- What does the diagonal cut do?
- Does it make a corset more comfortable?
- Does it give softer curves to the body?
- Does it stretch more than corsets usually do?
- Is it purely decorative, or was it a marketing trick of the time that sells an exotic look?
All those questions may cause you to think, but if the most interesting question is “How do I make a pattern for this style of corset?” then this is the article for you!
Drafting a pattern for a basic, very simple corset, with all vertical seams, that fits perfectly is a challenge by itself, so drafting a diagonal corset pattern from scratch with no knowledge of that fascinating type of corset makes it a “mission impossible”.
It is hard to draft a pattern when you don’t know what the pattern does and in what way it reshapes the body. It can be an overwhelming experience even for expert seamstresses and corsetmakers. Since I have never owned or made a diagonal seamed corset, I won’t even try to make a pattern for it from scratch.
For this article I will demonstrate how to transform a pattern that you already have into a diagonal seamed corset pattern. This method is intriguing because you can do most of the alterations and fitting on a vertical seamed corset, which is easier to fit, and you probably already have a pattern for that.
The Vertical Seamed Pattern
First, decide what pattern you will transform. It can be a commercial pattern, copy of an antique corset or a pattern that you drafted. For a more historically accurate diagonal seamed corset chose a midbust corset pattern dating from around 1880 to 1900 since most of the diagonal corsets that we know about are from that time. You don’t have to stay in that time period get crazy and make a diagonal seamed pair of stays from late 18th century, or a modern corset with very narrow diagonal pattern pieces!
Before you start the transformation, make a mock-up of the pattern you chose and fit it. Prepare the pattern and adjust all that needs changing, because later on you will struggle with fitting the diagonal seamed version of the corset.
I have chosen this corset pattern (right) for the transformation since I have already made a corset from this pattern and it dates to·the·time period when diagonal seamed corsets were popular. It's also my favorite corset to wear under my Victorian outfits.
Since I've made this corset before, I will be able to compare it to the new diagonal corset when it's completed.
Take the vertical seamed corset pattern that you have prepared and make a toile in a light colored fabric.
Mount the toile on a mannequin (or a pillow if you don’t have a dummy) and fill what needs to be filled with fabric scraps so you get the shape the corset gives to the body.
Designing the Diagonals
Now let’s decide what kind of a diagonal seamed corset you wish to make. Don’t concentrate only on the front of the corset. You will start from the front with your design but the back is just as important.
Most antique diagonal corsets have a spoon busk, but if you find it too expensive or just don’t like it, use any kind of front closure… busk, front lacing (do include a front modesty panel so it doesn’t pinch your skin) or make the corset with the center front closed.
Historical Corsets for Inspiration
Look at the details and shape of the diagonal cut that you like and work them into your corset. You can copy one antique example or get crazy…it’s good for you. Keep in mind that your design may change when you start drawing on your mock up because some shapes won’t be suitable for the design you had in mind.
Spoon busks look really nice on the diagonal seamed corsets since most of the lines follow the pear shaped curve of the tummy. I also think they balance the design and look elegant, so I took that as my starting point in designing my corset.
Designing on Paper
Before you start doodling all over you mock up, doodle on a piece of paper. Draw front and back view of the corset you chose on paper and draw your diagonal seam corset design over it.
Front with diagonals that are very sharp but with no diagonals over the busk.·
Similar to the corset on Lara Corsets (link above).
The back of this corset is actually not a diagonal.It is one solid pattern piece like the one inkhaki golden color.
I added more bones under the row of slanted bones for more support on the waist and back.
Diagonals on this corset are gentle and the diagonals flows over the front busk.
This design is challenging because you need to perfectly match left and right side on your busk. Very eye-catching if made in duo color.
With gentle, more horizontal lines diagonals will flow all the way to the back. For this I left the back lacing system in one pattern piece and I followed the diagonal cut on the top to position slanted bones.
