All about corset making and corsetry components

A blog with plenty of information on Corset Making and corset making supplies.

A new "From the Archives" series will be published every Wednesday and Saturday from 25 February 2023, until 26 March 2023, and these posts will contain 'old' information on corset making which will be updated for the revamped Learn Corset Making information portal whereever that may be.

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  1. I get so many emails and students who say that they want to be a full time corset maker and whilst I can really really understand why - after all I used to be that person - I also have the benefit of knowing just how hard it is to get to a place where you can actually earn a living from corsetry and corset making.  You need dedication and passion by the bucket load, and financial support - either a day job, or an understanding partner or parent.

    image credit: Roger Askew

    At this point I should make a disclaimer:  There are certain influencers in the corsetry and costume online community who make it sound easy, who tell tales of their remarkable success as an "artist", or who hold others up as a shining beacon of success,  but you should look very closely at what these people are actually selling - how they make a living.  You'll find that they may well be an artist of sorts, but what they are selling is content.  Nothing else.  And the shining beacons of success - what are they selling and how do they really do it?  Never judge a book by it's cover.  Many of these shining beacons of success live or work in rent free or highly subsidised spaces or have other jobs they don't talk about.  

    It IS possible to make a living from corsetry - and a good living at that, and I know several who do so very successfully but they are far too busy making corsets to be boasting about how successfull they are.  So if you want to go down this path, making and selling your corsets and costumes successfully, then read on. 

    Triptych web

    These little waspies had a breif show at Coco-de-Mer
    but honestly working wholesale is a fools game. 

    image credit: Threnody in Velvet, photographer and model

    I had an email last week from someone expressing their wish to make a business who's front product was corsetry but they wanted to know, having been unable to find an 'expert' to help them,  if it was really necessary to learn how to make a corset - thereby removing all 'joy' from the proposed enterprise, and if not, then would it be possible to find a 'seamstress' to do the work - a seamstress who could not only cut the specific designs in this person's head, but make them up too.  At a low cost.

    I asked this person to ask themselves the following questions:

    1.  Why do you want to start a business selling something you know nothing about and have (apparently) no passion for or experience in?
    2. If it is simply to make money, why do you think you cannot find any skilled 'experts' or 'seamstresses' to help you?
    3. If you are not willing to spend the time learning about corsetry, how can you expect to make a viable business with corsets as your main product?

    Lets first start with the definition of what a corset is.  This question came up during a small get together in the Fellows Room at The Oxford Conference of Corsetry in 2015.  At the table were several professional corsetieres including me, Autumn Adamme, the Godmother of Modern Corsetry, and Mr Pearl himself.  Yes THAT Mr Pearl.

    Mr Pearl watches Immodesty Blaize perform at OCOC15

    Mr Pearl watches Immodesty Blaize perform at OCOC15
    Jesus College, Oxford

    Image credit: Julia Bremble

    The conversation was very short because we were all in agreement about what a corset is.  It is a garment designed to modify the body into a particular shape, by application of gradual pressure.  You cannot have a corset without two vital components, that is the busk at the front, and the lacing at the back.  Those two things alone, create the pressure and the support needed to reduce the waist by more than 2 inches and up to 10 (or more in some cases!).  If this isn't the sort of garment you want to make a living by, then you can probably skip to the end.  

    girl being laced into a bridal corset

    Lacing is a vital part of corsetry, it's what enables
    the transition into the hourglass shape

    It's not all about the lacing though.  In order to acheive the desired shape from wearing a corset, the pattern must be good. The more extreme the shape of the corset, the better the pattern must be. There are so many variables that are beyond the scope of this blog post. Suffice to say that it takes an extraordinary amount of skill and study to become a corsetiere who can create amazing shapes.  It's a life's work.  The more you know about corsetry, the more there IS to know.

