Posts tagged Corsets
by Laura Ulak
The number one question I get asked as a costumer (other than “Can you make me something?” and that answer is “Yes, and it will cost $1 million dollars.”) is “So you must really love Halloween, right?” And that answer would be – Yes. Sort of.
I know lots of people who have big Halloween parties and who whoop it up in costume on the day that many think of as costuming’s High Holy day. However, typically those folks are people who don’t often dress up the rest of the year. This is because it is considered “socially acceptable” to dress up on Halloween, no matter how old you are. People who are uncomfortable with wearing costumes in public at, say, the Renaissance Festival, out bowling, or for a picnic or con are very comfortable with dressing up (often in very skimpy costumes) on Halloween.
And more power to them! Everyone should have a day of fun, a day of pretending to be someone else, or just dressing up because they want to. However, for me, Halloween is pretty much a day of rest.
By the time October 31st rolls around I will have attended 2-3 conventions, 1 or more Renaissance Festivals and countless other costuming events from January 1st on through October. By October 31st? I am pretty much costumed out.
I instead focus my energies into making costumes for my children and seeing what other people are wearing. Our family hasn’t carved pumpkins in years. We don’t decorate for Halloween. Any candy that has been purchased is likely to be pretty well eaten before the big day.
Instead I use Halloween as a day to sit and think about the costumes I have worn all year, and to be as comfortable as possible. No corsets, no hoop steel, no uncomfortable wigs, make-up or shoes.
To those who love Halloween and celebrate it with gusto – I applaud you. In my PJ’s. From my comfy chair, by the fire. I’ll save an Almond Joy for you.
by Laura Ulak
I speak to you as the proud and slightly deranged member of 7 very large group costume projects. Four of the projects have already happened, and 3 are in the planning stages now. Our group sizes have run from 10 to 25 people. I have planned or helped plan most of them and in the beginning did a large amount of the construction as well.
I first got involved with group costuming when I decided in 2007 that I wanted to recreate a costume from a portrait. However, I had a large group of costuming friends, and it seemed like it would be more fun if we ALL wore portrait recreations at MNRF (Minnesota Renaissance Festival). Since we had more female members than male, I decided on King Henry VIII of England and his family. By the time we were done we had recreated not only Henry and his six wives, but also Queen Mary Tudor, Lady Jane Grey, a tailor, three ladies-in-waiting, a painter and a tour guide.
I decided early on that I could not be one of the Queens– as the person who at that point was doing the bulk of the sewing, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist adjusting the outfits of people, snipping spare threads, etc., and thus I became the Royal Tailor.
Project Tudor (as it was known) taught me an incredible amount about sewing, about creating, and about managing. (I still have regrets over those last minute hats, though…) It helped prepare me for other group events, and was so much fun (despite my being completely sleep-deprived) that I was instantly bitten by the group costuming bug.
The next year (2010) our sewing group decided we wanted to be courtesans out at MNRF. Applying the lessons I learned the year before made this event come off more easily than the previous one. It helped that I was not doing most of the sewing work, and that no person was irreplaceable. When all was said and done, we had 20 Italian (esque) Courtesans. We ran the gamut from historically accurate to movie inspirations.
This was also the first year that we had a “performance.” We decided it would be fun to be introduced to the King and Queen as a wedding gift from Italy, and as such, each of our “ladies” was to have a different specialty. Since I was organizing the event, I was the Madam or “Manager” of the ladies and did the introductions. We had a contortionist, a dominatrix, a set of twins and a perpetual virgin. I feel comfortable saying that the King and Queen were VERY surprised. Hee!
As my fellow costumers got better and better at their craft and didn’t need as much in the way of direction, my role became less of manager and more of advisor. For 2011 we attended MNRF as the Royal Court of the United Provinces of the Island of Wenchlandia– everyone was Queen for a day. We had various silly names (I was Godiva Ghiardelli, the Countess of Cadbury) and everyone had to have a crown or tiara. We had a smaller group of 17, but no less amount of fun.
