Here is today's "Q&A" which is about my custom corset pattern service.
"I've been thinking about ordering a custom pattern from you, but I find it so hard to understand the shape and fit from just the images on your page. How is the curve over the hips? Do you have any examples on any corset made from your custom underbust or overbust pattern? I also wonder if it's possible to send you photos of how the measurements are taken to ensure that there's nothing wrong there. I have a very short waist so I'm afraid the measurements under the waist might be odd, like very far down"
Thank you for your query and apologies for the delay responding.
You are quite right that my diagrams on the custom corset patterns page do need updating somewhat. They should illustrate a 6 panel modern hourglass shape, but the main reason for the diagrams is to indicate the different top and bottom lines available on each corset version.
I do not have any examples of the corsets made from my custom patterns because each pattern is completely different as the name suggests. They are 'custom' patterns and will fit each body differently. The point of a custom corset pattern is to have a pattern that will fit your personal measurements but how it makes up is down to your own skill, and how it fits you is only discernible once you have the toile on your body. I can pretty much guarantee that it will be better than any commercially available pattern.I build room into the rib area for comfort, and I make allowance for a 2" gap at the back however, sometimes this will close, depending upon the 'squidginess' of the person in question and sometimes the gap will be a little wider than 2" if the person is not so squidgy. These are things I cannot predict remotely.
As for your particular concerns, - The measurements I have asked for on the measurement sheet are the ones that I need to ensure you have a perfect fit. You can see the measurement sheet here. There are certain measurements required to determine the length of the torso and these are included in that sheet.
However, with that said, I do not make magic patterns. Depending on how your body behaves - you may have to make slight alterations here and there, but there are instructions included with your pattern to help you fit the corset perfectly.
There are certain anthropomorphic clues we can get from body measurements. And only one measurement is necessary to determine the length of the torso.
I find the story of the fabric known as bobbinet quite fascinating. Like coutil it is a very rare, difficult to find material and it is only made by a very few factories in the world. Like coutil there is a certain 'snobbishness' tied to it when put into the context of couture and fashion. You must have 'genuine' bobbinet and it must be made of the right stuff and in the right way.
Luckily, here at Sew Curvy we have genuine bobbinet, manufactured by one of the UK's only remaining factories and even more luckily, because I was able to get a narrower (but no less useful) width, the cost per metre is extremely competitive - the best you'll find anywhere on the net I think (haha! pun intended!)!
Bobbinet is a very special tulle fabric - sometimes even known as 'genuine tulle' it has been around since 1806 when it was invented by a very clever man called John Heathcoate. Mr Heathcoate coined the term 'bobbinet' from two words, 'bobbin' and 'net' because it is a lace type net fabric - lace is made with bobbins - but made on a machine which he also invented. Modern lace is made on similar machines and these days, the design for bobbinet machines, like many Victorian inventions, is largely unchanged from the original Heathcoate design.
The structure of bobbinet tulle is hexaganol and this is what makes it so strong and durable.
Bobbinet tulle is constructed from warp and weft yarns, but unlike regular woven fabrics and nets, the horizontal weft yarn is looped diagonally around the vertical warp yarn to form a regular and distinctive hexagonal mesh which is completely stable, has minimal stretch and is durable, sheer and very very strong in comparison to it's weight. This is why it is ideal for foundation garments within dresses and has been favoured by designers since the early 20th century for supporting haute couture gowns. It is the hexagonal mesh which makes the difference here, without the hexagons, it's not bobbinet.
Bobbinet was originally made from cotton, and it is now available in many different fibres including silk, nylon and special 'technical' fabrics. The threads of bobbinet can be coated in all sorts of non fabricy things including metal and this makes it's range of use outside the fashion industry quite vast! It is used for theatre back drops, military applications, medical patches, parachutes, cryogenic insulation, electromagnetic shielding, flexible electronics, fishing nets, high quality wig making and a whole other raft of 'craft' applications including porcelain statue decoration - who knew!!??
