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1890S Pretty Housemaid Corded Corset - historybounding for modern farmlife

 
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I'm interested in making a corset for everyday wear around the farm.  That's right, an activewear corset!  

But, I also want to historybound (wear historically inspired clothing in daily life).  So while deciding what I want to make first, I looked to history for corsets or stays that active people (peasants) actually wore.  

The Pretty Housemaid Corded Corset is an affordable support garment for people working in domestic service - a very active job.  It was marketed as "the strongest and cheapest corset ever made" and looks like it would provide support while allowing for bending and lifting and, my goal, working around the farm.  


(image from the above link where you can see a larger version of the image to get more details)

To learn more about this corset, it is part of the Symington Collection - But I'm also hoping to post my research as I discover it here in this thread.  

The pattern is available in the book:  Corsets: historical patterns and techniques

Bernadette Banner talks about the corset here:



 
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Green Greetings!

I prefer wearing a corset when I'm doing heavy work which my back tells me is everything after sitting and knitting. This is my favorite pattern: http://www.lafnmoon.com/Pattern_100_Ladies_Victorian_Underwear_p/p100.htm

I've made dozens of these. Two for myself and the rest for others. I find a well fitted corset quite easy is very supportive of reasonable work around house/garden/farm. Be sure to always wear a chemise or other garment underneath to keep the corset clean and to prevent chaffing. I have a couple of precautions for wearing historical corsets: always put your shoes and socks on before donning your corset. Also consider adding historical drawers to your wardrobe. The reason will become apparent the first day you wear your corset with modern undergarments.

The corset pictured below would be very, very work intensive with all that close boning and cording.

Is this another video tutorial?
 
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some better photos of the Pretty Housemaid including some specifics about the construction



1899/1900

This corset is made of khaki drill lined with white twill and interlined with hessian. There is no boning in this corset except for tempered flat steels to support the back lacing. Instead it has strong, eight ply string cording vertically and across the hips. The spoon busk has a wide steel support underneath which was known as a double busk. The newly formed limited company of R and W.H Symington and Co Ltd produced this quality corset for the extremely low price of 16/3d per dozen which means that it could have retailed at 2/3d each.

Waist 21” Depth 14”



and another, this time with flossing (decorative - reinforcement stitches)



c1890. Busk front corset made from cotton twill lined in fawn coutil and interlined with hessian. This corset is a Symington speciality and is called ‘The Pretty Housemaid’ and is advertised as the strongest and cheapest corset ever made. The corset was made and directly marketed at women in service and was one of the top sellers of its day.

 
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Some more videos where someone tries to reproduce this corset.







I'm guessing video 4 is coming later this year.  
 
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Here is a tutorial on making the Pretty Housemaid corset

I like the pictures of the mockup, especially the Hello Kitty fabric.  I suppose the finish version looks gorgeous, but still... I wonder about working some fun fabric into the inside.  

Notice the large gap at the back



It looks like the late 18th Century Victorian (aka, England, the Empire and the Commonwealth) corsets would have a 1 to 2-inch gap.  I've read that more than that would reduce the amount of support the garment can give.  I imagine too large a gap would cause the lace to rub/cut against the flesh.  A modesty panel (a bit of cloth inside the gap) would reduce the amount of chafing against the lace while working.  
 
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r ranson wrote: I imagine too large a gap would cause the lace to rub/cut against the flesh.  A modesty panel (a bit of cloth inside the gap) would reduce the amount of chafing against the lace while working.  


Yes, laces HURT when they rub. A modesty panel is important. I don't wear a chemise with mine though, that might make a difference.
 
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The features that attract me to this corset:
  • lightweight
  • flexible
  • supportive


  • Most of the corsets from that time period (circa 1890s-1910), especially in the UK, that one finds in a museum are heavily boned (with baleen).  In England, every woman (and many/most men) wore corsets and not everyone could afford fancy materials like boning.  This corset was made for the working person who did a lot of physical labour for 10+ hours a day.  

    So what makes this Pretty Housemaid corset so different?  Cording.  
    There are very few bones (2 to 6 depending on which version we read) and these bones are more affordable steel, not baleen.  The support comes from cords sewn between the different layers.  For mass-produced corsets like this one, hemp or jute cord was quite common, as was a kind of cord made from twisted paper.  This allows the wearer to move around more, while still hugging the body tight enough to give them support - not just for the buts, but for most of the torso and back.  

    One review I read of a finished Pretty Housemaid said that the bust area was flexible and could potentially fit a variety of bust sizes.  Since these were off the shelf corsets - as opposed to custom made to fit the individual - it makes sense.

    Several articles mention a layer of hessian (a type of sackcloth) between the inner and outer layer of the corset.  This is a coarsely woven cloth that has lots of air gaps.  Air is a great insulating layer and would protect the person from the cold and the heat.  

    I'm very excited to try this technique as I've read mentions of corded stays and bodices in history class, but alas, these were borning books with very little interest in textiles except as evidence of wealth (or lack of).  
     
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    Pearl Sutton wrote:

    r ranson wrote: I imagine too large a gap would cause the lace to rub/cut against the flesh.  A modesty panel (a bit of cloth inside the gap) would reduce the amount of chafing against the lace while working.  


    Yes, laces HURT when they rub. A modesty panel is important. I don't wear a chemise with mine though, that might make a difference.



