Tuesday, March 25, 2014

And Now, the Construction Post

Now that I've finished Lynda's bustier class, I alternate between thinking 1) my goodness, it's a small miracle that Elaine's wedding dress turned out as well as it did, because I didn't know what the heck I was doing, and 2) go me, because I actually made up something that wasn't too far off from what it was supposed to be! I learned so much from taking an "official" class, which makes me wonder what else I'm missing as a self-taught seamstress. Anyway, I thought some of you might be interested in seeing more of what went on to make this deceptively simple-looking little black top.

I left off with fitting the coutil/lining inside in my last (and only) construction post. This inner layer was just the pattern pieces cut in both coutil and a cotton quilting fabric for underlining, and then sewn together. I decided to keep things simple and just do boning channels over the seams. These channels were made from bias strips of coutil, 1.25" wide, which is enough to accommodate two 3/8" wide channels for 1/4" bones. I got my bones pre-tipped at Lacis in Berkeley, where they cost anywhere from $0.40-$1.00 each, depending on length. I've got a whole roll of spiral steel leftover from making Elaine's corset, but frankly, I didn't feel like dealing with cutting and tipping all twenty-plus bones myself. I really need to get me some steel cable cutters to make the process easier on my hands!

Lynda had us sew the inner layer with 1" seam allowances, so when I sewed my boning channels on, there was no awkward flapping of seam allowances underneath to get caught up in the boning. 
Zoomed out a bit, so that you can see how densely this thing is boned! According to Lynda no more than 3" should go by without there being bones. Because mine was a fairly small size with narrow panels, I could get away with only boning over the seams, and then one more set in the widest back panel. 

After sewing on the boning channels, I added the grosgrain waist stay, stitching it on only at strategic points. This waist stay is sewn to the inside and remains hidden, and only exits close to the zipper through two buttonholes. Lynda recommended a 1.5" wide ribbon, which is larger than my buttonhole foot can handle, so I had to improvise with a tiny zigzag stitch. To secure the waist stay, I went with my usual swimsuit bra hook instead of hooks and eyes. Whenever I have hooks and eyes at my back, they dig in uncomfortably and make me itchy. At this point, I also sewed in my zipper. It's a heavier duty 12" separating zipper, but still plastic.

Pretty good free-hand buttonhole, right? Except that the two sides don't quite match up...shhh!

Since the largest swimsuit hook I had was 5/8", it wouldn't quite fit on the 1.5" waist stay, so I had to add a tinier piece of petersham ribbon at the ends to make it work. 

After all the hardware that went into the inner layer, it was almost a relief to make the outer fashion fabric layer. Like the inner layer, it's two pieces of fabric: my black silk dupioni, underlined with flannel. The flannel provides some cushioning for the thin silk, so that all the boning channels and such don't show through. Lynda wouldn't allow us to clip the coutil seam allowances at all since it would create weak points, but with the outer layer, since it's not taking any of the strain, I notched away. Unfortunately, I had never learned that one should never notch at the same point on either side of the seam (it creates a hinge point), but now I know and I will never do it again! The most time-consuming step was then hand-stitching down all the seam allowances so that they would stay nice inside the garment.

You can see at the top of the picture the start of my shameful clipping :(

The final step was to put the two layers together. I don't know why, but I found this seriously nerve-wracking! With previous corsets, I've always sewn them wrong sides together and then bound the top, but this time I decided to go with a new-to-me method and sew the top and bottom right sides together, then flip it all right side out (this was tricky with all the bones in...good thing spiral steel is flexible!). This method creates a clean edge without having to fuss with binding, but it does create a lot of thickness due to the four layers of seam allowance + four layers of fabric! My machine was a trooper, though, and I only had to hand-wheel through some parts. The real last step was to topstitch all the way around, being especially careful at the zipper since there was a bone right next to the stitch line.

The only thing worse than trying to photograph black or red is trying to photograph black and red. You all know what topstitching looks like though, so I think you get the picture. 
All done! Much red! So cats! Very polka dot! Wow!

