The Heirloom Corset

It's October! October heralds beautiful Fall colours, ground frost in the morning and long walks with the pup in the crisp, cold air - oh, and it's Corset Month over at Emerald Erin's Bra-a-Week Challenge!

And what better way to kick off the challenge than with my Heirloom Corset.

Heirloom Corset by Michelle Gier Photography

This is a corset that I made for a very special photo shoot that took place in the Parlour last weekend. It's also a very special corset to me as it honours several generations of women in my family.

Meet my great-grandmother:

This is her in her teens, she's the tall one in the back row on the right and this would have been taking shortly before her life changed forever.

It was around this time that she was taken advantage of by the farmer next door. This sexual assault resulted in a pregnancy, and back then this was a huge disgrace. She was sent off to a home for unmarried mothers in the big city where she, and other 'fallen women' like her, where sent for the duration of their pregnancy. She was now 'soiled goods' and no longer marriage material.

She returned to the village with her baby, and her parents did what they could to help, but the stigma was a hard one to bear; and her father demanded that the culprit make amends. As well as being a farmer, the culprit was part of a family of housebuilders and a small house was built in the village for my great-grandmother and her child to live. However, with no income, life was hard and the house had to be rented out to tourists in the Summer so she and her little girl lived in a shed out the back. During the Second World War, that shed became their permanent residence as the occupying forces commendeered the house for themselves.

Yet despite the hand that fate had dealt her, her spirit was invincible, she was a good mother, a friend to those who needed help and a wonderful grandmother to grandchildren and great-grandchildren when they came. She was particularly fond of me apparently, finding my headstrong personality endearing when it would drive my mother to distraction.

When my parents got married in 1967, her wedding gift to them was heavy cotton bed sheets. My mother knew her grandmother would have had to save a long time to afford these, so she treasured them. And when my mother died, I inherited them, unused and still in their original packaging. Times have changed and heavy cotton sheets have been replaced with easy-iron, fitted sheets and beds have gotten longer and wider, so these were sadly redundant.

Until now, when I needed to make a corset for this photoshoot where we were to re-create some of the gorgeous vintage shots on this website. The women in those shots were generally also considered 'fallen women' as their appearance in such a state of undress was considered most inapproriate for a young lady; and I considered that my own 'fallen' grandmother would think this is a very appropriate use for her sheets - to make something wonderful to celebrate the beauty and courage of these women.

As I was aiming to recreate a vintage looking corset like that of Rose on the Home page of the website, I decided that the best thing to do was to self-draft a pattern and make my own version, another thing I figured my great-grandmother would approve of. This 12 panel corset would have a slightly higher back to mitigate angel wings, with a straight-ish front. A little broderie anglaise ruffle along the top edge would give it a feminine and playful feel, and stop it being too plain and severe.

Then I had to make a choice, to conform to the design expectations of the time - that this be solely used as an undergarment, with garters attached and white boning; or to make it possible to wear this as outer wear and to make it a little more striking. Again, my great grandmother provided the answer - her whole life had been contrary to the convention of the time, so what the hell, black external boning was clearly the way to go!

With the decision on external boning made, I decided to make this corset using the stitch and flip method which gives a little less bulk and added the bone casings to the centre of each panel on the outside instead of the inside.

Once constructed, I added the broderie ruffle and bound it in more of her white sheeting.

I am in love with this corset, not only because I think the final result is really quite spectacular, but also because it's made with the love, spirit and courage of several generations of women in my family.

Heirloom Corset

In creating this corset, I hope my niece Chantal, will continue the family tradition of strong willed women who defy convention and keep this heirloom for the generations to follow.

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