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“Corset Waist Training” Primer (Romantasy) Book Review

Today I’m providing a walkthrough and review of Romantasy’s newest book, titled Corset Waist Training: A Primer on Easy, Fun & Fashionable Waistline Reduction written by Ann Grogan. This was released in late 2016 and I read through it in 2017.

Differences between the Primer and Corset Magic:

Cover Art for the Corset Waist Training primer, by Ann Grogan (Romantasy.com)

This is a different book to the one I had reviewed back in 2011 (Corset Magic), and there are quite a few differences (and improvements made!) to this new book. I still maintain that Corset Magic is the most thorough publication I’ve ever read on waist training – but it was a daunting read at the time, being well over 125,000 words (over 300 A4-size pages with smallish font, single-spaced). I remember that the search function / page numbers didn’t work with my Adobe PDF reader, making it easy to lose my place.

The Primer is a bit shorter (perhaps closer to 100,000 words, in 4 very digestible parts), more concise, more organized, and easy to search for words and find your place again) in the PDF reader. It has also been carefully edited, proof-read and beta-tested to create a more user-friendly read overall. Resources and links have also been updated from the old Corset Magic version, so they work properly and no longer lead to dead links – so from a technical standpoint, the Primer is a huge improvement!

The Primer is not meant to be a full replacement for Corset Magic, but it definitely helps you get started (hence: Primer). You can still buy Corset Magic for $50 which goes into more detail about what happens to the body when you wear corsets; it’s more heavy on research, and also seems to have additional chapters (e.g. on men wearing corsets). Corset Magic really is a comprehensive resource for the keeners (no shame; I fall into this category too!) but the Primer will still give you more than enough information to get started, and at a more attractive price ($14.95 on this site), it’s a much smaller and more manageable investment.

Like I said in my old Corset Magic review: if you’re not sure if waist training is for you, then it’s wiser to invest [now $15, for the Primer] to educate yourself than it is to spend $300 or $400 on a custom corset, discover that you’re not the biggest fan of wearing corsets or your lifestyle doesn’t allow you to wear corsets, and find that you just wasted hundreds of dollars on a garment you’ll never wear.

 

Some disclaimers before we start:

Oftentimes in this book, waist training is mentioned hand-in-hand with weight loss, and there’s considerable emphasis placed on the obesity epidemic and the importance of losing weight or having a svelte figure. While weight loss admittedly does seem to be the general trend with many people who waist train, I also know of several people who have successfully trained their waists and developed a curvier natural silhouette while staying the same weight or even gaining weight, so I know that training can be achieved independent of weight loss.

So if you’re rocking the plus size and have no intentions of losing weight, there are portions of this book which will not apply as much to you – and try not to take offense to some passages in this book which emphasize weight loss. If you have a history of disordered eating, some concepts in this book may be considered triggering (small portion sizes, calorie counting, food restriction / denial).

Ann does acknowledge the fact that not all waist trainers lose weight, writing on pg 24: “When following the basic waist-training steps outlined in this book, depending on your figure size and shape, it’s not unusual to find that you permanently lose 2″ to 3″ or more from your waist with or without weight loss.” But then also adds: “You also might lose from a few pounds, up to 20 or more.”

Edited to add: since I knew there are a few trans women and non-binary folks who visit my site: in this book there are terms used like “genetic male,” “transsexual”, etc. in reference to trans women. From my understanding, some of these terms are inaccurate and outdated and might be cause for concern – I had emailed the author to suggest using some more updated terminology (AMAB, transgender) but she said she checked with the transgender community in San Francisco regarding her writing and received no negative feedback. Since I’m a cis woman, it’s not my place to police these terms, so I let the subject go. Use your own discretion when coming across these terms in the book.

 

PART 1 (includes Introduction and Ch 1-3)

A peek into the contents and organization of the Corset Waist Training Primer (Romantasy.com)

The Introduction goes into parallels between corset training vs dieting/ starting a fitness regime. One might think it all starts with how tight you wear your corset or how long you wear it (in the former), or how much you exercise or what you eat (in the latter). But in reality, all starts with your mind and in identifying – and setting – your priorities. It might involve a quite a bit of mentally “checking in”, and she says that our default behavior in times of stress (challenging times, emergencies) is particularly telling compared to times when life is smooth sailing. A little mindfulness can go a long way, and she recommends checking in with a waist training coach, having a buddy system, or if possible, even talking to a counselor to identify unhealthy automatic behaviors.

Ann also says that waist training regimens are highly individual and not a “one size fits all” approach, the same way that one person can feel amazing on one diet while another person can do the same diet and end up very sick. I fundamentally agree with this as a nutritionist – if one diet worked for everyone, we’d only ever have one. We all need to find what works best for our bodies.

Chapter 1 discusses some of the many benefits you may experience with wearing corsets – not only physical benefits (better posture, back support, appetite reduction if that’s your thing), but also the comforting aspects of deep pressure, some possible reduction in stress and anxiety, etc.

Chapter 2 is all about the “Corset Question” which is “Don’t corsets hurt?” And obviously the answer to that is an emphatic NO!… as long as the corset is of decent quality, properly fitted to the unique hills and valleys of your body, and you’re wearing it responsibly (which also includes the fact that you will loosen the laces when you feel the need to).

This chapter also goes into various unsavory experiences Ann has had with sensationalistic TV segments and news reports which negatively portrayed corsets, and I sympathize as I have multiple responses to such news segments here on my blog.

Chapter 3 explains how waist training works. Ann provides plenty of before and after examples, showing many of her students who permanently lost inches on their waist, most of them losing a significant amount of weight as well (the most dramatic being one client who lost 50 lbs in 3 months). However, Ann is also quick to mention that corset waist training is not a “lose weight quick” scheme – it requires considerable discipline and consistency, and often a lifestyle change. She says waist training works best if you focus not only on wearing the corset, but changing other elements as well (including what to eat and how to exercise).

But even though this regimen requires control, Ann recommends going into it with an open mind and positive mindset – you don’t want to force the process and end up developing resentment towards your corset or your routine.

 

PART 2 (includes Ch 4-5)

Chapter 4 is a big chapter. It goes into her official requirements for the perfect waist training corset – I remember reading this checklist back in 2010 or 2011 and being very surprised by the amount of scrutiny that went into every detail of the corset. Now, in 2018, I agree that these components are reasonable, and most could even be considered obvious! Some of these requirements include non-stretch tightly woven fabric, strong thread and tidy stitches, steel bones, front busk, 2-part grommets, presence of a waist tape, etc.

She says for best results, get an underbust corset made custom to your measurements, and she goes into detail on how to measure yourself accurately for a custom corset. Above all, Ann recommends you don’t rush into getting a corset.

