WEEKEND: Port Townsend woman brings past to present with corset book
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Chrisman family
Sarah Chrisman wears her Victorian attire — sewn by herself — along with her corset, whether traveling on the Washington State Ferry system or bicycling around her hometown of Port Townsend.

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — When Pippa Mills used to visit Port Townsend, she hoped to catch a glimpse of the woman bicycling about town in Victorian garb, corset and all.

“What an extraordinary woman,” Mills remembers thinking.

So when she moved here and opened Pippa's Real Tea in August 2012, she wanted to approach the corseted one.

But “I was nervous,” Mills said.

“Fortunately, she approached me.”

Turns out she's Sarah Chrisman, a licensed massage therapist who phoned Mills to ask whether Pippa's Real Tea might have seated chair massages as an available service.

Her business is Gilded Age Massage Experience, and she's been giving seated massages at Pippa's for well over a year now.

And yes, Chrisman wears her corset beneath her Victorian blouse and long skirt when giving massages, when bicycling — and when writing.

Chrisman is the author of a book that's drawn the attention of journalists across the world: Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present and Myself.

Chrisman has been interviewed by reporters from Australia, Italy and The New York Times, and scheduled book signings at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co. and other bookstores.

Saturday reading

But this Saturday, she'll give a reading from Victorian Secrets at Pippa's Real Tea, 636 Water St.

The 3 p.m. event is free, while copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing by Chrisman.

Firsthand experience with a corset came on Chrisman's 29th birthday, when her husband, Gabriel, presented her with one.

She has always loved learning about history; the Victorian era was her favorite. Yet Chrisman wanted no part of this corset. She'd specifically told Gabriel not to buy such a thing.

“I had heard the old wives' tales and stereotypes,” Chrisman said.

She tried on the corset anyway and found that it suited her fine — better all the time.

Water into a vase

The organs that a corset surrounds are mostly hollow, she noted, so when you put on the rigid garment, it's like pouring water into a vase rather than into a balloon.

“Once I started wearing it on a regular basis, my waist diminished very, very quickly,” Chrisman recalled.

“After a month of wearing it every day, I could push my arms down the front and wave them around.”

She now owns several corsets, some for everyday wear plus a few antiques she includes in her presentations about Victoriana.

Chrisman's book is about her first year with a corset, from March 2009 forward.

She finished writing it in late 2010 and began selling hand-assembled copies.

Then she sought a literary agent, who sought a publisher: Skyhorse, which picked up Victorian Secrets in January of this year.

“I'm very excited to see it out in the world,” Chrisman said.

One of her favorite things about the numerous interviews with reporters, she added, is having a chance to dispel those wives' tales and misconceptions about corsetry.

Chrisman has another book signing set from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at Sea Salt Cottage, 1007 Water St. in Port Townsend, and said she'd like to do more around the region.

What about Victoria?

“I would love to go,” she said. “I just need an invitation.”


Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: November 28. 2013 4:12PM
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