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In Search of the Perfect Elizabethan Corset (Payre or Pair of Bodies)

Almost a year after I wrote this article, I finally added the pictures. The pictures were all taken on the same day and in the sequence they are shown here. I have gained back the 10 lbs. I had mentioned I had lost near the end of the article and this was one of my monthly fat days. Fortunately for me, Minnesota winter afternoons are so dark, that I kind of blend into the background.

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Something new has been added!!!

In Search of the Perfect Elizabethan Corset (Payre or Pair of Bodies) - Part II

More corset trials and tribulations for your entertainment.

We now return you to your regular webpage.


Corset number 1

This is the very first corset I ever attempted.


The pattern came from the Custom Corset Pattern Generator on the The Elizabethan Costume Page. From this point on, I will be referring to the origin of the corset pattern as the Corset Pattern Generator or Drea's Corset Pattern Generator and it is a very important resource as you will see, if you keep reading.

The corset is made from a double layer of natural cotton duck cloth purchased from Joann Fabrics. The tapered wooden busk and grommets came from Grannd Companies.

The boning is cable/duct ties from Home Depot. The corset is bound with…

Well, I quickly discovered that I hate hand binding a corset and I had just acquired a satin stitch foot for my sewing machine, so…

I sewed around the top and bottom edges with a satin stitch to bind the corset.

Unfortunately, due to my inexperience, the boning at the side front is placed in a less than optimal direction. However, I did use this corset pattern to successfully create boned petticoat bodies. The boning pattern I used in the petticoat bodies is the same one I used in subsequent corsets.

Corset number 2

The pattern for this corset is from The Elizabethan Lady’s Underpinnings Pattern created by Margo Anderson’s Historic Costume Patterns.

The corset is a size 12. It was originally intended to lace at the front only. (Instructions on how to convert the pattern from back lacing to front lacing can be found at Margo Anderson’s Historic Costume Patterns.) However, it ended up going through a number of changes before completion.

Corset number 2 and corset number 3 are made of a double layer of white cotton duck cloth purchased from Joann Fabrics. The boning is, once again, cable ties. The grommets are from Grannd Companies.

The binding is two inch wide white muslin bias. I make the bias myself out of .5 yard of 45 inch wide fabric. .5 yard yields about 11 yards of two inch wide bias. The bias strip is folded in half lengthwise and then treated as a single layer when attaching to the corset. The binding is attached completely by machine – no hand sewing. YES! Information covering this procedure in more detail will eventually be found here.

Anyway, corset number 2 was cut out and languished in a box for a couple of months. Meanwhile, I shrank. When I was ready to sew a corset, I realized that corset number 2 would now be too big. So, I cut corset number 3.

Corset number 3

Corset number 3 is a size 10 from The Elizabethan Lady’s Underpinnings Pattern. It is also a front lacing corset.

A size 12 corset pattern is the smallest size in the pattern size grouping 12-20. A size 10 corset pattern is the largest size in the pattern size grouping 2-10. There appeared to be a big disparity in size between the cut out corset in a size 12 and the cut out corset in a size 10 – I mean, more than there should be. But, what do I know…

I completed corset number 3 to the fitting stage and… it wouldn’t fit. In fact, there appeared to be a four inch gap in between the front lacing edges! This would not do. Perhaps I had cut the wrong size by mistake? A comparison between the corset and the pattern pieces proved this was not so. Perhaps I had misjudged my size? Well, then I had better sew the size 12 corset (corset number 2.)

Since I now realized that a corset that laces only in the front leaves no margin for error (the front edges must meet or have a gap of maximum .25 inches – weight fluctuations are a no-no), corset number 2 would become a front and back lacing corset.

I completed corset number 2 to the fitting stage and even inserted all the grommets (because I only had one set of fitting strips.) Even laced as tight as it would go, corset number 2 was too big. There was also this really big gapping problem at the back neckline.

I started looking at corset number 3 again. I could not make it a front and back lacing corset at the stage it was at, but I could recut the front and add the necessary amount to the sides of the front piece.

According to the size chart, there are supposed to be two inches of difference between the bust measurement of a size 10 and a size 12 and two inches of difference between the waist measurement of a size 10 and a size 12. So, if I add one inch to each side of the front pattern piece of a size 10, it should make it a size 12 and as big as corset number 2, right?

I added 1.25 inches (equal to two standard .625 inch seam allowances) to the side of the front pattern piece of a size 10 before recutting. This adjustment should have increased the both the bust and waist measurements by 2.5 inches each.

