Log in

No account? Create an account
07 September 2011 @ 05:23 pm
My first corset: One pattern in three acts  
Almost exactly two years ago, I joined this community with the intention of making my first corset.  What began as one corset eventually became three, and after 24 months and five different costumes, I'm finally here to report back on my first corset.

My original concept, way back in September 2009, was to make a vaguely-steampunk overbust corset, with more or less Victorian lines, that I could pair with multiple steampunk outfits, without it being obvious that I was re-using a key piece.  I knew that I wanted to stick with the brown and brass theme so popular in steampunk, and I wanted a clean, smooth exterior, without visible boning channels.

From the outset I also knew I would be working with the sometimes extreme fit issues of my body: I'm 5'1" and extremely short-waisted (the width of my pointer finger between my ribs and hip bones), but wear a 28J bra size.  I'm also living with a chronic illness that can make my bones hurt at unpredictable intervals, among other things.

So I knew early on that I would be modifying a pattern to fit my body.  I've been sewing since I was 8 years old, and seriously since about 15 years old (I'm now 30), specifically because of my hard-to-fit body.  No dress, swimsuit, or costume has fit off the rack since puberty.  I needed all my experience in fitting myself and then some to pull off these corsets.

I had picked up Simplicity 9769 several years ago, and there were a lot of things I liked about it: the cut of the lower edge, the cut of the upper edge from center back to side, and the placement of the seams.  For my purposes, I would need to raise the neckline significantly, and reshape it to fit my measurements.  In February 2010, I posted here about the process I went through to modify the pattern to my measurements.  I measured the commercial pattern, figured out the percentages for each piece, and then re-drew the pattern pieces by applying those percentages to my own measurements.

By March 2010, I had my personalized pattern pieces assembled, my boning and busk ordered from CorsetMaking.com, and my cotton duck mock-up well underway.  So that, of course, is when the first curveball came.  Our local ren faire was coming up, and my husband suggested I make an outfit to wear to it.  So I put aside my in-progress Victorian overbust, and changed gears.

For my ren faire outfit, I decided to make a short overbust corset -- really just underbust to overbust -- that have been popular at faires in the last few years.  Not historically accurate by any stretch, but I'm really fine with that, lol.  I decided to use this opportunity to try out my customized corset pattern as well, and check it for fit.  Using my customized pattern pieces as a guide, I drafted out the back lacings and the front busk, added lacings at the front and sides, and had the whole thing end at my natural waist.  After fitting it, I sculpted the top and bottom edges to something more flattering.

I used a sage green upholstery fabric that I had had in my stash for years, waiting for exactly this project.  It was fairly sturdy all on its own, with no warping under stress, so I just used two layers of it, with the fuzzy side facing out.  Without an internal strength layer, I had to go with visible boning channels, but I liked the way it broke up the solid green.  I used heavy-duty plastic duct ties for boning, and large-gauge two-piece grommets I found at the hardware store for the lacings.

I placed the duct tie boning at each of the seams, and then on the outside edge of each set of grommets.  Adding boning on the inside edge of the front grommets probably would have gotten me a smoother line there, but I was running out of space in that front panel, and couldn't fit another duct tie in there.

I also added four grommets along the top edge, which allowed me to add some cording shoulder straps.  Because the corset is so short and really doesn't extend much below my underbust, it likes to migrate downwards, until I have it laced up tightly.  The shoulder straps keep it at the right elevation when I'm first putting it on, but once I tie the front lacings at the underbust, all of the weight of my 28J bust is supported at the underbust, not on my shoulders.  (Which makes this far more comfortable to wear than a lot of commercial bras I own!)

I learned a couple of things about the fit of my customized overbust pattern from this, particularly with the front upper edge, which I'd had to draft from scratch, when raising the upper edge of the Simplicity pattern.  Getting the top edge to curve nicely, support well, not gap, not be revealing when I raise my arms, and yet not be so tight as to create quad-boob or tits-on-a-platter, is something I'm still tinkering with.  I took what I learned on this corset, and translated it to my custom pattern pieces.  I curved the top and bottom edges to create the look I wanted, and then topstitched the two layers together, rather than messing with binding in a heavy upholstery fabric.

Overall I was really happy with how this came out, and it continues to be my go-to ren faire outfit.  Especially for about $10 in supplies, plus some sewing stash fabric, I'm really happy with it.  The duct tie boning in particular did much better than I thought it would, and has absolutely no problem holding my bust where I want it.

