Saturday, 19 December 2009

Helena Bonham Carter in a corset!

I'm just loving this picture that I found on the internet today, and thought i'd share it with you all whilst waving hello from the bottom of another very large pile of "things to do" that i've found myself under again!!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Best patterning book reviews

click on all pics to make them larger

Inspired by Stephanie, over at The Naked Seamstress , a lovely dressmaking blog which I have discovered recently, I thought I would show you some of my sewing books which I have been glued to over the past few years. First of all, the pattern making books:

Above is the first book on pattern making that I bought. It looks quite simple and appealing for that, but it's rubbish! I have never managed to really understand what the author is going on about, and on re-visiting the book, now that I know what I'm going on about, I still can't fathom it!

It was of course my adventures in corsetry which led to my fascination with pattern cutting in the first place. I needed to know HOW a corset works - the engineering aspect. I am one of those types of people who needs to fully understand the reasons behind something in order to 'do it', and so I found this book in my Christmas Stocking one year, a very generous present from Mr Marmalade. It explains in full detail the concept of the French Block - how to draw one, make one, fit one, and then how to design your corset or garment within it, for the French block (or sloper as it is also known), is the basis of all garment manufacture and design.

This book explained very well the importance of measurements and how they relate to the paper diagram. Most importantly, this is the ONLY book I have which explains the Bust Point well (or even at all!). Let me just tell you ... the bust point is where your nipples are - it's different for everyone. The distance between nipples is VITAL because when you have drawn your front block, you need to know where the dart apex should be - so you draw a line which measures half the distance between your nipples, parallel to the centre front line, and there is the line upon which your bust point should be.

Being a book about corsetry, it obviously only deals with the block for the upper section of the body, but this is the hardest part to grasp when pattern making because there are so very many possibilities and ofcourse as you know, I am obsessed with bust fittings - my own having been a constant conundrum over the pre-Bravissimo years. Therefore, my next project to try soon is the bra instructions in this book.

There is no substitute ofcourse for a real life teacher, and I am very happy to have had some personal training - as documeted elsewhere on this blog - which has added a turbo boost to my understanding of pattern making. Being able to ask questions, and see demonstrations is quite essential when learning how to do this and I would fully reccommend anyone interested in pattern making to try and find a teacher or course, however basic. If you have a passion, then all you need are a few pointers to light the way.

As corsetry ignited my interest in general dressmaking, I decided, along with finding a teacher, that I needed a more general book and this is the one I was recommended. It's one of the industry standards for fashion students and is very very good. There are some parts of it which are a little hard to decipher but on the whole, this book is a brilliant introduction with clear and concise diagrams, instructions and explanations.

There are chapters on all aspects of flat pattern cutting for all types of garment in a huge range of styles. The initial chapters focus on basic block building for bodice, arms, skirt and trousers, and then the rest has instructions on how to customise those blocks as required.

There are also chapters in this book explaining how to cut patterns for stretch and jersey fabrics which don't need darts, and at the end, a look at the more commercial aspects of fashion design.

This book is a new acquisition:

It is all about construction of garments from the initial pattern making, to special finishes for special fabrics ... It starts off with lots of different techniques which are not found in the previous two books - this book is much more "creative", with inspirational pictures from the catwalk and quotes from all the famous designers.

Rather than be put off by these glamorous catwalk pictures, I find them very interesting. At first glance these beautiful gowns look absolutely impossible! But this book breaks them down and shows you that although they are stunning works of art, they are constructed using the same techniques as described in any pattern cutting book. It is the mastery of these techniques by the designers, the cutters, and the people who sew them, that makes these clothes special.

There is a whole section in this book on "support" but this doesn't just include corsetry as one might imagine. It also includes tailoring techniques, information about interfacings and other support structures, along with descriptions and tips on how to generally sculpt, shape and manipulate your fabric.

These are the books I have, but there are more on my Amazon wishlist!

A book about draping - you drape muslin over your dress form, shape as required, and then make a pattern from it. Fascinating!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Strapless dress with internal corset

The gold fabric of my dress looks much better in the evening when it seems to 'come to life'. In artifical light, it glows. Teaming it up with this retro style (fake) fur wrap made me feel quite like I was wearing an outfit from an old Elvis film - or was it because Elvis was on the radio when these pictures were taken?

The main dress didn't take 2 minutes to cut out and make up! The most difficult part was that each piece has to be cut out on the flat - ie: not the fold - in order to match the pattern up as nicely as possible. The pattern repeat on this fabric is quite large and not easy to match up exactly because of the lines of the dress.

