Corsetry is currently experiencing a bit of a revival – which is great ( if you still think they are torturous, rib-breaking, garments-from-hell, please read this first…). However, since they were out of fashion for quite a while, people nowadays … Continue reading
When, earlier on this year, the scans of Symington corset patterns were released, (by Leicester County council, link to the patterns, etc: Leicestershire symington patterns), a lot of corsetmakers stormed the site and bought the images they wanted to use as an experiment in pattern-making. Well, I was one of the horde who grabbed an image (or two…) but it was only recently that I had time enough to have a go at one of the patterns.
I chose 2 complex patterns and up till the last moment I couldn’t decide on which one to make first – but in the end the decision fell on one with a lot of gores. I know, a masochistic choice, but well… I just couldn’t resist it, as the ‘gore within a gore’ concept worked for me on a variety of levels – historically accurate and yet with styling that would not look amiss in a modern or steampunk corset.
So ‘Gore Galore Corset’ it was – and it turned out be be even more gore-tastic than I had imagined….
But, let us start at the beginning.
The moment I measured the printed out pattern, I knew there would be serious issues with the fit – it just wasn’t very curvy! There were just a few inches of difference between the hip, waist, and bust, and my bod calls for more than just a few. Still, I worked out (read: husband did the calculations) how much the pattern has to be enlarged, and blew it up in the local photocopying place.
Then, I took the sheet, components and lunch and drove over to Sew Curvy for our usual Stitch and Bitch session – the corset was to be constructed there – good company and nice space make it easy for me to focus, and having an accomplished corsetiere on hand to help with the fitting can only help… 🙂
The work could then begin.
At that point I was cleverly distracted by Julia who dug out 2 lovely antique corsets and I stopped to drool over them… A teaser here, no doubt Julia will put more info and pictures of them on the Sew Curvy blog at some point…
Then it was back to work – I wanted to assemble the mock up before lunch…
The pieces assembled….. outside view
and inside, below…
The moment of truth! How does it look on the body..?
Pretty straight – as expected to be honest. As the proportions, length etc worked, I just needed an inch more reduction at the waist – and to add a few inches at the hip and bust to accommodate my curves…
And the easiest way to do that was just to cut inside the gores and use bits of calico to cover the areas that needed more expansion… and a bit more boning in front for support…
Then it was lunch time!
After lunch I amended the pattern to accommodate the changes – all that needed to be done was to enlarge the inside gores…. and since the incisions were sort of already there, I decided to let them remain split – and just get another gore in…. A gore within a gore within a gore! A bit mad, but it just seemed to work better than simply making the inside gore bigger – and it resulted in a much more interesting look too…..
Alas, it also meant I had 12 gores to sew in…. ouch….
but with help of coffee I persevered…
The rest of the evening was spent flossing the gores…..
And next morning saw me with the gores flossed (is it only me, or does that sound a bit weird? ), and I was ready for some boning. (Seriously, take that sentence out of context and it sounds damned indecent! Corsetry nomenclature joys…)
I marked the channels as close to the original as possible, and added a few more to support my boobage a bit better too…) The tape was applied over a waist stay.
It was time to try it on – if anything needs changing, there is still some scope for reshaping things, if needs be, before the lining comes in and covers all the inside…
At that stage I said goodbye to Julia and Sew Curvy studio and drove back home, where I finished the corset the next day – black cotton lining was added and the bones were flossed in black. Then it was binding time and it was done! If needs be, suspenders can be added at the front center and sides, but that can be done later once I decide whether to use it as an undergarment – or a modern top layer corset…
As it turned out, it was over a month later that we were able to get any decent photos – and surprise, surprise, my overindulgence in MMA and other martial activities at the club meant that I lost some inches… The corset still fitted, but was a bit on a loose side. 😦
Even with the corset a tad too big, we got to shoot it and ended up with some interesting images.
First we shot in in the historical style – with black lawn chemise and drawers, with a matching blue ribbon.
And later on in the evening, on the way back from the movies, I changed into leggings, black top and a wig – and we shot it with a cyber punk/comic/ Tron convention in mind – the results below….
As you can see, it turned out to be a pretty versatile piece – just a shame it is a tad too big now…. And as it is a bit too big, it has already been sold to a friend who plans to use it for some steampunk events – so it is bound to lead an interesting life….
But I am not saying goodbye to the pattern per se – indeed I liked the gores so much, I have now purchased black and yellow lacquered leather – it will be made into a Hornet Corset:-)
This was the last bit of the Geisha collection ( Part 1 and Part 2), and already drifting towards a Chinese or Manchurian influence. I had enough good-quality Chinese satin brocade, (proper silk stuff, not the poly/viscose thing, for a change!) to make a skirt, corset and a little bolero jacket. And since I knew that Threnody in Velvet, who modeled a part of the collection, is not only an amazingly gifted model but a talented photographer and make up artist, I decided to book a little makeover session with the other side of her business, Iberian Black Arts … and I wasn’t disappointed!
So a date was set, and I put some time aside to actually make my outfit. And as luck would have it, I ended up with an emergency commission instead – so had just a day to make something wearable…..
The corset was first – and from the start I regretted the choice of fabric.. the satin frayed like a mad, fraying thing, it wrinkled, moved, had a life of its own. It was too late to get fusible interfacing, so had to just get on with it and relay on roll-pinning and pure luck – and hoped the cat wouldn’t mind the amount of bad language that issued forth during the production…
In the end, success was just partial, I didn’t manage to get rid of all the wrinkles, but since it was not an item for sale I decided to leave it as it was and maybe trust the power of Photoshop….
