Here's a corset I made recently when testing out a few components on site, not least the recently released Victoria mid bust corset pattern. I've adapted the pattern slightly by changing the shape of the top line slightly, and adding some suspenders. I re-drew the bottom line of the corset so that at each point where I wanted a suspender, the line flowed nicely into the elastic ends. That's all I did, so it was pretty easy peasy.
It's a single layer corset - the boning channels are made from scraps of the same coutil (offcuts from cutting out the pattern!). These are cut into 2.5cm strips and then run through the Prym bias binding maker to make boning channels. I cut the coutil on the straight grain as this is best for scrap use and for stronger boning channels, however if you had a particularly deep curve over the hip (using another pattern perhaps) then you may want to use a bias grain for your self made bone channels.
With regard to sizing of the Sew Curvy patterns, go with the waist size first - it is easier to adjust the top (bust) and bottom (hip) than it is to use the correct size for those and then adjust the waist - so this is opposite to what a normal dressmaking pattern will tell you.
The components I used for this project are all listed with links here:
Victoria corset pattern - this is a mid bust pattern with very simple single layer construction instructions and includes a bit about how to alter the corset into a full overbust.
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
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
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!