Sunday, 30 June 2013

Lace and Lacings

The current Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge is Lace and Lacings, which has given me the impetus to finally finish the purple satin corset (aka the Evil Purple Satin Corset From Hell).

Finally! The completed corset

So where was I up to, the last time I bundled it back into its box in disgust?

Previously, in the saga of the EPSCFH . . . . . The corset was started on a one-day course in November 2009, and is based on the Laughing Moon Dore corset pattern. It is made from black coutil covered with purple duchesse satin, and therein lies the root of much of its evil-ness. Knowing nothing about corset construction at the time I chose this as the outer layer, not realising just how many problems I was storing up for myself.

On the course I had got the basic shape of the corset made, and the busk inserted. In October 2012 I picked it up again, stitched some of the boning channels, discovered that the tutor's take on the pattern had omitted about half of the boning channels, redid some of the existing channels and added the missing ones, then added a waist stay, set the grommets and added a modesty panel. All of these gave me endless problems trying to work on the corset without marking the satin.

And now  . . . . . Fishing it out from its hiding place last week, I was pleased to see that I'd attached the binding to the top edge, something which I didn't remember doing. Unfortunately it was downhill from there. I soon discovered that although all the boning channels were attached, not all of them were wide enough to get the bones through. Stitching had to be unpicked which, having been in place so long, left yet more marks on the satin.

Marks where stitching has been unpicked

There was also the problem that I didn't want one side of the channel to be stitched through the waist stay and the other not, so where possible I left that portion of the channel unchanged. As a result in several places the width of the boning channel varies dramatically.

Boning channel disasters

I wasn't happy with the centre edges of the busk, either. Because the satin had only been attached to the front panels and not the facings, a line of the black coutil showed at the centre.

More than just a shadow - the black coutil visible at the busk edge

I got round this by cutting bias strips of the satin and attaching these to the facings.

The satin facing

The advantage is that the coutil doesn't show. The disadvantage is that the bulk of the fabric has made the busk loops slightly smaller, so the corset is harder to fasten.

No black visible

About the one thing I was happy with was the way the edge binding turned out, although again the thickness of the satin made the ends rather bulky once the raw edges were turned in.

The completed binding

Despite being pleased with the binding, I decided to cover it by trimming the corset with black lace. (I know, I know; I spend ages covering up the black in one place, and then add black somewhere else - there's no pleasing some people!) I couldn't find any suitable lace, so did this by attaching two laces and slip-stitching the straight edges together. Directly below the top binding I applied a wide lace, and then stitched along the shaped edge to hold it in place.

Top lace - part one

Then on top of the binding I added a narrower, denser lace, and again stitched along the top edge to hold the points down.

Top lace - part two before the upper edge was sewn down

I also attached the narrow lace to the bottom edge.

One problem with using a wide lace was how to handle it at the back, where it overlaps the grommets. I really like the way the Jen of Festive Attyre dealt with this; on her corset she attached the lace first and put the grommets through the fabric and the lace. Unfortunately when I set the grommets I hadn't even thought about trimming, so I just cut the lace away, following the edge of the pattern.

The shaped lace trim at the back edges

Anyway, the EPSCFH is finally done (hurrah!). On top of all the problems I've already mentioned, when I came to photograph the finished item I noticed just how prominent the waist stay is. See the first photograph above for proof.

Also, flash photography highlights some 'interesting' lines across the satin from the grommets, which aren't that visible to the naked eye.

Pull marks to the left of the grommets

While I'm pleased with the fit on the hip, the fit around the bust is a great deal better on the dressform than on me; there is some strange wrinkling going on there.

Better at the hips, worse at the bust

Despite the added modesty panel, and the front top coming well over the bust (very different from the original pattern, not sure how that happened), the battered state of the satin makes it highly unlikely that I'll wear it over rather than under other garments. Although if I ever do make good my vague plan to create my own version of the Rate The Dress Victorian Batgirl costume, it will certainly come in handy.
Side view showing just how high the front is


In the almost four years since I started this corset I feel that my understanding of corset construction has come on enormously, from a wide variety of sources, including of course from The Dreamstress herself. So here are my Lessons Learned:

1 - Never use satin as a top layer for a corset

2 - Decide on the construction details before you start; waist stay, top line, trim etc. Then give careful thought to the order in which these things should be done. A lot of my problems came from the piecemeal way in which the corset was made; I frequently had to unpick work I'd completed successfully, because I hadn't considered something I'd want to include later.

3 - If you definitely want to use a certain fabric, this will to some extent dictate the style of corset you make. For example, if you are mad enough to use satin for a top layer, external boning channels are a far better choice; as demonstrated by The Dreamstress's entry for this challenge.

4 - Always make a toile, unless it's a pattern that you have used before and you are confident that you haven't changed shape. It is far easier, and cheaper, to alter a mock-up.

5 - Did I mention that using satin for the top layer is a Very Bad Idea?

The small print:

The Challenge: Lace and Lacings (challenge 13, halfway through!)

Fabric: Black coutil and (sigh) purple duchesse satin. Looking at the photographs above there are a variety of different purples on show, but for UK readers, the satin is the colour of a Dairy Milk wrapper.

Pattern: Laughing Moon Dore and Silverado corset pattern

Year: 1838 - 1899

Notions: Busk, flat and spiral steels, corset lace, two styles of black lace for trim

How historically accurate is it? The pattern is historically accurate, this interpretation rather less so, especially the top front

Hours to complete: Too many to want to think about!

First worn: Just now, to take photos

Total cost: Unknown, as I didn't keep a note of the initial costs

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