She is vehemently against OTR corsets (this is where she and I disagree). But what I do agree with is that if someone is impatient about choosing a corset/ they don’t want to put any homework into exploring their options/ they choose “rock-bottom prices” over their own comfort and proper fit, then this person is not likely to be successful regarding waist training over time. Waist training is a long, slow process which requires considerable discipline and control, so if you can’t bring yourself to spend at least a few weeks exploring your options for corset brands, quality, and fit, then you’re not likely patient enough for waist training to begin with.

Ann also discusses turnaround times for corset makers: some may be 4-6 weeks, while others in very high demand might take 6 months to a year (or more!). She also troubleshoots many corset fitting issues, like if the top edge is too loose or too tight, the corset is too long or too short, and she also gives special consideration if the client has scoliosis.

She also discusses client-maker communication – and, should you find anything you suspect is wrong with your corset, to first check that you didn’t lace it too high, too low, upside down or on a slant, and to check whether your demands are unreasonable, like if one stitch is 1mm longer than the others.

Finally, she talks about how to lace up your corset, the seasoning (break-in) process, and beginning your waist training regimen – which takes us to chapter 5.

Chapter 5 is where Ann introduces us to her 13-step system for successful waist training. She walks you through the preparation before you even begin – knowing what to expect, taking your “before” pictures, and writing down your stats. Then she shows you how to set realistic goals for yourself: writing down not only the number of inches off your waistline you want to lose (and/or how much weight you want to lose), but also how long you want your intensive training period to be. She recommends a minimum of 3 months, lacing 6 days out of the week and giving yourself one rest day per week.)

She also walks you through the Roller Coaster method of waist training, and ways to keep striving toward your goals and not lose motivation. Some suggestions she makes include writing a contract with yourself, hiring a coach or having a buddy system, betting money on your success (or having some other kind of reward and punishment system), having a daily ritual and daily journal, and even visualization or meditation.

 

PART 3 (includes Ch 6-7)

The author of the Primer, and Proprietess of Romantasy, Ann Grogan. Corset: Sheri Jurnika. Mascot: Miss Tata

Chapter 6 deals exclusively with food and eating habits, and she recommends breaking up your meals into 6-8 small meals and snacks spread throughout the day, cutting down on refined sugars and processed foods, and taking in more fiber and water.

As I’m a registered nutritionist, this is the one particular chapter where I found I disagreed most, especially regarding certain generic statements e.g. calorie counting (as some people can easily run away with that), and some of the portion sizes mentioned in the book are smaller than I would recommend – but I understand that Ann is discussing this in the context that one may not be able to eat full-size portions while wearing a waist training corset. Ann mentions that she eats quite often (around 7-8 times a day) and requires a considerable amount soluble fiber to keep her own gut happy. Others may eat 4 times a day or whatever personally works for them.
What I do agree with is mindful eating, eating at a relaxed pace if your work/lifestyle allows it, and especially to avoid overeating to the point of discomfort when in a corset. I also agree with keeping a focus on more nutritionally rich foods, and checking in with yourself if you feel compelled to eat out of boredom, stress, or during emotionally challenging times.

Ann also goes into the plausible reasons as to why and how corsets act similarly to bariatric surgery (without the same risks that surgery carries). Ann is quite strict about the idea that food is for nourishment, and although it’s fine to mindfully enjoy what you do eat, she says it’s important not to overindulge or treat food as a crutch, especially during social outings.

Chapter 7 is all about exercise – and in particular, toning and strengthening your core.

There are some lifestyle waist trainers who enjoy wearing their corsets almost 24/7 and they are scared of building up muscle that may interfere with their training, but Ann recommends maintaining your muscle tone in your back and core – her waist training regime doesn’t require a 24/7 schedule (in fact it requires as little as 2 hours a day, up to 8 hours a day – although you can wear your corset for 12+ hours if you desire).

In addition to doing some core-strengthening exercises every day, Ann also recommends taking one day per week off from your corset to make sure you’re not growing dependent on the corset for back support, and this I agree with.

Obviously, we all have different starting points regarding fitness: we have different strengths and weaknesses, different ranges of motion/ flexibility, and some of us may have old injuries that we need to be careful of, so Ann ensures that not all exercises are suited to everyone. But she does illustrate and explain some of her favorite exercises for warmup / cooldown, strengthening the core and back, and improving flexibility.

 

Part 4: includes Ch 8-9 and Appendices

Chapter 8 is about making waist training easy and comfortable. She says there are 3 challenges to waist training: Logistical, Emotional, and Physical.

Logistical issues include which types of furniture to sit on comfortably, and some tips on riding in a car or plane when corseted. She also gives advice on sleeping in a corset, preventing yourself from overheating, how to stealth in your corset, etc.

Emotional issues include impatience, frustration, or excitement around waist training. Whats your emotional state when wearing your corset – uptight or relaxed? Ann says that the goal is to remain a bit detached to the whole process of waist training, “even a bit blasé.” She also gives some tips on how to overcome the judgmental reactions from strangers or colleagues regarding your figure, and how to keep up your personal motivation.

Physical challenges include concerns as to what happens to the body when you wear a corset, and Ann quotes a few studies on pressure on the waistline delivered by corsets (first done in 1887 and repeated again in 1999 with similar results).

Ann has a section on discomfort: how much is normal, and when you should loosen your corset or when you should bear up. She says that training should be challenging, and one should aim for a 6 or 7 on the discomfort scale out of a possible 10, and bear up as long as you’re in good health. I tend to disagree (I don’t like wearing corsets that make me uncomfortable, and I think anything more uncomfortable than a pair of shoes means something about the fit of the corset or the method of wearing it is wrong). Where both Ann and I agree is that discomfort is subjective, bodily autonomy is a thing, and as long as an individual is not causing injury to themselves or others, it’s up to that individual as to how tight or loose they want to wear their own corset.

She also addresses other things like blood pressure, what to do if you have acid reflux, skin problems like itching, bruising or redness (although bruising is not normal and shouldn’t happen), and various restroom issues.

Chapter 9 is on maintenance corseting: once you’ve reached your training goals, how to keep your results while corseting less (if you want. If you like wearing your corset every day then do what you like!).

The appendices can be quite helpful as well; there’s a guide on the difference between different corset silhouettes, a discussion on the difference between tight lacing and waist training, some recipes, a typical measuring guide for a custom corset, and a chart to keep a record of your waist training progress over 3 months.

 

Takeaway:

All in all, you’re receiving a huge amount of information in this book – essentially four books for the price of one. As much info as I described in this overview, it still only covers perhaps 2% of the entire Primer.

The Corset Waist Training Primer answers nearly every question you ever had about corseting (and some you’d probably never thought to ask as well). At $15, it is much more accessible to those with smaller budgets compared to Corset Magic ($50) and it’s more than sufficient for beginners and intermediates.

As Ann and I are both very passionate about corsetry (and also strongly opinionated), take my criticisms with a grain of salt – at the time I’m writing this, there is still no other waist training book on the market has come close to the length, detail and scope as this Primer (with the obvious exception to the even more exhaustive Corset Magic). If you choose to read this book, incorporate the things that resonate with you, and leave the rest (but I don’t have you tell you this; this is true of any book!).

