(If you do not want background and the “fun extras” about me and my process, skip down to “THE BEGINNING OF THE TUTORIAL.”)
–This is a long tutorial because it’s for two pieces—the corset and the skirt. This tutorial assumes the sewer is very comfortable with sewing basics and understands sewing jargon.–
I have four women in my life (outside of family) that I would consider my “best friends” and, because they are my best friends, I would do anything for them. So, when Jo, whom I have known since our freshman year of high school, asked me if I could make her bridesmaid outfit for a Steampunk wedding, of course I said yes!
But hold on, what the “f” is Steampunk? Yeah, I was confused…but, of course, the All-knowing Google gave me over twenty-two million answers :). Think Victorian Era. Now, put yourself into the shoes of someone living in that time and imagine what the future would look like, such as H.G. Wells (The Time Machine) and Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) did in their fiction. That is Steampunk. Victorian Sci-Fi. Like the music video for Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
Can you tell how excited I am?! I love costumes, I love Victorian fashion—so much so that Jo and one of the groom’s sisters are wearing shoes I own that fit into the style perfectly— and I love a project that allows me to develop my skills.
So, on a cold Saturday, the bridal party met at a costume shop in Batavia, Illinois called All Dressed Up Costumes, and I was allowed to tag along. OMG, if I had known about this place when I was in high school being a drama dork a singer/actress contemplating a career in the arts [rolls eyes], I would have driven the almost-hour to work there or even just to hang out! We were there for a while, relived our old high school days, and I forgot for about five minutes that I’m a mommy :). Jo picked out a lot of different outfits and pieces to try on and decided on a corset, short skirt, short-sleeve peasant top, and an over-skirt/bustle/train piece. Of all the pieces, Jo liked the over-skirt combo, and the shop didn’t have anything she liked in colors that would match, so that determined what I would be making:
and the piece she rented from the costume shop determined the color palette.
A trip to Vogue Fabrics in Evanston, Illinois was as successful as I had hoped, and we were able to find two gorgeous fabrics. I am especially excited about the darker of the two (it looks black but it’s actually a very, very deep navy blue that matches the overskirt PERFECTLY), and the teal-ish complements the two blues in the overskirt and will look fabulous as a corset with black lace over it.
And takes us to THE BEGINNING OF THE TUTORIAL! This is going to be a multi-part tutorial (probably three) because I’m going to take you through my entire process. My process begins with research (see above—all hail the omnipotent Google!). Once that was out of the way, next comes inspiration (the trips to the costume store and the fabric store), and then comes the pattern.
Most of the time, as in this case, I use a piece of clothing I already own to develop the basic pattern. I just happen to own a corset (used for a costume) and a skirt with a Victorian-inspired style and silhouette, so I used both.
The skirt fit perfectly, so I used it for both size reference and style reference; the corset was the right size, but I needed to restyle it, so I had Jo put it on and I pinned pieces of muslin around the top and bottom and simply drew lines on it where I wanted the new lines to be.Then, I got out my muslin and got to work.
I took the corset, attached the eyehooks in the front and took the laces out of the back because this is my intention for the new piece to keep it more authentic. Using chalk, I number each section/panel of the corset on the wrong side.
Determine the real waist by looking at the wrong side of the fabric and looking at the grain. There is a point closer to the bottom of the corset where each section, stitched together, has parallel grain lines. It is also the point from which the boning will begin to curve. Mark this line.
The blue pin is showing the Y (up and down) grain and the red pin is showing the X (left and right) grain; these lines meet at 90 degree angles, so you know your fabric is straight. The line below the red pin that is parallel to it is the waist line
Lay the corset on the muslin and line it up on fabric using the real waist as the straight line AND as the starting point for each line.
As with above, the blue pin shows the Y grain and the red pin shows the X grain so that we know the fabric is straight.
Here you can see the corset lined up on the muslin, the pins are parallel to each other, and the waist line is running parallel to the X grain (red pins), so it’s all lined up properly!
Trace each section. Hold each section of the corset at the real waist and starting here, flatten the top curve down against the fabric and trace; repeat, starting again at the real waist and go down. Be sure to do both sides of each panel in the same way. Number these traced panels to make your life easier later.
Extend the top and bottom of each panel the appropriate amount, if any, and be sure to follow the same curve when connecting the dots. The series of pictures below illustrates the instructions above:
This is where you would also make adjustments to the style of top or bottom. I made this corset to have a dip at the bottom to complement the shape of the front panel of the overskirt and a large hill-like shape on the top center to balance the shape of the bottom. I did this by adding an extra panel in the front (labeled FRONT), and this piece is cut out on the fold so that the front center of the corset has no seam. When you are done, you should have something similar to this, depending upon what you are using for your inspiration.
Cut out your pattern from a double-thickness of muslin.
Lay out all of the pieces to make sure everything is going to line up properly.
Now, because this is just a mock-up, I didn’t pin anything. I simply lined up each piece together and sewed using the seam size I am most comfortable using (which is a ½ inch).
Here’s what I got 🙂
Jo came over for a fitting and, well, I hit a triple on the first pitch. It would have been a home run except that I have to add two more inches to the top edge and two inches to the back closure and move all seams over about ¼ inch. And that was all on the first try :). Starting was a bit daunting because I’ve never made a corset. That’s why I started with this piece—I was convinced it would take the most time and be the most difficult. Not so much. The skirt, on the other hand, was definitely more time consuming.
