maandag 6 februari 2017

En Pointe - dress diary

Years I've waited to take this step, but Foundations Revealed gave me that little kick in the butt: showing the world the craziness and joy of my work in progress.

For this first entry I will therefore introduce my latest creation, my entry corset for Foundations Revealed 2017's competition, "En Pointe". 

Before going into the whole making process, I would like to mention how pleased I am with the overall result en the fun photoshoot we had yesterday. It made worth all the sleep deprivation and physical sacrifices in the making :-)

Thanks for reading, I hope you like it!


Ever since childhood I was intrigued by the elegance of ballet and even more so by what is worn to practice and perform.  Picturing a 5-year old me, tip-toeing around in the house on a pair of pointes I found in an old costume trunk, it does not come as a surprise that especially the footwear has always triggered my fascination.

This summer I had my first brainstorm about the theme. From Louis XIV to strange postmodern poses, I did not seem to find an idea that gave me the ultimate click.
I was feeling hopeless and frustrated, since I really wanted to enter the competition this year.
Until finally, a "sign" came last month. While visiting Paris for the weekend, I unfortunately was in front of a closed door of the Ballets Russes exhibition. Disapointed I had a look in the still open Opera shop, where I happened to find a new book on corsetry and a beautiful ballet postcard. It
 remined me of my old fascination with the ballet shoes and  after months of inspirational block, I made the decision to take  this year’s competition title to the letter: a corset based on the characteristics of these shoes.

For me, pointes have a intrinsic link to corsetry. Both are pieces of clothing that enable the body to take an esthetical, but for most people “unnatural” position.
Pink satin, crossed ribbon and tulle became the keywords for my corset.

Start of a 10 day crusade

Again some weeks passed by and I realised that, if I still wanted to enter the competition, it had to be now. 
One cold Thurday evening I assembled my courage and started thinking about the pattern. Since I wanted to simulate the curved foot like on the postcard, I decided to base the corset on the beautiful curves of the Belle Epoque corsets. I searched my old pattern (from Norah Waugh - Corsets & Crinolines, once ready to cut downloaded at Raph Pink) and the corset I made with it some years ago (inside-out on the picture). The next morning I pulled out some fabrics and made some visual tests, still in doubt which way it would go.

By the evening I had made a quick mock-up, on which I made some *very ugly* markings, which helped me visualise me more finding out where I was going. The hip seams had to be corrected and the waist had to become much smaller.

Starting in the middle

The next day I got started on the front piece. I cut out two identical pieces of thick cotton. Since I did not find a way to incorporate a busk in this design, I eliminated the front seam. Since I wanted it to be covered in gathered and stretched tulle (referring to the tutu skirt), I first stitched three strips rigline to one of the pieces and then stitched the boning channels through both layers. 

After some tests with the tulle, I started to sew it down in the middle, gathering while stitching.  After that I stitched down the sides. Then some tests with a movable “tip of the shoe” and placement of the crossed ribbons. Realizing that any means to cover up the middle stitching line was clashing with the crossed satin ribbons, I decided to unpick the middle stitching. 

The real thing

Time was ticking and impatient as I am, wanting to see some results, so I decided to start fusing the fabrics. I used a fine pink satin I found some months ago in a fabric sale, fused with Vliesofix to a sturdy white cotton. All pattern pieces were pinned to a single layer of fused fabric. Next time I’ll try using my tailors wheel again, pinning down this thick fabric was no pleasure…
Then cutting and sewing the seam allowances together with a large machine basting stitch (no time for hand basting).
The "tip of the shoe" consists of a double layer of fused fabric, flipped over and topstitched on the curved seam. 


 It was the first time  I worked with a fused fabric for a corset, but I was very happily surprised on how beautiful it came out. Even without ironing or adding boning, the corset already took the shape it was supposed to have.

First fitting - front and back

After putting my friend Sara in the corset (thanks sweety!!), I made some final pattern changes and redid the front. More layers of tulle were added, the old layer was rearranged more nicely, the shoe tip was redone and the ribbons got a nicer position.

 Because I wanted to be able to pull the corset thight before I arranged the boning, I then started with the center back boning channels. The fabric was triple folded in order to have a good sturdy base for the eyelets. Unfortunately I had to redo a complete pattern piece because of an ugly stitching line (right side on the picture). Yes, satin's a bitch.

The marking of the eyelets was done with measuring tape, sticky tape and pins. I'm still looking for a quicker and more precise way of doing this. I should really get myself a Simflex gauge...  Because the 3 layers of fused fabric  were too thick to go through with an awl right away, I first made a little hole with a punch.

