I received an email a few days ago asking me about how to lace a corset, and for reference materials suggestions. I am posting it here in case other people are interested in the answer as well.
A corset lacing tutorial is something I have not gotten around to making, and I’m not sure when I will. Fortunately, there are very good lacing tutorials available other places online. Plug “how to lace a corset” into a search engine, and you’ll immediately get some good results for lacing a Victorian or modern style corset, with a front opening. If your corset does not have a front opening, it’s a lot like lacing your shoes. If the corset is an offset grommet, conical style historic corset, you tie it off at one end, loop it down the grommets and tie it off at the other end. I’ve never used a fan-lacing corset, so I’m not sure how to lace one of those.
I usually run the lacing over the top of the corset at the top and bottom because I like how that looks, but I don’t think it really matters. To ease strain on the grommets, it is a good idea to have the lacing travel front-to-front and back-to-back as it crosses the gap. If the lacing crosses exactly like shoe-laces (always entering the back of the grommet and coming up to exit), it can place uneven stress on the grommets and creates unneccesary wear on the fabric at the back edges of the corset.
As for reference materials for the 1860′s and 1870′s, the book Corsets and Crinolines is the most comprehensive book I know on the subject. My personal library contains a wide assortment of books on the subject of corsetry and historical costuming, many of them reprints of period tailoring manuals. No one book I am aware of answers all the questions a person may have regarding the wearing and construction of corsets and underpinnings. Just the knowledge I have garnered over the years (nowhere near as comprehensive as many people I know) could fill a couple very sizeable books.
There are historic costuming and re-enactment groups scattered around the world. Many of them have online presences as well. I would suggest finding other people in your area with a similar interest, or contacting organizations like the Costumers Guild of America. Historical societies can also be a very good resource, and docents and workers at historic sites and museums are often more than happy to discuss what they know of the subject, but be careful to verify the information you receive because if they are not properly trained it is easy for them to be mis-informed, if enthusiastic. They can also probably point you to good resources for research in your own area.
Another excellent resource is your nearest college or university library. If you are not a student, chances are you can’t check out any of the books, but I don’t know of any academic library that cards people on the way in. Take a note book with you and some money for copies, and look through the books they have in the stacks. Go talk to people in the History department and ask if they know where you can find good materials. Don’t be afraid to ask people. They would not have made it that far in the subject of history if they did not have a love for the subject.
If you know of good resources, please comment. If I have a good listing of resources I’ll add it to the “Pages” section of this site.