Hot! The ‘Madame Monet’ Underbust Corset

I had so many patterns that I wanted to re-make for this challenge.  Some I had to pass on because they were too time-consuming, many others because I didn’t have the right fabric in stash, and a few because I’d already made them more than once.  In the end, my choice came down to practicality:  I’m super busy, I had this corset started because I was planning to use it for last week’s challenge (before I gave away the bones) and I do adore the pattern, and am so proud that I’ve managed to develop such an easy, versatile, teachable corset pattern, and I’ve only done one underbust corset as a Sew Weekly challenge.

The inspiration for this corset was Claude Monet’s portrait of his wife, Camille, who he painted in a kimono against a background of Japanese fans, reflecting the mania for all things Japanese that was sweeping Europe in the wake of Japan’s opening to the West.

Claude Monet, Madame Monet en costume japonais, 1876, Collection of the MFA Boston

I’ve like way the underbust corset echos both an obi and the Western fashions of the 1870s, playing on the influences in Monet’s painting.  And I love the fabric I chose and the way it also echoes the blend of East and West: using traditional Japanese motifs and weaving techniques for a fabric that was intended for the very Western practice of quilt making.

I lined the corset in some fabric left over from my Ice Cream Banana blouse, and bound it with some vintage polished cotton.  I wish the front busk was gold, to match the gilding on the fabric and the gold grommets and aiglets, but gold busks are almost twice the price of silver, and take weeks to order in.

For the photoshoot I pinned all of my Japanese fans to the wall to mimic Monet’s painting, put on a 3/4 length black silk kimono and a LBD, and did my hair in my best deshabille 1870s bun.

I’m wearing the corset quite loosely laced because I’m still finding it a tiny bit difficult to breath properly after being sick.

I have a newfound respect for Camille Monet after posing for these pictures.  The arm and fan angle in Monet’s painting are really awkward to hold, and craning my neck back like that gave me a terrible crick in it, and I only had to hold that pose long enough for the camera to snap a few shots!  Poor Camille, even if Monet was working from a photograph (something we know some Impressionist painters did, especially with portraits), standing in that pose for the length of time required with 1870s photographic technology would have been no picnic!

At first I played with making my photos more ‘impressionistic’, but since I photographed against the plain background, there was nothing to blur but me, which rather ruins the point of a garment post!  Instead I’ve sharpened them slightly, to give a bit of an ukiyo-e ‘floating world’ effect.

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric: .5 metres of Japanese fan-print barkcloth ($5), .5 metres of cotton voile left over from the yellow challenge ($3), 1m coutil for flat lining (been in my stash so long I can’t remember what I paid for it).

Pattern: My own

Year: 2011

Notions: Corset busk, spring steel boning, feather boning, corset laces, aigletes, grommets, binding ($65)

And the insides? Practically reversible

Hours to complete: 6, stretched over 6 weeks

First worn?: Monday 17 December for photos

Wear again?: Maybe.  I do have a lot of these!

Make again?: Oh yes, I make this pattern almost monthly!

Total cost: $73


Leimomi Oakes - The Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes learned to sew as a child in Hawaii, and hasn't spent a day without doing it in the-more-years-than-she-would-like-to-admit-to since. When she was 18 she was nicknamed 'The Dreamstress' and bought the domain name, and now she's stuck with it. After getting degrees in Art History, Costume Design and International Relations she worked in a number of fabulous museums before going freelance as a textile and fashion historian and historical seamstress. She lives in Wellington New Zealand with a lovely husband and a world-famous cat.


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  1. I love it! That fabric is divine, and I love that you own so many fans! FANtastic job. ;)

  2. That fabric is precious! What an interesting use of it in a corset and the black kimono sets it off so stylishly. Your photoshoot is pretty fabulous too. Those are really nice fasteners on the front even if they are silver.

  3. OMG!! that is gorgeous, CLEVER CLOGS! Just love the fabric you chose and the photo’s are so. much. fun. My daughter wants one :P

  4. This is gorgeous – I never would have thought about wearing one over a kimono, but of course it works! I would love to spend a semester taking you classes on textiles and costuming…if only I weren’t on the other side of the world. And you know, didn’t have a job to go to.

  5. I love the way you’ve interpreted the Monet painting! Isn’t it funny what we discover about the artists intent & process when we try to re-create some of these? Your under-bust corset is beautiful and I hope you’re finally feeling better : ) I can’t believe the year is almost over! Maybe I can finagle a trip to Australia next year with a stop-over in New Zealand or vice versa…

    • Thanks! One of the big things that I do as a researcher is recreating processes in the way the artist/seamstress would have did it originally to understand the maker’s intent and why things are the way they are.

      I can’t believe the year is over either! I would LOVE to see you in NZ next year! I’m also trying to get back to the Bay Area. It’s been far too long!

  6. This is beautiful. The fabric is so much fun and so colourful. That Monet is fabulous too, you’re so right about that pose though. I’ve only ever covered corsets before, before I started sewing proper I used to buy cheap corsets (though only steel boned) and cover them in sections, sewing edges down with contrasting bias tape over the top, bottom and bones. I think one of my bigger projects next year will be to make a corset from scratch. I’m up for a challenge, especially if it could look half as good as yours.