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Making a Leather Corset

Several months ago, I was perusing through my leather supplier's website and found myself wondering: what if I made a historically-inspired leather corset? Thus began the pursuit of blending my love of historical fashion with my leatherworking skills.

I love corsets. The way a properly-fitted one looks and feels on the body is wonderful-it's not overly tight or pinching in any area, I no longer feel the waistband of my skirts, and my posture is so much better. I view a corset as a fun addition to my wardrobe and, for a while, wore one daily. I love the way I look and feel in one; somehow more confident, more aware of the way I move, and always feel like I'm ready to take on the world.

I mean, look at the shaping that's happening in the photo to the right. The craziest part is, waist reduction isn't even happening here--it's redistributing mass from an oblong waist shape to a more cylindrical one, which makes the waist look smaller overall. There's a certain level of artistry that goes into designing a two-dimensional object (fabric and in this case leather) around a three-dimensional form that is fascinating to me. It always looks so elegant in historical corsets and seems to be missing in modern varieties.

For this corset, I found some shark-embossed kidskin in a deep chocolate brown and combined it with some hunter green cotton coutil, a standard fabric used in corset making. I knew the leather should exude style but not necessarily be the sole source of support: thinner hides can be stretchy and can tear if under too much duress. Therefore, I used cotton coutil for the interior as it is known for its strength, resistance to stretching, and breathability.

This particular pattern is from the Victorian era; when selecting it, I found one that would translate better to women of today (I personally know of no one with a 19" waist): for example, the waist on this one is 33" (sans lacing space), has a 45" bust, and measures, 42" at the high hip.  It has a center spoon busk and synthetic baleen for most of the boning which yields a lovely silhouette. Notice how the back comes up a little, though? That's probably my favorite part of this design. There's less opportunity for any spillage over the back below the shoulders, which translates to a smoother overall shape. The style also pushes the bust out front and draws closer to the center, lending toward a slimmer silhouette from the front. I can easily say this is one of the most comfortable corsets I've worn -- if it fully fit me I'd be tempted to keep it!

Finally, this corset also has some cording in the bust, which I hand-sewed in using 2mm lacing and Ritza thread. The rest of the corset was sewn by machine on my 1888 Wheeler and Wilson. Hey, if I'm making a historical item I might as well use historical techniques, right?

I am so happy with how it turned out, and it's ready to go to the right home.

Corsets in general should not be washed, and this one especially so. Cotton coutil is treated with stiffeners that wash out, and therefore lose effectiveness once wet. Of course, leather should never be washed in a washing machine or submerged for an extended time; that will ruin it. Gentle spot care and wearing a layer underneath will go a long way to ensuring this corset stays beautiful for years to come.

I can't wait to make the next one!

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