C is for Corset

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This article was written for and originally appeared at The Sewing Directory
 
Corsetry is all about fashion outlines and firm foundations - from the earliest waist enhancing leather belts worn by the Minoans as far back as 2500BC, to the latest in figure shaping technology using 'powernet' fabrics and nylon to shape, support and enhance the figure.  However, our traditional view of the 'corset' is the Victorian version which slims and gives the archetypal feminine 'hour glass' shape to any figure regardless of size, by reducing the waist and thereby exaggerating the bust and hips.  
 
Modern Victorian style corsets are typically made from Coutil, a very tightly woven and strong fabric with no stretch, and 'bones' of  flexible steel wire which are made from flattened springs.  These 'springs' ensure that the corset is flexible yet strong; they will mould your body comfortably, rather than restrict you or mould to your body.  
 
The front closure of a Victorian style corset is called a busk and is made from two wide metal 'bones' with a hook side and a stud side which clasp together.  Although now made from steel and in two parts, the busk started life in the 17th century as a flat piece of wood (like a giant lollipop stick) which would be slipped into a pocket running down the centre front of the lining of the corset (or 'stays' as they were then known), giving a straight appearance.  Sometimes, depending on the wearer's status, these busks would be carved intricately and sometimes they were given to ladies as tokens of love.
 
The back of a corset is laced with a single lace which is tightened at the waist.  There should be no more than a two inch gap between the laces - this allows for 'fluctuation' of the figure and also can determine the 'firmness' of the corset.  Contrary to popular belief, corsets are not bad for you, they do not squeeze your intestines out of shape, nor do they cause any bodily damage.  They are essentially a fashion item with benefits and as with everything else, as long as one is sensible, there is no cause for concern.
 
Corsets not only enhance shape, but also improve posture, they will make you stand straight and therefore tall.  If you have the sort of job which means you are on your feet for long periods of time, a corset will help you feel less tired by supporting your body - a bit like wearing an outer skeleton.  This is why corsets are sometimes used for medicinal purposes to help people who have bad backs. 
 
There is nothing like an underbust corset to give a flawless hourglass shape underneath a dress.  Whereas more "elasticated" shapewear can give you unsightly muffintop bulges, or make you feel a bit like a sausage, a properly fitted corset will be totally smooth between corset and flesh and it is for this reason that 'traditional' corsets are preferred by the stars and by brides. 
 
The best way to achieve a perfectly fitted corset without spending a fortune is to make one yourself!  You can draw on centuries of experience by using one of the many patterns available on the market,  so removing some of the guesswork!  From there, it's just a question of being able to sew a straight line!  A good quality hand made corset will cost hundreds of pounds, whereas your own handmade version will use exactly the same materials, and cost you no more than around £60!
 
Making a corset is fun! You can let your imagination run wild! You can add feathers and bows, and beads and sparkly things.  You can make them as plain or as fabulous as you like and you can tailor them to a specific outfit or occasion.  You can wear them with jeans, or a dress, or with trousers.  You can wear them as underwear or keep them strictly in the bedroom!  Corsets are super sexy, creatively versatile, funky, fun and timeless!