Customers often ask for 'fan lacing sliders' which are not that common these days and I am unable to find a factory in Europe that makes them now. To source them in China would require me to find a warehouse here to store them in, such are min. qty amounts from factories in China! I even spoke about 'opening a mould' with a fellow British indie lingerie brand but we decided that even between us, the expense was prohibitave.
So I thought we could talk about fan lacing - how it came about, how to do it, different types, and how the same (or better imo) effect can be acheived without those pesky metal slides.
Although the Victorians dabbled in several models of front fastening corsets, it wasn't until 1908 when fan lacing became popular and took off as a viable alternative to the traditional back lacing corset. In that year, Samuel Higby Camp of Jackson, Michigan, invented a new system of fan lacing using a special metal buckle which was mounted with loops and was patented in the US in June 1921.
Metal fan lacing slides - difficult to obtain in the 21st century
Camp's system with the metal buckle uses one single corset lace which is passed through the looped metal tab several times. The angle of pull means that the pulley effect of the lacing is effective over a wide range and this means that tightening the corset from the front is extremely easy. The other side of the fan lacing slide attaches to a belt which fastens at the front or side of the corset using special sliding buckles which are low profile and therefore sit smoothly underneath clothing. These are still used today in waistcoats.
Front fastening corsets The Camp fan lacing system on the left is bulkier but uses only one lace passed through the special metal slider. The Jenyns fan lacing system on the right is flatter but uses several laces all stitched to the controlling belt. source
Camp patented his unique slider but that didn't stop other manufacturers copying the idea, the most successful of which was an Australian firm called Jenyns who in order to circumvent the patent, simply stitched the apex of the 'fan' onto a strap. The main difference in this system is that sevaral individual laces are required to form an effective closure. This makes for a prettier effect but it means the system is not quite so effective. Nevertheless, this was also a popular and successful design and seasoned wearers of both models at the time, report the difference as completely negligible. Jenyns licenced the UK factory Symingtons to make this type of corset for the European market, and here is one such example I handled and photographed myself in the Symingtons resource centre.
Below is a diagram from a blog post by American Duchess which clearly demonstrates how the laces are attached to the 'strap' system of fan lacing. This system was first seen in Victorian times, but made popular much later in the early 20th century. The blog post describes how to convert a traditionaly laced corset into a fan laced corset using a corset made from a Red Threaded pattern. Please go and read it!
I can feel a tutorial coming on myself as I'd like to explore this system more in practice and ofcourse the creative options are limitless - I mean, multicoloured lacing for one!
Here's some modern interpretations of fan lacing.
Hopefully that's got your creative juices flowing! Here are a few more resources for you to have a further read.
Every so often my friend Izabela of Prior Attire comes to visit. We enjoy sewing together as we share similar interests that are completely non-conflicting! ie: we both love corsets, but she is interested in authentic period corsetry and I am interested in very modern corsetry. The shape unites us! So when she comes to visit, she brings stock items to make for her shop and I take the time to experiment.
The Victoria corset made from pale nude broche with black spots
With the arrival of several new fabrics in the shop I decided to formulate a new kit using my Sew Curvy Victoria pattern (#sewcurvyvictoria) and the new spot broche in nude/black which I have been lusting after for literally years!
Izabela also fell in love with said fabric, and decided to make some stock Edwardian corsets for her shop, using my new Sew Curvy Edwardian pattern - this is a pattern that I made for classes a couple of years ago, but have yet to write the instructions. I will be doing so soon so that we can add it to our catalogue of British made corset patterns. Here's her finished Edwardian corset.
The Sew Curvy Edwardian pattern will be in the shop just as soon as I write the instructions!
This new spot broche coutil is a lovely stiff fabric, which is also very smooth and fine. It's therefore perfect for sturdy single layer corsetry, not least because in addition to it being very strong, it also hides a multitude of 'sins' - if you're a beginner, or worry about the odd squint stitch - this fabric is for you!
Izabela wearing the Sew Curvy Edwardian Corset
Izabela wearing the Sew Curvy Victoria Corset
These are some of the lace trims we have in stock, which go beautifully with this lovely corsetry fabric.
For the new corset kit, I decided to include the 'Little Crowns' guipure trim, which I offset with black flossing along the bottom edge. The inside is boned out with tubular boning tape (don't say I don't make things easy for you), with a grosgrain ribbon as a waist stay.
The bow is a little added extra which I think finishes the corset off perfectly!
For more insights on our day of corset making exploits, do pop over to the Sew Curvy Instagram account and look at the story highlight called "sewing day" - there you can see the story of our corset making day with useful hints and tips on corsetry including the best colour of thread to use for this coutil, why you need a taperd awl, which busk is Edwardian, the best use for a zip tie, how to insert a busk, and in progress shots of both corsets being made and worn!
Lots of people ask me for 'wholesale', 'business' or 'trade' discounts. So I thought i'd write a blog post about how you already get discount at Sew Curvy and why it's impossible for me to give any more.