LESSON LEARNED: When I think something will be quick and easy, it will be time consuming and difficult; when I think something will be difficult and time-consuming, it will be quick and easy. I hate that 🙂
The skirt. It’s three rectangles sewn together, pleated, and then sewn to a smaller rectangle. Easy-peasy! Yeah, not so much. This took me significantly longer than I thought it would. Granted, I was figuring out which pleat would work best (box pleats–it took me nearly an hour to make this decision) and how many to make (a bunch)…the pleating was a lot of work because of the time commitment required to make straight, even, equal pleats. Plus, the sheer amount of fabric was cumbersome. Despite this, I L-O-V-E this skirt; it was completely worth the time and is just what I envisioned!
I first measured the waist and made a simple waistband for it: 5 inches wide and 36 inches long. Fold it in half and baste stitch the bottom. Don’t worry about turning it—unnecessary.
Then I measured all the way around the hem of the model skirt to see how much fabric was used. It measured 204 inches—six panels measuring 34 inches wide. I did not want to make six separate panels because I simply didn’t see the need to, so I made three larger ones (worked well since I had three equal pieces of “crap” fabric). My three panels measured 52 inches each because I simply did not have enough “crap” fabric for a mock-up and figured I’d make the adjustments on the final (and it’s not going to need it-156″ of this fabric was PLENTY. However, the actual fabric is less dense, so I may end up using all 204″ or more…we’ll see ;).
I sewed all three pieces of fabric together into one long piece
Now, it’s time for pleating. Get yourself a drink and get comfortable because this will take a little while :). Be sure you are working with the right side of the fabric facing you and that you are matching up the raw edges of the top of the skirt and the bottom waistband that is basted (you are pinning your waistband upside down to the right side of the fabric).
Match the end of the fabric and the end of the waistband and then pull the skirt fabric over ½ inch to accommodate the zipper and seam. Do the same thing with the other end. Now you have both ends of your ginormous length of fabric attached to each end of the waistband.
I forgot to take pictures 🙁
There is math that can (and should, I suppose) be done to make your pleats—I’m lazy and didn’t do that. To be honest, I very rarely do that kind of stuff—I prefer to eyeball it. So, I’m going to show you how I eyeball it:
Find the center of the skirt fabric based on where it is pinned on the sides, and then pin the center point down to the center of the waistband.
Now, choose a side to work with-I started on the left. Take the skirting fabric and, again, find the center based on where it is pinned down to the center of the waistband and the end. Pin the center of the fabric down to the waistband, in the center between the end pin and the pin in the center of the waistband. Continue to do this for both sides until you have twelve equidistant (well, almost since we eyed it) pins attaching your skirt to the waistband.
Now, working still on the right side of the fabric, you are going to be making a bunch of box pleats going from center to end. (This tutorial from Burda does a good job of explaining box pleats–definitely much better than I could do. This is a lot of fabric, so the box pleats help to narrow the bulkiness of the waistband and hips (which will be covered by the corset). Because the overskirt has an “apron” that is puffy, I wanted to eliminate as much bulk as possible so that Jo does not look pregnant :).
Starting at the center and choosing one side to work towards, make a 4” pleat. I used a little extra fabric and added an extra “pleat” on the side next to the exact front and center (I stacked half of the pleat if that makes sense)and angled it just slightly. This allowed for a little extra fabric in the front that made the pleat pop open a little more.
Working towards the end of the waistband, you will have A LOT of fabric to pleat. I made the pleats a little smaller (about 2.5-3 inches) and did some stacked box pleats starting at the side of the waist and going back. Stacking the pleats gives it more volume, and we want volume on the sides and back so that the bustle of the overskirt will stick out without extra padding.
Once you’ve finished one side of the skirt, do the exact same thing to the opposite side of the skirt, starting in the center and working out towards the end, the first center pleat being 4” and having an extra pleat on the center mark. The following pictures will show some of the pleating. I am weird and, even though the right side should be up, I prefer to work on everything from the wrong side, so that’s why you’ll see the wrong side up. Remember, do as I say, not as I do 🙂
Red pin shows center of pleat.
Left side of pleat pinned. The blue teal pin on the right marks the right side of the pleat.
Making sure the size of the right pleat will match the left.
Pinch at the center to be sure the folds are touching but not overlapping.
The right side of the pleat completed!
A look at the right side (you know, the one I should be working on 🙂
Now, using the baste stitch on the waistband as a guide, baste the skirt to the waistband.
Then, sew the two ends of the skirt together using a ½ seam. Be sure to leave about 5-6 inches open from the top of the waistband (where the zipper will be—hint, hint) so that your client can get into it. And here’s what you have:
Front; Less volume to give the front a slightly flatter look which will work better with an overskirt that has an apron-front.
Back; Much more volume from the smaller pleats and the stacking. Because the overskirt has a bustle and train, the extra volume will also provide for more movement.
The skirt fit Jo perfectly, so no adjustments have to be made.
And that’s the end of part 1 [insert sigh]! Here’s what’s coming next:
The peasant shirt—pattern and mock-up
Cutting and sewing the corset in the actual fabric
Cutting and sewing the skirt in the actual fabric
See you soon!
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