Click here to go to Romantasy’s site and learn more about Ann’s newest book (not a referral link): Corset Waist Training: A Primer on Easy, Fun & Fashionable Waistline Reduction

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Drafting Corset Patterns Digitally with CAD (Book Review / Storytime!)

The following is a transcript of my video “Pattern Drafting in CAD (Review + Storytime!)” on Youtube. Please note that this post contains affiliate links for Etsy and Foundations Revealed. If you’d like to watch the video and the walkthrough of the Foundations Revealed pattern tutorial, see my video below.

 

Hi everyone!

I haven’t done a book review in a very long time, but I’d really like to change that. This resource I’ll be talking about today, “Corseting the 21st Century Body” by Caroline Woollin – it has given me another skillset I didn’t know was possible for me. I’m gonna try not to wax poetic about this or make it seem too much like an ad, because really it’s not. I paid for this book with my own money, I put in the work to learn and practice it, and it’s saved me months or possibly years of my time, it’s paid for itself many times over, and revolutionized the way I work.

As some of you may remember, I was in a car accident in 2014 which left me with neck and back issues. Ever since then I’ve had a difficult time sewing and even doing things like leaning over a table for long periods of time for tasks like pattern drafting. And when I developed the hourglass and Gemini corset lines, these were drafted by hand, every size was graded by hand, and it put a lot of stress on my back.

The Gemini line was released more than a year after the hourglass line because I worked the old fashioned way – with pencil and paper, then I would trace a paper copy of that most recent rendition of the pattern, and literally have to mail it. If I mailed it rush, signature required, to Thailand, it’s like over $70. And it would still take 1-2 weeks to get there, and who knows if it might be damaged. There’s a lot of risks, and every part of that process takes a long time.

The fastest way to get things done is to go to Thailand, but that is thousands of dollars just in flights, plus coordinating schedules and the like. And I wasn’t able to do that last year during the development of the Gemini line, because I was still finishing up school.

Grading the Gemini pattern, sizes 18 up to 42, in the round rib silhouette and the straight rib silhouette, is 26 individual patterns. And because I was doing it by hand, there were small inaccuracies between each size, and sometimes precision of millimeters is necessary in drafting and constructing a corset.

Amber of Lovely Rats was my MVP in 2016 because she helped digitize the corset patterns for me. I know that this is a skill taught in fashion school, and I know that my dad, being a technician, had used CAD (computer aided design) programs with his work in the past, but I was very intimidated by the technology and didn’t think I’d ever be able to wrap my head around it without formal instruction like a course.

Enter Caroline Woollin, of Corsets by Caroline. She has been working with AutoCAD for at least 15 years, and in late 2016 she published a book on Etsy called “Corseting the 21st Century Body” which is all about using modern drafting techniques to bring a contemporary edge to the traditional art of corset making.

Caroline also has a Patreon where if you give just $5 a month, you’ll get a new corset pattern, already tested, graded to size and everything, every month. Individually these corset patterns sell for $10-20 USD, so getting a new one monthly for just a $5 subscription is a fantastic deal if you’re really keen on experimental corset making and testing out different styles. So she really practices what she preaches and uses CAD heavily in her own corset business.

Corseting the 21C Body, written by Caroline Woollin (Corsets by Caroline). Click through to purchase her book via Etsy.

Anyway, back to this book, “Corseting the 21st Century Body” – it’s a 97 page book, and half of that is on learning how to create corset patterns in DraftSight which is a free CAD program, and the latter half is a bit of instruction on how to construct corsets, but it’s deliberately lightweight in this area – Caroline says that you should already have some knowledge in corset making before you pick up this book because the instruction of actually assembling the corset itself is not fully extensive, the most valuable part is in the pattern drafting. And she not only gives you step-by-step instructions, but she also gives you specific exercises to build up your skills and familiarity with the various tools you’ll need for drafting patterns.

In December 2016 I first cracked open this book and I played around with the program for an hour, realized I was in over my head, and decided to shelve the idea of learning Computer Aided Design for awhile. It wasn’t until April that I gave it another try. I gave myself the goal of going through one page per day, and practicing making lines and circles in Draftsight for like 20 minutes a day. I figure, 45 pages of instruction, it would take me around 6 weeks to get through the book, and then maybe by the end of another 6 weeks of regular practice, maybe I’ll get good enough that I’ll have my first corset pattern drafted and I’d be able to test it. I was going really slow with it, and Caroline said that this is not a skill you can perfect in a weekend. She’s right, I didn’t go through it in 2 days. I ended up getting the hang of it in three days. Obviously I don’t have a perfect knowledge of every single function, but all the tools I need for drafting corset patterns and then a few more.

Caroline is a super sweet person as well, and there were times where I got stuck and felt like I wanted to throw my computer out the window, but she said I could email or message her anytime if I needed clarification. I think there were 3-4 situations where I think I just messed up on the settings and did something silly. For instance, I kept trying to save my patterns as a PDF but they would all be “invisible” when I opened my PDF file. It was just because the layers were accidentally “locked” and had the “no print” icon checked. Most of my frustrations just took the smallest check of a button to resolve.

Remember when I said it would take me an hour to grade each size of a corset pattern on paper? Within a few weeks, I had enough practice that I was able to really precisely grade each size in less than 10 minutes, and that’s with seam allowances, grain lines, labels, color coding, everything.

I was able to sit or stand at my desk, as I was comfortable, and didn’t have to hurt my neck or back. And the best part was being able to instantaneously email the corset patterns to the factory instead of using snail mail which would take 2 weeks. I would make a corset pattern and email it to them in time for them to receive it by 8am (Thailand time). By the end of their work day (which is the next morning for me), they’d have a mockup or sample made. We use a combination of methods for testing the samples – either they would mail the corset samples over to me to check in person, or they could send me pictures of the corsets on their fit models (or I would stay up late and Skype with them during their work hours). By the end of the fitting, I would know what changes to make and was able to send them the tweaked pattern the very next day.

Testing one sample used to take us a month using traditional drafting methods and snailmail, and now we could get the same done in as little as 2 days.

By the end of those 3 months, I didn’t just “Learn CAD and have 1 corset pattern drafted” (as per my original goal). Within 3 months, I had learned and practiced CAD, had 4 corset patterns drafted, tested multiple times, tweaked, perfected, and fully graded! Also, I was able to scan in and digitize many of my old corset patterns lying around – so I could get rid of paper clutter. Everything is much more organized and easy to pull up for reference, and I’m able to more quickly and easily tweak those patterns if I want to use them again in the future.

When I say that this book has revolutionized the way I work and saved me a mind boggling amount of time, and paid for itself many times over, I mean it.

