Monthly Archives: April 2011

Ma Vie En Corsetry

by Erin Schneider

Consider the corset.  It is wardrobe staple for so many costuming genres, from burlesque to Steampunk, from Renaissance to 18th Century.  And there are a variety of corsets/stays/what-have-yous to get the job done.  However, to me there can be only one corset – the Elizabethan corset, as created by The Elizabethan Corset Generator.

I first learned of the ECG from my costuming mentor, Laura Ulak.  We were interested in making more elaborate costumes for the MN Renaissance Festival, and Laura was constructing her first court gown.  She needed a corset, and the ECG provided an easy-to-use pattern and instructions.

Whenever Laura finds something cool and user-friendly, she passes on the information to any and all who can benefit.  At her recommendation, I jumped on the corseting bandwagon and made my first corset:

As our costuming knowledge grew, Laura determined we should now make, per the ECG, corsets with tabs.  Why?  Because they are 1000% more comfortable than corsets without tabs.  So off to the Generator we went, and I made this:

The only downside of the tabbed corset?  It requires the tabs to be hand-bound.  Therefore, I hand-stitched around each and every tab:

Look at those tiny stitches!  I felt like Mary Ingalls.

You would think, with my new corset all nice and pretty and well-fitting, I was done with the ECG.  And you would be wrong.  Because next came the 6 Wives Project… which is a story for another time.  Suffice to say, we (Laura and I) needed more corsets – one for every female member of our costumed group, which numbered in the double digits.  So hi-ho, hi-ho, it was back to the ECG I go-ed.

I ended up making 15 more corsets the summer of 2009.  No, that’s not a typo.  I slowed down last year, making just three corsets (and conferring on two more) in 2010.  This year, I plan to make only one corset – and it may be my last.  Along the way, Laura and I came up with a few tips and tweaks to the ECG.  We hope you find them useful.

1.  You do not need to hand-stitch the tabs.  Simply add a ½ seam allowance to the tabs, sew them inside-out, clip the edges, turn the corset right-side out and press flat.  Once you’ve boned the corset, stitch down the binding at the top edge, using your sewing machine. Voila!  No hand-stitching!

2.  The Generator tends to add too much fabric to the bust.  Make the pattern, cut out a muslin, and test it on your body.  You should have an even gap in the back between the two edges of at least 4 inches.

3.  If you don’t want your corset to stretch out of shape, don’t use canvas material.  If you want your corset to be breathable, use cotton material.

4.  Metal boning is fabulous, for sure.  But a cheaper, easier-to-procure, easier-to-trim material?  Cable ties from the hardware store.  We use the super-heavy-duty ties.

5.  While you’re at the hardware store, pick up a pair of clippers than can cut through the ties.

6.  We use a grommeter to punch in metal grommets for the lacing.  If you want to make hand-bound eyelets to lace your corset, have at it.  Personally, I hate hand-sewing, and avoid it like Ye Olde Plague.

7.  For affordable laces that are easy to find, use shoelaces.  IT’S UNDERWEAR.  NO ONE IS GOING TO SEE YOUR PRETTY LACES.

8.  For maximum cleavage, use a “corset mouse,” aka boob cups.  I sewed in a pair of cut-to-size cups from JoAnn Fabric to my corset, and now my boobs stay front and center.  Which, to me, is the whole point of wearing a corset.


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Costume Inspiration

by Chelsey Barnes

I would say that for most costumers, their ideas come from something else–a movie, book, another costumer, a painting…  A year or two ago, shortly after getting into the whole Steampunk thing, a friend of mine sent me a link to someone’s facebook photo album from a party that had a Steampunk Circus theme.  I was immediately hooked and decided my next Steampunk costume would be circus.

The “whos” and “wheres” of the party are long since lost, so I can share pictures of my actual inspiration, but a Google Images search turned up a few pictures that are reminiscent of the details ingrained in my memory.

Artwork appears to be by Glenn Arthur

The underbust corsets, the little hats, the ruffles, the “big top” stripes.  Circus isn’t generally what people think of when they think Steampunk, but I think these images fit well, showing a dark, dystopian side of the circus, which fits well with Steampunk.

Photo: Mizzd-Stock

Should you Google “Steampunk Circus” in images, this delightful lady comes up more often than most.  She’s a little closer to my vision of my Steampunk Circus costume, in that she’s very scamp-like.  How did I come to a more scamp-like vision?  Boredom, mostly.

