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.

I was surprised from the beginning that there much discussion about fitting or choosing a pattern to fit.  The teacher sells her own corset pattern, which she uses for the class.  I went to look at that pattern, but it's only available in a very small range of sizes.  It's a 5 panel per side pattern with a very gentle, modern fit.  She does mention several other patterns, including the ever popular Laughing Moon 100, but most of them are historical in nature.  She recommends piecing the paper pattern pieces together to test the fit, something which I feel is unlikely to help very much.  She gives a brief demonstration of a bust enlargement and how to raise the front of the bust, which is something which will need to be done to almost any historical pattern.

But honestly I was shocked that she doesn't mention or recommend making a mock-up first.  If there's one piece of advice that should be universal for making a corset, it's to make a mock-up to test your pattern and adjust it.  She does show a fitting of the corset after it is constructed and before the bone casings are applied, with notes to adjust it if necessary, but that will only help if the corset is too large, rather than too small anywhere.  If someone discovers they need more room in the bust or more coverage at this point, they have to almost start over, and have wasted their expensive fabric.  So I wouldn't recommend following the class on that score.

Her presentation of corsetry supplies is very good, and it's definitely a plus of the format that students can see what everything looks like before they go shopping.  I wish she talked about alternatives to coutil, though, because since it's a difficult to find expensive specialty fabric, I don't recommend it for true beginners.  (I recommend starting with cotton duck, which isn't quite as nice in a few ways, but is readily available for at least half the price of coutil.)

The class on sewing the corset panels together is nice and she gives a lot of useful guidance on how to attach a straighter piece to a more curved edge.  The busk insertion is very nice to see on video because it can be a little tricky to describe, although she starts with the pin side instead of the loop side, which is opposite to how I do it.  (I find the loops have more tendency to shift vertical position during sewing so I sew that side and then use it to mark where the pins need to go.)  I find her method of doing the rear panel with a facing folded under to be really fiddly, although it does look neat when she does it.

Her fitting before adding bones is something that's ok to do if you're assembling a corset this way, but I find a proper fitting (in mock-up) requires bones to know how the corset is really going to fit.  So again, I think it's really important to make a boned mock-up to test your pattern and adjust it first.  There's no direction given in this class on how to adjust the fit if it doesn't fit, which is actually the most difficult part of corset making.

Ms. Smith shows one method of making bone casings through the use of a bias tape maker.  This is definitely one way you can do it, but I've never had a good experience with those tools.  Most corset makings I know (and myself) instead sew strips of fabric into tubes, press the seams open, and then affix these tubes to the corset.  I think it's actually much easier and more reliable that way.  The other thing I don't like about her bone casings is that they're made of one layer of silk with fusible interfacing and that's it.  No coutil at all.  I've heard of people doing it this way, but I can't believe a corset would last long with the one layer holding the bones in being interfaced silk.  I always use a layer of coutil with a fashion fabric on top if necessary.  I once made casings from duck and the bones wore through those in 4 months, so I never did that again.  (That's one reason I don't like this method unless I'm using excellent materials.)

She offers one alternate construction method which she calls using "run and fell seams."  Now this is a term I've never heard in my life.  I've never heard of a run and fell seam at all.  It seems to be the same as a flat felled seam so I'm assuming this is a UK term but I can only find a couple links that even use the term.  Anyway, using flat felled seams in corsetry is a thing that happens, but it's not at all common.  I believe it was used historically in single layer Edwardian corsets.  At least a couple of the Google results you'll get using flat felled seam for corsets are actually describing what is commonly called the Welt Seam Method or what I call the Folded Seam Method specifically to avoid this kind of confusion.   But that's NOT the method she is describing.  I've never attempted to make a corset with the seams she describes so I'm not going to get into that further.  But I'll just say it's a pretty uncommon method that I think isn't very beginner friendly.

And honestly that's typical of how I feel about this class and Alison Smith's teaching in general.  There are frequently things she says that either strike me as not exactly correct or that seem to just be out of touch with the way things are usually done in the online corsetry community.  I've been actively involved with discussion with other corset makers online for six years now, starting as a total newbie myself.  There's an entire website of corset making advice written by the best makers in the world (and, umm, me.)  And at several point in this class I felt that what Ms. Smith said wasn't in line with what would be considered "accepted wisdom."

There were a couple of historical details that she seemed to get wrong or at least misstate.  She mentioned that spoon busks were popular in Edwardian corsets.  That's actually not at all accurate, as far as I know.  Spoon busks create a curved stomach sillouette which was popular in the Victorian period (particularly mid to late Victorian?), which an Edwardian corset would usually mean an S-bend or "straight front" corset.  As you can guess the front is meant to be straight, with the curve being in the rear spine.  She also mentions S-bend corsets and bustles as things that went together, and that's just...not correct.

She later says "you'll never find a corset with a side seam" and that's so completely untrue.  Side-seams are extremely popular on modern corsets because they emphasize the side shaping and allow a more drastic silhouette.  This fantastic guide to corset buying takes the presence of a side seam for granted.

There are a lot of assumptions Ms. Smith seems to make about corsets based on her own pattern and perhaps some historical corsets that simply don't ring true in modern corsetry.  Her pattern is 5 panels per side, while most modern corsets are at least six.  She only takes one width of boning into consideration when there are at least three common sizes of spirals and even more of flats.

And I mean, ok, this is probably why experts shouldn't watch classes meant for beginners, because I found myself constantly saying "well, but..." as I watched.  I don't mean to eviscerate the class or the teacher, as I think it's actually a useful tool, especially for someone with no previous corset experience and who learns best visually.  This will definitely give you more confidence in approaching your first corset.

 But I think it's necessary to understand that this is only one way to do it.  There are probably as many ways to make a corset as there are corset makers, or actually more because I use several methods depending on the needs of the corset.  So do your research from other sources as well, and keep that in mind when looking to make your corset.

Understand also, it's in my financial interest for you to go buy this class, since I am a Craftsy affiliate and will get a commission if you buy any class after clicking my links.  So do I recommend that you buy it?  Well, I'd probably wait for a sale (Craftsy has lots of sales).

I'm taking another sewing class right now that is FANTASTIC so I'll post about that as soon as I finish watching it.

1 comment:

  1. I've had my eye on this class for quite some time but I think I'll pass now. I really don't deal well with instructors who teach one way only methods.
    Have you by any chance seen this one? https://www.craftsy.com/sewing/classes/custom-corsets-bones-casings-busks/60384

    BTW: Craftsy customer service is amazing. I have been unhappy with courses before that I either watched once or never made it through to the end and they've swapped them out for a different title. You could swap out the old corset course for this new one :)