Sunday, March 06, 2011

Lila's Corset, part 1

A few months ago, a friend contracted me to make her a corset for the Nova Albion convention at the end of the month. I've been incredibly happy with the corset I made from the Laughing Moon pattern (Dore Corset, #100), but since I feel like sewing the same thing twice would just be boring, I suggested making something a bit fancier. And since I'm on a kick for asymmetric attire, we decided to go with something double-breasted, with one sleeve, and a notched lapel.

Now, at Steamcon I had tried on a corset that was made out of a pair of old spats. The idea was fantastic, but somehow when I put it on (even with help from the vendor) there was something sort of askew about it. And that kind of asymmetry in a corset just sort of makes the person wearing the corset look, well, lumpy. Which is not what you're going for if you're wearing a corset in the first place. So I figured that I would have to have a symmetrical base, upon which I added the double-breasted front panel and sleeve, rather than altering the basic pattern for the corset too much.

So, step one: tracing and cutting a muslin of the corset pattern (Again, I'm using the Dore Corset from Laughing Moon's Victorian Undergarments #100 here):
And sew it all together:
The purpose of the muslin is to ensure fit, so that you can change the pattern as necessary for people who aren't shaped exactly how the pattern expects. I sometimes wish I had made mine shorter, which would make doing things like bending over or sitting cross-legged easier. Of course, that doesn't mean that I abstain from doing either of those with my corset, it just takes more flexibility. Fortunately, the muslin fit (tight at bust, not-quite-there at waist, and snug at hips, with the top being just above the bustline and the bottom hitting at her hips), so I moved on to the real fabric.

The only thing I would have changed about the corset I made, except for the part about making it a bit shorter, would be to use two layers of coutil instead of only one. For those of you who don't know: coutil is a cross-woven cotton fabric which, because of the way it's woven, doesn't stretch hardly at all. It's great for corsets because it's flexible enough to bend around the curves with boning, but it won't stretch horizontally. It's just about as strong as steel, or something. The outer material in the first corset I made was a pretty loosely woven canvas, and I had trouble almost immediately with the bones wearing through the canvas side. Of course, the coutil side is still beautiful after a year of wearing it to just about every second costume event I go to. So this time I'm using two layers of coutil and a decorative outer layer. Which means lots, and lots, of cutting.

That's thirty pieces of fabric, for those of you counting. I labeled the coutil, since it won't be showing on the outside of the corset. Because otherwise I would not be able to keep track of which piece went with which other piece. And I attached the decorative blue fabric to a coutil lining, and zig-zagged the edges to prevent fraying. And then it's time for the busk.

A busk is a piece of boning that is put down the front of a corset. It tends to be stiffer or wider than the other bones. Victorian busks also act as closures, so the corset is front opening and back lacing. (This makes it much more convenient because you can keep the corset laced at all times, get into and out of it by loosening the lacing and using the busk opening, rather than having to unlace and relace completely.)

But of course, it means that you have to have a piece of boning that partially protrudes from the fabric. You can see the loops in the picture below. So the first seam is sewing the front to the front lining, in a dotted-line, with open pockets for the loops to stick out of.

Then topstitch everything, for extra security, and put in the busk! Another line of stitches as close as I can get them to the other side of the busk keeps it secure. On the other side of the busk, there's a row of hooks which stick out through the top of the fabric, rather than out the seam. So there I just sewed up the seam, topstitched, and used an awl to make holes for the busk to come through. Again, sew down the other side of the channel to keep it in place, and you have the front of a corset.

I had a recommendation from an acquaintance that you can sew in the boning channels as you go - keep each seam in place with topstitching and bone as you work your way from the front to the back of the corset. The pattern directions suggest instead that you sew together all the pieces, then baste them in place, and sew in the boning channels. The former method is almost certainly quicker, and while I had started this project pretty close to New Year's, by the time I got this far it was already March. Less than three weeks until the convention, and I still had a costume I wanted to make for myself. The changed methodology means I'll have to finish the back edges with bias tape rather than having a closed seam there, so it will look a bit different, or I could slipstitch that seam. Either way, it's doable, and so I barrelled on ahead, stitching boning channels and then side seams. And the corset started to actually take shape!
"But wait!" I can hear you saying, "Wasn't this supposed to be a double-breasted, asymmetric bodice-corset rather than a straight up just following the pattern corset?"

And you would be right. Up until this point, I'd avoided drafting or even really thinking about the double-breasted portion of the corset because I wasn't entirely sure how I would do it. The easiest would be to make an additional, altered, front piece to the corset, which would cover the busk and be the "double breasted" portion. However, the front piece of the corset is tiny. The second piece reaches far enough that it could be reasonable for a shoulder strap. So I made up the piece, using both the front and side-front pattern pieces:

I have a dart in the middle of the piece, so that it will stick to the line of the corset nicely, and so that the side seam is oriented properly as compared to the other pieces of fabric it will be next to. Then it's just a slanted collar for now (the lapel will come later). The sleeve is just a cap sleeve for now; I might change that later when I see how it looks, but I thought it best to keep it simple especially since there's a bit of a time crunch. In the back, I'll use cording to tether this to the appropriate back pieces, to create an open netting-like look.

The double-breasted cover I then attatched to the appropriate side-front piece, and continued sewing and adding boning channels as appropriate:

And that's as far as I got, before I had to run. I've still got two pieces to attach to each side (so four pieces total), and the sleeve, and then get to work on trimming, putting in buttons and grommets, lacing, and so on and so forth. More next week? Possibly. Pictures of my friend wearing her brand new corset? If I'm very lucky!

1 comment:

Ayn said...

Can't wait to see the finished piece!