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A Milliner’s take on Tudor Corsets

rubber cement
Rubber cement works on fabric.

Yeah, that’s the whole secret. It’s stupid-obvious, but it will change your life. Not only will rubber cement work on fabric, but really really cheap rubber cement will work on fabric, leather, and a slew of other costume-useful surfaces. (This is very good to know if you have to fix a disintegrating fur stole, btw – prep the back of the skin and a scrap of muslin with the cement, then adhere.)

Now, rubber cement is period to the sixteenth century. (I think it comes in in the late 19th, possibly early 20th. The history of glue is not really my area of research.) There are a lot of very strong, very useful glues that are. In Handmade Shoes for Men (A fascinating book which turned me off the idea of shoe-making), the authors describe the process of re-inforcing the side walls of shoes by using adhesive to laminate three separate layers of leather together. “Tradition-conscious shoemakers make their own adhesive – from flour, chestnuts, or potatoes. Dried leaves of this adhesive are dissolved in the correct quantity of water and sturred to form a glue that can easily be applied.” (Vass and Molnar, 139) Anything you can pull a good deal of starch out of can be used to make a good glue. If you’re not worried about keeping it period, you can use spray-glue for this, or two sided iron-on adhesives. Much though I adore contact adhesives, you want to be careful about using them on something that covers the torso of a human, since they really don’t breathe. (Also, if you’re doing this on a human, you should know that modern buckram tends to be for millinery use, and is designed to be molded when wet. Sweat counts. Pet friendly window screening and/or plastic canvas are good substitutes without that particular flaw.)

To get started, you’ll want to cut out out your pieces. I’m working off a Pfalzgrafin style draft I made for Tyler. I’ll need fabric pieces with seam allowances, and buckram pieces without seam allowances.

brushing the buckram
Prepare the buckram pieces with rubber cement.

I plan to put a central busk in this, so I’m being careful to avoid getting contact cement on the center of the front piece. Also, you’ll want to work on something easy to clean, as buckram has kinda biggy holes and the cement will go through them. Fun times. I’m using a teflon baking sheet.

rubber cement on fabric
Brush rubber cement onto the fabric piece.
checking for bleed-through
The cement should not bleed through the fabric, but you might want to test this before you do anything major. Tissue thin fabrics aren't suitable for this method.
joining the fabric and buckram
Let the contact adhesive dry until the pieces are tacky, then carefully introduce the buckram and the fabric.

No, really, be careful – you’re not going to have an easy time if you try to reposition the buckram after you stick it down.

pieces of buckram adhered to cloth
Let the cement dry.

Your facing fabric is now applied to the buckram. We’re going to cut these out with a generous seam allowance. I plan to bind the finished corset, but I’m going to have to do something to seal any edges that are going to be involved in seams.

preparing a seam edge
Swipe a bit of cement over the side seam area, making sure you get both the fabric and the buckram.
securing seam allowance
When the cement is merely tacky, wrap the seam allowance around the edge of the buckram and secure it.
seam edges secure
Repeat for the Side Seams and Strap Ends on all your pieces.
edges trimmed
Trim away any fabric that extends past the buckram.

Next: the Lining

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  1. Mo
    Mo March 15, 2011

    How will you stitch through the glue when you do the eyelets? If this were for a non-doll sized corset, what type of hand stitch would you use to hold the side pieces together?

    I’ve worked with hot glue when sewing items on for bellydance costuming and there’s NO getting thru it with any kind of needle. Would the cement glue leave the needle sticky?

    Just curious! I will definitely use this next time when making a French Hood or Gable.

  2. missa
    missa March 15, 2011

    Hey, Mo! :)

    Teehee…. Since the cement seals the fabric from the backside, it prevents fraying. Instead of using the thread tension of an eyelet stitch to hold a hole open, I plan to use a small punch tool. Normally I hate severing the threads of the fabric, but these are pretty well sized. (Since she’s a doll, I’m thinking about doing something saucy with fabric paint instead of stitching. I didn’t like the size I was able to get for the eyelets on the 11th century schmata.) For a human size, you could punch the hole then add a grommet, or overedge with a buttonhole stitch. It might technically be possible to spread the threads with an eyelet, but I think it would be quite the fight.