    A corset pattern being made

    Corset patterns are complicated because you 
    first have to take ease out, then you have to put it back
    in exactly the right places

    image credit:  Julia Bremble

    The next question is, What is the difference between a corset maker and a corsetiere?  I have been quite militant about this for years, and most corsetieres agree, but I was heartened a couple of years ago to hear the very same definition from iconic corset model Bex Paul when she visited my studio during a fitting with our mutual friend and collegue, Immodesty Blaize.  Bex was the muse and model for Velda Lauder, another trail blazer for modern corsetry and the inspiration of many a modern maker.  Bex said that "A corset maker is a person who can make a corset from a pattern.  A corsetiere, is someone who can make the pattern."  Which brings me to my next statement which is:  A corsetiere can be a seamstress, but it is rare to find a seamstress who is also a corsetiere.

    Bex Paul Corset Model

    Model Bex Paul in an antique pattern corset by me.

    image credit: Julia Bremble

    In other words,  a corsetiere is a highly skilled artisan who has spent years learning their craft; No matter how different their work or style is, they all, without exception, have one thing in common and that is that they are all driven by their own obsessional passion for corsetry.  Passion = joy.  If you cannot see joy in this work before you have even started it, then this journey is not for you. 

    To be successful in business, you must first have passion.  You can’t simply go on a beginners corsetry course and then expect to find your fortune immediately.  It doesn’t work like that however, there's an extra ingredient, Talent, which counts toward the final product.  Talent comes in where you can see that amount of experience doesn't define how good you are or can be. There are corsetiere's who have been working for 20 years or more who are not producing work as good as some who are newer to the craft.  

    Most modern corsetieres - infact I would go so far as to say ALL of the corsetieres working today, including Mr Pearl, are self taught.  There was simply no industry to learn from after the early 1980's and if you think you're going to learn corsetry at college, you've got another thing coming.  The last professional corsetiere from 'back in the day' in the UK, was Iris Norris.  Long deceased.  Educational institutions don't have the specialist knowledge required to teach proper corsetry because of all the bad press corsets received after they went out of fashion.  "Corsets kill you", "Corsets squeeze your organs" etc., etc., etc.,  Costume corsetry is corsetry which is designed to LOOK authentic.  It doesn't have to work.  I've had countless frustrated contour, costume and fashion students through my doors telling me that their teachers just don't 'get it'.

    The real nitty gritty of making corsets for a living, is the business side of things.  Being a business person is a very tough job and it isn't for everyone.  There are moments of intense joy and satisfaction, but those moments come at a price, and that price is a sometimes unbearable amount of strain caused by blood, sweat, and many many tears of frustration and angst! I remember the nights and nights of anguish where after my day job, and after all the household chores were done and dusted, and my young son was in bed, I would pore over my patterns long into the night, my already tired brain aching with confusion, tears coming from frustration,  and the fear that I would never ever be able to make a corset pattern, let alone understand how the damn things work!!  But I kept at it.  And I practiced and practiced and practiced.  Then I started Sew Curvy armed with a tiny amount of knowledge that I wanted to pass on to others who were finding it hard to find help - because there was so little in those days.  Then I wrote a book which went a long way towards my understanding of corsetry, but still I did not call myself a corsetiere.  It wasn't until I started teaching corsetry that I began to understand it so fully.  I learned more than I taught and slowly I found it all slotting into place.

    stage show with corsets

    From zero to stage with icons in little over 10 years.

    images from Instagram

    Great!  I got there in the end.  I can whip up a fantasticly complex corset pattern in less than half an hour these days and I have a very select list of 'VIP' clients.   But knowing how to do something, and doing it well, is not the same as succeding in business with that thing.  Yes, the joy can be removed but it isn't the corset making that causes the lack of joy.  It's the marketing, the constant hustling, the social media, the disappointments of not making the sale, the balancing of the books, the admin, the sample making, the model wrangling, the photographer finding, the financial outlay - all the grinding daily tasks and that's not even counting the fact that once you've got so far that your work is  'out there', people start copying your designs and that in itself leads to a whole other level of joyless hell :/

    So here is my comprehensive check list for prospective professional corset makers and corsetieres

    1) Know your subject.  Unless you have a bottomless Kardashian style fountain of money, nobody is going to do this for you.  Invest in learning - you'll need time and patience - it's possible to teach yourself but it takes dedication, passion, and obsession with details.  If you can go on a course to start you off, do so.  See my blog post about picking the right corsetry course HERE.  Remember, you can't be a Formula One driver without first learning how to drive.

