Costume and Graphic Design

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Corset Design, Drafting, Construction Pt 5

Last time, I had pinned all the layers together, and stitched them into what will now be treated as one piece. So, each pattern piece has a layer of fashion fabric and a layer of coutil that have been carefully sandwiched together. Because my markings were made in white pencil on the coutil layer, I can still see my stitch lines and identification on each piece.

Here is the video I followed that explains how to pin everything accurately, and why you want to do so! (I am linking to specific videos for this segment, because this is where things get tricky… and a very clear explanation makes everything go smoother!)

Here is where I have a little blog-fail… I do not have photos of this part of the process. Oops! 
So, I cut out my lining and stitched those pieces together. I also stitched the outside pieces together. That left me with four sets of material: Outside left, outside right, lining left, and lining right. I followed these instructions on how to insert the busk: There is a knob side and a loop side. 
Next was inserting the waist tape and sewing the outsides and their corresponding linings together. I mixed up the order of the instructions, and attached my lining to the outside before I put the waist tape in. It did make it more bulky and awkward, but I managed! 
Now that the waist tape and lining are in place, I can flip this baby right way out!
With the busk closed, and the whole thing as flat as possible, you can see the general shape. The bottom should follow my lap fairly well (I will be test fitting while cutting my bones to size). The back is quite high, as you can see. I like the dramatic effect of it. Very few of my shirts and dresses have low backs, so if I want to wear this under my clothing, it shouldn’t show up there.
I tried laying it flat to see the shape, but it is just too curvy!

So I put it on a pillow to see how it was coming. There are no bones yet, so it does pucker and squish, but I am happy with it so far!

It is time to start sewing the boning channels! Yay! I am nervous about cutting the bones myself.
Just a little side note… I did design this corset to be 24″ closed. (That is not a huge reduction for me… my natural waist is 28″ last time I measured, and I have lost several pounds since then.) I measured the almost finished corset, and it is closer to 22″. Oops again! I probably won’t wear this one fully closed, so a modesty panel will be a good idea!

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Corset Design, Drafting, Construction Pt 4

With shorter office hours over Christmas, I thought I would take the opportunity to catch up on my corset making… nope. I enjoyed the time with family, several of whom were visiting from out of town and are seen twice a year. I am thankful for the time I have with them… the corset took a back seat. And it waited oh so patiently for me!

I finally stopped talking myself out of cutting the expensive stuff. I don’t remember how much I paid for the pinstripe, but I didn’t buy heaps of it, so it couldn’t have been that cheap. And of course, the coutil, which costs more than any other fabric I have ever purchased… But yeah, I finally did it. I quit making mock ups and went in for the real deal.

99.9% of the instructions came from Lucy’s Corsetry videos. She has fantastic explanations of putting everything together, inserting the busk and waist tape, grommets, bones, everything. I have learned some wonderful lessons from her videos.

I had planned to do an instructional entry on how I put this together, but I don’t feel that I am comfortable enough or familiar enough with the process to properly explain anything that I did. But, here are some photos and brief descriptions of my personal journey building my first real corset.

Here are my pattern pieces. I have labelled them with their number (1 is the front panel, 6 is the back panel). These are the stitch line pieces.

I have two versions of each piece. The blue ones include my seam allowance. This allows me to trace everything out as close as possible to reduce waste. I traced these out first, and then placed the stitch line pieces inside and traced them.

My pieces are all nice and snug. I kept the waist line perpendicular to the stripes on each piece so that my pin stripes will be nicely vertical on the finished corset, and not at funny angles. My pieces also alternate direction to reduce twisting. I did the same with all my layers. Because the pattern on this fabric doesn’t have an “up and down”, I can do this with the fashion layer too. Obviously, if your fashion layer has an image with a definite “up and down”, you can’t do this with that layer! But doing so with the interior layers will still prevent twisting in the finished corset.

Here is my pinstripe. I tried really hard to make sure that my pieces were straight with the stripes. I did tidy this up, as I noticed that my front edge on this piece was a little off. My chalk made a huge mess all over my table… white dust everywhere. I used the chalk on the fashion layer so it will disappear like a ninja… without a trace (that one is for you, Char!). White pencil crayon was used on the coutil layer, because that is going to be hidden by the lining, and I don’t want to lose my lines after I have manhandled the fabric.

A bunch of the pieces pinned. I carefully pinned exactly on the line, matching the waist line and stitch lines on both layers.

