Saturday, February 4, 2012

Corset en X 1810

I decided to enter Your Wardrobe Unlock'd Foundations Revealed Double Period Project.

I chose to make a corset style that I recently discovered that I have yet to see anyone fully recreate.
I present the Corset en X

Fashion plate from Costume Parisien April 15, 1810 Plate 1053 “Corset de tissu de fil en X”
This translates to English as “Fabric corset with ties in X.”

You can see the original here in the Collection Maciet at the Biblitheque des Arts Decoratifs (Upper left)

Being one of the few fashion plates of corsets of the era, it has been redrawn several times.
Octave Uzane redrew it in his 1902 book  "L’Art et les artifices de la beauté" with the title “Corset a le Indolente”

If you have Robert Doyle’s Waisted Efforts, turn to page 102 for his redrawing of this costume plate

This corset was the invention of M. (Louis-Charles-Augustin) Bretel, who also made the “corset a la Ninon”
Quote on page 98-99 of Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh from February 1811 Journal des Dames et des Modes,
“They are now wearing my corsets “a la Ninon”, those “in X”, and many others of my inventions with great success….” This quote leads me to think that the Corset en X is lightly boned, if boned at all.

The back lacing appears to be similar to what is often described as “Corset Paresseuse” which is similar to the later “fan lacing”. The term “Corset Paresseuse” was also used in French fashion magazines through out the century to identify corsets with wrap around backs. Paresseuse translates to Lazy, because they are supposedly easier to put on and talk off, they were often recommended for invalids.

The oldest mention of this style of lacing comes from William Booth of  St. Anne’s,  Soho, Middlesex, on May 31st, 1796 He was granted Pantent No. 2112 "An improvement in the making of stays and corsettes."

"In place of "the round bone that is common to the stays and corsettes before the oilet hole in the back," the patentee  puts a flat bone and "secures two or more braces or straps to each back;" the straps are drawn through holes of suitable dimensions "in the opposite back." The holes are at a convenient distance from each edge, so that when the straps are drawn through, "the backs may fall over one another as much as the wearer may require." The straps are fastened in front or "at a convenient place near the peak" by a buckle, clasp, hook and eye or eyelet hole, as fancy may direct. "The back or shoulder braces or straps" are "drawn through their corresponding holes in the opposite back and fastened at or near the fore size by a loop fastened to the stay or corsette," or by other suitable fastening; the part "that passes upon the fore part of the shoulder" is to be elastic; after passing over the shoulder it is "drawn through loops in a back plate if a back plate is required;" thence it passes "to the opposite hip of the stay to be fastened by a hook and an eye" near the peak. The back braces or straps, hooks and eyes, &c. "are to be made so that they may be fastened with the right or the left hand alternately, or either, to suit the conveniency of the wearer."

This text was published in 1876, apparently rewritten from the original.
Patents for inventions. Abridgments of specifications
By Patent office Published in 1875, Page 16

Annonces et avis divers du département de l'Escaut
(July)1804, Page 54 and 58
Translated from French
"Mr. Mollot merchant tailor Ladies & now residing in Paris trip, has the honor to announce to the ladies that just arrived in this city with a full assortment of corsets of all ages, of all sizes, and the newest kind. It has large breasts to square & narrow back, and Paresseuse to get dressed in a minuet without help"

Feuille de Valenciennes, Volume 2
(September)1807, Page 264
Translated from French
"Mangin, Md. de Paris, A Good Faith St. Denis Street, no. 235, between me and the Little Lion Passage du Grand Cerf, warns That I just arrived in this city, for the Fair Avenue a very large assortment of various objects used, namely: ...Corsets à 1a paresseuse...."

Mrs. Gould, advertised in The Morning Chronicle, Monday, November 29, 1819,
 “among the most fashionable are the Circassian, Italian, and Parisian Corsets, with cotton bosom and backs. The Back being attached, acting on self-assisting principles, any lady may dress or undress in a short space of two minuets, without assistance.” This means that the bust is padded and there is an attached pad at the back. Thus, there is no need of tying one around the waist. The fact it is advertised as being quick to put on and take off with an “attached back” may mean that it is a wrap around style or closes in the front.
I accessed this advertisement via the British Newspaper Archive, which you must have a subscription to in order to view. (Well worth it actually!)

