Friday, 5 December 2014

Starting over. Again.

So here's an old new blog.  How did we get here?  Well ...  A long long time ago, seems like half a century but in fact it's really only about 10 years, I made my first corset.  I was inspired by lots of things, but I think what finally did it, was the day I met fan dancer Gwendoline L'Amour who had with her a little tiny suitcase stuffed with costumes, and the most beautiful corset I'd ever seen.  This wasn't hard as I hadn't really seen any real corsets up to that point.  It was black silk, encrusted with amber jewels and a matching bra.  "It was made for me" she said casually as if all women have beautiful things made for them every day and as if she was saying 'this old thing' whilst handling what looked like the crown jewells!   "MADE?" I thought?  Aren't these things just magicked into existence for goddesses to wear?  Happily it seems not.  That was one of my moments in time.  There have been others that led to this point, but that was the one specifically to do with corsetry.  It was a defining moment.

This was maybe the third corset I ever made.  Modelled by moi!
It's the Laughing Moon Dore pattern
Quite a long time later, I took a year out and honed my sewing skills.  It was a time when craft blogs were just starting, dressmaking wasn't a thing, and if you searched for 'how to do a vintage hairstyle' you may have been sadly disappointed at the lack of information.  But I started a sewing blog and filled it with silly sewing projects, and domestic tidbits.   During that time I had ideas, and those ideas developed, a business was born, and here I am today.  I outgrew the blog but there were some interesting bits on there.

Those interesting bits, are now here.  And the boring domestic bits are still on the old blog.  I've edited the titles and on some posts i've put "edits from the future" because it's funny how things turn out sometimes.

The old blog.  I still have designs on vintage style but they are corset-centric now

Everything from this point on will be new musings concentrated on corsetry and couture.  I've come a bit of a way since the first post here!  I've got a thriving online haberdashery shop which is in it's 6th year of business, specialising in corset making components, I've founded an International Conference, with it's it's third year nearly booked out already, and I've been teaching corsetry for the last 5 years in and around Oxford, but over the last three years, from my woodland studio in West Oxfordshire.  I've had students come from all over the world to learn corsetry with me and have just launched The Oxford School of Corsetry, the only school dedicated entirely to the art of corset making in the whole wide world!   You can read about some of my journey in the past posts here, and I hope you enjoy reading about the further adventures of Sew Curvy and all it's bits in the future!

The last corset I made for Oxford Conference of Corsetry.
This is the Pearls of Wisdom Corset and was inspired by the Fellows Library at Jesus College
modelled by Liv Free and photographed by Scott Chalmers

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Improving your corsetry with antique patterns

One of the best ways to learn corsetry is to examine and make antique corset patterns.  These patterns are widely available either via collectors who have taken patterns from antique corsets in their collections, or via Google patents, or via the many historical costuming books available, the most popular for corset making being "Corsets: historic patterns and techniques" by Jill Salen which contains a veritable compendium of historical corset patterns to scale up and try.
Ref R pattern from Atelier Sylphe available here.
One such pattern I have made was from Atelier Sylphe who takes corset patterns from her lovely antique corset collection - these patterns come in one size only (the size that the corset happens to be) and with very scant instructions however having tried two of them, I can report that her patterns are excellent and with each one, Joelle supplies a large number of digital photographs of the original corset from all angles, inside and out with plenty of close ups.  These are emailed to you upon receipt of your order.

I tried Joelle's  "Ref R" pattern which is taken from a beautiful corset with a gentle line and continious flossing over fully boned front panels.  This corset has 9 panels on each side and a hidden busk which I found intreguing.
The first thing to do when making up your antique pattern is to make a paper version of it.  Cut out your pieces, stick them together with masking tape.  This way you get an idea of how the peices fit together without wasting too many resoucres.  Minor problems, if there are any, can be ironed out at this stage and the corset can also be re-sized more easily when you can see a '3d' model infront of your eyes rather than a collection of flat shapes.  Sometimes with antique patterns there are extra parts which you can't quite work out until you 'do' them.  In the case of the 'Ref R' pattern, this was the hidden busk.  The pattern peices for both sides of the centre front panels where the busk is,  are a curious shape, there are no instructions for the pattern, you just have to trace the peice, and fold it until it makes sense - this is easier than it sounds and results in several "ahhh!" moments!

