Archive for April, 2009

Two New Books on Corsets:

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Corsets – Historical Patterns and Techniques by Jill Salen, 2008, Costume and Fashion Press

One of two good books on corsetry to come out in 2008, this book is not at all what I had expected. First, I must admit that I glanced at the cover and got a very poor first impression. Why would anyone choose that corset picture for the cover – it was obviously an odd ‘hybrid’ style, and the stitching is crooked. (oh silly me!) After reading the book, I found out that the orange (red) and black corset is actually a vintage piece, dating from the 1860’s, heavily altered, with a busk from an earlier period. Thus my confusion.

Each corset featured in this book is an interesting study – none of them are typical for their time periods and each one has something to teach us. There are eclectic examples from the 18th and 19th centuries – and even a doll’s corset. This is a great read for those who love ‘fashion archeology’. I enjoyed it very much and learned a lot – once I got past the cover art.
But, If you are looking for a ‘how to’ book, to help you make a typical corset for a certain time period, this isn’t the book for you. There are patterns for each corset – more to explain exactly what you are looking at – much as in Janet Arnold’s books – Patterns of Fashion. These patterns can help you in drafting your own patterns, but they are not intended to be ‘easy to use’ patterns for beginning corset makers.
With that in mind, enjoy this book – it is wonderful to see a scholarly work on interesting and unusual corsets.

The Basics of Corset Building – A handbook for Beginners by Linda Sparks, USA edition 2009, St. Martin’s Press

This book, originally published in Canada, is by Linda Sparks of Farthingale Corset Supplies. And, unlike me, who has threatened to write a ‘how to’ book on corset making for years, she actually did it and has done a very credible job with a complex subject.

Gentle readers! be advised that corset making is not for beginning sewers. I’ve seen the frustration of someone out of their depth struggling with a too complex subject. Many skilled tailors won’t tackle a corset. But if you are of the right mind set – and have time and money to spend – it can be a very rewarding project.

That said, this book can be of great assistance in corset making. The sections on special tools and hardware are very good. The author goes into detail on the special skills needed, and give 2 good methods for constructing corsets. (neither one of them are what I use, but it’s nice to know that I’ll have something to add to the discussion when I get around to writing my book!)

What you won’t find in this book are patterns, as commercial patterns are recommended. And you won’t find the detailed instruction needed to fit a corset properly. Her fitting method is cumbersome, and she spends a bit too much time making excuses for why spending time on fitting is so necessary. If a sewer hasn’t learned the value of fitting, then they must’ loose one turn and go back to the beginning’!

Here are some suggestions:
-if you are not good at pattern drafting or alteration – have a custom pattern made. It will get you at least 90% of the way to a well fitted and comfortable corset.
-use a firm fabric for your fitting muslin – real muslin is too soft and stretchy.
-use the fitting techniques that I send out with the Indispensible Corset Fitting Aid (see the web page section on Corset Supplies) It will save several steps in the fitting process and is re-useable for many projects. You can’t do the fitting with just pins.
-Your first corset is a learning experience, and you will learn even more as you wear your corset – don’t expect a perfect corset on your first try.
-If you are not a patient person and always start your project the night before the event, this may not be the project for you. Accept it and move on.

So to wrap up, this is a good resource – you can learn a lot and build up new skills. I’m so glad that there is finally a book of this caliber. But, it is not an easy read, and it is not all inclusive. Corset making as we do it today has had to be re-invented – and as materials and tools improve, so do our methods. That could be why I like this work. There is always something new to learn, or a new puzzle to solve.