Press "Enter" to skip to content

Regency Corset Under Construction

Regency corsets, I’ve decided, are shockingly complexticated little beasties. I mean, they look all simple and they represent a time when, officially, corsets were somewhat démodé (except for how pretty much everyone was still wearing them). The pattern is easy enough. The construction is easy enough. There’s one central wooden busk and all of 14 pieces of bone in this thing. And yet…. I do believe that this is the most subtle and sophisticated setup of light-weight stiffening techniques I’ve ever seen. I’m a little in awe….Remember these reference pictures?

inspiration/research sources
My research/inspiration for the pattern: Corsets and Crinolines (upper left), Underwear Fashion in Detail (upper right), and Taschen's Fashion.

You see all that beautiful quilting and cording work? It’s all structural. It’s crazy-amazing-totally-different-to-everything-I’ve-ever-learned-about-corsets-omg-freaking-awesome. (There should be a word for that. ‘Epiphany’ comes close.)

Here are some of the support elements that I’m using, based on the examples I have in books:

felled seams
Flat felled seams. A felled seam, by having a lot of fabric firmly nailed together, is less flexible than the surrounding fabric.

Miss’s Rule 1 of Boning: You can use anything as boning, but the more flexible the material the more you need to really pack it tight into the boning channels.

I have a quarter inch flat fell seam. That means I’ve ended up with 10 layers of fabric inside of a 3/16th inch channel. (Fabric – 2 pieces + single seam allowance + doubled seam allowance is five layers, x 2 because everything is a lining/outer treated as one. Channel width: your stitching on a fell is never right at the edge, so 1/4″ seam is really about 1/16″ shy in terms of stitch spacing.)

It’s pretty stiff. I mean, it’s no cable tie, but it’s easily on par with a hemp-corded channel.

channels for cording
Speaking of corded channels... Regency corsets are full of them. I've borrowed this large diamond design from one of the pieces in Fashion. (No cording in channels as yet.)
quilted channels
Quilting. These channels are actually closely quilting 2 layers of 1/8" thick cotton batting. The result is firmly compressed batting that's quite solid.
embroidery around bust gussets
Oh, the embroidery! Embroidery, just by virtue of packing in a lot of stitches, tends to stiffen fabric. Embroidery through multiple layers does even better.

Admittedly, hand embroiderers have much better control over how much their work is stiffening a garment than I do with my machine’s utility stitches, but the basic point remains – the more thread you work into your fabric, the more you’re going to stiffen it.

Most of the corsets I’ve seen from this period seem to have embroidery running around the waistline. This is genius – it’s a lovely, decorative way to work in a waist stay… Sheer cleverness, I tell you! :)

corset front
Here's everything going on in front, borrowing design elements heavily. Cording, quilting, embroidery, felled seams... Oh, right, and a central busk and some boning. These things aren't as flimsy as I thought!

Well, ok, the cording, boning and busk aren’t in yet, but you get the idea. Now, here’s the kicker – I’ve majorly toned it down from the examples I was looking at. I mean, I’d love to put in a little grid of 1″ corded diamonds, but that seems tedious yet annoying. I’d love to replicate some of the larger areas of amazing quilting on some of the pictures, but, again, tedious yet annoying on the machine. I’m the world’s worst embroideress, so if I can’t do it on the machine, it ain’t gettin’ done.

So I’ve got a whole new arsenal of tricks to use on lightly boned corsets now. :) It’s been educational…


  1. Izodiea
    Izodiea September 4, 2011

    Looks amazing so far, can’t wait to see it finished!

    • missa
      missa September 4, 2011

      Hey, thanks! It’s actually nearly finished. The bias binding is all on and it’s just lying on the worktable waiting for a touch more hand-work… Yay! :)

  2. Laura
    Laura September 4, 2011

    Dude – this is seriously gorgeous. Is there a cheat to making something like this? Or an alternate bust compression technique for Regency? Because I have a yearning to make one of these dresses (and have several patterns sitting around calling my name) and yet I have neither the patience nor the fine motor skill to make that gorgeousness above that you are working on happen for me. Thoughts?

    • missa
      missa September 4, 2011

      Thank you! :)
      As for simplifying… I already did. ;) Um… Ok, first off, everything you see here is machined. I’m using a couple utility stitches: a zigzag on a width of 2 and a length of .1 or so (whatever your satin stitch is); a diamond stitch with a width of 6.5 and a length of .1, and a scallop stitch with a width if 6.5 and a length of .1.
      I sketched in all the sewing lines with blue “water disappearing” ink (which, in the Midwest, means “humidity disappearing/water impervious”. I swear they ship us a special formula..) The exception is in the channel stitching – I marked the center lines on the lower channels and just the first line on the quilting, and used the legs of my straight stitch foot to follow along the line.
      Sewing this didn’t feel too much different to sewing a corded corset for the 16th century. The diamond cording panel at the side back was a little more challenging, but I just gave myself ticks to on side to indicate the second of two stitching lines. (The first is along the diamond lines – you just need to remember to leave space for the cords to go through!)
      The “abdominal arcs” follow, and I’m not even kidding, the seam lines in control panties. (Before you feel judged, think about why I know this…) I noticed this trend while looking at extant examples. Maybe, by virtue of me being my sized, this is just what I picked up on, but there you have it… those seams are nothing new, we just forgot it for a while.
      Does that make it any better?

  3. Laura
    Laura September 5, 2011

    Perhaps my question should instead be: how much do you charge? ;)

    • missa
      missa September 5, 2011

      *laugh* You’re so silly! I love that you’re doing all the embroidery to create your own uncut velvet brocade and still claiming to lack manual dexterity, btw….
      I did some checking last night. All of the corsets from this period seem to accomplish their shaping through the use of gussets. There’s on slightly earlier model that’s hits slightly above the waist and uses a single rounded inset for each breast. The size of the “cup” is controlled by several rows of cord across the inset that can be tightened or let out – sort of a nineteenth century wonder-bra…
      Within about 20 years, the bust gussets are absorbed into the shaping of the front pieces of the corset. It’s pretty nifty, if you think about it! :)
      I love these weird little transitional periods. This is all happening right after women finally got the right to cut and make corsets professionally, and social pressures lead to an increase in women making women’s clothing. Funny how we finally got a corset that supports the breast without squashing it flat, right? It’s just an utterly fascinating period for pattern history, in a weirdly psychotic sort of way – on the one hand, what’s happening in the corsets is amazing and subtle and profoundly sophisticated, and then they went and chucked a high-waisted ode-to-a-Grecian-urn shmada over the top and pretended there was nothing going on underneath. It’s like, “Uh, guys, do your realize what you’ve got here? Because that corset gives us the entire future of women’s tailoring! You might want to show it off a little….” But no. Le sigh…. History is hilarious. ;)

    • missa
      missa September 5, 2011

      Ps – if I ever manage get my butt out to MN, we’ll get you hooked up! ;)

  4. Laura
    Laura September 6, 2011

    Hey, Sept. 17th is Wenchlandia! And the first weekend of October is the Day of Wrong, so you have an open invitation.

    As to manual dexterity, punch a needle in and out of fabric requires far less dexterity than tons of embroidery. Either way, perhaps it is my lack of patience that is the biggest obstacle….

    Heh. I think that info on the development of the corset is very interesting. And I am excited to someday wear a corset that actually holds my bosom in place rather than smushes it into submission…

    • missa
      missa September 8, 2011

      Hmmm.., October is more likely with my schedule. We’ll see what we can swing…..

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.