A coworker and I were doing a menial task one day.  To bide our time, I asked her to make up a story using the idea of Steampunk Circus (after explaining Steampunk to her).  She successfully came up with a better back story than I could ever have dreamed:

Ilana was born into poverty in Chicago, learning the ways of the street at a young age. When she was 6, her mother disappeared–a chapter in her life that remains unanswered to this day. Armed with her skills in pickpocketing and swiping food, she heads out on her own.

One day she finds herself watching some street performers and notices that not only is their ferret act entertaining the crowd, the ferrets are also trained to take valuables from the onlookers. The leader of the performing troupe, Christopher, notices that she is on to them and attempts to punish her. When she outsmarts him, he realizes she would be a natural performer and thief. He takes her in as a daughter and teaches her everything he knows about performing while they build up a legitimate circus. When he dies, he leaves the circus and position of Ringmaster to Ilana.

Ilana continues to run the circus with her mate Emilio, who also grew up in the troupe. When times are tough for the circus, she and Emilio return to the streets with Emilio’s trained ferrets. Emilio’s father was Christopher’s ferret wrangler, and his father before him was a ferret wrangler and so on and so forth. One might say he comes from a long line of ferret wranglers.


Armed with this story and my inspirational images, I will set out to create a look that does both justice.  A look I will eventually chronicle here.

…What to see how it turned out? Click Here

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MNSOC Sewing & Crafting Gathering


…at the…

3000 University Ave SE, Minneapolis (Map)

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

6:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.

$5.00 Per Person

(Pay at the door)

Mark your calendar and come join the Minnesota Society of Costumers for our monthly Sewing & Crafting Gathering at the Textile Center. Work on jewelry, stitch away on your machine, mod weapons, do leatherwork, or get help fitting and drafting patterns. Bring a snack to share if you wish.


Please park in back and enter through the back entrance.

Non-MNSOC members welcome.

Hope to see you there!

Sign up HERE!


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What I Entered Into 2010 Costume Con

by Erin Schneider

A Brief Explanation, AKA What the heck was I thinking?

A few years ago, my friends and I developed an interest in costuming; primarily costumes appropriate to wear to our local Renaissance Festival.    While discussing noble or court gowns, my best friend (Laura Ulak) and I found ourselves standing in the printed cotton aisle at a discount fabric store.

Laura – “I should totally make an Elizabethan out of camo fabric (she had been in the Army).”

Me – “If you do, then I get one in Packer fabric.”

Laura – “I don’t think that would be a wise choice for a Minnesota Ren Fest.”

Me – “Damn the Vikings!  Whatever, I’d DO IT ANYWAY.”

Laura – “It’s your funeral…”

I might be paraphrasing, but that is essentially the scope of the conversation.  At that point, Laura and I, along with most of our costuming friends, decided we needed Twisted Historical costumes.  But where would we wear them?

Fortunately, Kirk Johnson of the Bristol Renaissance Faire told us about their Day of Wrong.  Laura and I immediately planned a trip to the Faire for the summer of ’09.  And I started work on my costume.  It debuted in August of 2009 to mostly positive reviews, except for a few bitter Bears fans.

I would like to dedicate this costume to my Grandma Schneider, a diehard Packer Backer, and Laura Ulak’s Grandma Grace, who taught her how to sew.

Title of Costume:

Green Bay Packer Elizabethan Court Gown

Name and address of the person responsible for the entry (or the spokesman for a group):

Never you mind.

Name(s) of designer(s) and maker(s):

Drawers – pattern by Simplicity, made by Erin Schneider and Laura Ulak

Farthingale – pattern by Margo Anderson, made by Erin Schneider and Laura Ulak

Partlett – pattern by Laura Ulak, made by Erin Schneider and Laura Ulak

Corset – pattern by The Elizabethan Corset Generator, made by Erin Schneider

Bodice – pattern by Alter Years, made by Erin Schneider and Laura Ulak

Underskirt – self patterned, made by Erin Schneider and Laura Ulak

Overskirt – self patterned, made by Erin Schneider and Laura Ulak

Sleeves – pattern by Laura Ulak, made by Erin Schneider and Laura Ulak

Hat – purchased at Rybiki’s Cheese Shop at the Mall of America.  Decorated by Erin Schneider

Earrings – designed and made by Ashley Walton

Girdle – created from gold football-shaped beads, buttons, a bottle opener, and a shot glass by Erin Schneider

Brief identifying description of the costume’s historic period, geographic origin, social class and so forth. This description should include the historic basis for the costume:

The late 15th century, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First.  Country of origin is England, social class is Noble.  In short, this is an Elizabethan court dress made from modern, licensed sports team logo materials.