I did make 5 outfits in 5 days for 5 of us (including myself, although my costume had been in construction for many months prior to this), but otherwise just helped folks with questions, fittings, etc. We had no real presentation, no skit, no defined plan, and it was very nice to be able to just go and swan around and be Queens.
I decided to go to Costume Con for 2012 and thought it would be fun to enter the Masquerade. A small idea about Dr. Who turned into a massive undertaking of 12 people in 2 countries and 7 states. We decided to be Steampunkish Victorian femme Doctors, and each person was to interpret their Doctor in the way they saw fit. We had formal Victorians, Edwardian inspiration outfits, a Saloon Girl style, a Lolita style, and Cindy Lou Who. For our presentation the joke was that the Tardis had “reversed the polarity of the neutron flow” and caused the Doctor to split into pieces – female pieces. Since there are supposed to be only 12 reincarnations of the Doctor (as per Dr. Who canon), and there had only been 11 doctors thus far on the TV series, we knew we had to have a 12th Doctor. Since Erin was not a Doctor Who fan and misheard “Whovian” as being “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” we thought it would be fun to have Cindy Lou Who be our rather confused 12th Doctor. The audience response proved us correct, and we won multiple Worksmanship awards and Judge’s Choice, and had a ball doing it.
This particular group costuming event taught me even more about managing people. Particularly people you may not know extremely well, and are not comfortable yelling at! However, the thrill of the performance and sharing in something so amazing with people I liked convinced me to participate in more Masquerades. Which means I have 3 group projects on my schedule for the next two years…
There are several uniting factors in all of these experiences that have been good learning experiences, and which I think are valuable for anyone planning a large group costume event/masquerade entry to know:
1. I learned to have back-ups for my back-ups. In Project Tudor, we had to replace Lady Jane Grey a month out and I already had someone in mind for the job and she was able to step into the role almost seamlessly.
2. No one is irreplaceable, except when they are. When we did PT we did not foresee one thing – that our Queen Elizabeth I would get H1N1 the morning of the event and not be able to participate. Since QE1 was not essential to the group it was okay to be missing her (and in a bit of serendipity, her costume was the only one I was not able to mostly complete in my all nighter the night before the event), but if someone has to drop out the morning OF the event, you should still have a back-up. Or be able to grab a random person to throw the costume on.
When we did the Whos, we really couldn’t afford to lose any of the Doctors. If we had 1-3 and then 5-12 but no 4 we would have looked ridiculous. Having learned from PT, I had possible ideas for filling in for any missing people.
3. Make sure you have a drop dead date for folks to drop out. For my event for next year I have a drop dead date of one month out from the event, as we need to have time to get our AV and sound together, and we don’t want to have to go back and edit anything.
4. Keep your paperwork together and able to be transported easily. For PT I had a 3 ring binder that I had carried around for almost 18 months with the measurements of all participants, photos of the costumes, and fabric swatches to match the portraits. I sourced fabrics online, in person, in town and on vacation. I was able to pull out fabrics from shelves and match them immediately to photos because I had them with me at all times.
5. Do not be afraid to try something new. During PT I learned to make jewelry and hats and corsets and so many things that I had never tried before.
6. Learned to accept help from others. No man is an island, and people will help if you ask for help. People WANT to participate.
7. I discovered that all projects need to have a deadline for their individual parts – if something is not working you need to move on and not keep trying the same idea and hoping to get different results. Put a time limit on something new – if it doesn’t work, go on to your back-up plan.
8. It is important to ultimately have ONE person (or two who work together very well and are on the same page in regards to the project) to make final decisions. The adage “too many cooks spoil the broth” applies very much here. People may have lots of good ideas, but someone needs to be able to step in and reduce those ideas down to something that will work, and have the ultimate “NO” power.
9. You have to be willing to be tough on your members. You have to keep track of your members, keep them on task, and make sure that things progress smoothly. People who have never been part of a group or team can have a hard time going from “me” to “us.” It is your job to help them.
10. Be realistic. How many people can you handle in your group? How much space is there on stage? Do you have time to actually complete all the ideas you want to? Do you have the capabilities? And if you don’t have the capabilities, do you have the time to learn something new?
