It’s been regularly explained to me that corsetry is a particularly demanding form of sewing, requiring all sorts of insane skills and care and attention to detail. After sewing my frock coat, though, it seemed like the next major challenge to take on was trying to make a bodice, which is the precursor to the corset.
All those people who said you need specialized skills to make a corset… are not wrong. They’re not entirely right, either, but they’re not wrong.
Simplicity 8162 is a trio of lady’s underthings — a shift or nightgown-like underdress, a bodice (in five even sizes 14-22), and a ‘bum pad’ for flaring out a dress with a bustle-like extra bit. Simplicity 8162 doesn’t come with recommendations of parallel dresses in their line that work with this bodice and bum-pad and shift, but I imagine that sooner or later I’ll find something that fits. In the meantime…
A great deal of the pattern consists of working with interlining rather than interfacing. Interfacing is a polyester ‘felt’ that can be glued onto the back of a piece of fabric; interlining is a real piece of dense fabric that’s used to stiffen and reinforce a construction. I have a heavyweight muslin that I’m using, which takes pencil lines well for marking up and laying out the design on each piece of the bodice. But it’s not cortil, which is a specialized fabric designed especially for making corsets and bodices, with an exceptionally tight weave that prevents the boning from poking out of the corset and damaging it. In a traditional corset or bodice, this boning is usually either whalebone or strips of spring-steel. This design uses plastic zip-ties, which are less likely to injure the corset/bodice wearer in the first place. Thank goodness.
I don’t think I expected that the pattern would involve quite so much straight sewing of seams. There are two halves to this bodice, each divided up into four side panels and a shoulder strap. Inside each half are slots or casings for fifteen stays or bones that help the bodice keep its shape. Each casing has a stitch-line along either side of it, which makes 60 straight lines of stitching, more or less. This requires a steady hand and a steady pressure on the sewing machine’s pedal. It also requires careful marking on the interlining — you don’t want to mark the fabric that forms the shell of the bodice. As it is, I’m discovering that I should have used a black interlining fabric, because every so often a bit of the muslin shows through to the black fabric on the shell of the bodice.
Once the seams are all sewn on each panel of the bodice, the panels get sewn together to form the two side panels. A bodice really isn’t a single garment, though we treat it as such. Rather, it’s two large fabric panels, sewn together and shaped in such a way that they hug the sides of the body inwards.
In practice, of course, this means that you have to construct about 95% of the garment’s two halves before you have any idea if it will fit the person you’re making it for, or if you’ve chosen the wrong size for them, or if they’ll even like it. It’s not as bad as knitting someone a sweater, but it’s not ideal.
The lining is assembled in much the same way as the body of the bodice, but this time you don’t have to stitch so many lines of stay-casings. (I guess you could say that I had a stay-casion this weekend for President’s Day). Overall, the result is two panels that look more or less like this, below — a pair of weird fabric panels with a gray paisley-print lining, and a black print suggestive of brocade on the outside, with a bunch of flares or tabs or flags along the lower edge.
My next step is going to be to acquire some long zip-ties, and start fitting them into their casings, cutting them, and sanding them at the ends so that they don’t wind up poking through the fabric and damaging the bodice of annoying the wearer of it.
I also have to acquire two packages of black 1/4″ double-fold bias tape, in order to finish the edges; and quite a large number (34) grommets, as well as six yards of 5/8″ ribbon. Again, I’m always amazed (though I shouldn’t be) at how much time I need to spend in the fabric store compared with how much time I spend sewing. No matter. I need three colors of dark green fabric anyway before I can proceed with other projects.
Now that is what I call dedication to one’s craft, skill built across many years. Well done sir!
A different kind of practice, as it were.