Monday, 21 November 2011

Complicated corsetry - antique patterns

I've been immersed in some complicated corsetry - setting myself challenges and working out designs.   This is a very beautiful Edwardian corset pattern from Atelier Sylphe.  You can tell it's Edwardian just by the beautiful swooping seams and gussets which are characteristic of this era.

One way to take your corsetry to the next level, is to sew as many historical patterns as possible.  I've got a stack to get through, some from old patents, some scaled up from books and some drawn by corsetiers who own antiques, such as this one from Atelier Sylphe.  This pattern is from the period c.1902-1905 and therefore an early Edwardian corset -  my favourite style because of the curved seams, flat front and beautiful hip shaping of that era.

Atelier Sylphe
Atelier Sylphe patterns come with some very basic instructions and a ton of pictures supplied electronically detailing every seam, every angle, every minute detail of the original antique corset, so that the experienced corset maker can figure out how to sew it together.  It's not as hard as it sounds once you get down to it, but I found that pinning the paper pattern complete with bone channel guidelines together first, acts as a great reference and guide to sewing the toile - you can make notes on it as you go so that you have a 'live' reference when you come to sew the final version.

Edwardian corsets are generally single layer garments with curved lapped seams, bust and hip gussets, and vertical bone channels sewn to the inside over the curved construction seams.

I made one calico toile, sewing each side together separately and making improvements each time.  I then collected some coutil scraps and made a section of the pattern to see how the design reacted to much stiffer fabric, and added a little piping experiment.  Quite happy with the results I cut the corset in coutil and made up one side with silver piping at the main curved seams.

Black satin coutil is extremely unforgiving - it shows up every single tiny mark, every pin prick, every crease, and to make matters worse, it is a devil to stitch - the glare of the shiny surface with black stitching is an eyeache.  

However, the result is extremely pleasing, and although hard on the eyes when stitching, satin coutil is very easy to sew and gives the corset a lovely crisp appearance and feel with a really beautiful lustre.

The piping is polyester - all I had in the correct colour.  I'm not convinced.  Will have to try silk fabric for the piping - it's thicker than polyester so the 'rope' pattern of the piping cord wont show through, and it will be less slippy to sew.  However the other reason i'm not sure about the piping is because of the way the boning channels must be sewn perpendicular to the curved seams and therefore over the piping at an almost 45 degree angle.  It might therefore be better to construct the corset in a different way which means that the vertical bone channels are sewn invisibly to a lining.

I do love this pattern.  The way it has been drafted is excellent - every line perfectly matched so that the corset, once you have worked it out, is actually really easy to sew.  The detail is fabulous, the shape lovely.     I'm going to sew the other side in a different style - closer to the original, without piping but with contrast stitching.

My blog posts will be quite intermittent over the next few weeks but I will keep you posted, and I do have a little giveaway to tell you about soon.

Friday, 4 November 2011

A little rant

This week on my Sew Curvy Facebook page, I wrote a 'status update' which I thought may be of interest to readers here too.  So I have expanded upon it a little and added a video to demonstrate the problem.

The corset on the left is by Electra Designs, the one on the right is a cheap chinese rip off.  See what corsetiere Alexis Black had to say about it on her Facebook page by clicking here.
Corset design and image theft is a big problem in the independent corsetiers world.  Individuals are constantly finding that their hard work has been ripped off and copied by unscrupulous Chinese factories, and to add insult to injury the images which they have worked hard to create and probably paid a lot of money for, are used to promote these knock-off's at ridiculous prices.

From time to time, these big companies from China offer me wholesale corsets at knock down prices. USD5.00 each to be precise. Yes $5 for a corset.

This means that the manufacturing cost of these corsets is under $2.50 which works out at about GBP2.00 and €1.50. 

If that's how much it costs to manufacture a corset in China, can you then imagine the cost of the raw material - the busk, the bones, the fabric, eyelets and the lacing plus any embellishments? Perhaps we're talking $1.50? Which leaves less than $1 per corset for the people working in the factory!

These corsets retail in the West under brands such as "Corsets UK" and other similar sites,  for between £30-100 (€40-120/$50-150).  That's a heck of a mark up!

As I said, often the designs are copied from hard working independent corsetiers. The resulting fake product is not only cheap and nasty - literally, but the fit is ...well there isn't a fit. 

Corset busks from Germany
German steel is the best steel in the world, closely followed by British steel.  Most professionals use German steel busks in their corsets.  If you consider that one German steel busk fastner is more expensive wholesale than the cost of a whole corset made in China, you can easily see the reason why it's best to either make your own corset with quality supplies, or buy a bespoke or rtw corset from a reputable and independent corsetiere.  Infact, the cost of making a quality corset can quickly add up to £50+ for the raw materials depending on fabrics used.  The money you pay for a bespoke corset is made up of this cost plus the extreme care, attention, and time lavished on each piece by it's maker.  A plain corset can take 20 and more hours to make.

Once, I had a corset for sale in a shop where I happened to be working when a couple took an interest in the peice.  They saw the price tag of £200 and dropped it with a nervous giggle and a look which said "whoever made that is having a laugh".  I didn't say anything but I was aflame with indignation!  If I was paid just £10 an hour for the length of time it took me to make the corset - not including the cost of materials, it would have cost much more!  When you think that a good hairdresser is paid up to £50-60 an hour for their work, then please tell me why an equally skilled artisan is worth less per hour just becuase their work involves a needle and thread?

In corsetry, and other sewing related artistry,  you really do get what you pay for so here's a little film from Lulu and Lush to demonstrate what I mean.

And to all ladies who sew - we must never underestimate or undervalue our skill and the care and patience it takes to produce beautiful things with it.