Wednesday, February 29, 2012

1910's Button Front Corset Reproduction

I admit that I've been lax updating here because I'm still so used to bitching about my costume drama on my old LiveJournal.  So you've been scant on updates here because I've vented quickly there, and moved on.  So here's a quick post for anyone who cares, about the finished 'teens button-front corset.

A bit of background: I bought the original for this at some convention or another that is lost in the mists of memory. The seller had said something derogatory about "tube corsets" but the original fit me and laced closed, and I thought the button detailing was too interesting to pass up.  It sat in my collection for a long time, and then Laurie Tavan of Daze of Laur took it down and made a pattern draft from it.  It turns out that draft was enough that I was able to make another one!
Approximately 1910 to 1914ish. Such simplicity.

First off, the original was factory made of a single layer of plain twilled coutil. I cannot imagine why I missed this myself, but my decision to make mine of a fashion fabric interfaced to herringbone coutil was... ambitious. I regretted it while I was razoring bulk out of my seams. I *also* realized that while the original corset had been made whole and then dyed, I was going to have to make-do with materials of all sorts.  So I spent a good week hand dying, lightening, and overdyeing notions in a bucket in the bathtub until they were approximately the correct shade of salmon pink to match the pink striped stuff I picked out of my stash. ProTip: RIT dye in bright pink + sunny yellow = salmon. Not an appetizing color or one I would've ever picked, had the original not been that exact shade. They're blotchy though, which makes me sad.  Oh well.  I also couldn't find pink decorative elastic, pink garter clips, a matching binding tape, or perfectly shaped buttons for the side front closure, so I used what was at hand.  I am not thrilled, but I suppose I am... content with this.

Hand dyed lacing and elastics.
Oh, and the other thing that slowed me down considerably was the time I wasted dicking around with my HomePro grommet setter. Turns out, the HP will only set a 00 grommet perfectly one time in 20, and I know because I only got one perfect one after 20 tries on scrap fabric. Most of them had an incomplete inner crimp, but the rest of the crimped badly, or warped, or compressed into an oval, or in some way just came out wrong. This was even with the rare-as-unicorns extra dies. In a fit of frustration I bought a really nice ClipShop setter from a lady on eBay. That one sets 00 grommets beautifully, but I discovered that the lacing panel you see there is approximately one metric buttload too thick for the "automatic piercing" feature.  So the HomePro with the extra fancy dies actually came in handy: I punched holes with the size 4 HomePro punch, which was just enough to let me enlarge the hole with an awl to admit a 00 grommet that I then set using the ClipShop setter. Doing it this way left enough fabric around the grommet that it gripped, which prevents the grommet from rotating, slipping, and generally warping the surrounding fabric and eventually pulling out.

One thing that was incredibly nice was having the original (in my collection!) on hand to refer to when wondering what I was doing. (Which happened unfortunately frequently.)  One thing that was incredibly frustrating was that this corset had clearly had at least four, if not six, different industrial machines used in its construction.  Nothing I could hope to make with a single-needle machine would ever be so neat.
Also, elastic is hard, and messes with your machine tension.  Unsmiley. The front gusset, the one that screams AHAHAHA LOOK AT MY JUNK, was possibly the most frustrating thing I have ever attempted to insert into a garment. All the fun of a Regency corset with bust gores, with a material that literally tries to bounce the needle back at the sewing machine. And by the time I'd fiddled it into place, the bottom edge had warped.  Siiiigh.

And just in case there weren't enough visual cues pointing to the crotch...
Also also, I am never allowed to make a corset out of striped material like this again.  Witness my OCD stripe matching in the chevron front and the slightly-more-tilted-than-the-original accessory panels. I expect these were inserted to make it look more supportive up there. Or possibly by some time-traveling sadist who realized I would be COMPELLED to pattern match my stripes.

I also matched my stripes across the button loops. Oh yeah, I am crazy. But those are so pretty...

Probably the most crazymaking part of this.
The button loops were an interesting experience, and are probably going to be the first point of failure on this corset, which makes me sad. Turns out, there's no good way to sew that inner edge without the clever tucking machine that I don't have. Cording all of those with rattail cord was irritating, but nothing compared to the frustration of trying to feed those miniscule edges through the machine. In the end, I sat on the couch watching Downton Abbey and hand-sewed them.  I forgot of course that the fashion fabric is a satin woven polyester, which means that the friction of the button loops against the button shanks (hand dyed polyester ribbon) is already pulling threads out of the satin floats. Ohwell.

The best irony here is that I did this button-front type (instead of converting it to a more traditional busk style) because I thought it would be less work.  Well, I was clearly wrong. Even if I figured out a better way to make and place all of those button loops, the buttons themselves were a crazymaking job to line up, straighten, and then knot and baste in so I could actually then sew their protective panel down over them. I really want to know how this was originally done, because I was just making shit up here.  I don't want to know badly enough to take apart the original, however.

So there we have it!  And maybe, when I've actually put together the combinations I cut out on Saturday, there will be pictures of me *wearing* it.  It's not the prettiest thing, but it'll certainly do the trick.