On the day I grabbed the outfit, accessories etc – and since I was asked to bring another outfit just in case we had time to shoot more I packed my ‘snow queen’ gear too…
On arrival at Patricia’s studio we did not waste much time and got straight down to business. That is, I was munching on my sandwich whilst we were just getting the final details of the make up and hair – I had set up a board for inspiration, so we looked through different photos to get a clear idea of the styling.
The calm scene before we started…
Make up and hair took a bit of time, but not too much – and it was time well spent on a pleasant chatter, as well as deciding on some editing options, etc, and then it was time to don the gear, lace up and pose!
One important thing to mention beforehand – I am not a big fan of over the top post-production (Photoshopping, etc). I mentioned this, giving examples of what I definitely didn’t want – I wanted my body to stay the way it was, with no reduction etc, and my face basically unchanged as well – I often see the results of the popular boudoir make overs where ladies are virtually unrecognizable in the final image. This is fine if you are working on a product shoot ( though even here I tend to have problems with overphotoshopped models setting impossible standards), but not really for a personal image – everybody who knows me will just chuckle at a weird attempt to look much younger and much slimmer, and so I asked for minimal amount of post production. This is actually also why I chose Iberian Black Arts – the images showcased in the portfolio were a high quality ones, but not overly ‘over the top’.
And to be honest – the make up and the light worked wonders on their own…. well, see for yourself below……
After we finished shooting, I got the proofs the same day and chose the images I liked most, for editing. We discussed background options for both looks and the rest was just Patricia working her magic….
The Chinese look ( with a spectacular yellow kanzashi made especially for the shoot by Kikuya Kanzashi )
and the Snow Queen one…
By comparison, see the uneditted behind the scenes shots – three of the proofs, straight off the camera, showing me having some fun…:
As you can see the skin tone was smoothed and lightened to work with the styling for the image, the corset wrinkles magically disappeared, but it is still recognizably me, my body with slightly glamorized face. Happy with that:-)
Altogether, I must say I was delighted with both only the experience and the end product – highly recommended – If any of you folks would like to have a go at a makeover with Patricia ( Ipswich based), do give her a call, you won’t be disappointed – and the prices are good too! I found it a great way to showcase my work as a designer and maker, and have a bit of a girly fun as well – so work and play combined 🙂
I have been planning this one for some time – I think it was a glimpse at a kimono silk somewhere on ebay that provided the spark – 30 minutes later and I have purchased several bits of left over kimono silks and started planning. The silks arrived, and loved them even more – and they were just big enough to incorporate into some corsetry. The theme was not an unfamiliar one to me, as we have used oriental inspiration int the Petal dress, and in our Steampunk Amazones, but this one was to be a more cohesive collection.
As always the first stage was sketching, drawing, gathering inspiration ( Pinterest board is here), and gathering props. I already had an early 20th century set of a katana and tanto, and a matching kimono I wanted to use, plus a collection of kanzashi ( japanese hair flowers), parasols etc…
Ironically the first design that emerged wont be shown here – I will present it in another post giving more details – it was the first ever pattern I created myself, and the corset, together with other bits and pieces was sent on adventures, to be photographed by the Iberian Black Arts, modeled on the gorgeous Threnody in Velvet.
Do not despair though – I do have some lovely pieces for you today!
Once I had some idea of the feel for the collection, i purchased more props ( hakama trousers, jackets etc) and discussed styling and options with our main model, lovely Lizzie ( Miss Lilian Love), who also had a nice collection of oriental props:-)
Then it was just down to finding time in between commissions to make the corsets, but finally in January I managed to free a few days and frantic corsetrymaking ensued…
The feel of the collection was to be a blend of modern and traditional. The form of the corset is not a traditional shape for oriental women, however, it may be argued that obi represents a constriction and shape forming element too. In our corsets the silks or the motives were the traditional part – as well as flossing. I had a brief moment of inspiration where flossing was concerned and decided to floss the bones using kanji – chinese/japanese characters. to make it even more difficult, each kanji needed to be matched to the collection too – you cannot have a corset in silks saying for example ‘rice’ or ‘cow’, can you?
In the end we got the following kanji:
The first corset to me made was a playful geisha print – I made it as a challenge – one last corset for 2014 – and completed before midnight:-). It was meant as a sideline, to be honest, and as an exercise in pattern matching – but worked so well I decided to include it in the collection. Indeed the pattern matching worked so well that the corset is now featured on Lucy’s Corsetry blog, among other beautifully pattern matched corsets – have a look!
work in progress…
and on the Lizzie:-)
The next one was the Crane corset – a mix of kimono silks and cotton sateen.. ( this one is offered in our shop)
then another print followed, and a bit more pattern matching…
I think this is my favourite corset of the collection – I experimented with the pattern, creating a more pronounced hip spring – and as a result I love the silhouette, and it is surprisingly comfortable – I normally lace down to 27inches max – here, 26 with no problems….
and on Lizzie – again, this corset is now offered in the shop🙂
Then it was experimenting with more silks, broche and sheer mesh 🙂 both corsets are available in the shop:-)
The last one was a plain piece in broche to match my honey kimono
A week before the shoot Paul accepted our invitation to play with us on the day – and arranged for the snow machine too…. so the day was a full on fun, getting ready, changing, shooting both outside and inside with a backdrop. Whereas Lucas shot product shots and some arty stuff, Paul went for artistic and more cinematograpic mood – sexy ninjas, Kill Bill etc…
Below a few more pictures from the boys:-)
and some great shots from Paul. More of his work can be seen on his blog – link soon!
and a few behind the scenes shots:-)
and after some 6 hours, it was rest time – homemade pizza and wine! 🙂
Hope you enjoyed the collection – there are 2 more corsets, to be covered n a separate post, and since I still have a few bits of silks, I may add some more stock pieces to the shop at some point. In the meantime, 4 of the corsets are available for sale, plus some other corsets from past projects:-) have a look!
