Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Black and Red Party Dress - finished!

Well .. I finished the dress, and nearly finished myself off in the process!  I was still sewing the finishing touches 2 hours before the "do" it was made for, but the results worked quite well, and here I am wearing it - on the left.  

It is, I think, the most uncomfortable dress in the entire universe  - hence the pained expression  but the look, according to my friends, was "very Jessica Rabbit".  Or perhaps that was a kind way of saying "oh my god! you've put on a ton of weight since last year!"

The reason it was uncomfortable is because the boned foundation inside the dress finishes at the waist.  It therefore digs right in where the waist springs out to the hip.  If I was to make this again, or if I was to give anyone a tip about making it, it would be to make the foundation longer.  

The dress was made of red and black shot silk which was an ideal fabric for the style of dress - it showed the beautiful pleating up magnificently with all the colours changing in the folds of the fabric and the evening light.  The pic shows the effect quite well.

I did change the pattern a little in that I used stiff coutil for the foundation rather than the two or three layers of lining and interfacing given in the instructions, and I made the coutil foundation in the same way I would make a corset by using the seam allowances pressed to one side as bone channels.

All said and done, despite the ridiculous number of pattern pieces (even though I omitted a good few!), the time it took to put together due to said number of bits, and the fact that Vogue patterns do not agree with my shape one little bit and therefore required lots of alteration, I LOVED the method of construction of this dress.  The inside of it (pics to follow), looks very polished and professional, and it is much easier to put on than a dress with separately closing foundation.

Unfortunately, since that night which was 2 weeks ago, I've been struck down with the vile flu bug that's been going around the UK.  Today was my first day 'up and about'.  I couldn't get out before Christmas to do my last minute shopping so I had to make a pressie for Mr Marmalade.  More on that next time!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Badgley Mishka pattern

So! Here's my new sewing room, with new machine, and ....

... new view ...

And here's my new project, with my new fabric ....

And compared to this time last year, I am a brand new size.  I think it might be something to do with the fudge making frenzy I had back in April ... or perhaps it's just middle age spread (I'm plumping for the former - pardon the pun) .. but I am a whole 4 inches bigger this Christmas, than last.

This is a red silk with black pin dots.  It's quite heavy without the 'rustly' factor that dupion has, and with a nice drape.  Perfect for the pleats on this dress.  The lining is a soft peachskin type silk.  I have two parties to wear it to!

I was inspired to make this dress by the very talented Erica Bunker who made it earlier this year and it looked so fabulous on her, that I thought i'd give it a try and have been holding the idea in my mind ever since I read about it on her blog.  I also - as mentioned before - like the fact that it has a foundation because not many dress patterns have one.  I'm interested to see how this method works.

SO ... from the sizing chart given by Vogue, I figured I'd be a size 14.  I thought i'd try a new way of doing things, by folding and pining the pattern to see if the dimensions matched mine.  They didnt, and not being familiar with this type of cut - there appears to be no 'curves' but I am assuming they are hidden somewhere in the pattern.  I thought i'd better make a toile after all, because I need to know where it can be altered and where I can put curves (if necessary) where there are none.

I could see from doing this paper excersise however, that I liked the way the dress was moulded and the fall of the pleats and the skirt.  

OK... So I thought i'd washed my bundle of polycotton that I use for toiles - it's a devil material which shrinks by alot at the  mere sight of a hot iron, never mind a whiff of steam, so I got on with cutting the pattern this morning, sewed it all together and tried it on ... it was too big, by a LONG WAY, and to cut an even LONGER and more tedious story short, the facts of the matter are:

Pattern too big
Fabric too small - it shrunk by approx 0.5cm on each piece
Dress way to big on the bust but fits from the waist down.

I figured the only way to get round the problem without having to start all over again from scratch  was to resort to the measuring tape.  This is where knowing how to cut patterns comes into it's own.  Commercial patterns are an unknown quantity, but knowing where it is safe to take seams in and out, in general pattern construction, helps.   I took the side seams in by 2cm on each side (1cm each seam) down to the waist,  to make the width of each piece match my measurements.  PHEW! It fits like a glove.  