The finished article was a little tight I must admit (my excuse which I'm sticking to is hormonal!). I had to insert the zip about 6 times - destroying 3 zips in the process!! In the end, I discovered that the problem was that although the dress is cut larger than the foundation, it needed to be taken out by a further half a centimetre before the zip would close over the foundation.

The belt was easy peasy to make - just a straight strip of stretch satin, gathered at each end and pinned together at the front with a vintage brooch.

I was very nervous about wearing a "home made" dress out to a posh function, but am glad I did. When I got there, I received a satisfying number of "oooh what a lovely dress" comments to make the hours of consternation and hand stitching totally worthwhile, and the satisfaction of knowing that apart from my time, this unique dress cost the grand total of about £20 to make, was priceless.

Click on pics to enlarge

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Dress foundation with boning

Once I had made sure that my foundation toile fitted properly and very snugly, I made it up properly using a satin coutil fabric. Coutil is the traditional fabric of corsetry, it is very densely woven and has almost no give in it at all. The satin coutil I am using is made of viscose with a cotton backing.

I decided to use the shiny side of the fabric against my skin though usually a separate lining would be sewn over the foundation. I therefore had to join a skirt lining to the foundation which I did by lapping a dress satin over the edge of the foundation to avoid a bulky seam, and finishing it on the inside with a strip of lace so that it looks pretty and tidy.

The inside of the foundation is closed with hooks and eyes as you can see here. The dress will close with a concealed zip. It is a bit of a job to line up the dress with the foundation and I am still researching the proper way to do this. Here, I lined up all of the seams but left the right side seam of the dress wider so as to be able to close the zip of the dress over the foundation. I'm actually not sure if this is the correct way to do it and think that next time I do this, I will make a back fastening (rather than a side fastening as this is), and make the two back panels of the foundation from powernet which is stretchy. It's what bra straps are made from.

Once the foundation is complete, it is attached to the dress as described, by matching the seams. I have finished the top edge off with satin bias, for no other reason than it is easier than contemplating sewing it right sides together with the boning in place, and then turning it right side out! I am already used to binding raw edges of corsets in this fashion.

All in all, I am pleased with the fit and the effect, and here is the edge of the foundation fully sewn into the dress underneath the zip, all neat and tidy. It feels very posh!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Dress foundation with corsetry

The dress foundation ... Sometimes it's called a 'corsolette' but really, a corsolette has bra cups built in - it's a cross between a girdle, a waist cincher and a bra. Corsolettes are used alot in couture garments and I would have made one for this, only I haven't mastered bra cups yet!! So this is the other type which just goes straight over the bust - like a corset, and extends up to 6 inches below the waist. Mine is 3 inches below the waist, ending at the upper hip line as shown.

Foundations are used in couture not for figure control but to add structure and support to the bodice - the garment itself. In couture, they are made of thin cotton fabric or net with light metal bones but my foundation is made from coutil - a traditional corset fabric. More about that in my next post.
Here is a basic body block. This is what all patterns are drafted from. It has your basic darts at the shoulder, waist and hip lines. The shoulder and waist darts meet at the bust point. The bust point is where your nipple is. Exactly. So it's different for everyone. All darts above the waist, pass through the bust point before they go anywhere else.

This block has an extended shoulder dart (width) - this is because of the strapless nature of the foundation/dress, there is no 'arm' to hold the dress up from the shoulder, so it needs to be a bit tighter - no ease allowed.

To make the shape of my dress, after extending the dart, I draw in a curved line where I want the top of the dress to be. Yep .. it's as simple as that. There will be further adjustments to be made during fitting but really, making a pattern is just knowing how to place a series of lines and curves. It's experience which improves technique!

So here are the four pattern pieces for the foundation. Can you see how they relate to the modified block? All I've done is cut through the darts and over the top curve that I drew in. Cutting four pieces like this will give a much closer fitting than if it was done by sewing darts into the pattern as you might do in a dress. Essentially, this is how corsets are made too.

Once the peices are cut on a double layer of fabric, you have 8 peices (obviously) forming 2 sides. And here's what they look like.

This is the toile. Actually ... this is the SECOND toile!! The first one didn't have the right line - too low cut, so I altered it and cut it again. I was a bit lazy and made it only from a single layer of calico with bone chanles made from cotton twill tape. The trouble I found with this is that although the bust line was perfect, as soon as I put a metal bone through the bust chanel the boob flattened out! That's not supposed to happen! Also the calico wrinkled up - my bones are probably too heavy for it.