Huge thanks to Caroline for creating this resource. If you have any interest in learning how to draft corset patterns digitally, you need this book. As someone who was literally physically pained by drafting by hand, learning this new skillset was so freeing. Please don’t be intimidated if you don’t have any formal education in computers or technology, we all start somewhere. Visit Caroline’s Etsy shop here.

By the way, the corset pattern I made during this video was the free overbust drafting tutorial from Foundations Revealed, for my personal measurements. If you want this tutorial to make a custom corset pattern for yourself, whether on paper or on computer, click here!

Let me know if you have any questions at all! If you have also read Caroline’s book, let us know what you think of it in a comment below!

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Lucy’s Personal Corset Journey – A Reading

When better-known authors release a book and go on tour, they sometimes read the first chapter to a live audience at a book store or library. As my new book Solaced is only released on Kindle at the moment, I thought I would read my personal corset journey to you via Youtube. I know that it’s not quite the same, but hopefully many of you will appreciate it nonetheless. Fair warning, I do end up crying a little bit. :p

The story starts 1:37 into the video. If you like, you can click over to the Amazon listing and click “look inside”. My story is right at the beginning (in the introduction), and you can use Amazon’s free Kindle preview to read along with me on any platform.

Enjoy the reading… and thank you for being a part of this journey. ♡

 

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There is Still Time to Contribute to the Book!

Kitty Lace Embrace Corset
Remember Kitty? She has scoliosis as well as a ligament disorder that caused her liver to drop. She wears a custom Lace Embrace corset to support her spine and lift her liver up into its correct position, and it accommodates her iliostomy bag. Click photo to read my past interview with her.

In case you missed the announcement on my Youtube channel last year:

I’m writing a book! 

Many of you know that I’ve received hundreds of emails over the past 5 years from corset wearers relaying their personal experiences regarding how corsets have been beneficial to them physically, mentally or emotionally. This was the original inspiration for my Corset Benefits permanent page. While this serves as a decent summary, I know that this can be taken a step further.

This book will be a compilation of first-person true narratives by the people who have been directly affected by corset wear – a collection of uplifting short stories that inspires readers and sometimes softens the heart, similar in sentiment to Chicken Soup for the Soul but only regarding corsets and corset wear. It will include experiences of people who waist train, tight lace, use corsets for medical/ therapeutic use or simply for fashion – it is for all people who enjoy corsets, no matter their context. My dream is that this book will be something that corset enthusiasts will be able to read and relate to, and perhaps be able to give to their loved ones to demystify corsets and remove the stigma.

Our industry has been so harshly attacked by bloggers and national news stations alike. Not least I have been personally attacked, had my content and research stolen without credit, had my photos and videos used on national television without my knowledge or consent and subjected to libel, with stories fabricated around my image. Instead of naming and shaming these naive individuals and corporations, I’m responding with love and compiling the amazing stories of how corsets have contributed to people’s quality of life.

Unfortunately, after not winning the draw for the free custom corsets last week, a couple of previous contributors decided that it was not worth it to them to participate in this project anymore – so I am looking for more contributors to take their place.

If you have an amazing corset-related experience and you’d like to be part of this project, please contact me via email and briefly let me know what you would like to write about. You’re absolutely welcome to talk about corsetry in whatever context fits your life.

What kinds of true stories are accepted for the book?

Here are some examples of true stories that may become part of the book:

  • Corsets as a driving force in finding one’s joie de vivre after menopause
  • The corset as a symbol of a woman’s independence and self-reliance after escaping an abusive relationship where her partner wouldn’t grant her essentials like clothing or food.
  • A corsetiere’s perspective about how unique the corset community is in their mutual support, compared to more cut-throat niches in the fashion industry.
  • Corsets used to correct PoTS and help stabilize low blood pressure
  • Corsets being used to correct pelvic tilt, which in turn corrected the writer’s knee and ankle alignment, allowing them to stand and walk again without pain
  • Several stories about how corsets have saved their wearers from injury in car accidents and against violent aggressors
  • Many stories about scoliosis correction, and soothing depression and anxiety related to grief, PTSD or autism/ Asperger’s.

More unique experiences (e.g. “my corset did more for me than my previous lap-band surgery ever did” or “a stranger punched me and broke his hand on my corset”) will have a higher chance of being accepted for the book – I have been deluged with stories of back pain relief already, although if you have more rare causes of back pain and curvature like Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Polio, etc. these unique stories are welcome.

(For those on the front page of my website, click the “Read More” button below to get more detailed info about the book!)

Continue reading There is Still Time to Contribute to the Book!

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Interview with Sarah Chrisman of “Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself”

In March 2014, after the blogger conference at Orchard Corset headquarters, some friends and I took the ferry to visit Port Townsend and stay with Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman. For those who don’t remember, Sarah Chrisman is the author of “Waisted Curves”, which I had reviewed last year. Since then, the corset has been officially published by Skyhorse and renamed “Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself“. During our brief visit, Sarah gave us a walking tour of Port Townsend, allowed us to study her and Gabriel’s large collection of antique artifacts an read some original Victorian and Edwardian literature, cooked up a feast for my friends and myself, and sat down for an interview. It was a quick but packed weekend!

I enjoyed seeing first-hand Gabriel and Sarah’s ongoing life project; how they’ve already placed Tesla lightbulbs in their house and use oil lamps at night; they own a wood-burning oven and they are working on refurbishing a vintage ice-box to replace their refrigerator – which leads into their aim of eating locally and seasonally, growing their own food, and wasting as little as possible.

Below you’ll find the interview in full on my Youtube channel! Scroll down below the video to see the list of the questions.

  • It’s been several years since you’ve written your memoir; how has life changed for you since then? Has your book been received well?
  • Are you recognized more often in your hometown? When you travel? If so, do you enjoy being recognized?
  • Have any of your friends and family been inspired to use a corset after seeing your own personal journey? Have you found yourself becoming a mentor to others in lifestyle corseting?
  • What are some reasons that you and Gabriel love Victoriana and the Victorian way of living, or what important lessons could the layperson learn from this? (e.g. adornment, the mannerisms, a possible economic or ‘greener’ lifestyle, the tendency to mend/ repair instead of dispose, etc.)
  • It must be wonderful having a supportive partner who shares your tastes and passions. Who do you think was the instigator to move from simply ‘collecting’ antique items to really living as if you were in the era?
  • Has Gabriel experienced any personal growth during these years that you have been transforming?
  • If you had to pin down a specific year or decade where most of your style or your favorite pieces come from, what would that be?
  • You mentioned in your book that you used to do martial arts. Do you still do that? What are some of your other favorite pastimes apart from reading, writing and bicycling?
  • What are your ambitions for the future? Are there plans for a “Victorian Secrets Part 2”  in the future?

Huge thanks to Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman for their incredible hospitality and for kindly answering our questions!
If you’d like to learn more about Sarah’s book “Victorian Secrets”, find it on Amazon here.

