Behold, a Victorian corset, entirely handsewn!

24 Aug
Front view of a corset in burgundy fabric with white muslin lining peeking out from the bottom, laced to a dress form. The shape is tapering from a sweetheart line over the bust to a tight waist, then wide flaring hips, with the front coming to a point low on the belly.

Okay, it’s tiny, but it totally counts (the busk is just under 3in/7cm long, and yes, that’s a pencil sharpener peeking out from behind the point of the busk, I used it to raise the dress form a bit).

Here’s how it happened, in another image-heavy post.

A dozen years ago, I came across a Victorian corset pattern for a 1:12 doll (see footnote 1). While meant to be made out of fabric, the tutorial calls for gluing the pieces together.

But because I’m me, I wanted to see if I could actually handsew it. For this first attempt, I printed the pattern to fit a letter-sized piece of paper (see footnote 2), and used cotton fabric from an old work shirt for the ‘fashion fabric’ (aka, the shell), and old, fine cotton lawn for the lining (you may remember those tiny violets). (see footnote 3)

Three quarter profile view, showing the metal wire loops going around the pins on the other half of the busk. In the back, the lining shows the tiny topstitching in burgundy thread, as well as the top eyeletes in the back, with the laces.

It honestly turned out much better than I could have hoped for, even though there are some rank rookie mistakes that could have been avoided, had I planned just a bit better.

I'm holding the dress form to show the back of the corset, laced to it, showing the handsewn eyelets and the thread braid threaded to lace it side by side

I don’t have ribbon thin enough to fit the scale in a matching color, so I braided twelve strands of the same thread I used to sew the corset, and used that for the laces instead.

Overhead shot of the two sides of the corset laying on the desk, with the loops on one side and the pins on the other; the bottom pin is through the bottom loop. The lining of the back and bottom peeks from behind; no eyelets have been sewn yet

The wooden busk is the only bone in the whole piece; as it’s meant for a doll, a corset in this scale does not need bones to hold its shape. However, I wanted to make mine functional, and so, I had to figure out how to add a split busk with loops and pins.

Overhead shot of the corset, inside out, showing the tiny (and uneven) topstitching at the bottom, as as well as the stitches holing the busk in place. The wire loops on the left piece are visible

I made the busk loops from the wire inside bread bag twist ties, because it’s very thin and flexible; the busk itself is two long thing pieces cut out from a jumble craft stick, about 1/8th in (3mm) wide and about 1/25th in (1mm) thick. It works, but I need to find a better alternative for my next iteration.

Close up of the front of the corset (my ugly thumb on display), showing how the wire loops go around the pins

The pins are literally sewing pins, going through the wood, then glued with instant glue, snipped as close to the fabric as I could, then filed further so there are no pointy bits of metal poking out, waiting to stab the unwary. I should have added the pins earlier in the process for a neater finished piece.

Left half of the corset, burgundy fabric side up. Three sides have been sewn together, turned right side out, and topstitched. I'm starting to fold the bottom hem up, holding it with sewing clips, to topstitch it closed.

One of my mistakes was to sew the lining to the fashion fabric in such a way that the last seam was the bottom hem, rather than the back edge, because it made it much harder to control how the seams joining the panels of lining and shell behaved when folded inwards together.

Left half of the corset, on the desk, lining side up; there's tiny, slightly uneven topstitching around the husk, the top, and the back. The bottom edge is held together with sewing clips, as I start to topstitch it closed with burgundy thread.

Another mistake was not to measure and mark the placement of the eyelets far earlier in the process; next time, I must remember to do this before I join the back panels to the rest of the panels, to make sure they align properly.

The two sides of the corset, topstitched, laying separately on the table, lining side up. The right side shows the dots I marked for the eyelets; I have started adding them to the left side, where an awl is poking through the fabric, while a threaded needle lies of to the side

Because I’m occasionally just that bit too much, even by my own standards, I made the papier maché dress form I’m using here (from an old Barbie doll that Secondborn left behind long, long ago). Sadly, and quite aside from it being lumpy, it’s not quite the right scale.

Three quarter profile view of the dress form, with the corset, laced tight at the back, busk unhooked, around it; the shot shows the laces making Xs down the back, the loops on one side of the buck, and the unsightly inside on the pin side of the busk

It was an interesting process; the sewing itself was tricky mostly in that I should have thought out the order of operations to fit the scale. I want to make this size again, as soon as I find a better alternative for the husk (the wire and the pins work great).

* * * *

1 Originally, at The Creative Doll blog; I have since seen the pattern in many places, including assholes selling something that the artist generously gifted us all. Anna Hardman does not seem to be active in miniature artist circles today, and her website is now a link farm; the most recent images of her work I could find (with my very limited Google skills) are in this this gallery at ArtWanted, from back in 2011.

2 The most excellent Inch Calculator tells me it’s roughly 1:5 scale, or about twice as large as a 1:12 would be. As it happens, 1:5 scale is just a teensie bit too large to fit a Barbie doll.

3 Because this was just a first try, I did not care that some of the pieces I cut were from parts of the shirt where the color had faded from deep burgundy to a sort of golden/sepia. Now that it’s done and I like it so much, even with the uneven topstitching and misaligned eyelets, I hope I’ve learned my lesson: at least make sure the fabric matches!

* * * *

More photos ahoy!

Straight front shot of the finished corset, laced to the dress form, in a slightly different angle
Extreme close up to the top two pairs of eyelets, with the laces forming an X; the corset is on the dress form, and a bit of the front top edge peeks in the forefront
The corset flat on the table, with all the loops around the pins; the lining peeks out the bottom, and it's clear there are no eyelets sewn in yet
The corset from the back, laced on the dress form, showing the "bunny ears"  laces at the waist. The angle shows the topstitching around the top edge, as well as some of the decoloration of the fabric on one of the back side panels
Front shot of the lumpy papier maché dress form, with the laced corset, busk unhooked and spread, around it. This view shows how the wooden husk is out of scale (too thick)
The two sides of the corset, right side out, next to each other; the topstitching is finished, the loops are in place, and the lining is visible between the two sides of the husk and around the bottom edge. The pins are missing, as are the eyelets
Extreme close up of the bottom edge, held by sewing clips, as I start topstitching closed.

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