Sugar Skull Photoshoot

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A few weeks ago we spent a day in lovely Saracen Studio – shooting a rather interesting conceptual shoot – all planned and organized by Paul Mockford from Mockford Photography.  The ideas were rooted in the Day of the Dead atmosphere and dark, Victorian, Gothic aesthetics. I had been asked to provide an outfit for one of the models – Evangeline, and after a short session with Paul we had a sketch ready. the character was to be feminine, demure, but sexy at the same time…. and so the outfit designed offered a lot of coverage, but teasingly, it was partially transparent….

The corset was made entirely in corsetry mesh and covered in black lace….  the same lace was used to make a long skirt and a bolero jacket. once the layers were stitched firmly in place, an additional embellishment of gems and crystals ( dark crystal and purple)

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Bolero  was laced at the back, to continue the lacing of the corset…

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The skirt  was cut close fitting, with a flared shape, and very long to pool on the floor. At some point we planned to cut it along one of the seams for a bit more exposure….

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Evie at fitting:-)

On the day the girls got ready and the fun started – they were certainly put through their modelling paces as Paul had very clear ideas of the images he wanted to achieve –  and the planning and clear direction paid off, as his images are absolutely stunning – you can see them, together with a  short video, on Paul’s blog – here

The team:

Miss Lillian Love

Evangeline McManus

Kathryn Squires – MUA

Jason Huckle

Paul Laughton – Video

Andrew @ Saracen House

Below, just a few photos Lucas took as a learning experiment…

 

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and a few behind the scenes shots….

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That day we also shot the Victorian Embers gown –  a teaser photo below, and a link to the separate post HERE 🙂

 

many thanks to all the team for  a fantastic day of shooting – with equally fantastic results!

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Managing big projects

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 Have you ever spent a night diligently sewing away till dawn so that the costume could be worn the next day?  Have you realized a day before the event that there is no way you can hand stitch as much as you wanted and you’d have to cut corners and trust to your sewing machine to speed the process up? Or maybe discovered that you forgot to buy that lining or trim and you need it for tomorrow?  If any of that sounds familiar (and to be honest I do not know of a costumier who would not have been in this kind of situation at least once in their life…), then read on – this article is aimed at the time-management issue that most of us struggle with.

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sewing the night away…

 I have spent many a night stitching well into the small hours when costuming was a hobby and I mostly was sewing for myself. Then it didn’t really matter too much that one or two things were not completed on time, and safety pins saved the garment on the day. True, it would have been nice to be more rested at the event, but last minute frantic stitching was all part of the fun, after all.

 It is different however, when you start making clothes for other people, especially if you are being paid for it. Then it is other people depending upon you, your skill and its outcome; if you do not manage to deliver the item on time, as finished goods of immaculate quality, it is not only the other people that suffer the consequences – your reputation suffers as well.

 And that really clinches it – when your livelihood depends on your reputation, you cannot ignore the time factor. Your creations may be of outstanding beauty and quality, but if you fail to produce them within the agreed deadline, you will find fewer and fewer people will place their orders, and their trust in you. I have had more than a few clients coming to me complaining that they have placed orders with other costumiers, have paid, and are still waiting for the outcome – in one case  the seamstress was 2 years behind her deadline, and that was considered more or less normal. I was puzzled at first, but after some market research I understood the reason.

 In the last few decades there have been very few established historical dressmakers in the UK, and people did not have a great deal of choice – they would go to a well known company and if that meant they had to wait for months, or years, for their quality garment, they did – there was simply no other option. And the dressmakers, knowing that, felt secure and grew complacent.

 However, recently there has been a surge of newcomers to the business of historical dressmaking – talented people who knew they need to get an edge in order to survive; they needed to provide quality services and quality products for their businesses to be noticed – and to thrive.  And that competition factor has changed the dynamics of the UK professional dressmaking scene situation completely.

Don’t get me wrong – competition is not a bad thing in business. It drives progress and improves quality of everybody’s produce and service – if a business cannot keep up with it, they will disappear. But it also means that lots of businesses have had to re-think their strategy and improve.  Some did – and as their work standards rose, their businesses soared. Some didn’t – they either went out of business, or still exist thanks only to a few loyal customers – surviving, but not thriving and expanding.

 In this article I will endeavour to provide some advice how to manage your time better; whether you use the time freed for your private pursuits or for working on more projects, it is up to you! Although I am writing with professionals in mind, especially those dealing with bigger orders, I do hope that the advice I am able to give will also be helpful to all of you who treat sewing as a hobby and do not have to meet imposed deadlines.

