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The Vintage Dressmaker (1)

Monday, December 5, 2011

The 1920's Underbust Corset Part 1

First let me say this... "Downton Abbey" has made the official anouncement that they will be back for a third season set in 1920-21!! Wa hoo! I am going to make it a goal to have some patterns finished, published and for sale in time for you all to play dress up for the season three premeire! (deep breathe, and holding...)

I love the show, not just the costumes, Julian Fellows is an amazing writer. His characters are so complex and believable and make very unpredictable, painfully human choices. He has a talent of keeping you in suspense and yet delivering exactly the out come you desired in the end, without romanticizing it to the point of unbelievable fairytale dribble.

THAT being said (clears throat, slides soap box back under the sewig machine and wipes hands clean on apron), let’s get back to this corset for goodness sake!

I often laugh at myself for always picking the most difficult path possible just for the rush of the challenge. This corset its difficult indeed, and therefore all the more rewarding is the sigh of accomplishment when it is complete! Double reverse curves on both sides of the front and back! Bwahahahaaa!! Not just decorative seams, these seams need to be functional and able to withstand the stress that is required of a corset.

I started with the easy seams. side front to side, then side to side back and pressed them open and trimmed to 1/4 inch, for both right and left sides of the corset. Then I spent the rest of the day reading and researching the most comprehensive way to accomplish those double reverse curves. It goes above and beyound the average conture of a princess seam and I marvel at the fact that the pattern was presented in a home sewing magazine of the 1920’s. I think in this day in age we rely too heavily on others to do things for us and in combination with technology, we know more facts, but know how to DO less. It’s ever so slightly dangerous!

The most comprehensive explanation I found was in the book "Couture Sewing Techniques" by Claire B. Shaeffer on page 54 (This is a brilliant book everyone should have for polishing their fine sewing skills).

First of all you need to stay stitch 1/2 inch in along the seam edge of both pieces. Then with your best friend the steam iron, press and steam the seam under along the basting line of the center front piece of the corset, carefully manipulating the fabric as you go. Baste the folded edge of the center front corset piece to the basting line on the side front piece of the corset and baste the two pieces together as seen in these photos. I used red thread to you could see it more clearly.

Next, gently unfold the seam and machine stitch the two pieces together down the lovely dotted line the basting stitches have made as seen in this photo:

Ah! What a fabulous seam! It makes me giddy!! Strong , beautiful and ever so lightly difficult!

Now use a water soluble marking pen to line up and transfer the fastening points on your busk to the center front pieces of the corset and stitch the two pieces together leaving openings for the fasteners to fit through.

Remove any basting stithes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Books!!

I love getting things in the mail! Especially new books!! Today four new fantastic vintage books came in the mail reguarding my 1920's research! One on draping, one on design, and two on millinery. So yes, I believe I will cover hat making in the blog as well!!

The book on draping has some fabulous inspriation for period evening gowns and more elaborate afternoon / tea gowns that get my creative wheels spinning. Now that school is back in and I'm down to one child home during the day as opposed to four, things should start to pick up speed again. So bear with me, this should be an exciting winter.

I think this winter I will finish crocheting a 1920's sweater I started a while back and blog that too. Let's make sure we cover everything! Maybe gloves too?

I think I'll add a page of all the books I have in my Library for my own benefit and your curiosity.

The corset is cut out and I'll be uploading construction photo's soon. I still have to order the spring steel for the side supports so I'll have to wait for it to get here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Fabric and Notions for Early 1920's Underbust Corset

The article in "La Mode Illustree" uses the term "coutil" for the choice of material. The term litteraly translates to "ticking" in the English language. "The fashion Dictionary" by Mary Brooks Picken defines "coutil" as "firm, sturdy type of drilling made of hard twisted yarns, usually cotton, in twill or figured weave. Used for corsets, girdles, etc. French word for drill or ticking."

"Drilling" or "Ticking" reffers to a medium weight fabric wth a twill weave. A twill weave produces diagonal lines or ribs in the fabric. "Drill" includes fabrics like jean and khaki. "Ticking" often uses two colors to produce a stripe, such as pillow or mattress ticking, used for such purposes because its tight weave prevented feathers from poking through. A "figured weave" could include a brocade, damask or jaquard of suitable weight.

When chosing your fabric for a project you must first concider it’s purpose. In the case of constructing a corset you would need a sturdy, medium weight fabric that breathes well against the body and has little to no stretch to it in order for the corset to accomplish it’s purpose of restrianing the figure. Try not to get caught up in what some corset supply websites lable "corset coutil". Where it is an excellent fabric for corset making , because of its lable can be VERY expensive and isn’t, and shouldn’t be considered the only authentic or suitable choice.

