Tuesday, July 26, 2016

McCall's New Steamy Patterns - Early Fall

M7439 - Misses Gathered Skirts and Flared Skirts with Belt - This is a cute little pattern with several skirt variations.  There are versions with and without a tier, with a high-low hem, large patch pockets, and the shaped waistband with or without decorative buttons.  It's the waistband that makes this steamy and while not quite full enough for true Lolita still gives it a steampunk lolita feel.  
M7457 - Men's Embellished Jacket, Pull-On Pants, and Cravat.  So this seems to be the first pattern from a VJ Dunraven Productions pattern line.  If, like me, you're wondering who VJ Dunraven Productions is, they apparently shoot romance novel covers?  And now they make patterns?  I have to share that information with you, because I want to inspire the slightly bemused reaction in you that it caused in me.
This pattern is very costume-y.  That's an insult in historical clothing circles, fyi.  I'm not sure this is really accurate to any particular historical period, though it's vaguely Regency and vaguely early Victorian.  If you were to wear this to most historical costume events, I'm afraid it wouldn't be much of a success.  The construction of the costume is also very theatrical.  The pants are pull-on with an elastic waist and faux buttoned front.  The jacket velcros shut and all the buttons are merely decorative.  It's an effect that can be very effective in photos or stage, but tends to look fake in person.  
But this is a steampunk blog, and I'm not at all married to historical accuracy in either style or practicalities.  I personally would probably try to modify the top to have some kind of functional closure because velcro annoys me.  It seems to always LOOK fake and cheap when worn, though it's certainly practical for theatrical purposes.  But I think this could be used style-wise for a steampunk costume, certainly.  The pants definitely would be a useful addition to most steampunk gent's wardrobes.  (But if you have a fake drop front you can't use that flap for what my husband uses his for: holding a flask.  Protip right there.)

The cravat is a Regency style long cravat that is meant to be worn as pictured, wrapped once entirely around the throat and then tied on the second wrapping.  

M7456 - Misses' Seamed Jacket, Stirrup pants, and Cape - So this appears to be yet another Once Upon a Time costume pattern from McCall's, who has already done two patterns inspired by the costumes of the show.  I thought I'd just point it out, and the jacket could work for steampunk, but I don't think this is a must-have pattern or anything.  
Finally, the latest "wave" of Cosplay by McCall's patterns are out and only one of them has real steampunk interest: Spectral.  It's a version of a costume from the film Crimson Peak.

 I like it, but I'm not sure how much it translates to a useful generic steampunk costume.  It's a nice Victorian nightgown though.  And maybe the outer gown could be modded a bit, too.  If you like leg-o-mutton sleeves, this is for you.   :)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Craftsy Corset Making Class Review

If you've been following this blog for a while, or happen to have adblocker turned off (which I'd appreciate of course), you may know I'm a fan of Craftsy.  There's a lot of sides to Craftsy: you can sell and buy sewing patterns there, list projects, buy supplies etc, but mostly they have a lot of really professional online classes on a really wide range of craft-related subjects.

And while I'm always interested in browsing through the weirder sections of the class listings (So many things to do with metal! And did you know there are cooking classes?), I really am only interested in the sewing classes.  I've taken several in the past and learned A LOT.  I taught myself to sew out of books and the internet, so there are a lot of holes in my knowledge.  Or things I had to figure out by trial and error that hey, someone has right here in a class.

A few months ago a new class went up on Corset Making, and it got a lot of interest from my readers and people in various corset making groups.  I wanted to check it out, but I also knew that I was unlikely to learn much from the class.  Corset Making is one thing I know a lot about.  I teach classes on the subject, after all.  I've spent years reading everything I could find on the subject.  So I didn't want to spend the money for the class.

Luckily, Joann's shared a link for a free Craftsy class in their newsletter.  And I jumped on it, and chose this class for All of You.

So I've now watched the whole class.  It's presented by Alison Smith who runs a School of Sewing in the UK.  It seems she's been teaching and making corsets for a long time, but she's not someone I'm familiar with from the corsetry world.   In general her presentation is clear, and like all Craftsy classes I've encountered it's well put together, shot, and produced.

One up front criticism I have of this class is that Ms. Smith presents what she is teaching as THE way to make a corset and rarely offers any alternatives to her method or materials.  So if you want to make a corset using the materials she uses and the construction method she uses, this is a good class.  But it's important to know that this is only one of a myriad of ways one can make a corset.  I wish that was made more explicit in this class.

