Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Making of... Tennis Dress #2

I decided to make a skeleton corset for this project. I had found a simple skeleton corset on a Tumblr Blog, called The Ornamented Being, about a year ago.

The Met Lightweight summer corset ca. 1871 “This skeleton-like corset is unique in form, for it is lighter and less restricting. The open spaces make it a cooler and comfortable choice for warmer weather. Most likely, this corset would be worn with casual day wear, due to its simplicity, the only detail being the lace trim at top.”

Although this corset is from 15 years earlier, this shape of corset was rather standard for a Victorian era. The Met doesn’t have any other pictures/views of this corset. I have no idea how the closure at the back looks so I did some searching about and found a similar corset in the private collection of Amanda Lerum. Her blog is here: http://corsetradesigns.blogspot.com/

These pictures gave me a very good idea of how to make the overall pattern. Although the original Met corset has a very interesting button closure that I was eager to duplicate.

Corsets Construction
The inspiration corset is made wholly of cotton of one form or the other. On that vein I searched out my stash and found cotton sateen for the center corded waist panel, cotton bone casing from farthingales. 5/8th” india tape for the bindings, and cotton croquet yarn for the cording. All the bones are 1/4” flat steal. I used lacing bones at the center back, and one lacing bone to secure the buttons at center front. I did use spiral steel bone at the center front. I needed the flexibility at that point to work the button through it’s hole.

The first thing I did was to make a corded panel with the cotton sateen, cotton duck and the croquet cotton yarn. I used a zipper foot, and sandwiched the yarn between the sateen and duck. Doing the cording this way makes the top layer of sateen corrugated, but leaves the bottom duck layer smooth. Also, making the entire panel first and than cutting out the pattern piece gives a much more accurate shape than cutting out the piece and than cording it. I than made to my waist measurements, minus 2 inches for lacing gap, a pattern for the center corded waistband panel.

I bound the edges (top, bottom, and center back) with 5/8” inch india tape. Next was the button closure at center Front. Obviously a button closure has two pieces. The over placket (button hole side), and the under placket, button side. I was very concerned that the tension that the center front of a corset endurs, would be too much tension on a typical button closure, and the result would be that the button would tear out of it’s placket. I decided that I would use a lacing bone to create a stable surface to attach the button. A lacing bone is a 1/2” flat steel bone that has 1/4” holes drilled down the length of the bone at 1” intervals. I bought my lacing bones from Farthingales. I sewed the button through the placket fabric, through the hole of the lacing bone, and in the back to a small button to keep the thread from tearing through the placket fabric. One the top edge of the fabric I made a substantial thread shank for the button. I used two kinds of buttons for this corset, the front button is a rather large 5/8” shell, button, and the back is a smaller 1/2”? 3/8” shell button, both having 2 holes the larger being vintage, I think from the 1940‘s. The over placket has 4 vertical button holes, and a spiral steel bone along the outside edge. I was concerned that the button would rip through it’s hole. The bone along that edge seems to keep it in place. The Center back is a set of lacing bones covered in 5/8” boning tape from Farthingales. I used 00 two part grommets.

Next, to find the placement of the rest of the bones, I put on the corset and simply pinned on 1/2” boning tape where I thought would be best. I did one side and through trial and error worked out the best placement. I slid 1/4” flat steel bones into the tape and used the 5/8” india tape to find the right placement for the top and bottom edge. Once I was happy with the left side I duplicated it on the other. I decorated the corsets top edge with a piece of cotton lace from my stash. Although this corset gives me no reduction in the waist, I am extremely pleased with it for one reason. I am extremely short wasted. From my armpit to waist is about 5 inches, compared to the standard 7-8 inches. The way the corded waist panel sits forces my waist down and lengthens my waist 1 1/2”! and it does it very comfortably! This has become my new favorite corset!

I decided right off that I wanted to make an exact replica of LACMA’s tennis dress. I had gone to the museum and taken quite a few pictures of the tennis dress. I was very good about taking close up pictures of the fabric.

I used these pictures and sampled them in photoshop. I used a small portion 1”x 1”, and imported that sample to Spoonflower. Spoonflower offers the designer the option to tile the image in different ways. It was not a difficult project, but it was a bit frustrating having to wait for the next sample print. I did quite a few printings to get the colors right. After three printings I got a print that I was happy with.

This is a picture that I took of my inspiration dress in the museum.

You can see my Tennis Dress fabric here:

The LACMA has posted some great internal pictures of the Tennis Dress. From the picture it was clear to me that the bustle wires were part of the dress. Also the skirts pleats did not go up into the bustles base. I was fairly certain that the under skirt had a yoke top. Grimble’s book Bustle Fashions 1885-1887 offers an example of a pleated skirt with a yoke.  

I didn’t want to take the time to figure out where to put the bustle wires but I already had in my stash both the wire kit and the pattern for Truly Victorian 101. So I used the yoke pattern pieces and its accompanying wire kit to build the underskirts yoke and bustle. The only alteration that I needed to add was to add a strip of material to the back yoke so that the bottom edge of the yoke was level with the ground. The skirt was easy enough to do. I cut four bolt widths of fabric to the length I needed, hemmed it and pleated it to the yoke.

After I got it all together I remembered that I needed to add a pocket. So I pulled one side apart and added a pocket.

The internal bustle tapes of LACMA's extant gown

The extant gowns pocket

The Grimble yoke skirt, and the TV 101 pattern.

You can see my pocket.


  1. This is so fabulous! I saw your fabric and wondered how you got it but then saw Spoonflower. Really, really terrific dress!

    1. Hey Jennifer! That means a ton coming from you!

      You rock btw!

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