So I had to decide which bones to use in order to provide the best bust contour. I used a combination. Flexible spiral steel bones for the curvy channels either side of the bust, and down the side seams, flat steel bones in the flat channels - the back and chest middle. Plastic riglene over the bust. These are warped into shape with an iron to match my exact contour. They become quite rigid after heating, and slip very snugly into a bone channel made from bias tape. When in the correct place, the shape of the plastic boning holds because that's the shape the seams are.

The toile then has to be fitted very very snugly - it will be tighter than the dress but not uncomfortable or restricting. There are bones over all of the seams and also in the middle of each panel.

Tomorrow I'll show you the finished foundation and explain how it fits together.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Party dress pattern

So what's been keeping me away lately? My ears ... my job ... my sewing ... I'm tired ... i'm weary, and i've still got to get through next week which will leave me worn and torn as well as tired and weary. Each day for the entire week I shall work more hours than I usually do in a whole week! Just the thought of it is exhausting me! Can you believe it's been a year since This Post and That Post?? Well .. the time has arrived, the reason I was hired. I have already managed to book the wrong speaker for the wrong dinner ... oops!

Much more excitingly, and before the horror begins, I have a party to go to on Saturday. My favourite party of the year I might say, and I need a dress. I absolutely refuse to buy one. Have you been in Coast lately? Have you seen the dresses? Have you inspected the dresses? I can do better than overlocked hems, underboned bodices and tatty ends, so I'm damnwell not spending over £150 on shoddy factory made clothes.
Here's what I have in mind - Coast-like because I do love Coast Clothes. Quite 'retro' thanks to the belt which will have a vintage buckle from this stash:

And here's the detail ... Because it's a strapless dress, it will need a foundation. I'm not merely doing a boned bodice, oh no ... I'm going all 'Couture' and I'm doing a proper dress foundation with separate closure underneath the zip closure of the dress. Don't faint! I've got a whole lot of blogs lined up to show you how.

The 'foundation' is on the left of the picture. It extends to the upper hip and contains about 8 bones, with a hook and eye fastening. The front overbust seams are vertical for ease.

The dress on the right, has wider overbust seams so as to enhance the fabric pattern. I'm sure it will do something to the line of the bust too, but i'm not quite sure what! Perhaps it will just make my shoulders look big? You can see where the different dart placements are on the pattern draft.

I've never worn a strapless dress before - high street shops don't cater for the fuller bust, ie anything over a B cup, and so if I do dare to try on something strapless in a shop, I end up looking like an overstuffed sausage! I am an F cup!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Corsets for men

In amongst everything else, I've been sending off orders of corset kits and components. I'm very pleased with how things are going, as though I'm hardly rivalling the fortunes of Alan Sugar, I have sold quite alot of things without having actually done any paid advertising! All I've done so far, is take full advantage of the various social networks online, Facebook, Twitter, etc.,

I received an enquiry from one customer regarding a male corset, right at the same time I decided that I would make one for Mr Marmalade, as I have a pattern but have never made one!

So, I put a Mans kit on the site, and d'you know ... they have been MORE POPULAR than the ladies kits!!
The top corsitiere in the world is a man. He is called Mr Pearl and he has a very very small waist. He is corsitiere to the designers and the stars.

He makes all of his corsets by hand. No machines!

Ofcourse, one of his most celebrated clients is Ms von Teese herself who's waist, I have been told by a very reliable source, is "less than 20 inches". Sigh ...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Finished Simplicity 9769

With somewhere to go tomorrow, as Mr Marmalade and I are off to London for a long overdue weekend of fun and frolicks. I can't wait! It will be nice to have some down time after the hectic last few months..

Katie is also dressed up and ready to go to her new home on Monday.

We had a little photoshoot today - the location isn't really glamorous enough, but it's all I can manage today...

She could do with a bit more padding on the hips - there's still a bit of room in there!

Thank you for all your questions in response to my last post! You might get more than you bargained for with my answers, but I shall endeavour to answer them in my next post - after the weekend. In the meantime, I will have to ask Mr M to photograph all my tattoos!


Monday, 26 October 2009

Chicken wire corset mannequin

or... how to make a corset mannequin with chicken wire and modrock!

The trouble with the usual type of mannequin or dress form is that they are too solid to model a corset - no 'squish' factor. To display corsets therefore, you can either use a couple of pillows like this ...