Corsetry – Prior Attire
Models, Izabela Pitcher and Miss Lilian Love
Corsetry supplies – Sew Curvy
Kanzashi – Kikuya Kanzashi
“Oh my, this must hurt – how do you breathe in this?!” – Many re-enactors, (and modern corset wearers), will recognize that remark, whether as a comment under a picture or spoken at an event. I have heard my fill over the last few years, when dressed in Victorian kit, and the discussions that followed were equally interesting and illuminating for both parties.
Recently I have been browsing through Pinterest boards looking for images of 1895 corsets, and noticed several nice pictures – yet it was not the pictures that captured my attention, rather the comments and descriptions below that were even more arresting…..
Just a few examples:
* ‘They are lovely, but so uncomfortable’ ( on this pin )
* ‘This is a victorian corset which was used to create the perfect hourglasss figure. This is gorgeous but I can’t imagine wearing it. No wonder Victorian women passed out all the time! …They couldn’t breathe ‘ ( on this )
*’Vintage 1910-1918 Fashion Corsets….women used to be laced up so tight in these corsets that they sometimes endured cracked ribs…..can’t imagine! All for the sake of having a tiny waist….’ ( on this pin)
*’how many ribs do you think had to be removed so the ladies could wear this torture device?’ ( on this pin)
*Talk about taking appearance to extremes! In the 18th – 19th century, it was fashionable to either surgically remove smaller rib bones or crush the waistline into an impossibly small size in order to achieve a “waspish” waist. Incredibly dumb!’ ( on this)
There are more, but no doubt you get the idea…
Well, I have been wearing corsets for work and for going out for the last 7 years – and earlier-period stays for even longer…. I have also been making Victorian, Edwardian and modern corsets for the last 7 years ( I think I’ve made about 200 altogether) so have managed to learn a bit about the history of corsets and their day-to-day use….
Let us have a look at a few popular myths.
‘Their waists were tiny!’
Some of them, probably yes – there are always people with smaller waists, especially when tight-lacing, but by no means was that the norm.
*Extant corsets have waist measurements from roughly 18″ to 30″ or more – and considering that they were not meant to be worn closed but with 2″ gap, and allowing 2-4″ tissue displacement (the so-called “squish” factor), the original waist circumference could be anything from 22″ to 40″ or more. Jennifer from Historical Sewing explains it very well in her own blog.
*optical illusion factor – crinolines, bustles, hip pads, bug sleeves, sloping shoulders and V-shaped blouse cut and decoration – with these, it was easier to emphasize the waist, which looked smaller when contrasted with hide hips and/or shoulders.
*extant clothing and corsets are usually small – this is true, but again, there may be several explanations for the fact that it is the smaller items that have survived to the present day:
primo – people did tend to be just a tad shorter than nowadays – so different proportions…
secundo – and that is just my theory – it seems to me that a lot of surviving clothes belonged to teenagers and very your ladies. I have owned, handled and seen a great deal of the clothing with labels pronouncing that they belonged to ‘Miss Smith’ or ‘Miss Brown’ – so at that time mostly unmarried, young women (of course there were exceptions). Since they were only worn for a limited time, once young miss outgrew them, (or got married and had babies etc), they were stored ready to be handed down as necessary to the next generation. Clothes that were worn by grown-ups don’t seem to survive that well – mostly because they were worn much more thoroughly, but also because they were remodeled, restyled, etc, so that the original gown could be used for many years.
This is just a theory, discussed with a few fellow costumiers, but there might be a little truth to it too – I would be interested in other people’s opinions!
*photoshop. No, really – at least the Victorian/Edwardian version of it. Most of the fashion plates from that era are drawings. It is easy to draw a tiny waist…. The reality however is a bit different. A quick search on Pinterest of Google images will show just as much – or better still, a book I happen to have here – Victorian Costume for Ladies 1860-1900, with over 350 original photographs. Yes, there were a few tiny waists in evidence ( and let us bear in mind that early attempts at editing was already done – by taking the photograph, concealing unwanted bits and taking the photograph of the retouched original – an excellent blog post on Victorian/edwardian photo shopping by Cynthia from Redthreaded here), but looking at the photographs from the era you will find that the majority of ladies are far from willowy. They look natural, with comfortable sizes of 10-18 or more….. the book is amazing, and recommended! Below a few snaps from the book:
Also, interestingly enough, have a look at the Victorian burlesque dancers – the lovely ladies are definitely much more substantial than our “size 0” models…..
The chorus of fairies in the burlesque Ariel, Gaiety Theatre, London, 8 October 1883
The fact is also backed up by the original patterns – they encompass a variety of sizes. I use Francis Grimble’s books a lot, and if you have a look and do some maths, you will see that many garments are not that small waisted at all. Plus the names are rather endearing – ‘ a jacket for a stout lady’, or ‘a bodice for a medium size lady’, ‘a bodice for well-developed ladies’, ‘bodice with narrow shoulders and back’ – etc. A superb resource!