 Whereas it is not too much of a problem to improve your time management when working on small, individual projects, the moment I went ‘pro’ changed things a lot. When I first started my business it was easy to plan as I did have quite a lot of time available, and since I was costuming part-time, I took on only the commissions I wanted, and worked at a leisurely pace. When I went full-time, I realised that in order to stay afloat and to expand, I needed to improve my timing.  I managed to get out of the procrastination habit within a few months, (well, almost completely, I do sometimes enjoy a bit of a good old bout of procrastination), and soon candle-lit sewing and finishing garments mere seconds before the deadline became things of the past (almost…)

 However it is the bigger orders that have been the most difficult to manage, and the learning curve here was steep. My first big project was my wedding gown and my bridal party, comprising outfits for 2 bridesmaids, 1 matron of honour and my mother in law, all bedecked in late Victorian finery .   I didn’t really do too well on that, as I was stitching lace to my veil the day before the wedding, and the final work was completed at about midnight before the wedding – and not without my bridesmaids’ help!

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the Bridal party, all ready on the day.

 My next two big commissions were a bit better – I was making 4 complete sets of Elizabethan and Tudor clothing for children – and a commission that should have taken me perhaps 3 weeks took 5 for the first order and just over 4 for the next one. 

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 It was an improvement, but not enough – I needed to get my act together and identify the factors that were slowing me down. My next big order worked much better – and I will be using mostly the examples from that to show how to manage your time efficiently.

 My order was for a set of 12 early 16th cent robes, (‘rock’ or ‘wappenrock’ – the inspoiration board: http://pinterest.com/priorattire/german-garb-early-16th-century/ ), in the German style, with headwear, plus two Durer gowns. The contract was signed in January, the event was in the south of Germany at the end of August. Loads of time! The deposit was paid in February, fabrics bought in March, so now I could relax till August, you might think.  Taught by bitter  past experiences, I decided to manage this one better – so that everything would be done on time – more, in fact – with time to spare.   And with just a few slight changes, it was done – I finished the last plumed cap the day before the event and even had time to make my own German beret to fit in with the crowd when we delivered the order and spent a day  at the tournament. Not only that – I actively enjoyed making all the gear in a stress-free and relaxed way – a win on both fronts!

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all tarted up in the new beret:-)

The client in his new attire at the event –

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 The work in progress and some tournament pictures can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151023619121693.422290.140313531692&type=3

  and a post on the event – here

 And so, there we go…

  • Plan.  Not just in your head, but on paper/screen.
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planning …

Write down all the things you need for a particular costume/set, down to the last set of hooks and eyes, the last point and aiglet ( I forgot the last ones and was very lucky when they arrived with just a couple of days to spare…  Have all the components ready, ideally before you start.

  • Run a trial.  Not always possible, but if you are making a few similar garments, make one and time it – from drawing the pattern, cutting the fabric down to the last stitch and iron
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timing … each phase of making a coat is measured

I was lucky – one of the coats and one dress were needed in May so I could use them as examples. Once you have timed how long it takes, allow for mistakes, coffee breaks, admin, procrastination (it doesn’t hurt if you have 20min of Facebook browsing allowed for… 🙂 , and add at least an hour for the unexpected.  Once you have a figure, you will be able to plan how long it will take you to finish all the remaining items.  I worked out that it would take approximately a day to make 1 coat in this case.

  • Be prepared for the unexpected – think of all that can go wrong and assume that “Murphy ‘s Law” will apply. Have a contingency plan in case your machine breaks down, you get ill, you have a family emergency, or whatever. If you have friends who live nearby and can be on standby with their equipment or just able to help, have a chat with them and inquire if they might be able to lend their machine or give you a hand if needed. Most likely it won’t be necessary, but it will give you an amazing sense of calm and security! If you can afford it – buy a second machine. Even if it is an absolutely basic, cheap model, as long as it can do a straight stitch, you are covered. Stock up on machine needles and threads so that you don’t need to waste time going to the shops when you run out of blue thread… 
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hardware at the ready

  •  Also allow for the things going wrong at the customer’s end.  The Durer dresses for ladies were made with remote fitting options – I got the measurements, sent the toiles, and then the ladies were supposed to send back the toiles with any corrections and email the pictures. In the case of the first dress I waited quite some time for the return of the toile as they forgot they had to post it….  so do factor things like that in, and be prepared to chase your clients up- they have to understand that fittings, remote or in person are necessary and their delay may mean the delay in completing the order.