I call this one up-side-down diagonal corset because the starting point is on the top instead of the bottom as usual. Extra wide busk and diagonals flow over the busk.
The back of this corset is also very eye catchy since diagonals flow over the centre back too and there are no slanted bones.
A underbust with solid pattern piece over the narrow flexible busk but with narrow diagonal cut. Duo color or even a combination of mat- shiny· fabric in the same color would make heads turn.
Titanic era corset or a corset-skirt gone wild, the choice is yours.
Boning Channels - Internal or External?
Now that you have an idea for how to cut your corset, another important question arises. External or internal boning? Don’t leave the decision for later because it will affect the look of your corset greatly. You can spice up a solid color diagonal corset with contrasting color boning channels (add some flossing in the color of the corset on them), tone down a duo color diagonal corset with external boning in one of the colors of the corset, or you can even enhance the duo color with internal boning so the diagonal seams really pop out.
Designing on the Mockup
Now that we have made a drawing of the design and decided on all the details, we are ready to draw on the mockup.
Sit in front of your prepared mock up, take a gel pen or something similar and get “dirty”. If you think you will doodle on your mock up a lot and get lost in the jungle of lines, take a light grey felt tip pen and when you are sure of the design highlight the lines with a bolder color.
Creating the Diagonal Pattern
Tracing onto Paper
Most pattern pieces will lie flat after ironing but some of them actually won’t and that depends on a pattern you chose to transform. Dramatic curves on hips or breast area on overbusts will keep the diagonal pieces from lying flat and you will need to touch up those pattern pieces.
First take all the pattern pieces that lie flat because they are easy to trace and need minimal redrafting. Trace all pattern pieces that need no adjusting or minimal redrafting on paper.
Now that you know how much and where to add the lost length you can trace the stubborn fabric pattern piece on paper.
Trace it with the little fold secured.
I lost 5mm (1/8") so I added the same amount at the bottom of my pattern piece.
Retouch any pattern piece that you don’t like the look of.
I gave a gentle curve to this pattern piece (under the armpit) to follow the design of a whole corset that is all about gentle curves.
After all the tracing, retouching and redrafting you should get something like this.
It looks confusing on a first glance and I don’t think a lot of people would recognize a corset pattern at first.
Your pattern is ready for a mock up.
The Diagonal Mockup
For this mock up, use a light colored fabric in case you decide to alter something on the pattern. Don’t forget to mark the boning channel lines on your fabric!
Insert the busk and make a mock up, back lacing as you usually do.
My corset will have internal boning channels so I made my mock up with internal boning channels, but if your corset will have external boning, echo this on your mock up - it will give you a clearer idea of how will your finished corset will look.
The Finished Mockup
The mock up is ready for some torture. I made just one side of the mock up so it fits together with one side of the old mock up for a better comparison. The transformation of the original pattern worked and the diagonal seamed pattern works like a charm. It did take some time to get to the result but it opened a door to many new ideas how to play with diagonal seams on different patterns, not just corset patterns.
The pattern is ready for the next part of the article. For my corset I wanted a historically correct pattern but with elements that are not commonly found on antique diagonal seamed corsets. I imagined it in dual color spot broche coutil (black and white), with a spoon busk in centre front but with internal boning. I'm not sure about the flossing... a dual color diagonal corset will look fantastic on its own so I'm not sure if the flossing will be too much. Since I love bows I will make one and “stick” it on the top of the bust…just for a good measure.
Internal boning doesn’t sound so interesting, but triple internal boning does. I was inspired by Marion's Winterthur Museum Library article and the 1886 corset with 750 bones. I plan on getting 52 bones into this corset plus four in the back modesty panel. Not even near 750, but a lot more than most of the corsets in the modern day.
The next part will be all about making the corset from beginning to end, decorating it and finally trying it on. I will do a detailed comparison of the new diagonal corset and the old vertical corset and hopefully give some answers on the questions I asked at the beginning. If you have any questions, observations or comments of you own, please ask them below in the comments!