All together I think we can safely agree that the incredibly small waist myth is just that – a bit of a myth….
Corsets are so uncomfortable!
This is very true, as most of the ladies who ever bought a modern generic size cheap corset can say…. Ill fitted corsets can be a torture – I have had the dubious ‘pleasure’ of trying on a few of the corsets-UK modern items, and though no doubt there are women who will find the fit comfortable, for me it was a very painful experience – and not because of the waist measurements. It is usually the hip and rib part that is too small – not enough hip spring can be very uncomfortable! As a result, I ended up in a ‘corset tube’, which did not reduce my waist, but rather pinched my hips and ribs…
However a well-fitted corset can be a real blessing. I am a comfortable size 12, with 34F bust, and I find Victorian and Edwardian corsets a pleasure to wear. My natural waist is 34″ and I usually lace to 27-28″ if I know I am wearing the corset for a whole day. They support my bust from underneath – so my shoulders don’t ache from carrying the burden. They help me maintain my posture – this is a godsend especially for markets and events when I have to be standing for long periods – for example, the last 2 weekends I spent working with the public, standing for 6 hours with a short lunch break. Normally my lower back would be screaming – but in corset I could feel the comfort of the ‘exoskeleton’, keeping me upright and supporting my back…
Also, in the last few months I have been suffering from costocondritis – a painful condition of the ribs ( connective tissue), that made wearing a modern bra impossible – the band sits just on the painful parts. But a corset, laced just enough to support the bust from underneath was a real blessing – as a result I ended up wearing mine for a few weeks daily, just in order to work – and only swapped for a soft bralette once the acute stage subsided.
Why the difference between the modern and traditional corsets? Apart from the fit issues, the style is also important – modern corsets are usually overbust, designed to be worn on their own. Historical pieces are usually mid-bust – and a well fitted corset squeezes the waist, but accommodates the rib-cage and supports the bust without compressing one’s lungs (so normal breathing is not impaired). Mid bust corsets are more comfortable to wear as they do not ‘ride up’ like many modern overbust corsets when sitting. 🙂
Some Victorian corset feature a spoon busk – which is gently rounded, accommodating the belly ( the famous fashionable rounded belly of the time!), so the internal organs were comfy, but the support and fashion was achieved at the same time,
I have recently made a replica of a 1880 one – and it is one of the most comfortable corsets i have ever owned.
Of course, the materials used for quality corsets which can be used everyday are very different to the plastic-boned viscose jacquards available in mass produced versions….
Let’s remember that corsets were worn every day, all day and women were not sitting idly looking pretty. They walked, danced, worked, rode, played sports – all in corsets. True, sport corsets were shorter (especially important for riding), but still, they were all practical garments… In fact we now have a group showing people doing a variety of activities in corsets ( Corsets in Action)
In my Victorian corset I have danced ( video here), skated
and ridden side saddle.. in a mock up first –
and in a proper habit
It is also a myth that you cannot bend in a corset as it is impossible to bend from the waist. Well, try bending from the waist without one – you won’t go far…. Humans are designed to bend from the hips!!
A brief demo – my apologies for the style of the pictures but grabbed my corset as I was writing this article and took some pictures to show that it is possible to bend…
And so, in my opinion if the corset is well fitted, laced properly (not too tightly), it can be very comfortable. This refers to both modern and historical wear – well-made corsets will support your back and bust and won’t crush your ribs.
True, if you are wearing a corset just for a photo-shoot, it is OK to lace tightly- I can get to 24″) for fashion corsets, but then I don’t spend a day wearing them…
No wonder women fainted all the time!
Here there is some truth to it – but this mostly refers to the lightheaded feeling you can get if you take off your corset too fast, after wearing it for a long time… As the blood rushes down more abruptly, it is indeed possible to swoon…. so gradual lacing and unlacing is recommended.
It may also have happened if your fashionable women laced too tightly….. more for a fashion’s sake than practical.
Women had ribs surgically removed!
With surgery as dangerous as it was in Victorian times? with no antibiotics to battle the infection? Really very, very doubtful…. plus, again, neither medical or the photographic evidence doesn’t really support it…
Corsets deformed silhouette and caused medical problems
This can be very true if laced excessively, I dare say. Yes, your body will change if you are a trained tightlacer, and wear a corset from early on. We are all familiar with the drawings showing how the organs move and ribs deform and there may be some truth in it. At the same time many of us have seen modern MRI imagery of a corset being worn – and as it turns out it is not as bad as we thought, with the organs being moved in exactly the same way pregnancy would affect them – here the results of the experiment as presented by Lucy Corsetry
Also, corsets did not cause pneumonia, colds, consumption etc. You need viruses, bacteria or fungi to cause the infection in the first place. As for the argument that you breathe differently with a corset on – If you do, then the corset doesn’t fit you properly. Opera singers wore them on stage, singing their hearts out…. 🙂
I do however think that if you wore a corset day in and day out, unless you stayed active, you were in serious danger of suffering from muscle atrophy. Corset supports you very well ( many people with back problems find them great for pain relief!), but it does all the work your lumbar and core muscles usually do. So unless you are an active person and keep in shape, using the muscles, prolonged use of corset will weaken the muscles. Also, an interesting point, discussed with a medical friend as a possibility – many more women than today suffered from prolapsed uterus – usually after the birth. The reason may be just that – long use of corset, weak muscles, especially in the late stages of pregnancy – and bad things may have happened. Again, just a theory here.
