New adventures in corsetry

Last night saw the draft corset stitched together (actually I did a fair amount of it at the pub yesterday lunchtime, by hand, much to the perplexity of my work colleagues!), a pair of temporary lacing strips made (that I will detach and keep for future projects) and the corset tried on. I stuck a grand total of six pieces of boning in there (a cable tie in each lacing strip, two pieces of hoop steel down the front in lieu of a busk, and one piece of each hoop steel down the sides of the front 'V'), and was very pleasantly surprised by the sturdiness of it all:

Immediately obvious problems in the photos are:

  • The expected hideous stress wrinkles – even where there was boning, it wasn't closed in at the ends, so the corset slid together along it – and there are only six pieces in there!

  • The back gaps much more at the waist than at the top, and the cable ties bend to allow this to happen… I'm not sure how much to correct for this as my waist will 'squish' more when there's more boning, but I think it's safe to say that the corset is too big at the back top.

  • The lacing goes too far down – it should stop just below the waist.
  • The neckline is just the wrong shape – it shoul basically be straight across. But to where? – Looks like basically the bottom of the armsceye to me…
  • I also think the front V should be narrower at the top – extant examples seem to have that seam running over the apex of the (natural) breast or just outside it. That point is quite wide on me, so the apex it is, then.

However, the fit in general was pretty good; the front looks OK, the side seam is pretty vertical and the waist seems to fall at roughly the right point. I'm pleased. 🙂 Onwards!!

The darn thing’s too big

*Much* too big. The corset laces closed with only a tiny bit of squeeze on the waist, and I reckon I could shove the entire contents of my sock drawer down the front and still have room to manoeuvre. I think I need to make a size 10, if not smaller (this one's a 14).

Still, the workmanship is impeccable, if I do say so myself. Next!

The corset is complete!

The corset is finished! I spent the evening of the 11th making the grommet holes on the other half of the corset and Friday evening ignoring it. Saturday didn't have all that much sewing time in it, but I did get the loop side of the busk inserted into the right front facing. Sunday was pretty much non-stop sewing from about 10am until just gone 5pm; and I finished it! The busk went in easily and flat felling seams with three seam allowances in is no harder than the other ones (possibly because they're also pretty straight). I'm not convinced that all the bones are an appropriate length for the channels, though. The wide bone in the back is so long I had to hand-stitch the binding around it because there wasn't enough seam allowance to stitch over it. The remaining back bones are an appropriate length. The side and front bones, though, appear to be significantly shorter than I would expect, being a centimetre or two shorter than the channels they sit in. This may be intentional; at least they're less likely to stab me under the arms, and the front won't project out sharply over the bust. On the other hand, it may be due to me being inaccurate, but the rest of it has been so spot-on that I would find it surprising.

I haven't actually tried it on yet, I don't have any laces for it! I think I'm going to have to unlace a skate or my docs tonight to give it a trial run possibly with photographs. My tentative attempts at trying it on (i.e. James pulling the back of it together) suggest that it may be on the large side. You shouldn't be able to lace a corset of this type closed. On the other hand, lacing it closed would, I think, give me a very respectable squeeze, and since this corset doesn't have a waist tape it's not really designed for giving me a major squeeze, so I'm not too worried overall.

Total time spent on making corset: about 20 hours, I think. Could probably halve that with practice/advance knowledge of what I was actually doing. Could probably knock off another couple of hours if I made some short-cuts, but this has turned out very neat and professional-looking, so I don't know that I'd want to. Anyway, success. Photographs to follow.

I am bored of the little holes

Urk. I made 15 of them last night. Well, J made the first one cos I was scared. I'm not punching them, I'm using an awl, then a pencil, then a biro (with the ink bit removed, after the first one spat blue all over me, but thankfully missed the white corset) to push a progressively larger hole into the fabric that the grommet will fit through. This is a relatively physical process, since you're wrestling your way through two layers of cotton coutil. And then using a pair of giant pliers to squeeze the grommet halves together.

Using the pliers to punch holes would be far, far quicker, but is also much less strong. When you punch holes, you cut fibres that butt up against the edge of the hole. Those fibres can no longer take any of the strain put on the eyelet when the corset is laced. If you use an awl, the fibres are just pushed out of the way, and the lacing strain is distributed between them. Well, OK, maybe one or two snap, and they're probably a bit weakened, but the general principle holds. As, hopefully, will the corset. If I ever end up making these things for money, then 'awl-made lacing holes' will be an optional extra, I think. Or maybe a standard feature that is used to justify my prices. 😉

15 grommets is one side of the corset, and thus halfway. Speaking of halfway, I think the corset is nearly half finished. OK, sure, I'm still on step 6 out of about 19, but given that the first step is 'sew most of the bits together and make flat felled seams' and that the grommets all together are only one step, and most of the remaining steps seem to deal with inserting the busk into the centre front, I think I've spent more than half the time I'm going to spend on this thing. Cool!