Dior dress foundation with bobbinete corselette
In fashion, which is what we're interested in of course, bobbinet mesh is still used for couture style dressmaking including bridal wear, corsetry and lingerie or as a base cloth for fine embrodery. In the world of costume, bobbinet is used in wig making because it is fine, strong, and more or less invisible when hair is woven through it.
Balmain gown inside and out, with bobbinet corselette foundation
What to use bobbinet for? I would use it for dress foundations (sometimes called a built in corselete), and I am intending to try it out in light corsetry or as a stand alone corselete. You can use bobbinet for petticoats but if I were to make a floaty tulle petticoat I would use a more standard silk tulle - not a specialist silk bobbinet. Why? Because regular silk tulle is much less expensive than silk bobbinet and just as effective, it also comes in a wider range of colours. The point of using bobbinet in dressmaking is for strength and lighness to create something fine and elegant. Bobbinet is not really a fabric to be used for it's looks in any application.
Anatomy of a gown by Morua Designs - see how bobbinet is used to create a dress foundation, this is one of my favourite ever posts on the internet. Very inspirational.
A post from Gerties Blog for Better Sewing regarding bobbinet corselettes in haute couture dress foundations. I actually disagree that underwear should be worn in a dress with a foundation - a properly constructed couture dress foundation negates the requirement for separate underwear.
Interesting post by Alison of Crikey Aphrodite on the OCOC blog about a lace factory in Scotland. Lace is mounted on net and these machines are very similar to dedicated bobbinet machines. A very interesting article with a nice video.
I'm often asked what the best - and worst - sewing machines for corsetry are so i'll tell you my thoughts garnered from my own experience and that of the students who come to my classes with their own sewing machines.
This lovely vintage Bernina 720 made an appearance in the Sew Curvy Cottage last month. It may be old but it sewed like a dream, stitch perfect every time and better than many other machines.
Bad news first. The worst machines for corsetry are, in the beginners category, domestic Brother machines. I myself started with a Brother as these are often the most easily available, from shops such as Argos and other department stores, with the highest profile aimed at the craft hobby market. People are familiar with the Brother name and therefore trust the brand. Fine unless you want to sew corsets. Unfortunately, the only problems I ever have in class with machines that cant cope, are with Brother machines - they can't keep pace, they labour over every stich as soon as more than 2 layers are put before it, and since those layers are mainly thick coutil, a Brother machine is prone to going on strike just when you don't need it to. I have also encountered many tension problems with Brother machines, not just from their owners! In short, Brother 'entry level' sewing machines are fine for sewing light dresses and the odd piece of home furnishing, but as soon as you progress to more complicated things, they just cannot cut the mustard, which is surprising given that the best industrial machines are also made by Brother - I don't understand why the technology doesn't cross over.
So when I started to make corsets, it was time for an upgrade. I did a lot of research, found a machine I thought suitable and then asked a sewing machine company what they would recommend having briefed them on my requirements and budget. They came up with the same machine I had thought appropriate, and a match made in sewing heaven was born. At that time, I spent around £250 on the mid range Janome 5124 machine and it's still going strong in my studio now - it has everything required for mid range sewing - it can cope with several layers of coutil and bone channelling, has several decorative stitches and several zig zag stitches including a three step zig zag which is useful for sewing elasticated items such as lingerie.
The Singer 201K is renowned to be the best sewing machine ever invented. This one dates from the early 1950's and cost me £16!
Later on I tried other corsetry techniques and other sewing machines. I got myself an industrial Brother machine which was excellent but too big and noisy for my house so it had to go. Cue the Vintage Singer 201K which my local sewing machine man recommended in leui of the Industrial. These machines are fantastic for corsetry and tailoring - they are beautiful, fast and economical and the closest you'll get to industrial quality on a budget. Unfortunately the trend for 'vintage' has pushed the prices of these old machines into the stratosphere - where they used to be shipped out to Africa by the skip load because nobody wanted them, these beautiful machines are now highly prized items earning ££££'s for the loft raiders of ebay. Honestly, don't beleive the hype, vintage Singers are not 'rare antiques'. The Singer factory in Scotland turned them out by the hundreds of millions in their heyday from the 20's right up to the 1960's. If you do fancy getting one, make sure you stick with the black cast iron models which are pre 1960. The brown 201K machines are not nearly as good.
