Just when I’m researching 1930s corsets and extrapolating a 30s garment from a teens one, Mrs. Depew unveils one of the intermediate eras, the 1920s Foundation Corset.


It’s hard to see exactly how many seams it has, but I imagine it has four more in the back. The top line is part way between the over bust Victorian models and the shape of the 1911 corset. The bottom length and garters look to be long enough to both shape and smooth. Of course it’s slimming, or rather flattening… I’d say my 30s corset falls nicely in line.


Mrs. Depew does have their own 30s pattern as well.

Should you find yourself looking for 1930s sewing patterns, I highly suggest checking out the excellent New Vintage Lady. She specializes in patterns for the Stout (plus sized) lady for primarily 1930s and 1940s. You can find her patterns for download on Etsy. Here is her blog, which includes info about her patterns, vintage advertisements and catalog pages, historic photos and her adventures in sewing. A lady after my own heart. I’m still making my way through her blog, but she has lots of great info, including vintage dos and don’ts for the plus sized figure and a primer on how to read vintage patterns.

il_570xN.836183478_56ihDid I mention that she illustrates all her own patterns and has an indy comic, Vintageville? I love her illustrations!

You can also follow her on Pinterest and all over the internets. Enjoy!

model in an early 1930s Spencer corset

The 1920s are known for their idealized flapper girl, with her boyish figure. The waist had all but disappeared or appeared dropped from it’s proper anatomical location, making the hips seem slimmer, and busts were minimized. By the 1930s the waist was reemerging, lines were more graceful, curvier and the overall clothing more elegant and lady-like. The waist was back, but the figure was still very smooth and idealized. So what is a girl to do with her curves? This isn’t the Victorian era. Corsets weren’t employed by the general populace to completely rearrange the figure, but it did need it’s “unlovely” bulges smoothed out.
Lordosis Backline 1930s adYou’d be surprised what was considered unlovely bulge. According to one ad, the curve at the small of ones back was unsightly. It was referred to as “Lordosis Backline.” Wikipedia says that Lordosis is the normal inward lordotic curvature of the lumbar and cervical regions of the spine, but an excessive curve is commonly known as a sway back. I don’t know if the phrase “Lordosis Backline” was commonplace or a marketing ploy used to exploit a real condition, but more women than not, wore their foundations 14 – 16 hours a day.
Spencer corsets 1939
Another ad has a little girl asking her mother if she will “stick out” like her when she’s older, with dad looking on, snickering. How, pray tell, do you get rid of that curve, that “figure fault”? By smoothing out the backside! Look at images of Hollywood starlets in their 1930s evening gowns and you will notice that the bum was not at all prominent. In fact it’s lack was a little boyish. Restricting undergarments went all the way down over the bum or to the thighs.
Take a look at these before and after images of a woman who had pretty minor “figure problems”:

This is the beginning of the switch from corsets to girdles and the era saw a surge in pre-made garments and professional made-to-measure items. Inevitably there were some holdovers to the tried and true corset and others may have desired more “smoothing” (more here meaning corseting, compression), hence the variety.

The biggest factor in going from corset to girdle must have been the wider range of fabrics available. Corsets of the previous centuries could only constrict. In fact there is a fabric made specifically for corsets. It’s woven in such a way that it has almost zero stretch. It’s called coutil and is traditionally a very tightly woven herringbone (there is a more modern satin as well). Real, good quality corsets, even today, are made with coutil. Period. There can be a fashion fabric outer layer and a lining, but if the main material isn’t coutil (and spring or spiral steel bones, but that’s a different conversation), it won’t last and the shape it gives you won’t stay true. With the advent of man made fabrics girdles could be made that smoothed and gently compressed, but allowed the wearer more range of movement. Some garments were constructed mostly of coutil with some stretch (possibly elastic or the period equivalent of power-mesh) added in gussets across the thigh and sometimes as a top band. I think of these as transition garments and this is what I will be making for this 1930s project.
If you do a search for “1930s corset” you aren’t going to get many hits. Search “1930s girdle” and you’ll get some. Search for a specific company’s garments and you’ll get a lot more info. Try “1930s Spencer” and you start to get somewhere. Better yet, visit Corsetiere.net and you’ll get a plethora of information on various companies’ garments through their history (through today in a couple special cases!).
Not finding an period corset patterns, but finding many ads for corset makers of the times, tells me that corset making as a home art was largely dead or dying by the 1930s. There are some patterns for period girdles, but I’m not looking for stretch in this case, nor was every woman at that time. There is nothing that says I can’t make my own 1930s corset, so I will.
As for the shape of the 1930s foundation garment, whether it’s a corset or girdle, it hadn’t changed much from the early century. It was long at the thigh and came to some height between directly under the bust and the waist. The single bra+corset/girdle garments are not something I want to try as a first shot and some are actually a long line bra over a corset/girdle.
What I’ve found are several patterns or variations on a couple patterns from about 1911-12 that I plan to test as is, then modify. One has 5 panels per side and will be my basic model. Another has a couple shaped gussets included. While I like the latter’s shape, the pattern doesn’t lend itself to enlargement as easily as the other. My plan is to make the 1911 and figure out the gusset placement, modified for power mesh or the like, after.
See related posts:

