Thursday, 19 May 2011

'Pretty Housemaid' corset made by Symingtons

As part of the lecture I am giving at the Brighton Museum on June 4th I am re-creating some period pieces to demonstrate the evolution of the corset and subsequently the female ideal in society.

Today I am going for the 'Pretty Housemaid'. Seen here in a photograph from the Leicestershire Museum.

I am using Jill Salen's book 'Corsets:Historical Patterns and techniques' as the basis of the pattern and modifying it with my own first hand research from the Symington collection in Leicester. After studying her scaled pattern and my own photographs the first thing that strikes me is the proportions of the corset. It is shorter than I expected and seems very roomy at the bust. I am using 1 inch seam allowances on all except the top and bottom hems which will be bound at the end.For the most part I am in agreement with the look of the pattern pieces between Jill's drawing and my own research with only a change of grain direction in one piece which I am only making because my instinct tells me it is wrong.

My only criticism of this book really is that it lacks basic information on each corset, such as the finished bust, waist and hip measurements which would be helpful to double check against the pattern, and no technical data or instruction on how to make the corset. Luckily I know enough about it to give it a reasonable go. I have test sampled cording technique and find that the best thing is to use a zipper foot for the cording rather than use the technique used in the book which involves making a channel and pulling the cord through the channel. Doing it that way, however, presents a new problem....that the pattern piece becomes progressively smaller as each cording is made and that sewing 3 layers together with the cording can drag the fabric as it is being sewn. I must find a solution for this before going ahead.  
I have chosen to use this particular corset for a variety of reasons:
  • it was mass produced and marketed specifically for a new emerging consumer: working women
  • the use of cording is an interesting bone replacement technique I would like to practice
  • I am interested in the proportioning of this corset   
The original corset, at the Symington Collection, is beautiful. I'm always marvelled by the sturdyness of the corset. This particular corset was built to last, built cheaply and quickly and designed to give the ordinary working class woman the figure of the fashionable high society lady. The Symington Company itself claimed this corset to be "strongest and cheapest corset ever made". The corset is made of sturdy stuff: an outer layer of cotton twill, a lining of coutil and an interlining of hessian. It is french seamed where the pieces are joined instead of having seperate boning casings, and is boned only at the seams with heavy cording adding further to the strength and robustness where a more expensive corset would have whalebone.

Later post will reveal the outcome...

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