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.
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.
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.
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.