Still, usually women did stay more active than we nowadays believe – and so managed to keep at least some reasonable strength in their core muscles ( horseriding was great for that !).
Well, I think I’d better stop – if you have any other remarks or comments, please do so, very interested in others’ opinions and experiences!
Our youtube video, showing Victorian activities in corsets – here
…and a comprehensive read on the myths are covered here and a few more – by Yesterday’s Thimble – here
…also, an interesting article by the Pragmatic Costumer – here
Hope you can find the article useful – best wishes from Izabela of Prior Attire!
As Halloween was approaching and I noticed a few bits of non historical fabrics in my store room, an idea was hatched – we will do some Halloween photography! We mentioned the idea to a friend at one of the markets, and she volunteered lending us some of her corsets for it. we mentioned it on facebook and withing minutes we had more contributors and models agreed on, and time set asid e for some Halloween/Goth/Victoriana fun.
We started with an organic look for a pumpkin queen – my Spring Petal Dress had a remake ( a brief encounter with spray paint), and after an afternoon of drilling and carving the pumpkins ( the jigsaw power tool was perfect for it!) we were ready…
and on the day we prepared the set for the Pumpkin Queen in the nearby woods… the results below:-)
Next day was the big day! our make up artist, Sammm Agnew arrived just after noon, and the models, Gem and Hannah followed shortly after.
My workroom was transformed into a make up and hair styling centre…
and we shot several different looks around the house… the results below – wherever possible I provided inks directly to the products featured as many of the items are actually available to purchase straight away 🙂
Innocence Tainted – Gem is wearing a silk skirt and a corset by Prior Attire… Head by Samm Agnew!
Victoriana – the ladies of the night;-)
The girls are sporting Victorian attires – the purple one has sold already, but the chocolate pumpkin one is still available here
Pumpkin corset – Hanna had a quick transformation and here is sporing a silk corset with black lace decoration from Prior Attire matched with a black skirt
Demon Bride – Gem had a go at the wedding dress that got damaged in the fire – with a festive spray of blood….
and then got quickly into this stunning piece by Wyte Phantom
Even our MUA vamped out her make up , donned a lovely corset ( again, Wyte Phantom) and a skirt ( Prior Attire) and jumped in front of the camera
and after having my face and hair transform to fit with Vampish Gothic criteria, I joined her:-) The overskirt, corset and posture collar by Wyte Phantom, flouncy skirt ( sold already, sorry….) and the fascinator by Prior Attire
and that was it for one long day – but it was not all! 2 days later lovely Miss Lilian Love joined us for a classy corsetry shoot – and in one evening we shot some more Halloween stuff and some elegant vintage inspired stuff with superb corsets from Clessidra ( there will be a separate post on that, here’s a teaser)
and the Halloween stuff –
again, we put Lilian in the Wyte Phantom corset and a Prior Attire skirt
As you can see, it was a lot of fun ( tiring, but fun!) and that was not the end of it – the following weekend saw us at a Halloween ball from which I had a very special creation – but that a topic for another post! 🙂
Make up and hair – Sammm Agnew
models – Gem and Hanna Bow, Miss Lilian Love,
photography – Pitcheresque Imagery
With the trailer of the film running amok in the internet and showing in every feed, we were a bit fed up with the 50 shades of Gray overexposure. I do sincerely hope the film is going to be better than the book, which was a serious abuse of my gray matter – those who have read it know it, those who didn’t – well, if you fancy a badly written parody with hardly any plot, no character development worth speaking about and seriously bored soliloquies and dialogues ( blessedly short, mind you ) – have a go, you’ll enjoy it once you realize it is a bit of a parody:-). Anyway, fingers crossed the film will be at least a bit more interesting.
In the meantime, we decided to have our own 50 Shades – but in sepia… Lucas went through our few last stock photoshoots ( the Edwardian corsetry and Stock photography) and picked out the most tasteful/funny/ridiculous/atmospheric shoots of historical lingerie and render them in sepia….
Here is Mr. Sepia himself…
and his girls…
Hope you like the experiment – some of the corsets etc are still available in our shop!
Many thanks to our elegantly playful models : Miss Lilian Love, Helen Radlett, Adrianna Renarde and Anett Novak
You book a short holiday in Wales, on the Pembrokeshire coast – and within seconds of imagining the wild beaches and rocky formations you have an idea – the place is a perfect scenery for a mermaid themed shoot! And once the idea was hatched, there was no looking back. It might still be cold in mid April, but we have shot in colder conditions – and so the two months before saw me accumulating ideas and bits of fabric and props that could be useful.
Out of that, three different looks emerged, only 2 of which actually required my dressmaking skills. We came up with a regal mermaid, a warrior one, and a funky natural one….
The location was sourced and agreed on – Freshwater West beach was perfect – big, lots of places suitable for shooting and facing west – so sunset light a bonus.
In the end I only had a day to actually work on the mermaids proper, as was busy working on commissions, but the day was enough, and since i took my sewing machine with me ( did I mention at some point that it was a holiday?), I could finish things in Wales.
And the results – below….
1. Regal mermaid….
This one took the most work as i was making a corset from the scratch.
The corset was made out of biscuit coutil with a gold net overlay and gold leather elements. The layers on the panels were roll pinned first and then the leather was secured with a tape
then the panels were stitched together.
The corset was boned with spring and flat steels, flossed with a turquoise linen thread and then the fun began – i had to sew on the pre-prepaed shells and fins. the shells were drilled first and painted with glitter glue; the fins were made from 2 layers of corsetry mesh, boned with artificial whalebone and painted as well.
