When wearing historical clothing, it’s important to wear undergarments that are as period correct. Otherwise, the silhouette will turn out all wrong. So when I decided to make an 1880s ball gown for the Steampunk Convention in Gävle 2014, I needed a corset to wear under it.
I usde an authentic pattern for a Victorian Corset from the book Corsets and Crinolins by Nora Waugh. But my biggest help and inspiration for this project was the amazing Lucy of LucyCorsetry. On her website and youtube-channel, she has lots of useful information about making and wearing corsets, possible health issues and benefits, and also hair care. If you want to make a corset yourself, check out her videos! She is the master!
Partly assembled corset and all the materials: green silk, white cotton twill, spiral steel boning and busk. Everything except the fabric from www.sewcurvy.com. The twill was originally two towels I inherited, and I found the silk on Ebay. Silk or some other pretty fabric on the outside of the corset is optional, but it’s absolutely necessary to use a strong fabric like cotton or linen for the basic structure. The fabric has to withstand being stretched when the corset is laced, and be able to contain the steel boning.
There are many myths about corsets and corset wearing, particularly about how they were worn during the Victorian era. When looking at authentic Victorian corsets, it’s easy to believe that the women who wore them laced themselves extremely tightly. But it’s important to remember that the corsets were worn with at least a 10 centimeter gap in the back. Also, most women wore corsets from an early age and were thus accustomed to it. Of course, wearing a corset is not as comfortable as wearing a pyjamas, and it can be a bit exhausting if you’re not used to it. The corset should not be laced too tightly the first time, and your first corset should be one that only reduces the waist slightly to give your body time to adjust. But you can absolutely breathe while wearing a corset! You just have to breathe higher up in your chest. A well-made corset leaves room for your lungs to expand and only cinches at the waist. It was a long time before I realised that there actually should be a bit of a gap at the ribcage, that it did not mean that every corset was too big at the top for my small breasts. Since the corset is very tight at the waist, you can’t eat large amounts of food at the same time, you have to eat smaller meals more often. And of course, it is not the most comfortable garment to work out in. To lace oneself in a tight corset to live up to the fashion ideal of having a tiny waist seems strange to many, but, on the other hand, many people today undergo surgery and take drugs to live up to other standars of beauty. Which do you think is more strange?
When I was twelve years old, I bought this dress at the market in Visby at Medieval Week on Gotland. I did have another medieval dress when I was even younger, but this was the first one I bought myself, and it has been with me ever since.
Over the years, I have mended and changed a few times, but the basic dress is the same. The first year, my mother helped sew little pleats on the shoulders to make the upper part smaller. Last year, I changed the fabric of the wide border when the old fabric gave out. I also added lacing in the back. Originally, the border was placed on top of the green linen, but this summer, I felt the dress needed lengthening. So I ripped the seam that was under the bust, added a different piece of linen behind the border and moved the skirt so that it now begins under the border. I lengthened the sleeves in the same way. The fabric used for the borders was originally a tablecloth. I’d much rather have pretty fabric on me than on a table! Not a very period correct dress, but I love the colour and the design! The very word ”medieval dress” isn’t period correct either, after all.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones has been my favourite book ever since I first found it on a school trip to the city library. So when I heard that my favourite film creator, Hayao Miyazaki, was making it into an anime I was over the moon! Howl’s Moving Castle has everything: a wonderful main character, fantasy, romance, humour, Victorian clothes…And the movie adds steampunk into the mix! Years later when I started cosplaying, the choice of which character to portray first was easy. I chose to cosplay Sophie Hatter as she appears in the beginning of the anime mostly because her hair is very much like mine, so I didn’t need to invest in a wig. I wore this cosplay to the japanese pop culture convention Uppcon in Uppsala, Sweden in 2012 and participated in the cosplay contest. I didn’t win any prize, but I don’t think I’ve ever recieved so many hugs from strangers as when I walked around the con in my cosplay!
I made the dress from cotton fabric, being the mostly likely fabric used by Sophie if she really had been a hatter’s daughter during the Victorian era. I made the buttons by covering some other buttons with the same fabric. I also wore brown boots, black overknee socks and pantalettes that I made from an old blouse.
I bought the hat, but made the decorations myself. The little pink balls are wood with fabric swen onto them.
This cosplay was also featured in a Swedish book about handicrafts. One of my teacher’s when I was studying textile history asked if she could use it in a short section about cosplay and I said yes.