Making a Waist, The Delineator, Sept. 1901

Posted by muhammad nasrudin

The original article by A. L. Gorman is fairly long, so I thought I'd summarize the points made.  They're helpful, for both modern and historical sewing.  The first is definitely something I should keep in mind!

"Of all the work incident to dressmaking the construction of a waist requires the most minute care in every detail.  Many women claim that it is impossible for them to make a waist successfully, particularly a boned waist.  While difficult, the task is not insurmountable.  If extreme care be observed all through the work and sufficient perseverance exercised, to the extent of ripping and re-ripping any portions which may not have been properly accomplished, one can be reasonably sure of a good effect.

The great trouble with the general run of workers is lack of thoroughness.  They start out in the right spirit and with great expectations at the first difficulty courage is not allowed to fail, but the next perplexity discourages; when, at a third trial, it is found that the same seam necessitates ripping a second or even a third time, they become disheartened, the whole thing seems entangled and is either finished carelessly or cast aside.  To achieve complete success, one should determine to do the work as carefully as is within her power.  After repeated trials, when patience seems exhausted, it is well to rest, to put the waist away till the next day - if the worker is freed from anxiety the necessity for rectifying will be more apparent and the work pursued with renewed interest."



  • Waists should have the linings made up and boned and the dress material draped over it
  • Pin seams in the lining, then baste them with small running stitches, sewing darts from the top down.  Then try it on and use pins to alter it.
  • Don't cut too much into a tight armscye, especially in the front or on the bottom.  Instead, make 3/8" snips into it, so that you can make sure not to cut into the seamline; if it's still tight, take off a tiny bit and deepen the snip a little.
  • Baste the alterations and then sew the seams (except the shoulders and those under the arms) just outside the basting, so it can be pulled out easily.
  • Notch the seams at the waistline, two inches above the waistline, and an inch below it if the bodice is long enough.  Then press the seams open to add the boning.  Try several types of boning to decide which works best for you.
  • Turn the lining so the seam allowances face out, unless the dress material is light and sheer.
Figures 1 and 2, showing the proper heights of the boning on seams and darts

  • Arrange the boning so it just touches the top of the darts.  If using featherboning, sew through it from half an inch from the top to an inch from the waistline.  You can get a featherbone machine foot at any featherbone parlor!
  • Set a bone just outside the basting line that marks the center front on both sides of the closure.  It should be half an inch shorter than the first dart, and crowded at the top like the bones on the darts.  If there's only the width of a normal seam allowance on the other side of the basting line, cut a narrow piece of crinoline the same shape as the basting line to back the hooks and eyes.
Figures 3 and 4, showing how far out the eyes should come, and how the hooks can be sewn down

  • Turn the allowance over the bone at the basting line and catch-stitch it down.  Sew the hooks on 1/8" from the edge and an inch apart, putting a few extra stitches in those at the level of the tops of the darts, as there is the most stress at that point.  If using featherbone, you can sew right into it.
  • Slip a bias strip of silk under the bills of the hooks and hem it as close to the edge as possible with whipstitches.  Turn under the other edge over the crinoline and hem it.
  • Pin the center front edges together and use chalk to mark the side opposite the hooks for the eyes.  Sew the eyes on so they just extend past the edge, sewing through both rings and the sides of the eye.  Face the eyes in the same way as the hooks.
  • Both hooks and eyes can also be sewn on with a buttonhole stitch, extending up the shaft of the hook and around the loop of the eye.  This sets them in extra firmly and also makes a nice finish.
Figure 5, showing the front of a waist made the way described below

  • To begin draping the outer fabric, put the lining on a dress form and pin the dress fabric over one side according to the pattern.  Then take it off and make the other side of the front match it, being extremely careful if both sides are meant to be symmetrical.  Put the fabric over the lining back and drape it as well.
  • Join the outer and lining pieces together at the side seams, and baste the shoulder seams.  Try the garment on, making alterations in the seams if necessary.  Press the seams open and bind or overcast the allowances.
  • Bone the side seam of the lining and  all the way up to the armscye, which is "the method pursued by all first-class dressmakers".  The featherbone should be sewn slightly to one side of the seamline.  Crowd the fabric at the top of the bone (which means to ease the seam to make sure the boning doesn't pull) and spring the bone itself (pull the seam taut to force the bone to curve in when it's sewn) within an inch on either side of the waistline for shaping.
  • Stitch, press, and finish the shoulders.  If the waist's waistband is to be worn under the skirt, the lower edge can be bound with ribbon or turned up and faced.
Figure 6, showing the same waist from the back

  • If the waist hooks all the way over on the left side, the method is mostly the same.  The left edge of the left front of the lining should be faced with dress fabric before the seaming or darting begins.  This facing is best cut flat, in the shape of the edge; if it needs to be seamed, do it at the top and bottom of the armscye, on the bias, pressing the seams flat so they are inconspicuous.
  • Bone and seam the lining, which still hooks down the center front, and the hooks and eyes can alternate if using plain rather than spring hooks.  Hook the lining together and pin it to the dress form to drape the dress fabric over it.  Then baste the lining and dress fabric together on the right side; mark the left edge of the dress fabric with basting.  
  • Fit a piece of crinoline around this edge, and turn the allowance over it and catch-stitch them together.  Add hooks as shown in Illustration 8, and cover them as before with bias-cut silk: the shoulder and side seam facings should be cut straight and pulled into shape, but the armscye facing should be cut to shape.
  • "In a waist of this kind the back may be stretched over all seams including the under-arm form, or, if preferred, the under-arm form may be covered with the material and inserted separately.  In either case the lining having the [dress] material facing is joined to the left side."
  • Set in the sleeves, then pin the dress front over to the left side and mark where the thread eyes should be on the facing with chalk.  Work them in buttonhole twist right on the seam, using at least three strands for the bar and doing the buttonhole stitches very close together.  They should be about 1/4" long.  The writer stresses the fact that these thread loops need to be made very strong.
Figures 7 and 8, showing the method for making a side closure
 "It is not so unusual to see these loops pulled out of shape and broken, simply because the maker has been careless in working them in the beginning.  Too much stress cannot be placed upon the fact that care should be observed not only here, but all through the making.  Thoroughness, perseverance and patience - these are the qualities necessary to make a success if one wishes to pursue dressmaking as an art.  Without these one can never expect to gain proficiency.  Even if one should not wish to follow it as a business there is no reason why skill should not be sought and finally acquired, for 'a thing of beauty is a joy forever' here as elsewhere.  A well-made gown with every detail exquisitely worked out represents intrinsic worth and constructive perfection and is an evidence of the manual deftness of the maker.  Additional information upon the foregoing subject will be given in the next number."

To help you get ahold of some featherbone!