March 31, 2014

Corsetiere's Course - Off to a Great Start

The Corsetiere's Course started today! Our students will spend the time learning as many aspects of corset building as I can fit into the schedule. Everyone has different reasons for taking a course such as this, and our class this year is no exception. Some want to take this course so they can make custom corsetry and others take it for personal growth and enrichment of their sewing skills. Still others want to start a ready-to-wear line.

We started the day with talk about the materials for making corsets - after all, a corset without a busk is like a jacket without a zipper. The busks allow the wearer to fasten the corset in the front and tighten the laces in the back. The seems to be a shortage of ladies-in-waiting these days, so it is best if you can tighten your corset yourself.

In the photo from left to right - wide busk, nickel, gold, black, bronze and a spoon busk. Busks in our store are available in lengths from 6" (15 cm) up to 16" (40.6 cm) in finishes of nickel, gold, black and antique bronze. Lots of choice here.

Next we moved on to boning. Lots of sewists think that garments with boning is too advanced for their sewing skills, but that's not the case. Boning is not difficult at all.

I did a boning display for them - plastic whalebone, covered, uncovered, spiral pre-cut and tipped,  spring steel and solid steel. Can you identify them from the photo below?

The back of a corset needs to be laced up. Here are three different methods you can use. There are two types of pre-made grommet tape available but they are only available in white and black. That's fine if your corset is white or black. However, if your corset is turquoise or red...what's a girl to do?

The answer is to set your own grommets. We sell two sizes - the most common size is #00 which is 3/16" (4.7 mm) inside diameter and the size #2 which is 3/8" (9 mm). The smaller size is the traditional size for traditional corsets while the larger size is used for more costume effects, such as those worn by pirates, wenches and Octoberfest maidens. Oh yes, they are popular in Steampunk circles too ( I love that look!)

We finished our day with a sort trip to the fabric store down the street, just to get them thinking about the fabric they will use for their first corset. They have to make a decision by tomorrow morning. Sounds easy, but there's a lot of choice at the Textile Centre!

So stay tuned (or better yet, follow our blog) to see what happens over the next week!

March 29, 2014

Once Upon a Time - 1934 Advertising

Woohoo! Look what I found - a full page ad from the Montgomery Ward catalogue from 1934. You can see here what typical undergarments for the contemporary woman looked like. Brassieres (the bra), girdles (shaping below the waist) and corselets (bra and girdle in one) were fairly new developments at that time.

You can see that the "brassieres" on this page had darts for shaping - only one used horizontal seaming. They all used hooks and eyes - no zippers. Even though zippers had been invented, they were't popular in girdles and corselets as the teeth were still made of metal.

The fabrics are mostly described as "sturdy cotton faille" and all are boned. Two of them are made of Rayon (a very new fabric at this time). I am actually surprised that these were offered in colours - tea rose and pink. Don't think I am complaining - I love pink!

Best of all - can you believe the prices?

Once Upon a Time - Overwire Basque

Here's a great vintage find - an OVERwire bra (as opposed to an UNDERwire bra) that one of my students brought in to a class. The length goes past the waist to the hips, so is it correctly a basque, or just a bra? It definitely has bra cups and it fastens with hooks and eyes in the back, so it's not a true corset. I've put it in the Basque category.

The really cool thing about this basque is the support system. There are no wires underneath., but instead the wire curls from the side seam on one side, over the breast to the bridge area, across the bridge at right angles and back up and around to complete the second side. 

When it comes to engineering, this is a suspension, rather than a cantilevered structure. The overwire holds the fabric back to the chest wall. I love the plunge, too!

The cups are made of rigid lace (no stretch) with horizontal three-piece cup seaming. And they are quite pointy (tee hee!).  I am often accused of making my bra designs with this classic profile, so I am glad to see this!

The seams of the body of the bra are quite interesting too, with a chevron effect made from the lace and main fabric. Although the solid colour fabric looks like silk, I don't think it is. The loops on the bottom would be for detachable garters. They are a lot wider than the garters of today: 3/4" (18 mm) as opposed to 1/2" (12 mm) today.

The back panels are made of strips of power net on either side of the solid fabric, and I don't know if the power net discoloured over the years, or whether it was always that colour as an interesting contrast. Some mysteries are not meant to be solved, I guess!

Hmmm... this lovely vintage basque has got me thinking...maybe I need to hunt down a supplier for these overwires. I think there would be a market for them! Anyone agree?

Swim Masters Digital Fashion Show

Today was the final day of the Swim Masters class. This is a 5 day class for students who already know how to make swimwear, so it truly is a class in which you can master swimwear.I often hear "why does it take  5 days to make swimwear?" The short answer is "it doesn't" but in reality, once the students see what can be done, they will kick things up a notch, and another and another. All I can say at the end is WOW!