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the toile took its time – but in the end it was all done ahead of schedule:-)

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another Durer dress, also made with remote fitting

 

  •    Once the time arrives and you get going, try to shave some time off the original timing by working in batches.  If you have garments of the same size, cut them out together at the same time. The majority of my German coats were generic sizes – S, M, L, XL. I would cut out one size at the time, so 3 garments, machine stitch them and then hand finish them. Working this way meant I was able to make 3 coats in 2 days, if I worked my usual 10 hour day.
  •  Allow for rest.   Schedule lunch breaks, time for exercise, walk, reading a book. If possible, do allocate a day or two for rest during extended projects – just a plain ‘no stitching’ day, spent with your loved ones, or on a day trip – anything to get you out of the workroom and recharge your batteries.  It is worth it – you will go back to work with renewed enthusiasm. In the worst case, that extra time can be used if you happen to fall drastically behind.
  •  If you are having problems staying within the original allocated time, do not panic. Take a few minutes to calm down, switch off your computer, go for a walk. Rethink your strategy – ignoring the problem and hoping it will be all right in the end will bring you more stress and more late night stitching.  Face the problem, identify the factor that seems to cause the delay and deal with it. Find a solution, ask for help – if necessary, swallow your pride and call that friend to come over to give you a hand, (warning – it does not work if the friend is very chatty and talks more than actually helps…)  sometimes you can plan an unhurried ‘stitch and bitch’ sessions and  combine work with  pleasure

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Lucas and Eleanor helping out with some silk bunting for a friend’s wedding

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more bunting fun!

 

  •   Stay in touch with the client. Inform them about your progress – when they see you are keeping to the schedule and see the effect of your work, they will worry less.  You can either send a mail once a week or call – or, like me use Facebook. I simply added photos of each finished garment as it was completed and the client could not only see the progress but show their appreciation and give an early feedback too. In my case after the first two coats the feedback was – “loving the slashing!” So I was able to adjust the remaining designs to incorporate more slashing on the coats – it took me maybe 20 minutes more, but it was worth it. 

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slashing on sleeves…

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slashing on sleeves and back

 

  • If the worst happens and you do fall behind – again, grit your teeth and contact the client as soon as you realise that you may not be able to finish all of it on time. If it is early enough, they may be able to find someone else – or, if they are well organised, have a contingency option for just such occasions. It is much better to warn early, finish most of it and know that the client had time to deal with the situation rather than turning up at the event and informing them then and there that you were able to only do 9 out of 10 garments…  so communicate, communicate, communicate…..

  A few extra points on time management for business:

  • Take note of how long it takes you to make each new garment. Have a little notebook or a file and write it all down. Next time someone books you for a similar commission, you will be able to book a precise slot.
  • Tend to overestimate the time necessary rather than the other way round. I usually add at least a day to the expected time – and if I finish early, I can either take on a last minute commission from my waiting list, or simply enjoy a day off.
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enjoying a short break in between the stitching – a walk with the hubby

  • I know it is tempting to book everybody in, as the allure of the prestige, or money, or both can be strong – but be realistic and do not overbook. In my experience very few people are discouraged from booking because they have to wait – most will wait and will respect you for respecting other people’s orders – they know that when time comes, you will be concentrating on their commission only, and not trying to squeeze in 3 other clients in between.
  •  Always sign a contract with a detailed specification of the garments. A proper contract protects you as well as the client, and sets up clear parameters for the order and your working relationship with the client. Set a price on any changes your client may want to introduce – but above all, do not be afraid to say no to them if the contract have been signed. I have recently been dealing with a difficult customer who placed a  big order. I received about 200 emails before the contract was signed, but they continued after the final designs were agreed on, as the client was fond of browsing the net and every site she visited gave her fresh ideas. At some point, after about 327 emails, I simply had enough. I asked her either to stick to the original, with a few changes that were feasible at that stage – or the contract is null and void, and I will return the deposit. She opted for the former and the order was completed to mutual satisfaction. If I hadn’t signed the contract, I suppose I would still be negotiating the designs now… 
    •  The last but not the least – enjoy your work.  Not only take pride in its outcomes, but relish the process too. Even when the labour can be dull or repetitive, you can brighten it up and still enjoy it – put on your favourite music when sitting at the machine, listen to an audiobook when hand stitching ( I personally love it – either listening to books, or to a language course  – time flies away!), if the weather is nice, go and stitch outside in the garden or in a park.  It is your business, work, hobby – but it takes a great deal of your life too, so have fun!
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stitching and bitching while working on corsetry projects with Julia from Sew Curvy

   Recommended reading – 4hr work week, by Timothy Ferris. The idea of spending only 4 hours a week stitching is completely alien to me, but there are really good tips on time management issues – well worth a read!

