I love it when a plan comes together

(The Effigy Corset of Elizabeth I.)

It turns out I didn’t actually get much corseting done this weekend.  Instead I thought a lot about corseting.  Which sounds like I was busy being a slacker, but I was indeed really and truly pondering corsetry.

I was looking over Margo’s pattern (which is based off of the Elizabeth I effigy corset) and trying to figure out what (if any) changes I wanted to make to it.  The lovely Kimiko had forwarded me an article that Janet Arnold had written on the Effigy corset, and in the article it shows that the very front of the effigy corset is slightly off-grain.  Which would likely give a bit more give in the bust area. 

I also talked with Missa via e-mail about corsetry and she has an eBook called the “Elizabethan Block Party I:  Drafting Corsets with the Conic Block.”  (She has an additional eBook with info on her conic block pattern.)  In her eBook she shows how to take your basic block and convert it into corsets similar to A)Pfalzgrafin corset, B)Effigy corset or C)a curved front corset of Missa’s own design. 

(The Pfalzgrafin Corset.)

And here is where I decided that I needed to ponder things.  The Pfalzgrafin corset dates to 1598.  The Effigy corset dates to 1603.  Eleonora died in 1562, before either of these corsets were even made.  And the Bronzino portrait dates from around 1545, when she had already given birth to 4 children, was either pregnant with her 5th, postpartum, or pregnant with her 6th child (depending on when the portrait was painted in 1545).  Personally, if it was me, wearing something as binding as a corset would be the last thing on my mind.  As to wearing a corset/stays for warmth, well, being pregnant tends to make you a bit warmer than average.  I doubt she would have worn them for that reason either.  One of the stomach bands would have been sufficient if needed, and I am assuming that she likely bound her chest for comfort of movement, breasts being especially tender when pregnant and post-partum.

So what to do?  In 1580 Alessandro Allori painted a portrait of a Florentine woman getting herself ready at her vanity/toilette.  In the portrait there is a definite curve to the bodice/corset/stays that the woman is wearing.  This is similar to other portraits prior to this time period where the women have more curve on their bodies than in English or French portraiture, where the front of the bodice is very stiff looking.

Sarah at Mode Historique has done a soft corset in this style on her blogMissa has also made soft corsets (to include hemp boned), and Jen Thompson also has a great example on her site as well. 

But wait a minute – isn’t this rehashing what was discussed back in this post?  Didn’t I already make a plan to modify the Effigy or another similar style so as to get the conic flat form as pictured in the portrait?

Well, yes.  I had made a decision based on that.  Then I read this new info and decided that I am going to kind of combine the two concepts – kind of a Franken-corset.  Because my bust is of a larger size, I would need to bind it or add some sort of padding in both the Pfalzgrafin or Effigy corsets to help hold me in place.  However, Missa has directions on how to modify your basic corset pattern so as to have a curved front, which is very similar to the woman in the Allori portrait.  The difference is that instead of using hemp cord I am going to use either A)reed or B)synthetic whalebone (aka cable ties).  I have ordered the reed and am going to see how it goes.  If it doesn’t work well for me I can always use the cable ties.

So I am going to have the curved front corset/stays.  Ok, you think, how are you going to get that flat front?  Are you going to bone your bodice?  Because from everything that is out there (and particularly from what is in Moda a Firenze) they used felt and cardboard to get their bodices stiff – not reed or other such boning options. 

In order to try to keep the dress similar to what is written in the book, I am NOT boning it.  I am going to have a layer of heavy wool felt, and a layer of heavy canvas to replace the cardboard.  This combined with the punch needle work should be enough to keep the bodice flat. 

But won’t you get buckling across the front from the curved corset?  Well, yes, I will.  Which is where the second part of the corset comes into play.

Last year for Courtesan Day out at MNRF, we made several gowns that were inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean gown.  I had followed the excellent instructions by Cathy Hay at Your Wardrobe Unlock’d, and made a few tweaks to it (for instance most people were wearing corsets underneath, so they didn’t need a boned bodice).  The bodice is made kind of like 2 bodices sandwiched together.  The underlayer is the “faux corset” and the overlayer is the “gown front.”  I started thinking about this yesterday, and thought – why can’t I apply this to my Eleonora corset?

So that is what I am going to do.  The corset will have 2 fronts – the under portion which will be the actual corset, will be curved, and will thus hold me in place better, and the outer portion will not be curved, and will instead close in the front and provide the flat shape that is required to give the look of the portrait.  It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.  The outer portion is a bit like a corset cover, except it will be sewn into the side back seams and only cover the front portion of the corset.  Therefore I will be happy with the bust support, and the front of the corset will give the flat appearance I need for the bodice to resemble the portrait.  Now I just need to take my Margo corset pattern and make the modifications. 