Now I've got to work out what size the foundation should be, though I am toying with the idea of drafting a new foundation, and inserting it according to the instructions given in the pattern.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Another corsetted dress pattern

Did you know that currently there's 50% off Vogue patterns?  Not sure how long the offer will last but I've got mine ...  Get them at Jaycotts if you're in the UK or Europe or direct from Vogue Patterns if you're in the US.  I am posting this without pattern reference numbers, but aim to correct this later today!
I'll be making this one first - I need a party dress in time for 17 December!  I have some lovely red and black pindot silk to make it from.  I bought this because it has a foundation.  I've made dress foundations before, but you can never learn too many new things when it comes to sewing and I want to know how Badgley Mischka does hers.. I bought this for technical know how ... I might never wear it, but I need to know how to make it!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

If Only I could Make ...

... This incredible piece of art and artistry ..

I'm thinking 'Wedding ensemble' (in appropriate colours ofcourse), with the final "reaveal" after the party .. unless the bride was used to taking her clothes off in public that is ....

Post from the future:  Incredibly, I am now friends with the person who made this (not the designer) and the lovely lady on the runway! (December 2014)

Monday, 8 November 2010

Corset asymetry illustrated

I think I mentioned recently that i've been making a corset for my friend Ms E.  Its been taking a while because I discovered upon fitting her first corset toile, that she is asymmetrical!  I'm quite pleased about this because sooner or later I was going to get a client with this characteristic, and so it's nice for me to work on it with a friend first.

Her left (as you look) shoulder drops down and left hip goes up - I am not sure which causes which but the whole scenario causes the corset to be squint as you can see - it leans to the left..

This means that while the left side fits perfectly at the top under the arm, it is too tight at the bottom around the hip but on the right side, it fits beautifully all over - except at the front where both sides are too big at the front bust.  This is because I added ease to the bust to account for "squish" .. It was unnecessary.

When you put a grid on the picture you can see the problem clearly.

The orange lines are where the current seam lines are.

I should point out that when I wear this corset (we are the same size), it is perfectly straight on me.. This pattern is drafted from scratch and I know it's straight!

Here I have drawn how the corset should LOOK.

The purple lines are drawn agaist the grid, and are in the 'correct' place for the eye.  They are not symetrical  but they LOOK symmetrical to the eye.

Here are all the lines together ...

Green is the shape  i'm aiming for
Orange is where the current seam lines are
Purple is where seam lines would look right

My plan was to let the left side out where it was too tight and take the right side in where it is too loose in the hope that it might straighten out.  It worked to a point BUT it meant that the corset, still a bit squint, looked odd, in that the seams on one side were in a different position to the seams on the other side.  However, it did fit well and looked alot straighter (notwithstanding that waist discrepancy that has now appeared).

The next step was to draw in 'eye correct' seams on the left, then chop the corset up along those fake seam lines on the kooky side, and chop the right side along it's true seamlines, and use all of those separate pieces to make a pattern for a new toile.

Here are the peices all laid out - there are 14.

And the resulting pattern which is also 14 pieces because none of the pieces match.  Infact, it's quite scary to look at, but corsetry is all about maths in some ways, so I had faith that this very wonky looking pattern would work in the way I had determined.

Here you can clearly see the difference between pattern pieces.  The 'wonky' pattern pieces are laid on top of the paper pattern for the 'correct side' pieces.

It worked!! Here is the new toile where the seams more or less match.

(and there is a big but)

You can see that the corset LOOKS more symmetrical, and Ms E infact looks much more symmetrical  - but...

Houston, there is still a problem.  

And the problem is, that for this toile, I used a very thick Cotton Duck fabric - artists canvas.  I have found that it is unstable when used on it's own like this - even though I pre-shrunk it with steam.  I was very pleased with the shape of Ms E's new corset toile, but look at the baggy boobs!!  In this pic, she is wearing a bra.  The corset is designed for no bra .. when she takes her bra off, I fear that her boobage will slip into the void around her rib cage never to be seen again in that corset! 

I couldn't imagine why this bagginess had appeared, and so I measured each of my pattern peices against each of the corset pieces at 4 consecutive points - the bust line, the underbust line, the waist line and the hip line.  That's allorralorra measuring!

There was a FOUR INCH discrepancy ... FOUR INCHES!! For heavens sake!!  The pattern is completely correct, but the corset is 4 inches bigger.  After much consternating, cross measuring, head scratching and hand wringing, I braved  telling my corsetmaking friends over at Live Journal with the fear that they might laugh at me, but instead  received a couple of lovely and very heartening responses the upshot of which said:  Different fabrics act in different ways (well we all know this to be true), but it seems that Duck Canvas has a nasty habit of stretching when in use ... 