Pattern: Simplicity 5006
Fabric: 1 yard black silk dupioni, 1 yard purple houndstooth print flannel, 1 yard coutil, 1 yard quilting cotton
Notions: black plastic 12" separating zipper meant for jackets, less than 1 yard 1.5" wide black grosgrain ribbon, one 5/8" swimsuit bra hook, lots of spiral steel boning
Hours: At least sixty, spread out over a month and half. That includes fitting, multiple muslins, cutting and sewing four layers, lots of hand sewing, and lots of wibbling.
Will you make it again? Elaine went to Thailand and brought back lots of yummy silk in both her colors and my colors, so I think that means yes. I think new makes will take much less time, though, now that I know what I'm doing and have patterns already fitted.
Total cost: The fabrics listed above were $15, $8, $30, and free, respectively, the spiral steel was $13, and the rest of the notions were about $5. So we're looking at a $70 garment here, and that's just for the materials. No wonder why custom corsetry is so expensive!
Final thoughts: Um, I love it? It looks and feels amazing, if I do say so myself, and in black silk, it feels very versatile. If I pair it with a nice (normal) skirt, it makes for lovely formalwear, and black is a good base for many villain/superhero costumes. I want to do a Maleficent costume with this, even if I'm dubious about the upcoming movie. Mr. Cation was pretty thrilled about the Ursula costume too, so that was a plus!

Because nothing says Ursula like a satellite dish in the background, amirite?

So that brings me to my big question: would anyone be down for a bustier sewalong? I learned so much from this class, and while I had some idea of what I was getting into because of Elaine's corset, I have to say that a bustier/corset top is one of those things where it looks impressively scary, but is actually not that hard to sew when you break it down. Obviously, I'm not nearly as knowledgeable as Lynda, but I think it'd be fun to share the process in more detail with other seamstresses who might have always wanted to make one, but thought it was too intimidating. If people are interested, I'm thinking of running the sewalong during the summer, when I've got more bandwidth than the during school year. Let me know in the comments if you'd be interested!


  1. That is beautiful inside and out :-)

  2. thats an show stopper dress. I loved the inside view....

  3. Oh man! I was just thinking "This is such an awesome garment, I'd love to make one too, too bad I can't find a good corset-making class around here" and then you offer to host a sewalong! I would be SO grateful if you did. I might even have a blog by then, heh (I keep saying I'm going to put one up).

  4. That would be great! I've been wanting to try a more structured garment, but it always seems a bit overwhelming. I would love to learn from what you've learned.

  5. Wow, you did such a great job! It looks lovely! A corset is something that I would love to make - but yeah, its one of those items that scare me. If you did a sew-a-long, I would totally join!

  6. That is seriously impressive work!

  7. This is lovely! It's really fun to see the innards :)
    Great work!

  8. all the work that went into this is just stunning! i think a sewalong is a great idea. don't know if i would actually sew one (can't think of a single occasion that i would need a corset for...) but i would certainly love reading your posts on the topic!

  9. Beautiful top and outfit! I would love to do a sewalong. I'm actually planning to get started on Ursula's human form for a summer con soon :)

  10. I would participate in a corset sew-along! Would it have to be the same pattern, or could I use another pattern? I've been wanting to try one of Ralph Pink's corset patterns but I don't really know what I'm doing as I've never made a corset before.

  11. Gorgeous! I knew corsets were a lot of work but didn't know how much. I love the fun inside. I'm totally in for a sew-along.

  12. Ah, I would love a sew-along! I'm eyeing that pattern (with the zip moved to the side) as the top for my coronation Anna cosplay, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intimidated by the process. I love how yours came together (and what you did with it- costumes are just more fun!).

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  14. What a bustier!!! Gorgeous. Id love a bustier sew-a-long...Id love to see your construction tips from start to finish.

  15. I'm so, so impressed with how beautifully your bustier fits! Well done!

  16. I would love to read the sewalong! I'm not sure if I want to make a bustier at this point in time, but I would find it fascinating to see what you have to say about making one (and if I can come up with a good halloween costume that needs a bustier, maybe I'll sewalong, too!).

    Love all your posts. :) ~Kelly

  17. Hi Cindy, I love your "infrequently asked questions"! Would you mind if I pinched your idea and did something similar on my blog?

    Anna :) awilson.co.uk

  18. I'd love a corset themed sew along! Of course, I'm totally overbooked right now, so l might be limited to reading along instead of sewing along. But I'll cross my fingers and hope I can play.

  19. That bustier looks so amazing, and perfectly fitting. I would love to know how to make one, and would be very grateful for a sew along.

  20. So awesome, you did an amazing job on the fitting and the construction - and bonus cats!!! :D
    I'll totally join you for a sewalong, corset making has been on my to-do list for a LONG LONG time, and this would be an excellent introduction! :)

  21. pretty nice blog, following :)


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