Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Making a Corset is Easy (Ha) - Part I

How to make a corset - Simplicity 9769
Part I - Mock-Up(s)

Step 1. Research
From the many corset-making sessions I've attended, I believed making a fitted corset was like climbing Mt. Everest alone, with no shoes. I wasn't far off. The construction itself isn't that bad, but getting the right fit is a chore. I knew from the start that I wanted as much information as possible before I made my own. So I'll include some of the many resources I used along the way.

I chose the Simplicity 9769 corset pattern since folks seem to think it is the least historically inaccurate of the corset patterns from the Big 4 pattern makers. And I already had it and probably paid $0.99 for it. I figured it would be good practice before I spent significantly more on a fancy pattern such as Laughing Moon. After choosing the pattern I looked it up on the Pattern Review website. Very helpful advice on this corset. The pattern does indeed run way too big, so be prepared to make one several sizes smaller than you think you need.

I also checked out the uber helpful Corset Makers page on Live Journal. The indexed topics are great. They even have a topic just for this Simplicity pattern. Farthingales also has some tips about this pattern. Your Wardrobe Unlock'd has a great corset construction tutorial. I didn't draft my own pattern, but some of the construction advice was helpful. I used several other sources along the way, but you should do your own searches as well as there is a great deal of information out there about making corsets. Also consider the purpose of your corset. Mine is being made as an undergarment for costuming, so no one will be seeing it.

There are many sources for corset supplies. I've purchased boning and eyelets from eBay before. Chain sewing stores have limited supplies (don't get one-piece eyelets) and don't carry steel boning or busks. This time, since I needed a busk, I ordered from Corset Making Supplies. The shipping is higher than I like, but I was able to get eyelets (grommets), boning, boning tips, and busks into one shipping charge - making it comparable to piece-meal puchases on eBay.  Walmart and Michaels often have two-piece eyelets that work well when set properly. Be sure to research the proper method of setting eyelets/grommets. Get yourself an awl if you don't have one. Also, if you plan to wear this corset as outerwear, be wary of the store-bought black eyelets. I have found that the "paint" comes off too easily when setting them. I ordered black eyelets from Corset Making Supplies to see if theirs are better.

Step 2. Mock-up
Everyone recommends making a mock-up out of muslin, also called a toile. Even though I knew the pattern was going to be too big, and probably too short, I decided to make the mock-up from the size I thought it would be, just for practice. Cheap thrift-store muslin, free plastic banding for bones, and casings from muslin fabric. I did end up making my own re-usable eyelet strips from sturdy canvas-like fabric. I can use them over and over with other mock-ups. I did not put the busk in to the first mock-up. I just stitched the front pieces together with a tight zig-zag stitch. To save twill tape for this first run, I just used 1" strips of the muslin fabric for the bone casings. My final version will likely include a lining fabric and won't need casings, but it is good to practice.

The lumber at Home Depot is strapped down with plastic banding that makes excellent plastic boning. They just throw it away and are willing to let you have however much you want. I used sharp scissors from our garage to cut the pieces to length and then in half (they are 5/8" wide). I have heard that people use this in their bodices, and sometimes in their corsets if they don't need it too curvy. Heavy cable ties are also a cheap substitute for steel boning. Do your research about which boning you need to use in the final version.

Based on advice at the above-referenced sites, I did not flat-fell the seams. I pressed them to the appropriate side according to the instructions, and trimmed them to 1/8". The casings will then be centered on the seam line and I won't have to worry about matching up stitching lines. I did double stitch (lock stitch) each seam using 2 different stitch lengths. Another tip I read was to use spring steel boning at the back, near the eyelets, instead of spiral steel.

So the mock-up was waaaaaayyyyyyy too big. But I did discover that I made a common mistake - I had a few pieces bottom side up. The pattern pieces do look "blocky" so be sure to mark the top of each piece of the pattern as you cut them. I did this by making a mark with a red pen in the seam allowance at the top of each piece.

For the next mock-up, I decided to take my measurements and compare them with the actual measurement on the pattern piece (exlcuding the seam allowances). I decided how much "squish" I had in my chest and waist and how much extra could come off each measurement. After I compared that to the actual pattern measurements, I decided to go down 2 sizes in the chest and 1 size in the waist/hips. My goal was not to take many inches off my waist. I simply wanted to make a costuming undergarment that will smooth things out. I was not interested in being uncomfortable just to make my waist smaller. I could have taken much more off the waist, but opted for comfort this time.

I also needed to add 2 inches to the pattern. The first mock-up hit right above my hips and right at my nipples. (I don't consider myself long-waisted, but just about every top pattern I've used has to be lengthened.) I cut the pattern pieces at the waist line (see note below) and spread them 2 inches, taping the 2 pieces to blank pattern paper. I then re-drew the pattern lines to fit the two different sizes I am using.

