Four years ago I made a corset. It’s not something I wear particularly often, but I’m still quite proud of it. It has certainly helped me in sewing fitted bodices, such as on my grandma-dress, and it’s a special garment to have, and to have made.
photo by Brynjar Stautland
I made it while a student at Olavskulen Folkehøgskule, which had a Costume- and Fashion-design program at the time. A folkehøgskule is a one-year program (I’ve seen it described as a boarding school, which I guess is right, but the connotations seem a little off to me), not mandatory, and something you generally do at around high-school age to explore an interest in depth. There are no tests, exams, or grades, so you really focus on your subject – in my case, sewing and creating.
Towards the end of the year, we did a segment on corset-making. There are a lot of patterns available, from different historic eras and of differing accuracy. I was surprised to learn that some corsets only went from under the bust to the hips, while others covered the entire chest and down to the mid-thighs. Most of the patterns for the different styles of corsets all had a lot of pattern pieces however – I think this one had fifteen very similar looking pieces. The pattern we used was one that my teacher/costume designer Janne had used for the prostitutes’ costumes in a production of Les Miserables at Moster, Norway. The corset earned some not-so-nice nicknames!
At the very end of the year, we went out to nearby Moster Amfi, and had a photo-shoot inside the exhibition detailing Olav Tryggvason’s landing at Moster in the year 995, sailing over from England to take the throne, and christianize the Norwegians. The exhibition is very atmospheric, with viking and medieval artifacts – perfect for moody things such as corsets and fluttery chiffon skirts! I made the skirt more or less for the occasion, draping it on a form, cutting triangles and squares of chiffon, lace and soft tulle, and attaching it all to a machine embroidered length of lace as a waistband.
photo by Brynjar Stautland
And now, for the “how-to” of sorts: From the master pattern you have to make changes so the corset ends up fitting your body. You compare your own measurements to that of the pattern, and add or subtract accordingly at specific parts of the pattern. Even subtracting one millimeter at ten different places ends up making quite a difference! For the corset to have enough hold, you have to use several layers of fabric. There is an outer layer of fabric (the “self” fabric), and the inner fabrics. For this corset, I used chinese silk brocade for the self fabric, and two layers of black canvas for the inner fabrics. The pattern-pieces for the inner layers corresponds to the pattern-pieces of the outer layers, so there are many pieces of fabric to keep track of while sewing a corset! The inner fabric is also where you attach the boning, which adds more support and stiffness. Without the boning, the corset wouldn’t lie nearly as smooth against the body.
When all the layers are done, boning and all, they get sandwiched together inside out, stitched along the top and bottom edge, and then turned inside out. I remember this as one of the trickier parts of making the corset – all the layers and the rigid boning means it takes some wiggling to get it right side out! The short seams at the back gets hand-sewn down, before the grommets go in. It feels so wrong to cut into a garment you’ve spent so much time and effort on, and then go at it with a hammer, but it really does come out nice in the end. Lace it up and it’s done!