Costume and Graphic Design

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Corset Design, Drafting, Construction Pt 1

I have mentioned before that corset making is currently beyond my skill set. I still believe that to be true, but I will never be good at it if I don’t practise!

A good quality, well made corset will be comfortable and long lasting if cared for properly. These do not come cheap, and the supplies to make your own might save you a few dollars, but give you a huge headache if you don’t know what you are doing, and a back ache if you don’t do it well! In my personal opinion, if you want a good one that will hug your waist in all the right places, it is well worth the money to have a pro make one for you. If you want to make them yourself, be prepared to spend lots of time, some money, and don’t expect the first one (or several) to be as good as the ones you can buy!

I have decided to have another crack at making my own.

Some of the construction ideas and tips have come from Lucy’s Corsetry and various other places I can’t remember but have seen over the years on the Internet. I apologise for not linking to some sources, but I honestly don’t remember where I might have seen a certain technique that I found up to 8 years ago! I will source where I can.

For my first attempt, I will do an underbust, with a front busk and laceup back. I want a fairly flat front, with most of the reduction on the sides. I will make a 24″ waist, as I can comfortably cinch down to 26 right now, and 24 is my goal. This will allow me to comfortably cinch to my regular 26″, leaving a 2″ gap in the back while I continue to train down.

I took very detailed measurements of my torso, including ribs, waist, hips, front from waist to top, waist to bottom, waist to lap, sides waist to armpit, waist to bottom, back waist to top, waist to bottom, and across the front, I also measured the width between the centre front and the bottom of the curve under the breast, and from the bottom of the curve to the middle of my side. This last set of measurements will allow me to make the curve as comfortable as possible under the bra line. This corset will have a peak in the front.

A rough idea of where I took some of my measurements.

The front will be a total of 14″ high, and the back will be a total of 16″ high. I will have the solid busk in the front, giving nice tummy control, and spring steel bones in the back near the laces. The sides will have spiral steel, giving me the most comfort and flexibility while still providing strength. I currently have a corset with spring steel (the solid flat bones) in the sides, and I find it presses into my ribs and hips. This doesn’t allow me to cinch the waist as much as I would like, and creates pressure points on the widest parts of my body. Having spirals (the ones that look like squished coils) will allow the corset to flex inward at the waist, while allowing my hips and ribs the space they need.

Left: Spiral Steel.         Right: Spring Steel.

With my measurements, I took the computer. I work on a computer doing graphics all day, so this is very natural to me. Others may find a pen and paper easier to work with.

I made my artboard the maximum width of my hips, and placed guides marking my hips, waist, ribs, top and bottom peaks in both front and back. I used all those vertical measurements I took to place the guides in the right places, using the waist line as a base point. This is why I took all my vertical measurements from the waist, not just a total height!

I then marked out the general shape of the top and bottom lines. I refined this line using some of the horizontal measurements, such as the centre front to the bottom of the curve, and centre front to lap. This created the peaks and valleys where the corset will need to fit around my breast and my leg when I sit down.

You can see where the waistline is the area of most reduction.

Once the general shape is done, I added lines for the panels, using a different colour so I could easily tell where they were. I curved the lines inward for the waistline, making sure that the total width matched the intended waist measurement, in this case, for half the corset, the waist width is 12″. I did the same for the ribs and hip lines too, so that the corset as a curvy shape to it. I want only a small amount of restriction on the hips (they won’t move, so I just want it snug) and the ribs (I don’t want to constrict my ribs that much). This will create a more dramatic curve, rather than a straight hourglass, but it does mean that my bones won’t be under pressure, just the fleshy part in the middle!!

With the taped pattern, I am able to do rough adjustments.

Once I had everything double checked, I printed out each piece, cut them out, and taped the whole thing together. This way, I could check the shape, test the fit a little bit, and make sure that nothing is totally out to lunch! I did find that I had to take in a bit in the front, and add it into the side, because I had too much flair in the front panels. This made the front over my lap stick out. I want that belly to be nice and flat, not sticking out over my leg!! I took this opportunity to adjust the curves on the top and bottom, making sure that the pieces all lined up properly.