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Orchard Corset CS-301 Waspie (Mini Corset) Review

This entry is a summary of the review video “Orchard Corset CS-301 Waspie Review” which you can watch on YouTube here:

Fit, length Center front is about 8 inches high, and the side seam is 6.5 inches high. Hourglass silhouette. Waist is 22″, top edge is 26″ (whether that is the underbust or lower ribcage on you depends on the length of your torso), bottom edge (iliac crest) is 28″.
Material 2 main layers: Outer layer is black suiting fabric with a pile/nap and herringbone design, and lining is cotton twill.
Construction 4 panel pattern, panels assembled using a topstitch and is single boned with internal boning channels on the seams.
Binding Bias tape is a commercial black satin; machine stitched on the inside and outside.
Waist tape 1 inch wide partial waist tape, exposed on the inside of the corset on the side panels (panels 2-3). Unfortunately I don’t see that it extends through the entire corset.
Modesty panel 5.5 inch wide unstiffened modesty panel attached to one side finished in the same fabric as the rest of the corset. There is also an unstiffened modesty placket in the front, made of black twill.
Busk 6.5 inches long, standard width busk (half inch on each side) with 3 knobs and loops, equidistantly spaced.
Boning 10 bones total (5 bones per side). On each side, there are three 1/4″ wide spiral steel bones, single boned on the seams. There are two flat steels sandwiching the grommets as well.
Grommets 16 two-part grommets, size #00, small to medium flange, quite sturdy. Finished in silver and set equidistantly. The washers are nice and large. The corset is laced higher than I would prefer, which is typical of Orchard Corset.
Laces Laces are 1/4″ wide nylon flat laces, a bit springy but difficult to break.
Price At the time I’m writing this, the price starts at $65 for sizes 16-30″. Starting at size 32″, the price increases by $1 per size, up to a maximum size and price of $73 for size 46″.
Not the same fabric style, but another pretty version of the CS-301 shown on the Orchard Corset website

The CS-301 is the newest cut offered by Orchard Corset, and it’s called the “waspie/ mini-corset” for a reason – it packs a surprising amount of curve for such a little corset! Because this piece is only 6.5 inches high at the side seam, nearly everybody (whether their torso is long or short) should be able to sit down comfortably in this corset – however, be aware that if you have any protrusion of your lower tummy, this corset is not likely to cover and pull it in, and indeed may make a lower tummy look more pronounced (if you would like to prevent lower-tummy protrusion, a longer corset will help, as well as a ‘tucking’ technique shown here). Additionally, if you have a fleshy torso like I do and you have a tendency of getting ‘muffin top’, you may want to consider a different corset with a higher back if you are interested in preventing this. However, if you have a ribcage that is the same size or smaller than your natural waist or you don’t carry much weight on your upper torso or back, then muffin top shouldn’t be an issue for you.

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to try this (so far exclusive) design with the lovely plush fashion fabric, but in retrospect perhaps this was not wise in the context of a review, because I don’t have the ability to test their currently-available black satin version and see how well it stands up to the test of time. So while I will keep an eye on how this corset fares with use, please be aware that it may not directly apply to how the satin version behaves.

This corset is stocked from size 16″ to 46″. It starts at $65 in price up to a maximum of $73, but you will be able to save 10% by using the discount code CORSETLUCY . Be aware that I don’t earn a dime from this coupon code; it is simply a token of thanks by them to be used for any of my Youtube subscribers. Purchasing and additional information can be found on the Orchard Corset website here.

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“The Corset Diaries” Book Overview

This written version is essentially a transcript of my video review of the same book, which you can see here if you’re not the type to like to read (but note that if you don’t want to read a review, why would you read an entire novel?)

Please note that both the review and the video DOES contain spoilers, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Continue reading “The Corset Diaries” Book Overview

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“Corset Making” e-book by Julia Bremble

This post is a transcript of the video, “‘Corset Making’ Book (Julia Bremble of Sew Curvy) REVIEW” which you may view here along with a taster of the actual e-book:

Details of the e-book format:

This book was published by Vivebooks.com, a well-established producer of e-books. The table of contents in “Corset Making” has hyperlinks so you can click on any heading and it takes you to where you need to go. Clicking on URLs will take you right to the “Sew Curvy” website for more reading, or to purchase corset supplies if needed. It’s easy to jump around this book.

All the pictures are in color – they’re zoomable so you can see finer detail, and you can print out worksheets if you like. There are also video tutorials incorporated right into the book, so you click the link or photo on a certain page and the video pops up and plays automatically.

Julia’s writing style, and some tips on how corsets differ from other garments:

Julia’s technique is very friendly, she tries not to overwhelm you. Even for absolute beginners, she says, “…if you can sew a straight line, you can build a corset”! She mentions that the corset is like “wearable architecture” and I really love that term.

At the end of the book you have two projects – you can make either a single-layer corset or a double layer corset. Corsets with more than two layers aren’t really covered in this book since construction of those can be more complicated.

Julia describes terms such as negative ease, and how no two corsets look exactly the same on different people, because even when two people have similar measurements, their weight distribution in each dimension may be different. She gives tips on what a corset should do for the wearer when it’s properly made, and how to fit a corset, minimizing the chance of discomfort or unflattering effects

Julia also uses bulleted lists – I LOVE the use of lists, as they’re easy to understand, easy to read and help to not overwhelm the reader with a “wall of text”.

Tools and Materials:

Tools for making your corsets – she is big on the measuring tools because precision is a must in corset making. Patterning tools, marking tools, cutting tools, tools for your bones, tools for your eyelets or grommets, finishing tools. This is quite a large section because she not only tells you what you need, but how to use it and why it’s important. She even tells you what kind of needles you need and what type of thread to buy. This takes all the guesswork out for you.

Next she describes the hardware of the corset, which is basically anything that’s not the textiles. She describes the bones as the scaffolding or the framework of the corset. There are some tips and certain methods to tipping bones that I hadn’t heard of before I read this, so don’t assume you know everything!  She mentions the typical metal bones but also some substitutes – when these substitutes might be used, and what they’re also not good for.

Next is the textile section where she goes through the different types of fabrics for corset-making, including fashion fabrics, lining, several different types of coutil, and substitutes – once again, when substitutes might be used, or why they shouldn’t be used.

Construction Techniques:

Onto actually constructing the corset – this is a treasure trove. Her method of roll-pinning layers makes so

much more sense than my own video. As for assembling the panels, Julia does cover the basic seams for beginners, but her step-by-step instructions for a lapped seam is the best I’ve seen, and really helped me wrap my head around how to make them neat and precise.

She also shows you a really simply way to insert gussets. In her video tutorials, she’s very elegant, and makes the sewing process look so effortless.

