Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Patch Corset Part 2: Construction and Finished Corset

Yesterday I talked about how I developed the pattern I used to make my patch corset.  Today I will go over the construction methods I used and mostly just show off the finished project.

Putting patches on the outside of a corset sounds like a simple enough concept, but when I really started to think about it, it wasn't.  I wanted the patches to be really firmly attacked and not in danger of peeling off, which meant I wanted to sew them to the corset.  Some of them are heavily embroidered iron-on patches, but some are just printed pieces of fabric that I wanted to attach with a satin stitch around the edge.  So I couldn't sew them on last, after boning the corset because I couldn't sew through the bones.  And I couldn't make my boning channels over the patches because it either wouldn't look good or wouldn't work with some of the thickest patches.  So I only had one option: I had to make the top layer (the one with the patches and fashion fabric) a floating layer.  It would have to be attached only at the edges, floating free of the corset core where all the boning is.

This really upped the difficulty of the corset.  I had to be very careful about the accuracy of my seam allowances so that the outer layer would match up perfectly with the inner layers, since they were stitched at different times.  I assembled the outer layer first, then laid out all the patches and sewed them on.  Some of the patches are both ironed on and sewn on.  I hadn't really considered some of the difficulties of putting patches on a corset.  Some of the patches were very stiff due to lots of embroidery and/or the iron-on material they were backed with.  That meant they didn't work very well on a very curvy surface like most of those on a corset.  The biggest problem patch was the largest, the square one with the map and balloon seen in the picture above.  The only place flat enough for that was right under my arm.   The butterfly on the front of the corset was also stiff, so I chose the flattest place I could.  I had to leave the front and back panels free of patches so I could put in the closure and grommets.

Core of the corset with top layer attached at front.
After I had assembled the top layer with all the patches, I started assembling the corset core, with the top layer attached at the front.  I used a layer of cotton duck with a lining of domestic (lower quality) coutil.  Since I was already dealing with one floating layer, I decided not to do a floating lining for simplicity's sake.  The corset is only boned on the seams, with 1/4" spiral steel bones.  The panels in this pattern are fairly slim, so I felt I could get away with only boning the seams.  If I had added an extra bone in the middle of each panel, the waist would be completely solid boning.  Since the corset was already going to be fairly thick and heavy, I declined that option.  Once I got to the back, I attached the top layer again and added my grommets.  For the flat steel at the back I wanted something  more sturdy than the 1/4" regular steels so I used 1/2" steels on both sides of the grommets.  For the front I had an unusual closure in mind, and I sandwiched my clasps between two heavy-duty extra-thick 1/4" steels.  This gives the front a nice stiffness, without it being uncomfortable.

On to my clasps.  Here they are.  I saw some corsets using this closure a few months ago, though the vendor chased me away from them when she saw me studying how they were attached.  I had been planning on using swing hooks prior to that, but swing hooks have become SO cliched on steampunk corsets that I was tired of seeing them.  These, I decided, were different enough to be really stunning. The only place I know that sells them is Tandy Leather.  They are not cheap.  I sandwiched them between two flat steels on each side and used rivets to attach them.  I am not 100% in love with how the rivets look, but these were the only antique brass colored rivets I could get in time to finish the corset.  These were a real bitch to install.  It's very difficult to get them set just perfect so that they meet over two steel bones.  They are also not really ideal for corsetry because the loop side of the clasp sits higher that the turning lock part, so the corset edges won't be flush.  It's not something a casual viewer will notice, but it's annoying to the corset maker and annoying when trying to put it on.  And it makes a front modesty panel a must.  They take some wrestling to get on, but they make a corset very easy to take off.  The turning part does sometimes get turned to unlocked while wearing but they don't pop open even when that happens.  They do add a LOT of weight to a corset and make the front panel very stiff.  Also, partly due to my errors installing them and partly due to the fact that my top layer is floating, they cause a lot of wrinkling and pulling at the front of the corset.  It really bugs me, but there was nothing I could do about it once they were installed.  In short, I wouldn't use them again, although I did get compliments on them and there was only one other person at the steampunk con I was at with the same closure.  (And COUNTLESS swing hooks.)

Once I had my front and back closures sorted out, I got to try the whole thing on for the first time.  And I was immediately unhappy with the straps.  I had made the straps widen at the top and I just didn't like the whole neckline at all.  I had been planning to drape beads or fabric from the straps across my upper arms, but when I let the straps fall off the shoulder,I decided I liked the off-the-shoulder effect much better than the straps.  So then I had to figure out how to make the off-the-shoulder sleeves, and how to attach them to the already completed corset.  I had to cut off the existing straps, which was quite scary.  After some experimentation, I found a style of sleeve I really liked and went ahead with it.  I really needed to add another bone to support the top of the back points, but couldn't figure out how to add a bone without messing up my patches.  I found that once I bound the edge of the corset, it was stiff enough to support the sleeves.  I'm VERY happy with the effect.  The only problem with the sleeves is that I can't raise my arms while wearing this.  Which means I have to take the corset off to do or touch up my hairstyle.  (Ask me how I realized this...)

Very quickly I will mention the rest of my outfit.  To go with the corset I made the cancan skirt and separate ruffled petticoat from the Laughing Moon 105 Saloon Girl Pattern.  I used a ruffler for the first time, and had to make so many ruffles that I think the ruffler stressed my machine out, so I had to STOP using the ruffler.  The skirts use a HUGE amount of fabric even before ruffles, but with the ruffles it's NUTS.  I used a thrift store bedsheet for the plain brown skirt and another bedsheet for the red petticoat.  The petticoat has ruffles on the inside and the outside, making it very nice and full. I didn't have enough fabric in a Queen sized flat sheet for all the ruffles, so some of them are from a black twin sized sheet I had.
Overall I'm very happy with this outfit.  There are small details about the corset I wish were different. It wrinkles more than I would like due to the floating top layer and the clasps.  But the effect from a normal distance is fairly spectacular, I think.  I really achieved my vision of combining the punk rock attitude of the patches with the victorian style of the corset.  The sleeves with the beads are really the perfect finishing touch that adds elegance to the look.  This was also meant to be a summer outfit, since all my other outfits include jackets and long skirts.  It is quite cool, really.  Even with knee high vinyl boots I stayed comfortable and at one point in the dealers room wished I had a shawl for my shoulders (will get on that!)
EDIT: I forgot to mention where I got all the patches.  Many of them come from my friend Denise at TaDa Boutique.  The rest mostly come from random etsy sellers.  The big Airship Octavia one on my boob I printed on my printer.  I was sad to see that the Red Fork Empire booth last weekend had some great patches, but it was too late for my corset.


  1. I love this corset! I was waiting to see the finished version when I first read about your making it. Although I have to confess, I was tempted to make a steampunk corset with those swing clasps...I won't anymore :)

    1. Well use the swing hooks if you really like them! They just got really popular really quick. :)

  2. This looks great! Don't worry about the wrinkles. :) ~Kelly

    1. I HAVE to worry about the wrinkles. How else do I eventually learn to make a wrinkle-free corset? :)