Making Turn of the Century Foundation Garments

So this post is probably going to be really long. And it’s also long overdue – most of these pieces were completed back in January!

These were made to pair with a few turn of the century gowns that I had planned (including this taffeta dress), and were some of the first things I made in 2016. My goal was to have a full set of foundation garments that would work for the 1890s and the early 1900s. That was supposed to include a corset, chemise, bloomers, and a petticoat.

That didn’t really end up happening. My corset has the wrong silhouette, i’m not very happy with the chemise, and I never ended up making the bloomers. But I invested a lot of time into these pieces and I ended up wearing them with a few projects, so I thought I should write about them anyway!

All these pieces were made primarily from a white eyelet cotton fabric I purchased in the garment district. They are trimmed with white lace from my stash, a pink embroidered lace I got on etsy, and pink ribbon in various widths.

We’ll start with the corset. Usually I use corset patterns from Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines* – which is what I should have done here. But I was feeling a bit lazy, and I had recently come across a corset I made for a class a few years back. The corset didn’t fit me very well (too large in the stomach, and too tight across my ribs) and wasn’t a style I could pair with historical costumes.

So I decided to take it apart, make a few alterations, and reuse the boning to create a more historically accurate silhouette. And I wouldn’t have to cut or tip any boning as long as I kept all the boning channels on my altered pattern the same length!

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I also added seam allowance for a busk at the front, and changed the neckline. Then I cut the pieces out from denim and marked the boning channels.

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 I cut out the top layers of fabric, which consist of muslin and eyelet cotton.

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And sewed all the boning channels.

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Then the pieces were sewn together…

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And I had something that looked like this!

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Before sewing the front panels to the rest of the corset I added the busk, well first I prepared the fabric for the busk. See all the gaps in the seam? That’s where the hooks will poke out.

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And here it is sewn in place. Someone on instagram said I sewed it in upside down, but it was a little late to change it by that point and it doesn’t really effect the wear of the corset so i’m not too bothered.

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Preparing the other side. I made the holes, then fray checked them and waited for that to dry before inserting the busk.

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I trimmed the denim seam allowances down to a quarter inch, then added the boning.

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The top and bottom edges were both finished with two inch wide facings that were sewn on with half inch seam allowances.

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At this point it was starting to look like a corset!

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Next step were the eyelets – I chose to hand embroider them, as per usual, since I prefer them to metal.

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I used pink thread for this but they look like a weird off white color in photos, which sort of sucks!

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At this point I could do my first real first real fitting. It was slightly too large in the bust, so I added a dart to either side, but other than that it was fine.

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Which meant I could start decorating it! I decided to use some chantilly lace across the top edge – this is a cheap one I got off etsy.

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I cut it into two forty inch lengths, then folded the ends inward and sewed them down by hand so they wouldn’t fray.

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I turned the top edge inward by a third of an inch, then sewed it down to create a channel for ribbon.

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I threaded some pink ribbon through it and used that to gather the ribbon down. The end result looks quite delicate and pretty – or at least it does in my opinion!

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I sewed that on by hand.

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Then the corset was lined with muslin.

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And that’s it! I left the ends of the ribbon long so they can tie into a bow at the center front. I think it’s the prettiest foundation garment i’ve made – it’s so frilly, I love it. And i’m actually pretty fond of how it looks worn. It just isn’t right for this period.

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It doesn’t give nearly the amount of reduction it should and it looks quite bulky when dresses are worn overtop of it. I think it will work nicely with dresses from the late edwardian period, when more natural waists were becoming acceptable, but it definitely doesn’t suit the variety of eras i’d hoped it would. I’m going to attempt making something more suitable soon, this time following an actual historical pattern!

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Also, i’m aware tying corsets is the front is bad for them, but I can’t tie them tight enough without help and since I usually only have them on for short periods of time i’m not too bothered!

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Now for the chemise. I made this before doing any real research on the 1890’s, from fabrics I had around, and based it almost entirely off this image. Looking back I wish I had made a fuller chemise, with some lace inset work, but my hope was that this slimmer design could be worn with fitted dresses from later periods, making it more versatile.

Instead of doing lace inset, I made a lace collar that the fabric falls from. I made a pattern for this, then pleated lengths of lace so it fit inside the pattern.

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The pleats were sewn in place, then I trimmed the ends so they line up nicely.

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I sewed ribbon down the center of the lace, then sewed the lace together at the front.

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The body of the chemise is one piece, with a seam at the back.

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The arm openings were finished with bias tape.

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Then the top edge was folded outward, and the lace collar was pinned on.

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I sewed it on by machine.

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Then covered the stitching with a ribbon lace from Jo-anns, which was sewn on by hand.

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The hem is a simple double hem.

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Which I covered with ruffled embroidered lace.

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Then I sewed  on the lace I had leftover from making the collar, this covers the top edge of the ruffled lace.

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And it’s finished off with ribbon and ribbon lace.

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The back seam is done up with a french seam and that’s it!

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I think this looks quite pretty when worn with the corset – but In the future I would like to make a more traditional turn of the century chemise using some historical methods.

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And the final piece i’ll be talking about today is the combination set. This combines the chemise and bloomers into one garment. I hadn’t originally planned on making this, but my chemise was too long to be worn with my cycling costume, and I wanted something to fill out the cycling bloomers that wasn’t too bulky.

I draped the bodice on my dress from, then cut it out from more eyelet cotton. The neckline was gathered down, then straps were sewn on and the seam allowances were covered with lace tape.

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The collar is covered with an embroidered lace applique that a reader sent me a couple years ago, and the rest of the visible edges are covered with ribbon.

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The back closes with six hand sewn eyelets, and I attached little bows to the straps because I really like bows.