And a couple of links to other bigger commissions …

https://adamselindisdress.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/victorian-commission/

https://adamselindisdress.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/victorian-commission-part-2-kiddies-stuff/

Embers – 1876 Visiting Gown

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This particular frock has long been on my ‘to do ‘list. One of the ‘love at the first sight’ thingd – the moment I opened Harper’s Bazar on that page, I fell in love in the elegant lines of the frock, beautifully accentuated by the trim. I simply had to do it…

 The original fashion plate and the description:

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  Getting the colours and trims right was always going to be tricky – and indeed, the gown was finished much later than I had planned as I couldn’t get the trims to play with the fabric. I wanted to keep the original colouring of the gown – grey, black and crimson/red, and if possible to get the trim patterned as well.

 The fabric was easy – looking through my James Hare swatches I stumbled upon the booklet with Connaught silk ( wool and silk  blend) and their graphite was just perfect.

 Trims – well, that was tricky indeed!

 Well, after buying  a few lots online, i realized that it didn’t  work – the trims that looked perfect on the screen turned out to be too gold, or too orange or too brown. In the end I went with a ‘back up’ plan – I had 4m or silk velvet in almost the right colour ( with a bit more raspberry sheen than i would wish, but the best match so far), and just needed a secondary trim – and since Lucas was in London one day, he was sent on a trim finding mission in the caverns of Lawson and Barnett Trimmings. Armed with fabric swatches, hubby was able to hunt down a few possibilities and after reaching approval additional trim was finally bought.

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 altogether the following materials were used:

 Silk – 6m,

lining ( cotton, black and red – 6m),  red silk for the sleeves – 1m

 silk velvet -3m

trim – 37m ( yes, 37!!!!)

 black cord – 16m

 black chenille cord – 15m

 metal buttons for baleyeuse – 20

cotton broderie anglaise lace for baleyeuse – 12m

 silk and cotton thread, black lacing, bones for boning the bodice etc

velvet covered buttons – 40

tassels – 4 pairs from Gina B  ( need to get one more pair)

 Now I had the components I could at last start work….

 The garments per se were not too tricky – the skirt was simple ( similar in shape to the skirt for my 1877 polonaise), and the overskirt was  pretty basic too – though the draping wasn’t!

 Bodice – I drew the pieces up first in spare cotton fabrics, made a mock up and only after making sure it worked well, I cut the proper fabric.

 Here skirt and bodice half way through – awaiting trimming… looking very demure, but already liking the shape

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 then it was cutting the velvet bias bands to go over the skirt… with the usual helper of course…

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 In the hindsight, I should have cut the bands in exactly the shape i needed them – that would take up a bit more fabric, but would make the trim lie flatter…

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skirt is bound in black cotton, chenille cord applied, and now the fancy trim is being sewn on

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pinning up the velvet strips

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stitching the thing… hate sewing velvet…..

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and the other side being done…

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most of the trim on!

Then the overskirt received the trim treatments and it was time to start draping the thing…

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hindsight – should have bought 1 more meter and made the overskirt just a tad more voluminous at the back…

the side was pleated..

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bustle part bustled and secured by the inside tapes…

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side pleats were set and then the cords were attached – they all come together, secured in a bit of fabric – the cords with tassels will be added here too. that bit simply pins under the bustle once the overskirt is on.

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the rosette and tassels were added… the centre of the rosette is decorated with a button – the same silk covered buttons with chenille braid embellishment were then put on the folds, over the braid attachment

 and then I could actually try the thing on…

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 Once I was happy, I added closures to the skirts, added  the cords and buttons, and started on the bodice – and I must admit that was one of the most complex thing I have ever done! the shape and construction were easy, it was the closure and the trim placement that was a bit of a logistic nightmare!

 The trim itself was very tricky – here it had to be cut in exactly the shape it needed to appear on the bodice, bias strips did not work well 😦

 The description says the bodice is laced – but you see buttons on the illustration. I originally planned to go just with the buttons – but once I started playing with the trim placement, I realized that buttons, will only work, if they have loops, so that the pieces don’t overlap ( lines of the trim were upset by this). loops may put too much strain on the bodice/button – so maybe the original was right after all…

 In the and  I added lacing strips inside the bodice, so that the bodice laces up, and the buttons and lops secure the very edges providing a neat, flat finish and bot bearing too much strain.

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inside lacing, outside buttons and loops

  the sleeves were a handful too – I did each of them separately, so it was completely finished, trim and all, when it was set in.

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cuff detail, with the cord and tassels

 The whole thing was first worn on a set of a Sugar Skull photo shoot – I was providing costume for one of the models and we decided to shoot Embers in between the other stuff ( a whole new post on that once the photos go public! very usuasual and magical stuff:-).

 The gown was worn on the usual underpinnings:

  A new lawn and lace chemise ( we now stock a few of them for sale:-), drawers, stockings, basic corset ( again, testing our  stock item here – worked very well!), Tavistock boots ( American Duchess), small bustle pad.