These now become my pattern pieces!! I cut the tape, careful not to cut the paper of the pattern pieces, and traced them out onto card. This gives me a nice sturdy pattern piece to work with, and preserves the original so I can compare, make further adjustments if necessary, etc.

So that is the construction of my pattern for my custom corset!! It was a lot of work, and probably about 4 hours of fiddling and drawing, printing, cutting, fitting, fiddling, adjusting, printing, cutting, fitting!

Next step is to make a mock up. This will allow me to insert the bones and really test the fit and comfort.

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Victorian Outfit – The Headpiece

My Victorian Geocacher would not have been complete without something to wear in the hair. I was in the fabric store looking for something else when I came across the birdcage veil material in black! It had been at least a year since I had seen any, so I snatched some up! That was the start of the inspiration that would become my little Victorian hat.

I bought a packet of hair clips from the dollar store. They are flower shaped with a large frame I can sew around. I thought this would work fairly well to clip the piece to my hair. It turned out to be a little flimsy, so I will replace it eventually, but for now it works.

I stitched this to a small piece of fabric. The fabric is much easier to attach to the final piece than trying to glue or stitch the clip directly to the back.

I found some lovely red cherry blossoms at the craft store. I clipped a couple of short stems.

I wound a ribbon tightly around the bottom of the stems and stitched it in place. This would hide the cut ends, as well as provide some material to sew the stems to the feather pad below.

I glued a couple of loose blossoms to the bottom of the stem to hide the ribbon and stitching.

I gathered one side of the birdcage veil material and stitched it together.

I carefully sewed that around the underside of one half of the feather pad. I had decided to wear the piece on the right side of my head, above my ear, so I attached the cage so it would hang down over that ear and the right side of my face.

To avoid damaging the feathers further, I glued the fabric with the clip to the inside of the feather pad. I am not usually a big fan of glueing, but sometimes it is necessary!

Trying to take a picture of the back of your head is always tricky!! I think it took about 20 photos and this was the best one!

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Corset Construction Attempt – Intro

Digging out my old “fashion corsets” and occasionally wearing my proper one has re-awakened my love of corsets! I have been scouring the internet for information, and have begun to follow Lucy’s Corsetry on Youtube. She truly loves corsets, and is willing to share her experiences, and provide tips and lessons on making your own. She has become an extremely valuable resource in my upcoming adventure!

Armed with my updated corset education, I have been looking for local corset makers, hoping to find an artisan to make a custom item for me. My goal was to have a solid, custom built corset to begin waist training. I was sadly disappointed. With prices soaring above $300 (which is fine for one of great quality) I didn’t see anything that I felt was of that value. The shapes were terrible and boxy, and it made me wonder if they would stand up to the strain of waist training. I’m not looking to shrink to 20″ or anything, but I would like to have something that I can wear regularly. I don’t know if they just didn’t bother to cinch them up properly when they took the photos, or if the patterns are really that flat, but there didn’t appear to be much waist reduction at all. One of the local corset makers does have a shop, so it might be worth while to go there and try one on. I was there years ago, before I  had the money to buy one, and was impressed at the time.  I have learned much since then, and it might be worth another visit. I will refrain from mentioning the names of the shops for now, because without an actual customer experience, I can’t say for certain if their products are good or bad. I just wasn’t impressed with the photos on their websites.

So, I will turn to what I do have. I own two corsets that are built for this type of wear. They are steel boned, with strong laces, and sturdy construction.

