An Elizabethan corset, despite what you may find online, doesn’t go on the outside of your outfit any more than your modern day bra does.  *Could* you wear just your bra, or put your bra over your shirt? Yes, but it would probably have some of the same effect then as it would now.  The corset goes over your shirt/chemise and under your bodice. ImageCan you simply bone your bodice and wear it instead of both? Yes, but that will imply that you (or your character, if that’s your thing) doesn’t have the money for proper garments. So lower class costumes are perfectly at home with combining the two garments. You would definitely add straps in that case. The shape, however, would be the same.

The shape of the corset is conical, rather than the curvy waist nipping image we usually have when thinking about corsets. The idea was to create a straight line from waist to bust all the way around (this goes for men’s corsets too). The corset could restrict the waist- sometimes by quite a bit- but since it ended at the waist this could get quite uncomfortable, digging into the soft flesh above the hipbone.  To counter this, some corsets had tabs at the bottom that would flare over the top of the hips when worn. This also helped to distribute the (considerable) weight of the farthingale, petticoats, underskirt and overskirt from the lower back.

To attain the proper shape corsets were heavily boned. You can access a free, easy to follow pattern for a custom Elizabethan corset online at www.elizabethancostume.net.

Measure yourself carefully- decide how many inches you would like to take in at the waist, think about the size of your chest and whether that might require an extra inch or two of height at the top, or if a desire for more lower stomach coverage might warrant another inch or two at the bottom front.  I suggest making a mock-up if you adjust measurements at all, so you get a good feel for how it will sit on your body. If you do add to the top or bottom, be sure to angle the line back down to the suggested underarm curve or up to the hip curve- you’re only adding to the front or back!

ImageMy last Elizabethan corset included the fashion fabric, lining and an interlining, and I boned it more heavily than others I’ve made.  I laid all three layers together and did some large temporary stitches around the edges and across the body. This kept all the layers from shifting while I marked and stitched the boning channels.

I did add tabs, as I tend to do some waist-nipping. You can add tabs separately or you can cut them with the corset all in one piece. Though you have to reinforce the edges with at least double stitching, I like the all-in-one method better- it feels more stable and there’s less messing around with multiple pieces of fabric at a sensitive curve like the waistline. For my upper and lower edges I placed grosgrain ribbon at the seam allowance edge, good sides together. Then I turned it over to the bad side of the fabric and “stitched in the ditch”. This, while in my head seemed like it would be faster and easier, was a lot of tugging with tight corners and the end result really only looks good from the outside.  I think I may have saved myself time and a headache if I had hand-stitched the backside of the grosgrain ribbon down. But, both methods work. Here is a picture of the finished product:Image

As you can see, the inside is not as neat as I’d like. However, no-one else will see the inside, so your finishing is your secret!

For the center channel, you may notice I used a heavier bone. It’s extra wide and extra thick. You can purchase these online at corset supply stores, but I happened to find mine at a resale store, in a back support corset/brace from the fifties or sixties.  It never hurts to check alternate sources of supplies! I’ve also harvested boning from old corsets and bodices that were worn out. Just beware if the bones are very bent- even if you can get them straight again, the rust resistant coating may be compromised.

ImageGrommets: You should use two part grommets, and the ones from most commercial fabric stores (even the two part ones) are not great for corsets. Order some from a corsetry supplier or see if a local leatherworking store has some. There are mutiple finishes and *sizes* so make sure your hole puncher, grommet setter and grommets are all the same size. Also, when you measure the holes for your grommets, be sure to include the width of the grommets itself (e.g. If you want 1″ between grommets, and each grommet is 5/8″ wide, making holes 1″ apart will result in many, many grommets set very, very close)

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The last tip I have is to be thorough and painfully precise when placing boning channels around your grommets. Use a ruler, mark your lines. If the bones butt right up to the grommets you’ll get the least amount of pulling, and the longest wear from your garment.

PS- Why grosgrain instead of bias tape? It looks more period and it stands up better to the stress that a corset is subject to.

Below you can see the exterior and interior of the finished product:Image

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