Drafting an Underbust Corset:
Next you need a pattern to work from. Which pattern you choose is heavily dependant on which corset silhouette you choose to make. You can’t use a Renaissance corset pattern to make an S-curve corset without a lot of time, redrafting, and frustration. It is much easier to start with a pattern that is close to the silhouette that you are looking for.
Finding the right pattern can be a trick, though. The major companies have a limited selection, and it can be hard to find the minor pattern makers. Cost is a big factor, too. Where do you start?
I always start with the major pattern companies. They may have a limited selection, but if you can find what you’re looking for, their patterns have the advantage of being cheap and readily available. The disadvantage is that these patterns will often have ease built in that you will have to account for. Sometimes you can look at the finished size chart and just choose a smaller size, but that may reduce the bust too much. If that is the case you’ll have to get out your ruler and calculator and re-grade the pattern. If this seems like too much work or is above your head, then don’t go with that pattern. Another problem with the commercial patterns is that they don’t always have clear directions, and when they do they are often not the best techniques. You’ll have to work more without directions if you go with these patterns.
Following is a chart of the readily adaptable corset patterns for the four major US pattern companies: Simplicity, McCall’s, Butterick, and Vogue. I have classified the patterns by a few different categories. The best way to use this chart is to rule out patterns you don’t want by the listed shape and then take the rest of the numbers to the pattern store and look at the pattern envelopes. I haven’t listed which patterns have easily removable straps, easy-to-move lacing, etc., so if you want to alter the pattern you’ll have to examine it yourself.
So what to do if you’ve decided none of the commercial patterns fit what you’re looking for? You’ll have to look around at some of the smaller companies available. The first is Burda. Burda is the major European pattern company. Their patterns are distributed in the US by Simplicity, so you can find them at some of the mens tailoring and the bigger pattern retailers, like JoAnn’s and Hancock. Burda patterns are usually a little more cutting-edge design-wise, and their fitting is much closer. Be sure and get a pattern based on measurements, as the European measurements are different from the US pattern companies.
There are many corset patterns available online. One of the best is Laughing Moon. Their pattern is available at many corsetry supply sites. The Silverado and Dore pattern is clear and easy for beginners to follow. The sizing is usually very good, with the exception of the bust darts, which can be off depending on your mindset. The gores are accurately sized according to their standards, which compares final waist size to final bust size. They should be cut accordingly, and not to ‘Well, I’m a C cup, so I’ll cut the C . . .” because that ratio will change when your waist is corseted. The pattern states it is a Victorian style, but it's of the transition from Regency to Victorian, so it doesn't give as much of a waist reduction as mid- and late-victorian corsets do..
Folkwear patterns are also readily available at sewing and patterns sites online. They carry one corset pattern, M’Lady’s Corset. The pattern is an approximation of a Renaissance Corset. It’s not very authentic, but it will give you a close look. Folkwear’s directions are usually very clear, and research inserts are included to help you make things look more authentic.
Ageless Patterns has quite a few different styles of corset available. Their shapes are very authentic to the Victorian era. Unfortunately, so are their pattern pieces and instructions. There is little-to-no help on how to assemble the corset or where to put the boning. These patterns are more for the advanced corsetiere who wants to see how historical women made their corsets, not for a beginner.
AlterYears has a couple of Renaissance corset patterns available. AlterYears’ patterns are infamous for needing more fabric than the pattern jacket says, so be warned. You may need to cut the pattern pieces and lay them out yourself before buying fabric to be sure you get the right yardage. Also, from the pattern jacket, the boning placement appears to be in-authentic for historical reproductions. Instructions are clear and easy, however, so it’s a good pattern for the shape.
A few other names that you can look up online to see patterns:
Costume Connection has a Spanish Infanta Margherita pattern that includes a Renaissance corset.
Harriet’s Patterns has Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian patterns.
Heidi Marsh has Victorian corset patterns.
J.P. Ryan has Georgian corset patterns.
Mantua Maker carries Renaissance, Baroque, Regency, and Victorian patterns. They are rumored to run toward the small size, so consider ordering a size bigger than you usually would.
Margo Anderson carries a line of Renaissance patterns, including an Elizabethan Underthings pattern. Her patterns are costly, but the research notes included are amazing. If you are looking to re-create a Renaissance look without spending a lot of time in the library researching, this is the pattern you want.