It's back to the drawing board for me where I will have to cut one more 'final' toile but this time in corset coutil (as per the black one i'd been working with previously).  It's more expensive, but what cost floppy cavities in your corset?!!  For further reading on the perils of working with canvas, read this Cautionary Tale.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Corsetry books in review

I've recently treated myself to 2 corsetty books ... and as both have been mentioned in a number of corset related 'places' on the interweb, I thought i'd write about my take on each ...

The first, and my favourite, is the V&A Museum's "Underwear Fashion in Detail".  All I can say is this.. I bought it during a trip to the V&A in London - the book is only available there at the moment - and when I saw it, I couldn't put it down, far less leave it there!!  I don't want to embarrass myself describing bodily functions,  but .. my heart was pounding with every page I turned!  

It is a BIG book, and so inside, the pictures are big.  A good start!

Written by Eleri Lynn, a fashion curator at the V&A Museum,  the book is not dedicated to corsets alone, but I would say that probably 75% is to do with corsetry in some form or another, be it bra's, girdles, corsets, bodices, bustiers, garters, etc.,

It looks at the evolution of underwear dating from the 16th century, right up to the present including pieces by famous designers through the ages, there are nighties, dressing gowns, slips, socks, stockings and pants included aswell - something for everyone!  And for the corsetmakers out there who consternate over their every stitch,  there is even a Mr Pearl "rush job" which shows what happens when a corset is made in a hurry - even by the best in the business!  

There are more  pictures than writing - each peice is described in detail, with diagrams and one or more photos - some of which are shot very close, giving incredible detail - it's almost like looking at the things up close and in person!

Overall, this book is an Inspiration.  I just love it... every time I look in there, my mind is overwhelmed with ideas.  From my own perspective of one who makes corsets, It's an absolute  MUST HAVE

The other book is less pleasing - from the same perspective as before  that is.  It is the new book by Velda Lauder, Corsets:  A Modern Girls Guide..

I guess it's been written to catch the wave of interest in everything burlesque, and if you are a modern girl who knows nothing about corsets, but wants to find out, then this is definitely the book for you.

It is right up to the minute - including details from London Fashion Week which has only just finished -  hence the long delay between it's apparent availability and eventual delivery.  

It is TINY - handbag size - which I was surprised about but this means that the book is not "comfortable", and the pictures are smaller than I like.   I know this might sound shallow but, size definitely matters here and this book just isn't big enough.    

The pictures, unsurprisingly, are mostly of the author's own corsets. This isn't such a bad thing because she does make lovely corsets with a focus on modern, not historical, but there is no detailed information on the famous and elusive "uber curve".  Although the book also covers historical aspects of corsetry, along with  'modern' corsetry against backdrops of high fashion, couture, burlesque, and fetish, the book doesn't tell me anything I didn't know already as somebody who has been obsessed with corsets for a number of years.

In saying that I am dissapointed with this book,  I am not decrying the author's talent or her eye for a good design, or indeed her ability  - I have been laced into one of her corsets by the woman herself, and I can tell you, that whatever her uber curve is, it works!  Velda Lauder corsets are extremely light, extremely strong, and surprisingly sparsley boned for the 'control' they give and this is why they are a constant source of fascination and inspiration for me.

BUT, in my own humble opinion,  this is not a "Must Have"  book. It doesn't do anything better or more interestingly, that Valerie Steele's "The Corset: A Cultural History" .  However,  for beginners on the path to corset obsession, then it is a pretty book to have and  less 'academic' than others.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

A corset made in suiting fabric

I've been making a sample of the Laughing Moon Gentleman's corset for my shop and for demonstration at the workshop I'm doing at Darn it and Stitch in Oxford tomorrow.  I bought some Italian design cashmere suiting in London a while ago for this purpose ... I don't think I really needed the 4 metres I bought, but, it was a bargain! and it is sighworthily beautiful fabric.  Actually, I think it would also look nice with satin in a ladies corset. 

