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Frequently asked questions from customers about products and services.

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  1. Metal corsetry boning was invented in the 1800's by the Victorians when their preferred corset boning of choice, whalebone, was becoming scarce and expensive.  The Victorians came up with two types of boning - both with ingenious features for very specific applications in corsetry and both of which are still in use today with no modern adaptation or equal.

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    A bone holder for keeping your corset/dress bones sorted.  
    Made by Izabela of Prior Attire these will soon be available to buy in the Sew Curvy shop 

    First of all there is flat steel boning, sometimes known as 'corset flats' or  'spring steel'.  There is a reason for this.  Flat steel boning isn't made of any old metal - No.  It is made from sprung steel which means that it is naturally very 'bouncy' and it is very very hard to bend.  Try bending sprung steel and it will bounce right back into flatness.  Why is this best for curvy corsetry?  Because the way a corset works is by creating pressure and tension over the body to create the special hourglass shape that the Victorians and Edwardians favoured.  If you didn't have sprung steel as boning, then the metal rods inside the corset would simply bend and buckle and would not hold a thing in place.  Can you imagine how uncomfortable that would be and how awful it would look?  Sprung steel on the other hand, only flexes in a vertical direction and will keep its shape and provide tension in the right places - as your corset pattern dictates - and because of this, you can use flat steel corset boning to help engineer your final outcome.  For example, if you want to control a larger bust, or if you want to enhance a smaller bust, flat steel boning can be used in strategic places at the side of the bust to help acheive the desired effect by holding your assets firmly in place and pushing the flesh in a certain direction, unlike spiral steel boning which is much more flexible and will simply mould over curves.

    I do not ever recommend pre-bending flat corset bones because doing this removes the tension in the steel which negates it's special properties.  If you feel like you want to create very curvy drama or you are boning a corset with a very small waist, then use spiral steel boning instead - it will do the bending for you.

    Flat steel boning is also used in hooped petticoats, steel dress cages and panniers and is also sprung so that it keeps it's nice round shape but it is not so thick as flat steel corset boning.

    tv103
    The Elliptical cage crinoline was the main support foundation for the later- and post-American Civil War period of 1863-1868. Called a "cage" because of the cage-like appearance created by the hoop wires and vertical support tapes, this type of crinoline offers maximum support capabilities for a perfect shape, combined with flexibility for comfortable wear

     

    Spiral steel boning is very different to flat sprung steel boning.  It is made from 2 springs flattened and then forced together to make one flat looking spring.  

    spiral steel boning

    This type of corset boning is also sprung and is ingenious because it flexes in all directions and is therefore particularly good for the more curvy areas of the body, where you need a bit of moulding - over the breast, over the hips, perhaps over a fuller dierriere.  Spiral steel boning is much 'softer' on the body and therefore wearers find it more comfortable.  Where flat boning can be used to control and streamline, spiral boning can be used to enhance and create drama.  Spiral steel is the most versatile type of corset boning, it comes in different widths and different thicknesses for all sorts of boning projects and ofcourse it isn't just used for corsetry, it is used in couture for boning dress foundations properly.

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    An antique corset from the famous Symington Collection - this corset is German and dates from 1903.  It is made from grey coutil and has exposed 'watch spring' spiral steels which were removable to aid laundering.

     

    In summary, boning can be used in many ways and many combinations.  Sometimes it can even be used to even out an asymetry in the body.  No body is the same, and it follows that no handmade custom or bespoke corset will be the same as another in terms of how it is boned, however each individual maker will have his or her preferred way of using the bones and this in turn will contribute to the over all look, feel and style of that maker.

     

    Dress foundation with boning
    The inside of a couture dress foundation from the Fashion Gallery at Snibston Discovery Centre, Leicestershire. (by kind permission).  Dress foundations should be boned with metal boning as plastic boning corrupts over time and simply does not stand up to the job.

     

    I therefore encourage everyone to experiment with boning and have put very precise descriptions in my product listings.  

    Here are some further resources for corset boning:

    How to cut and tip spiral steel boning

    Buy spiral steel boning 
    see more detailed product description with tables on which boning to use where

    Buy flat steel boning
    see more detailed product description with information on which boning to use for which application.