One I purchased after seeing the vendor at a convention. I didn’t have the money to buy one right there and then, but they did convince me to try one on. It was very comfortable, and fit like a charm. I took their card, and a year later, I did order one from their website, Felix and Kitty. I have mentioned them before in a previous post. I still find this underbust corset to be very comfortable. I have absolutely terrible posture from working at a computer every day, and I do find it tiring to wear it for too long, but I am never in any pain. I think that my body is fighting being in such an upright posture. After repeated wearing, I am certain that my shoulders and back will relax and I will not find it so exhausting to wear! I actually find that if I am more active while wearing it, the better I feel. Sitting for prolonged periods seems to be the trigger.

The other corset is an overbust, and is quite high in front and back. I get a very flat front when wearing this one. I have a fairly small chest to begin with, and this just squashes everything flat! And it comes up very high in front, so I don’t get the two hills on top. Just very flat in front. I can cinch down quite a bit in this one, even though it is fairly straight. It doesn’t have much in the way of curves, so I was expecting more pressure on my ribs and hips. My only real complaint in terms of comfort is under my arms. I am quite short, and so even though my torso is long in proportion to my legs, it is still very short compared to someone who is 5″ taller than me. The corset was designed for someone much taller than me (which might explain the height of the front) and it digs into my armpits a fair bit. It forces me to keep my shoulders back much farther than I normally would. I think I fell in love with the fabric, and I had it in my head that I was going to buy a corset that day. The one I actually wanted was way too small (it was about 20″) and the sales woman pointed out this beautiful black with gold dragons. It was one of the few they had in my size. (I think they get a lot of young women shopping there who have not yet developed the post-college spread.) Overall, this one is very nice, although because it is quite fancy and digs into my arms, I don’t wear it very often.

I have come to the realisation that I won’t find what I am looking for in my local shops…. kinda makes me wish I lived in Toronto where they actually have some fantastic corset makers! Instead, I am going to try making my own. I had dissected a very old fashion corset to discover (to my pleasant surprise!) it had spiral steel bones! I plan to use these to construct a new one. I also decided that I want a busk on this one. I found a Canadian supplier, Farthingales, and will order a busk (and a couple of spring steel bones for the back) from them. While I am at it, I may as well plan out my second corset and order the bones and busk for that as well! Just pay shipping once!

I have great plans to begin working on this…. and while I am super excited to sew my first real corset, I do have to wait unfortunately… my hope was to have it done in time to wear daily in the cooler fall weather. I may still be able to reach this goal, but for now I have a much more pressing project. I will be working on bridesmaids and flower girl dresses for a friend and her daughter. The wedding is in just a few short weeks, so my corset project will have to wait! Besides, this summer has been forecast as hot, dry, and long. We are just starting into the hot weather this week, and boy are we getting sticky! A corset would likely be quite uncomfortable for the next few weeks anyway!

Happy sewing!

Update: I did check out Nighshade Corsets on Whyte Ave. They do have another store on 124 street, but I was in the Whyte Ave area, so I decided to check out that location. It had been several years since I had been there. What I found was similar to what I saw on their website. The first time I went to Nightshade was many years ago, at their 124 street location, and at the time I was impressed with their selection. I just couldn’t afford to spend that kind of money. I was sure that they were making their own corsets at the time. Looking at what they have in the Whyte Ave location now, it appears that they are getting them manufactured somewhere, and I am sure the quality isn’t what it used to be. Most of their corsets were in the $60-$150 range, and none felt very sturdy. I saw many that used plastic zippers for closures! I didn’t try any of them on, so I don’t know about fit. Many of the sizes where “S/M/L” kind of sizing, which doesn’t give you the fit you should have in a corset. The good ones will typically be the closed waist measurement, such as 20″, 22″, 24″, etc, going up in 2″ increments. I was disappointed with the Whyte Ave location. I will update next time I go to the 124 street location. That was their original spot, so I am hoping that they still carry the quality I remember seeing there before. I think that their products are just fine if you are looking for something to wear for a night out, but if you are looking for a waist training corset, I wouldn’t buy off the rack there. I didn’t ask, but they might still do custom work, like they did many years ago, so I would suggest asking if you are looking for a training corset.