I fear the little holes

Spent about three hours working on the corset last night. All casings are stitched down, the back facing is on and turned back and its edge finished with yet another pair of casings.

Now I have to put the lacing grommets in. I spent about half an hour this morning before work marking the placement of the grommets, and I'm still not convinced. I think the top and bottom ones may be too close to the edge. Clearly, I could move the edge into the hem allowance slightly, but will that make the boning channels too long? Hmm, will measure tonight.

Poking holes in stuff I've spent hours making was never my idea of fun, though. It's nerve-wracking because if you mess up, you can't just unpick it. Eeek.

Tape all tacked down

Including removing one of the strips I shouldn't have tacked down in the first place. Machine work tonight should be a breeze, because these tapes aren't trying to fall off the bulk of an existing seam like the last ones were. Again, I tacked them on down both edges; don't know when I became so rigorous! Actually, I think it's something to do with making chainmaille; you get used to projects progressing slowly. Think it's taken about two hours to tack this lot in place, which includes some but not all of the deliberation about how the pattern actually works and also part of Discovery Channel's Egypt Week. Ooops.

Keep your fingers crossed for me; I'm going to try and sign up to a jewellery making course tonight. Only thing is, the course might be full, and the instructor might not be available. I'd say the odds are stacked against me. Still, if it's not possible this term, I'll do it next term. Need to learn to make quality findings. Oh, yes.

Amusingly, I pretty much got offered a job as an instructor when I rang up to enquire about the courses. Well, it's another thing to consider if I want to make serious money out of crafts in a few years…

Corset update… …and a busy weekend

Sewing the boning tape on over the flat-felled seams has actually gone OK. It doesn't look like the world's biggest mess, as I feared it might, though I think there is room for improvement. In fact, this is my first 'lesson learned' of this project. I compared my seams to the ones on my existing (purchased) corset, and noticed that they'd flat felled the seams in a different way. When I did it, I sewed the seam allowance down very close to its edge, as far away from the actual seam line as I could, which looks lovely, and is the way it's done on trouser seams and the like. However, the black corset shows the seam allowance stitched down much closer to the seam line. This has two advantages in this case:

  1. You don't get two lines of stitching very close to each other when you sew the boning tape over the seam. So if you're not perfectly parallel, it's not so noticeable. You do get a line of sewing pretty close to the seam line (which shows as a fold on the right side), but that's OK because it's not that close to it, and also you can actually see the seam line when you're sewing down the seam allowance, so you're likely to be more accurate anyway.
  2. It would be easier on curved seams, because of the difference-in-length issue mentioned in the last update. The closer to the seam line you stitch, the less the difference is, so the easier it is to get it smooth.

On the down side, the seam won't look as delicious on the wrong side, but that's OK because it gets covered with boning tape anyway.

I actually tacked the boning tape down before sewing it, on both edges. This is significantly more prep work than I usually do before sewing things together, but I think it was worth it. I don't think I'd have got the stuff lying neatly and smoothly and (mostly) in line with the seam if I was trying to wrestle it into place as I went. It took about an hour to tack the tapes down, then about an hour to do the machine sewing and pull the tacks out, for each half-corset. I only had to unpick one line of stitches for not behaving properly, which I think is quite an acheivement.

I then got confused. I was pinning on the boning tape for the casings that are in the middle of the panels when I came to the conclusion that I didn't have enough bones. Huh?? My first thought was that I'd lost some, so I did a search round the project bags. Yep, I currently have about three shopping bags worth of fabric that I consider to contain 'current projects' – pieces in various stages of cut-out-ness and assembly. They weren't there, so I checked the kit description on Vena Cava. Hmm, according to them I have the number of bones that I should have. So is the kit wrong?? I was part way through emailling Vena Cava to query it when I had the brilliant idea of reading the back of the pattern envelope, and the pattern agreed with the folks at Vena Cava. After a fair amount of discussion, head scratching and pencil chewing, I finally decided that everyone was right except me. The mid-panel casings are marked on the pattern pieces as solid lines – and so is the point that the back facing folds back to. This forms a bone casing at a later stage, but is not to be done yet. So effectively, I was counting that line twice, so I have enough bones. Which pleases me, phew.

I didn't get as much sewing done as I'd expected over the weekend, as we were unusually sociable. I thought I was being very organised for the dinner party we had on Saturday, until I cooked the world's ugliest cheesecake on Friday, and therefore needed to make backup pudding on Saturday. I then ran out of bread flour at a crucial point. Dough that you can stir with your finger when you should be kneading it is not good. So we had a Mission Impossible style dash to the Daily Bread for more flour, hoping that whilst we were away the 'dough' would not run off the counter and onto the floor, and also that we'd be back in under ten minutes as the crust for the backup pudding was in the oven and I didn't want it to burn. We managed it. Everything went beautifully, even the ugly cheesecake (which was disguised with a thick layer of cream and tasted great). And thanks to the ugly cheesecake, the chocolate pie and James's helpfulness/vote of no confidence (not sure which; he bought a backup backup chocolate cheesecake from Tesco's), we started Sunday morning with more pudding in the fridge than it usually sees over the course of a month. Or two.

