Corsets were worn by almost all women in the nineteenth century. They provide support for large, heavy skirts as well as shaping for the garments of the era. Laura speaks of her frustration with her corsets in her books. However, she would not have worn a dress without one.
[Laura's] corsets were a sad affliction to her, from the time she put them on in the morning, until she took them off at night. But when girls pinned up their hair and wore skirts down to their shoe-tops, they must wear corsets.
--Little Town on the Prairie
Corsets in the 1880s were not considered optional. An 1880s dress would look very odd without the proper undergarments (The Pragmatic Costumer does a good job explaining this in her blog post). This is not very different from modern underwear. Most 21st century women don't go out in public without a bra of some sort. So, in many ways, the corset is not different from our modern bras. It provides support and shape and for our bodies and our clothing.
I ordered my corset kit from Sew Curvy Corsetry. It was the most affordable corset kit in the style I desired and had good reviews. I began my corset in April and it took me until November to complete. Because it was my first time sewing a corset, I would discover I needed a certain tool, piece of advice, or a tutorial before I could continue. Then my corset would stand untouched for a couple of weeks before I got back to it. For this reason, it took me much longer than I expected, or was necessary.
I wanted a corset that fit well to my shape, which is why I opted to make my own. Because I was completely new at it, I chose a kit with full instructions and all the supplies. My corset kit came with white coutil, spiral boning, a regular flexible busk, eyelets and a setting tool, and laces. This corset had no lining. Prior to beginning the process, I watched a lot of videos and read blog posts on corset construction. There are a lot of great resources available, and whole blogs devoted to corsetry, both modern and historical.
The most difficult part was probably the binding. I wouldn't have guessed, as I've done binding before. What I found was that I had not left enough excess at the top of my pattern, and my bones here slightly too long (they came pre-measured in with the kit). Also, I should have left the boning channel tape a little longer than the pattern. I didn't think about this until I was trying to stuff my boning into the channel so I could sew binding over top. As a result, my boning is now pushing on the binding. I tried a few different methods of fixing this, but its not an immediate issue, so I have just left it for now. Eventually it will probably push its way through the binding, but I can always add new binding. I'm not too worried, as this is my first corset and I feel certain I'll make a new, better constructed one in the future.
I started reading the Little House series at a very young age. My sisters and I played Little House, I built log cabins out of blocks, and made little Ma, Pa, Laura, Mary, and Carrie dolls. When I was twelve, I got the chance to go on a trip through the mid-west, stopping at almost all of Laura's homes. That was when I began to see Laura as a person, not just a character. On that trip I met so many enthusiastic people who wanted to tell us all the historic and gossipy facts about the Ingalls family and the people they knew. It was fascinating, and it brought a level of reality to Laura's story that I had not seen before.
Laura’s story is a very typical American concept. It is very picturesque and beautiful, and I think that is why people are initially drawn to it. But when you get past the pretty parts, you are left with the gritty, dirty, day-to-day moments, and those are my favorite. There are beautiful moments, but there are also hard moments. Pioneer families, cowboys, and the western movement, are all romanticized by media as an "American dream" and the Little House books feed into that story. Covered wagons, cotton print dresses, and baking bread all seem very nice, but the reality was often much harsher.
I often find textbook history unexciting. Learning about wars, great events, and famous people gets dull quickly. I believe the reason so many people say that history is boring, is because it was taught to them through this widespread method. Most people don't learn to love history through big events, but through personal connection. Whether that’s local history, a museum, genealogy, etc. My hope with this project is to create a personal connection for people to Laura and to the 1880s.
I would like to share the ups and the downs of what life was like in 1880 Dakota. I want people to see the more complex character of Laura then what they see in the books and TV show. I want to show people a comparison to their 2017 lives. I want them to see the difference between the everyday items they use and the ones used in the 1880s. That’s what I find most interesting about history, and would like to pass on.
My name is Rosalie Silliman, I'm a history enthusiast with a love for sewing and costumes.