Having not sewn a "wool" corset before, I wasn't sure how to go about it, so, I started by steam shrinking it.  Then I bonded it to some plain herringbone coutil, with bondaweb.  I had done a practice patch which seemed not to bubble or come apart, however, one cannot wear a practice patch!

The lining of the corset is a traditional suit lining too - it is very flimsy and very prone to fraying, so I gave it the same treatment as the wool - bonded it to coutil.  Now I have two VERY STIFF pattern pieces for each section, and I sewed it together using my new sewing machine (more on that later) ..

Because of the stiffness of the bonded fabric peices it was hard to sew and even harder to press (esp between two sheets of paper to avoid rogue glue spots).  However,  the end result, was very pleasing.

Now I just have to bone and trim it.  I am VERY pleased with it.  However, it is too big for Mr.M  which is a shame.  If I was to do this one again - which I will, I would definitely bond the layers together again, but if I was to do it for a ladies corset, I might use a softer method for joining the layers.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Books and Studios

Well there are a few pieces of news to tell and i'm going to give it all to you in one hit .. Are you sitting Comfortably?

First of all and most excitingly ... I have a BOOK CONTRACT!!  Yes!  I have been asked to write a book!  It will be an e-book, it will be about 'how to make a corset' and it will be published this time next year.  I am ridiculously excited.  It's going to be like one of those books in Harry Potter - it's going to have videos in it!!

Second bit of news ...  Mr M has finally had enough, and suggested that I move out  ...  At the same time as he was deciding this, I was thinking about focussing on only a couple of things, namely how to make corsets (see above) and making corsets ...   Don't be alarmed, we're not talking divorce!

I'm getting a STUDIO!  The best part of this is that I had thought about it but not dared bring it up, and then Mr M suggested it on account of my 'stuff' taking over the house .. so ...  He thinks it's his idea!

There's a studio complex near here, and I'm on the waiting list.  I don't mind waiting until spring because the contract costs a fortune so I'm saving up, but after that, the rent is reasonable and should be quite manageable for my little business.  Keep your fingers crossed for me won't you?

Did I mention that I am ridiculously excited??!

The other bits ... I've been interviewed.. i've done a few, two for Sew Magazine, and one for Craft Business magazine .. You can read the full transcripts here on my website.   I think the "My Sewing Room" feature in Sew looks particularly cool!

The other feature is a bit ironic... You see, i've appeared in lots of magazines in my time, for one reason or another ... the last one was Marquis magazine and on the same page as Dita von Teese .. I know!  I was photographed at a club, and she was photographed elsewhere, but there we were, on the same page ...  Now, I'm on the same page as Lady Gaga in Sew Magazine - who'd have thought!! 

The funny thing is, that I was wearing Latex a long time before anything Gaga! (No I don't have a meaty dress.)

And the most exciting piece of news for you dear readers, is a giveaway!  

I am giving away a £40.00 voucher for Sew Curvy to celebrate a year in business.  It's a bit late (long story), but there we have it ... It's on Facebook too, but I have been inundated there by "professional compers" (see here for details) ...  I'd rather keep it between us if you don't mind, so if you fancy a voucher, just leave a comment here, and I'll do a draw with you, and the genuine sewists from my facebook page, on Saturday morning 2 October.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Today is a pretty momentous day in The House of Marmalade for a couple of reasons.  Both quite astounding really...

Firstly, it is my birthday!  I have been in business for a whole year today!  

 Sew Curvy Corsetry is One today!!

And what a year it's been!  I'm not rivalling Richard Branson's salary or lifestyle, infact, I haven't made any money at all because every single penny has been ploughed back into the business.  However, I have made lots of new friends, contacts, and business colleagues through the year. 

I have over 500 lovely Facebook fans (with some of the coolest names ever it has to be said!), 732 Twitter followers, and quite a few lovely lovely customers who I have been delighted to correspond with, and package up beautiful things for.

I have pushed my personal creative boundaries way beyond anything I would have thought possible,

... and in more ways than I could have thought possible! 

I have also, through all of the above, had so much inspiration coming from so many directions,  that it feels as if my head is permanently bursting with good ideas, and I hope to realise some of these over the coming year.  First up, I need to move out - but more on that in my next post.  