The shells were also made into necklace and bracelet – credit to my hubby who made them!
The skirt was made out of a length of gold fabric – and we were all set for the first shoot. Since we visitied Pembroke castle on our way to the beach, to chat with a friend, it meant I had to apply the make up and do the hair on the location, which meant – in the car. not the best experience ever, I must say….
But in the end, I managed to get changed, and off we went shooting….
2. The Natural Mermaid.
This one was the simplest one – and a bit of an add -on. while researching I came across places selling proper mermaid tails, with monofin etc – so usable. and I just couldn’t resist them….. I suspect the tail and fin will be used at some point in an underwater shoot….. 🙂
So here the bottom half was sorted, and for the upper one, I have recently purchased a swimsuit in matching colours ( Panache), to provide some decency in the majority of the shoot ( we did find a nice enclosed area for some more indecent ones, far from prying eyes…. 🙂 . the wig and the make up and we were ready to go.
Or rather – to wriggle. it turns out that this one was the most challenging of the whole mermaids – mostly due to the constraints of the attire ( hopping across the beach with the tail cost me some bruises…) and difficulty of finding a pose that would look natural, graceful, and most importantly, not show too much of my own blubber. I am not your typical size 8 model shape, and although size 12 is not bad, it soon turned out that it was tricky to find flattering poses. As a result, the majority of the photos were marked as ‘walrus’ and discarded ( I don’t really hold with the photoshoping tricks changing the shape of a body… wysiwyg philosophy here), still, a few survived the purge…..
We were lucky in picking up the warmest day too – so I wasn’t cold, and even water was not too bad!
3. The warrior mermaid.
This one was the most fun, and the most in keeping with my own personality, as I do martial arts ( and have been doing one form or other of them since I was 17, including fencing, weapon sparring, kung fu, MMA etc). The styling was fun too – not a lot of work involved with a great effect – my favourite!
Here the most important pieces was the scale maile bits I had on loan from a friend – there were 2 bits that could form a skirt, and a few other ones, including a nice headgear/necklace. I simply mounted the skirt bits and the shoulder bit onto leather strips – and that was it:-)
Corset – since I ran out of time, I used one of the corsets i already made and used in the Steampunk Amazones shoot. And, once I put it on, it turned out, oh joy! that I have dropped at least a size since I last wore it – in the autumn I had over 2 inches gap at the back ( the corset was originally made to a different model measurements) – but now I could lace it up close without any special effort ! :-). Kinky metallic leggings and a swathe of sequiny fabric made up the rest – and as an afterthought we used the fabric from the Regal mermaid as a mantle. The weapons – we had a knife but mostly used an Indian guard spear shaft with a harpoon kind of blade ( probably Indonesian?) mounted on it.
The results below…
and a few close up on the make up and talons…
Well, there you have it – 3 different mermaid themed looks. Pleased with the photos, but it was hard work shooting every evening- I think I need another holiday now…
Corsetry, skirts etc – obviously, Prior Attire;
Scale maille – Denise Piggin and Ruth Watkin
lovely dreads – Magic Tribal Hair
photography – Pitcheresque Imagery
the inspiration board on Pinterest
And there is even a video on making the shoots on my youtube chanel – here – the resluts as wel as details on making the costumes, make up etc.
and just to end this rather picture heavy post – a few outtakes….
1884 patent by C.W. Higby; US Patent #294620
Now this one was a true adventure – and an intrepid one, for someone with my limited corsetry experience! But when the challenge was announced on FB by the corsetry website, Foundations Revealed, I simply couldn’t say ‘no’ to it as I liked the lines of the particular corset in question. I must admit I regretted that decision a few times as the date for the article got closer – but my regrets stopped the moment I started working on it.
So, to take the things from the beginning. As I said, I am not a particularly experienced corsetiere – I have made in total maybe around 30 corsets or so, and about 20 of those in the last year – but in these cases I was working from a selection of ready patterns. Yes, they needed adjustments and tweaking, but generally the proportions and scale were there. I have never made a corset pattern on my own, though I have made loads for historical outfits and especially for the bridal side of my business – bodices, skirts, coats etc.
This one was a very different proposition. All I had was a drawing of the corset, a drawing of the pattern and an explanation of the patent online – http://www.google.com/patents/US294620. That’s it. The rest was up to me.
Knowing that my own experience might not be enough, and also that I would need help with fitting the corset onto myself, I came up with a very cunning plan and decided to work on the item during one of my visits to Julia Bremble – a friend who runs ‘Sew Curvy’, a corset making and corsetry selling company in Oxfordshire. Her studio is great, both spacious and peaceful, and we seem to work well together, “stitching and bitching”. Also, since Julia is a professional corsetiere, I would have an expert on hand to nudge me in the right direction. So, one lovely morning in May, I packed my sewing case and drove over to Oxfordshire, and the work began…
What we know from the patent’s description:
- The most visible feature was the lacing at the sides – I have seen corsets with side lacing, like the maternity ones, but the lacing was usually vertical. Here the side lacing is diagonal, curving gently.
- The inventor states his aims clearly: the corset is to fit well and comfortably, allow for easy movement of the body and for adjustments, all the while being able to support as required of a corset.
- Boning – diagonal cording or boning or any other suitable method is encouraged. From the picture it looks like boning /cording is placed more or less in the middle of each main section, and at the edges of the lacing parts.
- No mention of the waist tape.
