Okay, so blogging about this has been a bit on the back burner, even though I have finished the corset long long ago.
I promised to show off the fabric from hell a bit, so here goes.
I bought it at the local fabric store in the (and this should be the first clue that the fabric was a bad idea) upholstery department. But at the time I was completely seduced by the red satin stripes and the luxurious weight of the fabric in my hands. In hindsight it would probably have made wonderful curtains.
Welcome to Corset of the Month! From now on I will do a monthly post sharing a corset that caught my eye / inspired me / that I covet.
First up in what I hope will be a long line of wonderful garments, is the Black and Yellow Corset. This is in no small part to honour my current obsession with black and yellow…
This particular corset comes from Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen and dates from 1890-1900. The corset is made from black sateen with yellow flossing (the embroidery that stops the bones from tearing through the fabric). There is more yellow embroidery under the horizontal cording over the the bust and the garment is rounded off with a black and yellow lace trim on the the top edge. The bones are encased in surface bone casing (the casing is sewn onto the surface of the corset, as opposed to sitting between the layers or in the seams) and it has a straight split-busk fastening. The corset has extra bones with the busk to strengthen it and prevent the busk from breaking under the strain of bending over during chores. This may mean that corset was constructed for a working woman rather than a lady of leisure.
This corset is made out of black coutil and also features yellow arrowhead flossing at the top and bottom to keep the bones in place. There is also horizontal cording over the bust (with yellow stitching in between) and a black lace with yellow ribbon trim along the top edge of the garment. The most pronounced difference between this corset and the one from Corsets: Historical Patterns & Techniques by Jill Salen is that it has a curved spoon busk fastening instead of a straight busk. The other marked difference is in the pattern: this corset’s pattern has only ten panels while the previous one has twelve.
This video features another version of the black and yellow corset. The video is somewhat blurry, but from what I can tell this corset is also black with the same yellow arrowhead flossing at the top and the bottom to hold the bones in place. There is no yellow trimming along the top edge, but the top of the busk is adorned with a yellow bow. Make sure you watch to the very end: this is a VERY good and informative video on how to lace a corset yourself. It seems obvious, but if you don’t follow these simple steps you might get yourself tied in a knot that you can’t get out of. And I’m speaking from experience here…
This particular corset or pair of stays will have four layers.
I started with the two base or foundation layers. I used plain navy blue (closest to the blue of the Shweshwe that I could find) cotton twill as this material is fairly stable and non-stretch. It is also has a nice and natural feel, it would allow the skin to breath (somewhat) and wouldn’t be too hot or uncomfortable. I used a medium weight iron on vylene on the outer of the two foundation layers (seen here in the wrong order; I changed the two base layers around after this picture was taken) in order to give it some extra stiffness and help the corset to appear smoother. The foundation layers are the ones that will be sewn together to form the boning channels that will hold the bones. These layers are responsible for the shape and structure of the corset.
The shell is the outer layer of this of corset and from very early on I had decided that this layer would be purely ornamental and would have nothing to do with the dynamics or structure of the garment itself. In other words, it will hold no bones in place, and in fact, the corset can function very well without it. I cut this layer of Shweshwe on the same pattern as the rest of the corset, panels and all, and will be hand sewn onto the foundation layers after the bones have been inserted. The eyelets will be added through this layer and it will be bound with the rest of the corset.
Ideally (and somewhat historically) the lining should be added last, so that it could be removed and replaced easily without having to undo any part of the rest of the corset. Remember that corsets or stays were everyday garments, washing wasn’t a national pastime and laundering a pair of stays was a major operation (if ever attempted). When the lining wore through or became dirty, it would be very economic to just be able to removed the old lining and replace with a fresh one. For this reason I will add the lining last. The lacing eyelets will not go through it and it will not be bound with the rest of the corset. It will be hand-sewn onto the inside of the corset almost as an afterthought.
The first project for this all exclusive corsetry blog: the Shweshwe corset! This is a project that I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time, ever since I ran rampant in a fabric store, feeling up all the Shweshwe and fantasising about what a fantastic material it is for corset making.
Shweshwe is a 100% cotton fabric manufactured in the traditional way using copper rollers which have patterns etched on the surface, allowing the transfer of a weak discharge solution onto the fabric. While this fabric is now inherently very African, it initially came from India and was brought to South Africa by German settlers. It was first adopted by the Xhosa who made it their own and began adapting it to give it the uniquely African feel that it retains to this day.
Shweshwe as it is still worn in parts of Africa. Note the mix of colonial style and the more traditional African influences. Photo from Injabulo
Fashion Shweshwe: outfit by South African designer Bongiwe Walaza
These days it is hot stuff in the fashion industry and this is why just had to get on the bandwagon and make some Shweshwe creations of my very own!
While you’re looking at African fabrics, make sure to check out these Commemorative Cloths or fancy prints as well.
The Shweshwe that I chose was probably not the best design for the type of corset I decided to make, but it is beautiful and very feminine, which makes it ideal for my purposes. This particular cloth is designed with the panels of a skirt in mind, and the panels can be clearly seen on this image.
After the first wash the fabric felt significantly softer and more pliable, since the starch left over from the printing process had now been completely removed. This left me a bit worried that it might not be the best material for corsetry after all. I decided to make the base of the corset out of plain cotton twill which will be stronger and less likely to stretch or distort, and then use the Shweshse only as the decorative outer layer and the plain Shweshwe for the lining.