The other astounding thing that has happened this very day, is that this blog, The House of Marmalade, has been placed in a list compiled by an organisation called Cision, who work for media professionals (PR/Marketing/Journalists) to compile special lists for reference in specific topics.  And so today, in the 'Fashion' section, The House of Marmalade is listed at number 5 in the Top 10 UK Vintage Clothing Blogs category.  I know!  The Top FIVE!! I am just completely flabbergasted (there's been alot of that going on lately around here!)  Click HERE to check out the other lovely vintage blogs!

So.  Tonight, Mr Marmalade and I will be celebrating with some of this I think!  And here's to the year ahead, I have so many many plans!

Friday, 20 August 2010

The V&A free dress pattern

It's been very busy here at The House of Marmalade this summer.  Too much to do, and too little time as usual, but one of the things I have done, and enjoyed immensly, is visit the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to see the Grace Kelly Wardrobe Collection.  Have you been?  Are you in London?  It finishes on 12 September, and I thoroughly recommend a veiwing or two if you can.  Unfortunately, camera's were not allowed, and so I can't give you a complete run down of the display beyond the image of my pre-tour cup of tea and Programme.

However, as the Museum have decorated their shop in a vintage style with patterns from their very famous "free couture" pattern which is downloadable from their website, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to re-post my workings on that very pattern - even though I still don't actually have a finished dress to show you.  (The V&A have plenty though all made up,  ready to go and complete with petticoat, if you don't fancy making one yourself). 

You can download the pattern  HERE.  It is adapted for modern sizes 10-14, was created especially for the V&A Golden Age of Couture Exhibition Website, and is based on the dress pictured here, a 1953 ready to wear dress by Horrockses Fashion. It has a close fitting lined bodice with waist seam and flared skirt with pockets.

Ready to wear couture styles in the 50's were relatively expensive and favoured by members of the Royal Family, 'working women' would save up to buy them for special occassions, like going away on honeymoon (perhaps this explains the ridiculously high price tag in the shop!).

I found that the pattern I printed, didn't fit, and so I re-drew it to my measurements from scratch as an excercise to explore the techniques used when it was originally designed and cut.  So here is the lowdown according to The House of Marmalade:

First step is to print out the pattern onto A4 sheets of paper, align the special corresponding marks, and secure with tape.

I then cut out each pattern peice and pinned them to  Madge the Material Girl who was adjusted to my measurments as closely as possible.

Looks good doesn't it?
Now Madge, give us a twirl!

.... Houston, we have a problem! .... can you see?

Not only is the armhole far too big, but the back sections of the pattern are a) back to front, b) too big by a long way (I mean a very very long way, not just the usual discrepancy between dress form and body) and c) the instructions don't make much sense...

So.. back to the drawing board - I find it easier to start from scratch so that I know what's what.  You will need to create your own block if you do it this way.

First thing to work out after drawing a new block, is where exactly the darts are? The front bodice is made up of only 3 sections with only 2 miniscule bust darts in the top middle section, under the bust. The rest - and there must be more to acheive the perfectly contoured shape, are hidden. I knew that there must be closed darts involved, but in order for darts to be closed, other darts must be made - and then either closed again or hidden in seams. Think of shuffling orange segments when one is missing - another always takes it's place. Where are they?

I won't bore you with the details of the very circuitous cutting and pasting (think Blue Peter) route which led me to the conclusion that what we have here, is infact, a French Dart.

A French dart combines shoulder and waist darts and I could have avoided hours of snipping and sellotaping by following three simple steps

1) Close the shoulder dart of the block forming a wide dart under the bust
2) cut the sleeve, neck and waist portions along the chosen lines of the pattern
3) close the waist dart and trace each piece with the darts closed (except the two bust darts which must be left). The darts then become integrated within the cut, and all you will see in the finished dress, are beautiful smooth pieces of fabric.

Having taken the long route round, I understand the shortcuts much better than I would have done, but to finish off, these experimental pattern peices now have to be traced back onto paper, in order to be traced again as pattern peices.  The top arm is traced as is with the dart folded out (closed).  The bust section is traced with the dart intact, and the bottom middriff section is traced while the dart is folded out (closed).  You wont see the traced closed darts in the final cut.

Next step is then to trace those peices off, add seam allowances, transfer to fabric and sew together!

The only reason I haven't sewn this myself is because as yet, I haven't been able to find some suitable fabric, however, since my recent shopping trip to London, I may well use the lovely black polyester with white flower pattern for this dress.  I think it would suit.