July 18, 2009

A Brief History of Imperial Measures

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Did you ever wonder why a foot was a foot and an inch an inch? We have, and we've been looking around for more information. Imperial measures have a rich history. The INCH comes from the Latin “unicia” meaning one-twelfth, but the size was first set by King David I of Scotland. He stated, about 1150, that an “ynch” should be the same width as a man’s thumb at the base of his nail. The length of an inch was redefined by Edward I of England in the 13th century as the length of three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end-to-end.

A FOOT in many cultures is based on the average feet of the population. A foot from Northern England was about 10 inches long, whereas a Roman foot was just over 11.5 inches. The Polish had the largest foot measuring 14 inches. The YARD began as the distance from nose to out stretched fingertip of King Henry I who ruled between 1100 and 1135. Those of us working regularly with fabric still use a similar length to roughly measure a piece of fabric. The work “yard” is derived from an Old English word meaning twig or straight branch.

(special thanks to R. I. Davis, our favorite tailor and a wealth of information.)

July 4, 2009

Natural Coutil: it's green!.. well that means natural colored fibers (and it's made in the USA)

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coutil>COUTIL: cou⋅til/kuˈtil, -ˈtɪl/ [koo-teel, -til] –noun a sturdy fabric constructed of a compactly woven herringbone twill.

Origin: 1850–55; <>

Coutil, also spelled coutille, is a fabric that has been used in corset making since the fabrics origin. The reversing angle of the twill wales contributes to it’s toughness. It is a perfect match for use with steel or whalebone.

At Period Corsets® we make our stock corsets in 100% cotton Natural Coutil, an unbleached fabric. We always pre-wash the fabric before we make the corset; this pre-shrinks the cotton so our corsets are ready to be worn and washed or dyed to any color of the rainbow.

In the early days of Period Corsets, we offered corsets in White Coutil only—our signature color. We quickly realized our clients wanted other colors, so we added options like black, peach, and pink. Two years ago we changed all our stock corsets from White to Natural. The Natural Coutil is not bleached, so it does not go through the same chemical processes that white coutil does. (It also has the added benefit of being milled in the USA.) The cotton fibers used in this coutil look like they just came off the plant, as natural as it comes.

Natural Coutil fits well with our customers needs--it’s still easily dye-able and doesn’t show stains as quickly as White. Since our corsets are used show after show, day after day, and stay in costume shops stock for years, it’s nice to have corsets that hold up well and maybe supports just a little our endeavor to keeping the earth a bit cleaner too.
Sometimes we go even further on sunny days and dry our coutil in the sun--whatever we can do to reduce our carbon footprint!
But whether the corset shows or the corset is truly underwear, a basic coutil fabric--herringbone weave, usually cotton--works best as the base. Coutil is strong yet flexible and can be used in either one layer or two, with a fashion fabric top-layer for a more decorative corset.

July 1, 2009

c.1770 Judith, July's Corset of the Month

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The c. 1770 Judith corset was added to our line early on, the fourth addition. This corset is the classic mid- to late-eighteenth century shape—what we call the “ice cream cone”. This corset is designed to moderately compress the torso, flattening and rounding the silhouette from bust to waist. The main feature of the Judith is the look of the bust, with all the curve showing above the corset, the bust swelling provocatively over the neckline; the corset flattens and pushes up the bust into the neckline. Interestingly, a larger-busted woman often needs additional support in this style of corset, and a smaller-busted woman usually does not. A banana-shaped pad (“bust banana”) is sewn horizontally into the corset about one inch below the full-bust line from side-to-side. The bust is supported by the pad and is discouraged from falling down into the corset.

Unlike the corsets of one hundred years later, the waist doesn’t need much compression to look small in this era—the wide, full skirts, held out by panniers or pads, accomplish this quite easily.

One of our first custom Judith corset projects was for a PBS Mini-series
"The War that Made America", with costumes designed by Virginia Johnson. Pictured below is the finished product. This custom Judith corset has a higher back, waist tabs, straps that are are not removable and they come around the shoulder. It is made in a heavy brocade satin dot coutil.

Ms. Johnson, the designer needed three of these custom corsets for the women in her documentary film about the French and Indian War. The corsets would be seen in the film so she wanted them to look right for her design. She loved the conical shape of our Judith c.1770, but she wanted to have more of a bodice feel. So we added the a full, high back with off-the-shoulder straps. She sent us three different kinds of brocade coutil to use for the final corsets. The tabs are purely decorative and were sewn on after the edge of the corset was finished.

Ms. Johnson's wardrobe department distressed the corsets for a more authentic look, shown in the scene below. After her abduction, the character Sarah Jemison assimilated into the Native American culture.

This screen shot shows the corset in its finished state, completely distressed. The captive had been traveling on foot and sleeping in the woods for weeks in her corset rather than doning it ready-made and sparkling-new just out the box from Period Corsets! Ahh...the magic of costuming for film.

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