Sunday, 22 April 2012

Better late than never

Since the start of the year I have been taking part in the Bridges on the Body 1911 Corset Sew Along. The Sew Along actually ended in early March, but a broken sewing machine and wedding dress alterations (more on that soon), plus a serious rework of the corset itself, all got in the way. As a result, I have only just finished.

Finished at last!

 The Bridges on the Body blog follows the process of making all the corsets in Norah Waugh's Corsets and Crinolines. For the 1911 pattern Jo invited other people to make the corset with her. Although the book provides scale drawings of each corset, plus a line drawing of the finished item, there are no instructions. Instead Jo posted regular, detailed, step-by-step instructions of each stage as she completed it, along with wonderfully clear photographs, interspersed with illustrations of corsets and dresses of the period like these.

As if this wasn't enough, Jo was also on hand throughout to answer any queries posted on the blog. Thus we all learned how to scale and resize the pattern, make and fit a mock-up, add a waist stay and facings to the real corset, insert the busk and bone casings, and make garters

Up to the point of lacing and trying on the corset, I was pretty much on schedule. Unfortunately this was the point at which I realised that the fabric I had used for my mock-up, although a fairly sturdy cotton, had a lot more stretch in it than I had thought. The gap when the corset was laced was far too wide; so much so that the lace I had wasn't long enough to lace it, and I had to tie two laces together!

After so much work I didn't want to abandon the project, or start again from scratch. I posted a plaintive comment on the blog, and Jo came to the rescue with the suggestion that I could open up the side seam and add a panel there, along with an extra bone.

The pattern. Jo suggested adding the extra panel between pieces 3 and 4

This wasn't entirely straightforward; because I had added a waist stay I had to unpick part of each bone casing and the facings to remove the stay and replace it once the panel was added. Also, I didn't have any more of the brocaded coutil I had used, so had to make the panels from plain coutil. It was interesting to see how what started as a rectangular strip became a curved piece in the finished corset. I'm tempted to follow the flowery language of corset advertisements of the time, and describe this as "a firm side panel imparting a smooth line to the hips", rather than something which rectified an error!

Side view showing the inserted, now curved, panel

I made the garters a dusty pink satin, and bound the edges of the corset  with bias strips of the same fabric. In keeping with the illustration I added a broderie anglais trim along the top edge. Even with a further bias satin strip threaded through the eyelets I felt that the trim was too stark, so I overstitched some of the embroidery  with shades of pink embroidery silk, which I then also also used for the flossing.

1911 corset - illustration

Finally it was down to the finishing touch. The illustration shows a large bow on the corset, but while I loved the exuberance of this example from Metropolitan Museum, when I tried to make a bow from some spare bias strips, the practical side of me worried that it would ruin the line of whatever was worn over it. I definitely wanted something to finish the top edge off, so settled for a small rosette instead.

Top detail - the embellished trim and the rosette

There are a few things I would do differently next time. First, and most obvious, I would be much more careful what fabric I used for the mock-up. Second, I would wait until the mock-up was made before ordering the coutil, bones etc. Although you may think that you know what you'll need from looking at the pattern, it is only when you have an actual garment to try on that you can be really sure.

The whole thing was great fun to do, and having the schedule to work to really helped me to keep focussed, and not let other projects take over. Finally a huge, huge thank you to Jo for all the hard work, time and help she put into the Sew Along - when's the next one?!

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