There are also techniques for sewing very neat internal and external boning channels, so that the corset looks clean from the outside but still catches all the edges appropriately on the inside. She shows you how to make external boning channels and how to make your own binding, as well as touching on embellishment like adding trim, rhinestones or flossing – although not too much detail, she does give some useful tips as well as shows pictures for inspiration.

Fitting, and two projects:

Front cover of Corsetmaking e-book. Clicking through will take you to the store to be purchased.
Front cover of Corsetmaking e-book. Clicking through will take you to the store to be purchased.

Next comes the section on fitting – it shows you all the important places on your torso that you need to measure for a corset, how you should stand and even how to not hold the measuring tape!

There’s a pretty big section dedicated to fitting and adjusting the mockup, which if you’re familiar with fitting other garments, you’re also probably familiar with slashing or tucking – how to make it smaller or bigger in places – but Julia doesn’t just leave it at that. One important thing she mentioned is that sometimes you don’t have to change the overall circumference, but the distribution of the tension. She shows you how to slash one place and then go back and tuck another – this is how a beautiful fit is achieved. She shows what you generally need to do in order to solve common fitting problems – this section is absolutely invaluable.

Then she gives step-by-step directions on how to make a single layer corset and a double layer corset. Once again, I’m learning new things in this section, such as a really simple tip to get the edges of your binding neat and clean. The method for assembling the double-layer corset is ingenious, and worth the price of the book in itself.

Who is this book for?

It’s mentioned that this book is for the beginner to intermediate, but I think there’s something for everyone in this book. Even if you’ve never stitched a seam in your life, this book will inspire you, and even if you’ve been making corsets for years, there’s still a different or new technique somewhere in here for you. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

You can purchase the book for £15 (about $24) with free worldwide shipping from Sew Curvy, or from Vivebooks.

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“Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques” by Jill Salen – an overview

This is more or less a transcript of my video review of the same book – if you prefer to watch/ listen to the review instead of reading it, you may do so here:

I purchased this book for about $23 on Amazon. This book includes full-color photos of historical corsets, then patterns made from these corsets and notes on how they’re constructed or typical embellishments. This book is designed to be a supplement or an improvement to Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh, adding to the number of patterns and more detailed construction notes. Having 25 patterns in this book, this means that the price for each pattern was less than $1, which made the purchase well worth it to me.

The corsets range from about 1750 to around the time of WWI. There’s a section in the introduction that explains how corsets were dated (if they didn’t have the year of manufacture stamped on the corset). Curators gain hints by the way that these corsets were constructed. The earliest corsets were sewn entirely by hand and used hand-sewn eyelets and a wooden busk, whereas in the late 19th century had the luxury of sewing machines and many corsets were mass-produced at this time; they also usually had metal eyelets and a metal split busk. You can also gain insight to the year each corset was made, based on what silhouette was in fashion at what time, or ways of patterning – use of hip or bust gores, or cording instead of boning, etc.

Ms. Salen also discusses who would wear a certain corset and when they would be worn – certain corsets were designed for younger ladies verses matrons, women of higher class could afford to purchase more elaborate corsets or less practical corsets. Also, a proper lady may have several corsets – one for daily work, one for riding horseback, one for dances and special occasions. What country a person lived in also meant access to different materials or different fashions.

One interesting point she makes is that many of the corsets you see in museums are not representative of the norm – if you think about what clothes we save in our wardrobe, the ones that survive the longest are usually expensive clothes, those of sentimental value, and clothes that you keep in hopes of losing weight. Jill says this is no different from women 1-200 years ago! So the tiniest and the most elaborate of corsets are the ones that survive because they’re worn the least – so we falsely believe that everyone had an 18” waist at the time.

The meat of the book is a collection of 25 corsets from 1750-1917. For each corset there’s a full color photo, followed by a blurb explaining what materials it was made from, and notes on construction or embellishment if you want to make a period-accurate recreation of it. There are also interesting notes where applicable – for instance in the 1917 corset Salen explains how many of the textiles were rationed due to the war, and so new, cheaper synthetic fibers were made in lieu – they also found ways of making paper twine, paper cording, even paper thread to minimize the cost of clothing during this time. After these photos and notes, you find a pattern for each corset. The patterns are drawn out conveniently on a grid, with a legend so you can size it up easily before adjusting the measurements if you wish. On the patterns there are also marks for boning or cording placement, grainlines for the fabric, eyelet placement and “balance marks” (aka notches) so you know

“Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques” by Jill Salen.

what panels are sewn together in the correct order.

After these patterns the book gives you two “projects” – step-by-step instructions how to make a corset two different ways: a hand-stitched corset from 1790, and a machine-stitched corset from about 1900. The techniques section in the back shows you period-accurate hand-stitching, what’s appropriate at the seams, at the eyelets, at the binding, etc. It shows you how to do basic flossing and cording, and how to insert a busk.

It also has a bibliography for further reading, URLs for various museums which hold corset collections, an index, and a list of shops that supply specialty corsetry items (which is a little odd because a German store is listed under UK and a Canadian store is listed under US).

My personal thoughts:

I found this book an easy and quick read, considering it’s mostly patterns. I did learn some new things in here, such as techniques for hand-sewing and the little historical or political anecdotes associated with the corsets in each time were interesting. In the section of current corset manufacturers she only mentions two (Symingtons and Vollers), which I consider an unfairly small sample size. Having a color photo of each corset so you have a clear view of what the end result is supposed to look like, is useful, I especially liked extra photographs of how stays were finished on the inside, and wish that could have been done with all of the corsets,  although I can understand if a museum wouldn’t allow that. But despite the two projects in the back, you MUST already have knowledge basic corset terminology, and how to construct corsets – how to adjust the fit, how to sew panels together, etc. in order to make full-use of this book. However, I will still always keep this book in my collection. It’s a fantastic resource for period corset patterns, and even if I were to make every pattern in the book, I would still keep this book to look at the pretty photographs. ;)

The cheapest place I have been able to find this book (price + shipping) is on Amazon. You can view the book and read other reviews about it here.

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“Corsets and Crinolines” by Norah Waugh – an overview

This post is a transcript of my video, “Book Review: Corsets and Crinolines” which you can view here:

“Corsets and Crinolines” is a book containing historical summaries, corset diagrams and patterns, and collection of period letters, articles and other fashion publications directly pertaining to women’s undergarments. Written in 1954 when corsets and fluffy skirts were coming back into fashion; Ms Waugh observed how fashion trends were cyclic and discussed how small waists and big skirts came in and out of fashion 3 distinct times in history. Each of the three eras are given their own chapter:

  • Chapter 1 is dedicated to the 1500’s – 1670 when the pair of bodies became popular and the farthingale (the predecessor of the hoopskirt) was first seen in Spain.
  • Chapter 2 is from 1670 – 1800 when the stays and hoop petticoats were fashionable.
  • Chapter 3 is from 1800 – 1925 when the corset (as many of us know it today) were popular, as well as the crinoline (in the Victorian era) and the bustle (in the Edwardian era).

