History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

29 June 2012

Lacing a Corset

Ok, so a bunch of people asked how I could tell the “self-lacing” 1830s corset on Two Nerdy History Girls was actually designed to be spiral laced.
Reproduction Regency-era stays
with correct spiral lacing
 So we’re going to take a quick look at the all important detail that lets us know that the fascinating lacing cheat on this corset is not original to the design. There are two ways to lace things: spiral lacing and cross lacing.

Spiral lacking is when the corset is basically sewn shut. The lace is anchored at the top or bottom and then laced down or up. It’s easy to spot a spiral laced corset, because at the top and bottom, on opposite sides, the eyelets are half-spaced. In almost all the images I can find online of extant corsets, they have been laced incorrectly (which is why they are often tilted or uneven). Historically, almost all extant examples are spiral laced until you start to see the 2-part metal busk employed in the Victorian era.

Victorian speed-laced corset
Cross lacing is how most people tie their tennis shoes. A cross-laced corset will have the eyelets evenly distributed. This method became the go-to option when the 2-part busk began to be used, because it meant that you didn’t have to unlace the corset to get it on and off. You just had to loosen it and pop the busk. Speed-lacking is a type of cross lacing. With speed-lacing, you take all the extra lacing and move it to the middle of the corset back. This allows most women to get into their corsets themselves and it also tends to help her reduce her waist as much as possible as all the tension is concentrated there.

Detail of the 1830s "self-fastening" corset
 If you look at the detail of the corset in question, you can clearly see that it has uneven eyelets on one side [left side top], and was thus originally designed to be spiral laced. I’d love to know at what point someone added the amazing self-lacing feature to it, but I’m not sure I’d want to wear it, as in my experience, even a tiny bit of wonkiness in the lacing can lead to major back pain. And cross lacing a spiral laced corset equals major wonkiness with the fit. You can see this in the unevenness of the lace pattern at the very top.

While I certainly respect the curators who displayed and dated this corset, and I absolutely think the 1830s date for the corset itself is spot on, I think they did a disserve by not mentioning that the lacing is a later alteration.  

Ok, someone said they still can’t see it. So here’s the entire back. I’ve circled the offset eyelets in red, and you can clearly see that one side of the corset has been raised up in order to facilitate the cross lacing. If it were spiral laced, the top and bottom edges would be even, as the eyelets wouldn't be jury-rigged into alignment.

Click on the image and you can get a much larger version where this is all easy to see.


Blogger Sara Freeze said...

Thank you for including the images and instructions on lacing a corset. I saw a corset once at a museum in Charleston and had no idea about the cross lacing.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

You're welcome. I know this is kind of obscure stuff, LOL!

7:03 PM  

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