Book review: “Victorian Secrets”

I got a copy of “Victorian Secrets” yesterday – In short, the book is about a woman who got a corset for her 29th birthday and decided she would wear corsets and Victorian clothing 24/7 after wearing it a couple of times.
It’s an unabridged audio version and I’ve had it on in the background while doing other stuff. I will admit that I am only about a quarter of the way through the book. I will post a review of the whole book when I am through, but for now I wanted to post about what I have read so far.

It’s entertaining, but I really have to comment on how much of this is snark about how other people dressed in historical clothing replicas look like “a sack” and other unnecessary jabs – at the stage I am at right now, she is still very new to historical costuming and is currently at her first event. AKA she is still a “n00b” herself.
She has also had a snooty rant about someone being horrified at her wearing antique clothes.

I used to wear my own Victorian stuff when I was younger (read: slimmer). In fact I wore Victorian or Edwardian clothing probably 50% of the time – I wore it to sixth form, I wore it for photoshoots, I wore it to laze around the house, I wore it as part of a burlesque performance and I wore it clubbing on more than one occasion.


The reason I stopped is that I caused some damage to an 1870s bustle dress and I was really really upset because it can’t be repaired. This was a very sturdy museum quality piece, it was extraordinarily beautiful, and I had damaged it. That’s not a nice feeling to live with. Because of this my attitude shifted from “It’s my property and it deserves to be appreciated if it’s in wearable condition” to “I feel I should respect the age of my antiques and preserve them for other people to love as well.”
I resolved that I would learn to make replicas – and make good replicas, and when I could do this, I would wear Victorian clothes again.

The thing is, it’s now been two or three years since I stopped wearing my Victorian clothing. It’s all packed away in the special wardrobes I have for it. I add to it when I can afford to, and sometimes I take particular pieces out to study when my knowledge and ability have increased a little and I can learn from them.

I’m getting there with the sewing skills which will allow me to make a full Natural Form era gown, but I do take a long time to learn new skills, and I know it would be very intimidating to most people and not just me.

It has also cost me over £300 for the materials for my first outfit, and that is using a material I don’t consider particularly expensive. It’s cost me c£50 to enrol on an online Victorian day dress class (which I consider a BARGAIN by the way, and I am really enjoying every moment of the class)

Making a good, authentic looking Victorian dress is expensive, and difficult. Commenting on the “polyester” dresses which make their owners look like garbage is unnecessary. Commenting on the “plastic childrens umbrella with some cheap polyester fabric adhesed to it” is unnecessary.

Not everyone can afford to buy a decent quality Victorian clothing replica. Not everyone has the skills or money to make one. Not everyone can afford an original wearable quality Victorian ensemble. Not everyone feels comfortable wearing one.

These are things the author of this book really seems to have overlooked at the start  – it’s a shame as the book is described as being about how she gained confidence, and if she continues to gain her confidence by sneering at the supposed faux pas of other people who are passionate about the same things as her but approach them differently, I think I will feel  a bit uncomfortable reading the whole book.

I don’t really see any difference between her attitude so far and attitude of a lot of people in the cosplay scene – if you don’t look exactly like your character you can’t cosplay them. If you are an ounce overweight you don’t deserve to take part and have fun with your friends. If you can’t afford an exact replica of the costume you shouldn’t be there. If you deviate at all from the film/book/comic version of the outfit you are a fake.

I’m pretty judgemental when it comes to corsets – I can’t stand seeing things put on upside down etc. What I am able to do, however, is realize that some people just don’t care. They are not into corsets for the same reason as me, and that is FINE. Some people just want a £20 piece of lingerie they can impress their boyfriend with and then chuck out – and that is fine. Some people don’t have much money and want to try a cheaper corset out before committing to something which will cost them £200+ and that is also fine. Some people are still learning about corsetry, at their own pace, and haven’t learned everything there is to know yet. They may not appreciate being told they are doing everything wrong, and they may make silly mistakes until they learn better. This is all fine. All of it. It’s just as fine as being a leading expert on corsetry and doing everything by the metaphorical book.

