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

Costuming

1860s Zelda: Underpinnings Part 1

The first things I made for my 1860s Zelda project were my base layers: a linen chemise and drawers. These were usually linen, sometimes cotton, and go next to the skin to absorb sweat and body oils, because they can be washed much more easily and frequently than the outer clothing layers. I used handkerchief-weight linen from Fabrics-store.com and Truly Victorian 102. For some reason, despite being perfectly capable of reading that I should buy 6 ⅝ yards of 45″ wide fabric for both pieces, I bought 3 yards of 58″ fabric instead. That left me with a bit of a challenge cutting it all out, but I did succeed! I had to cut most things on a single layer, which I often do anyway (or I fold the fabric in specific ways rather than cutting on one singular “the fold”.) I also had to piece a smidge of the chemise that wouldn’t fit. That’s historically accurate—piecing is period, and fabric is precious!

Barely any fabric left after cutting out
Not much fabric left after cutting out.

The chemise has buttons at the shoulders, which can be folded down for more revealing ballgown necklines, and beading lace (that’s the name for the kind of lace with openings to run a ribbon through) at the neckline. I initially tried to use a lace the seller claimed was cotton, but unfortunately, cotton doesn’t melt under an iron. After that I got much more careful buying lace on the internet. You can tell the difference if you know what to look for (many of the more complex designs are nylon, and cotton lace doesn’t have any sheen and is more expensive.) The neckline and sleeve lace and silk ribbon are from Sew Vintagely.

I sewed all of the construction seams on my machine, and finished a lot of stuff by hand. I even did hand-worked buttonholes for the first time, thanks to an excellent and timely tutorial in Threads magazine. My enthusiasm for the project, which I’d only just begun, made me want to handsew, which isn’t my default state of being at all. I sewed all of the lace on by hand with cotton thread.

The drawers have a split crotch—this is because there’s no way you’re removing any items of clothing just to answer nature’s call. (No, you don’t wear anything underneath, that just makes things much more difficult.) The front and back were close to identical, so I sewed a little lace motif at the back to serve as a “tag.” I also sewed lace from Petite Coco Crafts at the hem of the chemise and the hems of the drawers, just for a bit of pretty. These are, after all, garments for a princess.

Author wearing finished chemise and drawers

Next up: corsetry.

Chemise and drawers

Pattern: Truly Victorian 102

Fabric: IL020 bleached white linen (3oz) from Fabrics-store.com

Hem lace: Petite Coco Crafts

Neckline/sleeve lace and silk ribbon: Sew Vintagely

Costuming

1890s Umbreon: Concept Development

I’m going to be posting somewhat non-chronologically for a bit. I’d like to post the whole process of 1860s Zelda, but that process took place from early 2021 to mid-2022, as in, The Past. But I’d also like to keep up with my current projects. Therefore, I give you: 1890s Umbreon.


I’ve just started work on my next, and second, historical costume. Instead of staying with the same era as my first, like a sensible person, I’ve decided to jump ahead three decades so that I have to make entirely new underpinnings before starting the costume itself. And to be honest, none of the concepts I have in the pipeline are in the same era as each other. The benefit to this, in the long term, is that eventually I’ll be able to jump start future projects because I’ll already have underpinnings suitable for a wide range of decades.

(This is kind of like when I tell myself that buying perennializing fall bulbs for the garden means I won’t have to buy as many next year. I always buy as many next year.)

The good thing is, my trusty Truly Victorian 110 (TV110) corset, which I originally made for another cosplay (Stripper Jessie and James from Pokemon, maybe I’ll blog about that one one day) should do me pretty well through the mid- to late 19th century, so I’m not planning to make a new corset for this.

But before I get into detail about that, let’s talk about the concept!

The 1860s Zelda dress taught me that it’s really fun to mix together historical costuming and cosplay. I attend anime conventions regularly, while I haven’t yet attended a historical costuming event, so making costumes that are recognizable at anime conventions and other fandom gatherings means I get a lot more occasions to wear the outfit.

When I cosplay, I almost never stick exactly to the character. I can’t help myself—I have to put my own twist on it somehow. So adding in historical clothing is a really fun way to do that. However, it’s pretty important to me to be recognizable to other people when cosplaying, and that’s doubly so when I’m not exactly replicating the character design. As a result, I like to focus my cosplay designs on widely recognized, popular characters. If I chose an obscure character that people would have a hard time recognizing normally, and then put a historical spin on it, it would probably be a pretty cool outfit… but it doesn’t give me the massive psychological reward of people getting excited when they recognize my character.

Enter: Historical Pokémon.

Long story short, I searched through the fandoms I’m familiar with to find easily-recognizable, easily-reinterpreted characters to adapt for historical costume, and Pokémon jumped out as a really great option. They’re well known, especially the classic ones; they’re not terribly detailed compared to many, many anime/video game characters out there; and the designs lend themselves well to experimentation.

