This particular corset or pair of stays will have four layers.
I started with the two base or foundation layers. I used plain navy blue (closest to the blue of the Shweshwe that I could find) cotton twill as this material is fairly stable and non-stretch. It is also has a nice and natural feel, it would allow the skin to breath (somewhat) and wouldn’t be too hot or uncomfortable. I used a medium weight iron on vylene on the outer of the two foundation layers (seen here in the wrong order; I changed the two base layers around after this picture was taken) in order to give it some extra stiffness and help the corset to appear smoother. The foundation layers are the ones that will be sewn together to form the boning channels that will hold the bones. These layers are responsible for the shape and structure of the corset.
The shell is the outer layer of this of corset and from very early on I had decided that this layer would be purely ornamental and would have nothing to do with the dynamics or structure of the garment itself. In other words, it will hold no bones in place, and in fact, the corset can function very well without it. I cut this layer of Shweshwe on the same pattern as the rest of the corset, panels and all, and will be hand sewn onto the foundation layers after the bones have been inserted. The eyelets will be added through this layer and it will be bound with the rest of the corset.
Ideally (and somewhat historically) the lining should be added last, so that it could be removed and replaced easily without having to undo any part of the rest of the corset. Remember that corsets or stays were everyday garments, washing wasn’t a national pastime and laundering a pair of stays was a major operation (if ever attempted). When the lining wore through or became dirty, it would be very economic to just be able to removed the old lining and replace with a fresh one. For this reason I will add the lining last. The lacing eyelets will not go through it and it will not be bound with the rest of the corset. It will be hand-sewn onto the inside of the corset almost as an afterthought.
On to the boning –>
The pattern I decided on for this particular corset was for a pair of half boned stays from Norah Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines. As this is my first pair of stays or 18th century corsets that I attempt with something as conventional as a sewing machine (no cardboard this time!) the simplicity of the pattern appealed to me. I also really liked the delicate structural pattern of the bones. The direction of the boning in a corset like this is very important since it is only half boned, and a lot of the shape of the garment is dictated by the careful placing of bones.
Pattern of stays from Diderot’s L’Encyclopedie, “Tailleur de Corps”. It is a half-boned stay, cut from six pieces only, the shaping being given by the direction of the bones. It would have the extra busk and the shaping bones across the front and across the shoulder blades. It might also be fully boned.
This corset closes at the back, but since I do not have several ladies to dress me, it made sense to devise a front closure so I could lace myself into the corset. Lacing into a corset with double lacing and the convenient looped “rabbit ear” laces is easy, but lacing yourself into the rigid boned stays of the 18th century would be impossible unless the closes in the the front. I also decided to add a separate stomacher, so as to allow me more freedom with regards to how tight I want to lace it and how much weight I plan to gain/lose in the next few years. In this way the corset would lace in the front over a stomacher that would show through the laces. For an example of what I have in mind, see the lovely corset in the image below. I’m also quite interested by the that seemed to have bits of fabric sewed between them to keep them from flaring open too far. This is something used in the Cardboard Corset to prevent the cardboard tabs from sticking out to far, and I might keep it in mind for use in the Shweshwe corset too.
Front lacing stays with stomacher from the Manchester Art Gallery.
On to the pattern. Since I had decided to lace it open in the front as well as leave a considerable gap between the two front panels (to allow for the stomacher) I ended up drawing the pattern completely wrong. I didn’t take into account that by opening the front up (and therefore making the panels slightly less wide , the shoulder tabs would move to the sides and sit under my arms. On the panel below you can see how far back the shoulder tabs are. If that corset was to lace shut in the front, the tabs would be fine, but as I intended the fronts to reach no further than the point of the breasts, the tabs were in completely the wrong place.
Initial front panel of the Shweshwe corset pattern.
So I redrew the front panel and moved the shoulder tabs forward. The now look like they are going to cover the breasts, but actually that are still running quite wide over the shoulders. Another change I made was to add several inches to the waistline of the corset, as the waist part of this corset was definitely too small for me. Over the centuries our waists have been steadily increasing in size while our breasts remained more or less the same. I cannot find the corresponding article online to substantiate these wild claims of mine, because the internet seems to be inundated with tedious accounts of how obesity is evil. This waist widening has nothing to do with obesity, however, and it would seem from non-obesity related research that the female waist has been steadily disappearing for one reason or another. Hence the extra needed inches at the waist of this corset.
