The Necessary Bones

17th and 18th century corset construction employed the use of patterns.  As the wasp waist become more prevalent during the 19th century corsets were cut specifically to the female figure and were supported with more or less bones depending on the body.

The particular areas of nineteenth century corsets that needed to be supported by whalebone were indicated in “The Workwoman’s Guide,”by a Lady, 1838:

    • A steel in the middle, which should be narrower at the top than at the bottom, and confined in a strong wash leather, before being put in the stay case.
    • Two bones at the extreme ends to prevent the holes from bursting beyond the edge.  And commonly a second bone down each back, on the other side of the lace holes.
    • Bones between the front bosom gores, on each side: but these should be very thin and elastic, and are seldom wanted unless the wearer requires much additional support.
    • Two other bones, on on each side, from about a nail below each arm-hole to the bottom of the stay.
    • A few slight rib or cross-bones are sometimes put in.

A history of whaleboned sleeves and the development of curves:

Solidly Whaleboned lining of bodice (c. 1680)

Fully-boned Stays (1730-1740)

Pattern of Stays from Dierot’s L’Encyclopedia, “Tailleur de Corps.” A half-boned stay (1776)

Half-boned stays (c. 1780)

Fully-boned short stays, there are extra whalebones round the large armhole. (c. 1793)

Lighter and Slightly boned stays (late 1790’s)

Stays made in two layers; lightly boned. (late 1820’s)

Pattern for corset to be boned on each seam (1844)

Corset silhouette 1870s-1880s

Black Coutil Corset, with elastic insertions (mid 1890’s)

Corset with complicated boning of front (c. 1901)

Pattern Credits: Norah Waugh. Corsets and Crinolines. New York: Theater Arts Books, 1970.


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