This is a white cotton blend brocade with a floral and peacock feather motif that I chose to construct my corset from:

I have gathered all my notions including a metal busk, 1" wide elastic for the garters, 4" wide elastic for the bust gussets, 6 garter clips, spiral steel boning, eyelets and laces. All of which I obtained from various eBay vendors.

I am so excited to get this corset cut out and start putting it together!

Early 1920's Underbust Corset Pattern

I played around for a while with a tight fitting princess seam slopper and considered the possibilities for a early 1920’s corset and then I stumbled on this lovely corset pattern in a French 1920 "La Mode Illustree" magazine and it was exactly my measurements!

What are the chances?

I used Google Translate to read the text related to the pattern in the magazine and it gives very little instructions as to assembling the corset, other than to cut out the pieces, mark them and sew them together!

It does talk about the benefits and cost of different types of boning but does not name a preference. The article discusses spiral steel, feather boning and whale bone, verifying that all those materials were still in use, at least in France, in the 1920’s.
I drafted the pattern according to the one in the magazine, marked it, double checked the sizing, tweaked it a little, added seam allowences and this is what I came up with:

In addition to these pieces I will need to cut casings for the boning channels.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Extant Corset

As I mentioned earlier my corset that I have is not exactly what I thought it was. I thought it was a 1920's underbust corset, it is in fact a 1930’s underbust corset. I am not completely disappointed because corset construction did not change drastically in ten years so I can still use it as a source for construction techniques.

The interesting thing is that women were still wearing true corsets in the mid 1930’s. How do I know it is from the mid 1930’s? I found this tag inside with no specific date, but with "NRA" and this symbol on it:

I thought to myself "What does the National Riffle Association have to do with corsets?!" He he! I have to laugh at myself! So, to Google it was!!

The National Recovery Administration was instituted by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, after the war in order to bringing industry, labor and government together to create codes of "fair practices" and set prices.

National Recovery Administration

So, my corset was made sometime after 1933. I find this ever so slightly exciting in light of all those dummies out there that still insist, write it as the gospel and publish it as a fact in countless papers and books that women in the 1920’s threw out their corsets forever. If corsets were still being mass manufactured in the 1930’s, common sense will tell you they were in the 1920’s as well.

I do find it interesting that this particular style was still in demand in the mid 1930’s, but then again you wouldn’t catch me in a thong just because the younger generation may prefer them! Nor could I imagine my mother in a demi-cup bra. So again, calling on that common sense, styles just need time not only to catch on but to phase out as well.

Here are some detail photos of the construction:

Outside of 1930's Underbust Corset

Top of corset showing elastic, binding and boning all the
way to the top edge

Outside of back lacing

Inside of 1930's corset

Inside top edge showing close up of busk

Inside of 1930's corset showing side by side spiral boning
as well as 1/2 inch wide spring steel boning at side seams

Inside view of lacing set in a channel between two rows of
spiral steel boning

Saturday, June 18, 2011

1920's Envelope Chemise Part 5

After studying my extant 1920’s night gown more closely (notes can be seen here My Collection ) I decided to change the way I was attaching the lace. Not only did it save time but it looks more professional and as it is in keeping with period methods it just made more sense to me.

I connected the shoulder seams with tiny French seams and then ran the remaining length of edge lace around the back of the neckline and a length around each arm hole as well, with the small zig zag stitch I discussed in my notes and trimmed the fabric close to the seam. It was fast and easy and most importantly, authentic!

I then used a French seam to close the sides of the chemise as well, as can be seen in the next three photos.

French Seam Step 1 on Right Side of Fabric

French Seam Turned And Pressed

French Seam Step 2 on Wrong Side of  Fabric

Next I prepared the placements for the snaps by reinforcing the fabric as the silk is very delicate. I folded the bottom of the crotch under twice, the correct width of the snaps, and stitched it into place.

Then I attached a small fold of fabric the width of the crotch to the center front for the receiving side of the snaps like so:

Same Width as Crotch

Press Edges Under

Pin in Place


Dont worry about finishing of the bottom edge as that is where the lace trim will soon be attached.

Finally I used the same zig zag stitch to attach the trim lace around the entire bottom of the chemise and trimmed the fabric as close to the seam as possible.

Roll Lace Edge and Pin Down to Start

Trim Carefully As Close As Possible

See how nice and clean the finish is?
The zig zag stitch prevents the silk from freying.

I hand sewed the snaps in place and she is done!! I am very pleased with how it turned out and believe it to be as close of a representation of a period chemise as possible. It is lovely and feminine and yet sturdy enough to tolerate frequent wash and wear. The end result can be seen here: Completed Projects

Next I will be posting notes and pictures of my extant corset that is, after my research, not exactly what I thought it was...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lace Yoke for 1920's Envelope Chemise Part 4

Trim the seam to 1/4 inch, no more, and press it back away from the neckline. Be very careful when trimming and don’t snip your lace!