Or you can make a bust. The pillow option is ridiculously expensive as you need quite puffy feather pillows which are expensive. So I figured (haha!) i'd have to do something different for my shelf in Antiques on High. I had some chicken wire in the shed, so I rolled it up into a tube and tried to shape it ... without much success. It's quite 'bouncy' and I couldn't really make up my mind where the curves should go to start with. So I let the corset do the moulding - just as it would do on a person..

After much wrestling I managed to tie the corset around the chicken wire tube - corsets are quite springy too! Then after tightening the back laces quite gradually, I then modelled the wire from the inside.

With a bit of artistic 'scrunching' at the top and bottom, the thing took shape - the corset here isn't quite finished, so I had to be a bit careful with the stray bits of wire poking out from the chicken mesh.
I fancied a bit of a play with some Modrock, though really i'm not sure the bust needs it. It will add stability and a bit of strength anyway, and OH! what FUN!! Squidgy, squadgy bandages! I found it quite meditative when smoothing them over the form..

So here is 'Katie'! Don't ask me why her name is Katie, it just is .. And currently, she is 'drying' in the shed after having been sprayed with a whole can of paint. Stay tuned to find out What Katie did Next!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Corset Construction Part 3

As you know, I've been making a 'display' corset from one of the patterns I'm offering for sale as part of a kit. The Simplicity 9769. It's a while since I posted parts ONE and TWO - just click on those links to catch up. At this stage, there are only a few things left to do, but these are the most time consuming! First, the bones need to go in...

There are 20 flat steel bones in this model. These "bones" are made from flattened steel springs which are then coated in plastic - this gives them the flexibility they require in order to mold your body - note: the bones mold your body, not the other way around! No need to use spiral bones as there are no 'horizontal' type curves - ie: the curves go straight up and down.

After the bones are all inserted, the trim needs to go on - I decided to trim a few of the bone channels - hence it goes on after the bones (so you don't sew through the bone channels!) and before the binding (to get a neat finish).

I've had this trim for AGES AND AGES! It's been waiting for just the right project, and I think this is it! It's a Victorian style daisy guipre trim.

Now it's time to bind the top and bottom. This can be done either with bias binding cut from your original fabric, or a contrasting satin bias binding ready made.

This is acetate satin binding. It goes on the top and bottom edges of the corset. This is where my sewing room turns into the "House of Flying Needles" !!

I broke FIVE needles doing this part - my own fault entirely, not paying enough attention. I forgot to move the bones up while I was sewing each respective edge. Humph. As you can see i'm using "sharps". These are special sharp needles, perfect for topstitching all those bone channels and layers. The underside of the binding now needs to be handstitched on the reverse.

Now ... what to do with it??

It's still not finished (binding to be handstitched), and it doesn't float! I needed to make a bust for the display which sort of happened in the middle of things!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Corset Construction (part 2)

Making a corset takes time and precision, but as long as care is taken over each step, it's not difficult. Today I spent time on the bone channels which are placed over the seams. It took all afternoon just to do one side of the corset, but I am pleased with the results.

The pattern instructions say that the seams should be 'flat felled' and then the boning tape sewn on, but this leads to a very messy effect on the right side, so I don't follow the instructions to the letter. Here is an example - this is the very first corset I ever made (with the Simplicity pattern) - I've kept it for reference!

You can see how wiggly the lines are, and how messy it looks. So what I do now, is trim one side of the seam right down, then fold the other side over it - like a flat felled seam, but then I baste the boning tape right over it, and sew in one step.

It would ofcourse be much easier to press the seam open and sew the tape over that, but this method would not result in a very strong seam - these seams have to take a lot of pressure! The last thing I want is for them to burst open while I'm wearing it!!! That just wouldn't do now would it! ?

I line the boning channel up over the folded seam, and just over the original seam line so that I can 'stitch in the ditch' from the right side, catching just enough of the tape...

I know that when I turn the corset around to sew the other side of the channel, if I line the left side of my presser foot up with the line I have just sewn (in this case, the 'ditch'), the needle is in exactly the right position to sew the exact width I need in order to be able to slide the bone in very snugly.

Here's what it looks like on the other side - and you can see that i've finished off the outer edge by placing bone tape over the back facing to give a neat finish.

The finished side is then zigzagged on the top edge so that it doesn't fray, and the bottom edge is left open so that I can slide the bones in.

I will sew the bone channels on the other side tomorrow, in the same manner, then add some more eyelets to each side, insert the bones, bind the tops and bottoms with bias binding, and embellish.