Enter: Eeveelutions.

For those not familiar, Eevee is an adorable little fox/cat sort of creature that can evolve into a much wider variety of new forms based on what it’s exposed to. In the long term, this could result in a really damn cool rainbow of linked costumes. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I opted to start with Umbreon, a Dark-type Pokémon that evolves at night, and paired it with the 1890s walking outfit I’d been craving for some time.

Drawing of a woman wearing a flared black skirt, close-fitting black vest with gold buttons, and black shirtwaist. Also wearing a straw hat with long black ears.

My goal here seems pretty simple compared to the very-involved layer cake that was the Zelda dress. Thank goodness the skirt hems shrank down again after the ‘60s. There will be a wool walking skirt, a wool vest, and a cotton shirtwaist. The gold trim will probably be the same base as whatever it’s stitched to, and it will probably be stitched on permanently, but I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to permanent stitches for those ovals… the skirt would be more versatile without. We’ll see.

Oh, and there’ll be a hat. And ears. I don’t know how I’m going to do those. I’ll figure that out later.

So. The plan.

What I need:

  1. Combinations. I don’t technically need new underwear—my chemise and drawers would work fine. But I want them. Planned pattern: BlueFineGoods Edwardian Combinations
  2. Petticoat. Probably two; one specific to the 1890s, and one suitable for the Natural Form era that I’ll wear underneath for extra volume. Planned pattern: Truly Victorian 170
  3. Shirtwaist. Planned pattern: haven’t decided yet, but maybe Angela Clayton’s McCalls 8231.
  4. Skirt. Planned pattern: Black Snail Patterns 0414 Fan skirt
  5. Vest. Planned pattern: Black Snail Patterns 0220 1890s Ladies’ Vests
  6. Hat/ears
  7. Wig

What I already have:

  1. Corset
  2. Shoes (American Duchess 1890s Paris boots)

And so it begins!

Costuming

1860s Zelda: The Beginning

Blonde woman with elf ears wearing blue 1860s-style dress, parasol, and fan

On January 3rd, 2020, I woke up with the sudden idea that I needed to make a historical cosplay.

Now, I’ve been sewing since 2008 and cosplaying since around the same time, so this wasn’t as wild an idea as it could have been. Still, it did seem a little out of left field for me, since I’d never done a historical costume before and had no idea where to start. I didn’t even know what historical era I wanted to do. What I did know was that my partner and I usually go to two anime conventions a year, and I had previously remarked that it would be nice to have a formal cosplay for the formal ball at one of them. I’ve been a Zelda fan very nearly my whole life, so when I had this spark of an idea, it was quite specifically to do a historical interpretation of Princess Zelda (Breath of the Wild version).

I did a bunch of research that day, and eventually settled on the U.S. Civil War era, not least because my partner’s family used to do Civil War reenacting.* Thus, my partner was fully on board for a coordinating Link cosplay, and my mother-in-law would be an excellent resource for women’s clothing.

Then… I did nothing.

It wasn’t until almost exactly a year later that I started working on the costume itself, starting with the underpinnings. Ultimately, the whole process took a year and seven months to get to what I’m calling the “base” costume. The tricky thing with historical clothing is that you can’t just do the outer, visible clothing—you need to have the correct undergarments to create the right silhouette and structure. At a minimum, that means chemise, drawers, corset, crinoline/hoop skirt, and petticoat. Then, of course, I had to create a dress fit for a princess, and then find all the little pieces and accessories to top it all off. My goal is to document the process of the entire costume creation, because it’s going to take a lot more space than Instagram offers.

I’ll begin with my concept sketch, which I didn’t actually create until I’d started the project.

My plan was to use Simplicity 5724, a Martha McCain Fashion Historian pattern.

Woman wearing enormous white ballgown trimmed with red flowers and black lace

When I first started, I was still very new to the process of researching historical clothing and how to make things historically accurate, but generally the pattern seemed to be well-regarded. I decided to adapt Princess Zelda’s formal gown for this project. The curly designs on her sleeves transferred to the skirt petals, and I could copy the triangle design from the hem of the gown. After that, it was mainly a matter of representing the color scheme in a way that looked more or less recognizable. I also decided to borrow the Triforce brooch/medallion seen in several of her other costumes. I had vague intentions of inkle-weaving an appropriate trim for the bertha, which so far I’ve never done.

Series of screenshots of four Zelda outfits from Breath of the Wild

Zelda’s outfits in Breath of the Wild

Sketch of 1860s ballgown: blue main color, gold accents, white contrast panels

My sketch (the gloves would ultimately shorten to a more historically accurate length)

Up next: underpinnings, including my chemise, drawers, and ruffled petticoat.

*This project was initially nicknamed Civil War Zelda, and occasionally people refer to it as such. However, very shortly after I started working on it, January 6th, 2021 happened, and that name felt… uncomfy. So officially the costume name is “1860s Zelda.”