Now for the HARD part! Finish the seam with a rolled hem. Sounds simple enough but I must say this is one of the most difficult stitches to do consistently and well. When finishing a straight edge it is not as hard but on a curve as the neckline it can be a little tricky. Practice is the only thing that helps.

My best tips are; 1) not to leave too much fabric when trimming the seam or the hem will be too bulky, 2) not to leave too little fabric when trimming the seam or it will be difficult to get the hem to roll, and 3) use plenty of good old fashioned spit to moisten your fingers while rolling the fabric over your needle!! It just doesn’t want to go otherwise! Don’t worry, you’re going to wash it later anyway!

The clearest instructions I could find on how to carry out a rolled hem is in "French Hand Sewing" by Sarah Howard Stone on page 17. I am including a (really bad) copy of her illustration here as it is for educational purposes. There is no better book written on the subject. It contains clear detailed written instructions as well as "Janet Arnold" quality illustrations on all aspects of French Hand Sewing.

Getting started is the hardest part. Roll the fabric over your needle. I’m telling you, a little spit helps a lot! remove your needle from the roll and insert it under the roll, coming out at the top of the hem at the neckline. Come up under the roll at the neckline again, causing the thread to wrap around the roll (whip), repeat the length of the hem. The tricky part is keeping the roll even and consistent. You may need to re-roll around your needle or a straight pin many times as you go. It also helps to secure the end of the fabric to the trusty brown paper or use a sewing bird if you have one. Sometimes I sit crossed leg on the floor and pin the end to the knee of my pants. Whatever works. I personally felt like my stitch became acceptable just as I was finishing the hem!!

Not to worry, this project will present many opportunities to practice!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lace Yoke for 1920's Envelope Chemise Part 3

Sorry for the lag in posts. My darling sister had her baby and the whole family was a little preoccupied! She had a beautiful, healthy, 8 lb. baby boy and we are all in love already!

Alas... back to the sewing room!! It is my favorite place after all!

When working with delicate fabrics such as this very thin lingerie silk, it is necessary more so than ever not to rush or skip steps. To ensure that the neckline is stable and does not stretch while attaching the yoke you must run a machine "stay" stitch 1/4 inch or so away from the neck edge.

Next, to position the lace yoke, line up the shoulder seams and center front, placing the edge of the "beading" lace just below the edge of the fabric so that the "edging" lace will line up with the rolled edge back neckline later. Pin generously and hand baste the lace to the chemise using a contrasting thread with a simple "running" stitch.

At this point I realized I had forgotten to add the pin tucks to the front!

Oops! Nobody's perfect!

Fortunately pin tucks do not take up any significant fabric so it is not impossible to add them now, but I recommend ideally adding them before basting on the lace yoke.

Fold the front of the chemise in half lengthwise lining up all the edges, pin and press lightly towards the center. Measure down 4 inches from the bottom of the yoke and mark with a pin. Bring your threaded and knotted needle between the folded layers and out of the fabric on the fold, right where the pin mark is. Then, "wrapping" the fold once with the thread, insert the needle on the backside of the fold and come up very close to the edge on the top side of the fabric. Make a tiny "running" stitch along the fold very close to the edge all the way to the yoke as seen in the photos.

To finish the seam, insert the needle into the front of the tuck and bring it out on the back side of the chemise opening up the folded layers, secure your thread and trim. Lay the chemise flat with "right" side up, press lightly at both sides of the tuck to encourage it to stand up.

Note: An iron is a seamstress best friend! Use it often! It is the key that separates a "home made" looking garment from a "professional" made one.

For the second and subsequent pin tucks; measure, fold and press to the right or left 1/4 inch from the previous stitching line. Begin stitching each tuck 1/4 shorter than it’s neighbor so the overall group of tucks has a pointed effect when complete.

If you look closely at this photo you can see the needle between the folded layers of fabric.

Now with coordinating thread, hand stitch the bottom edge of the lace yoke to the chemise using as small and even "running" stitch as you can manage.

The red thread in this photo is the basting stitch. The true seam in coordinating thread can be seen on the backside of the fabric just below this basted line.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lace Yoke for 1920's Evnelope Chemise Part 2

To attach the insertion piece I gathered the top edge with a running stitch to "ease" the lace into a semi-circle and aligned it to the bottom of the "beading", "right" side down, using a tiny hem stitch in the same fashion as before.

I found a piece antique silk ribbon in the perfect shade of "honeydew" and cut it into two equal lengths. Then I tacked it to the "wrong" side of the lace at the shoulder seam of the yoke and threaded it through the beading with a bodkin.

This is a view of the "right" side of the yoke.

At this point I also trimmed the crinoline off the back of the piece of ribbon work I made in preparation to be sewn on to the yoke.

Next I will sew the yoke to the front of the silk chemise.