CORSET fabrics may be firm to the touch or soft, may be sturdy or luxurious. There is usually a purpose in their being of one kind or of another, and it is a telling part of salesmanship to be able to explain to the customer the rightness of a particular material to meet her own figure requirements.
Every good saleswoman will learn all she can about the materials that go into foundation garments, and will not only know their names and what they look like, but will understand their different functions. Most customers appreciate advice about the wearing qualities of materials, how to launder them, and why they are suitable for her own wear.
Corset fabrics fall broadly into two classes–rigid (that is nonstretching) and elastic. The rigid cloths can then be divided into four main types–cotton, rayon, nylon, and silk.
Pure cotton is thought by many experts to excel all other fabrics as a material for corsetry, and it is the fibre from which by far the biggest proportion of present-day corset cloths are woven.
It has the quality of absorbing body moisture, and so is a particularly hygienic material for next-the-skin wear, and furthermore, there is nothing to equal it in launderability–an important point in garments made for wearing close to the body. It is very hard wearing, and corset cloths made of cotton are specially constructed so that the garments made from them will retain their shape and not pull away at the scams.
Cotton is not perhaps so glamorous as some of the other corset materials, but it has its own beauty of crispness and freshness, and when mercerized shows a very pretty, soft lustre. Another of its qualities is that it takes and holds dyes particularly well, so that the delicate shades used in foundation garment fabrics remain clear even after repeated tubbings.
The cotton fabrics used in corsetry may have been woven from one of two types of cotton yarn. Carded yarns, composed of both short and long fibres, result in fabrics which are comparatively thick and soft, such as coutil. Carded and combed yarns, which go through an extra combing process, produce fabrics of lighter weight, with smoother surface and more "give," such as the fine batistes used in brassiere manufacture.
Rayon is not a natural material, such as cotton which comes from a plant, wool which comes from an animal, and silk which comes from the silkworm. It is entirely a man-made fibre, produced by a chemical method. In rayon, as in cotton, there are two types of yarn–continuous filament yarns, which make up into very smoothsurfaced fabrics, such as satin; and spun rayon yarns, composed of short lengths of fibre, which produce warm, soft, fleecy materials, such as gabardine.
Rayon is being improved constantly to increase its tensile strength and its resistance to abrasion, and it can be ranked as a durable and practical material even for such testing uses as are met with in corsetry. It requires some care in laundering. Rayon is weak when wet, so should be handled gently in washing; and some types melt under a hot iron. But it comes clean easily, so does not need hot water or a lot of pounding, and it irons easily with a cool iron; so there is no need to run into trouble when laundering rayon garments.
Rayon fabrics are often very beautiful, for filament rayon has a brilliant lustre and can be used with captivating effect in jacquard weaving (which produces brocades and broches–those fabrics with a pattern worked out with a thread for decoration).
Nylon is another man-made material, miraculously composed out of water, air, and coal. It is really a type of plastic. One of the sensations of the corset-producing world after the end of the 1939-45 war was the development of nylon as a corset material, and its remarkable strength and lightness give it some outstanding advantages.
Nylon is one of the strongest textile fibres yet produced, so that threads of very great fineness can be used without any diminution of durability. Gossamer-like marquisettes, net, and lace made of nylon can be used without lining and yet give firm support to the figure. Big women with a lot of soft flesh to keep in place will appreciate the fact that their corsets no longer need to look strong and heavyweight, but can, in fact, look exceedingly glamorous and delicate, for all their stern functional purpose.
Nylon is a non-absorbent material, but the disadvantages of this characteristic are overcome by methods of weaving which keep the fabric porous.
Nylon is easy to launder, but there are some mistakes which must not be made. Never use hot water or a hot iron on nylon, or it may melt. Being non-absorbent, nylon is easily washed clean with tepid suds. It dries very quickly, and it needs little or no ironing.
Pure silk is rare in post-1949 British corsetry, and is expensive, so that it really ranks as a luxury. It is easily recognizable, for its lustre is matchless, and it is incomparably warm and soft to the touch. Silk is the strongest of all the natural fibres, in spite of its lightness of weight, and it is hard-wearing, in spite of its delicacy.
Many corset fabrics are a combination of two kinds of yarn–cotton-and-rayon, for instance, or nylon-and-rayon. A rayon warp may be used with cotton weft, as in many types of batiste; and the shiny pattern of brocades and broches may be in rayon over a cotton background. A small amount of rayon is added to some nylon corset fabrics to increase absorbency and give a feeling of warmth for added comfort in wearing.
Batiste. Batistes are used as body cloths in light types of garments, as linings, for the best sections of one-piece garments, and for brassieres. They are made in plain weave from the finest combed yarns, and are very thin, soft, and fine. Formerly all cotton, they are now often made with rayon warp and cotton weft, or in all rayon.
Broadcloth. Somewhat similar to batiste in its fine, close, plain weaving, but heavier, and can be used as the body-cloth of a corset or corselette. Commonly of combed cotton, mercerized, but may also be of cotton-and-rayon.