Final front panel, with the tabs at the waist. The shoulder tabs have been moved forward to accommodate the open front closure.
The back panel of the corset was relatively fuss free and easy to measure out. By and by I might mention that my mother (an old hand in sewing) said that the only reason I’m doing this with relative success and optimism so far is that I don’t know what I’m letting myself in for! The luck of the ignorant!
The shoulder panel was by far the easiest, most boring and incidentally also the one that I find hardest to make work with the rest of the design (as it keeps flapping off to the side whenever I sew the corset).
The shoulder strap.
On to the layers of fabric –>
The first project for this all exclusive corsetry blog: the Shweshwe corset! This is a project that I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time, ever since I ran rampant in a fabric store, feeling up all the Shweshwe and fantasising about what a fantastic material it is for corset making.
Shweshwe is a 100% cotton fabric manufactured in the traditional way using copper rollers which have patterns etched on the surface, allowing the transfer of a weak discharge solution onto the fabric. While this fabric is now inherently very African, it initially came from India and was brought to South Africa by German settlers. It was first adopted by the Xhosa who made it their own and began adapting it to give it the uniquely African feel that it retains to this day.
Shweshwe as it is still worn in parts of Africa. Note the mix of colonial style and the more traditional African influences. Photo from Injabulo
Fashion Shweshwe: outfit by South African designer Bongiwe Walaza
These days it is hot stuff in the fashion industry and this is why just had to get on the bandwagon and make some Shweshwe creations of my very own!
While you’re looking at African fabrics, make sure to check out these Commemorative Cloths or fancy prints as well.
The Shweshwe that I chose was probably not the best design for the type of corset I decided to make, but it is beautiful and very feminine, which makes it ideal for my purposes. This particular cloth is designed with the panels of a skirt in mind, and the panels can be clearly seen on this image.
After the first wash the fabric felt significantly softer and more pliable, since the starch left over from the printing process had now been completely removed. This left me a bit worried that it might not be the best material for corsetry after all. I decided to make the base of the corset out of plain cotton twill which will be stronger and less likely to stretch or distort, and then use the Shweshse only as the decorative outer layer and the plain Shweshwe for the lining.
Now on to the pattern –>
Self-portrait of me having a brain fart.
So…this blog has been a bit quiet for a while, gone dormant while I was working on a bit of writing that will henceforth be referred to only as The Project. Suffice it to say the project is a bit secret and very possibly quite lame, but it has given me the wonderful idea of trying to create a webcomic out of the soup of ideas that are now floating around in my brain and on my computer. Or at least that is the plan. Of course I haven’t started yet, so here is a preview of something I made way back when in the days when The Concept (which informs The Project) first assailed me.
Desiderata, The Queen of the Heart
So I’ve dug up my old friend the graphic design course compulsory visual journal that we were all told we couldn’t live without. I have half a mind to start drawing stuff in there again, but there is just never time. Never any time because I have taken it upon myself to start a completely unmanageable project (henceforth referred to as The Project) that is not only well beyond my ability, but also eating up my ENTIRE life.
Kinda makes me feel the way I did at university, hence the nostalgia and the journal.
Here are some covers:
Front cover A sports a self-portrait of me. This is what I seemed to think I look like back then: tired and depressed with a weak chin. The title of this side of the journal is “In the Shadows” and this was used for all the work I cleverly thought would help improve my case and make my lecturers decide I deserved to pass. A lot of it is bad and most of it is pretentious.
Front cover B features a very happy drawing of a yacht on the ocean, pretty much expressing my intense desire to be at the beach rather than in the studio. It is titled “Sailing in Dover” and everything in this side of the journal was stuff I really wanted to do. Which probably didn’t improve my case as what I wanted to do was considered seriously uncool by the ultra with-it people who took it upon themselves to try and force design into my skull.
Also, I love the way Fawkes from The Guild picks up the phone and immediately informs the caller that he is “journalling”. That, and I also tend to use old-school/Victorian/geek methods of writing or drawing in journals with quill and ink. Took me right back to my own journalling days.