With ren faire behind me, I decided to get back to my steampunk corset, in hopes of finishing it in time for DragonCon 2010.  That's when the second curveball came along: I saw KickAss in the theater, and absolutely fell in love with the character Hit Girl.  I decided I had to add it to my DragonCon 2010 costuming plans, even if that meant delaying my steampunk outfits.  So away went the in-progress Victorian corset again, and I started planning for Hit Girl.

My concept was an older Hit Girl, more adult with a sexy goth edge to her, complete with big Doc Martens and a corset. I went back to my customized corset pattern, and figured this would be a good chance to try out the lower half of the pattern.  I also decided to revisit the reversible corset idea I had posted about here the previous fall.  DragonCon is in Atlanta, and I fly in from southern California every year, so packing light is a priority.  I wanted to be able to re-use the same corset in a second outfit.  And so the purple and black underbust corset was born:

In my original post about the reversible corset, one of the problems I was having was in figuring out how to make a busk reversible, without having nobs pressed against me.  When I was designing the older Hit Girl outfit, I knew I wanted to echo the front center zipper of the body suit in the corset, and I knew the zipper would have to be the separating kind, so the corset could open up completely, as with a busk.  I ended up ordering a custom-made zipper from ZipperSource.com: 10" heavy-duty plastic, separating, with a revisable zipper with one zipper pull, that flips from one side to the other.  That allowed me to make the corset completely reversible, purple on one side and black on the other:


For the fashion layers, I used the same purple and black spandex I was using elsewhere in the Hit Girl costume.  I used a strength layer of the same cotton duck that I had started making my Victorian overbust mockup out of.  I cut the spandex layers the same size as the strength layer, and when it's laced up tightly, the spandex pulls nice and smooth.

After seeing how well single duct tie bones did in my ren faire corset, I decided to ditch the idea of double boning the steampunk corset, and used some of the spiral bones I had intended for the steampunk corset in this one: 16 spirals total, on each of the seams, beside the zipper, and surrounding the grommets in back.  Using only spirals also allows the corset to be reversible, since there isn't any white steel to bend back and forth.

I used black, size 00, two piece grommets in back, keeping with the black and purple look of Hit Girl, and black double-sided satin ribbon to lace it up.  I didn't do a modesty panel, since that would have made reversing it more difficult, and I knew I would be wearing an underlayer with each outfit.  And once again I didn't do a binding, partially because I didn't want any purple on the black side, or black horizontal lines on the purple side, but also because I liked how the top stitching had turned out on the ren faire corset.

At DragonCon 2010, I wore this underbust corset with both my grown-up Hit Girl costume, and with a semi-NSFW rock and roll type outfit.

Overall I was really happy with how this turned out.  The revesable quality of it was really awesome for packing lighter, and I wore it on two consecutive nights for several hours each, with no problems at all.  If I were to change anything, I would have made the top edge just a smidge bigger.  On the original overbust pattern, I made the underbust measurement as tight as I could, to ensure good support for my bust.  When translating that to an underbust, I no longer needed the support (I wore a separate bra with both outfits), and having it so tight made a small pudge of flesh between the corset and the band of the bra at times.  If I flared the top edge just a touch and maybe raised it a bit, so it actually goes over the bra band, I think it would have looked a bit better.

With DragonCon 2010 in my rear-view mirror, it was time to start thinking about DragonCon 2011, and getting back to the steampunk corset idea that had started this whole thing.  Work ate up all of fall 2010, so I didn't get back to the corset until spring 2011.  Using what I learned with the previous two, I got back to actually constructing the steampunk corset.  I still had my original mockup in the half-way-through-fitting stage I'd left it a year before.  Because I knew how well the other two corsets had fit, I made a couple of minor tweaks, then added internal boning casings, and made my mock-up into my strength layer.

I ended up using 5 flat bones and 16 spirals: spirals on each of the seams, using the flat-felled seam allowance as boning channels, then a second one in the middle of panel 2, and a short curved one under the armpit edge of the bust, to keep everything front and center; and flats on each side of the back grommets, and behind the busk as a combination front modesty panel and double busk.  I used a gold 13" steel busk from CorsetMaking.com.  

For the fashion layer, I used a brown faux-leather upholstery fabric, that had a smooth black backing.  The strength layer also became the lining, with the inside edges all finished.  I used a grosgrain ribbon as a waist-stay.

I used gold, 00 size, two-piece grommets in the back, and gold and brown double-sided satin ribbon to lace it all up.  I made a back modesty panel as well, using a plastic rug hooking mat to hold its shape, as another member posted about here a few months ago.  In keeping with the smooth lines I wanted for this steampunk corset, I flat-felled and top-stitched each of the fashion layer panels, but didn't have any boning casings showing on the exterior.

