An internship; A corset Thursday, Aug 7 2014 

I am a big fan of education. I love learning. Much to my surprise, I also love teaching. (and miss it very much, in fact, quick shout out to my SHS kids!)

So when I received an inquiry about an internship from a very eager and talented young lady, I was inclined to figure out a way to make it happen, despite my schedule being all sorts of all over the place this summer.

Emma, the young lady in question, was in need of a Renaissance Faire-style bodice (I use this term instead of “corset” for various reasons, but for the purpose of this post they are interchangeable).

I decided to propose a one-day internship during which I would walk Emma through the process of creating a Faire bodice, pointing out important factors about patterning, cutting, finishing, etc. along the way.

She was thrilled by the prospect, and the date was set.

With only one day, I thought it best to do some prep work…

I had a few appropriate fashion fabrics and some cotton canvas that I pre-washed (always!).

I pulled out an old bodice in the style we were going to use and, with her measurements, created a paper pattern sized for her.

Goths in the sun, oh no!

My bodice from the Early Years of BRF had tie-on shoulder straps and laced up the sides and back.

I ironed the fabrics and had them ready to lay out, and had a few color choices in bias tape ready.

Checkered fabric- fun!

When she arrived, we got right to it, and we made good progress. We cut out 2 layers of cotton canvas lining, between which the boning would be sandwiched. When this was done it was time to cut out the fashion fabric… this particular pattern was a multi-colored check which I suggested turning to a 45 degree angle, making the squares into diamonds and creating a fun harlequin-esque look. She loved this idea, and I explained that we could do so because we had a strong base with the two layers of canvas and changing the grain of the fashion fabric alone wouldn’t change the way the garment would lay (if we angled all three layers, it would stretch in ways we would not want because it would then be cut on the bias).

Another design choice was the center seam, which allowed us to created a very flattering chevron pattern in the front and back. (Side note, if you have more fabric available to play with, you can match up the stripes of color exactly and impress your friends! We did the best we could with .5 yards.)

After all pieces were cut, we planned out the boning channels and drew them onto the lining in chalk. A zigzag stitch was used around the edges to keep all pieces in place. The channels were stitched through all three layers.

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Next we added the boning, primarily 1/2″ plastic coated spring steel. We did use 1/4″ spring steel at the 2 sides, to provide extra strength where the grommets would be pulling on the fabric. (A lesson learned the hard way; I really like to lace myself up tight!)

Once all channels were sewn and boning inserted, we pinned and stitched bias tape around all the edges. This can be challenging, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. I would suggest sewing it on by hand if you’re unsure, or at least starting with the back pieces, so any dodgy areas will be less apparent.

Then all that was left was marking and applying the grommets. I highly recommend using quality 2 part grommets and a setter that requires a hammer… one piece grommets with the little squeeze setter just aren’t very sturdy. You can get everything you need (individually or in kits) at corsetmaking.com. They’re affordable, high quality, and are not reimbursing me to say so- I’ve been using their supplies for YEARS (we won’t get into how many years… plenty!)

I think Emma enjoyed the grommeting the most. (Fun with hammers!) Just remember to use ear & eye protection- it’s a loud process!

In the end, we were right on schedule and had a lovely, sturdy custom bodice with more boning and better quality materials than most, if not all, for sale on the Faire grounds.

Emma did have some sewing knowledge going in, which does help, but I believe if taken one step at a time, a project like this can be within anyone’s reach!

Our final product:

internship (3)

internship (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, Emma in full garb, wearing her new creation:

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Elizabethan Underwear Part I: The Corset Saturday, Mar 23 2013 

An Elizabethan corset, despite what you may find online, doesn’t go on the outside of your outfit any more than your modern day bra does.  *Could* you wear just your bra, or put your bra over your shirt? Yes, but it would probably have some of the same effect then as it would now.  The corset goes over your shirt/chemise and under your bodice. ImageCan you simply bone your bodice and wear it instead of both? Yes, but that will imply that you (or your character, if that’s your thing) doesn’t have the money for proper garments. So lower class costumes are perfectly at home with combining the two garments. You would definitely add straps in that case. The shape, however, would be the same.

The shape of the corset is conical, rather than the curvy waist nipping image we usually have when thinking about corsets. The idea was to create a straight line from waist to bust all the way around (this goes for men’s corsets too). The corset could restrict the waist- sometimes by quite a bit- but since it ended at the waist this could get quite uncomfortable, digging into the soft flesh above the hipbone.  To counter this, some corsets had tabs at the bottom that would flare over the top of the hips when worn. This also helped to distribute the (considerable) weight of the farthingale, petticoats, underskirt and overskirt from the lower back.

To attain the proper shape corsets were heavily boned. You can access a free, easy to follow pattern for a custom Elizabethan corset online at www.elizabethancostume.net.

Measure yourself carefully- decide how many inches you would like to take in at the waist, think about the size of your chest and whether that might require an extra inch or two of height at the top, or if a desire for more lower stomach coverage might warrant another inch or two at the bottom front.  I suggest making a mock-up if you adjust measurements at all, so you get a good feel for how it will sit on your body. If you do add to the top or bottom, be sure to angle the line back down to the suggested underarm curve or up to the hip curve- you’re only adding to the front or back!

ImageMy last Elizabethan corset included the fashion fabric, lining and an interlining, and I boned it more heavily than others I’ve made.  I laid all three layers together and did some large temporary stitches around the edges and across the body. This kept all the layers from shifting while I marked and stitched the boning channels.

I did add tabs, as I tend to do some waist-nipping. You can add tabs separately or you can cut them with the corset all in one piece. Though you have to reinforce the edges with at least double stitching, I like the all-in-one method better- it feels more stable and there’s less messing around with multiple pieces of fabric at a sensitive curve like the waistline. For my upper and lower edges I placed grosgrain ribbon at the seam allowance edge, good sides together. Then I turned it over to the bad side of the fabric and “stitched in the ditch”. This, while in my head seemed like it would be faster and easier, was a lot of tugging with tight corners and the end result really only looks good from the outside.  I think I may have saved myself time and a headache if I had hand-stitched the backside of the grosgrain ribbon down. But, both methods work. Here is a picture of the finished product:Image

As you can see, the inside is not as neat as I’d like. However, no-one else will see the inside, so your finishing is your secret!

For the center channel, you may notice I used a heavier bone. It’s extra wide and extra thick. You can purchase these online at corset supply stores, but I happened to find mine at a resale store, in a back support corset/brace from the fifties or sixties.  It never hurts to check alternate sources of supplies! I’ve also harvested boning from old corsets and bodices that were worn out. Just beware if the bones are very bent- even if you can get them straight again, the rust resistant coating may be compromised.

ImageGrommets: You should use two part grommets, and the ones from most commercial fabric stores (even the two part ones) are not great for corsets. Order some from a corsetry supplier or see if a local leatherworking store has some. There are mutiple finishes and *sizes* so make sure your hole puncher, grommet setter and grommets are all the same size. Also, when you measure the holes for your grommets, be sure to include the width of the grommets itself (e.g. If you want 1″ between grommets, and each grommet is 5/8″ wide, making holes 1″ apart will result in many, many grommets set very, very close)

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The last tip I have is to be thorough and painfully precise when placing boning channels around your grommets. Use a ruler, mark your lines. If the bones butt right up to the grommets you’ll get the least amount of pulling, and the longest wear from your garment.

PS- Why grosgrain instead of bias tape? It looks more period and it stands up better to the stress that a corset is subject to.

Below you can see the exterior and interior of the finished product:Image