Date: c. 1890s
Fabric: Cotton twill
A corset in beige cotton twill. It is structured with corded panels at the bust (a technique in which thin pieces of cord are stitched into fabric channels, to help stiffen and strengthen the fabric), baleen bones throughout the body, and wide flat steel bones at the side seams. A stamp on the garment interior makes reference to ‘baleine’, the French word for baleen.
Although it is often colloquially referred to as ‘whale bone’, baleen is in fact a comb-like, keratin based structure found in the mouth of baleen whales. It is strong, flexible and lightweight, which made it a popular material for structured garments. Its eventual decline in popularity was largely due to overfishing of the baleen whale, with scarcity gradually making the material less accessible in comparison to materials such as steel and coraline. Today, the baleen whale is deemed endangered, and the use and trade of baleen is largely outlawed.
The corset is embellished with flossing embroidery, a decorative and functional technique that helped secure bones within their fabric channels, and reduced the risk of them tearing through during wear. The embroidery on this particular corset appears to be stitched entirely by hand, rather than by machine. A woven trim embellishes the garment neckline. The centre busk fastening is rather unusual; rather than the standard studs on one side of the busk, there are hooks that lock into the loop side of the fastening (although this is difficult to see in photos). The loop side of the busk is engraved with decorative starburst motifs.
Many thanks to Fiona Ibbetson for assistance with object research.
From the collection of Karolina Laskowska
Museum number: KL-2020-012