Sunday, January 15, 2017

How to measure yourself for a corset!

This photo post is to help my clients more accurately measure themselves when ordering a corset from me.

  If you are a corset or clothing maker using this post to help your clients out, great!  All I ask is that you link back to my blog and/or Etsy store in return.
First things First!

Set yourself up a piece of paper/digital document, labeled and numbered like this:

Bust circumference (1) 
Front Bust (1a) 
Bust to waist(2)
Underbust (3)
Apex to waist (4)
Underbust to waist (5) 
Desired waist (6) 
Relaxed waist (6a)
Hips (7) 
Front hip (7a)
Back hip (7b) 
Waist to hips (8) 
Lap (9) 
Height (10)
Bra cup size (11)

Waist to top edge of corset (centre front) 
Waist to top edge of corset (side front--up over the nipple) 
Waist to top edge of corset (side) 
Waist to top edge of corset (centre back) 
Waist to bottom edge of corset (centre front) 
Waist to bottom edge of corset (side) 
Waist to bottom edge of corset (centre back) 

Do these just over a light, fitted t-shirt or camisole, etc. and DO wear your most favorite bra that is NOT A PUSH-UP BRA. (or the bra that will put your bust where you want it for this look.)  A t-shirt moulded-foam bra is fine, we just don't want the extra padding a push-up bra gives because it will throw off your corset and look real funny when I make the corset and don't put any padding in it.

You can measure in inches or cm, whatever is more familiar. (just let me know which it is. ;)
Now that you're properly attired:

Tie a string or ribbon around your natural waist (naturally smallest part of your middle--for most, it's around the bottom of the ribcage but could be almost up under the bust for others). Not too tightly, just snug, and horizontal. This will help you to take the vertical measurements accurately. Move around, bend from side to side and so on until it sits comfortably as low as possible.

Remember to stand naturally with your weight evenly distributed.

Now! Take 3 pictures for me before any measuring happens.  Standing naturally front, side and back wearing the aforementioned bra and clothing.  Here's mine for reference:

Measurements, here we go!

Bust circumference (1) - Around the fullest part of your bust/chest, with the tape straight across your back.

Front Bust (1a) - the part of your bust circumference at the front of your body; from side-seam to side-seam over the fullest part of your bust in front. Like this:

Bust to waist(2) - Measure at your side from the waist tape up to the level where you took your bust measurement.

Underbust (3) - measured along your bra band, directly under the bust.

Apex to waist (4) - measure from one nipple (ie. the fullest point of your breast) down to the waist tape at the side front, over the curves, not straight there.

Underbust to waist (5) - measure vertically from your bra band to the waist tape at the side front.  Like so:

Desired waist (6) - Suck it in and pull the tape tight! Alternatively, measure your relaxed waist and take away your desired reduction from this value. (This is usually 2-4" for beginner corset-wearers, and anywhere from 2-8" for fuller figured or experienced tightlacers). 

Also please measure your relaxed waist (6a) so I know how much of a reduction it will be. :)

Hips (7) - Measure around your hips at hip-bone level.  (Usually we don't need any lower than that. Only if you're getting a corset that's going to extend down that far [not likely].)
   Note how far your measurement is below the waist tape.

Front hip (7a) - The part of your hips at the front of your body. Measure along your hip line again as above, from the side seam on one side to the side seam on the other.

Back hip (7b) - This is just [your hip measurement] minus [front hip], so you don't need to measure it again unless you wish to double-check.

Waist to hips (8) - The distance down your side from the level of the waist tape to the level where you took the hip measurement.

Lap (9) - Sit on a hard chair (like a kitchen or dining chair) and measure from the waist tape at the side front straight down to the point where your thigh meets your torso. This measure will help to ensure that the corset doesn't extend too low here so that you can sit down in it!
Height (10)  I'm 5'9", for example.

Bra-cup size (11) .  This one helps me a lot with distributing the bust and thinking about support.  Mine is 34E in the US sizing, for example.

