Q&A about corset making

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Category: Sewing tips

  1. Inspiration - Sand and lace

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    finished bridal corset sand coutil with ivory net

    As you may know, I only stock products at Sew Curvy that I myself would use - and therefore I like to use them too.  I sometimes have so much inspiration that it's hard to focus on one idea at a time - such is the creative mind, and I imagine that if you are reading this, you are like that aswell!  So, for selfish reasons, not least because i've discovered that making things for fun is good for my stress levels, I've decided to indulge myself a bit and make some inspirational blog posts using materials from the shop.

    Being a shopkeeper I have to stock practical things as well as pretty things, and sometimes certain colours can seem a bit 'hmm' until you've played about with the possiblities; our Sand herringbone coutil is one of those 'hmm' items and probably one of the most difficult colours to pair up so that's where i've started! 

    ivory net and bows

    The sand coloured herringbone coutil on it's own isn't exactly inspirational - It's an odd colour truth be told - made for the medical market to replace what is now the vintage staple corsetry colour "tea rose" which is that salmony pink shade so common in corsets and girdles from the 1940's right up to the 70's, and which was the go to 'nude' of old.  Well this 'sand' colour (also once known as 'nude' and in Europe known as 'skin') is the replacement.  For medical corsetry, this colour was thought to be more compatible with a more multi-racial range of skin colours. 

    I call it 'sand' because it isn't like any skin colour i've ever seen, unless you count American Tan, but it is like a rich honey shaded builders sand.  It goes beautifully with ivory and also black as a base 'skin' tone type colour - it can melt away underneath a sheer underlay, and under ivory, becomes a very pretty bridal option. 

    In my first project,  i've teamed it up with our floral lingerie net, and two of our pretty guipure trims, along with a white busk and a cute little bra bow from the bra making range.  I like to mix and match shop supplies so that they are good for multiple uses and when I started stocking bra making supplies, I visited the warehouse to ensure that I could pick products that could be used for both bra making and corset making in a number of different ways.

    cutting out with no turn of cloth

    The most exciting thing I have to tell you about this project is that there is NO ROLL PINNING !!  Why?  Because the lace fabric has a slight stretch to it, so if you incorporated turn of cloth as you would a normal non-stretch fabric, you might get a bit of unsightly bagging.  Fabric with a slight stretch can cope very well with turn of cloth so no pesky fiddling about with those seam allowances and no tedious pad stitching as some people do. 

    Simply cut out both layers of your corset pattern at the same time, and stitch the coutil and lace together within the seam allowance.  Easy peasy and an excellent place for beginners to start with multi-layer corsetry!

    inside with garter tabs and bias boning channels

    I can't bear waste (ha!), and in my classes I teach what I call "fabric economy".  With this in mind I can literally use almost every single scrap of coutil from half a metre or a metre - whatever i'm using to cut the pattern.  Because 12mm bias strips, which I use for boning channels, are only 2.5cm wide before being processed, you can get alot out of the surplus material around the corset pattern and  when you're paying anywhere between £10-30 for a metre of fabric it pays to be thrifty let me tell you - especially with the more expensive coutils such as the rosebud coutil.

    In this picture you can see that i've used self made boning channels from 2.5cm wide coutil strips, and I've used 15mm satin ribbon stitched into the binding as detachable suspender loops. 

    Using matching coutil for your boning channels gives a single layer corset a very tidy interior negating the need for a separate lining and therefore making sure you end up with a light yet strong and durable corset.

    bias maker and strips of coutil

    I use the Prym bias binding maker for making the bone casings because it has a wide gap in the 'nose' - other bias makers can't take the thicker coutils, and I find that this little maker works very very well.  You cut your strip of coutil on the bias OR on the straight grain - it doesn't matter as long as you use a bias strip over particularly curvy bits.  Then you feed your strip through the little thingy, pin the end of the tape to the ironing board, and pull the contraption along your strip until you have a double folded peice. 

    I'll be making a video on this as soon as it stops raining!

    The bias strips are then used as boning channels and everything is stitched down with my 'wonder thread' - Guterman no 722 - it is literally invisible on a very wide range of fabrics!  Jenni Hampshire of Sparklewren fame discovered this and I've also been a devotee of the colour ever since... It literally disappears into any neutral coloured fabric including a number of the coutil we have at Sew Curvy:   Mink, Sand, Biscuit, ivory/gold rosebud, nude/silver rosebud, dessert orchid brocade, biscuit spot broche and small weave herringbone.  Amazing!

    bow and white busk

    The corset fabrics are all set off rather nicely with a white busk and a little cream bra bow.  Unfortunately, our black and white busks are currently on limited stock as my coloured busk project is on hold - basically the original factory mucked it alot of things up and i've been talking to another local place who have yet to provide samples for me.

    Here are some other palette ideas for the sand herringbone - black spot net, with black 'little crowns' guipure and either a Victorian style guipure with our 'latte' satin ribbon woven into it (good for lacing too) or the black tulle 'scrolls' trim.  Both look pretty and all of these options will go with our suspender elastics very well.

    black net and ribbons black net and scrolls trim

    SO! if you want to have a go - you can do this with any corset pattern at all, and these are the ingredients I used to make this cute little nude underbust.  All she needs now is a name - I think "Daisy" seems quite apt.


    Estimated material cost for a 22" corset approx £40 (excluding tools) if you had to buy everything - but see what's in your stash and have a play! It's good for the soul.

    shopping list 

     

     

  2. What is the best sewing machine for corset making?

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    Janome 1600PQC Sewing macine

    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.

    img_2961 lvintage bernina sewing machine
    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. 

    singer 201k  

    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.

     

    janome1600pqc

    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.

    photo

    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.

    Useful links:

    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

    How to restore a vintage sewing machine - written by me some years ago on my old sewing blog "The House of Marmalade"

    More links about vintage sewing machines, where to find them and what to do about them from The House of Marmalade.

     

  3. What are the best scissors for sewing?

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    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

     

     

     

     

  4. Making bags can improve your corset making

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    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.  

    bags1

    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.