Tropical Fishies corset

March 2007

At the Dickens Christmas Fair 2006, Lisa (middle daughter) was tempted by the corsets at the Dark Garden's storefront. She knew about Dark Garden because her sister, Rene, had bought one and Rene has waxed enthusiastic about how wonderful the Dark Garden corsets are.

Lisa is our purple child. All things purple ... and related to purple, such as lavendar, lilac, periwinkle ... belong to Lisa. If it's purple, it's Lisa's. As she wandered about the Dark Garden store front, she saw a purple-and-gold brocade sweetheart overbust corset. Naturally, she had to try it on. (She later related that if she hadn't see the PURPLE, she wouldn't have been tempted to try any corset on at all.) I think she was quite surprised at just how lovely she looked in it! (As the Mom, I wasn't. :-) )

I asked the store assistant how the corset was constructed and was surprised to find out it was an interfaced fashion fabric with boning channel tape on a twill base layer. I really expected coutil, seeing as I had just recently completed a corset-making course at Lacis in Berkeley, and it was impressed upon me that coutil was THE fabric to be used on all quality corsets. And trust me, I expected even this off-the-rack corset to be quality, seeing as it was from Dark Garden. (As I reflected later on this, I realized that any business would need to economize on their standard sized items simply as a cost-saving effort. Also, perhaps this type of corset might not be expected to be worn extensively, so that the construction materials used would be suitable for the anticipated use.)

But as Lisa didn't want to spring for the cost of the corset at that time ... and neither did I ... we left the storefront without, although, we kept thinking and talking about it!

It wasn't until I found the exact purple-and-gold brocade both online AND at Lacis that I offered to make Lisa that corset. I realized that the only experience I had with corsets was using Laughing Moon's #100 Ladies' Victorian Underwear and that I would need to modify it to have a sweetheart neckline. After extensive emails back and forth with my corset instructor, Carol Wood (she was most generous and gracious with fully answering all my various questions), I eventually came up with a modified Dore corset with the sweetheart neckline. This was quite an achievement for me, as I do not have any confidence and less experience in pattern drafting or figuring out how to make something look the way I want. If a basic garment pattern doesn't fit right, I can do modest alterations, but truthfully ... corsets still intimidate me. :-)

I didn't want to make the purple-and-gold brocade corset right off because if the newly redrawn pattern wasn't right, I was up the creek without a paddle ... and Lisa would be bereft of a corset. So, another test corset was needed. Fortunately, I had a corset that I never finished from my corset class ... in fact, I really hadn't come close to finishing it. I was able to salvage quite a few pieces from it for the test corset for Lisa and then cut the remaining other pieces.

The tropical fishie fabric was leftover from a long abandoned quilting project .... this fabric has been used in many different projects! This test corset has 3 layers: fused woven interfacing to the fashion (fishie) fabric; cotton drill 40 with boning channel tape for stability and a vibrant purple cotton lining fabric. When I was cutting this fabric out for my second class corset, I hadn't been thinking about matching any design motifs. Since the center front pieces were salvaged from the class corset project, regretably, the design isn't anywhere close to matching. Such is life and that's the breaks.

I had been able to obtain a copy of "The Basics of Corset Building" by Linda Sparks, which explains in exhaustive detail how to construct corsets in several different construction techniques; in fact, it reinforced the same techniques that my corset class used. One major difference, however, was the manner in which the seams allowances were dealt with. The book says to press the seams allowances to opposing sides (fashion fabric one direction; base layer the other). My corset class has us press all the seams open. The book's technique is one that is used in quilting to enable the fabric layers to nestle in place securely, and although I am VERY familiar with quilting, this wasn't what was taught in my class, so I was suspicious. But ... I decided to give it a try ... it just might work out well and then I'd have two ways of treating the seams. I'd never know if I didn't try it and since this was "just another" test corset, I wasn't adverse to some experimentation.

When all was said and done, I don't like the book's method of doing the seam allowances. I found it very bulky and the resultant curve wasn't as smooth as I wanted. But, this was a valuable lesson in any case ... now I know that I *don't* like it ... and the experience wasn't wasted. I will use Carol's open seam allowance method for the purple-and-gold brocade corset.

I was somewhat concerned about the boning over the bustline, but spiral bones seems to have solved that problem. Spring steel bones were used elsewhere. For this corset, I didn't want the fashion fabric layer to be marred by the boning channel seamlines, so I chose to float it. Because there are no seamlines visible on the front, it looks very sleek and the fabric motif isn't disturbed. Two part black grommets were set along the back but somehow I managed to misalign a couple of them. [sigh] Clearly, this is an area I need to pay more attention to! We decided to dye the white lacing a dark purple to coordinate with the fashion fabric. Eventhough I followed the dyeing directions about concentrating the dye for dark colors, the lacing came out a lavendar. I'm not sure if I didn't follow the directions properly or if the lacing wasn't 100% cotton. In any case, eventhough the color didn't come out as we had envisioned, we decided that the lavendar is just fine. A modesty panel was sewn to the inside of the back.

As an extra element of decoration, we found some pre-made beaded fringe at Joann's which coordinated with the colors in the fishie fabric. This fringe was sewn under the top binding. A green ribbon was threaded through the channel created by the top binding so that the neckline can be snugged up a bit, if required. The bottom of the corset has purple piping sewn along with the bias binding.

Since this color palatte is so far out of Lisa's preference, she didn't have anything to wear with it. Back at Joann's, we found a mottled green/yellow crinkle gauze that turned out to be the best choice for a skirt. We auditioned many, many other coordinating tropical colors and fabric choices, but they were mostly solids. We discovered that having a solid color below the corset simply looked like a big blob of color ... and an eye-popping one at that. The mottled crinkle gauze solved that problem by having not only texture but a movement to the color as well. Lisa eventually decided on a flared skirt (New Look #6597). As the crinkle gauze is so lightweight and translucent, I made a liner out of muslin .... no static problems (as with polyester linings) and the cotton of the muslin will breath right along with the gauze. [We haven't gotten a nice picture of Lisa with the corset and skirt yet but when we do, I'll post it.]

Now that I know the sweetheart neckline fits Lisa nicely, I have more confidence to cut out the purple-and-gold brocade. We've already chose a skirt pattern and skirt fabric to accompany the corset. So, now it's on to THAT project!