This goes for historical costuming too. It really infuriates me to see people in non-era-specific costume store stuff made from cheap man made fabric, but if that is what they are into at the moment that is fine. They aren’t hurting anyone, they’re just having fun with their friends. if they enjoy it, they might get more into it and invest in something more but if it’s just once with a group of friends because the event is local why *would* they spend £300 or more to look “right” ? They have as much right to be there as the people who go to these events every weekend and need everything to be stitch perfect.

All that said, I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book. I am anticipating more specifically about her journey with corsets, because this is what the book is supposed to be about. I am interested to see if her attitude changes as the book goes on  – will she embrace people who are in the same stance that she was before trying the corset on (OMG IT WILL KILL YOU) and try to educate them. Will she laugh it off when they make comments, or will she sneer at their ignorance the way she did  when she encountered this for the first time?

I want to stress that I do not have anything against the author of the book, and I really am interested to see how the book develops – I am just a bit frustrated that so far she seems more concerned with how her costumes are better than those everyone else has.


I now have an etsy store, which is purely for selling samples. I will not be taking custom orders through my shop.

I had some cheeky feedback about the photograph of the pale blue corset, in particular the shot showing the back. For a £20 discount on this piece, enter the code “KISSMYBUTT” before this time next week (13/05/2014)

Yay 🙂 my transitional era corset replica article was accepted for publication by Foundations Revealed 😀
Just need to finish it up now – I’ve been working on the embellishment and it has amazing Norwegian hematite and Icelandic glass beads on so it’s very Nordic (as a lot of my stuff is I guess!) Just need to get some garter/ suspender grips for it and I can finish it off! 😀


I have so little time to start new things, but so much I would like to do!
I am still awaiting my patterns so that I can start wotrk on my Natural Form set, but in the mean time I took delivery of some cool things this week. I have some more coutils as I like using the fancier things when I am making things for myself, and I have some more mesh for making sheer corsets. I have some more of the ivory I have used previously, but also some black:



I’m thinking of making a corset to match a bra I have from Agent Provocateur (sheer with black PVC casings) but I will no doubt end up making this for someone else instead of myself (one of the sewing rules I set myself at the start of 2014 was to stop giving my work away for free but at the moment my self confidence is too low to sell my old samples off or  to actually wear my work myself so I keep breaking the rule.)

Really hoping I can find a way to bring one of my domestic machines to Norway along with a few supplies to work on things but it doesn’t look hopeful T-T

I started making corsets eleven years ago. I knew nothing about corsetry, having never owned or actually even seen a real corset, and I knew nothing about sewing having never made … well, anything.

I wanted to share a bit about myself, and the long journey I have been on to where I am today. Please don’t let it daunt you if you are just starting out – most people do not take as long as I did to get to a semi decent standard!

So, here I am:
I was thirteen here and I was wearing a corset I made myself. It was the first corset I had made which I considered a success. Truthfully I had made three or four before this, but due to various mistakes (e.g not scaling up the pattern properly but having not made a mock up to check it, or using only a layer of silk and no bones) I consider this my first corset.



The picture is pretty low quality because I took it myself with the self timer and it’s getting on a bit now so I apologize for not being able to see the corset too well.

For some reason, because I had read through the Livejournal forums and all of the books I could get my hands on through Inter library loan, I considered myself an expert in corset making at this point.
Now I know that corsetry is a bit like driving in that I was definitely not an expert in driving simply because I had read the highway code.

I was partly in denial about my work not being great, but I was also convinced that if I just made more corsets, without changing anything, I would improve.

The result was extremely disabling, because for the next four or five years I did not improve at all.

I had plenty of ideas, and it was more than happy to execute them but in terms of the quality of my work, it did not improve at all.

corset made in 2005 from white bridal fabric with white butterflies, white lace and terrible half finished binding in blue:


Eventually I realized that I had to do things differently to improve, and the result was pretty dramatic.

corset one made in about 2007 but picture taken about 2012. corset two made in about 2010.


