Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dress Diary: Steampunk Cleopatra: Final Corset

Oh boy.  This is going to be lengthy, I think.  Straight up this corset has been the most difficult corset I've ever made, and one of the most frustrating  projects.

Why?  Lots of little reasons.  First of all, because I was challenging myself.  At one point while struggling with the construction, after spending a day undoing the work of the day before, I moaned to my husband, "Why did I have to choose to recreate this weird, difficult, complicated corset?  Look at the picture!  I could just have made a plan black overbust and been DONE WITH THE THING."

So, before I started construction on the actual corset, I had already spent a few months working on the pattern and mock-ups.  That didn't annoy me, really, as I kinda expected it to take several mock-ups to get it right.  But I'm used to corset construction being a straightforward and relatively quick thing.  Yeah, not this time.

Corset completed with no embellishment.
So what made it difficult?  First because I was using a technique I've never tried before.  I fused the fashion fabrics to the inner coutil layer with fusible web.  It worked well, and the result is remarkably smooth, but it was time consuming and I ended up having to cut a couple of pieces twice because the web got wrinkled or bubbled.  I used WonderUnder web, the regular weight, not the heavy duty.  I don't think the results are TOO stiff.  But it does make for a very sturdy outer layer that isn't as easily manipulated and sewn through as normal.

Plus I made a poor call on my other layer.  I decided to add a second layer of coutil as a lining rather than using plain cotton or having a floating liner.  I made the decision because I wanted the corset to reduce as much as possible and, well, I just wanted it to be extra nice.  But I will never use two layers of coutil with a fused fashion fabric again.  I really thought my sewing machine was going to give out at times, and I ended up having some very annoying tension issues during the construction.  Those tension problems led to me having to rip out and restitch some of my boning channels since I was stitching in contrast thread.  I eventually had to give up on the idea of having all my stitches being perfectly even, because I could not get my tension to be right again.  (I've since gotten it right on other projects, but not on this incredibly sturdy corset.)

Waist Belt Detail.
The other major problem is the waist belt.  The original corset I'm basing this on was only boned with very light reed that could be stitched completely through.  I was sure I wanted to use steel bones and furthermore that I wanted my bones to travel the whole length of the corset rather than stopping at the belted area.  So I intended to make the belt separately and have it attached to the corset only by the eyelets.  I originally made the belt with the same construction as the rest of the corset:  silk fused to coutil, with a coutil backing.  Well it turned out that I couldn't actually get eyelets through that, plus all the layers of the corset.  It was just too think.  So I tried using brass rivets that I had on hand from my leather working.  Rivets are steampunk, I thought, they might even look better!  So I tried to rivet the belt in place.  That was a disaster. I couldn't get the rivets to set straight because of the weird bumpy surface of the corset.  I riveted most of one half of the corset before giving up in despair because it looked so bad.  So then I decided I had to UNRIVET it.

Color mismatch.

I don't know if you've ever tried to remove rivets once they're set, but it's NOT easy.  And of course it left big holes in the corset and belt.  So I had to remove the belt entirely and made new belt pieces.  This time I was trying to make them thinner, so I fused the silk to some fusible interfacing and backed it with my black fashion fabric fused to interfacing.  No coutil at all.  This made a belt which was more textured and wrinkled.  But I was able to use eyelets to attach it to the corset with relative ease.  The eyelets look much better than the rivets did, and the look is therefore closer to the original.

So finally I could finish the corset, after all my trials with the belt.  I added the last panel and grommeted it and laced it on...and it didn't fit.  I had taken some out of the back after my last mock-up because that one was almost totally closed at the waist.  Somehow this had a 5-6 inch gap and was uncomfortably digging into my back waist.  My only option was to reshape the last panel, since I couldn't touch the portions with the belt now attached.  At which point I realized I was out of coutil and had to order more.  I was honestly starting to feel like this corset was CURSED.

To make matters worse, I realized I needed much wider back panels than I thought, so I didn't have enough gold silk to make them.  I had ordered another 1/2 yard of the same color gold in a remnant sale from Silk Baron, but because it came from a different dye batch, it doesn't match.  At this point, I was ready to cry.  After considering my various options (make a black last panel, add a black panel before the gold panel but without a belt crossing it...I decided that using the gold that didn't quite match was the least evil option.  Finally once I finished that panel, the corset fit, although it still is digging in at the waist in the back, but I couldn't fix that due to the shortness of my belt panel.  In future make belt panels extra super long to allow for this kind of thing.

Anyway, the corset construction was finally finished and ready for my embellishments.  I was stressing extra hard about the corset being done, because I knew I had a bunch of embellishments to sew on by hand before my due date.  My original vision included raw brass gears and clock hands, combined with Egyptian elements along the top and bottom of the corset.  I order some excellent decorative brass gears from the etsy store Time and Materials and some tiny scarabs from another seller.  I had watch hands already that I use to make my clock hand hair ornaments.  Then it was just a matter of deciding on placement and attaching them to the corset.

All of the embellishments are attached with transparent nylon thread, and some are also secured with E6000.  I used the glue on the objects where the stitching would be super obvious or not very effective.  But I still made sure everything was at least partially sewn down.  The clock hands, for instance are sewn at the base and then glued on the thin ends.  My gluing technique could be cleaner, but some of these were difficult to secure, such as the rounded scarabs over the bone channels.

This is the first time I've done any extra embellishment on a corset, and besides the fact that coutil and silk fused together is very difficult to get a needle through, it wasn't as much of an ordeal as I thought. I finished everything over a weekend watching the X Games.

I'm happy with the finished corset, for the most part.  It fits well, with the exception of the back waist where it pinches and I was unable to fix that due to the length of the waist belt.  This corset is the most severely reducing corset I've ever made for myself, which I did intentionally for maximum effect.  The reduction is fairly comfortable, even knowing I gained some weight during my recent trip, but I don't know that I'll be able to wear this one for very long at a time.  I'm curious to see how it fits and feels after breaking in some.  With the two layers of coutil, this will take some serious breaking in, but I'm hoping the issue at the back waist improves with a little time.

The effect of the corset, at least from the front, is what I envisioned. so that makes me happy.


  1. This looks great! Really awesome, I love the combination of black and gold. :)
    I can probably imagine what you've felt during the making process... It's not cool to figure out that you've messed up and that there's not enough fabric/eyelets/something. :(
    But you concuered it all and the final result looks super :)

    1. Thanks, I think we've all been there where we just run into a huge snag with a project. Oh well.

  2. Wow, that does give a lovely hourglass shape. Can't wait to see the whole outfit!