This class teaches a corset with single layer construction and external bone casings.  (Although she shows both single layer and a corset with one strength layer and one fashion layer, the construction is still functionally single layer since there's just one strength layer and no lining.)  This is a historically accurate method, especially in the late Victorian and Edwardian period, but it's still just one possible way of construction.  It's fairly lightweight and may not be the best for corsets which will get heavy wear, be tightlacing, or need extra sturdiness for other reasons.   There is very little discussion about any of these factors in the class: it is very much about construction and not fitting or designing.  All the example corsets have a very mild shape.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

New Patterns of Interest - Steampunk and DC and Doctor Who

Hi guys!

I've had a lot going on both personally and professionally.  I have had a stream of corset commissions, which is GREAT, but it's kept me busy in the studio.  I haven't had a chance to do much sewing for myself or work on any new cosplays or designs.

There are two newer Cosplay by McCall's patterns out, but only one of them is going to be of much interest for steampunk.

And that is Notched, a men's Victorian styled overcoat.

It's an attractive coat.  But I have to say that I think it's a bit of a cheat to call this two views.  It's the same exact coat, with the same exact button placement and pockets and everything else.  The only difference is that one has a contrast binding and one does not.  So the pattern is exactly the same but the instructions are slightly different.
The back is really nice looking as well.  The skirt is nicely full, which you don't always get in men's modern coats.  

Of course this pattern isn't only good for Victorian or steampunk clothing.  It would be good for several Doctor Who costumes like the 10th Doctor or Jack Harkness.

So, based on what I can tell from looking at the pattern (which was generously sent to me by McCall's) this is a nice pattern, if an overcoat is what you want.  I do think it is a little limited, since it's basically just one item.  

But if you live in a cold climate, a good coat is an important part of your steampunk wardrobe so it may be worth it to you.

Simplicity has a new line of DC bombshells patterns.  They're not steampunk, but I think the retro/pin-up style is of interest to my readers, so if you haven't seen them, here they are.  

Supergirl - I love the flare of the skirt on this one.  

Wonder Woman - I love the retro shorts, and think you could almost use them for steampunk with the right outfit.  

Batgirl - This is fun, with the utility belt (which hey, you could also use for steampunk!).

Here is a man's DC costume for the Joker.  Of course it's also an outfit that in other colors/fabrics would be perfectly steampunk. 

There hasn't been a mainstream tailed coat pattern, so this is good. Unfortunately, it doesn't include a pattern for the spats in the photo.

This Doctor Who costume is interesting.  It's a strange combination of Doctor Who and steampunk without really being either one.  It's fairly basic, especially the skirt and pants, which are both elastic waists.  I do really like the bolero.  The corset on the dress outfit doesn't do anything for me, shape-wise. The interesting thing is that the vest on the left is actually a corset with laces in the back.  But I'm not entirely sure how it works from the line drawings.  

And finally, I just really like this dress/style.  And on first glance, I thought this was an intentional Dalek dress, but I'm pretty sure it's not.  I guess I could be wrong and it's a faux Dalek and the blue one is meant to be TARDIS-y.  But those are flowers.  I guess it could be really undercover geeky.  

And I've decided this length of skirt is what I want to wear all the time.  It's about the length of my cancan skirts, which are my most frequently worn steampunk items.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Cosplay by McCall's Pattern Review: Belle Rogue and Belle Noir

 I was excited to get a close look at these two new patterns because I think they have a lot of potential for steampunks.  I'll start with Belle Rogue because it's my personal favorite.

First the tulle skirt.  Everything about how the skirt is put together and made makes sense.  There's a lining under the tulle and an elastic waist.  Really the more I look at this skirt, the more I want to make myself one.  Now I just need the money for a metric crap-ton of tulle.

The detachable train is a little more disappointing.  It's made from pre-ruffled chiffon, so basically it's just a piece of fabric shaped into a train with a bow.  It's not exactly something most people would need a pattern to figure out.  I like it ok as a design feature, but as a pattern it's fairly useless.