    2) Professional corset making is what it says on the tin - it should look like it's been made in a factory!  Ridiculous comparison I know, but it's what most people measure a professional standard by.  Your corset must look simple and flawless in design even if it's the most complex thing you've ever made in your life.

    3) Get good at marketing and branding.  The most successful corsetieres aren't necessarily the best or most talented corset makers, but they are the best at social media and marketing their brand.  They also have a healthy respect for their worth and their products' worth.  ie: They charge properly.  Be prepared to wear all the hats you can think of;  Pattern cutter, Seamstress, Stylist, Creative Director, Professional Liaison officer (organising photoshoots), Venue Scout, Talent Scout, Social Media Expert, Branding Expert, Sales and Marketing Manager, Customer Services Manager, etc., etc., etc.,

    4) Don't under sell yourself, even if you think your work isn't quite as good as the next corsetiere.  It helps nobody - least of all yourself - if you sell your goods for cheap outside of your friends circle.  What this leads to is stagnation.  If you don't make enough from each sale, you can't afford better fabrics and materials or the time to make more samples and practice to get yourself better.  Not only that, you make it harder for other makers who are trying to make a living.  If you don't charge enough for your work, the work becomes a chore.  If you don't value your own work, nobody else will.  And you'll be undercutting other indepentant businesses for no reason other than exploiting yourself!

    5) Don't oversell yourself either.  Designer prices need a designer reputation to go with them. Look at your competition, study what they are doing.  Don't copy, but take notes.  If they are busy, there's a reason.  They're doing something right.  Pricing is part of that.

    6) Don't feel ashamed about having a 'day job' at least to begin with. Infact keep your job until you start losing money by being employed by someone else!  There's nothing more crushing to creativity than worrying about how you're going to pay the bills with only one etsy sale a month.

    7) Invest in yourself and your business.  If there are professionals selling courses, or information, select which would be best for your business, and invest - there's lots of information out there mostly on Patreon these days.  Invest in good materials, invest in quality trims, invest in fancy lace.  Don't see these expenses as frivoloties.  You are investing in your now and future business. You are building a brand.

    8) Make your shape and style - this is your brand and your USP.  Its what will draw your customers to you. The best corsetieres' work is identifyable immediately without a caption.  That's what you're aiming for.

    9) Never.  But NEVER, ask a corsetiere to be your low paid seamstress so that you can build a brand on their back.  It's just not going to happen and it's extremely insulting.

    10) Never copy another designer.  Be inspired yes.  But take that inspiration, and make your own version.  Community is important in any industry and disresepecting your collegues is a recipie for disaster.

    11) Finally ask yourself the question:  What do you actually want from running your own corsetry business?  It better not be money!  I've noticed, especially in the digital age that as soon as anybody finds enjoyment in a hobby or is good at something, their friends, family, collegues all say the same thing "You should make a business doing that" ... Honestly WHY?  Running a business can be a joyful wonderful thing but it isn't for everyone.  It can give you the highest most exhilerating highs but also the stressiest most debilitating of lows too ... Do you want to ruin your beloved hobby by monetising it?  Or would you rather do a job where you dont have to manifest money from literally nothing but your own wits and skill, have paid leave and sick time, and make your hobby a release from the day job ?  Sometimes I myself wonder and i've been at it for a long time now.  Having said that, those thoughts only pass fleetingly through my mind once in a while. Despite the difficulties I can honestly say that I was made to be self employed.  It's been the most rewarding and successful part of my life and I wouldn't go back for anything.

    Sew Curvy HQ corsetry and corset making supplies

    Sew Curvy HQ!

  2. The short answer is : nothing.  There is nothing wrong with free corset patterns.  As long as you understand that nothing worth having, is really cost free and literally everything (even free things) come at a price - that price may not be obvious, but there will be a price if the content is of any value. 

    I think free content is a great thing.  It almost without exception, acts as a gateway to bigger and better things, new skills, new passions, even new careers.  My whole business is built on a foundation of free content - in every section of this website, from the product descriptions to the free tutorials, to the links to other free tutorials, there is an abundance of free content.  