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close up

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considering the corset was a generic size 12 and not made for me at all – it was surprisingly comfortable!

And the frock itself

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 After the shoot, and before the first event, I added a baleyeuse ( dust ruffle) to protect the trained skirts from the dirt.  the Ruffle simply unbuttons and is chucked into the washer when it is dirty – then is pinned up again.

 Here’s the baleyeuse after a whole day of walking around the market – not too bad!

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 It also peaks just a bit from the skirts – and the weight of it makes the train lie better and not bunch up when walking:-)

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at the market

  Altogether -pretty pleased with it.  yes, should have ordered a tad more fabric, and still need to add the collar, but  so far I am rather pleased how it turned out, even despite all the bad language that occurred while making it….:-)

  Now hopefully we can have some more Victorian booking to wear the thing!

 photography : Pitcheresque Imagery

 frock –  Prior Attire – obviously 🙂

Fastenings Across the Ages

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 Throughout the history humans have come up with a variety of ways to get their garments to close and fit – ‘to make ends meet’.  For someone just beginning their adventure with historical clothing, the labyrinth of which fastening on what garments in which era may seem a bit daunting – is it lacing? If so, what kind of lacing, or should it be buttons, or points or hooks and eyes? In the present article I plan to make the maze a little simpler and discuss what kind of fastening were used in which periods, from early medieval to Victorian.

1. Brooches  

One of the earlier fastening to be introduced in Europe – early garments were rather loosely-fitting tunics, kirtles and cloaks. To go over the wearer’s head the opening had to be wide enough – but too big an opening was not always welcome. Enter the ‘keyhole opening’ – a round neckline with a slit in front. Small brooches were used to fasten the edges of the slit together – and the wealthier the person, the more ornate the brooch. Bigger brooches were used for cloaks and mantles or for the Viking overdresses ( apron, or Danish dresses). Although maybe most popular in the medieval times, brooches have survived the last millennium both as practical and decorative items – and they are still used to pin traditional Scottish attire nowadays, for instance.

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Viking brooch from the British Museum

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Brooches for the cloaks, Bayeoux tapestry

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another brooch from the British museum

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Tudor ‘ouches’ – a more ornamental variation of the brooch, often used on sleeves – here in the portrait of Isabela of Portugal

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Ouches on restoration bodices – again, more ornamental than practical – a perfect example on the bodice of Mary Henrietta

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Regency brooch, italina, from the British Museum

2. Laces (and their variants)

It seems that one of the earliest laced garments were 12th century bliaut – there is still a lot of controversy around this, but I am pretty convinced it was the first time when dress edges were actually laced together ( more on it in my article on the bliaut construction)

Dresses in this period were laced at the sides through hand sewn eyelets , using a plaited or woven cord.

The same method was used in late medieval kirtles – from the 14th century onwards there is more and more evidence of gowns and kirtles being laces at the sides, as well as the front or back.

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Fouquet-Virgin-and-a-child

The method of lacing varied – cross-lacing was used alongside ladder- and spiral-lacing. The eyelets were hand sewn, sometimes with a metal ring being placed over the hole and over sewn with linen thread, rendering the eyelet more robust – but no grommets were used at all, until they were introduced in the 19th century.

Sometimes metal rings were used on their own – here used to lace a burgundian gown.  Lacing continued to be used throughout history as it was a convenient method of closing the garment tightly – the following garments could be laced:

Medieval: doublets, cotehardies, kirtles, gowns, jacks;

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laced kirtle. boccace_de-mulieribus-claris_vers1490_Argia_web

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side lacing

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laced doublet

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11. laced gown michael pacher, mary of burgundy

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12. lacing on the kirtle, pin on the sleeve Stark-triptyque_National-Gallery-of-Art_1480_detail

Tudor: kirtles and gowns (lacing usually hidden under the placard),

Stuart – dresses, gowns, bodies (stays), buff coats

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German-bodice-1660s

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buffcoat, laced, 1640VAM

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14.Gerard Terborch (Dutch Baroque Era Painter, 1617-1681) Mirror

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stays and busk, VAM

18th century: stays (predominantly spiral-lacing with offset eyelets), ‘robe francaise’ (at the back, under the pleats, serving more as a fit adjusting means here)), for waistcoats and breeches (at the back), jackets, robes (with lacing over the stomacher – often only decorative)

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16. stays 1780, VAM

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Detail of a 1725 Robe à la Française, LACMA. example of decorative lacing

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waistcoat – back, VAM

 19th century – stays, corsets, dresses,

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late Victorian bodice, lacing eyelets

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Worth polonaise, laced in front, VAM

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corset lacing, 1864 VAM

Ties and points are, in a way, a variation of lacing as in principle the idea is similar – using a strip or two of fabric or a cord to tie garments together.

