The Learning Process 1: The Simple Corset

Corsets. A good corset can really make an outfit or costume. A bad one… Well a bad one just looks shit doesn’t it?!

I am not a corsetier. Never have been, and never will be. What I AM, is incredibly poor. I can’t afford to buy all those lovely steel boned waspies, halterneck underbusts and overbust Steampunk delights. So, as I had some fabric that I wasn’t using for anything else, I figured I would attempt to make a simple corset, just to see if, in a pinch, I COULD.

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Please excuse the bedclothes as a backdrop, I am writing this post and taking it’s photos while in bed sick with a cold! Also, turns out I CAN make a corset in a pinch…

 

Now, first off, the pattern I used (Simplicity 2172) called it a “bustier”, which it’s not technically, however, it isn’t a true corset either. The pattern calls for a zip closure instead of the lacing of a corset or the hook-and-eye closure of a bustier, and does not feature the busk closure at the front. It is also ends slightly above the hips in length (higher than most traditional corsets, but lower than typical bustiers), and calls for the more flexible plastic boning, rather than the rigid boning. It also does not feature the boob support a bustier normally would and has more shape than typical bustier. This seemed to me to be a good hybrid-style to try, as I wasn’t convinced I could pull off the rigidity of the traditional corset, but I was looking for something with more shape than a bustier. And once I got the pattern out, it seemed simple enough – the instructions were reasonably clear with some awkward moments (mainly due to my inexperience) but overall, I felt confident I could pull it off.

Choosing fabric was next. I’ll be honest, I have a LOT of random scrap fabric lying around, so I figured I’d use some of the bigger smaller pieces I had. Honestly, the fabric I chose (a light blue satin-type material) I had been hoping to get more of to use for LeFay to make bloomers and a blouse, but I just couldn’t match the colour. I had just under a metre of it in length and it was around 50cm wide at its widest point- enough to trim things, but not to make anything large with, which was a shame, as it’s gorgeous! In the end, I decided to stick with making something for LeFay and used what I had to make the corset, as it seemed like a reasonable alternative and I could wrap the piece around me just fine. I also found a dark blue poly-cotton lining, which was handy, and bought a metre-or-so of medium-weight interfacing. BUT…

I didn’t have enough!

After cutting out all the paper pattern pieces, and laying them out on the material, there simply wasn’t enough material for all the panels. At the time, I hadn’t accounted for seam allowances and shaping, which had made my initial measurements for the fabric off by about 20cm or so. Bummer!

Stumped for what to do, I returned to my fabric box to seek inspiration. Sadly, the only thing available that would work was a plain white cotton, which didn’t sit quite right with me. It was too plain. Then I spotted a ruffled front on one of my Iron Fist dresses, which gave me the idea to create a ruffled panel in the same coloured organza as the LeFay bustle, thus cementing the LeFay outfit link. To do this, I cut the two front panels out of the white fabric and added the interfacing as per the instructions. At that point in time, I hadn’t cut out the other panels yet, as I wasn’t sure if my plan would work, so I concentrated on those panels only. I stitched them together along the centre seam, and then laid the organza over the top, ruffling the top, stretching out the bottom, and basting the whole thing in place. Once basted, I trimmed the edges to match the seams. My experiment seemed to have worked, so I went ahead and cut out the rest of the panels and interfacing.

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In the end, I finished the ruffled organza with this pretty cameo and some Swarovski elements – pearls and crystals

 

It was then that I hit snag number 2.

Yeah, rookie mistake. I didn’t label the panels and interfacing. This wasn’t actually a big deal, as I was using stitch-on interfacing, not iron-on, so when I got a couple upside down, or on the wrong pieces, I just unpicked them and started again. This actually became a REAL issue when I cut out the lining pieces. And the worst part is, I hadn’t even learnt my lesson the first time when I cut the lining pieces out!

So that I could get the pattern I had made safely put away somewhere, I cut out all the pieces at the same time. Not a big deal. But, as mentioned above, I didn’t label them properly. In fact, I didn’t label the lining pieces AT ALL. I just laid them out one on top of the other in order and left them in that neat little pile.
Now, I managed to get away with it on the outer pieces and interfacing because I managed to get most of the initial cutting, basting and sewing of the outer done in a single day – nothing got moved or put away and thus mismanaged. Despite a couple of hiccups, the corset went together surprisingly easily and quickly. Then it came time to call it a day, and as I had already piled all the lining pieces neatly to one side, I didn’t bother thinking about labelling them. When it came to getting the project out again, I got distracted and wound up dropping the pieces on the floor, messing up the order. I tried to work it out, but in the end, I had to unpick and restitch the lining panels four times before I got it right!

Then I noticed something even worse when I tried to lining against the outer fabric.

They didn’t fit.