Firstly, I am a tiny, one woman business in a very niche market. So niche infact, that in the UK I have only one competitor. Compare that to the leagues and leagues of quilting supply shops you see on the internet and in magazines, and size down my market share proportionally.
Corset making is a specialist sewing activity for the brave and adventurous home sewer, the 'professional hobbyist' and the professional costumer, fashion designer, corsetiere or lingerie designer.
When I started Sew Curvy it was because I wanted to help other corset makers to get quality supplies at a good price and I wanted to help beginners to learn corsetry easily - when I started it was almost impossible to find any information at all, the whole industry was top secret and jealosly guarded. If I could give my goods away for free, I really would. People who know me can testify to my generosity.
However, I am in business, I am trying to make a living, because after 25 years of 'paid employment' where I was bullied, held back and harrassed, I ended up with chronic fatigue whereby I was more or less 'vegetablaised' for a year - anybody who has experienced CFS will understand how it is to feel unable to function properly, let alone hold down a job, let alone hold a thought for more than a few seconds, and although after a year I was ready to tiptoe into another job, it took me a good 5 or 6 years to completely recover, to feel like I had the energy levels that I had before, where I could stay awake for more than 8 hours and not feel exhausted by tea time every day.
Running my own business was the only way out of that cycle. I remember visiting a friend and mentor at a very low time and sobbing on her sofa "surely I can be of use to someone?" ... Well since I started Sew Curvy. that has happened. This is definately my place in life.
But corsetry supplies aren't cheap. The best steel comes from Europe and it has to be imported. The best coutil also comes from Europe. Cotton and steel are heavy and expensive, the coutil industry is small. Everything we have in the UK must be imported from somewhere - haberdashery comes from Germany too - only a very few of our products at Sew Curvy are British made - I think ribbons and laces are about the sum of it! Up until now, it's been easy to import goods from Europe - that might all change post Brexit, we don't know. If tarrifs are imposed on cotton and steel from Europe, it will not be good news for Sew Curvy or for independant corsetieres in the UK.
All retail product markups are there for a reason. Before I get anything at all from the business there are a significant number of overheads to pay in addition to the cost of the goods that I sell Here's a list:
20% VAT on everything I buy - (i'm on a complex rate - see end note as this effects EU businesses claiming VAT discounts)*
20% VAT on my turnover - not my earnings. My turnover. That's 20% of any order including postage that goes straight to the government on a quarterly basis.
Two part time employees because it is impossible for me alone to do everything that is needed to run a successful business that is worth something. While my assistants pack orders, keep stock records and do the routine admin, I am free to develop the business, do the marketing, teach corsetry and work with my own private clients as well as organise and sponsor international events like The Oxford Conference of Corsetry.
Studio rent - not inconsiderable - to hold enough stock, you need enough space.
Heat, light, power in the studio, from early in the morning to early in the evening, often I am here till nearly 7pm. The studio being a Victorian cottage is difficult to heat!
Mail order sundries - envelopes, tape, packaging materials, labels, marketing materials, boxes, etc.,
Services such as waste disposal (recycling), internet etc.,
Technology - a computer, a phone, a decent camera for taking product pictures, a printer, software for editing images etc.,
Postage - plus petrol to get to the post office, paper, pens, toilet paper, tea/coffee ... all the things that anybody would expect to find in their workplace to make it a happy and pleasant environment.
When all those business expenses are accounted for, the rest counts as "profit" which you think might pay for the ridiculous number of hours I put in both here at the studio and at home - that's at least 55+ hours a week, no paid holiday and no paid sick leave. But even these 'profits' have a cost. There is 20% income tax, plus 12% NI contributions and that is before I've ploughed at least half of the 'profits' back into the business so that I can keep expanding and developing the product range.
After all those things are paid, I draw what could laughingly be called a 'wage' myself. You can imagine, there isn't much left, and any more discounts, will come out of that.
So now imagine if your boss came to you at the end of your hard working week and said "can you work tomorrow for free/for a discount" when you already did several hours of unpaid overtime... what would you say?
Sew Curvy supplies are very competitively priced and in most cases are the least expensive on the market - do a price comparison to see - I am continually monitoring prices and postage rates to make sure I offer the best service possible. Some of our supplies are vastly UNDER priced due to other businesses charging less than they should for the same supplies and thereby undercutting their competition. This applies particularly to fabric - one of my biggest overheads.
Positively though, there are ways to get discount at Sew Curvy AND support my business. Here they are:
1) Spend over £100 and get free UK postage - this amounts to around 10% discount and it's usually sent by courier so you get fast, next day delivery into the bargain.
2) Buy 'whole rolls of corsetry supplies' - these are automatically already discounted by up to 10%. If you buy enough of them, you'll also get the free postage if you're in the UK - that's a whopping 20% discount.
3) Buy a corset kit - these contain all the materials required to make a corset and are already collectively discounted by up to 15% - some pro corset makers will buy a kit per client and save this way.