Brocade or Broche. Brocades, or broches, are woven on special types of looms (jacquards) which produce a raised pattern, usually floral, on a plain background. They may be all cotton, all rayon or all silk (these being very luxurious and lovely), but perhaps the commonest types nowadays are woven with a cotton background and a pattern in bright rayon thread. Sometimes the background is a shiny satin and the pattern is matt. Brocades are firm and strong as well as beautiful, and are used as the basic material for many good quality corsets.
Coutil. A tough, firmly-woven fabric like drill, made from hard twist cotton yarns, and used in less expensive corsets. It generally has a herringbone twill effect in the weave:
Drill. Another firm, strong cotton fabric.
Gingham. An old type of fabric, but only recently used in corsetry, chiefly for novelty checked and plaid brassieres and suspender belts for young girls. Colourful, lightweight, hard-wearing, very launderable, in plain-woven cotton.
Jersey. Used for the crotch-pieces of pantie-girdles. Warp-knit fabric of any fibre, usually rayon.
Marquisette. Sheer but firm fabric in leno-weave, of rayon, nylon, or silk. Used for brassieres and bust sections, and now, in nylon, for light belts and step-ins.
Net. Very open-textured in geometric mesh formation–what Dr. Johnson defined as "anything reticulated or decussated, with apertures between the interstices" and a little girl as "a lot of holes with thread round them." Made in cotton, silk, rayon, and nylon, and much used for the bust sections of all-in-one garments, and as a lining for lace.
Ninon. Very thin, soft, plain-weave fabric which has a bigger field in corsetry now that it can be made of the super-strong synthetic fibres. Used for brassieres and bust sections.
Plush. Thick, soft, long-pile fabric like velvet, used to pad fastenings, shoulder straps, the ends of bones, the backs of suspenders, and other places where there might be friction against the wearer's skin.
Poplin. Plain-weave fabric usually made of mercerized cotton in two-fold double yarn, and showing a prominent cross-wise rib. Satin. Smooth, lustrous fabric woven so that the warp threads form a shiny surface on the cloth. The glossy side may be silk, rayon or nylon (the most brilliant of them all), and the back may be any of these, or cotton.
Taffetas. Fine, smooth, crisp fabric with a delicate sheen, in rayon, silk, or nylon. Used for the front panels of belts and step-ins, and for bust sections and brassieres.
It is claimed that a very large proportion of women can now be satisfactorily fitted with all-elastic corsetry, and some manufacturers avoid making heavy, boned corsets and limit their designs entirely to elasticated models. If not all-elastic, most corsets contain elastic somewhere, probably in small gores which aid fit and comfort, and, of course, in the suspenders.
Elastic fabrics vary quite as much as rigid ones in formation and texture, and fall into two classes–woven and knitted. The woven types are firmer than the knitted, and are therefore more used in corsetry for heavy figures. At the same time, some of the strongest and best of the elastic corset fabrics are those knitted on hand looms. This type of elastic is commonly seen in corsets specially made to give surgical support–proof enough of its excellence. Unfortunately, knitting of this kind is a dying craft, sons no longer following their fathers in the practice of it, as was done for generations.
Whether knitted or woven, the fabrics are made from yarns which consist of a rubber core wrapped with cotton, silk, rayon or nylon (see Chapter IX). In spite of their complicated construction, some of these elastic yarns are very fine and make up into extremely lightweight, yet strong, fabrics, such as net and lace. Here is a list of those chiefly used in corsetry.
Elastic Batiste. The same weave as cotton or rayon batiste, but it can stretch one-way or two-way. It is fine, but strong and firm, and is used in corsets of good quality for figures which need firm control. Two-way stretch sections are inserted into the garments at places where the wearer will get most benefit from two-way stretch. Oneway stretch sections are placed where it is desirable to control the body firmly in one direction. In such corsets, designed for firm control, some rigid material (as, for instance, a front panel) may be used along with the elastic:
Leno Elastic. A firm, lightweight elastic in leno weaves, which show a small, close pattern. Gives slightly more "glamour" than batiste.
Knitted Elastic. Knitted in what the home knitter would call "stocking stitch," and varying considerably in thickness. Used for the side panels of belts and corselettes, and for the whole body part of some of the less expensive types of corselettes. The soft front panels of maternity belts are made of knitted elastic, and narrow knitted bands are used at the waists of rigid-cloth lacing corsets, and in diagonal bands across the abdomen for especially strong control. Roll-ons are knitted in circular form "blanks" which only need finishing at tops and bottoms.
Hand-knitted Elastic. Its most valuable characteristic is that panels can be knitted in any shape or size, and fashioned (with narrowings and increasings) to any kind of fit. That is why it is so practical for surgical corsetry, and why it appears in luxury garments where price is no concern.
Raschel Elastic. A warp-knit fabric which can be made with intricate and lacy patterns.
Net Elastic. Just what its name implies. The "threads round the holes" are elastic.
Cable Net. Net with a coarser mesh.
Lace Elastic. Made just like lace, in beautiful designs, on lace machines, but the threads are elastic and the fabric has all-way stretch.
All elastic fabrics made for corsetry can be laundered not only safely but with advantage, for washing revives the power of stretch and contraction in the rubber. Only tepid suds should be used, and the fabrics should not be ironed.