For some reason, when I began my corset journey, I thought I knew my way around a corset.
Boy, howdy, was I wrong.
For this project, I chose to create one of Redthreaded’s 1970’s corsets with the help of a kit and the pattern. Originally, I was just going to purchase a ready made corset from this company but between the money required to invest in one of those, the fact that they were sold out in my size and the weird pride issues I have, I embarked to make it myself.
The kit consisted of the pattern, pre cut bones, twill and coutil. This is my first time using coutil and that should have set off some flags that I was a little over my head….
What is that coutil stuff, you may ask? Wikipedia offers this explanation;
“Coutil is a woven cloth created specifically for making corsets. It is woven tightly to inhibit penetration of the corset’s bones and resist stretching. This makes it a good choice for such a stressed garment.”~ Wikipedia
Stressed. I love that description. Pretty much the word to describe this post.
Coutil, it is some STIFF stuff. I was seriously surprised by how dense it was despite its light-ish weight? I know. You all read this for the accuracy that I have to offer.
38 bones also made me look twice at this corset. All previous corsets I have made are loosely, and I mean loosely, based on Victorian era examples and had significantly less bones to them.
“Well,” I thought, “It couldn’t be that bad, could it?”Me and my stupidity
While the kit states that an additional, fashion fabric isn’t wholly needed, I chose to add my own flair to the garment. I mean, if I’m going to kill myself off making a corset, I might as well make it mine and make it pretty.
Originally I had planned out to buy silk and have that cover the corset. I had seen some made out of satins and silks and thought it could be fun. However, between the price, the time it took to get the fabric and the sheer fact that it seemed a little too impractical to use silk, I decided to go with a cotton sateen.
I barely had enough of this mystery fabric to do the whole corset in. But I was trying to be practical, so I counseled with a more informed source and my best friend before deciding to go back to the cotton sateen.
…And then about four hours later, I threw out that decision and used the cool fabric instead.
Yup. I am THAT person.
Cutting out the fabric went well, I recently got myself some KAI scissors and my life has never been the same. These scissors are LEGIT and I love the chances I deem worthy to use them.
I also took a side quest to my storage unit in search of my inherited, wheel of death. This tool has always held that name as I have stabbed myself with it many a time and between its formidable shape and the fact that it was introduced to me with that name, it remains – “The Wheel of Death”
While the chalk and the marking tool really made things quicker, it wasn’t perfect. If I ever do this again, I will mark the start/end of the channels before going back to use rulers to ensure the accuracy that I crave.
All in all, the project had clocked three or four hours as I cut, transferred and sewed the main body of the corset together. It was about the time, as I was putting together the jigsaw of bones in their correct channels, that the thought crossed my mind.
“Maybe this whole corset was misrepresented? This hasn’t been so bad.”
Cathy Hay then best sums up the next week of frustration that was just around the corner for me. It goes, as follows;
“Here at YWU we understand first-hand how difficult it can be to bind corsets, stays and bodies neatly. After all those hours of careful work, fitting, boning and stitching, the £$!*?& binding lets you down!
Even if you’re otherwise a great costumer, the frustration of binding can inspire the most experienced needleperson to throw things.Cathy Hay, Perfect Binding – yourwardrobeunlockd.com
My personal favorite, is later in the post, where she tells the reader if they have graduated to eighteenth century stays or Elizabethan stays, one will “truly” get in touch with one’s anger when dealing with those fiddly tabs.
At this point in the pattern, I encountered the binding and according to the instructions, it was suggested to put the binding on via machine for ease and for strength. So, I made a couple of yards of binding from the cotton sateen choice that I didn’t use and off I went to work.
I admit, the experience was annoying but I also had no clue what I was doing. Little did I know, that by pulling the binding into a chokehold defeats the purpose of bias binding when you stretch it completely out.
Thus, attempt #1 resulted in a binding that didn’t have breathing room and could barely turn around the corners.
And off it came.
Attempt #2 was via machine as well. This time I tried to be less of a control freak and allow the fabric to breathe. Yeah, well, when I went to turn this binding over, it didn’t work either. It was all bunchy and didn’t lay flat.
So off that came too.
It made for a cute pic though.
At this point, it was 2 am and I was over it. Thus, the project was banished onto the floor until the next day when I took it up again.