Whew.  How many times did I say corset in this post?

Much of this is all conjecture on my part based on what I have read from what I consider to be reputable sources (Janet Arnold, Moda a Firenze, etc.), and if someone else has a better/different idea, go ahead and share it with the class.  I am all about information.

In non-corsetry news I got the confirmation that the velvet has shipped (YAY! WOO!).  I have also talked with a friend about making the bases of the slippers for the gown which look really kind of awesome.  And yet another friend did a little web research and found this link to a pattern for Eleonora’s burial stockings.  Since the only knitting I can do is the knit stitch (and only on scarves which require no remembering of patterns), my friend Anne is going to make the stockings for me.   

As to other costuming, I am progressing on the White Queen, and am going to write about that on another page. 

I am really looking forward to getting the velvet and getting busy with the punch needlework.  I think that is going to be time-consuming but so lovely when done.

2 thoughts on “I love it when a plan comes together

  1. isasempstress says:

    Hey, Fabulous!
    You’re interlining the bodies with heavy wool felt and heavy canvas? I thought you were trying to avoid heat stroke? 😉
    If you brush either of those layers with enough glue, they’ll dry into something not unlike cardboard and should be more than enough to support the bodice front – no franken-corset (love that, btw!) required. I’ve used felt with good ol’ Elmers for faux armor pieces, shoe coverings, and emergency hat brims. It’s not the least-period solution out there.
    There’s another possibly period, although all the research I have is for english fashions and I haven’t started experimenting with it yet. Bear with me for some background: In Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, Arnold wrote “Some stomachers were stiffened: four made for the Queen in 1576 were of ‘paste bourde coverid with taphata’. However, most of those listed among the tailor’s work in the warrants are not rigid.” (p.148) In The Tudor Tailor, Mikhaila/Malcolm-Davies wrote “Mary Tudor’s French gowns all had ‘fore bodys’ in a different fabric from the gown and it’s lining, usually satin. Placards and stomachers of rich fabric also appear in the accounts (both separately and as part of garments) and these were intended for display.” (p.23) There’s a later reference in QEWU that “William Jones provided ‘xij Buskes of Whalesbone and wyer coverid with sarceonet quilted’ for Elizabeth in 1586.” (p.146 – sticks out in my head because, really, 14 busks? Quilted? Whalebone and wire? What the what?!) Closer to your era, there’s a 1550 reference from Robert Crowley (One and Thyrtye Epigrammes), who writes “Her mydle braded in,/as smal as a wande/And some by wastes of wyre/at the paste wyfes hand.” (Corsets and Crinolines, Waugh, p. 24)
    And I’m going where with this? The Elizabethans were notorious for re-using words. What if the stomacher isn’t always on the outside? Satin and taffeta (including ‘sarceonet’) both have a lot of slip to them. It would, conceivably, be possible to make a rigid panel to smooth out the front of the gown, and slide it between gown and overgown after dressing. It would have been easily removable for comfort in less formal situations or abandoned during preganancy.
    If your major area of concern is supporting the bodice front beneath the busk where the curved-front corset does it’s thang, this might be a workable solution. 🙂 It’s fewer angles and closures to sort out.

    • Laura says:

      Right back at ya Marvelous! Oh yeah….heat. Heh. I was thinking that I would put some cool packs in pockets hanging from the back of the corset inside(like hanging pockets under skirts, just tucked into corsets instead) Or, you know, strapping an ice pack to my stomach in that little curved front section. Of course less layers is always nice. 😉 I also thought I might avoid wearing the costume outside in the heat…. or anywhere it could get dirty… 😉

      Now your commentary here is VERY interesting. Why not make a rigid stomacher that can slide in and out? Moda a Firenze lists such a thing as “doppia” the “fabric or fabrics used to stiffen a garment, particularly the bodice and the hem at the bottom.” It was then covered in another fabric. This could just mean felt, or could mean something more complex – not sure. It is new to me. But it certainly makes sense that one could make it removeable. So many people have opinions on whether or not corsetry was worn in Italy during this time period, and I am trying to be more historically accurate with this garment, but I need to be able to support my “great tracks of land” and still have that smooth silhouette front. A removable front piece like that could work well. And then I would be able to reuse the corset for other things…. Hmm. I must ponder this.

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