*Note on waist line - The waist line is marked only on the center front and center back pieces. It is helpful to mark the waist line on all pieces if you are going to alter it. A tip I found on-line is to take the center front piece (13) and place the front piece (14) on top, matching notches and making sure grain lines are parallel. Then mark the waist line on piece 14. Continue with each pattern piece. When you get to the center back piece (19) redraw the waist line based on piece 18. For some reason, the waist lines don't seem to match up on 13 and 19. Maybe it's just me?

Even though my final version will have a lining and I won't need the bone casings, I decided to practice with the twill tape on this mock-up. I also made this mock-up with the busk, which wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. In preparation for this corset, I ordered two busks - a 12" and a 14". I had a feeling I would want a longer corset so I got one that was longer than the pattern required. The second mock-up will include the 12" busk as I read that a shorter one can be used when there is boning adjacent to the busk. So hopefully I'll be able to use the short one and save the longer one for next time. I also added a piece of twine inside the bias tape on the upper edge, in an attempt to tighten down the bust part. I can see how this would be helpful if the top poked out a little. But it doesn't help much when the top is way too big.

This mock-up was still too big in the top. Laced all the way together, I could still stand to take 2" off the bust. I've read that a 2-inch gap is ideal between the eyelets, so that would mean an additional 4" to take off. The waist and hips fit, but didn't squish my waist at all - which is comfy, but I'll probably have to take a couple of inches off the waist/hips to make up for the take-up in the chest. I also decided to add two boning channels to each side - one directly under the breast and one to the side. I've heard this is necessary if you need to give the girls a lift. I've no idea how much a difference the spiral steel bones will make versus the plastic bones in the amount of support in this area, but I am not cutting the steel until I'm certain how long they will be.

So - next step is to dart the current mock-up to take-up the extra inches, add additional bones casings for the girls, and hope this time it fits!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Feathers to Dye For

Cheap, non-toxic way to dye natural feathers

When I decided to make my own mask for my autumn dryad costume, I decided on a paper mache base with colored feathers. As a vegetarian, it was hard for me to buy standard craft or store feathers, as they involve the killing of the bird. Fortunately, eBay and Etsy had a few folks selling naturally-shed, cruelty-free feathers. Often from pets or egg-laying birds, these feathers are natural in color and vary in size and pattern and are collected when the bird molts. As molting is seasonal, I had to allow some extra time to collect the feathers I wanted as they aren't always available. I did check with local wildlife experts to confirm that it is illegal to collect feathers of wild birds (hawks, owls, songbirds, shore birds, etc) even if you find them on the ground.

So I started out with all sorts of feathers - pigeon, turkey, peacock, guinea fowl, chicken - in various colors (white, cream, brown, black, grey) and patterns (stripes, dots, mottled). I did not wash the feathers before I dyed them. Some feather sellers wash them for you, but I don't think mine were. I found different opinions on the internet about pros and cons of washing the feathers. Some say the natural oils in the feathers are good, some say a wash in a mild detergent helps the dye set. I took the easy way in my test batch and skipped the washing. My feathers turned out fine.

I decided to try the kool-aid and vinegar approach to dyeing the feathers. It's cheaper than the chemical dyes and fabric dyes. I played around with the mixture of kool-aid and water/vinegar mixture to use the least amount possible.

What you'll need:
White vinegar
Shallow microwavable pan or dish (I used a casserole dish)
Kool-aid in your preferred colors
Ground tumeric (if you want yellow)
Chop sticks or other stirring device

Fill the shallow dish about 1/3 full of water and add a splash of vinegar. Stir in the Kool-aid until dissolved. The more Kool-aid you use, the stronger the color will be. You can also mix the colors for different shades.

Add the feathers one at a time into the Kool-aid bath. **If you don't need the fluffy part of the feather, save yourself some time and hassle and cut it off. The color in the fluffy part is more likely to be splotchy** Use the chop sticks to immerse the feather and work in the color. Be sure to get the air bubbles out. Add additional feathers until the surface of the water is covered. You can try to add layers of feathers to save time, just be sure that all the feathers are wet and in contact with the dye.

Microwave the feathers for 2 minutes. Gently aggitate/stir them to make sure they are still in contact with the dye - especially if there are a lot in the pan. Let rest for 2 minutes, then microwave again for 2 minutes. Let the feathers soak until they are the color you want. The longer they soak, the deeper the color. I gently rinsed my feathers in a strainer, but I don't know that you have to do this. The rinse was helpful with the tumeric dye since the tumeric didn't completely dissolve in the water and the rinse helps reduce the strong smell. You can use the dye again, but the color may be lighter unless you add some more Kool-aid. The dye will get lighter with each batch.

Gently pat the feathers to remove excess moisture. Use a hair dryer to dry the feathers completely and re-fluff. If the feather looks like it is separating, gently run your fingers down the spine while using the hair dryer. If you don't need the fluffy part, drying goes much faster without it. I did not need the fluffy part for my mask and could have saved a ton of time if I had cut it off before dyeing.

The very dark parts of the feather will not dye well. I liked the stripes and dots and variation in color with the natural feathers. I had to mix in some black cherry with the green kool-aid to get a somewhat muted color and not the crazy bright color. To make brown, I would mix in a different color with a used batch of dye that was getting too light.