Corsetry class

Dressmaking: Important first lessons in corsetry and the long and short of fitting waists.
I went on a double weekend course at Morley College in September, in a bid to dip my toe into the scary world of corset-making. This is a whole new realm for someone who has stuck to good old dresses and skirts in the past...

The course ran over two consecutive weekends and covered all the basics. This included some things we already knew, like cutting out the pattern, to many things we had never tackled, like measuring boning (tip: measure yourself rather than trusting the pattern markings!)

Happily, our class size was only 6 students, all of a very similar ability, which allowed the group to skip through some things and slow down for others as we felt we needed.
The pattern used on the course was Simplicity 5006, strictly speaking a lingerie pattern... The packet imaging needs a bit of an update...! But actually the shape of the final corset was really nice and flattering and I think I would use this again as the basis for a project.

This course is not for beginner sewists; you need to be confident with several pattern pieces cut from multiple different layers. The pattern also features princess seams, which have to be boned as a final step - not the easiest sewing task!

The list of things to take to the class is straightforward, and the classroom is kitted out with amazing irons (vacuum table and steam generator!) and good, solid semi-industrial Berninas.

The class tutor was great fun and had a wealth of wisdom for us all, on every aspect of making the corset. I learnt so many things applicable to other garments too!

The class works on standard sizes closet to your measurements, without personal adjustments. There is not time for everyone to have a fitting and readjust their pattern, although this was demonstrated on one student.

I learnt so many new things in this class, many of which I want to cover in detail in a separate post when I make up the next draft of this corset...

Having got the basic techniques mastered I ran up a calico at home and decided I could do a first / rough fitting myself without much help. The easiest way to do this is to sew the calico so that it pins together at the front seam, allowing you to get in and out of it more easily. 

For detailed / later fittings, you really need a fit buddy. And a class like this is probably the best way to find one!

LESSON LEARNED: Short, long and balanced waists?

I started to fit this as I usually would, altering length before I got onto any circumferential fits. If, for example, you take in the waist and the hips to fit snugly, but then adjust the length of the bodice, all your finely tuned waist/hip measurements will be out again. What a waste of time! This goes for other garment alterations. I usually do have to add some length into the bodice of something well fitted. But this corset proved to me just how weird a body shape I have... I ended up doing some fairly extensive reading around!

Why does it matter?

The support in a corset comes from a good fit around key dimensions, to prevent sliding up and down. Your waist and under-bust line are the most essential of these. If your corset waist is well fitted in terms of circumference, but wants to ride up or down to find your own  natural waist, you end up constantly tugging the thing up or down to correct it. Correct the vertical measurements at the start and you will fix this problem!

Short-waisted means a short distance from armscye / bust point to waist, often with a nipped-in or hourglass outline, and a corresponding longer length from waist to seat.

Long-waisted means a longer distance from armscye to waist, often with a straighter figure and less defined waist, and a corresponding shorter length from waist to seat.

Balanced waist means an even distribution of height above and below waist.

Looking at the corset made up to standard size 10 in class, it has a fairly balanced waist (sensible for a commercial pattern, presumably). Sadly, this makes it a horrible fit on me! My dressform has a very similar, long waisted figure and shows the problem perfectly...

REQUIREMENT: Add length.

This can be tricky, as it depends on the slope / exaggeration of your waist, and the shape of your back too. Generally I have a straight torso, with not that much natural waist definition at the sides and a a slight sway back. This (weirdly) meant that the length fitted quite well in the back, just not around the sides and definitely not down the front. 

So in the end, I measured the difference from inter-bust line to waist down the centre front seam on myself and the pattern, to calculate how much to add to the front. I then drew in the insertion across all pattern pieces, tapering to basically nothing at the centre back. I also measured the distance to the hip, to check I wasn't throwing this off completely. For example, if you had a very short torso but had long-waisted proportions, you might need to literally "move" the waist (add above and remove below), rather than elongating the whole bodice.

You'll have to excuse my very "couture" numbering system on this calico! But you can already see that the fit is much better, with a softer-sloping, long-line waist shape and the hips starting to sit where they are supposed to. This means that with the next fitting, I can think about taking in the circumferential measurements, knowing that important lines (waist, hip etc.) are in the right place. 

The advice from the class was that a minimum of 3 fittings was required to get a corset to fit well. So there's a long way to go yet! 


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