All About 1830s Corsets and Fan Lacing

Jan 2, 2019 7 comments

One of the biggest questions we get about our 1830s ensembles is about the corsets, so we've made a video telling you all about them:

Both of our corsets were purchased from RedThreaded, who offers several different options. Mine is the "Sylvie" style with cording in the bust and torso, and the curved busk while Abby's is the standard 1830s corset. Both are great and very historically accurate.

Sylvie Stays by Redthreaded - these are lovely
I made some changes to my 1830s Sylvie corset. Since I have such narrow sloping shoulders, I added a single line of boning into each strap to help them stay in place. Corset straps from this period are a bit confusing when combined with the off-the-shoulder gowns. The straps are meant to sit out on the shoulders, but honestly it's easy to see why corset straps disappear later on. Slippy straps were an issue then as now, with various innovations like springs and early rubber elastic used. I went with an earlier technology (1) of a piece of light boning and it worked just fine.

I also changed my back lacing to fan lacing. My obsession with getting dressed myself becomes a challenge with some periods, but luckily fan lacing is very easy and can be done on any corset with cross-lacing eyelets or grommets. Fan lacing allows you to put your corset on over your head, pull up the ties all in one motion, and tie everything off in front for the perfect fit every time. It looks complex, but it's actually very easy. Here's how to do it...

Every set of lacing holes gets one corset lace, so if you have 12 sets of holes you'll have 12 separate laces.

Follow the above diagram for how to lace through the holes. Basically, when you pull both ends of the lace, it draws the edges of the corset together.

Once all the laces are threaded through the holes, pin them to a piece of fabric or cotton tape, etc., all together, on each side. The laces need to be shortened in the middle section, so do this part on the body or a dress form.

LACMA (link) - you can see each lace as it goes through its set of holes
The next part is the trickiest. You need to give yourself enough room to get the corset on and off over your head. I got my laces too short the first time and got stuck in the corset. A good rule of thumb is that you want about a 2 - 6 inch gap in the front where your tabs wrap around and tie. Any less and you'll get stuck; any more and you won't have enough adjustability to cinch in as much as you may like.

LACMA (link) - here you can see how each lace is "corralled" into that tab, which in turn has its own tie across the front of the corset.
Once the laces are adjusted, sandwich them into your little tab bit and securely stitch it all together.

You'll *love* this technique! You can also do it on Regency stays (which I definitely plan to do). Give a try! There is no alteration to the corset itself and you can always go back to regular back lacing if you don't like it. ;-)


(1) You can see boning in the straps in 18th century stays in Norah Waugh's Corsets and Crinolines.  


  1. Amazing! Thank you so much for this, Lauren. I'm planning my regency stays right now!

  2. This is amazing, thanks so much for the schematic! As to slippy shoulder straps -- I always fight this, owing to a narrow back. With bras I just move the back connection closer to the center back. Would cutting the seam in the back strap so that it reaches more toward mid back work? Or would the straps continually be showing under the neckline, I wonder?

  3. Hi Lauren. I just wondering, do you have to really tighten the corset? Also, how do you sign up for this blog?

    1. At this time period the corset is meant to smooth the sqishy bits to provide a frame for the dress. Also, they hadn't started using metal grommets yet. So, no, it doesn't have to be super tight, just snug enough to smooth and not have any wrinkles.

  4. I woke up early this morning wondering how I was going to get my corset on by myself so I could fit a gown, and here you are. Thank you!

  5. This is a brilliant idea! i'm helping my daughter make a corset this week and we're definitely going to use this method. We've had problems in the past when, once laced, the lacing shifts around so the corset overlaps at the top and gapes at the bottom - this would fix that problem.
    Do you know what kind of cord they used for lacing? We've had real trouble finding decent cord.

  6. Hi Lauren, This Fan Lacing business looks like a great solution for a modern servant-less gal that wants to dress herself. Could it work for mid or late 18th century stays as well? Would it be historically appropriate in any way to Frankenstein some Fan Lacing for my 18th century stays?


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