Then there's the corset.  I said some pretty negative things about this corset based on the photos, but I do have to take some of those back.  I was totally surprised to find the instructions for the corset construction are actually...pretty good!  It's got a floating fashion layer, which means the bone casings aren't sewn through the top layer.  The base lining layer is constructed with seam allowances pressed to one side of each seam, and the bone channel sewn into the seam allowances.  You'll note this method avoids the problem I had with the other corset patterns from this line, the weakness of pressing seam allowances open in a corset.  If I were going to make a corset with a floating fashion layer, this is how I would do it.  In fact, I have done this.

The pattern also recommends using spiral steel boning and gives good tips on cutting boning yourself instead of buying it pre-cut.  The top and bottom edges of the corset are put together in a non-typical way.  The floating layer is sewn to the top and back right sides together and then flipped, so the edges are finished without binding.  I've never tried this, but it is a neat option for a corset with a floating top layer.  The bottom is then sewn closed and there is a large pleated ruffle that goes over it.  I would almost definitely still bind the bottom edge to prevent fraying and just for neatness sake, though the pattern doesn't call for it.

I like the ruffle and bows (which are removable or movable as they are attached to pin backs) on the bottom of the corset.  It definitely adds a lolita flair and helps the corset blend into the skirt.  So all that is fine, in my opinion.  The only problem I still have with the corset is the shape of it.  It's not very curvy.  The panels are really pretty straight up and down other than at the very front of the bust.  So this might work ok for a thin, straight figure, but would be uncomfortable or poor fitting on anyone curvier.  And I haven't tested the sizing, but I'd imagine you can safely go down two sizes from the recommended size for the corset portion.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New Simplicity Steampunk Sewing Patterns (and a bit more)

It's all sewing patterns all the time around here, but there are lots of exciting things coming out from pattern companies now that they've figured out costumers and cosplayers are their best customers.

Simplicity has a bunch of really interesting new patterns.

First up, this pretty darn awesome design from Lori Ann Costume Designs.  The one on the left has an obvious Jane from Tarzan feel, but in general this is a nice generic steampunk design.

The pattern includes a double layer long skirt with ruffles, a hi-low skirt as seen on the left, a bustled overskirt, and a smaller rear bustle as seen on the right.  So two different long skirts and two different bustle styles.

Plus the really very lovely corset.  There isn't another yoked corset pattern out there, and this one looks curvier than the corsets in Lori Ann's last patterns.  I'd of course like a closer look at the corset pattern before making a judgement.

My only concern with it is that it seems to be too high to be an underbust, so it's trying to be a weird hybrid of underbust and mid-bust.  Which in my experience tends to lead to uncomfortable fit and usually also immodest or unattractive spillage.  So if I were making it, I'd probably cut it down to make it fall under the bra line like a proper underbust.

Next up is this very interesting set of "Misses Alternative Fashion Sportswear Pieces."  That description makes me chuckle because I think Simplicity wasn't sure how to classify these pieces and neither am I.  They are basically steampunk underwear, but mostly too decorative not to be seen.  The black set is pretty close to some historical early 20th century underwear, really.  And the pale set is cute, but really strikes me as something meant to be worn under something.  The brown and black version, though, is very definitely steampunk and could make a super cute summer or beach outfit as-is.

I realize my reactions to these as skimpy and something I wouldn't ever wear in public makes me old.  That doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of young ladies who can pull these off.  OR some of the pieces would make very nice options to wear under skirts.  The bloomers are super cute, and I can see them working great for burlesque costumes as well.  So while a bit bemused, I'm happy to see this pattern.  And maybe some of y'all just need really goth or steampunk gym clothes.

I REALLY like this Rockabilly/Lolita dress pattern.  These are both styles and subcultures I admire greatly from afar.  So I love both versions of this.  I like the fullness and length of the skirt, not to narrow or too short.  I know there are some Lolita purists (ok, maybe a LOT of lolita purists) who will be quick to say this isn't Lolita because it's too low-cut.  Well you could always wear something under it if you are concerned about breaking the rules.  Personally, I'm a steampunk so as soon as someone tells me there are rules, I want to break them.  I'd really love to do a steampunk version of the Lolita dress, actually....I wish I had time for all my ideas.

So Simplicity has added to the rapidly increasing number of mainstream corset patterns with this "Easy Waist Cincher Corsets" pattern.  I'm a little wary of a corset pattern labeled "easy" as that smacks of poor quality construction. And the pattern calls for featherweight boning, so my fears seem justified.  (NEVER use featherweight or Rigiline.  If you're looking for cheap, easily available boning in plastic, use heavy duty cable ties, please.)  The shape of these is okay, I guess.  But honestly, if you can buy a plastic boned corset with this shape for $15, why bother making one?  If you're going to make something, make it right.  Spend a little more money on materials and time researching corset construction.  

