Books On Corsets


My husband purchased a bunch of books on corset making for me, so that I’d have a variety of resources to turn to while I’m in the process of making mine. I decided that I want to give my review on each of them, and perhaps help someone else decide what book(s) would be the most useful to them.

Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen
This is my favorite of the books that my husband purchased for me. The author sounds like she is very familiar with corsets, and begins the book with a very interesting introduction — she even makes the point that the corsets that we have from historic periods are probably not representative of their everyday clothing, since the ones people liked best were worn until they fell apart. The book consists mainly of colored photographs of various corsets with descriptions, each followed by a drawn diagram and 1/2 scaled pattern for it. In the back of the book are basic instructions on how to assemble corsets, including techniques like “cording” and “flossing,” which other corset books don’t cover (or even mention in most cases). I personally think that this book would be more useful to someone who is already adept at sewing and pattern alteration, since a complete beginner would probably get lost. The only thing that I didn’t like is that at times the author sounds almost apologetic about the existence of corsets.

Corsets And Crinolines by Norah Waugh
This book covers undergarments from the beginning of the 16th century through 1925, and includes a number of corset patterns that can be scaled up and used. The focus of this book is the historical context of women’s fashion, and it includes a large number of period quotes, illustrations, and political cartoons. I imagine that this book would be extremely valuable to someone who is interested in historic reenactments, or who just likes studying garment history for its own sake. For the purposes of garment construction it’s a supplemental material, but not very useful on its own.

The Basics of Corset Building: A Handbook for Beginners by Linda Sparks
The keywords here are ‘basic’ and ‘beginner’. This book covers the very basics of corset construction, including necessary tools and materials, how to handle and measure for boning, as well as simple fitting adjustments. There is a lot of very useful information here, but the author focuses more on theatrical costume construction than I’m happy with — she references more advanced techniques, but then neglects to give any information about them because they are “too time consuming for theatrical purposes.” She also recommends using eyelet tape in place of inserting the eyelets into the fabric, which makes me cringe. I know it’s different for costume pieces which are only going to be used a few times, but I really don’t like the idea of cutting corners to save time when it substantially reduces the quality of a garment.

The Little Corset Book: A Workbook on Period Underwear by Bonnie Holt Ambrose
I think that this book is very cute. It has a few different patterns, including a pair of drawers and a chemise, and instructions on how to sew them together. It has fun illustrations, various ideas on how to embellish the basic patterns, and calculations on how to resize the patterns to achieve a personal fit. It’s not detailed enough for someone who has never made a corset before, but it’s an excellent supplemental resource. Since this book is so small, I frequently worry that it will get lost.


One thought on “Books On Corsets

  1. Thanks for the great reviews.
    One of the books that I find very inspirational is ‘Underwear: Fashion In Detail’ by Eleri Lynn published by V&A Publishing (Victoria & Albert). There isn’t a lot of information about construction and it covers more than just corsets, but the photography gets up close and personal. A great reference material.

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