Mill Farm carries Georgian corset patterns.
Past Patterns includes Victorian, Regency, and nearly-Edwardian corset patterns.
Period Impressions has patterns for Renaissance and Victorian corsets.
Period Patterns has a Women’s Undergarments pattern for Renaissance corsets.
Richard the Thread carries Victorian and Edwardian corset patterns.
Tailor’s Guide has a Georgian corset pattern.
Reconstructing History carries Renaissance patterns.
Winego Pattern Company deals mostly in hats, but they do have a medieval
corset pattern. I’ve never seen it in person, but from the picture
online the corset looks to be more like a ribbon corset than anything
other corset shape. From The Great Pattern Review I gather that the pattern
is only two pieces, which means it would be pretty useless for an actual
There are also other places you can turn to for cheap or free patterns. Your local library is a good place. Corsetry books often have diagrams and pattern pieces in them in small size. A great one for historical corsets is Corsets and Crinolines by Nora Waugh. To get a pattern just take the book to Kinko’s and enlarge it according to the key, until 1” on the pattern really is 1”. The downside to these patterns is that they often don’t include construction instructions or numbered pieces, so they may be harder for a beginner to figure out.
Another great place to look for free patterns is online. There are historical costuming sites that offer free historical corset patterns for you to print out and enlarge. Most often, though, these are like the ones in the books, with little to no instructions on how to put the pieces together. Some examples are http://www.marquise.de/en/1700/schnitte/s1700a.shtml - offers 18th century patterns.
Some sites offer custom-made patterns. They are programmed with fields for you to enter your measurements and they print out a pattern, or instructions for drafting a pattern, that fits the measurements you put in. Here are a few of the good ones:
http://www.softcom.net/users/unicorn/corset.htm - How to make a Victorian corset – Victorian corset pattern from your measurements.
http://www.darkleather.com/corsetmaking.htm - Sam’s DarkLeather - how to draft an underbust pattern using your measurements.
http://costume.dm.net/corsets/index.html - Drea Leed’s Corset Site – draft a Renaissance corset pattern from instructions made by putting your measurements in the computer.
http://www.dtta.dk/intro_uk.htm - DTTA Tailoring Academy - Click Interactivity, go to Interactive Corset – Drafts a Baroque-esque Fashion corset according to your measurements.
If corset making still seems intimidating after reading this paper, the best way to start would be with a corset kit. Corset supply sites often package the simplest patterns with the fabric, boning, grommets, and other things you will need to finish the project. There are many of these kits available in many different styles. The patterns chosen to be included in these kits are usually the easiest ones of their style and have clear instructions for beginners. Because of this, many of the kits offered on different sites are almost the same, so shop around for a good price and complete materials. Some come with the pattern only, some come without it, and some offer you the option. Here are some of the kits I’ve found:
Grannd Garb (http://www.grannd.com/kits.shtml) offers Folkwear’s Renaissance corset, 2 styles of Alter Years’ Renaissance corsets, Laughing Moon’s Dore and Silverado corsets, and Past Patterns’ Regency corsets, Victorian corsets, Edwardian corset, and Nearly-Edwardian corset.
Farthingale’s (http://www.farthingales.on.ca/kits.php) carries Laughing Moon’s corsets, Mantua Maker’s Regency corset, and Simplicity’s Victorian Corset.
Harriet’s TCS (http://www.harriets.com/SUPPLY.html) has kits and patterns based on corsets in Nora Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines. They carry two Victorian kits and one Semi-Edwardian kit.
Alter Years (http://www.alteryears.com/supplies/Corset_sup.html) has a kit for their Renaissance corset.
Corset Making Supplies (http://store.corsetmaking.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=CMS&Category_Code=K) has individual size kits for the Laughing Moon corsets as well as kits for Simplicity’s Victorian corsets.
Past Patterns (http://www.pastpatterns.com/master.html) offers kits for their patterns. Kit choices include Regency, Edwardian, and three Victorian styles.
The important thing to remember when picking a corset pattern or kit is to get one close to the shape you’re looking for. If you’re recreating a historical corset to put under recreation clothing the shape will not be right if the corset isn’t of the same era as the clothing. Even if you’re not recreating an exact look from the past, you won’t be happy with your corset if the shape is too far off from what you were originally envisioning.
. . . On to Fabrics!