Making The Corselet Skirt: A Modern Take On Period Instructions

With Christmas over and done, it is time to get back to making the corselet skirt once more. In the challenge post I mentioned an interesting discussion we had on the HSF Facebook group. Mainly, it was about Edwardian skirts worn with belts. At some point I mentioned sewn-in corselet belts as an alternative style. This idea raised a few interested eyebrows, with some people hearing about this for the first time.

What surprised me when researching corselet skirts, was that they are mentioned here and there and have also been recreated by a few historical seamstresses, but do not really enjoy wide popularity. At first this puzzled me a bit. Then I realized that it was also not a mainstream fashion trend in the Edwardian era. It was considered a Reform fashion, mostly popular with younger women. This also explains why most period photographs show rather young wearers of the style, such as this young lady, in a photo from 1917:

Young woman in a corselet skirt (c.1917).

Similarly, when looking around for patterns online, I only found a few. Among others, I encountered this 1911 diagram from “The Ladies’ Tailor”. I want to share it with you, since it gives a good overview on how to draft the different gores of a corselet skirt to your size.

Corselet skirt pattern from “The Ladies’ Tailor” (March 1911). Click to see both pages. :)

But there is more to corselet skirts than the high-waisted cut. What is really interesting, is their inner life. The waist is reinforced with a sewn-in corselet belt. You can think of it as a cleverly hidden Swiss waist. If you do not know it is there, you will most likely overlook it at first glance. But actually, that is a pity. Which is why I will now show you, how I constructed mine, based on period instructions, but with a modern twist.

The Instructions

To assemble the corselet belt, I used the original instructions from Antonie Steimann’s “Ich Kann Schneidern” (“I Can Sew”; c.1909).  I first found a Dutch translation of them on Esther’s blog, although my Dutch is not really that good. ;) But, eventually, I got lucky. The fashion library in Vienna had several German-language copies of the same book. That made things a little easier. But, actually, the illustrations already explain themselves very well. Here they are:

The Materials

For the corselet belt, you will need two strips of the lining fabric, as wide as the corselet portion of your skirt pattern and long enough to reach all the way around the skirt. If the top of the skirt is curved, like in the picture, you can also sew together the corselet portions of the individual gores for shaped bands. Add a 1.5-2″ (3-4 cm) hem allowance to the top and bottom edges. For my version, I used one straight strip of fabric and a matching strip of medium-weight iron-on interfacing and only added a 4 cm hem allowance to at the bottom edge.

The boning originally called for whalebone. I used sew-through boning tape instead, about 1 cm (1/2″) shorter than the pattern’s corselet portion. Together with the interfacing, the tape provided enough stiffening for the purpose.

The Method

The original instructions state that a corselet skirt should be boned once the corselet portion, above the waist is wider than 3-4 cm (approx. 1.5″). Of that is the case, whalebone is to be inserted at the front, sides and back. After that, the raw edges of the corselet belt are folded under and sewn to the skirt lining.

As you can see in the images above, the whalebone is inserted into casings at the spots in question.The “Encyclopedia of Needlework” (c.1890) gives the following instructions for this boning method: “Before slipping the whale-bone into its case or fold of stuff, pierce holes in it, top and bottom, with a red hot stiletto. Through these holes, make your stitches, diverging like rays or crossing each other”, like so:

The period method of fixing whalebone from “Encyclopedia of Needlework”; c.1890).

What I did is a little different. My steps were the following:

Step One.

I sewed the corselet belt to the top edge of the skirt lining, with the interfaced side facing down. Then I folded it, as you can see in the picture.

Step Two.

I aligned the pieces of boning tape with the skirt seams.

Step Three.

I sewed down each piece of tape with a single row of small straight stitches, leaving the hem allowance un-boned.

Step Four.

I folded under and pressed the bottom hem allowance, making sure the edges of the boning tape did not poke into the fabric at the crease.

Step Five.

I sewed the bottom edge against the lining. Later, when joining the lining to the outer skirt, I covered the raw top edge with a portion of the shell fabric. This was also the way it was done in the original instructions. Alternatively, you can also sew both the top- and bottom hems directly against the corselet belt.

My finished belt looked like this: (Please excuse the awful image quality. A new camera is finally on the way… ;) )

The finished corselet belt from the inside.

And that was that. Hopefully, this quick semi-tutorial has helped solve the mystery of Edwardian corselet skirts for some of you. I am much looking forward to your feedback and your own corselet skirts, should you decide to make one.

Even though it might not look that way, a corselet skirt works for nearly any body shape. I have a rather short, stumpy torso myself, and it worked miracles on my waist shape and posture. Compared to that, you can so forget modern shape-wear. It is a much less elegant solution should you need to cover up some failed New Year’s resolutions, later this coming year. ;)

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and successful year 2015.

Much Love, Nessa

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