galloon binding.

Inside the right shoe is the label "Bullock Bro's; Walter Proby & Co.; Successors; Chicago."  I didn't find much on this company, except that they were in business from at least the 1860s to 1891, when a large ad appeared regularly in the Chicago papers.  The Wisconsin Historical Society makes note that the Bullock Brothers disappear from Chicago business listings by 1913, so it's safe to assume this shoe is no younger than that.  An interesting pair, to be sure!

This pair of slippers, in ivory satin, is another curious design, primarily because of the heel, and the use of elastic just under the bow on the vamp.

We know that elastic was being used well back into the 19th century, and we also know that this toe shape is common between the 1890s and 1920s.  It is the heel that confuses me - it's a Cuban knock-on, which could place this pair anywhere between about 1906 and the end of the 1920s. (Rexford, 219).  Another interesting detail on these slippers is the quilted lining.  This is usually found with boudoir slippers - could this be the case? Fascinating!

These black beauties are a gorgeous example of 1920s dress shoes.  They're made of black satin, with a large grosgrain bow laced through two eyelets.  This style, with the little tongue and tie, was part of a colonial revival that came about in the 1890s and lasted to about 1930.  The tall, straight-sided heel and the slightly pointed toe, along with the colonial bow, firmly plant this shoe in the late 1920s.

These silky lovelies were made by Penn Traffic Company, founded in 1854 as a food service provider for stagecoaches.  They gradually grew into a department store, and as it appears, offered all kinds of items, including snazzy shoes.

The last pair I have to share with you today are these very typical 1930s oxfords.  I do love a good vintage oxford!

Lace-up leather shoes like these were super common in the '30s.  These have a high Cuban, lacquered heel, decorative stitching, and perforations on the upper.  The label inside reads "Lady Fair; A Peters Shoe."  Though this isn't particularly unique, it's a good one to have in the collection, representing women's everyday footwear of the 1930s.
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