Finally, for the following seven measurements, measure vertically from the waist tape to the point where you'd like the edge of the corset to be. (over the curves, not straight there). [Don't worry if you're not super confident about these; even a ballpark number helps me, and we can trim or add to the edges at the prototype stage.]

Waist to top edge of corset (centre front)
Waist to top edge of corset (side front--up over the nipple)
Waist to top edge of corset (side)
Waist to top edge of corset (centre back)
Waist to bottom edge of corset (centre front)
Waist to bottom edge of corset (side)
Waist to bottom edge of corset (centre back)

Yay! You are measured! pat yourself on the back and have a treat, my friend.

                                                     *              *             *

For the people getting 18th century stays, I don't need all of these.  Only the....

Bust (1)
Front bust (1a)
Bust to Waist (2)
Waist (6a) (just measure the natural waist here, indicate desired waist also if wanted [1-4" reduction])
Side Length:  From waist up to armhole-height, like so:

Height (10)
Bra-cup Size(11) [please indicate US/UK/other sizing method]

That's all! Thank you :)

Monday, May 11, 2015

1913 Drecoll Dress - Titanic-era dinner party

This is my version of a most beautiful dress in the Met Museum--see the original here:
It is also in the High Style book, which is where I first saw it.

Some of my material choices were different; because of costs, and personal choice (squirrel fur was not gonna happen on that belt, haha).  

This dress was made for two events that were really close to each other: A ladies tea at my church that had a fashion show (where you see the above hilarious pictures with that speaker up in the corner), and a friend's wedding the next weekend.  I knew I wanted to be comfortable, and it had to be done quickly and cheaply, so here I was going for as much of the silhouette and effect as possible but not actually completely recreating the dress.

For the Skirt:
First I made a really simple little pencil-skirt sort of base out of some black taffeta I had already, because I knew I was probably going to need some kind of base to tack the drapes in the skirt to.
    For the outer layer, I went with the wrong side of a crepe-backed black satin (synthetic) to get the closest look to that black charmeuse.  Just one layer, roll-hemmed all the way round, with a seam up the center back.  I tried to do that drape about 5 different times before I arrived at a shape I liked.

There were a few attempts at actually recreating that drape on the original dress before I realized that each side was not all one piece and the funky hip panniers were a different piece of fabric.  That's where I decided to deviate and do my more gentle swoopy skirt drape that also didn't have to be done in multiple pieces.  But I did like the back pickup and the pointed train, so I kept those.
The Top, working from the top layer down:  

 Found a vintage net on Etsy for the over-the-shoulder part.  Synthetic chiffon, covered in appliqued flowers that were printed on voile, is one layer down. under the chiffon is the base-layer, which is made of a cotton lawn I also had laying around.  I did hand-crochet some lace trim (using an 1890s Weldon's pattern) that got sewn onto the neckline of this layer, but it's barely visible!


My muslin for the top! :) This was drafted from a standard bodice sloper/block.  here, it's just an inner and outer layer; I didn't make any muslin-layer for the top black netting.  Instead I just measured from the points where I wanted it to attach up over the highest/farthest point of my shoulders.
I was pretty pleased with the muslin; it did almost exactly what I wanted in the first go! Just needed to re-shape the sleeves a bit and refine the shape of the half-circles.
You may notice there is no corset in these pictures :) I really wanted to be able to wear it with just a bra, since my shape is not really all that much changed by a corset and this is kind of a relaxed dress anyway.  But later on, when trying on the real dress, I did put a corset underneath and just having a flatter line from bust to waist changed the look so completely that I now wear a corset with it. *sigh*.This is why foundation garments are important, even if your shape isn't drastically changed or you don't have to support a huge and heavy skirt!
Making the top:

I searched around for a pre-printed voile or lawn yardage, but nothing had the right scale of flowers, in the right colors, AND the right background color! So I ended up fusible-spraying some white curtain stash fabric to a piece of paper and using it in my good ol' inkjet printer to print me some flowers.