This is part of my Ghosts of Projects Past series, where I finally document projects I just didn’t have a chance to post about while they were happening.


Some friends got married this past July. The dress for their adorable flower girl needed altering. It fit pretty well, but their color was forest green and her sash was bright pink. That just wouldn’t do.


Off came a funky flower and sad bow from the back. Off came the sash.


It was a rush job, and she’d never fit into it again, so I didn’t bother separating the skirt from the bodice, I just cut and serged the fraying edges.


On went the new sash and I finished it if with a fabric flower with a mother of pearl button center.

Usually I make a big deal for Halloween. The house gets decked in its bi-yearly theme (witches) for one night. All the monsters come out, revolting amounts of candy are handed over and much coffee is consumed by dedicated parents. This year, however, the Rogues were sewing and doing a final fitting until 4pm. Here’s what we made.


A Victorian costume, complete with corset, walking skirt, apron over-skirt and tailcoat jacket. The majority of the costume is a heathered gray cotton of mid-weight with trim in blue poly satin and some matching blue braid.


The tailcoat is based on a tailcoat vest I made for a previous Halloween costume, which was based on a simple princess seamed vest pattern. The overskirt is a 1871 pattern from Truly Victorian, which we changed to be reversible (gray on the other side), the skirt is based on an 1895 skirt and includes period accurate pockets! They hang inside from one central point and are accessed by a slit in their center.


The piece you aren’t seeing is the under bust corset, which can be found here.

I’m pretty happy with the way the tails hang gracefully. The decision not to line them was a good one. I think they would have looked to heavy. The front of the coat will hang better without the overskirt beneath it.

The other part I’m particularly pleased with is the trim on the sleeve cuffs and apron hem. It’s the same gray as the general ensemble, pleated. I was initially going to put a strip of blue fabric over the seam of the cuffs, but happily found that nice blue trim.

This was a fast project and there were lesions learned about fitting, allowances that must be made for corsetry (we almost always steampunk and wear out unmentionables on the outside), equipment limitations, the squirelieness of satin, and timing.

In the future we would like to make some small adjustments to the apron to make it truly reversible, add some blue braid trim to it’s ruffle and probably make an alteration to the skirt.

And that’s not all. We also did some tailoring to the lady’s husband’s Victorian ensemble; adding pockets to his vest, hidden pockets to his tailcoat and Henning the pants. I’m sure they were quite a pair.

Next year there will be better planning and timing so people can have their costumes and I can have my usual Halloween fun. (Not that we didn’t have fun, it was just compressed.)

Rogues of Thread will be attending the Halcyon Craft Fair this weekend, selling holiday aprons.

I’ll also be taking orders for custom aprons. There are lots of fabrics to choose from and they can be made up in most of the designs seen on this blog. Come check us out!



Originally posted on The Pragmatic Costumer:

Investing in the Hobby: Is it worth it?

Dress made of £50k for a promotional.

When you begin a costume, there are a few major determining factors that dictate how your project will proceed. You must have in mind an era or character that you want to recreate, like a 1942 army nurse,  Jessica Rabbit, a Civil War widow, Zelda, an 1570s Italian, etc. While this might seem like the greatest determining factor of a costume, in reality, nothing looms over a project so largely as a budget.

My grandmother and I had a phone conversation a while back, and I mentioned my latest sewing projects and plans. She admitted to not having sewn anything in a few decades. She asked how much fabric cost.
“I usually buy cheap fabric that costs between $1.50 and $6.00 a yard,” I told her, “but a quilting cotton could easily run $8-14 dollars.”

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