From Olde Towne East To "Mercy Street," Corset Artist Makes A Stitch In Time

Apr 24, 2017

Military women, brides and historical re-enactors have two things in common: Larissa Boiwka, and her corsets.

Working out of a master bedroom-turned-studio in her old Victorian home in Olde Towne East, Boiwka's business Wilde Hunt Corsetry hears from people in countries like Dubai and Russia, stay-at-home moms, and television producers. 

“I get clients from all over the world,” Boiwka says. “I would say 90 percent of my clients are outside Columbus, Ohio.”

One of her works could be seen on the PBS show Mercy Street, which commissioned Boiwka to make a Civil War-era corset.

“It’s such an unusual request, so you’re not expecting it when you get an email from PBS or from Vogue," Boiwka says. "It’s kind of fun.”

Vogue contacted Boiwka for a project as well, but they ended up not working together because the deadline was too tight. Corsets aren't a quick creation.

Boiwka's studio is neatly organized, with patterns tacked to one wall and a few sewing machines line another. Her work table sits in the middle of the room, natural light pouring in through tall windows.

Right now she's working on a late-1800s-style corset, made with a cross woven silk using two colors of thread for an iridescent effect.

Larissa Boiwka has made corsets for PBS' Mercy Street and brides - but the one she's working on now is just for her.
Credit Adora Namigadde

“This, believe it or not, is going to be for me, which is a very rare thing that happens,” Boiwka says. “No one had requested such a thing, so I needed a good sample of what is possible for the 1800s.”

Boiwka got into corsetry by accident. She studied anthropology at The Ohio State University, and didn't exactly plan to make corsets for a living.

The first corset she made was an experiment, when she wanted to dress as the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia. 

“I wanted to create the battle costume where she has the lion's mane and was wearing this really cool leather corset," Boiwka says. "That was the real first attempt I made at creating a leather corset.”

Each corset begins with a set of about 20 measurements from the client, which they get from a tailor. From those, Boiwka creates a mock-up of the product.
Credit Adora Namigadde

Equipped with a love of history and sewing that her mom instilled, Boiwka became captivated by the amount of work involved. She started getting requests from friends, and word of her craft spread. 

“You just kind of have to learn as you go along,” Boiwka says. “There really wasn't anyone I could go to for advice.” 

Boiwka joined the online community Livejournal and befriended artists from around the world who helped her build her craft. 

Everything Boiwka makes is custom-ordered, and she’s usually working on several corsets at a time. A simple corset worn as an undergarment could cost $400-500. An ornate corset could easily cost $5,000.

“It starts with a set of about 20 measurements of the client, and they can email it to me," Boiwka says. "I recommend they go to a tailor to have this done.”

A simple undergarment corset costs around $400-500. A more ornate one, like this corset with roses based off a Tudor Bible cover, could easily cost $5,000.
Credit Adora Namigadde

After receiving these measurements - like bust to waist and front hip and back hip - Boiwka makes a mock-up or toile that the client tries on in-person or remotely.

“That tells maybe 50 percent of the story," Boiwka says. "You get the framework and then you have to figure out how the body is going to sculpt.”

Every person’s body moves differently under corsetry, so this is where she makes adjustments unique to the wearer. 

“I can see where the alterations need to happen," she says. "If there is gapping, if the area looks a little too tight, I adjust the pattern and a second mock-up is created.”

The mock-ups are then adjusted based on ease, a fashion term for the looseness of a garment on the body, or its slack.

“It gets a little larger in the bust and the hips as you take down," she says. "So obviously nothing is vanishing, it has to go somewhere.”

Boiwka likens the process to creating a sculpture. It’s a love she wants to share with others.

Boiwka has created corsets for the PBS drama Mercy Street, set in the Civil War era. Hannah James wears one while playing the character Emma Green.
Credit Anthony Platt/PBS

She teaches classes on artisan techniques that she incorporates into her pieces, like tambour beading and English gold work.

“I’d like to explore maybe having some social events based on historical costuming next," she says. "I’m obsessed with Victorian balls right now.”

April 2017 marks 10 years since Boiwka began creating professionally, and she doesn't see herself stopping anytime soon.

“Until I get bored or people get bored of my work I guess," Boiwka says, laughing. "It hasn’t happened yet.”