Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Book Review: Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques

Cover of "Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques" by Jill Salen

The closest comparison I can make is that Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques resembles a more focused sequel to Nora Wraugh's classic Corsets and Crinolines, or a corsets-only companion to Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion books.  It surpasses these both in the number of specimens and the quality of its color photographs.  When I finally doubled back to read the introduction, I discovered that supplementing these specific texts was the reason for the book's existence--so, I'd say the author succeeded in her mission.

But dealing with only one type of garment, Corsets is able to investigate each example thoroughly: four pages a piece for 25* different corsets or stays, dated from c.1750 to 1917. For each garment, there is a color photograph, a half-page written description, a line drawing showing front and back views (the color images often being limited to half the corset), and half-scale diagrams of the garments' component pieces on a grid.  For each of the two corset projects (adult "jumps" c. 1790, and a girl's corset c. 1900), there are also two pages of instructions for constructing the garment. There are also ten pages of techniques, offering a brief introduction to stitches, lacing, and specific techniques such as inserting a busk or flossing around the bones.  Suggested books and supply resources are also listed.

The number of examples per time period varies: the largest groups are six corsets dated 1780-1800, and nine from 1890-1910.  In contrast, only three corsets are included for 1830-1880, and none for 1800-1830.  While my particular costuming interests would benefit for more examples from these years, I suspect their low inclusion had more to do with the number and quality of surviving originals than intentional omission.**

I think that the main strengths of this book are its close attention to detail, and beautiful photography.  I feel that it would be a useful resource for someone attempting to date original garments, or for an accomplished sewist who wants to use authentic historic shapes.  The lack of grading and brevity of the instructions will make it challenging for someone without corset-making experience to reproduce the garments therein.

Stars: 5

Accuracy: High. All original garments.

Difficulty: Advanced.  These are diagrams of original garments, not patterns, so making a corset to wear will involve grading/fitting, and well as knowledge of construction methods.

Overall Impression: Plenty of historic corsets to admire/ogle, and the drafts show not only how a given garment is made, but taken together also show the evolution of supportive garments. Very pretty, and useful for research and/or building your own corsets, though examples are more plentiful for some eras.

*Twenty-one of the corsets are adult sized, two are for children, and two are for dolls.  The doll corsets are graphed at full size.

**Approximately 1795-1820 being that "one time when corsets weren't popular, and underwent some weird changes", and approximately 1850-1870 being "that time we started using metal instead of whalebone/cord and weren't necessarily good at it yet."  At least, that's one plausible explanation I've heard for the relative scarcity of 1860s corsets compared to the 1840s or 1880s.

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