    Don't you have a really cool thread somewhere about how you made medical corset to help with various back issues? I thought that was so awesome!

    This whole discussion reminded me of Morgan Donner's video on how she wore a corset for a whole week, and found it more comfortable than a bra.



    A year ago, it never would have occurred to me that a corset could be a utilitarian, comfortable garment. Apparently they can be!
     
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    I've tried wearing them both with and without the modesty panel, and for me, the comfort depends on several factors, including the time of year, the thickness & type of the fabric (if I'm wearing something) underneath, the style/cut of the corset, the tightness, the fabric the lining is made of & how it's cut and the type of lacing used. One of my favorite things between my skin & a corset is super soft cotton flannel.

    But, the exterior of a corset makes all the difference in the world, in your comfort, too. If it's a natural fiber(& I'd insist, if I'd be wearing it often), it would need to be a polished/ ultra smooth texture, too keep it from pulling on the garments worn over it. Pulling would cause excess wear on both the corset and the next layer up, in addition to making your movements uncomfortable and awkward.

    But, over all, I love corsets, and would love to learn to make them, if I ever manage the time! They're outrageously expensive to buy, custom made, and 'off-the-rack' ones never fit quite right.
     
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    Nicole Alderman wrote:

    Pearl Sutton wrote:
    Yes, laces HURT when they rub. A modesty panel is important. I don't wear a chemise with mine though, that might make a difference.



    Don't you have a really cool thread somewhere about how you made medical corset to help with various back issues? I thought that was so awesome!


    Corset for back pain
    :D
     
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    Both women and men have worn them, through the ages, for back support and pain relief - not merely for aesthetics/vanity.
     
    r ranson
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    a video on the machine cording technique.  



    The pretty housemaid has a lot of cording compared to modern corsetry.  Part of it is more affordable strength and shaping, but part of it is comfort.  Cording (or so I've read) allows more movement while still providing support.  For example, a body that changes size at different times of the day (thanks IBD) or month (oh, thank you chromosomes) might do better with a corded corset than something more rigid.  
     
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    For those of us who don't like video, here's a link on cording that is text and pictures.  :D
    How to Make a Corset with Cording

    The concept of making the fabric move better makes sense, thank you for the info R Ranson! :D I have always used stays, and sometimes they just don't feel good.
     
    r ranson
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    Here's something I'm going to need to know.  How to put on a corset (and take it off again).





    There are lots of different corsets, but this is for the same style as the Pretty Housemaid - front busk and back lacing.  

    I've read about how to do it but being able to see it makes a huge difference.  
     
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    The Symington Company is the designer and maker of The Pretty Housemaid. They kept meticulous records including copies of each style of corset they made, corsets made by the competition, and even many of the patterns.  You can find many images hosted at Image Leicestershire, The Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland.

    https://imageleicestershire.org.uk/index.php?a=ViewItem&i=18697&WINID=1609341489327

    They don't have a copy of the Pretty Housemaid pattern, but they do have several that are nearly there.  

    And here are some pretty pictures of Symington corsets  
     
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    Here's an etsy shop that sells a pdf of the Pretty Housemaid pattern.



    It doesn't say what the size is, so I'm guessing it's the single size they took off the extant garment.  There are no instructions, it's just the pattern pieces.

    I'm not going to get this as I already have the book   Corsets: historical patterns and techniques which includes the pattern.  I'm an unusual shape so I'll need to make adjustments to the pattern either way so it will be just as easy to draft the pattern from the book while adapting it to my size and shape.
     
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    Hi R.

    I used to make and wear lots of corsets. Don’t wear them much anymore due to injury to the ribs, but still very intrigued by them.

    I don’t know how much experience you have with wearing a corset, but one thing I would advise is to keep two things in mind about the lower part of the corset: since you want this corset to be used for active wear (gardening and whatnot) you’ll need to be able to bend down a lot. In order to be somewhat comfortable bending down, I would suggest to take care that: 1. The highest part of the bottom line (so the sides) is lower then the highest point of your hip-bone. Otherwise the corset can creep upwards and will chafe along the edge of your hipbone after repeated motion ‘bending up and down repeatedly, like when you’d be weeding).
    2. Make sure the lowest part of the corset (the central point), doesn’t go too low. Shorter is better; otherwise that pointy part is going to stab you in the front of your lady bits when bending/ crouching.

    Personally If I would make an active wear corset for myself, I’d make an underbust ribbon corset. It uses very little material, is very flexible and breathable (especially if made from hemp or linen ribbon), and doesn’t squish your boobs when bending down. Now I am reasonably small breasted so I can get away with it without needing boned support; and realise not every woman has that luxury, so it does depend on your body.
     
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    I've been thinking about this some more and decided to play around with some math and paper.



    So I printed out the pattern for the pretty housemaid as it appears in Corsets: historical patterns and techniques, and put it together.  

    What I learned is that it goes together so much better if I start in the same way I would sew together the fabric.  So instead of starting at one side and working across, I did the four middle sections first.  Joined them to the bottom horizontal piece, then added the front and back.  Far less fuss and stress on the paper.  

    I'm surprised how much I learned from this simple exercise.
    paper-pretty-housemaid.jpg
    paper pretty housemaid
    paper pretty housemaid
     
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