What we don’t know – or at least things that were not apparent for me:
- How many layers? 2, 3, or 4 including decorative fabrics? Possibly much depends on the individual – and lining was not always present in the historical corsets, mainly because they were worn on a chemise anyway. I decided to go with 2 layers of coutil, so that the boning/cording is sandwiched between the layers, with a lining added later.
- Seams – somehow it appeared to me that lapped seams would work better on the curved lines of this corset – as they do on the Edwardian corsets, yet I wasn’t sure if they were used in 1884. So lapped or standard seams? In the end, and after a longish discussion with Julia, I opted for lapping it.
I printed out the pattern from Google and had it blown up to more or less half my measurements. Btw – this was almost entirely the only bit of maths I did, and it was probably a dodgy one anyway… I drew the lines on the original printout, where I predicted the waist to be (the point of the hip gore was my reference). I measured each piece on the line, added the numbers up and had ½ waist measurements of the piece. From that I realized that to match my measurements we would have to blow it about 4 times bigger. So for the ‘mini me’ version, 200 percent bigger would just do the trick
The idea was to cut the pattern out, put it together and see if the pieces actually matched up. I traced the pieces onto patterning paper,
cut them out and used masking tape to attach them all together. A useful tip – cut the paper with the seam allowance, it will be easier to glue it!
What became evident was that the pieces matched well, but not perfectly – a few pieces in the front section were either a tad too long or too short to match smoothly – but not drastically. In principle, however, it worked.
The next stage was to cut out the corset in calico – but bigger so that it would fit a human being – I was not concerned about the precise fit, I simply wanted to see how the pieces worked together as fabric, on a scale I was a bit more familiar with. And so, I simply worked out that by making the pieces about half as big again, they should fit an adult human being. This meant adding about 2cm all around to every piece.
Fortunately at that time Julia was too preoccupied with her own work (she was working on a lovely bridal skirt), or she would possibly have suffered a coronary seeing my ‘intuitive’ grading and sizing method. I must admit that maths and I are not the best of friends, and we try to avoid each other – for historical dressmaking this is just fine, and I love working with toiles, sculpturing the fabric to fit a body and then using the toile to adapt the original pattern. This method does not always work, however, and corsetry is one of those precise arts that do need at least some maths, so it is a bit of a trade-off. Here however, as I was just playing, I decided to give it a go.
I stitched all the pieces together, using ready-made eyelet tape at the sides, or punching the holes in calico – at the back I used an eyelet and bones tape that enabled me to have the back stabilized enough for the sake of the experiment.
I held it against my body (as you do…) and realized that it was just a bit too big for me – but not too badly!
A miracle! I actually had a proper toile there! I quickly stitched up the centre panel, taking an inch off it, moved the back eyelet tapes in by another inch as well, attached wide flat steel in the front, (a masking tape job), and asked Julia to lace me in. It was still too big, but it was possible for us to work on it – marking the areas where we needed more room and the ones where we needed less…
At the same time, the shape created by the long lacing strip in front suggested that the pattern may be adapted and made into a nice modern corset, or maybe a steampunk one. So we left one half of the pattern as it was, true to its Victorian original, and started to play with the other half, eventually coming up with an overbust shape that looks like a big heart in front .
What I learnt from the toile:
*The side back lacing panels need to be longer.
* It is still too big at the waist, but the back top and the hip could do with more space (1/2 an inch more at the top back and an inch at the hip).
* The sweeping curves are rather pretty….
Next step – adapting the pattern slightly and tracing it on the coutil, to make the sample corset in my size.
Planning boning channels too– I decided to go for boning as opposed to cording, and bone the corset in 4mm spiral wire in the middle of the pieces, with the 5mm going in the lacing at the sides, and flat bones at the back lacing.
Once traced, I cut the pieces out, pinned them together and started sewing….
Channels first – I sewed them on the a and b pieces.
The side lacing strips were sewn along the edges on the wrong side, flipped over, pressed and a channel was stitched just next to the edge.
Busk was inserted into the front pieces and laid aside.
Pieces were stitched together using lapped seams (for a detailed tutorial I do recommend Sew Curvy’s DVD on corsetry – worked a treat for me!). This involved careful pressing on each piece’s seam allowance, then aligning and pinning – but though time consuming, it was a relatively hassle-free procedure.
Side lacing piece and busk piece were connected last – and we have the first quarter ready!
The process was repeated on the other side piece
A and b pieces and the side lacing strip were sewn together first.
With the back panel, the long a piece needs to be boned before attaching the back lacing panel – it is the only piece with the boning channels closed up during the construction. Once that is done, the back lacing piece is attached. And the whole is repeated on the other side.
There are now 4 pieces – and they all need to be boned.
The boning I used, as mentioned before, were lovely 4mm and 5m spiral steels, and flats for the back lacing piece
Once I had all 4 pieces boned, it was time for some eyelets. Quite a lot of them actually, as I used about 90 of them. Since it was an experimental sample I didn’t want to waste that many proper eyelets on something that might not work, so I dug out a little pouch of 100 yellow eyelets that looked funky and could go to waste.
Once that was done, the sides could be laced – and I simply had to go for the yellow Russia braid I had handy on the mock up…
The moment had arrived – I could actually try the thing on!
The first impressions:
- Very light and comfortable
- Definitely not giving me my usual 27” waist – here only a slight reduction, to 29-30”
- It picked up the asymmetrical features much more than usual – I very rarely have to adapt the corset patterns because of my slight asymmetry, but here it showed more, especially at the back –my slightly asymmetric back muscles meant some of the boning at the back was a bit too low (see the back view ). So channels will have to be undone and re- stitched a bit lower in that piece.