    Quick guide to making a corset

    External links:

    Comparing different types of corset boning -   article by Jenni Hampshire of Sparklewren at Foundations Revealed

    How and why to use spiral steel boning 

    How to make a dress foundation  

    Using metal boning in a strapless dress pattern by Vogue

     

  2. scissors for sewing

    At Sew Curvy I only stock quality products in the shop which I myself use and can recommend.    I have a variety of cutting tools in the studio but here are my favourite recommendations for sale:

    When I cut out patterns - any patterns - from corset patterns to dressmaking patterns, to purse patterns and everything in between - I use a 45mm rotary cutter and large cutting mat.  Many people who pass through my studio express terror at the thought of  amputating their fingers while using a rotary cutter but I say it couldn't be more simple and whats more, you get a much more accurate cut with a rotary cutter because you don't have to lift the fabric you're cutting at all, and you can keep the cutting blade sharp at all times with the use of replacement blades or a special sharpener for rotary blades.  The cut you get when using a rotary cutter is sharp, clean and even.  Once you get used to using one, you wont want to go back to traditional dressmaking scissors or tailors shears for anything!  

    In corsetry and dressmaking I find that the best size of blade for rotary cutting, is the standard 45mm.  Rotary cutters do come in all manner of shapes, sizes and formats, with standard, luxury and 'deluxe' versions and you can also get different types of blade too.  The 45mm size is big enough to cover distance quickly but small enough to negotiate tight curves efficiently.  Anything smaller would be tedious and anything bigger would be too clumsy.  The array of accessories for rotary cutters can be quite confusing but generally I find that a regular rotary cutter with retractable blade is the most cost effective and easiest tool to use and I prefer Olfa as a brand.   Handy tip for dull rotary blades:  When they are too dull to cut fabric, you can use them to cut paper, cardboard or interfacing with prescision.  Simply 'condemn' the not so sharp blade by paining a blob of nail polish on it to diferentiate it from your sharp blade.  The blade can be kept safe in the special plastic case which comes with every Olfa replacement blade.

    Scissors are of course useful at other times.  I tend only to use dressmaking shears for cutting lengths of fabric and of course it is absoloutely essential that you keep any dressmaking or fabric crafting scissors only for cutting fabric because cutting other materials such as paper, will dull the blades very quickly (although it is possible to have your scissors sharpened professionally in a hardware store).  If kept properly and treated well, a good pair of scissors will last a lifetime so it really is a false economy to buy cheap ones.  

    Applique scissors are sometimes known as duck bill scissors and are good for grading seams or working with layers of delicate fabrics - they have a lower blade which is wider than the top blade and this lower blade protects fabric underneath the scissors while the super sharp top blade cuts the fabric at hand.   We also have super sharp stork embroidery scissors in two sizes and these are a timeless classic - show me a grandmother who didn't own a pair!  I know I was always fascinated as a child by the little silver pair owned by my Nana and this is why these scissors do have a special place in my heart.  Practically, they are fantastic for precision cutting of small areas and for snipping thread ends very close  to your project. The applique scissors and the stork scissors on site are all made by quality German brand Klasse.  

    Small general  sewing scissors about 10cm (5") long are good for small cutting jobs like snipping notches, seam allowances, going around corners and other general fabric cutting where you need power and presicsion but don't want a large wiedly pair of scissors. I stock Fiskars small sewing scissors for this job as they are a lovely handy size  with very sharp pointy blades.  

    The humble stitch ripper should not be overlooked here.  It is every bit as important to keep a sharp seam ripper in your sewing tool box as it is to keep sharp sewing scissors and cutters to hand.   Dull blades = ripped fabric and shredded seams,  and seam rippers do not stay sharp for long - the more stitches you rip, the quicker the blade will blunt.  With this in mind,  I really don't believe in buying expensive seam rippers with fancy handles because they do need replacing frequently so you wont find anything above 50p at Sew Curvy and I frequently send out a free stich unpicker with big orders as a little token of thanks, because I think it is really really important for perfect sewing.  Infact, seam rippers are such a versatile sewing tool that some people write entire blog posts about their many and varied uses - here is one such blog post which will give you 9 other reasons why you need a seam ripper in your sewing box:  10 reasons to love your seam ripper

    scissors and cutters for sewing

     

     

     

     

