Hard Lessons in Victorian Corset Making - My "Duh" Moments...

Sep 5, 2014 15 comments
Left side - boning, strength additions, and padding. I still have wrinkling, but it's better than it was.
Right side - no boning, no strength layers, no padding.
I can make a mean pair of 18th century stays, but when it comes to Victorian corset making, I'm useless.

I don't even know how I ever made any of my previous Victorian corsets. I can only think that I just followed the directions, wore them with pain, and was happy with that. However, now I know about hip spring, bust gussets, and comfort needs...and now I can't seem to make a Victorian corset to save my life.

Which of course means practice, practice, practice.

First up, this coffee n' chocolate, Steampunk-intended, gusseted corset, made from one layer of pretty heavy twill, and a layer of muslin for lining, with bias tape as the boning channels, and a twill waist tape (the first time I've used a waist tape).

It's starting to look like a decent corset. I still have buckling on the waist, though. This sheds new light on the seaming used on Edwardian corsets with large hip gussets, and also on the corset "belt" you see on some originals.
Easy, right? I've made corsets and stays out of random materials before, with no problem.

Except this twill has some stretch, turns out, and that just messes everything up in a tightly-laced foundation garment.

The side without boning, padding, or the extra hip gusset added in yet. A wrinkled mess, and way worse on an actual body.
Trying the corset on last night I had some serious fit issues, and huge wrinkling problems. My solution to the fit issue was to cut another gusset in the hips, which were being restricted, inhibiting any further reduction to the waist, and skewing the back lacing.

My solution to the wrinkling problem was to add some strength to the waist and one of the side panels, by fusing two pieces of non-stretch twill in a "T" shape. This is an after-the-fact stab at the strength layer I didn't put in. It ain't pretty, but it's working. Next time...strength layer!

Left side - the "T" shaped strength additions, fused to the interior. The right side, just the stay tape.
Lessons learned:

  • Don't use a stretch fabric for any part of the corset unless it's mounted to a non-stretch fabric
  • Don't skip the strength layer
  • Spiral steel is your friend (learned this in an earlier battle with corsetry)
  • Gussets. No really (also learned in an earlier battle, but still need to make them bigger than I think)
  • Try Try Again
  • Keep trying
  • Try more


  1. I've been doing Victorian dresses for a while, but with corsets they're still something that every time I make a new one (for myself or friends) I always learn something new since each one always seems to need it's own tweaking. It's coming along very nicely though and I can't wait to see the finished garment!

    1. They do all seem to require their own special tweaks!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. Haven't tried gussets yet.

  3. It looks great so far! Gussets and gores are magic. I'm so inaccurate at sewing most seams that I tremble just thinking about making a corset. I did get a custom corset made by Hourglass Attire and going through the mockup phase taught me a few things, like that if I ever decide to make my own, it's imperative to measure ALL the things! The first mockup fit pretty well, except in the back. Turns out my back is much smaller (2 inches) than my front. Before we figured that out, the gussets gaped open and making them smaller just gave me quad-boob. As soon as we fixed the back, everything fit! If I had been making a corset myself, I would have never figured that out in a million years. Best of luck with yours! You're an excellent seamstress/problem solver, so I'm sure you'll make it beautiful in the end!

    1. That's really interesting, and really makes me want to just suck it up and have one custom made for me by a professional (I know three who are awesome and affordable.) because I do NOT know what I'm doing!

  4. This is really interresting! I would love to try my hand on corsetry some day, but have no idea where to start. Never mind where to wear it :D
    I'm sure your corsets will turn out even more lovely than before!

  5. I use Truly Victorian's corset all the time now. It makes up beautifully, fits great and is simple to make (no gores or gussets). Plus there is the added bonus of a very helpful board where you can discuss any issues you're having.

    1. I have the TV Edwardian corset pattern, which is next on my foundations to-do list. I've made it before for my Mom, and found it went together nicely. This particular corset (above) is from an out-of-print Simplicity pattern, and I've made the gored panel Simplicity pattern that's still in print several times, but found that the hip spring is too small. Adjustments, adjustments!

  6. Oohhhh! This is going to be fabulous when it's done! You will get it and it will be GREAT!!!

  7. Looking good so far! Don't give up. I learn something new each time and what I learned last time is use corset coutil. I found some for $20 a yard on Etsy. It makes a BIG difference and you only need one yard. I use Laughing Moon's corset pattern, Siverado is one of the ones in my pattern. It always works well for me, but I have made and remade/salvaged (took the bones and busk out to reuse in the next one) NUMEROUS corsets for myself and daughters. I do use spiral steel for curves. It is a definite need! I also got a good 2 piece eyelet tool, such a difference!

    1. Noted, I think I just need to take the plunge and get the coutil. I feel I'm not so good at Victorian corset making as to justify the expense, though. I would rather practice with less expensive, but still durable materials, before going for the good stuff. As for the spiral steels, they're my true love of boning, and I have them on order for finishing this one by Saturday

  8. Looking awesome! I am curious about your take on the placement of the bust gussets. My latest corset was made with gussets using a pattern from the 1880s (http://jillssewingroom.blogspot.se/2014/09/finished-1884-corset-hsf-16.html) and when I altered it I raised the bustline so that the gussets start just below the actual boobs. In the end this meant elongation the patterns 4-5inches which I was not all happy about. Your gussets appear to start further down, thoughts?

    1. I used an older Simplicity pattern, and that's where the pattern has the gussets. I was questioning this placement too, until I put it on, and it actually seemed to work quite well for the 1860s silhouette, with the bust lower and more rounded. I don't know if I'd make them so low again though...

  9. When I started making my own corsets I was so daunted that I took a course in how to pattern cut them. The method I learned was so clever and can be applied to anyone of any size that I have since made custom corsets for quite a few people and they always turn out well! I wrote the method out to pass to my friends in university when I did my degree and they have also tested it with success. The courses are in the UK but have a look at the webpage and you can see the results from the person who runs the courses. http://thestaymaker.co.uk/
    I would be happy to share my notes with you if it would help since it would probably be a bit of a trek to get over here for a course!
    Meanwhile, your corset is looking great and I look forward to seeing it finished!


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