A Personal Project- The 20 Panel Corset.

Splitting up the panels

Running a thriving independent brand rarely leaves you with a lot of time to experiment, but I’m forever uncovering things I want to try my hand at! So last┬áSummer I finally knuckled down to something I’ve wanted to work on for a long time- an extensively paneled corset.

For those who aren’t familiar with how a corset creates shaping, it is not, as many people imagine, the boning used but in fact, it starts with the way the pattern is drawn. This comes from how the body dimensions are distributed through a pattern, and the point at which the corsetiere chooses to grade a line in or out. It makes a huge difference, and accounts for why cheaper off-the-rack corsets disappoint their wearers! Time spent with the pattern is never wasted, and the more panels you use (up to a point!) the more subtlety and flow you can create with the shaping.

If you’re unsure what I mean by “panels” (I often find the term confuses customers) I mean the individual segments that make up a corset- the vertical seams mark the edges of each panel. Splitting the fabric of a corset up like this is what allows us to shape the dramatic curves at the waist. More panels means that at the waist, where the tension in a corset is at it’s greatest, the fabric is split into smaller sections, reducing the stress on each individual panel and seam. A larger panel is more likely to show strain or even stretch if not given additional support.

Corset in construcion

If you’re still with me, then you can probably see why the idea of playing with additional panels held practical appeal. There is also something very appealing to me about a corset that displays such architectural elegance. The lines of a corset like this would be very beautiful to my eye. And it would give me a chance to play with altering a patterns design and observing the effect it had, using the same measurements distributed in a different way.

I wanted to work on fitting to my own body so I started by taking some photos of myself without a corset to show the effects the first toile had. I am 5ft 10, and usually around a size 10. I would describe myself as moderately curvy- I have a full bust and as my high school textiles teacher once told me, “child bearing hips”. Thanks Mrs Hopkins.

The first toile (a test version of the corset) was made to our classic 12 panel style. This is an extremely versatile and comfortable design and has been well tested over the years! The initial results seemed pretty good- I had opted for a 4″ reduction on my 27″ waist with a gentle hourglass cut. Immediately I could see that I would want more reduction as it was not curvy enough for my tastes and I was comfortable enough to reduce by another 2″.

One thing we look for on toiles are wrinkles- they either indicate too much slack or too much strain, and tell you where adjustment is needed. You can see from the initial figure pictures that I am slightly sway backed, and those wrinkles indicate where the curve of my back has left a hollow in the corset. You can also see below that there was slack in the lower hip that needed taking in.

The other two pictures show me experimenting with the plunge height and style I was planning. I knew I wanted a dramatic, swooping Edwardian line but I wanted it to flow with the lines of my body for a flattering effect. I always prefer to draw these things directly onto a toile while it’s being worn!

This left me at a stage where I could make my alterations to the original pattern and plan where I wanted to create my new panels. Again, I chose to draw these directly on to the toile. This let me try the corset on and see where the panels would sit on my body and allowed me to simply cut up the toile along these new lines to make my new pattern. I chose to make a 20 panel corset because this seemed a good distribution for my reduced waist size and gave me a nice even 5 panels for each quadrant of the corset.

Splitting up the panels

 

The second toile shows very well how redistributing your panels (as well as changing your front panel height and waist reduction) can really play havoc with your fit! I suddenly had a lot more wrinkles, including stress lines around the high hip and a different set of back wrinkles. The plunge at the centre front meant that the panels joining onto it needed to be made smaller in that area to avoid it pulling back on itself as you see on the toile. I had made adjustments for this already but until you see the results on the body you can’t know if you’ve judged it correctly.

I’ll be completely honest. I should have done a third toile for this. But I had an event coming up that I needed to wear my corset for, and time was running out. So in a case of “Do as I say, not as I do” I made my tweaks with some resewing on the second toile, and moved straight onto my final corset! Luckily it worked out pretty well. Not perfectly, but I really like the finished garment. I chose a simple construction of mink coutil with contrast black waistband and symmetrical embellishment of black Chantilly lace. I wanted a feel of flourishing growth within the restraints of symmetry (I usually embellish organically) and the simple, classic tones of mink and black play well against each other.

20 panel corset in progress Decorating the corset with lace. The finished corset.

I have had a great reaction to the look of this corset- and I don’t think it’s just the lace! I could really see the possibilities for taking a corset pattern in this direction, and it’s something I intend to play with more in the future. Though preferably on another human being, because the added complication of needing eyes in the back of my head did not make this task any quicker or easier! If you find yourself dreaming of architectural corsetry then do come and talk through your ideas with me!

Focus On A Bespoke Corset Commission

Bespoke corset with matching silk lingerie

A journey into waist training

Ever wondered what it’s like to order a bespoke corset? To work with a craftsman to create something uniquely yours, never to be repeated? Here’s a very special commission I worked on recently. Made for a male client who had never even tried a corset on before he contacted me last Autumn.

My client was looking to begin waist training, and wanted corsets that were lightweight to fit discreetly under clothing. Initially he was interested in an overbust style but after looking at his requirements I recommended an underbust. This would fit better with his lifestyle and would prove easier to camouflage as underwear. He decided on a waist training starter kit, including an Edwardian underbust and ribbon corset with suspenders and a camisole. These pieces would be made in a way that kept bulk at a minimum whilst remaining sturdy and suitable for regular wear. The concession to this being the choice of using silk ribbons for the ribbon corset! Silk ribbons are not as durable as the grosgrain ribbons I would usually use for these pieces. However they are incomparably luxurious and feel wonderful against the skin. There is a very special lustre to the colours in these ribbons!