The Hermit in Philadelphia 1821
In Chapter 10 Foerign follies Page 154
“In the first place, our Ladies - for many of them actually require it - should without delay patronise the Armenian Divorce Corset, which according to the inventress, possesses the following attributes: 1. It gives to the bust, grace, elegance, and ease: - 2. An effect to dress, unknown in this, or any other country, and a form to the back, most surprising: - 3. It is devested of the trouble of lacing: - 4. It may be put on and completely adjusted momentarily, and without the aid of any individual! - The latter quality is invaluable, as it respects our male exquisites, who may now wear Corsets without even the knowledge of their body servants."

If you would like more documentation on Corset Paresseuse Lacing. Read Traité des bandages et appareils de pansement (Treated bandages and dressing apparatus)  By Pierre Nicolas Gerdy, 1826,  pages 327, and  339
By the way there is a short corset mentioned in this book and can be found illustrated in the book of illustrations, Plate XII

Manuel des dames, ou, L'art de la toilette
1827 Page 219-220
“To make the corset paresseuse, start by counting the number of eyelets of the corset, then cut as many pieces of flat wire braid tight, give these pieces about half a yard in length, sew each piece of cord to each eye, still toward the middle of the corset: it is, go all the cords sewn to the back left behind the eyelets of law, and put them back on the left behind, ready to close, and in each eye, made a wreath equally well, repeat this maneuver behind right, you pass the laces through the eyelets of left behind, and you still ask the same on the right behind: then collect all the strings left bundle at the end, sew them securely it and push them into a wide ribbon wire, about two inches long, which, folded in half crosswise, and whipped on both sides by its edges, envelope is all the ends of the bundle of cord, these beads are sewn in points back at one end of the tape, and they flap in the other end-to-point directions.”
Astute readers will note that this has been translated and reprinted by Frances Grimble in The Lady's Stratagem

There is a surviving corset in a French Museum that appears VERY similar to the Costume Parisiene Plate.

Secrets d’Elegance put out by Musée de la Modeet du Costume, Paris Galliera in 1978 is a Catalog of an exhibit of underclothing from 1750-1950
On page 12 is a B&W photo of the corset which is described as being dated to 1818. The corset is made of white ribbed cotton. The shoulder straps cross in back and are extened in the front with tape ties. Lacing in the back.
Original French “Corset. Vers 1818. Cotonnade blanche cotelee. Fermeture dans le dos, par des cordons. Larges epaulettes croisant dans le dos, prolongees par des cordons en toile se nouant devant sous la poitrine.”

This corset is dated to 1820 in "Histoire des tissus en France" by Alexandra Fau. ISBN 2.7373.3708.9
© 2006, page 95, Musée de la Mode Galliera

I am in the Debt of Dawn Luckham who first posted this corset, and brought my attention to it. Dawn has even made her own pattern for a corset with this style of front. The back was unknown to her at the time of completion of her pattern. You may purchase this pattern at Spencers Mercantile I have shared the research I did into this corset already. Surprisingly I discovered all of this while looking for Corset Elastique! Sometimes you find what you are looking for, when you start looking for something else!

And most recently it was shown in the Juliette Recamier exhibition at the Musee de Beaux-Arts de Lyon in 2009
Dated to 1810, the corset is made of cotton ecru, with small whales under (though a close examinations leads me to believe that the correct translation is in) the breasts, laces and suspenders crossed in cotton, of French production.
Description on the bottom of page 13 of this PDF about the exhibit
Front on this page
Back just barely visible in the second photo of this page
I was very EXCITED to see a blury image of the back!

Taking a CLOSER look
Now I studied all 4 of these images closely and I came to the conclusion that they are all the same corset, even though the B&W image only shows one set of ties in the front. (probably the lower set)

So I started looking for seams and boning lines.
First thing I noticed is the center front seam. The second vertical seam is just in front of the shoulder straps. The front section is split at the underbust line, appearing to be a single panel around the ribcage and two panels with a seam in the center for the bust portion. One side has a triangular piecing, which I believe is not for shaping, but instead to make the piece big enough due to lack of yardage.
The center most bust portion has a line of stitching, which at first I thought was a gore. After closer examination of all three of the front images I came to the conclusion that it is just a line of stitching, possibly to hold boning. I also can just sea a line of stitching going parallel to the center front seam that appears to go down the entire length of the corset front. This stitching looks rather wide for a busk pocket.
There is also a seam at the side of the body, which can be seen in 2 of the images.