Although I could lace the finished corset number 3 closed, it was rather tight. It might have been weight fluctuations or just one of those days, but I would not want to wear it all day long when it was that tight. Grrrr…

Corset Number 3 Pictures


Corset Number 2 Revised

Back to corset number 2. Even though it was too big, it created the right silhouette. I was not sure how to correct the big gapping problem at the back neckline though. I tried running a piece of piping cord under the binding of the back neckline and pulling it tight. This helped some, but not enough.

A brainstorm! I would go strapless. I cut off the straps and cut down the back, so that it resembled corset number 1.

Big mistake. Straps are essential on a corset that is too big.

I had purchased The Mantua Maker Pattern for 1550-1630 Quilted Pair of Bodies. This pattern offers an option for straps that are similar to those on the effigy corset. I used this pattern to design some effigy style straps that could be laced on corset number 2.

The straps provided a wearable corset with no gapping at the back neckline. The doublet worn over the corset disguised the fact that the corset was too big and that the “Elizabethan Lift Maneuver” is ineffective on a corset that is too big. The area where the straps laced on the corset was a bit bulky though.

Corset Number 2 Pictures


Corset number 4

I was determined to beat this thing and create a perfectly fitting corset. However, other projects intervened for the next eight months.

Before I began again, I once more drafted a corset pattern using Drea’s Corset Pattern Generator according to my current measurements. I compared this pattern with the size 10 of the Elizabethan Lady’s Underpinnings Pattern. I found I needed to add an inch at the bustline and 1.5 inches at the waistline of The Elizabethan Lady’s Pattern to get the two patterns to match up.

Other alterations. This corset would be front and back lacing, so I added .625 inch seam allowance to the front edge. I was eliminating the side seam, so I made that alteration according to the pattern instructions. I wanted the corset strap to be a finished with of 1.5 inches at its narrowest (back neckline) and 2 inches at its widest (front neckline.) I took this extra width off the armcye side at the back and evenly off both sides of the strap at the front.

This corset was, once again, constructed of a double layer so white cotton duck cloth. The front is boned with cable ties but I could not fit the .5 inch wide boning channels required for the cable ties into the space allotted at the back. So, at the back, I sewed .375 inch wide boning channels and inserted .25 inch wide plastic walebone from Grannd Companies.

To prevent the gapping problem at the back neckline, I stretched the bias binding slightly when applying it.

The result? Success! The corset fits beautifully and is very comfortable.



Side A
Side B
Side C

Just for the heck of it, I tried on corset no 3. It also fits nicely. (I have lost 10 lbs from last summer.)

So, now I have two corsets that fit. :D

In summary…

Drafting a corset pattern from Drea’s Corset Pattern Generator is invaluable to do a quick check of a corset or bodice pattern for potential fitting problems. In case you missed the link above, here is is again: the Custom Corset Pattern Generator from the The Elizabethan Costume Page.

The first time I made a corset form Margo Anderson’s pattern, I did not cut the extra slash near the center front. This resulted in the front of the corset resembling a shield. I really like the way this looks and I like the way it holds in the tummy.

Front and back lacing corsets are the best way to go. The front lacing allows easy self lacing and the back lacing allow the corset to adapt to weight fluctuations.

Cable ties (or, more properly, DUCT TIES) work very well for boning. I have heard them described as being similar in flexibility to real whalebone. I wish they came in .25 inch and .5 inch widths, instead of just .375 inches.

Plastic walebone works well, too, for certain applications. It is much more brittle than cable ties and if bent sharply, it will snap in two. It is not as stiff as cable ties. I think if I were going to use plastic walebone to bone an entire corset, I would place the boning channels side by side and bone the entire corset from lacing edge to lacing edge.

I am interested in trying hemp cording to bone a corset. I think, if the cut of the corset is right, the correct Elizabethan shape can be maintained even with very flexible boning materials. If necessary, I could add cable ties in strategic places.

Hammer set 00 size grommets allow one to set lots of grommets in a very short time with a perfect set every time. The hammer set kit and rubber mallet are available from Grannd Companies.

I am on a roll now and thinking about corset number 5. Let’s see… I have some 7.2 oz bleached linen and a couple of balls of hemp cording to get started with. Regular straps or effigy style straps? Hmmm…

In Search of the Perfect Elizabethan Corset (Payre or Pair of Bodies) - Part II can be found here.

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