The lining was too small. Or… was the outer too big? I honestly couldn’t tell at the time, and I was mortified by the idea of having to unpick the whole thing. As it turned out, I had stitched the seams of the outer too small, 1cm instead of 1″ – as a Brit, you would think that I would be used to measuring in Imperial Units, however, for some reason, my mind completely fogged over and I just did it wrong. Going away and then coming back, I had obviously re-read the instructions and sewn the lining correctly, but it did mean that I had to restitch the outer. Instead of taking it apart and then putting it back together, I sewed the seams in the correct place, then unpicked the wrong ones afterwards. It only put me a few hours behind, so I wasn’t hugely bothered.

Despite my initial reservations about constructing the boning channels, I managed to complete them with no real issues, other than the boning getting caught on a loose thread once or twice. I used sewable boning, just in case I miscalculated later when sewing the lining in place, but a part of me wishes I can used pre-channelled boning instead, which comes in its own casing and would have saved me an hour of measuring, trimming and cutting my own channels. I suppose I could have just stitched the boning to the corset (it was the stitchable stuff, after all) but I figured that it would be more difficult to fix if I got it wrong. Once the bones were in place, the lining went on at the top and bottom, leaving the ends open for finishing and adding a zip.

Not, easy.

Nothing can prepare you for how awkward putting a zipper in can be. I had never worked with a zip before, and trying to follow the instructions I got completely mixed up and lost. The damn thing wouldn’t stay in place inside the seam I was meant to create, the zip itself kept getting in the way of the needle and in the end, I had enough. I stitched up the seam and then added the zip underneath. I really didn’t care, as it was never going to be seen.

So I tried it on, relieved that it was finally over! The main construction was done!

Nope.

It didn’t fit. Despite multiple fittings, checks and tests throughout the whole process, it STILL didn’t fit! Where had I gone wrong?! What did I do? There may also have been a few swear words.

At that point, I simply tossed the damn thing to one side and didn’t touch it again for months. 7 months, to be precise. I had had enough of the finikyness and measuring and unpicking. I worked on that thing for five months and I had reached my limit of crap – admittedly, it was mostly crap of my own making, but in this case, I was incensed.
I was willing to admit that my previous mistakes were all my own green silliness, but it not fitting? That made no sense to me, especially as I had checked it against me, zip and all pinned in place and done up, not one hour before.
So I left it alone. Then, about a week ago, I noticed it sitting in my box of unfinished projects. I hadn’t had any intention of going back to that particular piece, but for some reason, I HAD to finish it.
Maybe it was just the fact that it was the damn zip that had foiled me. Maybe it was the slight catch in the lining that was annoying me. Or maybe I just wanted something well and truly “finished”. Whatever the reason, I unpicked the zip, then inspected and unpicked the seam. I don’t really remember what I did to fix it, I think I was on auto-pilot, but something inside me just clicked, and before I knew it, I was sewing the corset zip into the seams nicely and tidily! I tried it on. And you know what?

It bloody fit!

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I still have no idea what I did wrong the first time I put the zip in, nor how I fixed it when I refitted it, but it’s done!

 

As much as I would have likely to have celebrated with a little dance or something, the corset still wasn’t finished. I wasn’t happy with some of the edges as they looked a little untidy, so I pulled some lace scraps from my box and used it to edge the corset. I added a cameo, some Swarovski pearls and crystals to the organza section as seen in the second picture. And then, I stopped. Anything more, and it would be overwhelming.

I had finally done it. I had finished the bloody thing!

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Shiny shiny! The lace was from an “offcut” box in the local haberdashery. There was actually quite a lot there, around 2m of the stuff, and it was only 40p! This stuff if normally 95p a metre!

 

In a way, I guess what I learned from this project is that sometimes, you really need a break from something in order to get it to truly work. Ok, so, 7 months isn’t always a good idea, as Cons tend to have time restraints and all that, but in this case, stepping back did me some good. I think that perhaps I got too focussed on it, so desperate to prove that I COULD do it, that I forgot the reason WHY I was doing it. Which was only to SEE if I could – to experiment and discover my boundaries. I went in with little expectation of myself, and somehow, I became my own worst enemy, intent on proving a point that actually didn’t exist or need proving. Nobody was questioning my abilities or skills – no-one except myself! I needed the harsh reality check of it not fitting (for whatever reason, as I still haven’t figured out what I did wrong or what I did to correct it!) so that I could go away and remind myself that I wasn’t a corsetier, I was just someone playing around to experiment and maybe save some money!

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Would I change anything? Oh yeah. I’d certainly take more time. Five months sounds like ages to work on something but, bearing in mind I work too, it wasn’t that much time at all, and I really shouldn’t have tried to force it all to happen so quickly. I got overwhelmed by work and making all at once. So taking my time, I will definitely do in future. I would also use an invisible zip – they’re more expensive, but aesthetically, it might look better. I’m also going to invest in a zipper foot for my sewing machine, as I am pretty sure that it will make sewing zips a whole lot easier!

All in all, a big fat YAY!

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