As for the back, well I only have the out of focus image, so I spent HOURS staring at it.  What becomes obvious first is the shoulder straps crossing in the back, which is of course back up with the text. The shoulder straps appear wider at the shoulder than they do at the underbust when they tie in front. I believe I am seeing some sort of tape tie at their crossing in the back too.

The shoulder straps appear to become the upper ties in front, which leaves us with the question about the lower ties. I could tell that they attached to the narrow ties, instead of being a wide tie all around the back like this early 19th century corset from Vintage Textile

Now the question is, do the tapes go through eyelets or are they directly attached to the back?
IF the laces are sewn directly to the back then one would wrap the corset around the body, pass one tie through the laces of the other, and tie in front.
IF the laces go through eyelets then one has to wiggle into the corset and tie in front.

There is a soft corset,( no boning, busk, cording or quilting) in an American State  Historical Society Museum (at the time of writing this, it is not listed on their website database, and the pictures were not for me to share) which has 4 tapes sewn to the edges attached to a tab which then ties in front. The shaping of this corset is cut very much like the Vintage Textile one shown above, simple side seams with a single gusset over each breast.

There is the 1830-40’s corset in the Los Angeles County Museum (M.63.54.7) as seen in page 86-7 in Fashioning Fashion. This corset  has the laces passing though eyelets and then sewn into a band that is tied in front.

Rough development of my pattern.
I have come up with a method of drafting short stays, and used this method to make my pattern.
I noted that the placement of the side/front seam was just in front of the shoulder strap. I decided on 1” wide shoulder straps, then measured my full bust, under bust and lowest rib from an imaginary line down from the front armscye. After subtracting the 1” I made the lower front panel the width of the under bust, the upper front panels have a seam in the center, which accounts for the difference between the bust and under bust.
The side and back panels were then made after determining I wanted a 3” lacing gap .  I knew the side/back seam was under the arm. 
Strap lengths were measured.
The lengths of the back ties were laid out so that they ended before the side/back seam when laced closed.
I made my pattern in CAD as I do with most of my patterns.

Construction of my corset.
I have sadly lost the pictures I took while making it up.

First I sewed the upper sections together over the bust. The outside and lining were kept separate
Then I sewed the upper section to the lower front.
Then I sewed the center front seams.
At this point I laid the outside and inside wrong sides together and place the side panels over top ot them with the right sides together. Thus the seam was totally encased inside the corset, meaning there is no visible machine stitching on the outside or inside of the corset.
I smoothed out the side seam, then put on the back pieces in the same manner.
I decided that even though the original doesn’t appear to have many bones, I was going to bone mine. I used plastic cable ties as boning since I couldn’t find my artificial whalebone in the stash at the time. There are two bones on each seam and at center back
The busk I made from a piece of wood molding that was already rounded on one side! It slips into the busk pocket from an opening on the side, just like my Antique 1830’s stays I own. (shown below)

She shoulder straps on the original are a bit of a mystery. You can see that they are attached at the found and bound around the neck and armscye, but the straps that come around the front are not bound. The shoulder straps also appear a bit wider than the front straps in the back image.

I am pretty sure I did my shoulder straps wrong, because I didn’t have a good clear picture of the back.

My stays are bound in white cotton tape ½” wide, which goes nicely with the white cotton twill of the body. After all, bias binding wasn’t very common at this time.

Here is a picture of the front of my Corset on my Much-bigger-than-me Repoduction Victorian Dress form

Here is a Video of me putting on the corset, please note that while the video took me about 2 1/2 minuets while talking, it would only take me about 1 to actually put it on all by myself. This lacing method ROCKS! apologies for the children in the background talking and messing with the tripod!

UPDATE 3-5-2012
I have uncovered more research on this corset, please read it here!


  1. I love your stays :) Do you think it possible to tie the straps differently on the back if you were wearing a dress with a lower back neckline?

    1. The way the straps cross higher in the back is an issue for fashion now isn't it! Something I too have been thinking about.
      It is probable to make it with fixed straps, but then it would just be like the other Corset Paresseuse (which tend to be long stays)
      Another thing to remember is that the majority of the Short Stays that have survived and are shown in period illustrations are front lacing. A few are back and front, but I can't recall one that is back lacing only.

  2. Do you sell this pattern? I am not good with pattern drafting and would love to make something like this that is simple to wear! :)

    1. I do not sell this pattern at this time.
      Check this out for something similar