This would also be the point to notate any substitutions of historically accurate materials used:

I used 100% cotton, a natural fabric, for the construction of the garment, however, the pattern is not period appropriate.  I used plastic cable ties in the corset instead of metal.  I used hoop steel instead of reeds in the farthingale.  Accessories are completely made of artificial materials.

Bibliography of sources:

Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion

Jean Hunnisett, Period Costume for Stage and Screen

Juan de Alcega’s Tailor’s Pattern book of 1589

Herbert Norris, Tudor Costume and Fashion

Ninya Mikaila, The Tudor Tailor

Margo Anderson’s online List Serve

The Green Bay Packers and the State of Wisconsin

And the outcome?  I won Most Humorous Presentation.  Adding to the honor and GLORY of the Minnesota Society of Costumers.

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True Inspiration ~ Featuring Cathy Hay

by Laura Ulak

Cathy Hay of Harman Hay

Talk about inspiration!  Cathy Hay is a designer in England who several years ago decided that working with brides every day was just not enough excitement for her.  Instead she felt like she needed a personal challenge to test her skills and she decided that recreating a gown that she admired would be a good start.  The gown she chose was the Oak Leaf gown as worn by Lady Curzon, and made by Charles Worth.  And it was amazing.



She wore the gown to Costume College in CA in 2009 and I was lucky enough to see it.  The work that went into the gown was truly astonishing – she worked for hours every day for months to sew each of the leaves on by hand.

After making something like that most folks would sit on their laurels and call it a day.  Not Cathy.  When she heard of the Hope For Haiti challenge she decided that she and her partner Demi Harman needed to participate.  Which meant raising $14,000 to pay for their travel expenses and their participation in building a community center in Haiti.  And when it came time to decide how they would raise the money, she decided to create another gown worn by Lady Curzon and designed by Worth:  The Peacock Gown.

But this isn’t just any gown.  It weighs 10 lbs. and the entire thing is beaded and embroidered with goldwork and tiny little beetle wings.  The amount of work involved would make even the most experienced of seamstresses falter.  But Cathy is determined to do it, and she has come up with a brilliant plan to do so, and to raise money for Haiti.

At $500 she will make the combination undergarments.  At $1,000 she will make the first petticoat.  And so on, and so on.  At $14,000 raised she will make the entire gown, including the beaded shoes!  She has managed to raise over $4,000 dollars, but still needs donations to meet her June deadline.   And to keep herself honest, she has declared that she will wear as much of the finished outfit as has been pledged in donations to Costume College in 2012.

Every person who donates will also have access to her private blog where she will be detailing the process of making the gown, much like the dress diary she wrote when working on the Oak Leaf Gown.

Cathy has a site set up with more information on the project and on how you can donate.  Help build a dress AND a community center.  Check The Peacock Dress for more information.

(The Inspiration Page is a monthly feature showing a costumer, portrait, outfit, etc. that is inspiring to others.  If you would like to share your project or know of an inspiring person who should be featured, please contact me at

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Welcome to the Minnesota Society of Costumers!

MNSOC was formed in 2010 by several members of a local costuming group, The Wench Posse.  WP members had attended various costuming events such as Costume Con 2010 and Costume College, and felt there was a need for a home for ALL Minnesota costumers, not just the historical ones, or the Sci Fi ones, etc.  There was a need for a place where everyone could play together and learn from each other.  Since there was no International Costumer’s Guild chapter in MN, we decided that an ICG Chapter to include everyone would be ideal.

At this time we have a small official membership, but a FB page with 240+ members!

We have monthly “Sewing & Crafting” gatherings sessions for folks to share info, ask questions, etc. in regards to costuming they are working on, quarterly mixers, and we are planning on 2-4 large events per year with various themes that all area groups can participate in.  Our first large event will be in July and is a “Heroes & Villains” picnic, and it is FREE admission.  We look forward to seeing the creativity of our members and their outfits!

Membership on the FB page is great, but paid membership is even BETTER.  You get discounts at area sewing supply stores like Joann Fabrics, bead stores like Bobby Bead, and discounts on tickets to MNSOC events.  And there are many more discounts in the works!

We are excited and proud to be an ICG Chapter, and hope you will join us as an official member.

I hope you enjoy the blog!

Laura Ulak
President, MNSOC

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