The Chapters

Each of these chapters contain a section on the history of these garments: how they came to be , how they spread in popularity, what they were made of, etc. The next section in each chapter contains references to the garments from contemporary sources – bits and pieces of people’s journals, diaries, poems and song lyrics, articles from old newspapers. One thing I found interesting is how in every era, there are people who both love and detest the fashion. One particular entry I noted was written by a man who was convinced that corsets and hoopskirts were a sin because it allowed a woman to lie about about the shape of her body – they gave the impression of a small waist and wide birthing hips until she removes the garments. I can see how that would be a disappointment, but a “sin”? That’s a bit of a catch 22 since a lady would be considered loose and indecent if she hadn’t worn this foundation gear.

The Illustrations

Corsets and Crinolines cover. Link will take you to Amazon.

As far as the illustrations go, there are over 100 illustrations in this book. All illustrations are described and listed in the front of the book so you can find the page of what you’re looking for. Some of these visuals are old paintings done as far back as 1560’s, all the way up to photographs taken in the 20th century. There are portraits of ladies, caricatures and fashion/costume sketches. This book also contains a ton of patterns. Every section includes scaled-down patterns of the stays, the corsets, and the hoopskirts, true to the period, so you can make your own. Later editions of this book include a legend with every pattern, showing how much each one should be scaled up.

The Appendices

There are four appendices total: the first two are instructions on how to construct corsets and hooped skirts. The third appendix talks about “supports” (the bones) – the book touches on everything except whalebone – they discuss geese quills and cane in corsets, saplings in farthingales and steel hoops in crinolines. The fourth and last appendix is entirely dedicated to whalebone: the book explains where it comes from, (the cartilaginous jaw of the baleen whale), and the fishing industry and its role in economy – how people reacted to the rising prices in baleen when whales became endangered.
Lucy’s side note: 
If you have never seen what baleen looks like, watch Disney’s Finding Nemo at the part where Marlin and Dori are trapped in the whale

Lastly, there’s a glossary of terms in the back and a pretty exhaustive index.

Who is this book for?

This is a must for fashion historians and those interested in first-hand accounts of fashion. You can buy it for the patterns, there are approximately 25 patterns included so it works out to $2 per pattern – just be aware that there are no step by step instructions.

One important thing to note is that many of the contemporary sources are in French. This isn’t a problem for me because I can somewhat read French (I read it a lot better than I speak it, anyway) but if you can only understand English then only about half of the written content of this book will be useful to you.

The cheapest place I have been able to find this book is on Amazon. You can also see select pages inside the book on the Amazon site.

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“Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself” by Sarah A. Chrisman — an Overview

I admit it. I’m terrible at book reviews. So many years of working in biology labs have conditioned me to treat every publication the same way: study, jot notes, report results relevant to my own research. Opinions are frowned upon by the Board. (At least I got to sneak in some alliteration.)

My video review, despite being 13 minutes long, feels painfully short and superficial. In reality, the raw footage of the review was over an hour long, wherein I combined Chrisman’s research and experiences with my own and discussed possible (soft) conclusions to certain questions regarding physical, psychological and societal impacts of wearing a corset. Alas, most people these days don’t have 13 minutes to spare, nevermind an hour.

This book used to be called “Waisted Curves: My Transformation into a Victorian Lady” and was self-published and hand-made – Chrisman carefully hand-folds each page, sews them together, and binds the cover in your choice of cloth, silk or leather — the way that books were made in the Victorian era. Due to the print or weave on the cover fabric, no two books are exactly the same. You kind of feel the love and the labour emanating from this. The price of this book, $40 for cloth-bound and $49 for either silk or leatherbound, is well-justified just by how much work must have gone into assembling the book itself — but the contents inside are worth much more.

Now the book has been picked up by a publisher, it has changed its name to “Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself” and is available on Amazon.

The book is essentially a memoir of Chrisman’s first year (and a few months extra) of corset training – in this time, her waist is reduced from 32” uncorseted to 22” corseted – she changes the way she carries herself, and her style of dress so that essentially she is transformed into a “Victorian lady” by the end of the book. If this book were made into a movie trailer, I have a feeling that it would look like a typical “transformation” or “make0ver” movie (e.g. Clueless, She’s All That, Teen Witch, Princess Diaries, etc). Let me tell you now that those movies are garbage compared to this book. “Waisted Curves…” is a non-fiction, first-hand account of what it’s really like to make such a transformation (not only in appearance but also in health, grace and building one’s knowledge) – it’s not an overnight change, and it’s not without its challenges.

A not-so-brief summary of events (SPOILER ALERT)

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“The Basics of Corset Building” by Linda Sparks: a review

Linda Sparks is the owner of the company Farthingales which has a store in Stratford, Canada. I purchased the 2008 hardcover edition of “The Basics of Corset Building” back in very early 2011, for less than $20 – the cheapest place I found it at the time was on Amazon. It’s only 77 pages long, but don’t let that fool you – it’s chock full of information. There’s no froth in here – pretty much no history or filler; just instructions.

If you prefer to watch the review instead of read it, you can view my video (from last year) here:

In the foreward Ms. Sparks jumps right in by saying that anyone who can sew a straight line can sew a corset. Her methods are friendly yet no-nonsense – she does a good job of saying “yes, there’s a lot of fine detail and many steps to constructing a corset, but building a corset from start to finish doesn’t have to be scary.” If you’re willing to put in the work and practice some patience you can make a corset.

There are four sections in the book:

Section one focuses on what you’ll need to make a corset. She dedicates a chapter to each of the tools involved like awls, bone cutters, pliers etc. (I believe you can preview this chapter on Google Books.) There are also chapters on textiles (being the strength fabric and fashion fabric, waist tape etc.), and also a chapter on supports and hardware of the corset – the bones, tips, busk, and grommets. Most of the materials in this section you can also buy directly from her online store.

Section two explains in detail the steps of putting a corset together. How to cut and tip bones – both steel and plastic – how to insert a busk, how to insert grommets, working with lacing tape, tipping your laces, applying binding, etc.

Section three goes into techniques. Ms Sparks teaches you five different ways of making a corset: single layer that can be altered or not altered, double layer that can be altered or not altered, and lastly a corset that has a pretty fashion layer.

Section four goes into customizing corset patterns, namely Simplicity and Laughing Moon patterns, and how to fit mock-ups and alter your corset to your body. She also provides inspirational photos of the same corset patterns made with different fashion fabrics to show you how drastically they can change the overall look.

There’s also a glossary of terms at the back of the book. Throughout the book any words you see in bold you can find in the glossary.

My Personal Thoughts

Going through the other reviews of this book online, I notice that a lot of people complain about grammatical errors. Reading through the book myself, I admit that some errors jumped out at me, but I can forgive that because this book not supposed to be a literary masterpiece, it’s an instruction manual. It’s still perfectly readable and easy to understand and the content is good.