4) Teach a class - if you buy your class supplies from Sew Curvy, your students will get a 5% off voucher each.
What about European discounts and the rest of the world? Well there are two things. Thanks to the value of our sterling - foreign exchange rates are good at the moment. But again, because Sew Curvy is a micro business, we have bank rates to pay and when money comes in from abroad, there are also exchange rate fees. I therefore can't discount even more on top of those as it would mean that you are literally getting free products. I wish it wasn't the case.
To professionals out there wanting trade discounts. Corsetry is an expensive business. The cost of your supplies should be covered by the price of your product. It's the same for me. And as a corsetiere myself, I try to be fair by never undercutting my collegues and friends by using trade prices for that side of my business (infact, I have two companies because of this, Sew Curvy Retail is the supply shop, Sew Curvy Limited is the couture and teaching side - i'm an expert in inter-company invoicing!
If people will not pay a reasonable price for your wares, then they simply are not your customers - I learned that from the Godmother of modern corsetry, Autumn Adamme herself, and it's been a very valuable piece of advice. If you're not making money from corset making, then what is the point? It's not your suppliers' responsiblity to subsidise your business. Only work for free for those who are dear to you. Otherwise it simply isn't worth doing.
Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden in San Fransisco giving invaluable and inspirational business advice to corset makers at The Oxford Conference of Corsetry in 2015
I hope this little article goes some way to explaining why micro businesses like Sew Curvy, with only one or three passionate persons behind the wheel, cannot operate like corporate giants - we don't have the buying power of Amazon to get (often rapacious) discounts off the goods we sell, and we don't have the resources to offer any more discount than the value we already provide. But we do love serving our lovely customers and we do feel enormous gratitude for your business.
* endnote: Because my turnover is less than £150k per year, I'm on a 'flat rate' VAT system which means that I pay the government less VAT per quarter, but i also cannot claim VAT on my purchases. The surplus 'discount' that I don't pay, goes back into my profits, so that I pay income tax/NI on that portion ... it's like the government giving with one hand and taking away with the other - it kind of works out marginally better - and certainly easier - but it means that I can't discount VAT for EU businesses because that isn't included in the scheme.
With the rise in popularity of home dressmaking and couture style DIY fashion as well as the popularity of programmes like The Great British Sewing Bee (#GBSB) and the sell out success of the recent incredible Dior Retrospectives in both Paris and London, there is a lot of renewed interest in shape, cinched waists and making Dior shaped dresses and clothes. Hand in hand with this, there has also been much talk of proper metal corset boning and how 'difficult' it is to use.
What is corset boning used for?
Spiral steel boning is used in corsets and in couture garments for strong and enduring boning support. It is made of steel which has been formed into a continuous spring which has then been flattened.
Because spiral wire boning is a flattened spring, it is extremely flexible and can bend horizontally and vertically (backwards, forwards and sideways), making it perfect for boning over and around curves.
In couture garments - ie: within a dress foundation, it is used in conjunction with 2 layers of tulle or bobbinet which is a very fine and very strong netting material which when layered together, has no stretch but provides a fine, non bulky foundation inside a gown.
In corsetry, sprial wire boning is most commonly used in conjunction with coutil fabric and often in partnership with flat sprung steel bones which are not as flexible and therefore useful when a firmer, straighter support is required. Both types of steel boning were invented during the Victorian age and used instead of whalebone.
Spiral steel boning, sometimes known as spiral wire, comes in various different widths, from 4mm-15mm, and various different thicknesses making it possible to 'mix and match' your boning to achieve whichever level of support is required for any particular project. For instance, you may only need a light 5mm wire to bone a net bodice, but you may need a more robust 7-10mm wire to bone a multi-layer corset for tightlacing. With all boning, there is flexibility!
Flat steel boning, sometimes known as spring steel, also comes in various different widths and thicknesses from 2mm-20mm and is used for a huge range of applications including dressmaking, costume making, corsetry and for making hoop petticoats. In corsetry it can be used all over the corset, but is always used in the centre back panels either side of the eyelets. This is becuase the back of the corset absolutely must be straight and strong.
All types of boning, whether steel or plastic, comes either in pre-cut lengths or in continuous reels. It isn't any more economical to buy your steel in a roll and cut it yourself so you have a vast choice - corset makers who make 'standard size RTW corsets' know which lengths of bones they need and will order each length in bulk. Corsetieres who favour a more bespoke approach will order in rolls and cut to length as required for each project. Sometimes you cant get pre-cut steel that's long enough, for instance in a corset dress which will go over the knee or below the hip. Many are put off by the supposed requirement for 'brute force' with which to cut it.
How to cut metal corset boning
Flat steel can be cut with tin snips - there's a knack though, or plain old bolt cutters which will treat flat steel of any thickness like butter. You can cut spiral steel with bolt cutters too if you have them.
However, if you don't have bolt cutters, spiral wire boning is easy peasy to cut and tip and there is a tutorial on how to do this right HERE.