The thing was, the second corset was much better shape wise, BUT it still featured such gems as – no lining, no boning casings, boning channels created by sewing the seam allowance to one side, no clipped seams and so masses of wrinkles and my personal favourite “I’ve run out of time and so now I have to staple the binding in place”

Seriously… what in Gods name was I thinking when I did that? (this is why I carefully cropped out the top and bottom of the corset in this picture at the time by the way)

It’s a real shame because this was signed by a member of the band it has the logo for but I am too mortified to display it or anything.

So what changed?
Well, one of the biggest obstacles I overcame was my own ego. I realized I wasn’t any good. I wasn’t the new girl anymore and I couldn’t hide behind that. I started to see people who had once been “n00bs” that I gave advice to setting up shop and doing amazing things I was drooling over, and it hurt. I was upset about it. And I had two options – I could consider this a lost cause and give it up, or I could up my game.

Lucky for me, it was about this time that there was an interesting post made over on Livejournal. There was a new corsetry magazine starting up, and it had an article by Jill Salen who I admire very much.

I signed up – it was around christmas and I was very lucky in that my dad purchased a year long membership for me as a christmas present.

The magazine ( was one which delivered every thing I needed as a fledgling corset maker. It metaphorically took me under its wing and let me take baby steps towards improving.

I still took my sweet time, but I think that if foundations revealed had not come along when it did I would have given up. Now I look at things I have done recently and I think that would have been a real shame.

Some self indulgent pictures of recent work/ works in progress etc




I mean it sincerely when I say that none of these would have been possible without the help of FR.

The top two are plunge front – something I have loved for years and only recently mastered with the help of an awesome article over at FR.

Then there is a close up of my Edwardian replica – gores and gussets would not have been something I even dreamed of two years ago. Now with the help of Laura Loft’s article on these I am a pro.

The green one was roll pinned – a damned complicated concept explained in simple terms in an article published last month. (goodbye wrinkles, at long last!)

The bottom piece is a push up corset, a technique learned through another article.

There are many, many more examples I can give as to how this site has helped me over the years – both in terms of skills and ethos. Because there are so many articles now, nearly every challenge I face has a solution – for example while tackling my transitional era reproduction I knew there was an article on flat felled seams in corsetry to help me out.

I know I still have a long way to go – I don’t think I will ever reach the end of my corset making journey, and that is one of the reasons I enjoy it – but I have now reached a stage where I am confident in giving back to the community, and I would really like to do so.

There are loads of things I would love to write about such as:

* my experiences creating fully boned corsetry

* remaking all of my own antique corsets

*cupped rib corsetry

But this is where my (probably not so subtle) motive becomes apparent… to survive, this wonderful magazine needs to find another 100 members.

I wanted to share the value of this site for anyone who is unsure of whether they will get their moneys worth – let me assure you that you will.

I even shared embarrassing old pictures to prove it!

I know I am not Mr Pearl, I know I am not a revolutionary in my field, and I will probably never make waves – but you know what? I’m not bad. In fact,  I would go so far as to say I was good at corsetry now. I certainly have my strengths *cough* cupped rib corsets *cough* and I certainly do not staple my binding anymore.

Please consider signing up and seeing how far it will take your skills.




Hopefully some of you are subscribed to foundations revealed and enjoyed my article! =)
I bought the fabric for my Victorian set today. It’s a silk taffeta from James Hare. The underskirt and bodice are going to be in bone (cream, darker than ivory) and the overskirt will be very pale blue. The bodice should be trimmed with blue and also some gold couture lace I got from James Hare when I ordered the silk. It’s so exciting but my wallet is crying now as I needed eleven meters of silk and the lace wasn’t cheap either.

Sorry I have not been very vocal- rest assured I have been working hard, but some of that work has been on essays and revision so is of no interest to readers of this blog.
I’ve nearly finished my replica of the 1900s corset in my collection, and it is beautiful. I have also signed up for a Victorian dressmaking class and I am shopping for my fabric on Monday so will share my progress with you as I complete the course.