Nowadays I have my wonderful wonderful semi industrial Janome 1600PQC which is a domestic/industrial hibrid. It's pricey, but it's fast and professional whilst still being portable. It has a knee lift which saves a mountain of time, and an auto thread cutter which saves many threads. It also has a high shank which means that industrial sewing machine feet can be used with it as well as the extensive range of sewing machine feet and attachments supplied by Janome. The machine actually comes with a straight stitch foot, a fantastic wide (industrial style) seam guide, screwdrivers, oil, spare needles and bobbins plus a huge extension table and knee lift lever.
When I first started teaching and didn't have a set of brand new Janome machines at my disposal, my students use all of these machines - the vintage Singers, the mid-level Janome and the new Janome 1600PQC. All of them are easy to use and perfect for sewing perfect stitches in perfectly straight lines through many thick layers of fabric. The Singers and the PQC will also both sew through layers of leather with ease.
The Janome1600PQC sews through leather and layers with ease.
Over the past years i've noticed from my students that amongst the more experienced sewers, the most popular machines are Janome, Pfaff, and Bernina - these are all good quality brands and sometimes turn up in their vintage forms which are every bit as good - if not better - than their modern counterparts. Janome machines are literally 'bomb proof' - heavy, sturdy and the preferred machine for schools due to their quality and lower price range. If they can cope with year on year of teenagers thumping through them, then they can cope with corsets! However, if you're serious about corsetry, want to go pro or semi-pro but don't have the space for an industrial machine, then I can't recommend the 1600PQC highly enough although as it's a straight stitch only, you will need a domestic back up if you like fancy stitches or need a zig zag... But then what better excuse to start a new sewing machine collection? I myself have around 10 machines and I love them all :D.
In summary, a good machine for sewing corsets will be sturdy and reasonably heavy, preferably made of metal, and will not be in the 'beginners' class of machine. Generally you can band sewing machines by price. Low range are priced up to about £250-300 depending on brand, mid-range from £300 to about £600 and then top range can go as far as up to £3000 for the most up to date, all singing and dancing computerised machines. Anything below mid range will be generally unsuitable for corsetry.
Sewing Machines Direct. Where I've purchased two of my Janome machines and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Janome UK - home of the Janome Sewing machines which I also recommend - here you can find information on which one might be best for you
Coutil is a fabric which was especially invented for corsetry back in the 1800's. It was also known, at that time, as "Jean". It is commonly a herringbone weave but it also comes in other forms. The reason coutil is special is because it is a very densly woven fabric which makes it very strong and durable - able to stand up to tension, but can be very smooth and luxurious.
Coutil fabric for corsetry comes in several different 'weights', and also different compositions. The best coutil is 100% cotton or at least a cotton/viscose mix (though some people are allergic to viscose). You can get polyester coutil or polycotton coutil. I do not recommend those as they do not 'breathe' as well as natural fabrics. There is a bit of a myth that the best coutil comes from England. This certainly used to be the case, however, I am sad to report that there are no coutil mills left in England. All coutil is made abroad nowadays, some in India, some in China, and some in Europe. I believe that some coutil is made in America too, although we in the UK do not tend to import from there and many American corset makers prefer the European coutil. You may have heard of 'German coutil'. It is important to use coutil for many reasons. Not only is it the best material to make corsets from, and incomparable to other 'strong' fabrics, but it is also a dying industry. It is expensive because it is a good quality fabric, and we must support the production of coutil, to keep the few mills that are left in Europe open. Many industries use coutil, however, most corsetry components are not made for small production or for fashion, but for the medical industry.
Broche coutil is the heaviest type of coutil available from Sew Curvy, alongside the cotton sateen coutil which I also stock - it's basically the broche without the viscose design. Fine herringbone coutil is the closes substitute to genuine antique coutil and is quite common in Edwardian corsetry. It is very fine but deceptivly strong and therefore suitable for lighter single layer corsets or training corsets - smooth, light and dense. Perfect!