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Here is the finished bodice.

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The bottom portion is a slimmer, shorter version of the bloomers pattern I drafted a while back. This was sewn together with french seams.

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I left the bottom few inches open so I could get my legs into them.

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Then I sewed mesh lace onto the cuffs with a one inch seam allowance.

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Then the seam allowance was sewn down to create a channel for ribbon.

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Ribbon got threaded through that to create adorable ruffly little cuffs.

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I sewed the shorts to the bodice, then covered the raw edge with lace tape – this creates another channel, which will also be used for ribbon.

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I sewed up the back, leaving the top few inches open. There is also a half inch opening at the waistline, which is where the ribbon will be threaded through.

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Here is how it looked when I was done! This was a lot of fun to make. Since I cheated and did most of it by machine it came together in less than a day.

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It’s also really practical, i’ve been wearing it with a bunch of projects since it’s so comfy and the straps can easily be tucked down for off-the-shoulder dresses (like my civil war era ball gown). I see myself getting a lot of use out of it!

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And that’s it for this post! Three projects, fifteen hundred words, fifty-ish photos, and lots of frills.

If you want to read even more about frilly foundation garments, the blog post about making a matching petticoat is here.

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Thanks for reading!


Cotton Sateen Corset, 1860s

This was a surprise project from November.  My plan for November was to make two nineteenth century themed ensembles, which didn’t end up happening. But I did make this! Which kind of counts.

I was in the mood to do a lot of machine sewing and stitching dozens of boning channels seemed like a good way to cater to that mood. So I decided to make a corset. I used a pattern from Norah Waugh’s “Corsets & Crinolines” and altered it to fit me.

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I have plans to make several gowns from the later half of the 19th century, including one dress which is already in progress. Making a proper early victorian corset to wear under them has been on my mind for a while, even though it wasn’t a main priority.

During the time period i’m aiming for corsets were mostly used for support but definitely transitioning into giving some waist reduction as well. I didn’t want anything too major, but I was aiming for a defined shape and two inches off at the waist, which is pretty easy to achieve on me because i’m squishy around the tummy.

After I got the pattern drawn out I made a mock up. This was made following the pattern exactly…just with an extra inch of material on both sides of the back, because I don’t have the 23″ waist this pattern was originally made for!


I ended up taking it in a bit at the bust and hips and raising the neckline by a half inch. I left a few fingers worth of room at the top and bottom because the shape from the boning will push fat down/up to create the defined waist. Which makes your waist measurement smaller, and your bust/hip measurements larger. In the past I haven’t left room and been left with spillage around those areas, which isn’t very pretty or comfortable.

When my alterations were done I cut the pattern out from a very finely woven pillowcase linen. This previously belonged to my grandmother and it feels very different from linen i’ve seen before, but it makes a great backing for lightweight foundation garments.

I marked out all the boning channels on this layer.


I cut the top fabric from a deep red cotton sateen.


Then I had the brilliant plan to sew all the boning channels with cream thread, because I thought it would look fantastic. I’ve seen corsets done this way and they were lovely.

Clearly I need to stop browsing pinterest before starting on projects – just because master corset makers of the 19th century could stitch high contrast channels beautifully, doesn’t mean I can.

(Spoiler: I can’t)

These are just the straight boning channels.


When those were sewn I marked out the curved boning channels.


I sewed those as well, then assembled the corset by machine.



When that was finished I cut out the many pieces of boning. I’m using mostly steel, but some plastic in the curved seams where I don’t really need two strips of metal side by side.

I should also mention that I replaced the busk with four pieces of boning, which should have pretty much the same function.


All the boning was labeled, then tipped with tape and dripped in nail polish. I let them dry overnight before adding them to the garment.

Here is the corset with all the boning in place.


And here it has the edges turned over! I did a quick try on and it was too big on the lower edge at the very front. It was gaping away from the body, which wasn’t good.

Luckily is was an easy fix, I  just whip stitched darts into the front, each one took in a little over a quarter inch of material on each side.


The fit seemed much better, so I moved forward! The next step was sewing on some lace and stitching the eyelets. I think these compliment the cream colored stitching quite nicely.


Then it was time for lining. I was dumb and forgot to cut out the lining at the same time I cut out everything else. Since my pattern doesn’t include seam allowances, those have to be marked out with a ruler after the pieces are laid out.

I could have saved myself an hour if I used the cotton sateen pieces as a guide (since the seam allowances were already drawn out on those).

The lining was assembled and sewn in by hand, the same way I always do it.


It still seemed like it was missing something, so I made some matching piping and attached that. This was a huge pain and I ended up stabbing my right thumb with the needle during the process…which led to an infection under the sewing callus i’ve developed. So that hasn’t been fun, but I think it’s okay now.

I actually really like how the finished product looks, even though it isn’t my best work construction wise.

A few people gave me some great tips on tumblr so I think my next corset will be much better quality thanks to that! Apparently fusing the fabrics together helps. And so do better quality fabrics. The thought of ruining silk shantung with my sloppy stitching makes me cringe a little, but if the end result is better i’ll give it a try!



And the fit test – without a chemise so I could show off the fact I don’t get any spillage from it. People more experienced with corsets than I would probably disagree, but I really like the fit of it. I got what I wanted – a defined shape and a bit of reduction.

My photo from the front disappeared somewhere, so here it is with a bodice I have in progress being worn over it! I know it’s really terrible to tie things at the front, but i’m completely incapable of tying tight bows or knots behind my back.

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A little bit of back creasing, it could probably do with a modesty panel, but aside from these photos it will never be worn without a chemise, so i’m not too concerned!

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Thanks for reading!