Pictures:this book is bountiful with pictures, both black and white photographs and diagrams. I liked how

“The Basics of Corset Building” by Linda Sparks – 2008 edition book cover

many pictures were featured, but for the total beginner corsetiere I think there could be fewer simple diagrams and more photographs. If the next edition of the book were to include colour photos that’d be great too. I understand depth and dimension a lot better in colour pictures compared to greyscale, and this would make it easier to keep track of overside and underside of fabric during the sewing instructions.

Succinctness: The title of the book is not misleading in any way: it goes through the BASICS of corset building and it is a handbook for BEGINNERS. If you have no knowledge whatsoever in making a corset, then this book is a fantastic resource. However if you have already made a corset before, you may be a little underwhelmed by this book. Many of the techniques like using an awl, applying grommets, inserting a busk, making internal boning channels, adding binding to the edges of a corset etc. I learned just by following instructions that came with the Simplicity 9769 pattern. However for those who like multiple resources, who like to learn about slight variations in construction methods or who just like to read the same methods explained in different words, then this book would be a great addition to your collection.

The photo of the corset on the cover of the book is gorgeous, but in the book it doesn’t teach you about diagonal bone placements or cording or any flossing techniques featured on the corset on the cover – I think this book has a lot of opportunity to expand in the future – Ms. Sparks could possibly add a chapter or create another entire book on advanced techniques. I did learn a few new things from this book but wish there could have been a bit more on finishing, embellishment etc. I was quite happy with my purchase anyway, as it is another way to support the corset making community and keep it alive.

You can read other reviews on this book or purchase it from Amazon, here.

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“Corsets: A Modern Guide” by Velda Lauder – A book overview

I choose to call this an “overview” rather than a “review” because I have decided that I’m terrible at reviewing books. I give “spoilers” (if such exist in history) and don’t inject much of my own opinion into reviews. What I simply aim to do is tell you all the different interesting things you can expect to learn in this book, in more detail than I have given in my video or this post. If you prefer to watch/ listen instead of read, here is my video review:

What can you expect to learn in this book?

This book has a heavy focus on the history of corsets. It starts at the very beginning, with primitive corset-like garments worn by the Norfolk, Boadicea the Celtic Goddess, a statue of an ancient Crete goddess, incredibly old drawings and paintings – these all portrayed women wearing leather bodices as armor: waist cinchers complete with adjustable lacing, since other methods of closure (like buttons) hadn’t been invented yet.

It also touches on how almost every culture has some form of body modification – food binding, neck stretching, etc. And now cosmetic surgery is prevalent – it’s a human need to “reinvent ourselves,” Lauder says.
She mentions that women are not the same shape and size that they were in the Victorian era, due to health and nutrition – therefore she says it is necessary to modify the shape of the corset to fit a modern woman.

Corsets throughout history were different shapes and had different purposes – either to flatten curves and give a more child-like silhouette in the medieval era, or to give a conical torso in the 16th century, then a natural shape in the Regency era where corsets were higher and more resembled bras, then to give an hourglass shape and accentuate curves in the late 1800s. However it’s important to note that not all of this shaping was done by corsets, pairs-of-bodies etc. Padding was also used on the shoulders and hips to accentuate this silhouette. Corsets and other under-clothing was also used for warmth, and to prevent the body from staining the outer clothing as bathing was less frequent.

The book touches on how fashion was different and similar between the wealthy and the more “industrial” classes – namely, how the wealthier classes deliberately dressed impractically, to show that they don’t have to do hard physical labor. However, both high and lower classes did wear some form of the corset.

Letters and newspaper columns of the time show opposition of the corset mostly from men – however, women’s fashion endured because of older women – the mothers, grandmothers and maids. Therefore, corsets were not forced upon women by male misogynists.

“Corsets: A Modern Guide” book cover

During the 1800s, both men and women wore corsets (as I had mentioned in my men and corsets video), especially those of higher class, as it promoted good posture and showed that you were an “upstanding” citizen. King George IV was one of these corseted men.

Modern designers like Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Alexander McQueen are known for their corsets created in modern materials like metals, latex, plexiglass, scales and feathers – they combined the traditional with the fetish with the surreal.

Christian Dior was responsible for the New Look fashion in the late 40’s / early 50’s. This book also touches on Chanel, Jacques Fath, and others. Vivienne Westwood, called the Mother of Punk in the 70s, was one of the first people to wear a corset as outer wear. Punk and fetish fashion rose together at this time. There was also of course the goth movement in the 80’s, Madonna’s corsets in the 90’s, and today, corsets have evolved once more in steampunk fashion.

Other sections mention the Burlesque side, featuring Bettie Page and Gypsy Rose Lee in historical context, and Dita Von Teese and Immodesty Blaize in modern Burlesque.

Yet another chapter is dedicated somewhat to fetish of corsets. The first known corset fetish stories are published in the “English Woman Domestic Magazine”, though the stories in here have been largely dismissed as fantasy. However this establishes a different between corseting and tight lacing. Almost all women corseted everyday at a light reduction, but did not necessarily tight lace. In modern day, extreme tight lacing and other forms of body modification like piercings, tattoos, implants, branding etc formed a marriage – Fakir Musafar is referred to as the father of modern body modification.

Galliano and Mr Pearl both promoted the couture / high fashion side of corsetry, the heavily embellished pieces that were works of wearable art.

The last chapter is the “modern girl’s guide to corsets” – Corset 101 – how to choose the correct size, how to lace it up. The end of the book includes interviews from three of Velda’s models and their personal experiences.

My personal thoughts

The book itself is well-written, there are few if any errors. This book is MUCH easier to read than certain other history books, and was capable of keeping my attention.

I noticed in the historical section it jumped around a lot – I would have preferred for it to focus on one fashion era at a time, for instance devoting one chapter to each fashion era, instead of the current organization. In this book, the silhouette would be one chapter, and it would describe the silhouette in one era compared to the next era. Then the next part focused on the skirts: how the skirts in ‘that era’ compared to ‘that other era’. I found that with the current organization of this book, it had a tendency to repeat itself. However this may be useful for people who don’t want to bother reading the whole book but instead pick out the chapters that they want to read, as those chapters are able to stand alone.

Some people have said that this book is too “Velda-centric”. There are a lot of her corsets in here, and it does mention her introduction to the modern corset industry and how she pioneered some styles – however, it says in the preface that this is HER journey through history – it wasn’t written by a historian per se, but by a designer. It isn’t meant to be read like an unbiased textbook; it is definitely pro-corsetry. I’m not surprised that so many of her designs are featured throughout the book, and I wouldn’t hold this against her or the book at all.

In all, I enjoyed reading this book (and looking at all the pretties in the book!) and I’m currently enjoying combing through the bibliography in the back to learn more about the history of corsets and fashion. You can read more reviews on “Corsets: A Modern Guide” or to purchase this book on Amazon here.