I have learnt more in one day of field research studying corsts than the entirity of books on corsets I own!
On Friday I slogged my way up to Leicestershire to go to the archive of the Symington collection, the largest collection of historical corsets in England. Being able to handle, feel , measure and observe these corsets has given me a valuable insight on how to make historical corsets of a completely different fashion to the one's I regularly make.
Laid out for me was a generous cross section of corsets dating from 1875-1911, all of them particularly special in their own way. They varied vastly in materials, cut and construction and was even a beautiful french corset was was a transitional design between the traditional corset and the first developemnt of the bra.
The first corset I saw was one I had always wanted to see:
This corset, despite being corded, rather than boned, was built for pure strength as well as beauty. Flaring at the bust and hip is created using godets, and the quilted topstitching stengthens the layers further. It also has a double busk, in which the busk fastener is backed by another flat steel to greatly strengthen it. The amazing construction of this corset has doubtless kept it in good stead over the ages.
I particularly love the contrast of stitching in amber, and the flossing is immaculate.
Symington Collection, 1875, 24" waist.
There were also many various turn of the centuy corsets, in which new idea's were being experimented with. There were a couple of interesting corsets that had removalble busks, to make laundering easier, ventilation holes to make the corset more breathable, and one corset was double laced at either side of the busk for further adjustment. There were also some inngenious methods of tightening, one which had straps instead of lacing was particularly exciting and the last corset I saw was an early Jenyns corset which has an extraordinary 3x lace pulley system for improved security and strength.
The corset will always be my first love in clothing, they are what got me sewing in the first place and being able to see this resource first hand had only deepened my knowledge and understanding and inspired me to keep reinventing and persuing the art of corsetery.