The flowers were then cut out and whip-stitched around the edges onto the chiffon layer, like so:

After all the top layers were together, they got sewn onto the black half-circles that make the front and back bodice, and then the whole thing got put together at the waist seam.  It closes with a black invisible zipper at the center back, and a few hooks and eyes on the delicate layers just above where the zipper ends (didn't want black zipper-tape up there!).

I applied a rhinestone trim to the neck-edges by whip-stitching it on.  This was the jewelry kind of rhinestone where each has its own metal square setting with a little metal bar that goes into the next setting and they're somewhat collapsible, but pretty twist-proof.

The belt I made out of a dark brown velvet with an orange back that gave it a VERY rich tone.  I originally had planned to close it off in the back with hooks and eyes, but it ended up being long enough to just tie in a bow and I liked the security and flexibility of that better.
The brooch in the middle of the velvet belt is another Etsy find :) just a little paste-gem thing.  I wanted something with a rounded or fan edge to echo the bodice seaming, the way they pointed out in the High Style book.

Overall, I really liked how this dress turned out!

Regrets:  I do wish I would have gone all the way modern and just fusible-web-bonded the applique flowers onto the chiffon, as they (of course) immediately started to fray and come off in a few places.
It also would have been nice to find a net with a more obvious flower-pattern at the edge, and perhaps use a bigger or closer-together rhinestone trim at the neckline edge.
I also realize, looking at the pictures, that I made the waist really low.  However, I don't know if it would have worked to raise it on me...perhaps the original wearer had a much higher natural waist, closer to the bust and farther from the hip? I actually run into this problem quite often with historical silhouettes....surely there were some skinny girls around then, right?

I am in love with the skirt! It's so light, super fun, and I have more mobility than any other period dress.  Now that I know it's a pretty flattering shape, it makes me want to do some kind of high-waisted harem-pant--especially with summer coming up.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Blue Medieval Dress (~14th century cotehardie)

The finished pretty pictures :) Taken by the lovely Bermuda Jill of Smite Photography, on a semi-cloudy day in Evergreen, CO, USA.


This dress was made to wear to the Renaissance Festival. I had 3 parameters:

(1) I wanted something period (while not renaissance, medieval garb is also accepted)

(2) Something not crazy expensive/taking forever to make

 and (3)  I wanted to not be a thousand degrees sweltering hot while wearing it.

This led me to a style of dress I thought I could pull off well, made of Linen (wow, is it the BEST fabric ever to wear to faire! Never going back!).  I remebered that Tasha Kelly over at La Cotte Simple had made some tutorials on how to drape a cotte on one's own body, which I had always wanted to try.  This was the perfect opportunity!

You can see all the tutorials, here.  I used the curved-front seam method, as the straight-front seam method gives more push-up to the boob area and I didn't want that.

Since I have access to pattern-drafting software (really just a drawing program that works on an x-y axis) at work, and didn't want to try to wrangle that big piece of fabric on my own, I decided to take the darts out of my sloper, give it huge seam allowances, and then further fit it on my own body with some pinning and slashing.  
Also, I use the Patternmaking for Fashion textbook by Helen Joseph-Armstrong.  Many helpful tricks in there!

 Below are pictures of what I started with, and what I ended up with (the smaller and weirder-looking pieces are what happened after I had fit them on my body).  

The sleeve on the left is what I started with; on the right is the final sleeve.  The elbow dart was combined with the button placket that runs down the back of the forearm.  Thanks, clever pattern-drafting book!

Let me tell you, it was quite the puzzle; but I did manage to fit this entire dress on a 3 yard piece of 54" wide linen!  Awesomely economical.  I used a lightweight linen from  Also I cut a lining for the bodice from hips to shoulders out of a stronger linen; the Euro linen suiting from 

I decided to do a mix of hand-sewing and machine sewing.  I wanted it to look not machine-sewn but also be very durable (as I thought perhaps a mid-to-lower class woman's cotte would have to be), so I cheated where I could ;).  The seams themselves are sewn by machine, but then felled by hand. I didn't want the stiffness that machine-felling can sometimes bring. 
 All the edges except the hem are finished by hand, and the eyelets were done completely by hand.  The buttonholes are sewn by machine :) Haha.  That many buttonholes is too much crazy for me to do by hand, and I thought the effect would be much the same.