I labelled every piece. How ever you label it, as long as it makes sense to you the next day, next week, or whenever you come back to it next, have at ‘er. For me, an arrow pointing to the top, and two numbers worked well.

The first number is where the piece fits in sequence. I have 6 pieces per side, with 1 being at the front, 6 being at the back. The second number indicates if the piece is on the left or right side. I didn’t want to fuss with “is right when I am wearing it or looking at it?” or any other ambiguity, I decided that one side would be “1” and the other side “2”. So, my pieces are all numbered 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, etc for one side, and 1-2, 2-2, 3-2, etc for the other side. My lining pieces will be marked the same way, but with and “L” added so I know that those are lining pieces. That is important for the front and back panels, as they will have the same pinstripe fabric as the outer layer and I don’t want to confuse the two. This method worked well for me. Find what ever works for you. But do label them. If you remember one thing, let it be that. Label your pieces so you know what side and what sequence and what direction. I have sewn pieces in upside down or in the wrong order before. It was awful.

So, everything is cut, pinned, and ready to sew. That will be next time! We don’t need 30 photos of black blobs in one post… lets split them into two! Tee hee!

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Corset Design, Drafting, Construction Pt 3

My corset supplies arrived at the end of the summer, but with a couple other projects queued up before, I am now finally getting to the corset! I ordered a busk, spring steel bones (the flat ones, to put next to the laces for extra stability), and a coil of spiral steel and tips so I can cut the lengths myself. I also ordered a metre each of black and white herringbone coutil (the sturdy material for my strength layer, this is fabric specially designed for corset making and has no stretch). For my first one, I think I will make it with the black coutil, but I still  have time to make the final decision on the colour I plan to use for this first corset.

I want to state first of all, many of the tips and tricks I learned are thanks to Lucy and her wonderful Youtube videos on how to make corsets. Her instructions are excellent, and I do not wish to rehash them here. I will share my experience with following her instructions, as well as any other sources I my have found along the way. Where I have something to add to what is already existing, I will. So, the following will skip over some of the specific details in the actual construction:

First, I want to make a mock up. I keep my fabric in boxes sorted by colour, as that is usually how I determine what I am going to use. There are fabrics that I have that I would never use for a wearable garment, so I keep those in a separate box, regardless of colour. That is my “scrap bin”. I will use these materials for linings, under garments (like petticoats), and mock ups. I found a light blue cotton with very little stretch (almost any fabric you find will have some small amount of give to it, even if it isn’t “stretch” fabric). This will do for the mock up.

This is the line traced from the pattern piece. Seam allowance must be ADDED to these, as these lines will become my guides for sewing the pieces together. The idea is to sew exactly along the lines.

I cut out my pattern pieces. These are cut right to the actual dimensions of the final piece, and I have to add the seam allowances to them when I trace them out on the fabric. This is because I want to be able to trace the actual size, so I know EXACTLY where my sewing lines will be. Corset making is a very precise craft, and as Lucy says, 1-2mm added to each side of each piece, on a pattern with so many pieces, can add almost an inch to the total waist measurement!

You can see where the waist line is. I used that to line up the pieces when sewing them together, so I knew the waist would match up all the way around. I can always trim the top and bottom to create a smooth line later.

Important little tip – Something I learned many years ago: I number all my pieces and put an arrow pointing to the top of the corset. This makes sewing them together much easier. Once they are all cut out, it is hard to tell which piece goes where, and what direction they should go in. I have sewn a piece in upside down before, and it was a huge pain to take it out and put it back in. I also kept my left and right sides in separate piles so I didn’t mix up my panels.

I did put a waist tape in the mock up. The fabric I am using is really cheap, flimsy, and has some stretch, and a waist tape would help keep the waist line as accurate as possible.

Once the pieces were sewn together, I had to make the boning channels. I just tacked down the seam allowance for this purpose. I used plastic boning I had left over from other projects. I won’t cut my spirals until I know exactly what sizes I will need, and this is mock up so it doesn’t need to be pretty!

With the left and right halves of the corset done, I can start doing the laces. I don’t plan on using this for wearing, so I am not at all concerned about the grommets. And, at this point, I am feeling kinda lazy! So, I am using my punch, and I will just punch the holes out! No grommets! Lets see how well this works…. with the bones sandwiching the laces, I am hoping that they don’t tear when I lace this up. I marked them 1″ apart and used my punch to make all the holes. This was slow going, because the fabric is kind of flimsy, but much faster than hammering grommets!

