This tutorial will walk you through the process I used to create a full-length corded Regency corset with a busk pocket and period style fan lacing. This is one type of support garment worn during the Regency period, roughly 1800-1820, and a common choice for modern costumers seeking to reproduce the fashions of the Regency and early Victorian. Other options for the Regency era include short stays, transitional stays with bust cups, and a wrap-around similar to a modern bra. The Oregon Regency Society has posted an excellent article giving an overview of the different foundation types used historically, as well as a lot of other excellent information.
For ideas on how to shape and decorate your corded corset, I have a Pin Board on Pinterest specifically featuring Women’s Regency Undergarments. Other excellent sources of information and inspiration are regency-specific blogs, and online museum collections.
This particular corset was not based upon a single extant corset, but instead drew upon aspects of several different extant corsets. Most corsets made in this general style will have a solid front panel, two back panels, and may or may not have a side panel as well. All the examples I saw had gores for the bust, and shoulder straps. Most examples I saw had a little boning, but most of the structure was provided by cording. In an effort to make this corset machine washable, I decided to use ONLY cording, with no actual boning. If you want to make your corded corset machine washable, be sure to pre-wash all the materials in hot water and avoid using steel boning.
This corset is plus sized, made with five panels total (one front, two side, and two back). The outside cover is cotton drill (a finely woven twill fabric), the core layer is coutil (not historically accurate, but works very well), and the lining is cotton muslin. The cording is cotton twist cord (linen cord also works nicely). I also used buttonhole thread for detailing, and silver-colored grommets.
This is a self-drafted corset. There are a number of different commercial patterns available, and scale patterns showing the piecing may be found in books and online for those seeking to draft their own pattern. If you use a commercial pattern, pick on that is as close as possible to your natural measurements, especially at the hip and bust. The waist will need to be a little smaller than your natural waist. Typical light-lacing is a 10% reduction of the waist measurement, and will be comfortable for most people.
Note that in the sketch above it is marked with the vertical placement of hip, waist, underbust, and bust. Take note of these distances on yourself and modify the pattern vertically so its bust, underbust, waist, and hip match up to your own. If these are off, the corset won’t fit and won’t be comfortable.
Make a Mock-up
Create a mock-up of your corset to make sure it fits before going to the trouble of making a finished garment. There are people who can successfully size corsets using a muslin mock-up, but I honestly have no idea how they do it. I can’t get a proper fit off a muslin because of the difference in fabric stability. Muslin may not be “stretchy” fabric, but it does have give, and if put under tension it will pull out to a greater diameter than coutil or even cotton duck. Cotton duck will work, but be aware that it has a lot of bias stretch, so if you have a lot of hip spring (added circumference at the hip compared to the waist), that bias stretch will give a false fit compared to coutil. I found this out the hard way. If you do use cotton duck, I recommend two layers to help combat this problem.
Ideally, I recommend making the mock-up out of the same or an equivalent material to the core material you intend to use on the finished garment. I understand coutil is expensive, but this is the only way I have found to ensure an accurate fit without dozens of mock-ups.
If you have another method that works for you, by all means use that method. There’s more than one way to make a good corset.
Cut out all your pieces. Since I am using coutil, it will be one layer, and I won’t be finishing any of the edges.
First, insert the triangular gores into the bust of the front panel. I have a separate tutorial posted about how to do this.
How to Insert a Triangular Gore into a Slash – Will open in a new window so you can return here when you are done with that step.
Stitch together all the panels.
Either grommet the opening, or use grommet tape. I prefer grommet tape because it’s so much faster and easier.
This is a photo of the mock-up, after it was returned by the customer. If you ever get a mock-up for a custom item, keep this in mind. I have never received back a mock-up so well modified and descriptive. Safety pins are holding folds of fabric to make the corset smaller where needed. It’s drawn on or folded back where it needs to be shorter, and where the armpit needs to be a little larger. Extra material is pinned on at the bust and the back of the hip to show where the pieces should be extended. To top it off, she very boldly marked the part of the shoulder strap which she would like padded out for more comfort.
Modify your pattern as needed by the mock-up. If you have made a lot of changes, you may want to do another mock-up before proceeding to the real garment. Despite the apparent severity of the modifications to this mock-up, they are so clearly marked that I was able to modify the pattern with complete confidence and proceed to the next stage.
Account for width lost to cording
You WILL lose some width in the pattern to the cording, because the fabric must go around the cords and will not be laying perfectly flat. If you are doing very little cording (little waist reduction or mostly quilted), or are petite, this isn’t a problem. However, if you are doing a lot of cording like I did on this corset, it can be a significant loss. Horizontal cords will shorten the height of the corset. Vertical cords will shorten the circumference. Basically, I lost about 1/4″ of fabric width for every 20 cords. In the case of this corset, it made the bust slightly tighter on each cup, and I had to add 1/4″ to the width of the side panel and 1/4″ to the width of the back panel. Add the extra width where there will be lots of cording, but be sparing. If your corset is small, the difference may not be significant enough to worry about even if you plan to cord the entire garment.