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!