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.

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.

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