Thursday, September 5, 2013

Corset Tutorial

[Note: This post was originally published on The Mrs on February 4th 2012. I've since modified this basic pattern to create the Ebou Dari Widow's corset (won 1st overall at JordanCon 4 in 2012) and Elmindreda's bodice (won a Judge's Choice Award at JordanCon 5 in 2013). So you can guess what my go to will always be for tight costumery... heh.]

No, this isn’t a joke.

Anyone who’s been reading The Mrs for a while knows that there’s been some casual side mentions of my corset-making. Because every girl needs a good corset, and the reactions you get when you say you made it yourself are excellent.

The secret? I’ve made only one. But it was stupidly easy!

Okay, I’m currently making another for a costume for JordanCon, the kick-ass Wheel of Time convention that takes place yearly in Atlanta, Georgia. I may have mentioned before that I’m a teensy bit of a fan. Just a touch.

Just a save-up-all-year-to-make-the-trip-guilt-free kind of fan...

(Seriously, if you like The Wheel of Time series, you must go to JordanCon! It’s small, as fan conventions go, and friendly, and communal, and awesome absolutely amazeballs!)

Ahem. Anyhow. Last year when I was there, I had the opportunity to chat with Pinky Shear, an Atlanta-based costumer. Pinky is my favourite kind of person — an outspoken lady of flamboyant class, and I kinda sorta had a girl-crush on her instantly, simply because she is so personable, talented, and down to Earth. Not to mention gorgeous, and full of vintage fun!

(Unfortunately, I just heard she’d died. Okay, not really. Okay, maybe... Don’t panic, folks. Heather has decided to retire her work-persona of Pinky Shear, and did so with decadent style — she killed off her own character. Ha!)

Anyhow, last April in Atlanta, as I was admiring the beading Pinky (Heather) was doing on a corset, and mused out loud that I wish I could make one.

Her response? “If you can sew a straight line, then you can sew a corset.”

Well I’ll be damned. And guess what? She was right!

She also gave me a couple more gems of costuming advice — for period-looking items, go with drapery fabrics. Your costume will have a richer look and feel.

Also? Instead of tracking down expensive corset boning, use industrial zip ties — yes, those plastic cable ties! — they’re cheap ($6 for 100), more comfortable to wear, easy to manipulate, and machine washable.

Thanks to Pinky’s advice, I went snooping online and found this handy site. It’s a very simple corset pattern generator that will tell you how to draw out a custom corset pattern based on your measurements.

Before we get into this, a disclaimer: I am not an orthodox seamstress. That means I don’t always do things the way trained seamstresses do... a lot of times I don’t bother with patterns and just attack a project. I logic-out my path as I go. Now that that’s said (and any by-the-book sewers have been duly warned of potential cringeworthy behaviour ahead), let’s move on...

So. First thing’s first. Gather your supplies...

- no more than two meters of fabric are needed (enough for the outside, and a inner lining)
- industrial zip ties (lots)
- masking tape of some kind
- plenty of wide ribbon to trim edges, and at least another two meters for lacing
- grommets and a grommet setter (and a hammer)
- any decorations or trim for hand-sewing
- matching thread
- paper to draw out your pattern
- ruler
- chalk pencil

I think that’s it. And forgive the photography... these shots are stolen from my Facebook album from last summer.

The pattern above is taken directly from the corset-pattern-generator site.

Carefully cut your fabric as per the site’s instructions. When you're cutting out your fabric, ensure the centre line of your pattern lines up with the fabric's pattern — or it'll be a big waste. I, erm, had enough material to cover “accident insurance” the first time around, and let's just say it was a good thing I did...

Zig zag the edges to prevent fraying, then match up the ends (wrong sides facing out) and straight stitch them together. I liked both the right (gold background) and wrong (green background) sides of the fabric. Turn your corset right-side out (yes, you’ll be working on the right side for the rest of this), machine stitch the top of the corset before moving on to the boning.

(Heh heh — boning. I am far too immature to be a corset-maker. I giggled the whole freaking time...)

Now for your industrial zip ties. Cut off the end and tape them together to reinforce their strength. Use your fabric to check how long you want each zip tie, but remember to leave a centimeter or two at the bottom for when you sew the boning channels shut.

Start with the boning to strengthen and reinforce the grommets, so you’re working with each end of the corset. Use the chalk pencil to mark how wide the pocket needs to be, and sew from the top of your corset down, leaving the bottom of the channel open to insert the boning.

Decide the layout for the boning. The corset pattern generator site has a nice diagram for layout purposes.

Carefully sew the channels for the boning, and check to see that the boning actually fits. Pins will keep the fabric in place. Make sure to always sew in one direction (from top of corset down, or from bottom up) to keep the fabric from twisting and shifting. Leave the ends of the channels open.

Pin and machine sew wide ribbon along the top of the corset, then fold it over onto the other side and hand sew it with a blind hem stitch to finish the edge. I’d recommend carefully machine sewing the side you want to be the right side of your corset (the side everyone will see when you’re wearing it), and hand stitching on the lining side.

Insert all the boning into the channels and pin and machine sew the ribbon on the bottom of the corset.

Edges DONE!

Mark grommets and place evenly. Use your hammer and grommet setter to cut through the fabric and set the grommets. Easier than it sounds, truly!

Grommets all done!

Now this would be when you hand sew any decorations (trim, beads, whatever) onto your corset!

All laced! And because I like to set the bar high — yes, it's reversible.

Total cost? About $15-$20, plus time (maybe 8 hrs total? That sounds like a lot, but it felt much quicker). I bought most of my supplies at a Fabricland super sale (this particular fabric was clearance, less than $5/m).

Add another $10 for the grommet setting kit, but the tools can be used in the next project. Also, there's enough zip ties left for another project, maybe two...


Not bad, if I do say so myself!

Okay, so, maybe so far I’ve only got to wear this (legitimately) at Hallowe’en, but I’ll tell you this: it was great to see the kids’ eyes light up when I answered the door to hand out candy. And I even had one father thank me for showing his little girl that women can dress up for Hallowe’en without showing tons of skin and still be absolutely beautiful!

I may have thanked him, closed the door, and teared up a bit — it was so sweet!

In short: totally worth it.

This year? This year I found this site, so this year I’m making the whole dress... ::grin::

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