The Costume Trunk: Corsets Demystified
October 1, 2010
Ahhhhh... the corset. So many people have so many opinions about corsets. Just in the time it took for our photographer to snap shots of today's sample pieces, numerous staffers walked by and shared their thoughts, everything from "Hmmmmm.... I don't know," to "I love this!"
I could wax rhapsodic about corsets for days. I love reading books on the history of corsetry. I love seeing antique corsets. I love the way the proper foundation corset makes the difference between a good historical costume and a great one. The back support is pretty fab, too. I would like to dispel the notion that corsets are uncomfortable garments made to coerce one's form into distorted shape. True, there are certainly corsets out there of that nature and they have their enthusiasts, but for the average person, a well-fitted corset should support the body and clothing worn over it, rather than distort it.
I delight in making corsets - everything from steel-boned Victorian affairs to modern poly-boned bodices that are more fashion than foundation. And I firmly believe that every costume collection should have at least 1 (or 10). Wear one over a tee for a funky party look any time of year, wear one under a blazer for a more dressed-up look, or top off a skirt and add accessories for an insta-costume. Versatile and fun, corsets are here to stay, and I couldn't be more delighted.
Most people will probably not want to jump right into making a steel-boned corset, and since Halloween is sooner rather than later, I wanted to offer a few tips on a relatively fast and easy way to get some of the support and all of the style of a boned corset. Vinyl, here we come! Vinyl is usually stable enough that it will give you support and structure without having to mess with boning.
- When selecting a bodice pattern (this Kwik Sew is a gem), choose one with simple lines. Vinyl is tricky to sew fussy seams on, and you really don't have many chances to pick and re-stitch a seam with most vinyl fabrics.
- Choose your vinyl wisely. The stiffer it is, the more structure it will offer, but the more difficult it will be to work with. Just know what you're getting into.
- I highly recommend tracing your pattern pieces to the back side of the vinyl and then cutting along your tracing lines (remember to reverse when you need to cut two of something!). This is about 1000 times easier than trying to keep the vinyl and the pattern paper aligned properly during cutting.
- In lieu of boning, you can stitch grosgrain ribbon to the lining fabric at seams or in any position you wish to fortify.
- Some vinyls will happily accept grommets without tearing. If you choose to set grommets into your corset, I highly recommend using an awl instead of a punch to create the holes. It makes wiggling the grommet into place more difficult, but the fabric retains more strength.
- If you choose to use vinyl to bind the edges of your corset, I highly recommend gluing the back edge in place rather than stitching it. It will add another dimension of strength and will prevent the frustration of trying to hand stitch or stitch-in-the-ditch, which can be tricky.
- If every you find yourself at a point where you have to stitch something with the shiny fashions side of the vinyl against either your presser foot or the throat plate, know how to combat the grip effect! Cover the shiny vinyl with a piece of tissue paper. It will prevent drag while you're stitching, and can be easily torn away without damaging the seam.
If you've got a costume in mind this year that will involve a fitted garment like this, especially out of a fabric that can have some tricky elements as vinyl can, I encourage you to go for it, take your time, and remember - this is supposed to be fun! In your most frustrated moments, take a break and relax - you're making art. Sometimes it's a struggle, but in the end, it's worth it!
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