  3. new products

    There's a backlog of new products scheduled for upload in the next few weeks and there are so many that I can't actually fit them all on the very amateur collage I've made for this post.  There are:

    • lots of new embellishments, some of them kitschy, some classy
    • new colours of boning tape - red and grey - to match the colours of the coutils on sale
    • ew bindings - grey and natural to match 'dove' and 'biscuit' coutils
    • planned pattern release
    • kit re-branding to include easier kits and more 'complete course' kits
    • many many more lingerie accessories including siliconed hold up elastic, suspender clips and adjusters, several types of elastic, bra back fastners in two sizes and two colours and duo underwired bust forms
    • metal open ended zips
    • new fabrics - natural loomstate cotton drill and white cotton lawn plus some new coutil colours on the way and 
    • new threads in colours to match all the coutils on sale


    Coming soon we have black busks and pre-cut spiral boning

    I'm exhausted just thinking about all the possibilities!

  4. A prospective student asked me today how she could better prepare for one of my classes in the New Year.  She told me that she had enroled in dressmaking classes in order to get used to sewing again. I responded that "As long as you are confident with the sewing machine, and comfortable with using one you will be absolutely fine.  Good corsetry is more about organisation, attention to detail, problem solving and accuracy than having amazing sewing machine skills."  It then occured to me, while writing to her, that the way I got good at corset making, was through making bags!

    How on earth, you may ask, does making bags make you good at corsetry?  WELL ....

    Bags are small items which can be made from scrap materials.    Sewing bags is therefore more 'relaxing' than sewing corsets because one of the biggest worries which can impede progress is immediately removed.  Wasting expensive fabric.  That isn't the main reason though.

    Making bags - good bags - involves sewing with lots of layers of fabrics in order to give the bag enough body to be useful and stand up to every day use.  Nobody wants a floppy bag do they?  So a typical handbag will have a good three or four layers inside it.  You'll have an outer layer of strong heavy fabric - perhaps wool, or if it's a light bag, then perhaps a cotton interfaced with fusible webbing.  Then you'll have a middle layer of a very thick interfacing, often this will be the type you use for curtain tie backs - strong enough to add a good deal of body and then there will be a lining.  If you like a challenge, that lining will contain pockets, zips, buttons and other exciting baggy features.  

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    In addition to sewing through many thick layers, bag making can be quite intricate once you get into more exiting shapes and sizes.  There are sharp corners to navigate (with all those layers), curves to tame, embellishments to add and perfect symmetry to acheive.  Try adding a smooth line of piping or a frill into a small bag with 4 layers already.  

    There are other features about bag making which will challenge your constrcution and problem solving skills you might want a bag with a flat bottom and feet - how to insert a plastic tray to keep the bottom solid, waterproof and strong in that case?   How best to insert your magnetic snap? How to ensure your purse clip doesn't come undone after 2 uses?  How to make a neat transition between bag software and hardware.  All of these thought processes are usefull, if not essential in corsetry, they are just applied in a different way.

    bags for corset making

    And so it was, after I had discovered corsetry, I took a year off work for health reasons, and instead of making corsets, I made bags.  This wasn't a concious desicision to improve my corset making because at that time, a career in corsetry for me was about as far away as Katmandu, it was just a highly creative time  when I had to make stuff which was quick, satisfying and pretty.  Hence bags.  I got good at making them and I can honestly say, that bag making with all it's intracasices - and a fair few were flung across the room in a temper I can tell you - made me better at sewing, and eventually good at corsetry.

    Here are some good bag making resources:

    The woman who inspired a thousand craft businesses - including mine - Lisa Lam's U-Handblog where you'll find lots of bag making tips and tricks to go with her business U-Handbag where you can find the supplies to make said bags.

    Sew Christine is another lady who has lots of bag making tutorials on her blog, and who also has a little supply shop

    There's my old old blog Marmaladekiss which documented all of this frenzied bag making and then progressed into dressmaking and corsetry.  You have to start right back at the beginning to get the good stuff, and in the last 3 years it's been as good as dormant.  However, the odd faithful reader pops up now and then and says how much they enjoyed reading it in it's hey day.

    For other resources, because I haven't made a bag in years, go to The Sewing Directory the go to resource for everyone who's into sewing.