Lets look at what they did the last few days. We started off the week with a trip to two different fabric stores. The we came back and settled into the business of sewing the basic tank, or maillot (pronounced My-Oh). We fitted everyone for the pre-formed swim cups (MU style) and they learned the basics of lining, elastics and Lycra.

Here's one of the pattern they were given as part of the course - the Denise Swimsuit by Pin-up Girls. You can see there is a tank and a princess line suit and two different backs

Even though the instructions for the first assignment were for a basic tank with a scoop back, those students just HAD to add some glam to this project. Erin's  tank looks like liquid gold!

 Naomi couldn't resist adding lace to her tank.

Lizzie made a stunning glittery gold and black stripe tank

Holly made a tank with glitter as well, then after a few days she put a skirt on it! She assures me she will cut the skirt shorter!

Later in the week, they were asked to make a princess suit - with a bra back and a free-floating bra built inside the suit (which meant they had to sew up a bra from swim cup foam). Even with the added challenges of the new suit, I should have known this group couldn't make a plain ol' princess! 

Although you can't see the detail of the fabric, apparently it is a reflective print, so Naomi can be seen in the dark! She did some ruching in the centre front. ("please, please, please, can I do some ruching?" is what I heard!)

Lizzie decided on a striped fabric, which she cut on the diagonal to make perfectly matched chevrons. This fabric was a real challenge - I am not sure I would have stayed with it but she did. She even did a "Brazilian scrunch" (otherwise known as Bum ruching) in the back! Once you let one student do ruching, the gates are open for everyone!

And more ruching, from Erin. She couldn't resist, ruching the whole front panel, and turning it into a modesty panel in this great retro print.

Holly added glam in this iridescent print. She added something else too, but I will save that for later!

The students all agreed that although the pre-formed swim sups were nice enough, once they experienced the built-in free-floating bra, there was no going back! Wait until you see what they did next! 

I told them they could do a triangle bikini and two of them did just that. Erin made a super neon spandex bikini for her sister, but has since claimed it for her own! She will make her sister another one

Lizzie made her triangle bikini out of this lovely and colourful fabric she found on our buying trip. It is not finished as we had "issues" with the new industrial cover stitch machine.

Would you believe that Naomi and Lizzie bought the same fabric? Naomi made a pullover princess crop top, fully lined with the shorts to match.

And they kept on sewing! Naomi made this suit for a friend of hers. It's plain black with a sparkle print for those lovely back straps!

Plus, she made this tankini for her mom. She used black banding to finish the neckline and armholes. She is definitely drawn to the princess seaming, isn't she?

 For Naomi's new challenge, she made a retro suit with bra cups visible on the outside. Some call this a Bombshell suit, but I just call it Retro. Look at the piping detail! Naomi changed the seaming on her bra cups to line up perfectly with the princess seams. Gosh, I love polka dots!

For Naomi's final project, she made a balconette bikini. She had to draft the frame for the cups and she certainly did a great job on this pullover bikini!

Meanwhile, Erin wanted to play with separators, and after making a sample so she knew what to do, she went on to start this great bandeau top. This is a solid neon colour bandeau.  It's not done yet, but she is off to a great start. The separator is in, and the frame underneath is made up. She just needs to drape the fabric over the cups. Honestly, this was a very challenging project, and the picture does not do it justice at all. it really does look amazing!

Lizzie was busy too, making a longline bustier style two-piece suit. She made cut-and-sew cups from foam, and covered them with the fabric. She added colour blocking and high waisted bottoms to go with the top.

Here is the back of the same suit. There is boning all though  the front as well as the section at the elastics, to keep the elastics from collapsing. The three elastics all come together into a clicker at the centre back.

For Lizzie's final suit, she fussy-cut this great fabric to make a Retro suit with bra cups. She still has to put the straps on it, but she agreed to model this for us!

Holly cloned her  favourite tank top. While not "technically" a swim suit, it was made of spandex fabric and it DID have a bra built inside. Not a great bra but a bra nonetheless. By using her own bra pattern inside, she was able to made the original much better. She wanted to colour match the inside bra to the outside fabric! We did the fitting and she will finish this at her leisure.

Last but not least, I will show you the back of the project Holly was working on. It is a suit that was inspired by a Roman Toga, and the detail is in the back. This was a monumental challenge as there is a built-in free-floating bra, plus those draped panels had to be arranged  and pinned in place, and the suit taken apart on several occasions to make sure all was well.

These four students made some wonderful suits, but they also made new friendships and challenged their abilities along the way. They all came away from this course with the skills to tackle whatever swimsuits they choose to sew. As always, my students teach me along the way too. Holly, Lizzie, Naomi and Erin - big hugs and Thank you to you all!

March 28, 2014

Yellow Polka Dot Bikini - Grand Finale

Now that the binding is finished, the bottom band can be sewn on. Cut a strip of fabric at least 10" (25 cm) longer than the total width of the two cups. We are going to use elastic across the bottom, so the width of the strips should be two times the elastic width, plus two seam allowances. It can be cut wider now and trimmed later if you aren't sure of the width.