Points were introduced first in medieval times, 11th-13th century, as a means of attaching a single hose to the braies. In the following centuries, as hose extended up and covered more and more leg and buttock, more points were needed, as was a more robust garment to which they could be laced. Late medieval doublets, pourpoints, etc, sport pairs of eyelets at the hem to which another pair on the hose corresponds – a cord with metal ‘aguillettes’ was passed through the eyelets and tied on top – a ‘point’. Similar method could also be used to fasten doublets in front. Holding up hose and later britches by attaching them to a doublet survived until about the mid 17th century – at the end, these were mainly a decorative item, often fashioned from silk ribbons and sporting pretty bows.

points in doublet

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MEMLING-St-John-Altarpiece-1475

Points attaching a sleeve in lave medieval gown

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marie of burgundy

Ornamental points on this boy’s gown and on a grown man’s doublet

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Jan van Bijlert (1597-1671)

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King Charles I (1600–1649)

Fabric ties – one of the easiest methods and a popular one too – mostly used on shifts, (necks and sleeves), coifs, bodices (early Tudor gowns), ruffs, collars, 18th century petticoats and gowns (again, often purely a decorative function), regency gowns (apron fronted ones), Victorian bustles (for tying a bustle pad around the cage), camisoles, hats, or as ties holding up the drape of bustled skirts, etc.

ties on boy’s shirt.

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boyshirt1540s Bath museum

ties on bodice of Cecilia Heron, worn without placard

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Cecilia Heron, Holbain

buffcoat, 17th century

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german buff coat. Lederkoller

ties on the overgown

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lady knollys 1562

drop-fronted gowns (more pictures of the pink ones http://www.vintagetextile.com/new_page_736.htm)

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 Drawstring – most likely used in medieval times for braes – but it seems there is no evidence of it being used in chemises.  Chemises laced at the neck are also a L.A.R.P.  invention it seems, (sorry Errol Flynn!  ) -There are chemises aplenty gathered into a narrow band of fabric, but somehow almost no evidence of drawstring being used in garments until the 19th century (in regency necklines, transitional stays cups, ruching of skirts etc).

inside Victorian bodice, drawstring is used to make the neckline smug

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drawstring used to make the neck fit better

3. Pins.

Simple and a relatively inexpensive way to temporarily connect two bits of fabric, pins were used for ages. Veils were pinned to barbettes and wimples, sleeves were pinned to the shoulder-straps of gowns and kirtles. In the 16th century gown placards were pinned at the sides to the main gowns; in Stuart times collars were sometimes pinned to bodices (and having worn a big collar in windy weather I can understand how this works perfectly!) n the 18th century there is some evidence that the gown fronts (robes anglaise and polonaise) were sometimes closed in front using pins (Serena’s article). Hat pins were especially popular in the 18 and 19th century when fashionable headwear was pinned securely to one’s wig, hairpiece or simply to hair to stop it being blown away!

sleeves pinned to the kirtle

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rogier van der weydan, c[2]. 1450

Buttons:

For some mysterious reason buttons appeared relatively late on the scene. They seem to have developed from decoratively applied beads before being seen as functional buttons. As a form of decoration they have been known for millennia, with buttons used as functional items only appearing on the scene in the 9th century (Hungary), some earlier evidence of them being used paired with buttonholes can be found in the 13th century ( Germany)

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buttoned curcoat13cent

Buttons soon became all the rage, and the 14th century close-fitting garments sport them on front closures and sleeves, with the rule being ‘the more the better’…  needless to say, their popularity has thrived over the ages and many forms have been developed – in medieval times metal shank buttons were popular, as were cloth buttons or cloth covered round/dome buttons. Tudor and Stuart times see a profusion of lavishly decorated ball buttons, covered with silk or linen thread, often sporting additional decoration with metallic threads. The 18th century is famed for its ornamental buttons – elaborately embroidered, wrapped or covered buttons are everywhere, reaching quite a size by the end of the 18th century.   Flat buttons with holes are a relatively new invention, though.  I am by no means a button expert – for more info on deaths-head buttons, Dorset buttons, embroidered, covered etc, I believe Gina B is the person to ask – and her DVD’s are fantastic if you fancy making some on your own!

The buttonholes, the bane of every costumier nowadays, were carefully handstitched with a strong thread – and in later centuries often corded for strength.

