A 1910s costume, part five: the corset cover

This post is the fifth in a series in which I endeavour to create a historically-accurate late-1910s outfit to the best of my ability. From using an antique sewing machine, finding modern patterns of historical designs to using contemporary sewing manuals, this project is a huge challenge and one that I’m super excited about. I hope you will enjoy following along with my baby steps in historical costuming.

Now that the corset was complete, I could settle into a far more straightforward project: the corset cover. This garment is like a modern camisole or vest worn over the corset either to smooth out the lines created by the structural elements of the corset or for modesty, if the blouse or dress worn over the top was made of a more translucent material. I decided to go relatively simply with mine: using the same cotton I had used for my combinations (luckily I had just enough left over!), and the same trim. This time, I chose to use a dusky rose coloured ribbon, a more neutral colour which hopefully won’t show through my blouse!

Getting an idea of what my finished corset cover would look like…

As with my combinations, I chose to use a Wearing History pattern: the ‘1910s Camisole or Corset Cover’. I’m really enjoying using these so far as they are based on contemporary sewing patterns. They include the original instructions as well as more detailed modern ones and its interesting to infer the types of skills that would have been taken as known at the time. The contemporary instructional manuals I have consulted for this project have basic instructions for many garments which could be a source of construction knowledge which early 20th century seamstresses’ would have bought to patterns. Of course, knowledge may also have been passed down from mother to daughter. This Wearing History pattern also includes excerpts from contemporary manuals explaining the construction of features like plackets and adverts showing different designs. I used an image included in these excerpts to alter the pattern itself.

A page from Baldt, Laura Irene. Clothing for women; selection and construction. Philadelphia, London: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1916. (source: https://archive.org/)

This pattern has great scope for embellishment and this is something I wanted to take advantage of. A quick search on the MET Costume Institute’s online collection brings up a range of corset covers from the early 20th century which are decorated with lace and ruffles. I had originally intended to add insertion lace to the front of my corset cover but I couldn’t find any that I liked within my price range. I did find some gorgeous examples but they were a bit more expensive than I was willing to pay for a garment that won’t be seen – I’ll save them for the blouse! So after pondering for a bit, I decided to have a go at pin tucks. I had to make them quite narrow so I wouldn’t lose the fullness in the front of the corset cover but overall I think they’re very effective – especially for a first try!

Cute little pintucks.

I followed the instructions of the pattern closely until I got to the waistband. The pattern requires you to attach the peplum to the bottom edge of the main bodice pieces and use a separate strip to create an inner waist stay. The Wearing History YouTube channel has a really clear tutorial for this process (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fwLNPggccM&list=PLCxUDlar-hBgMNMrYBSP7Eolm_KemXsMx&index=8&t=602s) but after seeing an contemporary image included in the pattern of a corset cover with a waistband, I decided to try and recreate this.

The contemporary example with a separate waistband piece.
Gathering the waistband – rather than my usual method of gathering long machine stitches, I used a running stitch.

I’ll admit, I made a serious rookie error with my first go at this, cutting the waistband without including allowance with a button stand. This was pretty frustrating but I realised my mistake before I painstakingly hand-felled the inner edge of the waistband down. Otherwise, the construction of the waistband was very simple. I sandwiched the bottom edge of the bodice between two rectangular waistband pieces, sewed the peplum and outer waistband wrong-sides-together, sewed the ends of the waistband closed then felled the inner waistband down.

The waistband from the inside.

I decorated the waistband and the neckline of the corset cover with the ribbon and lace trim, which is used to tighten the corset cover in these places. As with my combinations, I attached these with a simple running stitch.

Attaching a straight edge to a curved edge is very tricky.
Adding lace to the waistband.
All trimmed!

The most difficult part of making this corset cover was fitting the armholes. Garments from this period had far smaller armscyes than we are used to in modern clothing so I anticipated this being an issue. I initially took the armhole down before adding the trimming and it seemed to be okay. However, once I added the trim to the top edge and was able to pull it in to fit me, the armhole became too small again. To fix this, I very carefully unpicked my felling stitches, expanded the armscye again along the bottom edge and felled it again. It’s difficult to tell without closely analsing extant garments how close the armholes actually were but I think I did a close enough job.

The initial armscye fitting.
Re-sewing the armhole.

With the main construction complete, the last step was adding the buttons and buttonholes. I’m still very much a beginner when it comes to hand-sewn buttonholes so I deliberately started at the bottom so that the more ‘rustic’ ones wouldn’t be as noticeable. I had sewn two buttonholes on the combinations but that was through only one layer of fabric and sewing through two proved to be much more difficult. I’m definitely getting better but I’ve got a long way to go!

As well as honing my buttonhole stitch, I also had to figure out how to make my buttonholes the right size – the ones at the bottom as far too big!

Overall, this was a really fun and quick project that was very welcome after the involved making of the corset. Other than the armholes, the fitting process was simple – I added 1.5cm to the length of the corset cover and sized up the peplum (actually ended up reducing it slightly but I was glad I was cautious!). As with the combinations, I sewed the main bodice with french seams which leaves a lovely clean finish! I’m still having issues with the tension on my machine but it didn’t stop me from making a really pretty corset cover! Now I only have one undergarment to go, project petticoat coming soon!

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