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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