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micheal pacher, stoning of st stephen

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Charles do Blois pourpoint , 14cent_13

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doublet VAM

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doublet buttons vam

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buttons on a casssaque. Portrait of Jan Six by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn c1654

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1710, vam

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buttons on a redingote 1790f, lacma

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.Waistcoat ca. 1780-1800 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Buttons on late victorian bodice

Toggles:
Together with thongs , horn toggles are a form of a button really and were used predominantly on  medieval shoes (especially Viking origin) and seem to be used in the northern more primitive cultures, ( Siberian tribes, Inuit, etc ). Mysteriously they seem to almost disappear ( apart from toggle like ornaments used on Tudor garments) for centuries from the high fashion, with toggles on shoes being discarded – buckles, lacing and buttons being used in later centuries.

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Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543)_ Portrait of Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee 1540

Hooks and eyes.

I believe  a simple Winningas or dress hook was the predecessor of the functional hooks and eyes closure –  Winnegas hook being a simple hook placed at the end of the binding wrapped around  Anglo-Saxon calves – the hook simply caught the woven braid easily making sure the bindings stayed in place.

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.Saxon-dress-hook-tag UK Detector Finds Database Ref. No. 1912

Proper hooks and eyes (or as they seem to be known before the end of the 17th century, crochet and loop) were used on late medieval garments to close collars, livery coats and gowns – as fabrics with patterns were popular in the second half of the 15th century, a closure that would not disturb those patterns was  especially welcome!

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Jean Fouquet. Portrait of the Ferrara Court Jester Gonella. c. 1442.

Later they were used to close jerkins, gowns, jackets, bodices – and are still in use today, predominantly on lingerie items.

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hooks on a late Victorian bodice

The hooks were also used on the corsets, as a means of preventing the petticoat and skirts to ride up!

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hook on corset, VAM

Split Busks:

Invented by a French Corsetier, Jean-Julien Josselin in 1829 they became extremely popular after the slot and stud closure was patented by Joseph Cooper in 1848.  The spit busk took over the corsetry as it provided two things – rigid structure and a front closure that made it so much easier for the corset to be put on and removed by the wearer. Various form developed over the decades, including narrow, wide, conical and spoon busks. To my knowledge they were never used in any other item of clothing apart from corsets (well, historically speaking – 21st century excluded here)

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spoon busk, 1883, VAM

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corset with busk, lacing and studs, VAMs

Mark that the above picture shows press studs too – there were a recent invention as well and they were mainly used as supplementary means for skirts closures.

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press studs on a Teens bodice – to secure the sleeve. the tony buttons are only a decoration here:-)

Well, and there you have it – a brief outline or what was worn and when. By no means encompassing all the wealth of possible closures but at least a start!  🙂

Bibliography

Fashion in detail, VAM, all 3 books… http://www.amazon.co.uk/Underwear-Wearden-Jennifer/dp/1851776168/ref=pd_sim_b_3

Janet Arnold – all the books….

Medieval Tailor’s Assistant http://www.amazon.co.uk/Medieval-Tailors-Assistant-Garments-1200-1500/dp/0903585324/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1370354784&sr=1-1&keywords=medieval+tailor%27s+assistant

The  Tudor Tailor books – http://www.tudortailor.com/bookshoptt.html

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O10446/stays-and-busk-unknown/

http://www.lacma.org/

Suiting up – WWI style

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 Well, I must say that once we hit the Teens, I start to get bored with the clothes.  But, being in  business means that sometimes you have to stretch beyond your comfort zone – and this suit was just such an exercise….  I am not a tailor – and not particularly eager to become one, so I usually leave the tailoring bits  to those who are trained accordingly. On this occasion, however, since it was a friend who asked, I relented and tried my  hand at a tailored suit  1910-14 style.

 Eleanor knew my attitude to suits so  to make it easier we agreed on a commercial pattern to be used, and we got absolutely stunning check wool and soft linen for lining. The undergarments were made,  measurements taken – it was time to unpack the pattern ( Reconstructing History, 1052) and get down to it – make a mock up.

 And that’s when it started….

 The pattern….. though I usually make my own patterns, I have used commercial patterns before – and  as with everything in life, some are better and some are worse; most require some fiddling with the mock up – there are no miracles after all and nobody is the ideal size.

 Well, this one required the most fiddling I have ever experienced….

 The skirt:   Pattern was simple – but the pieces were marked in a weird way – some upside down….

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    if you look carefully, you will see the waist darts at the right side. but the description is reversed on one piece

Not a major thing, though confusing. However, here  the size was the issue. We cut out the required size – only to realize that for some reason it was almost 10 inches too big at the waist… So it needed re-cutting and darts needed re-positioning. again, not a big deal, but a nuisance.

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fitting the skirt…. not at least the size is right, fiddling with the darts and hem here

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the back

 The jacket.