And then I'm stepping a bit outside normal steampunk period for a bit to share a couple of other new patterns that might be of interest.  American Duchess has released two patterns inspired by the first season of Outlander.  These are really pretty nice modest 18th century outfits.  I've been watching the show recently and admiring all the costumes so I appreciate the existence of these patterns.  
Of particular interest to me and my readers is the undergarments pattern, including some really lovely stays.  There aren't nearly enough patterns for 18th century stays out there, and the ones that exist aren't very good, as I discovered last year. Moreover, the designer has promised a detailed series of tutorials on her blog on how to use the stays pattern with more historically accurate techniques to make really accurate and lovely stays.  
Personally, I am thinking more and more about bringing steampunk aesthetics and philosophies to other time periods of costume and dress, and 18th century is very exciting to me right now between Outlander (which I watch almost exclusively for the costuming), Hamilton the musical (I'm super obsessed) and a French series of mysteries I've been watching called Nicolas Le Floch.  So again, I have more ideas than time to make, but I'm thinking very seriously about some Rococo punk.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Cosplay By McCall's Pattern Review: Shapeshifter

Y'all know I get excited about new corset patterns.  There are a lot of corset patterns out there but not that many I would really consider "great."  There's a particular shortage in underbust patterns.  So having this new Shapeshifter pattern is pretty exciting.

If you remember my earlier post on the topic, I was hopeful for the two new corset patterns because they are designed by Kelly Cercone of Anachronism in Action, whose work I have admired.  But I was still a little hesitant because I know that pattern designers don't really get a say in sizing or instructions, which are even more important with corsets than with other patterns.

Once I got my hands on the pattern I was excited to see this is actually two distinct corset patterns.  One has large hip gores and one is a more traditional straight paneled corset.  The version with the hip gores appears to be made for a more curvy figure than the other.

So here's a confession: I've never made a corset with hip gores. It's something you see a lot in historical patterns, but not so much with modern corsetry.  And I've just never felt a need for them or had reason to play with them.  Plus patterning hip gores to match measurements is a little tricky.  So I was interested to use this as an excuse to play with hip gores.  Plus I felt the hip gore version was more likely to fit my large hip-spring.

So I decided to test the gore version, View B.  And to get an accurate idea of how the pattern fits, I followed the size chart on the envelope to choose my size. Normally I always recommend going down two full sizes when making a corset from a Big 3 pattern company. But maybe this would be different.

First, let me clarify that unlike the first three patterns in the Cosplay by McCall's line, the two corset patterns come in two different size ranges.  6-12 and 14-22 it appears.  This feels a bit cheap to me, given how little pattern tissue is actually in the envelope.  They could have easily included all the sizes and still had less tissue than some of the first group of patterns.  When the prices are $21.95, I would feel a bit ripped off by not getting all the sizes.  The main competitors for a pattern like this, an indie company like Truly Victorian includes all sizes for $16 or so.  On the other hand a lot of corset patterns on Etsy only include one size, so I guess it depends on your basis for comparison.

First mock-up.  High class bathroom mirror selfie.
So my measurements best fit size 22 by their chart.  So I dutifully cut out size 22 for a mock-up.  I used some plain cotton because I was running low on cotton duck, which I use for mock-ups for my clients.  The stronger the fabric you use for a mock-up the closer it will be to your final corset, but this was good enough for me to get an idea of the fit and sizing of the pattern.

Closed all the way.
I'll talk about the instructions in detail in a minute.  I did follow the instructions for inserting the gore.  That was a little tricky.  Gores are always tricky, which is why I generally don't recommend them for beginners.  It's a curved seam and in this case there aren't a lot of guides to help you line up the pieces correctly.  Luckily the instructions told me to clip the main corset body along the seam, or I'd never have managed to get the gore to fit.  So it IS a little challenging, but I think that's the nature of gores.

Side view that shows how much it gapes at the top.
One thing I noticed about this pattern is that all the sizing is done on the front and rear panel.  The three side panels and the gore are the same for all the sizes in this envelope.  I understand why it's done that way, but it's a little different from what I'm used to.

