While sewing a historical corset for my scoliosis, I dove into how corset myths connect to Victorian medical history, sexism, and disability justice. Spoiler alert : it’s a familiar web of ableism, corsetry health scares, questionable Victorian medicine, and so much more. Oh, and in the meantime I drafted, adjusted, and franken-patterned an asymmetrical corset pattern to fit around my scoliosis curvature, avoid back spasms or aggravating my fibromyalgia, and support my shoulders and posture.
I just missed #ScoliosisAwarenessMonth, but that’s okay because now it’s #DisabilityPrideMonth instead!
When debunking corset myths, we’re quick to tell people that not everyone was tight-lacing and corsets were not torture devices. But that doesn’t mean a corset can’t cause back pain, especially if the corset fits poorly or the wearer (like me) has back issues already. Some Victorian doctors blamed scoliosis (sideways curvature and rotation of the spine) on corsets, while others thought medically-augmented corsets and corset-like back braces could treat it! Researching the connections between corsets and scoliosis led me down the rabbit hole of 19th century medical journals on scoliosis treatment. It turns out that all of the issues I’ve run into dealing with my back pain in the 21st century– sexism, ableism, eugenics, the bracing vs physical therapy debate– were all major parts of Victorian medical treatment too. Victorian doctors (and modern ones too) had such a strong focus on straightening out the spine for the benefit of everyone other than the patient. But as long as I’m comfortable, I don’t care whether my spine looks crooked or not. My corset pattern is not symmetrical, nor is it intended to look symmetrical on my body, because I would rather be pain-free and well-supported than hide my scoliosis.
To draft this pattern, I looked closely at what made the most comfortable corset I’d ever worn (one I modeled for Dark Garden) so special. After carefully noting how the shape of the hip spring avoided pressure that would cause back spasms, I combined and modified patterns from Aranaea Black, @Marion McNealy , and Ageless Patterns (all linked below) to build a completely customized corset. The shoulder straps and additional boning in the back help with my posture and take strain off my muscles, and the side-lacing in the hips allows me to wear bustle pads underneath the corset to cushion my lower back. The lacing gap isn’t straight up and down, but it follows the curve of my spine to avoid putting pressure directly on my skeleton. The finished pattern has small differences in the left and right sides that make it comfortable for my shape, and provides a great silhouette!
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Shina Mehr Shayesteh’s thesis on scoliosis treatment in the 19th century : https://digital.library.txstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10877/7430/SHAYESTEH-THESIS-2018.pdf?isAllowed=y&sequence=1
The “Sylvia” free pattern from @AraneaBlack : https://www.araneablack.com/modern-victorian-overbust-corset-pattern-sylvia-with-6-different-cup-sizes/
Marion McNealy’s patterns, including the Lorna pattern I used : https://www.etsy.com/listing/576519338/9-unique-edwardian-corset-patterns-1900
Ageless patterns #1290, a reproduction : https://www.agelesspatterns.com/1890_corsets.htm
If you don’t want to make your own corset, Dark Garden does great work : https://www.darkgarden.com/
Want my full bibliography? Stay tuned for more info!
0:00 Corsets can help with back pain?
2:00 Pattern-drafting, somehow
6:55 Sometimes mockups lie!
9:38 Actually sewing a thing
12:24 History lecture time!
19:54 Let’s finish this.
21:50 Important annoucements!
22:47 On with the corset!