- The corset had a bigger wrinkle at the back/side – I put it down to the lack of any boning along the seam of the two a pieces at the back – and decided to add 2 channels running parallel to the seam there.
- Hips felt a bit too tight and constricted when the side lacings were laced up – but loosening the laces resulted in a much better fit, and looked better too!
Not too bad. I readjusted the boning channels on the side and hip, and stitched additional ones on both sides of the seam between the two back a pieces
Next step – flossing. At that stage I rather liked with black and yellow combination, so flossing was done in dark yellow cotton thread.
I also decided to add lining – since it looks as if the thing may actually be wearable, I might as well make sure it feels nice if I decide to wear it outside the Victorian setting, (it does have a certain steampunk look to it, even in its original form!) so cotton lining was stitched to every part of the corset
Then there was only binding left to do – and adding some yellow lace I found in my stock. It was ready to wear!
Impressions – as stated before, very comfortable, providing lots of support, but not giving as much pronounced waist as my usual corset does; Still, a perfect choice to wear around the house, for country dancing or for riding too. – I have since used it for a Steampunk Amazones shoot , for riding sidesaddle and it worked perfectly!
The side-adjustment lacing is useful as the corset can be adjusted for a more energetic activity in seconds. It may also be used during pregnancy, I suppose, but since I have never been pregnant, I have no experience with which to compare…
Although made as a prototype sample, I think it is more than wearable – though for that purpose I will need to get better laces than Russia braid – I will either use black laces or white ones (and dye them yellow…. 🙂
What I have learned and would do differently next time.
- The spiral boning works well, but more is needed at the back than is indicated on the original drawings.
- Chatting when marking boning channels can result in wonky channels – the front channels are slightly offset as a result…
- I would use silk for flossing
- …I would use better eyelets too; (The ones used here were without washers)
- If I want to keep the side lacing laced up, I will need to add another inch on each hip…
Having said that, the next project will be making the steampunk version of this corset, so I may employ some different techniques and materials…
Many thanks for Julia from Sew Curvy for help with fitting and expertise! 🙂
Well, I did warn you…. it was hardly a fortnight and I was back in Oxford with Julia from Sew Curvy for another stitch and bitch session. if you missed the last one – here it is… Stitch and Bitch JUly
The day started with a cuppa and the newest bits of gossip – all the latest news, especially those relating to the Oxford Conference of Corsetry Julia organizes for the end of August – were thoroughly discussed. I brought some more bits and pieces for the Conference Embellishment bar – silk satins, taffetas, brocades and trims, all for the participants to pic and choose and use:-)
Gossiping continued for another hour or so, i am afraid, but at least we weren’t idle – we packed all the orders for the shop together, and i learnt how to wound spring wire and pack things nicely, the Sew Curvy way. Naturally, there was some silliness involved – I think I know what to use as a lasso for my Steampunk Amazones collection photo shoot…..
Julia also introduced me the the range of leathers from G.H. Leathers – and as it turned out they have a warehouse just around the corner from where I live ( already paid them a visit…)
After that work started in earnest. Julia was working on producing a flossing sampler, and I had an experimental corsetry idea. Nowadays everybody is making sheer corsets – a bit weird as in this hot weather the plastic makes you sweat a lot! still, it is an attractive look, and I wanted to explore the possibilities offered by the sheer nature of the nylon mesh. in short, i came up with the idea of using two layers of sheer and stuffing things in between them, for decoration purposes.
I came up with a sketch, in which i was using synthetic plastic boning as decorative ‘ribbing’ on the corset. Julia was a bit skeptical, but I decided to give it a go anyway, I do enjoy a challenge…
I used Julia’s underbust pattern ( the same I used for the red underbust), but in smaller size – I didn’t want to waste too much sheer!
Below are the stages of how the idea was transformed into a tangible object…
stitching the channels…
the non-sheer panels are in black sateen – love it!
and then the most dreaded task – cutting out the synthetic boning
at that point it was time to pack the things and finish the work for the day and get to Julia’s – after all, a delicious meal awaited – this time it was a healthy chicken salad…
The next morning saw us packing the orders again, and with serious work out of the way I was able to concentrate on my experimental underbust…
I finished just before lunch – an ideal time to try to lace ourselves into the thing, never mind it was too small, you always have to have a go…
then it was Julia’s turn…
Very happy with the experiment, so the idea will be expanded and i think there will be some more playing with sheer – especially for steampunk market. This one looks a bit sci -fi, indeed we may need to name it Darth corset…
I had just two hours left before i needed to hit the road – could I make a corset in that time? I did say I enjoyed a challenge….
In the end, I did not make one in 2 hours, and I blame Julia for it – she suggested that I embroider the panels on my new machine and I simply couldn’t resist it… that’s the state of the corset at 4.30 when we had to leave..
Still, all I had to do back home to finish the thing was eyelets and binding, and her’s the finished thing, snapped the same evening. the corset i made in sateen coutil in ‘Moroccan sands’ colour, with exterior castings and a wide busk – all provided by Sew Curvy!
and the side…
It was the fastest I ever worked on a corset – and I believe it was only because I was by that time so familiar with the pattern and didn’t need to do mock ups and alternations in it that made such speedy work possible. Also, I found it amazing that one pattern can produce three different looks – very versatile:-).
Am looking forward to trying out Julia’s overbust pattern now… 🙂
all the corsetry provisions can be bought from Sew Curvy!