 My seams were sewn in the usual 5/8" manner, and then finished as below...

sewn, treating the bodice lining-linen as 1 piece with the self (outside) fabric

(1) trimming down 1 side of the seam allowance to about 3/16"

(2) pressing under the edge of the longer seam allowance and folding it over

(3) hand-whipstitching that folded edge down to make a beautiful finish!

Where the triangles were inserted (in each seam), one felled seam simply ran over the edge of the other and continued up the body.  This picture is of the hip area.


This was my  center-front edge.   It was folded over 1", then the raw edge was pressed under by another 1/4" and hand-whipstitched down.  I used an awl to poke through and some silk buttonhole twist thread to make *drumroll please* 56 eyelets in total!!! It took a couple of afternoons, going about 5 minutes per eyelet.  

The sleeve and neck edges were simply pressed 1/4", rolled to the inside twice, and hand-whipstitched down.  The hem was machine rolled by pressing up 1/4", stitching, then rolling that up by 3/8" and stitching that down too.

 If I made another one I would use Tasha Kelly's sleeve draft.  Mine didn't have enough lift to be really comfortable in the shoulders. I could drive in the sleeves, but they definitely couldn't lift higher than that.   I would also give myself a tiny bit more room in the back-shoulder area and across the chest; it was a little too tight!  Lesson learned. :)  There may be an over-dress made for this in a navy fabric, so stay tuned!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Final pic and more construction

 So, it's a camera-phone picture.  But here it is! :)  Later on after I fix a few things, I will take better pictures of the outfit (including back views and such).
 I wore the thing to the Colorado Symphony with my lovely husband.   I also made the shirt, vest, tie, and tailcoat that he is wearing. 

 I think last time you saw it, it was only in the muslin stage.  So I started with a base of underlined pink satin--just a simple 6-panel skirt with the bit of train-swoop in the back.

 For that tulle apron, I just pinned and draped until it looked like I wanted it to, and then I attached the lace to the edge.  It is all one 4-layer piece of tulle yardage; there's no seam on the right hip.  Just the left hip, where it goes into the zipper closure (*gasp!*  I cheat.  I also used a serger to finish all the skirt seams and edges...but I'm pretty sure that if the Victorian seamstresses had owned sergers, they would have used them!).

For the big pink ruffle at the bottom, I actually did not gather it at all. Instead I made a 7" tube of satin, lightly pressed it, and pleated only the top edge to the skirt.  It made a fun, dimensional effect that I really liked.  After that, I added the crazy pipe-organ ruffle above it, like so...

I would pin one edge, using my finger for a spacer, then pin the other edge to match.  It's 4 pieces of tulle treated as 1 piece.  It definitely took longer than expected, but I got faster near the end!

The back drapery piece is simply a very giant rectangle, underlined in muslin and edged in lace, like so:

 And then I pleated it onto the back waistband area, before actually attaching the waistband:

I cheat :) It has an invisible zipper at the left hip.

I picked up a few points in the middle of the drapery piece and tacked them up near the waistband to give it this effect.

On my original sketch, I had planned to put fabric roses and leaves on the shoulder tips, at the hip, and wrapped around that layer of pipe-organ pleats.  But I decided that the rose garland I had bought was just too overwhelming, and so it only was applied at the hip, where the zipper is.

The bodice!

It's boned with non-period 1/4" rigilene.

Rigilene can be sewn through by machine, so it is a breeze to install because all you have to do is run a big long stitch down your seam allowances and it's in! No casings, no tragic snapping of basket canes, no cutting and tipping of spiral steel...*sigh* it's pretty nice.  And I use it here because I thought it would be the best way to get the silhouette I wanted.  It's flatter than steel or cane, and somewhat heat-mouldable as far as curves.

