When Deb called me the other day and said “I want to do this Union Jack Corset, I’ve been talking about”, I replied with “When can we start?” We decided it would be a fantastic opportunity to document all the steps and procedures of project development and construction. A chance to share our knowledge with you guys.
Deb started with her own original corset block which she had developed for her teaching a few years back. It was developed from a Victorian corset shape, with a few changes to meet our current day requirements. The body was elongated and the shape was subtly taken out of the fetishism realm by smoothing the waistline thus fitting our taller 21st century bodies.
Deb chose her Victorian Corset shape for this project for several reasons. First of all 2012 marks the Diamond Jubilee of the reigning Queen Elizabeth. Queen Victoria was the only other queen to have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee, so it seemed fitting to use Deb’s Victorian corset block. Another reason for this decision was the fact that this particular Victorian corset offers very vertical construction lines, which is more accommodating to the Union Jack graphic. The original block as you can see in the photo above has godets at the bust. Deb has changed the pattern and incorporated that shape into the the three long over bust panels.
Pattern making always begins and continues to be a series of choices based on your final vision. Questions like “How will this linear graphic translate to a curvy three dimensional shape?” and “What construction techniques should I use?” must be answered.
To gather the answers to these questions, Deb started by drawing up a scale image of the Union Jack based on the notes of Julian Wiseman. Starting with a 3″ centre cross, and working from there, she cut strips of cloth to represent the sizes of the stripes on the flag and began draping them onto her existing corset. She quickly realized that she didn’t like that scale and so began the process again using a centre cross measuring 2&3/4″. As she draped the newly scaled down strips onto the mannequin, she also realized immediately that she would not be doing a symmetrical corset. That would be more predictable than what she wanted. With an eye to the possibility of further embellishment she wanted the centre line of the cross to fall over the heart.
Applique, piecing or screen printing? Applique decidedly changes the overall shape and smooth lines of the corset and would end up requiring a lot of hand sewing. Screen printing would be easier… but, would it offer the couture look that she desired as a finished piece? In the end after much deliberation, it was decided that the piecing method would offer the most vivid definition and the couture finish. Okay… now it’s time for a tea break.
The tea break is a very important part of the process. It allows you to come back fresh and able to see with new eyes, the choices that you’ve determined to that point and edit if and where needed.
Deb’s had her tea and is now ready to transfer the lines to the pattern that she’s already created. Then, making sure that the lines are all joining up at the seam edges and that all the lines are smooth transitions.
She then pinned all the pieces to the dress form to give a final check to the placement of the colour bands, the overall effect and because who can wait a minute longer to see how this thing is going to look?
From there, Deb created what we call a series of markers.
What’s the difference between a marker and a pattern you ask? The markers are small pieces that represent each different colour on each different pattern piece, generally without seam allowances. They represent the actual finished placement, shape or size. (for example the buttonhole marker would show exactly where the button holes go and what size they should be.)
It allows for much greater accuracy. Seam allowances will be added during cutting and the pattern piece then becomes the guide for how to put them together.
When making a pattern, you make many choices. There is no ‘one way’ to do anything and the more flexible you can become with your options, the better your results will be. Many factors come into play when making decisions, for instance, fabrics, machinery restraints, time factors, budgets and skill levels.
Here are the ‘stats’ for the final pattern. There are twelve ‘gores’ or panels making up the total body circumference and a 13th panel is for a facing that will bridge the gap behind the center back lacings. The finished measurements for the corset are standardized at 37″-27″-37″ (bust, waist and high hip respectively).
The colour markers in blue, red, and cream paper add up to a whopping 99 pieces.
With this many pieces to manage – the labeling of those pieces becomes CRUCIAL! Here’s the system that makes sense to us. It’s our trail of breadcrumbs back home. We often need to leave a project for a spell – sometimes that spell can be months (oh dear!) We want to be able to pick up, sort and begin again. We’ve learned that we cannot rely upon our amazing memories………so many details – so little brain.
Numbering from center front to center back each corset gore is marked 1 through 6. Facing is marked ‘Facing’. Because the colour chippets are asymmetric Deb labelled each one of the corset gores ‘L’ for left and ‘R’ for right.
An aside from Deb- “‘G’ and ‘D’ if you are working in French. (Don’t know why I said that – I never pattern make in French- but I did spend my teen years delivering the French newspaper in my neighbourhood……on a bicycle….even during those Ottawa winters).”
More about labeling. Each of the colour pieces are then labeled with the grainline; With respect to the grain of the corresponding gore, the Gore label (1R, 1L, 2R, 2L…etc) and an Order of Piecing number; numbered from top of gore starting at 1. Deb marked only one side of each pattern piece as it will be cut only once (remember this is asymmetric) – and in our patternmaking the default is that writing on a pattern piece indicates R.S.U. (right side up). We all create our own conventions.
Don’t breathe – until you have all the pieces safely in a container – don’t want any of those now 112 pieces to become airborne. (A basic t-shirt would be three pattern pieces and 1 marker for the neckline ribbing.) Maybe the custom screen printing would have been better? – don’t quibble now – get on with it.
They will be pieced together, then backed or ‘flatted’ onto a piece of coutil. The bone channels will be created between that piece and a corresponding piece of coutil used as lining.
There are plenty more ways to make a corset than this one. There are dozens of different ways to assemble corset pieces and the stiffening hardware that a corset encompasses – but hey – comes a point where you just have to pick one and do that.
After a first sample we usually tweak both the pattern and the technique for subsequent product.
This has been as close to a ‘play by play’ as I can get on what Deb’s doing. Any questions or comments, just leave us a message and one of us will get back with a response. Hope you’re enjoying our Union Jack corset building series and stay tuned for the next section on ‘foraging for materials’.