Sunday, therefore, was the day of Cafe Otter. People came round, drank tea/coffee/fizzy water and ate lasagne/toasted sarnies/desserts. And watched Lord of the Rings. We still have excess pudding. Or we did when I left the house this morning; J might have finished it by now…

…and back to sewing again!

I brought my (ordinary) sewing machine downstairs. Which means I can sew in the evenings without being all antisocial, excellent. I transferred the size 14 corset pattern onto fabric, for durability and because I don't want to damage the paper pattern for other sizes. (By the way, don't believe them when they say yellow transfer paper works on white fabric. It's a great big fat lie.) I then made a swift mock-up of the main pieces (no boning or eyelets or anything), because it looked just way too big, then I got brave and cut the actual fabric, and then promptly got scared and stashed it away to do some other cutting out. So I now have the fabric for one never-ending underskirt cut out (5 tiers!), as well as the corset, and was just about to start sewing them together in the rather imminent interests of a fancy-dress party, when J pipes up with "what am I going to wear?". This party is in honour of a friend buying a cannon for his front lawn, and is therefore pirate-themed. Not that the recent costume-tastic "Pirates of the Caribbean" had any influence on the proceedings at all. Well, since my vague costume idea had been for me to go as 'captured wench stripped down to her underthings', and as such was an excuse to wear a (currently nonexistent) corset in public, and because my day-to-day wardrobe is more geared towards dressing up than J's anyway, we decided that his costume was slightly higher priority and went to town to see what we could see. Of course, we came back with fabric and patterns, because no-one would sell us pirate garb. Bah, are the shops in Cambridge stupid or what?? 😉 In case you were wondering, Simplicity 5925, about 3 metres of black linen for the shirt, and 1.7 m of ruby polyester duppion for the trousers, cos it was in the remnants bin. So, I started sewing again at about 3 pm on Saturday, and by roughly the same time on Sunday, J had his costume. Not bad, though I'm still not sure how the shirt managed to take as long as it did; probably about 8 hours in all, not including the absolutely stirling job that J did hand-binding the eyelets for the lacing at cuff and sleeve! Thankyou Sempstress for wonderful instructions. Definitely need pictures of this one, including close-ups of the eyelets. Seriously. I'm totally blown away by them. I'm also chuffed to bits that we made such a fine team getting this done. Go us!!

So, back to the corset. I have finally started actually putting this together. I'm going to try and chronicle this thing as I do it, for future reference and kindof time estimates and things. It's going fine so far. On Tuesday night I spent an hour or so sewing the panels together (all but the centre front and centre back, which are treated differently), and pressing seams open and to one side. Last night I flat felled the seams. It took another couple of hours, I guess, and I am so proud of the little suckers! Flat felling involves trimming one seam allowance (the underneath one) to within 3mm of its life, pressing under 6mm of the top seam allowance, and stitching it down over the bottom one, so it's all neat and folded in like you see on the outside leg seams of your jeans. It has a reputation of being difficult to achieve on curved seams, which is what my corset is full of, because the edge of the seam you are trying to stitch down is usually a different length to the piece of fabric you are trying to stitch it to. This has a nasty tendency to lead to puckering, odd stretched looking bits and other ugly bits of seam weirdness. Well, mine are *gorgeous*. Flat, smooth and just generally beautiful, which is especially gratifying since I've never made them before. And now I have to cover them up with boning tape. Wah. I'll have to take some photos of them first. One rather wonderful discovery is that this coutil (the corset fabric) can be finger-pressed to turn under the seam allowance; it holds the crease from a sharp pinch very well indeed. This is far less intimidating than pressing with an iron, and, importantly, can be done on your lap whilst watching "The Two Towers". All this sewing would probably go a lot faster if the telly was off.

Actually, I'm a little perplexed by this boning tape business. It has to be stitched onto the inside of the corset to make a channel for the boning. It is presumably stitched through all layers, as invisible stitching is pretty unlikely to take the strain of the intended use of the thing. A strip of boning tape is to be centred over each seam (thus hiding my beautiful flat-felling) and over a few more places mid-panel. Well, I know I was skeptical about my abilities to flat fell curved seams, but this seems even less likely to come out looking nice. At each seam, I'm going to have the seam line itself, plus three rows of (effectively) top-stitching showing on the outside. If they're not neat and parallel, it's going to suck. I haven't been able to find any clear enough pictures of the finished article to be able to see if I'm right or not, but that does appear to be the way my veggie-leather corset is made. Well, kindof. That one appears to have the flat felled seam sewn down about 3mm from teh seam line; I stitched close to teh folded edge of the seam allowance, which puts it 8-9mm from the seam line, which will be very close to one edge of the boning tape. Oh, well, we'll see, I guess. Maybe my sheer brilliance will astound me yet again.