So while my mock-up was pretty rough, with thin fabric and the bones stuck in with masking tape (good tip for fast mock-ups!), it told me what I wanted to know.  This was way too big.  It closed with no effort and wasn't reducing my measurements at all.  It was particularly big at the underbust, shown in the side view where I could have taken out an entire panel.

So I was not very surprised to find this pattern holds to the overall rule that Big 3 corset patterns run large.  They continue to add ease into the patterns despite the fact that corsets need negative ease.  However, I did like general shape.  So I did what I normally would have done from the beginning and went down two sizes, this time going with size 18.

You can see there's already a pretty big difference in shape from the back view.  And the gap is pretty perfect, really.  My mock-up is pretty beaten up by this point, and the taped in bones are barely holding on, so that's why there are significant wrinkles and some bunching up.

But overall, this was really comfortable and I think it looks pretty nice.  I'm surprised it fits me as well as it does.  Now I could take some more in at the waist and get a more extreme reduction.  This is actually a pretty relaxed shape for me with the waist sitting higher than I normally place it.  So it's not cupping in under my ribs.   But this would make a good light lacing alternative to my self-drafted underbust.

So yeah, I'm quite happy with this.  So much that I'd say it's pretty likely I'll go ahead and make a corset for myself with the pattern.  (If I ever get time, that is.)  Again, this is with no modifications, just the standard size 18.

Now let's talk about the instructions included with the pattern.  Both this pattern and the overbust Laced use the same basic construction method.  They have you assemble the layers of the corset separately by sewing all the panels of each layer together, then pressing the seam allowances open and stitching 3/8" away from the seam to form casings from the seam allowances.
This is not a method that I am very fond of.  I've only made a corset once where I pressed the seams open and double boned using the seam allowances.  It was a very pretty corset, but the second time I wore it, one of the seams on the back ripped open when I leaned back in a chair.  I had double-stitched each seam, knowing this wasn't the strongest method of construction, but it still failed in a massive way.  Because when you press the seams open like this, the only thing holding your corset together is the thread of the stitches. And because corsets have so much tension on them, this isn't the best idea.

This is one reason I love the Folded Seam or Welt Seam method, because the seam allowances are all pressed one direction and each seam is stitched through all the layers in three different places.   But that method isn't possible for all corsets and some people don't like it for various reasons.  The gore version of this pattern wouldn't work with the Folded Seam method because not all the pieces run from the top to the bottom of the corset.  So what I would do for this style corset is use bone casings placed on top of the seams, either on the interior or exterior.  When you center a bone casing over a seam and then stitch it down on each edge, the bone casing is taking some of the strain off the seam and reinforcing it.
From thecuttingclass.com

The other thing you could do, would be to make this corset as instructed, but have two layers of strength fabric.  Press the seam allowance to one side instead of open, (as illustrated by the closed seam picture to the right) and topstitch through the seam allowances next to the seam.  This reinforces the seams as well.  Then combine the layers and stitch your bone channels through all the layers.  To avoid more bulk on one side of the seam you can press your top layer's seam allowance one way and the lining/strength layer seam allowance the opposite way.

When working with several layers of corset that are combined at the end, it's important to be very precise when stitching, keeping your seam allowances exactly even so that when you lay one layer on top of the other, all your seams line up.  This is one reason I try to avoid making corsets this way, because any slight differences in seam allowance width can lead to wrinkles in your finished corset.

So, the instructions are okay, and seem pretty detailed and clear, but it's important to know this is only one of many ways to construct a corset, and, in my opinion, not at all the best way.   As a final detail, the pattern includes pieces and instructions for making a floating boned modesty panel.  It's essentially exactly as I make them, and it's a nice detail that I haven't seen in other corset patterns.

So that's my look at this pattern.  I've only tested and tried one version of the Shapeshifter.  View A appears to allow for less curve and smaller hip sizes and less difference in the waist-to-hip ratio.  So I like that there are two silhouettes included in the pattern because certainly body shapes differ.

I'm curious to see what the overbust Laced pattern looks like put together as well, but I simply don't have time to try that one at the moment.  I'm a little disappointed to note that while there are three views of Laced, the only apparent different in them is the shape of the top of the corset at the bust. Unlike this pattern there aren't two different silhouettes, which would, in my opinion, make the pattern more useful.