icon freeWhen you look at this 1885 advertisement for the Y&N corset you can’t help but ask lots of questions:

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.

Picture of vertical seamed corset pattern

  Corset Toile, front Corset Toile, side Corset Toile, back

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. 

Y and N corset from 1904, from Price List for Jeremiah Rotherman, p462Y and N corset from 1904, from Price List for Jeremiah Rotherman, p462

Historical Corsets for Inspiration

Y & N Corset dual color (1904, Price List for Jeremia Rotherman)

Coral red with cream flossing and lace (1877-1881)

Y & N diagonal corset on Lara Corsets  (1890's) 1 2 3 4

Diagonal seam black sateen corset by Charles Bayer (1900)

Y & N Diagonal corset in khaki golden color with cream external boning channels (1880's) (scroll down)

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.

Design One

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.

Design 1, front Design 1, back

Design Two

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.

Design 2, front  Design 2, back

Design Three

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.

Design 3, front  Design 3, back

Design Four

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.

Design 4, underbust  

Design Five

Titanic era corset or a corset-skirt gone wild, the choice is yours.

Design 5 - Edwardian Longline corset  

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.  

Depending on your design you will start from the bottom (designs 1,2,4,5) or top (design 3).

Don’t make the first pattern piece a straight line, give it a slight outward curve. This is your starting point on how sharp your diagonals will be.

I've decided to make the second design example above,  with the diagonals flowing over the busk. 

If you are going for the first design (with the diagonals not over the busk), first draw the centre front pattern piece that goes over your busk following the shape of the busk + 1cm (3/8") extra space, then draw the starting point on your mockup.

Drawing the lines, starting at the bottom 

Now that you have a starting point, measure the desired width of your diagonals.

I drew all my lines freehand, but if you want  all or most of them to be the same width, measure and mark before you draw the diagonal. I let the pattern lead me.

 The next diagonals lines


Keep on drawing diagonals and as you slowly get to the back it will become harder to make all the pattern pieces the same width.

I fiddled with the back design for some time before I matched the design in my head to the pattern I was working on.

The finished lines, front The finished lines, side front

I decided to make the back lacing system (two piece eyelets/grommets and lacing bones) on a separate pattern piece. It will not have diagonal seams, as the finished corset will be a dual colored corset and the laces will be in a different color .

The finished lines, side back The finished lines, back

Creating the Diagonal Pattern

Dismount the mock up, remove the boning and the busk.

Remove the busk from the mockup

“Butcher” the mock up with sharp fabric scissors following the new drawn lines.

While cutting, don’t pull the fabric pattern pieces and always keep them on a flat surface.

As you cut, label the pieces so they don’t get mixed up. Simple number or letter pattern labeling is sufficient at this point.

Cut up the mockup along the design lines

Now that all pieces are cut, it is time to iron them.

While ironing the fabric pieces don’t stretch them, pull them or in any way deform them. Just press and steam, press and steam… otherwise you will distort the pattern and trace a defect pattern piece on paper.

After a lot of steaming and pressing let every fabric pattern piece cool down on a flat surface before handling and tracing.

The mockup, cut up and ironed flat


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.

Tracing the pattern pieces onto paper Tracing the pattern pieces onto paper The finished pattern piece


Don’t forget to trace the seams of the old corset!

They will help you to sew all those scary curves correctly and will give you an idea where to place boning channels.

Tracing the larger pieces, and indicating the original seams and boning channels

After you have traced all those easy pattern pieces, take the ones that need adjusting.

I only have one stubborn pattern piece that needs to be redone because it flows over the hip, and that is where the most drastic curve is on the original pattern.

A piece that will not lay flat, and needs adjusting before tracing

The pattern pieces that need a touch up will most likely have an anchor point and that is where you need to alter it.

Instead of forcing the pattern piece to lie flat, figure out where would the extra millimeters go on using a seam of the original pattern.

On the hip I need to take in a few millimeters but I will draw them back so I don’t lose length or the pattern pieces will not match.

The pattern pieces that need a touch up will most likely have an anchor point and that is where you need to alter it.

Take a ruler and align the old seam so it is straight.

Fabric will pucker on the part that has extra.

Fold the extra to make the pattern piece flat.

Pin it or stick a piece of tape over it to keep it secure for the next step.

Take a ruler and align the old seam so it is straight

Take the fabric pattern piece and align it on the seamlines with its neighboring  pattern piece that is already traced on the paper.

Measure how much length did you lose and see where the lost length needs to be added, on the top or bottom of the pattern piece for a perfect fit.

Take the fabric pattern piece and align it with the pattern piece that you traced on the paper, the one you would normally sew it with

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.

Now that you know how much and where to add the lost length you can trace the stubborn fabric pattern piece on paper. I lost 5 millimeters so I added at the bottom of my pattern piece 5 mm.

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.

Retouch any pattern piece that you don’t like how it looks.

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.

After all the tracing, retouching and redrafting you should get something like this 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!

For sewing the mock up, I will explain only the most important things in this article because everything else will be explained in detail in the second part.

First off pin the beginning and the end of the seam.

Make sure the fabric will not slide on the pins.

Place the pins so they follow the seam line.

You won’t sew over any pins, you will remove them as you sew.

First off pin the beginning and the end of the seam.

Pin the boning channel lines so that they match on both pattern pieces.

Pin them on the right angle to the seam.

Pin the boning channel lines to match on both pattern pieces. Pin them on the right angle to the seam.

Now you can pin the space between the pins that hold the boning lines.

You will need to stretch the fabric on some places to get a perfect matching of the seams.

Pin every pattern piece together like this and while you sew remove the pins. Don’t sew over the pins!


Now you can pin the space between the pins that hold the boning lines.

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.

Difference in shaping is minimal and we will see if the finished diagonal corset will have a different shape from the original or is the new shape because of the light fabric of the mock up. I felt the same on both sides of the corset so I wouldn’t say that the diagonal seamed corset is more comfortable.

On the diagonal side of the mock up, the torso is not very cone shaped. It curves slightly on the side of the bust and the ribs are a bit rounder, but not enough to say it gives an hourglass shape.

The diagonal seam that flows right at the middle of the bust needs to be taken in by 7-10mm.  I think it is because the fabric I used for the mock up stretches a lot diagonally so I plan to make the corset halfway done and try it on to see if that adjustment is necessary.

Y and N corset mockup, front

The back looks good but the angle of the slanted bones worries me. I plan to angle them more so they rise from the waist toward the back top and not under my armpits.

Y and N corset mockup, back

The side looks nice and I have no complaints. The mock up does wrinkle a lot, but I do believe it is because of the fabric I used. I don’t think it will be a problem on the finished corset.

Y and N corset mockup, side


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!

Members of Foundations Revealed™ can go on to see the rest of this project in Part 2.

Hide comment form

1000 Characters left