Press the strip in half lengthwise to mark the centre line, or mark the centre line with a wash-out marker.

Position the elastic (I used bra strap elastic, but almost any elastic will do) along the centre line and stitch it down with a wide three-step zig-zag. This will hold the elastic securely yet still allow the elastic to stretch .

Once the stitching is done, mark the centre of the elastic. This will be the centre front of the bikini.

Next mark a seamline (shown in blue) the width of the elastic away from the edge of the elastic. 
Also mark the exact width of the cups on the strip by pinning the strip to the cup and marking the ends.

Both cup edges are marked as well as the centre front.

Fold right sides of the strip together. Pin from the mark at the edge of the cup to the end of the strip on both sides.

Sew from the marks at the edge of the cups to the end of the strip. You will be sewing close to the elastic but not on the elastic. (We need to turn the tube that is formed - right side out) This tube will be the back of our bikini.

Close the ends of the strip. Only the middle section is open. You can trim off the excess seam allowance (if there is any)

Turn the ends of the strip to the right side. I used the Turn-it-all (the Stick and the Straw) that I described in my post here in order to turn the ends. Clip to the seamline at the edge-of-cups-marks.

Here comes another great use for a glue stick! I used it to hold down the seam allowance to the elastic. You can see where I marked the seam line on the opposite side to make it easier to sew in the next step.

Pin the un-sewn edge of the strip to the cups, matching the centre front mark and the two end marks with their corresponding places on the cups.

You can see now why marking the seamline was a good idea! Stitch along the marked line

Once the front is sewn, the back will turn to the inside very easily and can be pinned up so you can stitch-in-the-ditch. Having the seam glued down makes the back nice and neat for this step.

This is what the back will look like. We need to create the tube for the straps to travel through. This is such an easy back to make and it is a treat to wear.

Fold the end of the band around the strap and stitch the end down. Cut off any excess band if you feel it is too long. This is a fairly thick area to stitch down. Walk the machine on the top edge if you think your machine will give you any trouble.

I've sewn the other end of the straps to the small rings I attached the other day. The straps will criss-cross across the back and through the opening in the band you just made as shown below. This is the most comfortable back (not to mention - the most adjustable) back you have ever tried on a bikini. Unlike a halter, there is no pressure on your neck. Plus the straps will NEVER fall off your shoulders. It is easy to untie, too if you want your back bared for tanning.

The final touch is to tie the strap into a knot right at the end. I stitched down the loose bit by hand, just because I like them to look like those Chinese ball buttons (only in miniature!)

Oh yes, you can use a damp cloth to erase any of the marks from the wash-out marker. Now, it is time to say, "TA DAH!" Your bikini is finished!

March 27, 2014

Yellow Polka Dot Bikini - Binding the Edges

The yellow polka dot bikini is almost done! In this post, join me as I share how I bind the edges of a foam cup (the triangle cups from Bra-makers Supply to be exact) without using any special machines, just an ordinary ol' straight stitch.

Cut some strips of spandex fabric at least 4 times the width of the finished binding you wish to have. It doesn't matter if the strip is wider, because we will trim it off later. But don't make it too narrow or it will cause you grief.

Stitch the binding strip to the front edge of the foam cup. Let the edge of the binding strip extend beyond the edge of the foam cup about 1/8" (3 mm). (You will see why in a moment) Stitch with a 1/4" seam from the foam side as shown here.

You can see the little edge better here. That happy face pattern weight belongs to Erin in our Swim Masters class! 

What's the reason for the little edge? Sometimes when you zig-zag the fabric to the foam, the fabric for the binding will show every lump and bump caused by the zig-zag. By having that extra fabric roll over the foam cup edge, it makes for a much nicer and smoother looking edge.

Roll the binding strip over to the inside of the foam cup and smooth it out over the edge of the foam cup. Pin it in place. Stitch-in-the-ditch in the well of the seam. That's a bit tricky but you can do it! There are special stitch-in-the-ditch feet you can get which makes a neater job of this but I find that sometimes they can "drag" spandex fabric and cause bias wrinkling. Not good. 

This is what it looks like from the outside

And from the inside.

Trim away the excess fabric with applique scissors or trimming scissors. Don't worry, spandex fabric won't fray. Here's the front edges of both cups finished.

Apply the binding to the other side edges in the same way. (The bottom edge will be treated differently). Let some fabric extend over the top. That's where we will fasten the rings that hold the straps.

Thread the fabric tail through a small ring and stitch it down to secure it. I have to admit, I did not like the look of machine stitching on this cup, so I hand stitched it securely. (well, I hope it will be secure!) 

You can see how close you can trim the binding to the stitching. Tomorrow, I'll share how I do the bottom band and our bikini will be able to go to the beach!