Costuming

1860s Zelda: Corsetry

Confession: I did not need a new corset for this project.

Woman with blue hair and pointy ears wearing a light blue corset over a white chemise

In this case, I’m going to jump a bit out of order. You see, I originally planned to use the perfectly cromulent TV110 corset I made a few years ago. It’s appropriate to the era, it fits well, and most importantly, it was already done. Indeed, up through the point where I finished the enormous ballgown skirt, I had planned to use that very corset.

Woman with red hair wearing a black corset with R on the bust points, holding a riding crop and a Pokeball
I used this for my Stripper Jessie from Team Rocket costume.

It’s just… I changed my mind, and I wanted a new one. So, a new one I made.

The biggest thing that drew me to the Redthreaded 1860s corset pattern was the gores at the bust and hip. That hip spring… just, damn. It looks so good. So, I bought the pattern and made a mockup. (ALWAYS MAKE A MOCKUP OF YOUR CORSET FIRST.) I ended up not needing to make any adjustments; I didn’t fully fill out the bust area, but that’s what padding is for. Also, in retrospect, I would have liked more room at the hip so that I could fill that out with a little padding as well. As it is, it fits my hip very well, so I can’t really complain.

(Relatedly, that’s one thing I love about historical clothing. Sure, there’s a lot of change and a lot of extremes in the various silhouettes, but it wasn’t achieved by people trying to change their bodies, like we try to do today. Victorian women did not all have tiny waists! They had regular waists and bust padding and enormous skirts! Anything looks tiny in contrast to a huge crinoline. Trust me, humans do not evolve nearly as fast as silhouettes. Historically, people were quite adept at optical illusions. In conclusion, your body is absolutely fine and the idea that there’s one perfect body type is super fake. Thank you I will get off my soapbox for now.)

It was important for me to finish the new corset before working on the ballgown bodice. Different style corsets shape your body differently, and ballgown bodices in particular are tight-fitting. So I made this in between sewing the skirt and sewing the bodice. I constructed it like a two-layer corset, although it was actually three layers: sky blue silk taffeta flatlined to satin coutil (which I will now refer to collectively as the fashion fabric layer) and a second layer of satin coutil. I figured the sky blue would be both versatile and complementary to Zelda’s character.

I think I would have preferred to do a one-layer corset construction (as the pattern describes), except I can never find instructions I like on finishing the seams on the inside without covering them in boning channels. The Redthreaded pattern suggests serging the seam allowances, which is too modern for my taste.

For this corset, I made boning channels between the two layers. My construction method started with assembling the inner and outer layers together at the busk and center back. I sewed the bust gores separately on each layer, but for most of the other seams, including the hip gore, I sewed them all at once, with four layers together. With the hip gore, I left the seam open across the boning channels so I could insert the boning later. Each seam was topstitched twice with silk thread, partially for strength and partially because I liked the look. Altering the pattern instructions in such a reckless way was a lot to keep track of and I’m not sure I’d do it like this again, but at least I know this corset will be incredibly strong thanks to the two layers of coutil.

Corset pieces cut out
Three layers of fabric, so six pieces of fabric per pattern piece to account for both left and right sides.
Front of corset, partially assembled
I found the bust gores a little tricky to insert. Also, the center front is cut on the bias, so it distorted slightly when inserting the busk.

After that I inserted the boning according to the pattern instructions. In most places I used spiral steel bones, which are fairly flexible. At the center front and back, I used flat spring steel boning, because those sections should not be able to flex, especially side to side. I made bias tape from the silk taffeta and used that to bind the top and bottom. (I always wear safety goggles when sewing that bottom binding, because there’s a risk the sewing machine needle could hit the boning, break, and fly into nearby soft tissue. It might seem overly cautious, but my dad once got an x-acto knife to the eyeball, so I’d rather err on the safe side.)

At some point during this process I also inserted eyelets. At that point, the corset was functionally done. However, it was very common in this era to “floss” the bones. Flossing is both decorative (there are many pretty shapes that can be creative) and functional. The stitching helps keep the bones properly positioned in their channels and can help strengthen the areas where boning might wear through the fabric. I used a fairly heavy silk thread and flossed the end of each bone, as well as the points where two boning channels crossed seams (because of the weird construction order I did things in, the seams aren’t actually stitched down at those points.) I also reinforced the points of the bust gussets, which are spots where the seam allowance is very thin and extra reinforcement is helpful. Some of this was an enjoyable process, but I admit I did get bored partway through and finishing was a bit of a slog. I’m pleased with how it looks, though! (On the outside. The inside is messier.)

Half of a corset fully constructed
There are two eyelets close together at the waist, which is where the corset is actually tightened from. The lacing makes “bunny loops” at those points instead of crossing over to the other side. When wearing, the bunny loops are pulled tighter and tied. Also, I can’t really do this by myself.

The very, very last thing I did was to sew a hook on. I’ve seen these referred to as petticoat hooks, but I’m not sure if that’s an official name. The idea is that you can tuck the waistband of your crinoline and petticoats under the hook to reduce bulk at the waist, thus creating the visual effect of a smaller waistline. This is seen on some, but by no means all, corsets from the period.

With that, the corset was ready to go! Next I’ll jump back in time to talk about my ruffled petticoat.

Author with blue hair, white chemise, and light blue corset

Pattern: Redthreaded 1860s Gored Corset

Fabric: silk taffeta from Renaissance Fabrics

Satin coutil from Corset Making Supplies

Notions: Boning, eyelets, and busk from Corset Making Supplies; petticoat hook and satin ribbon from Jo-Ann

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