For attempt #3 I decided to try it by hand. I figured that if I could go slow and take my time, it would turn out better. For the most part, that was true. It took a few hours, but I finally stitched the entirety of the bias on and went to turn it.
And it didn’t work
Yet again, it was bunchy and wouldn’t lay flat even with ironing. So attempt #3 got ripped off and the ruined bias was tossed.
By this point, I was at my wits end. I couldn’t figure out what on earth I have done so incredibly wrong. I was so frustrated and I knew that if I could just touch or see a finished corset like unto it, I could figure it out.
Turns out – a cosplayer I admire posted a finished eighteenth century corset that very same day.
It was amazing.
As I was looking over their work, I noticed how small their bias was in comparison to mine. I messaged them and after some talk, the answer slammed into the back of my head.
My bias was too big.
I don’t know why or for what reason, but I made my bias the same size I would use to bind a quilt. A FRIKKEN QUILT.
I blamed it on autopilot, late nights, too much caffeine and then felt sufficiently dumb.
So for the fourth attempt, I remade the bias tape and made it smaller. I then went back to put it in by hand.
Well that all sounded great in my head – cause it wasn’t going to go down that way in the end.
What wasn’t working, at this point, were my bruised and bleeding fingers. The fabric was tough and my fingers were weak and sore. So out of frustration and because of my time constraints, I returned to the machine.
It was at this point, I found myself in a odd position.
I started to feel put down and diminished by my own voice and outside voices because I wasn’t doing the work by hand.
I found myself thinking of things like; Was I cheating? Was I taking the “easy” way out? Was my work now not as meaningful?
As I mulled over these thoughts, I was reminded of a time during my Civil War Re-enactment days and it really made me think hard on those questions.
In the memory, I can see my Civil War Captain talking to a soldier from WWI during a living history event and swapping his musket for a machine gun. I remember telling him how inaccurate it was for him to be handing something they wouldn’t have had and to give it back before someone saw him.
Then the look on his face when he scoffed at me.
“Jimmy,” he said, “If they would have had them, they would have used them too.”
And those words continued to echo as I worked, using my sewing machine to create this corset.
Because, in a way, I think that is how I have felt about my experience with this whole build.
Rather than doing it by hand, I have had the opportunity to embrace the machinery and tech that was previously unavailable to me. I have learned and progressed in so many ways as I have built this crazy gown.
I am in no way saying that doing it by hand is inferior nor do I state that doing it with technology is better. All I’m saying is that they both have value. They are both different techniques. They are both wonderful ways to create fiber art. And in the end? They are both good.
I continue to muse on those words that were once spoken by my captain and wonder; If the past seamstresses had this tech in their time, would they have used it too?
I don’t have that answer. But it has made me think and appreciate both sides during this build.
Once the bias was installed via machine, I was finally able to get it to turn. I know this picture above looks horrific but there was a reason for what I did. That cute cotton sateen? Turns out, it HATES turning over and started fraying the second it had stress put on it.
Ugh. What a nightmare.
The pins were installed while I used steam and some Hail Mary methods to get the fabric to behave and stay put so I could sew it. I was then able to take the pins out and sew the back on by machine as well. It took time, don’t get me wrong, but I am pleased with how it turned out.
In previous projects that have required grommets, I just punched the hole the same size as the grommet opening. Yeah, that doesn’t work. The grommets have absolutely no fabric to hold onto and pop right out the moment you put stress on them. I have since then realized my error and bought new tools.
I started out just using the awl but I was fighting and forcing the fabric to part. Add the thickness that I was trying to encapsulate in these grommets and it became clear that some cutting would have to occur for this to work. I found in my tool box a much smaller hole punch and between that hole acting as a starting point and the awl moving the fibers apart, it created a better result than just using the awl.
These are just my thoughts y’all. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.
I didn’t end up using the grommets that came in the Redthreaded kit. They sent me grommets but the tool wasn’t included which was probably something I didn’t read when ordering it. Oh well. I like my champagne gold ones I picked out and used instead. I didn’t use the washers that came with my grommets, the fabric was already thick and didn’t require more stability.
After this, all that is left are the shoulder straps and a fitting!
A hearty thanks if you, the audience, have waded though this post. I have truly enjoyed your company as we walked and talked.