Once I had the grommeting completed, I tried it on and fit the neckline by hand (with binder clips, as this type of faux leather shows all pin-marks).  I knew I wanted to use this for my steampunk Tinkerbell outfit I had planned, so I went with a decidedly sweet-heart neckline.  Again, I didn't want to do binding on the top and bottom edges (just not a fan of that look), but I also didn't want to do top-stitching on this one.  So I ended up folding over and hand-stitching the whole thing, to preserve the smooth look.

I wore the final product this past weekend at DragonCon 2011, both Friday night as "Steampunk And Old Lace", and Sunday night with "Steampunk Tinkerbell":

Overall I'm really happy with how this came out.  It lived up to my original plans from two years ago, of a versatile steampunk overbust with clean lines.  My weight and my ability to lace down tightly (ie, with pressure on my hip bones and ribs) has fluctuated over the course of making this corset, but with the modesty panel in back and having modified the pattern to fit me so closely, I'm able to wear it regardless.  

The only thing I would change is the shape of the cups.  There's a bit too much room in the bust towards the outside, but taking it in resulted in quad-boob on the center front edge.  Before I reuse this pattern, I'll have to redraft the bust just slightly, taking it in on the outer edge while adding more to the bust on panel 1.  I might also raise the lower edge in the back, as it has a tendency to push my skirts downward, lol.  And for the next corset I make, I think I'll take the plunge and use coutil rather than cotton duck.

Anyway, that's it from me.  I would love to hear any feedback you guys have on any of these three corsets, especially anything I can apply going forward.  My next corset-ish project is going to be a cupped, 1950s/60s long-line girdle, using a lot of the principles I learned here, so any tips you guys think I could use would be greatly appreciated!
corsetrasewingcorsetrasewing on September 8th, 2011 12:49 am (UTC)
Damn Girl you done did good!

Okay now that I have that out, I can talk properly.

I love how you have three different styles from one pattern, very clever of you. Your fitting is smooth as silk. Color me impressed!
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Fitting is a big deal, and really the reason I sew at all, so it means a lot to me that you think it looks good. Thanks again! :D
Forge Fashionforgefashion on September 8th, 2011 12:58 am (UTC)
Very nicely done (Hit Girl Rocks)!! Love them all.....and wow you definitely suit corsets, so long may your corset journey continue :)
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Yeah, I remember sitting in the theater watching KickAss and realizing all my costuming plans had just gone up in smoke, lol. She's so awesome, I just had to do a costume.

We'll see where the whims of costuming take me next, but whatever it is, I'm sure to need well-fitting undergarments. ;D
Miz Laurelhoppytoad79 on September 8th, 2011 01:28 am (UTC)
You look fabulous in all three costumes. Great job!
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks! :D
Richild la Gauchere: white_hartrlg on September 8th, 2011 02:34 am (UTC)
... wow ... the workmanship on these is very impressive. I cordially envy you getting that look and fit with your "first" corset. Thank you for including the links to "how I changed the original pattern."

Have you considered adapting/copying the renn fair one for use as a workaday corset/bra replacement? (and may I point you to the thirty_twod community? It's for people of similar body type (small #, big letter).)
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Modifying the original pattern was an interesting experience, but I'm glad I went through it. It gave me a lot more confidence when I put together my first mock-up, knowing that at the very least, this should be somewhere close to fitting, rather than having to do huge adjustments right off the bat.