As you can see, the bodice is underlined with muslin.  The eyelets are all poked with an awl, then just whipstitched with a nice buttonhole twist thread around the inside edge to hold them in place.  When finished, it will lace up the back and the edges will meet (so there's no skeezy corset-effect of skin showing).

Which took about 2 hours, I believe.  Not too bad!

The little cap-sleeves were just rectangles of tulle.  I pinned them till I got the effect I wanted (nice and bunchy at the front and back and underside, but tapering away at the top of the shoulder), then stitched them down on the inside armhole.  The velvet bows were made by cutting lengths and stitching them together, then applying it to the dress in the same vein (small whipstitches and tack stitches).

Yep! That was pretty much it :)  There were originally plans to use a lot more of that velvet ribbon on the back, but after pinning it on, I decided I liked the simple seam lines on their own and that the velvet was overwhelming.

There was no petticoat worn underneath, just a good corset and a modern slip.  I did wear these fantastic vintage shoes....

And the gloves are kid gloves from the 1950s (never worn before I wore them, apparently! They still had the tag).

Total pricetag: ~$150.00
Total Hours: ~ 40 
Seeing many old people smile: Priceless

I may in the future actually do the extra work of adding the velvet ribbon strapwork on the back of the bodice, and all the extra flowers.  I think they would take it from my modern idea of Victorian into really period Victorian--but it's just a little over-the-top for my very simple sensibilities.   I learned quite a bit about skirt shapes and working with satin from doing this dress, and had some fun trying out the new and strange ruffles.    I don't know if I would make another one for myself, but I'd be happy to do one for a client.

Thanks for following the journey of this dress!   Stay tuned; there are plans for a medieval-inspired dress in the works, and Sabriel is still slowly progressing. :)

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sabriel's bell set

The Abhorsen would be lost without her bells!  For those of you unfamiliar with the story, the bell set is meant to work as a sort of counter-necromancer's tools.   Each bell has its own name and function (which you can check out on this extra-nerdy wiki page.  Keeping the dead down, instead of raising them up.   Stopping the zombie apocalypse. ;)


Aren't they pretty?!  

My bells were all random ceramic bells bought from varied sources (Etsy, eBay, and even a random Kansas gas station).   They started out as shown below:

I used 3 different products to get them all nice and silvery:  (in order of application): Some model-car paint color (2 coats), Liquid Gold Leaf, and some spray-on clear varnish.

 DO NOT use your best, most favorite brush for this project!!! But get something that won't shed stray hairs every moment.  I think this brush was an acrylic brush from hobby lobby.

The first thing is to clean them of any dust, etc. and temporarily remove any clapper-like devices:

The biggest bell had that weird chain/washer situation because the handle was wood and therefore removable, but most had a bit of wire with a ceramic knocker/clapper.

Then paint them with the silver model-color inside and out, letting it dry between coats (I waited about a day usually):

After the model-color is dry, apply the 1 layer of silver-leaf paint (the bell here on the LEFT has silver leaf, the one on the right just has 2 coats of model-color).  I propped the edges up with that bamboo skewer to let the inside get some air and be able to dry completely.

If you ever need to clean silver-leaf out of your brush...nail polish remover and dish soap got most of it out.  But the bottle recommends Xylene.

At this stage they looked quite nice and shiny! But the silver-leaf needs some kind of protective coating in order to not get tarnished from your handling.

And they're done!
It doesn't show up well in this photo, but the clear-coat I used had sort of an antiquing effect on a few of the bells.  It would settle into the crevices and turn a darker gold color.

The best part is that I can ring all of the bells. C:  And they sound totally pretty.  Not quite as good as a real brass bell, but still pretty.

The next part here is to make the bell bandolier that holds all the bells!  I like the cover below the best for design, but I think I would turn them 'round so that you would open the flap and grab a bell by the clapper from the bottom edge of the bandolier instead of the top.

Stay tuned for more progress as I work on this long-term project!