I resized Ref R by imposing it on my own corset block and basically copying the style of the panels to the size I wanted - I had to reduce the pattern because the original is a 24.5" waist and so would fit a modern (UK) size 10-12 lady.  I needed it in a size 8-10 in order to fit the model I was making for.

Now this particular corset pattern it seems was possessed by evil pixies and became known between my corset making friends and me as "The incredible growing corset"!! I made it no less than 3 times (after the initial toile), the first two times in expensive silk, the third time in less expensive loomstate cotton satin.  I wasn't taking any more chances and in future, I would always make up the 'final' version in a cheaper fabric first - just in case!  The problem, which I never fully got to the bottom of, was the number of panels and the number of bone channels within those front panels.  Basically, during the action of sewing it together, with welt seams at every panel, the corset stretched on each seam.  Version one ended up 4 inches bigger than it should have been, version 2 grew by 2 inches, version 3 was just right but only because I gave up and removed a panel thus changing it from an 18 panel corset to a 16 panel corset.  It is still somewhat of a mystery because if I measured the paper pattern peices they were correct, if I measured the corset panels individually they were correct, if I superimposted the paper pattern peices onto the corset panels, they were correct,  if I added up all the numbers on both the paper pattern and the corset they were correct, but put it all together, and petite sized corset became plus sized corset!  Totally infuriating and it still makes my head hurt.  The best way I can explain what happened is, if you think, you have 9 panels to stitch together... if those panels 'stretch' by 1mm each, perhaps by making a welt seam, then by the end your corset has grown by 1cm on each side.  That's nearly an inch overall without noticing!  These are things to be careful of when sewing any corset - handle with care!

The final version of my 'Ref R' corset has 8 panels on each side and is fully boned over three of the front panels.  The hidden busk is not constructed quite the same as the antique because in experimenting with the original pattern I discovered a better mechanism for modern corsetry and so I applied that method instead - the original has an underbusk, mine does not.  
The finished Clessidra version of  'Ref R' made from cotton satin coutil 
with french applique lace details and ivory 'diamond flossing'.
photo: Catherine Day
I'm very pleased with the way this corset turned out, and I have applied techniques learned from making this to other corsets that i've made since then.  I also learned a huge amount about corsets with more than a 'normal' number of panels and how careful you have to be when stitching... in short, the more panels you have, the bigger the discrepancy you could end up with if you're not careful.
he next corset I made was also fully boned, made using the same techniques as 'Ref R' but
did not 'stretch' while sewing 
and as you can see I used the 'diamond flossing' again
to pick out the boning structure
photo: Chris Murray

Construction details:  The 'Alice' corset was constructed with cotton satin coutil on the outide with a double layer of cotton canvas inside which supports the boning and the structure without the bulk of coutil.  It is lined with silk and embellished with french metallic lace in two colours.  The flossing is done using perle cotton size 8, and the boning used throughout the corset is a combination of 4mm spiral steel bones in the fully boned areas, 5mm spiral steel bones on the seams and 6mm sturdy flat bones at the centre back edges.  The pink corset was made using similar techniques and materials and in addition has Swarawski crystals highlighting the flossing and placed within the antique Edwardian lace applique.

Usefull links:

Atelier Sylphe shop - where you can buy full size antique corset patterns
Buy 5mm boning used in this corset
How to scale up a pattern from a book - tutorial using a photoshop technique to accurately scale up patterns
Printing a digital pattern using photoshop - this website has a trillion other corset related links!
"Corsets : Historic patterns and techniques" by Jill Salen - book of antique corset patterns 
Google Patents - corset patterns
Clessidra Couture - bespoke corsetry by moi!