    The 'catch' - becuase there always is a catch, is that hopefully the free content inspires you and then persuades you to buy things from me :)  Other examples of exchange for free content might be where the content creator saves the real juicy info for their patreon, paid for subscription website, official course, or soon to be published book.

    free corset making content

    Free Corset making tutorials are everywhere on this website.
    Click HEREfor an index

    There are lots of free corset patterns available to download on the internet - If you use one of them  - HURRAY!  Get your supplies here and everyone is happy.

    However, there is something to be said for value.

    All my students

    Just SOME of the students, models and clients
    who have passed through my doors over the years

    Whilst I do not think that free corset patterns necessarily de-value the work of others, I do have a strong feeling of kinship within the small corset making community in general, and I do have respect for both myself and my skilled collegues and friends.  Respect in small communities is important. 

    I earn a living from corsetry and it's hard.  I have to do lots of different things, to earn less money that I would in the 'rat race' doing things I am qualified to do, like managing events and working as a board level executive assistant.  But I choose to teach, educate, help, and make corsets and corsetry.  I have lots of friends and colleges who do the same and we all have exactly the same thing in common - we are all driven by our passion for corsetry.  Some of us focus on embellshements and shinies, some focus on technical details, some focus on shape, some on structure ... we're all different and we all specialise in something.

    If you come to me for free advice on a project you're working on, you better be one of my customers or students because I generally don't work for absolutely nothing, and that is because I value what I do and I like to give value to those who seek to invest in their skills. 

    If I do not value my own work, nobody else will.  If you do not value your work, or your time, or anything else that you have, why should anybody else?  I learned a long time ago, when I was an event manager in Oxford, that people who waste their own time, are more than happy to waste everyone else's time too.  And that applies to most other things - replace the word time, with anything else - money, food, whatever. Again, it all boils down to respect - for yourself mostly..

    When things cost money - our ultimate measure of 'value', the cost includes not only the physical end product but also the years of experience that went into creating them.  My patterns include that cost and also the hours and hours of sitting at a computer working out the most comprehensive instructions so that they can easily be read, understood and actioned.  They include the years I spent teaching with those patterns, honing all aspects of fit and comfort on many many many different body types, so that they don't just fit one type of body perfectly.  Any corset pattern or course that costs money is going to be better than the free version.  Every Single Time.  

    Sew Curvy patterns have been tested on literally hundreds of women of all shapes, sizes and ages.  And it is that experience that you are paying for when you buy a Sew Curvy Corset Pattern or when you purchase any corset pattern from any other maker who is trying to earn a living in this world.  

    I have been a grateful and enthusiastic member of the corsetry community for nearly 15 years during which time, I have learned far more than I have ever taught, and I have made good friends, and some enemies - well... you know you've made it when you have haters.  But even so, I would never EVER disrespect any fellow creative in public, because whether I like what they do or not, doesn't matter.  It's their right to run their business how they see fit, for their own reasons, and make whatever money they can.  


    Spot the difference:  This comment from THIS blog post
    took my comment deliberatley out of context with the 
    specific intention of ridiculing me to other corrset makers

    On the one occassion when a high profile collegue deliberately quoted from my blog in order to riducle me on their personal facebook page, they were admonished by mutual friends and they made a very public apology to me.  That's the proper way to behave in a room full of adults. Accept responsibility, apologise and move on.  We don't all have to like eachother to be respectful.

    On the same token, and separately from the aforementioned incident, trying to destroy someone's business because they set their own mental health boundaries which conflicted with your own vanity,  is spiteful, hateful, and frankly quite unhinged!  

    Always remember, there's a reason that some things are free - either the thing is of no value whatsoever, or there is a hidden cost and the free thing is a honey pot designed to make you part with your cash eventually.  The top and bottom in any case is, that if you don't invest properly in something, then you cannot expect good results.  If you want to make a good corset, then invest in a good corset pattern, and good corset making materials and support independant artisans by supporting their work.  You wouldn't go to your day job and expect to work for free, so why should artists be expected to continually give out free resources?