“Westminster-corset”, the QE1 Effigy corset (not from the Sittingbourne cache)

I had absolutely no intention of writing a post this evening, but a post on the importance of independent labels and locally made goods (specifically in lingerie, but really in any goods we consume), led to some interesting lingerie sites, which led to a fitting guide, some Elizabethan corset history and eventually to a rather detailed image of an early 1600s corset from the Sittingbourne cache.

The Sittingbourne Cache is the collective name given to a large group of artifacts found within the fabric of an old public house in Sittingbourne, Kent, in the south-east of the UK, shortly before the building’s demolition. The cache, consisting of over 500 artefacts, is the largest reported to the DCGP [Deliberately concealed Garments Project].

via http://www.concealedgarments.org/2010/10/sittingbourne-cache/

More after the jump

The site for the Sittingbourne cache, called the “Deliberately Concealed Garments Project” is great! This particular find, the stays or pair-of-bodies or just “bodies” have been dated to 1620/1630 and are the second oldest known in the UK. You’ve got to see the detail on this corset:


Sittingbourne 1620/1630s corset. Click for a higher res image.

Go click on the link for the high res image and look at the details. Some things I noticed were:

  • The layer on the bottom, while shaped like the layers above, may very well be a modern piece of fabric, cut to fit. It seems too white to match the age of the rest of the garment.
  • The corset is front opening, with about 12 lacing holes per side.
  • It has (had) straps that attached to a rather narrow back piece and extended from that piece at more of an angle than I would expect. I’m comparing it in my head to the Mantau Maker pair of bodies pattern, which has the straps extending more from the top, at a more modern seeming angle. You may recall that I had a bit of trouble with the straps on my corset. Had I attached them where it would have been necessary to make them lie flat on my shoulders, they would have almost crossed in front. However, had I placed them at such angle in the back instead, like this corset from the Sittingbourne cache, they might have naturally fell in the normal-for-modern-times placement of a bra strap.
  • The straps come to almost a point and have mostly rotted out. We can’t see where they attach to the front, but the missing piece on the right (the left front of the garment) may have been an attachment point. They would have tied on.
  • The garment is quilted in straight lines all the way around, except for the area above the shoulder blades, which has quilting at about a 45 degree angle. I don’t know why they would have done that. Some modern recreations start the quilting in straight lines down the front, but once they get to where the piece wraps around the sides the quilting lines have gotten to more of an angle. This leads me to think the person who owned this garment was rather slim and small busted.
  • It ‘s tabbed for comfort and the undersides of the tabs seem to have leather (?) at the bottom. The stitching in one place looks like an afterthought, so possibly this detail was added later. I’m not sure why this would have added leather. The corset would have been worn over the smock and wouldn’t have rubbed on anything there. Maybe it was done to maintain the shape of the tabs since it may not be boned. Hmmm, that’s a thought. I have boning running down into the tabs on mine, but if it was quilted it wouldn’t have been boned (much). It’s also possible we could be seeing the outside. It is rather worn and dirty. This post, from someone who saw the stays in person, says that the view is of the inside (he also has a different theory on the strap placement).
  • The cut of the corset top is very straight and doesn’t have the cutdown for the underarm like the Mantau Maker pattern. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong.
  • It’s hard to say how much was original stitching since there was so much repair done to this corset. It has several patches, appears to have had it’s back / side back whip-stitched back together, and the strips of fabric on the top may have been for reinforcement or they may have been the original strips of binding. It appears that the binding was sewn to the front,  turned over the stitch line and the remainder pulled tight and stitched flat, instead of cutting it to a more narrow width, which is what we use today as bias binding. The Elizabethans didn’t have bias binding yet and would have used straight binding strips.
  • I’m not sure what the white is peeking out from under the binding at the tip edge. It’s a little unnaturally white. My guess is that there were at least three layers of fabric. I can’t speculate on the fiber type or weave from this image.
  • I’m not sure if there was a proper busk or not. The front left of the garment looks like it is a little differently shaped than the right. That side is in the worst condition, however, so the shape different could have been due to a tear. If that side was a different shape, I wonder if the lacing was slightly to the side of front?

Additional info can be found at the Sittingbourne Museum, ECW Living History resources page (including another image of the Effigy corset), and the Anais do Museu Paulista, Material Culture Studies page has an article with more photos on the Deliberately Concealed Garments Project.