Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Aid of Art to Represent Nature

We are all familiar with Camille Clifford. Oh, those curves! But wait, here she is again, about ten years later, when curves are out and that slim line is in. Wait, what? Where did those curves go? 

My guess: the padding came out.

I recently made up this Atelier Sylph corset pattern. I made a mock up, which fit relatively well, but didn't actually make any changes to it. It's such a curvy and dramatic silhouette, I wanted to see how it fit out of the box. 

Well, it did and it didn't. The length and waist fit, and overall, it seemed like it would work. But the hips and upper rib area floated out around me. What to do? Well, I padded it up. 

This in itself, wasn't revolutionary to me. I've seen articles on it and period examples of bust and hip padding. I even experimented somewhat when I made my first S-bend corset. Here's a quote from the 1910 book, Talks on Successful Gowning, by Elizabeth Lee:

Page 102

Bean pole :)

In an effort not to reinvent the wheel, I printed out Wearing History's bust improver pattern and made that up, filling in the pads with cotton batting. It doesn't actually pad up my bust size, it more fills out the void left below the boobs. If I made it again, I would probably use wool batting, since it is more springy and regulates body temperature better. I found the cotton got a little warm and bunched together. 

A corset cover also helps clean up the lines. I made one up using Truly Victorian's pattern. I love the whitework trim!

For the hips, I made up my own pattern, after looking at various "hip improvers" from around the turn of the century. Below are a couple. There are many shapes, but I chose the lobed style, since I needed padding up both at the back and at the hips.

Like this early 20th century example from the Met.

Or this patent from 1900.

I built up layers of cotton quilt batting and covered them in cotton sateen from an old sheet. So far it has been comfortable and I haven't needed to add the grommets, which I assume are for ventilation. Those are seen on a few examples.

The end result was a more filled out, and dramatic, silhouette, but I only laced down about two inches. Very comfortable! The goal was just to pad up the empty areas. And an interesting experiment it was. I started out, uncorseted, at 36-26-38 and ended up 36-24-42.

This morning I was looking at a 1903 magazine I have, and in the back was a size chart for ordering sewing patterns. And what do I see... 36-24-42! Up until making this corset and experimenting with padding, I would have seen this and thought, 42?! Isn't that a little hippy? Well, ya, because maybe it's false!

Lee's Talks on Successful Gowning also mentions proportions:

Also in the magazine was this add for a pneumatic bust form. Padding the top of those corsets was a thing. Pneumatic huh? Was it inflatable?

Also, I notice it says the bust form doesn't absorb perspiration. Well, full disclosure, my sewing room gets hot. Like, I call it the sweat shop, hot. That bust improver I have gets a little, well, absorbent. Interesting to see this was important enough to be commented on in the advert.

So after all this padding, I ended up with an extremely comfortable corset and period proportions. Win.

Oh, and here's the inside, because thats always my favorite thing to see!


  1. I love this concept! I never considered myself as having a "beanpole" figure but according to Edwardian standards... heh. I've been wanting to get into late Victorian/early Edwardian sewing (at the moment my only area of expertise is mid-Victorian) but I'm only very slowly starting to learn the fundamentals of the foundations. It's a different world! Your corset is awesome. :D

    1. I must say, corsetry is a lot easier to deal with when you're padding yourself to fit the corset, not redrafting the corset to fit you. Of course, that doesn't work for all corsets or eras, but it definitely makes the Edwardian silhouette so much more acheiveable!

  2. What a great post, and awesome research, and lovely results! Thank you Caroline!

  3. I really need to finish up my Ref W mock up which has sat unfinished for too long. Got the one side done and it seems to be a good fit for my proportions but given that my measurements are not too dissimilar to yours, I wonder how it will end up fitting me once done. I'm 38", 26", 38" so I was actually thinking that the corset is more likely to be snug in the hips on me since the pattern lists the hips at 36" but the top line being 30.5" is about right for just under my bust. So eventually we shall see!

    Did you just make it up as is or did you grade it up a bit keeping the proportions the same?

    1. I didn't change the original pattern at all. It may fit you very nicely, considering your measurements. Can't wait to see yours when it's finished!


  4. Love it. The bit about proportions is particularly interesting to me. Even with hips and a backside I still find that I like my silhouette better for this era with a bit of padding. :) It helps get the 'right' look!