    Hot glue is a totally different beastie! It goes on in a thick bead rather than a thin layer, and it hardens as it dries. Contact cements mostly likes to stick to contact cement. You can rub it off other surfaces, and it doesn’t leave residue on your needle. (Which should make it not work, logically, but it does. I’m baffled, but I believe in the magic.) It doesn’t tend to harden as it dries – that’s why the hardier versions used for conveyer belts and junque. (Best stuff for emergency theater shoe re-soling!)

    The cement definitely does change the sewing – go slower on a machine, and be prepared to bust out pliers to handsew. *shrug* It’s no different than sewing through any other sized fabric – there’s more drag on the needle. Be prepared for the needle to dull faster. This is much less of a bother than sewing through those fabrics with the glued-on metallic “sequin” dots. Ugh. Those destroy needles!

    If this were not for a doll, I’d use the same exact whip stitch to hold the pieces together. I’d just do it in a stronger thread, and with stitches that go slightly farther over the edge of the fabric. The cement inside the fold gives the fabric more strength and stability – it’s like the backing you find sometimes on upholstery fabrics. The front-sides-together-overcast-edge trick is just a faster and more convenient way of flatting them edge-to-edge. If you’re worried about strength, you can re-inforce the seam by placing a piece of twill tape behind it and sewing each edge next to the seam. *shrug*

    If you were doing this on a human sized bodice, I’d recommend only using the cement around the outside 1-2″ of the pieces just to get the layers together smoothly – that ought to be enough to avoid stress wrinkles near seams. Also, I don’t use buckram, because it’s too easily deformed by moisture. I’d use pet-resistant window screening (yes, really, I have), plastic canvas (I confess to this too), or many layers of heavy net stacked and quilted together (possibly my most legit cheat). The window screening is really good for a dramatic Malifocent style collar. A touch of cement keeps the line smooth.

  3. Sarah
    Sarah March 26, 2011

    Ok, I always knew you were a genius, Missa… But this just proves it. In fact, I was sitting here thinking about paste stiffened interlinings in Florentine clothing for the last several days and contemplating whether or not I should break out the Elmer’s and have a go at it myself.

    Also, what does it say about me that I only found out you were blogging again (and apparently have been for ages) from Jen, who posted on LJ saying that she felt bad that she had no idea I was blogging again, too. LOL.

  4. Christina Cato
    Christina Cato March 27, 2011

    This is absolutely amazing!! I do mostly lower class Elizabethan and I really think this would be perfect for a “cheaper” pair of bodies. I also think this would speed up the tedious process of corset construction exponentially! Would you mind if I tried this as a human size experiment?

  5. missa
    missa March 30, 2011

    Christina – go wild! :) I’d love to know how it works for you! Oh, don’t use normal buckram – it’s designed to go all floppy when wet, so if you sweat in it, it’s a loss. Heavy interfacings, plastic canvas, plastic window screening, etc will be a better plan.

    Sarah – SARAH! Yay! Thanks, hon. :) It says the same thing about you that it says about me – I really need to go check what you’ve been doing on . Was that a shameless plug? I’m sure that wasn’t any sort of shameless plug. Teehee!

  6. Bess Chilver
    Bess Chilver April 15, 2011

    This makes sense to me, especially when applied to medieval fitted gowns. I do not think there is any form of “boning” in those at all, yet, there is *something* that makes them fit really closely AND moulds the body to the right shape. I am also utterly convinced they are supporting the bust (I’m talking 15th century here – not earlier).

    Having said that, when I made my last medieval Queen Gown, I had issues in keeping the middle (under the bust) nice and smooth with only wrinkles at the waist where one would expect them to be. Boning would have resolved it but I didn’t want to do that. The hidden lacing strip was made up of layers of linen “glued” together by using Steam-a-Seam. It worked – to an extent. It wrinkled at the waist (expected) but and kept the front relatively straight. However, I wasn’t totally happy with it as the layers were quite thick in the end.