And above all – this should be fun. It may be stressful, and there may be yelling, and you may want to strangle every single member of your group at least once, but remember that you are making a memory with these people. That you are doing something together as a group to have FUN. It shouldn’t be so much about the winning, but more about the experience. Winning is nice, don’t get me wrong, but sharing a moment with your friends is the part that will stay with you long after that prize ribbon is gone.
by Chelsey Barnes
I bet you’re just dying to know how that Steampunk Circus costume turned out, aren’t you?
Well, I would have to say that, despite some minor setbacks, it was an outstanding success. Here’s how it went down (bear with me… I am not proud of how I photograph, and will share the goofy picture so it appears that I look dumb in pictures on purpose):
Let’s start with the stuff I didn’t make, shall we? First, there is the totally rad black and white striped button up shirt, found at a thrift store by a friend, and immediately snatched up by me because it was perfect. Then I found the black and white striped tights on clearance (I assume, since they are not on the website, and I don’t pay full price for anything) at my local neighborhood Hot Topic. But really, you can get striped tights just about anywhere; though, unless they are in a sealed package, I’d recommend staying away from any at a thrift store. Lastly, the shoes were another thrifted item, again found by a friend, and pretty much a staple of all of my steampunk costumes. A bit of advice: If you’re like me and lack the thrifting fu (or, perhaps, the thrifting patience), always go with a friend. Luckily, my friends have amazing thrifting fu.
Moving on, I’ll show you something I didn’t make, but did alter.
I truly have the world’s greatest daddy. I’m sure 30 years ago when my dad was–I kid you not–a chimney sweep, he wasn’t thinking, “Gee, I’d better hang onto this top hat because someday I’m going to have a daughter that’s into costuming,” but it’s sure come in handy. I cut a piece of my corset fabric as long as the circumference of the hat and about an inch shorter. It’s vinyl, so it doesn’t fray, so I didn’t hem the top and bottom. I did fold the sides in about 3/4″ in order to give stability behind the grommets. A few black grommets and a length of black satin ribbon, and the hat was all set. I would also like to thank genetics for having the same freakishly small head as my dad, because no one can steal my hat. *mwah ha ha ha ha ha ha*
Okay, so what kind of real sewing did I do? Plenty. And I managed to con a friend into helping, in order to keep my mental breakdown to a minimum.
The corselet is the “tall” version of this Truly Victorian pattern. Honestly, it’s one of the easiest patterns I’ve ever used. Ever. I need to make like 900 more of these, because not only are the easy, they’re amazingly comfortable. The fabric is a custom order “Signature” vinyl from Jo-Ann Fabrics. It’s not on their website, sorry. It’s lined with muslin and duck cloth. The boning is the Wench Posse standard: cable ties.
The black sticking out is a petticoat roughly following these instructions at Sugardale. My dearest friend in the whole wide world (who kept working on this even after I accidentally stole her fortune cookie) did 99% of the work on this, gathering up and layering 4 yard, 6 yard, and 8 yard lengths of polyester lining fabric.
The skirt is a decadent 100% silk that I got for some ridiculous clearance price like $2.50/yd. Go ahead. I’ll give you a moment to curse me for snatching up super-cheap silk before you could. Better? Let’s move on. The skirt was not supposed to be that particular skirt. That skirt was born at the 11th hour. The, let’s say, 5th hour skirt was a red/black two-tone taffeta with black lace on top. Problem 1: It was way too heavy. It made this teapot (short and stout) look horrible. Problem 2: the layers were a pain to work with, mostly by my own fault. So I scrapped that, took my silk and cut two lengths selvedge to selvedge. I sewed those together up one set of selvedges and gathered them onto a waistband. An invisible zipper later, I was sewing up the other set of selvedges. I did a rolled hem on my serger to get myself out of actually hemming.
The next step is to work on accessories. Which is, admittedly, my weak spot. I certainly welcome suggestions, but I do know I will be including a pocket watch and little photos of ferrets.
…to be continued…
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.