Book Review: Corsets – Historical Patterns & Techniques

As the classic book nerd I am, I constantly hunt for new (or old) titels to add to my “libary”. I love the feeling of flipping through a well reserched costume book, just as much as I love droling over the beautiful ones made for the coffee tables.


And as such a sucker for book-candy I also love to read about and find new wounderful titles.

In my town (and probably in the rest of Sweden) it is really had to find good costuming books at the store/libary. So often you need to buy the book on-line, and don’t get the chans to flipp through it before deciding. Most often I just read the reviews on Amazon before I buy a new book on-line, but since I love when fellow costumers recomend a title I decided to try to give some back.

So this post will be the first in a series of reviews.

And the first book will be a “old goodie” that I’ve had lots of use of.

Corsets – Historical Patterns and Techniques by Jill Salen



128 pages.


23 patterns (including 1 pregnancy stays, 1 child and 1 dolls corset).

Construction instruction for 2 different corsets.

Prize: About 200 sek (45Usd).


The book is very beautiful and contain lots of great patterns. The layout have a nice and clear way of showing both the real corsets, the descriptive texts and the patterns.


The pattern are pretty easy to scale to full size using the chekered background as a guide. I scanned the pattern to my computor and then printed it to the right size. So simple.


I’ve used two or three of the patterns in the book and found them to work very well (but you might have to do some heavy scaling to take in account our larger modern body size).

DSC_0777 DSC_0362Both of these corsets are made with the “Brown Jean Corset 1790” pattern. The one to the left is in original size (really, really smal), and on the right one I have moved the lacing to the back and adjusted the fitt a bit more to my sisters body. (If you look at the different shoulder positions of her body you can really tell the different between the “original” pattern and the adjusted one).

IMG_6102 IMG_6104

I think the information about each corset are nice and informative and give a good feel for what kind of person would wear the particular item. Like in what way was it worn, and what did the wearer do while wearing it (work, stay at home, dance ect.).

1This corset is one of my first ones, and are made using “Pretty Housemaid corset 1890s”. The fitt is good but the sewing and assembly of it was really tricky to figure out.

IMG_6105 IMG_6090

I learnt a lot of new things about corsets and the way people of the past lived from this book. (Did you know that smal children made their first practice corset to fitt their dolls, then later moving on to the “real stuff”).



I really do love the book but do think it have some flaws.

I for one think the choise to include the patterns for 3 ribbon corsets, 2 childs and 1 dolls corset is a bit strange. Even though I understand the desire to include lesser known pieces, most of the costumers would want a good variety of patterns and to make them fit a real body.


I also think the basic sewing and assembly techniques could use a bit more elaboration. The author do state in the preface that the book is mainly for the “experienced” costumer/semstress, and is not ment to be a sewing book. But it still could have used some more tips and tricks in assembeling the different styles.

IMG_6099I really like the flossing diagram though.

I also would have liked to have the mesurments of the real corset (and patterns) writen out. Of course, you can measure the pieces and scale them up to the right size, but it would have been nice to be able to know the aproximate size of the corset at a glance.

Would I recomend it?

The book is a lovely addition to any costumers libary.

It is a perfect compliment to the famous “Corsets and Crinolines”, but also do very well on its own.


I do think the book is a bit complicated if your not very familiar with corset construction.

But if you want a pretty, cheap, book about historical corsets – you have found the one.


A 1700s Corset UFO

And so it’s time to present the last (of my old, prevously compleated) HSF entrys. The Challenge nr 2: UFO – Un Finished Object.

As a novice in costuming I didn’t had many UFOs laying around. But I did however have a costuming piece, not yet started but, promised to my sister.

A 1700s corset.

I’ve already made her one in the previuos year, but it was noting but a mess. Lets take a look at my very first atempt at historic corset making.

I used a pattern from Jill Salens book “Corsets”.

1970 halvbenad1790 halvbenad 2

The fabric is a lovely cotton print (which I still love, by the way).IMG_4055

I even made her a design sketch.img235

Then I started to sew.

And this is what I came up with.CIMG5938

Ok, its not that bad for a first try- if you ignore the gromets.CIMG5951


It acctualy look pretty decent…IMG_4044


Until you realises how extremly smal it is.IMG_4053It wouldn’t even fit my size 36 dressform.

My sister is not particular big, and even after some serious skwezing the darn thing still didn’t fit her.

We did get some pretty picture though.ghf

DSC_0777 And the minute we where done photograping, the whole thing whent straight into a box in the basement.

The pocket hoops are made from Waughs pattern and still works perfectly.1760 pocket hoop waugh


Now back to the UFO.

After I’ve promised my sister to make her an other corset, that would actualy fit her.

We trashed the old pattern, starting from skratch, and drew her a new one using Waugs “Corset and Crinolines” – 1790s corset pattern, and modified to fit my sister. I also took away the front lacing, and added tabs at the waist.

So I made a toile, fitted it and started on the corset itself. Since me and my sister lives in oposite sides of the country I didn’t have the chans to try it on her until it was finished.

Looking much better.halloj-116

But it is still to smal!halloj-119

This time I fixed it by ripping it open and inserting some godgets at the back seams.


The finished corset.IMG_1827






Just the facts:

Challenge: nr 2 – UFO

What: A 1740-1780s corset

Pattern: Jill Salen “Corsets – 1780s corset” re-worked.

Fabric: 0,5 m of cotton print and 1m of white cotton lawn.

Notions: gromets, thread, lacing cord, cable ties and purple bias tape.

How Historical Accurate: Not really. The decorative printed corsets didn’t exist until 200 years later, and the sewing and construction are all modern. It does however give her the desired body shape. So maybe 2/10.

Time: 25 hours.

Cost: 200 Sek

First worn: At the photoshoot in february 2013.