    But the idea of gluing layers of linen together makes sense on the entire body area,a at least from beneath the bust through to the hips. However, I’m not sure of the rubber cement – simply because its a bit plasticky. I wonder, if on a human body it could be uncomfortable because of the limited amount of give. I know human bodies where it is in headwear but its not wrapped around a head in the same way it is around a body.

    Having said that, I have found somewhere a recipe for a paste which may have been used way back in the 15th and 16th centuries – not sure I have the time to use THAT idea this year (new Queen Gown for CoCo Gala), but I am looking at using perhaps basting glue and stitching to see if I could get a similar effect. It really depends on time for me though.

    Hopefully I can record what I do and write up about it.

  7. missa
    missa April 15, 2011

    Bess!!!! :)
    I love the idea of stiffening the lacing strip with glue- that solves a world of problems.
    I don’t think I’d use rubber cement on a person either. It doesn’t so much breathe. It’s just the technique I’m familiar with from hat brims, and it struck me when I was looking at source material that those fabulist Tudor bodices just don’t wrinkle- they’re absolutely smooth. That’s sort of hard to do, unless you’re playing some tricks with interfacing.
    I hope you get the time to work on that dress! I’d love to see the write-up. :)

  8. Sarah
    Sarah April 21, 2011

    I bought some rubber cement the other day, and I’m going to give this a shot for a project I’m working on. I don’t intend this particular outfit to be an everyday kind of garment, so I’m not too worried about the issues with glue stiffening while worn (this is one of those “proof-of-concept” outfits that require a ton of effort for a possible payoff of nil), but I’m totally curious to see how it works on a human.

    Of course, if I were a major overachiever, I’d render my own glue, but eff that. ;)

  9. missa
    missa April 22, 2011

    Proof of concept is major – keep me in the loop! There are points where this plan on a live human being fails (and “points” is pretty optimistic). To get close to the period approach,you almost need your own glue- something that will stiffen but not crack or shatter….,,

    I’ll take things classes didn’t cover for 100k, Alex….

    Best of luck – I only intended to get people thinking about it. How did it work?

  10. Kimberley
    Kimberley August 25, 2011

    I am working on clothes for my newly completed Queen Anne doll, and I have gotten a lot of really good ideas from here. The rubber cement will be perfect for the 18th century court gown that I am making for her. I appreciate how you are showing ideas for creating the historically accurate clothes for much smaller figures. I even carved my girl’s waist and torso slightly smaller than the teacher recommended, because I knew that if I put all of the layers on that it would add unwanted bulk, and I was determined to have the right layers.


    • missa
      missa September 4, 2011

      Hi, Kimberly!
      Re-carving the waist is pretty hard-core! I’m impressed. :) I’ve really been enjoying working out patterns with the dolls. They keep you honest, because there’s, like, no margin for error in a 16″ body (especially if it’s vinyl).
      Do we get to see pics when you’re done? :) That would be super-cool!

  11. Catharine
    Catharine March 8, 2012

    I did not have good results with this, though I don’t mind saying I was super excited to try it! My canvas did not stick…peeled right up. Should I have pressed it together better? Waited longer? I missed the trick somehow :(. Catharine in TX

    • missa
      missa March 20, 2012

      Did you wait till the contact cement was barely tacky (instead of all snotty) on both sides? Contact cement can be annoying like that. If you can handle the stuff, you could also try a spray adhesive. Be careful – they get onto everything (working in a box is a good idea), and they can cause a pretty amazing rash on some of us.

    • missa
      missa March 20, 2012

      Oh, btw, Catharine – I’m super excited you gave this a shot! :)

  12. Kathleen Julie Norvell
    Kathleen Julie Norvell January 7, 2021

    Great idea. I have a question. Would gum arabic work? It’s a period method of sealing fabric edges like Fray Check and can be “painted” onto fabric to stiffen it.

    • missa
      missa January 26, 2021

      Hi Kathleen – to be honest, i have never worked with gum arabic. Now I will have to look into that! Thank you. :)

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