 Well,   mock up was cut out ( 1 fronts 2 side fronts and 2 backs), and put together – and it became apparent straight away that there are several issues:

* front – the front, princess seam needed re- positioning over the bust curve…

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the seam is the original, as pattern shows – had to be moved by 2 inches, making the piece bigger

* the back –  the back was simply cut in 2 big pieces – and they hanged loosely, not fitting at all looking at the picture on the pattern, you sort of see the side back seam, splitting the back piece into two –  alas, the pattern piece did not acknowledge the fact, merging the 2 pieces together….

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mark the position of the front seam – and the drawing of the back. the side back seam is not reflected in the pattern – you can add it to the piece as on the drawing, or continue the line from the front, as I did

so a back piece had to be split, and since the front piece had a seam, we decided to continue the seam over the shoulder, splitting the back into two, and providing a better fit over the back and size… the correction is marked on the pattern now.

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new seam marked on the pattern

 Once we seam was in place, the whole thing looked much, much better – here on the stand, interlined wool turned outsize, ready for another fitting

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and on Eleanor…

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back looking much better. mark the asymmetric shoulders – a bit tricky!

 Sleeves were next –  the ones cut according to the pattern were HUGE! looked like elephant’s legs:_)

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surplus…..

The second fitting sorted the little kinks out – and I was able to proceed with finishing the thing, lining with linen, adding velvet cuffs and collar, and velvet covered buttons.

The hat was next – and here huge was the target size:-) we had black-watch silk tartan, ostrich feathers, peacock feathers and velvet to decorate it…

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 The base is made in buckram, wired, covered in calico and then covered with silk, with edges bound in the silk bias binding,

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ready! the bird was optional, in the end we decided to go without it….

Altogether, as far as the pattern was concerned – it is not a beginners thing. If you are  familiar with working with toiles,  you will work your suit out of it, but be prepared for quite a lot of fiddling.

To me it seemed that some of the issues we experienced  were due to a few factor – the size – I suppose a size 10 small chested lass may have the princess seams spot on – but on a curvier sizes it simply didn’t work. Also, i suspect the pattern may have been drawn on a dummy  or a model who was not wearing period correct underwear – and we are still in corsets at that time! Admittedly, long line corsets, mid or underbust too, with bust improvers or not – but the position of the bust is changed nevertheless.

In conclusion – workable pattern, but in the future will another draft my own or experiment with another one. It may work for a more experienced tailor – maybe the issues we had wee also due to the fact that I am no such! 🙂

Still, very pleased with how it turned out in the end –   we did a small shoot in the park on a beautiful spring day and Eleanor looked resplendent in the suit:-) Her layers are – chemise, corset,  princess petticoat, blouse, suit, vintage furs, vintage bag and jewellery. shoes by American Duchess 

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jacket off….

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The inspiration for the finishing touches and hats –  taken from out pinterest board!

The black dress I am wearing – well,  that is another post altogether! Soon!

photos by Pitcheresque Imagery

Corsetry experiment – 1884 patent by C.W. Higby

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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.

Pattern:

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

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 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,

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 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!

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 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.

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 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.

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calico pieces stitched up

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and laced up

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!

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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 .

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playing with the toile – one side is the original Victorian pattern, the other one is being built up into a modern Steampunk one…

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 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.

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preparing the proper coutil, marking channels here!

Once traced, I cut the pieces out, pinned them together and started sewing….

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cutting out!

Channels first – I sewed them on the a and b pieces.

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sewing channels

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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.

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 Side lacing piece and busk piece were connected last – and we have the first quarter ready!

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The process was repeated on the other side piece

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 Back pieces:

and b pieces and the side lacing strip were sewn together first.

ImageWith 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.

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back panel ready

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one back piece ready, the other in progress!

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

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all pieces boned!

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.

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 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…

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 The moment had arrived – I could actually try the thing on!

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side….

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hip unlaced – looks better!

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

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more channels added!

Next step – flossing. At that stage I rather liked with black and yellow combination, so flossing was done in dark yellow cotton thread.

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flossing detail

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 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

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 Then there was only binding left to do – and adding some yellow lace I found in my stock. It was ready to wear!

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binding….

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all bound, lace added, time to put it on!

the result….

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side view, hip laced

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front view

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back – asymmetry much less pronounced

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front, hip unlaced

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!

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 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.

  1. The spiral boning works well, but more is needed at the back than is indicated on the original drawings.
  2. Chatting when marking boning channels can result in wonky channels – the front channels are slightly offset as a result…
  3.  I would use silk for flossing
  4.  …I would use better eyelets too; (The ones used here were without washers)
  5.  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! 🙂