We discussed how he would like the corsets to look, and he knew he wanted them to have refined feminine styling. He chose a palette of pale pinks, golds and peach but gave me control over the final choices on fabrics. This was a wonderful opportunity for me, as I love creating soft, feminine looks. Being able to create something precious for this first time corset wearer was a real privilege. We agreed my choices would be a surprise, and I began selecting glowing silks that belonged in a wealthy 19th century ladies trousseau!

Silk, lace and lingerie

My client was able to visit the studio for a personal fitting where I took his measurements. We talked a little more about the style for the corsets, but mostly about his travels through Europe! Fittings aren’t essential for most underbust corsets as I can work from measurements sent in using our instructions at home. However it’s a great chance to efficiently make most of the decisions needed for a bespoke corset order. For some people these meetings can be a little nerve wracking. Particularly where they are unfamiliar with corsets and are expecting someone far scarier than me to be behind the door! But tea and biscuits usually prove that we’re all good friends nice and quickly.

Another result of the fitting was my client choosing a set of our lingerie to be made to match his Edwardian corset. He chose our En Regate set- an underwired bra, delicately strapped panties and a lingerie harness. These would work really well with the colour schemes I had devised and made the set even more complete!

Edwardian bespoke corset in progress

I settled on a rich coral peach silk with a smooth finish for the underbust. It was a great weight of silk to use for the matching lingerie and had a lovely gleam to it. During our meeting we had also talked about gentle colour contrasts, so I decided swirls of symmetrial ivory lace applique would be used to highlight the centre front and hips with graceful motifs. The lingerie looked romantic next to it in the peach silk with ivory strapping. The silk ribbons were very hard to choose- so many exquisite shades, each suggesting a different direction. But in the end I opted for a combination of creamy ivory and tarnished gold, set against silk panels in a dusky rose shot gold dupion.

Unwrapping a treasure

From the fitting to completion of the corsets was around 5 weeks- a little slow thanks to the Christmas rush! but as my client preferred to collect the corsets rather than have them posted it was a while till I was able to present them! I am always excited but nervous to hand over any order- will it meet the vision the client had when they came to me? But especially so when I’ve been given free reign over design on a bespoke corset. I pray that I haven’t misjudged their brief, and that they receive something they wouldn’t have thought to ask for, but have a connection to all the same. Judging by the message I received when he got them home I hit the mark!

“Hi Bethan, WOW, beautifully exquisite creations!

You truly are talented at your profession, thank you for all that you have done for me. I am amazed at how they feel when worn.”

How would you feel if you had opened the box to find these corsets?

Waist training kit with matching custom lingerie
The completed waist training kit with matching lingerie.

A Personal Project- Black Mesh Corset

Black and white image of designer wearing a black mesh waspie

The Filigree Waspie

Corsetmakers are forever being asked how many corsets they own, and recently, my honest answer has had to be “…very few”. This is because, following a few lifestyle changes, my old collection became too large for me! It’s been a busy year with new collections, first time clients and intense projects. So when it came to it, finding time to make something for me didn’t seem like a priority! But I have wanted a mesh corset of my own ever since I first got my hands on this fascinating fabric. It’s far more sculptural than the silk bobbinet that I was previously using for sheer corsetry so it creates a garment that is translucent and delicate looking but also grips the body firmly.

Jordan Ebbitt wearing our black mesh waspie with Dusk bralette and harness. Shot by Salleh Sparrow.
Jordan Ebbitt wearing our black mesh corset with Dusk bralette and harness. Shot by Salleh Sparrow.

I chose a mesh waspie, as I’ve never had one and they make excellent accessories. It can transform a plain outfit into something distinctively chic and full of personality. Anyone who knows me will be familiar with my obsession with black and gold, so the colour scheme really required very little thought! I don’t sketch for my own pieces, as the paper doll in my head is far more versatile. It was very enjoyable spending my riverside walks home pondering new style variations to incorporate into my new waspie.

A Touch Of Lace

I’ve been keen to use a feature waistband on a mesh corset for a while, as I prefer external boning and waist tapes on a sheer piece. I toyed with the idea of a baroque brocade or a contrast colour for this element. However I wanted a delicate, ethereal feel so I chose gold lace applique on a smooth black silk backing. This channeled the design into simple black silk accents on black mesh fabric, with gold lace detailing and gold fittings.

Handsewing gold lace applique onto a black silk waistband
Stages of completing the hand sewn appliques for the waistband.

With hindsight, I would take care to plot where my boning channels would lie on the appliqued waistband. Much of my best detail ended up covered! Internal boning would suit this design element better, letting the full beauty be appreciated. But I knew the placement of the elaborate lace that was to weave across the corset body would be the main feature. I always feel that a mesh corset allows the wearer to feel it is an extension of their skin. It is like smoke, or perfume; present but not substantial. So having the lace trail organically, reaching across the torso and emerging from the binding gave it a sensuous feel. I also wanted the lace to weave in and out of the boning accents, so nothing was uppermost in the design. All layers were entwined and interlocked.

A Sewing Project With A View

Lace applique waiting to be sewn.
Lace pinned in place, ready for a sewing marathon.

For those who care about such things, there was 2 hours hand sewing in the waistband applique and 5 hours for the body applique. This does not include the time spent cutting, placing, replacing and cursing at the lace! Luckily I had a lot of long train journeys at this stage so I was able to do much of it while speeding through the Welsh countryside. I spent a lot of time explaining myself to train conductors.

A Treasure To Cherish

The finished mesh corset is definitely the pride of my collection- it’s comfortable and quite simply, I feel like a goddess in it. It’s rare that I’m satisfied with anything I make for myself so even though there are a few niggling details, putting it on is truly joyful. If you’re visiting us for a fitting you will likely see it in person!

Finished mesh waspie
The completed Filigree Waspie, with tendrils of lace reaching across the waist point.

Lastly, thankyou to Salleh Sparrow for her help with the photos!