I can now lay my corset out, lacing panels together, and start inserting my laces. For a great videos on different ways to lace your corsets, check out the videos on this Youtube Channel.

With the laces in place, I can now try on my mock up for the first time!

The shape I am going for is a little more dramatic that the gentle hourglass shape. This is because I want to have it as comfortable as possible in my ribs and hips. I have broad hips, and those won’t move, no matter how small I make the corset. I also don’t want much compression on my ribs, so I have designed the corset shape so it is snug around my ribs, with little reduction there. I will see how that feels.

The shape I am getting is

The top half of the corset has the peak in the front,  and comes up higher in the back. The bottom of the corset comes down right over my hips, and low over my lap. I did do a sit test to make sure that this was not going to dig into my legs! You can see it nips in at the waist, but otherwise follows the natural shape of my body to maximise comfort.
A side note, Pixel, my cat, decided to make a guest appearance.

There were a few things I wanted to change. I found it to be a little loose in the front over my tummy, and I wanted to change up the curve in the waist a little. I traced my pattern pieces onto a sheet of card, altered the lines where I felt was necessary (The original pieces are left un-altered, in case these changes don’t do what I intended), and made another mockup.
I see more changes that I would like to make, but I think I have the overall shape down. 
The top back is a little loose and the gap isn’t even all the way down.

So, overall, I am quite happy with the results. With the minor adjustment to the width of the back, I think I am ready to start cutting the actual materials for the final corset! I am still working up the guts to do it… the rational part of my brain tells me, “It is just fabric, you can buy more. Get over it.” The perfectionist in my brain says, “One more mock up. No, just one more. Ok, just one more.” Perfectionist, if I let you take over, I will NEVER have my corset finished! 
Please excuse me while I give myself a pep talk, and hopefully I will have a completed corset to share in a couple of weeks!

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Corset Design, Drafting, Construction Pt 2

I have finally ordered my corset supplies! They should be arriving in a couple of weeks. Farthingales ships on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so my stuff won’t be in the post until next week, but that is ok. As excited as I am to start working on my corset, I am also relieved to have a break from sewing for a few days. But I do need to sit down and get those curtains hemmed…. ugh…

I have ordered enough materials to do two corsets, and “fix” one of the purchased corsets that I have. I have plans to make an underbust (that will be the first one), and an overbust, and I would like to reinforce the bones in the back of my gold one. Last time I tried to lace it up, I noticed that the bones on either sides of the laces are quite flexible, leading me to believe that they are spirals. Not the ideal bones to have next to your laces! I will find out when I open it up and take a look inside… I am really hoping that I don’t find the dreaded plastic inside! That would make me very disappointed, and I doubt I would ever shop at that store again, since that corset was almost $300 and they pride themselves on selling quality product.

Anyways, my shopping list consisted of spring steel bones, the flat white ones, that I will use for backs of the corsets to keep the grommets nice and stable. I also ordered a spiral steel kit. Because I am not 100% sure of the length I will need for each individual bone, I decided to get a spool of spiral steel and the tips, so I can cut them to fit. I am making up my own pattern, and have never done it before, so I can really only guess the actual final lengths of the bones. This gives me total flexibility. If the panels I made are too long, and they dig in on my lap or under my breast, I can shorten them, and make the bones the appropriate lengths.

I also ordered 2 busks: a shorter one for the underbust, and a longer one for the overbust. There is only a 1″ difference between the two, because I am planning to have the peak in the top of the underbust, and a plunging sweetheart shape to the front of the overbust. I also ordered coutil, one metre each of black and white herringbone. I am not certain yet which one I will use for which corset, or if I will save one of them to do an entirely different corset. I have a hard time making anything that isn’t black! Lol! Trying to expand my horizons. I do have light coloured outfits, and it would be nice to have a lighter corset to wear with those. I might do an underbust in white or a light colour, because I honestly think I will wear that more often….

Heck, I don’t even know for sure if I want to do an overbust, now that I think of it!! I would most likely wear an underbust, because modern clothing just doesn’t fit well with overbusts.

I am rambling now, rather than doing a simple update on the corset construction situation. I hope, once I have hemmed those curtains, that I will be able to start on cutting out and testing the shape on the pattern I drafted a few weeks ago, and do a proper informative update then!

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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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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.