I've given some thought to making every day bras, but so far my corset cups are too thick to wear under clothing, especially t-shirts and the like. Through a lot of trial and error, I've found a couple of off-the-rack bras that fit, or fit once 2" are taken out of the band (pretty easy modification to do if you sew at all, once I saw how the shop did it), so it's not a pressing issue. But the next project on my sewing table is an all-in-one girdle/corselette to wear under dresses, so I'm going to be tackling the "looks good under clothing" cups pretty soon here. Wish me luck, hehe. ;)
Julia: corsetmutive on September 8th, 2011 03:32 am (UTC)
Oh, wow...that is all just gorgeous. I'm amazed at your ability to play with and alter patterns.
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you! For some reason I really enjoy the intersection of math and art involved in altering patterns. Play with all the percentages and measurements, and then fit the rest by eye. Satisfies both halves of my geeky brain. ;)
jenniferseouljenniferseoul on September 8th, 2011 05:13 am (UTC)
Absolutely stunning. Am very impressed by your ability to take one idea and use it so many different ways!
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It would have taken me a lot longer to start from scratch on each of them I think, but it's nice when the lazy way pans out. ;D
vlynniegvlynnieg on September 8th, 2011 05:35 am (UTC)
All three of those a fabulous!!!! Your workmanship is awesome! And I totally envy you going to Dragon Con. I shipped my Jessica Rabbit costume I made to a girlfriend of mine who wanted to borrow it for DC, but she wound up not wearing it, because she didn't have time to make some alterations she would have needed. You probably saw her there, too, she's big into dressing up.
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you! DragonCon is so much fun, if thoroughly exhausting, heh. Though with around 45,000 people running around, roughly half of them in costume at any given point, it's really hard to say if I saw your friend or not, hehe. You should try out DragonCon if you ever have the chance, it's the best US con IMO.
unawiccaunawicca on September 8th, 2011 06:15 am (UTC)
Only one: If you're anything like my larger-breasted friends, you're paying 40 to 80 dollars US for bras. I'd start cranking out # 1s to replace the fool things altogether- the fit is wonderful and they'd almost have to be cheaper!
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
Re: suggestions
Heh, well that is true. I have a couple of tried-and-true bras that fit well and look good under my normal wardrobe of t-shirts and sundresses, but you're right, they do cost about $60 each. The next project I have planned is a retro all-in-one girdle, to wear under dresses, so that'll be my first real attempt at making a corset-like thing that looks good under clothes. We'll see how it goes. :P
staysonpaper: corsetstaysonpaper on September 8th, 2011 07:11 am (UTC)
Oh yes, go over to coutil posthaste! Your stuff is good enough already that it's definitely worth the minimal extra cost. It took me rather longer to feel I was at that point, but once I tried coutil I have never wanted to go back.

Apart from that, just, wow, well done for a first few corsets!
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm really looking forward to switching to coutil, even though it means ordering it online rather than buying locally. I suppose it'll make me plan ahead better, heh.
kotenok-gafcat_n_kitten on September 8th, 2011 09:40 am (UTC)
WOW just a wow!!! you look stunning and very proud :) I'd be proud too if I could do something like that
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:44 pm (UTC)
Heheh, thanks. I think a couple of those pictures are my "I'm drunk and having a great time" face, lol. ;)
tonithegreat: hcostumetonithegreat on September 8th, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
You are an inspiration! Beautiful work! I need to try my hand at some leather look, and maybe someday soon at an overbust.
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I've sewn with both real suede and fake leather now, and while neither of them are exactly a joy to work with, in a lot of ways drafting and fitting an overbust are more difficult, hehe. As long as your sewing machine can handle sewing through multiple layers of leather/suede/pleather, all you really need is leather needles for your machine and a set of binder clips (since you won't want to pin through the leather). You should give it a try, I'm sure you'd like the results! :D
buckinghamsgirlbuckinghamsgirl on September 8th, 2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
Your corset journey makes for very interesting reading! Your workmanship is so polished and you've been really creative in your use of your pattern. I'm completely in love with your whole Ren Faire outfit and the corset sets it off beautifully. I look forward to seeing what you do next! :)
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Hopefully it won't take me another 24 months to post about my next project. ;)
(no subject) - buckinghamsgirl on September 11th, 2011 02:06 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - glasscannon on September 13th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Serindëserindecorsets on September 8th, 2011 06:08 pm (UTC)
Great work ! And the bust shaping is amazing ! The 3 outfits are gorgeous !
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:56 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :D
Sabrinamala_14 on September 8th, 2011 09:20 pm (UTC)
Wow! What an interesting journey! All three costumes look great, and it was clearly an awesome experiment using different versions of the same pattern. Good for you!
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 06:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I feel like I know this pattern really well now -- just as I'm ready to head into a new project, of course, hehe. ;)
liten_sakliten_sak on September 9th, 2011 12:14 am (UTC)
The last one looks so smooth and nice that I almost get jealous! All three of them are really cool and the first one looks like something I have to try. Both because it´s such a cool idea but also because it´s a cheaper way to practise fitting of the bust :) Thank you for sharing this!
glasscannonglasscannon on September 9th, 2011 07:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so happy with how smooth it came out, exactly the sort of look I wanted for my steampunk outfits. Definitely give the short bodice corset a try if you get a chance. You have to pay extra attention to the underbust to make sure it fits well, but otherwise it's just a simpler version of fitting the full corset, I found. And it comes together so quickly comparatively, it's a joy to have something finished that fast, hehe. ;)