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.
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
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.