One way or another, I managed to get my embroidery scissors in my leg. There was a lot of pain and blood (luckily not on the fabrics). Should've made a picture before the bandages :p 

And again - seam handling

 Then: stitching the corset again together, seam by seam. Since I was planning to use a floating liner and the raw edges would now be seen from the inside, I decided not to put any more time or nerves into flat felling the seams, and stitched them to one side without further ado. I did trim one of the seam allowances down every time, to reduce bulk, especially needed at the front piece. The second line of topstitching was purely decorative, but I think it looked nicer and more sturdy than only one line.

 I ironed open the seams of the hip pieces to reduce bulk at the waist and added a satin ribbon on the inside to compensate.

 By this time the flat steels for the back were inserted and eyelets/grommets were put in.
Since I saw this on many well made corsets, I tried out to put the eyelets closer to each other towards the middle this time (normally I put them at equal distances throughout). 

Boning channels

 Then it was time to position the boning channels. I opted for gently pinning them from the inside, and then handbasting them down in the middle. This line I then used for stitching them down from the outside. As you may notice, I forgot to add the waist tape when I was stitching down the center back, so I had to attach it by hand.

 For finishing the spiral steel boning (which my boyfriend helped cutting :) ) I used the end caps, some glue and teflon tape. It is the second time I use this kind of tape and although it does not endure after time, especially when having to re-insert the bones, I find it very useful to make the insertion just a little bit smoother.  

 The big disaster

 The next night I was planning to insert the boning. The channels were nicely stitched down, the bones lay assembled, and then... the big massacre! The channels were TOO NARROW.
Even the brutal force of my boyfriend offered no solutions. 

In a wild frenzy I deceided to start to unpick en restitch one of the channels (luckily in the back), but the result was horrifying (no, I did not photograph this). 

My mind was raging for solutions. Being the night before the final fitting (and the day after that, the photoshoot), restarting from scratch was no option anymore. 

So I had no other choice then to look for another boning option. Luckily the channels were quite straight, so I could go for a less flexible solution. Having tried many options in the past, from plastic ties to mean metal unplugging strips, the battle was not lost yet.
In the end I choose for narrow German plastic bones. Not sure if this is what is sometimes called synthetic whalebone, but it is quite sturdy and seemed to do the trick. Edges were cut round and with some effort they all went in. To this moment I still don't know where my mind was while stitching the channels. I do know that this is NOT likely to happen ever again. ;)

Final fitting

The next day, I was bought some more of the plastic boning and I was able to get them all in just before the final fitting. Also added a quick binding, but did not finish it yet.

 Maybe useful to say: in the middle of all this sewing chaos, I had also been collecting a team to organise a photoshoot with. The model that had presented herself seemed to have the perfect size for this corset. Now was the time of truth....

And... it fitted!! I was so happy, I would never have expected this good of a fit without any alterations.  Center back opening was perfect, so a normal sized modesty panel would fit. Being an experience corsetwearer herself, the model experienced some punching in her lower ribs en suggested to lower the waist a little bit the next time. This is certainly something I will take into account when reusing this pattern!

The last night

That same night there was still a lot of work to do: the corset still had to be binded and flossed and a modesty panel and a tulle skirt had still to be made. And something to cover the shoulders or arms, if possible... Boy oh boy!

It was the first time I made a floating panel with a middle strip (normally I use eyelets to keep the panel at the right place), but I thought it fitted to the occassion. Since the fused fabric was so sturdy by itself, boning was uncalled for.
I laced the corset with the panel in between to be able to see where to stitch it down. Later, lacing down at the photoshoot, I realised I could just have stitched it down in the middle. Well, next time...

 Then, at 3.00 in the morning: starting with the tulle skirt. Very improvised and with way too less layers, but luckily I ended up with something that looked like a romantic tutu (more pictures at the photoshoot). 

Then, at 5.30 in the morning, I decided to go through with the flossing. It was the first time I tried it on a real corset and since I don'get along with thimbles, I could almost not move my fingers anymore after half an hour. Nevertheless, I was very pleased that I went with the more expensive, silk topstitching thread from G├╝terman, it gave a very shine matching the rest of the corset.  

End and conclusions

At 6.30 in the morning, I was finished. Ready for 3 hours of sleep before the photoshoot. As I am writing this, the pain in my shoulders is still very present and possibly getting worse. And a blurred mind may have written down some strange things. 

Within less then a year, I'm planning to make my passion into my main source of income. For me, this project was the ultimate test of looking if I'm ready to take up my costuming to the next level. I hope that the feedback will give me some more input on my strenghts and weaknesses. 

Being subscribed at Foundations Revealed for the coming months, I'm planning to spend some time on self study and further development of my collections and stock pieces. I'm curious where it will take me. But I'm already looking forward to the future!

Main personal lesson for the next projects? I think they call it time management :p 

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