Monday, March 9, 2015

Revamping the Steampunk Cheshire Cat and the diagonal seamed corset

Wild Wild West Con at Old Tuscon Studios was rapidly approaching and I was horribly sick with bronchitis.  I had planned on doing so many new costumes, but could barely muster the energy to do other mundane things that had to be done.  One costume that absolutely had to be finished was the revamp of the Steampunk Cheshire Cat.  I suppose I could have just worn it as it was the previous time, but the Albuquerque Steampunk Society was doing a group costume of Alice in Wonderland on the Sunday and I did not want to have my costume be a let down. As I felt a bit better I focused on this costume almost exclusively.

Some of the upgrades were simple.  First was the mask, the battery holders got moved to reduce the pressure point they created against my forehead and I added copper whiskers.  The whiskers are simple copper wire shaped and then super glued into holes drilled into the mask. I will admit the drilling made me really nervous, but the drill had no problem drilling the paper clay and made really neat holes.  I did not even have to fix the paint!

The second simple upgrade involved making a new belt.  Since I planned to move the tail attachment to the corset, I was going to need to destroy the belt that the tail was currently attached to due to the fact that the tail support was riveted to the belt.  I love the little cat face pouch I made and wanted to continue wearing it, so I made a really quick and dirty new belt.  This belt used scraps of the pink leather salvaged from the ruined belt and some brass colored rings.  The rings are for hanging curtains which I selected because they are the right size, but of unknown metal.  I just removed the clips that would hold the curtains and utilized the rings.  The spaced rings would allow me to clip on my little cat face pouch and also will allow me to make other bits to use in the future.  In particular I want a fan holster, they are so very useful at outdoor hot events. 

The hard upgrade was the corset.  I was determined to have a corset that had had stripes in pink and purple.  I also did not want simple vertical or horizontal stripes.  The solution came in the form of an article on Foundations Revealed which discussed a diagonal seamed corset.  The introductory article to these kinds of corsets is free and can be found here.  The advertisement is from 1885, so I figured I would see if I could use the 1883 corset patent I worked up for my HSM 2015 January challenge of foundations and turn it into a diagonal seamed corset.

To create the pattern, I made a simple mock up of the pattern I made in January and stuck it on my dress form.  I then drew diagonal lines were I thought they looked nice.  In hindsight, maybe evenly spacing the lines would have been good.  Maybe next time?

I realized that these pieces were going to be really confusing, so I number the pieces before cutting the mock up apart.

 I then cut this mock up apart to make a new pattern with the seams on the diagonal. 

Since the fabric could bias and stretch a bit when pinning to cut the corset fabric, I carefully copied the pattern pieces to paper.  I also realized that I needed to mark absolutely everything on my paper pattern!  Normally I can be a bit sloppy in my marking, but I was worried that these pieces were so unintuitive that I would add seam allowance where I shouldn't and miss it in other places.  I marked the center front, back, where seam allowances needed to be added and where they did not.  I also marked what pieces and exactly where each pattern piece attached to.  I was pretty terrified of messing this corset up really badly while sewing.

At this point I made my first set of mistakes.  The only bright pink and purple fabric I could find that also had a nice shine to it was a cotton satin twill.  Unfortunately it had stretch to it, a 2 way stretch.  I have never used a stretch fabric before for a corset, but I figured I could make a strength layer with non-stretch twill and as long as I cut the diagonal pieces with the stretch only in the vertical direction it would all work out.  This idea would probably have been O.K. if I did not have problems with the strength layer later.

The next mistake is that I was a bit terrified of doing the diagonal pattern and still line up bone casings so I made the strength layer with normal vertical seams. The combination of vertical seams and the diagonal seams made lining up the strength layer and the fashion layer really challenging, but I decided to press ahead and added bone casings to the strength layer.  At this point I had a real problem!  It turns out that even though I bought bone casing in bulk and tested the casing with my boning, full size bones did not actually fit!  The boning fits very tightly and while it worked for short pieces of casing (3-4 inches) that I tested with, it would not work for the full length of the corset.  In fact, I got several pieces of boning completely stuck and since they were spring steel the stretched completely out of shape trying to free them!  The only thing I can think of is that the boning I am using is an old order from Weissner and maybe the bone casing I bought from Canada cannot fit the thick bones from Weissner.  I actually bought the widest casing available and my thick bones wont fit at all.  I will likely buy other boning so the casing is not a total loss, but this casing wont work with any of the boning I currently own.

In comparison to the strength layer, the diagonal layer went together like a dream.  I stitched together each piece, clipped and ironed each seam and then stitched down the seam allowance for each stripe.  I was really worried that having all those seam allowance run around would be really bad in the final corset.  After stitching down the seam allowance, I trimmed off the excess seam allowance.  Of course, now I had the problem of what to do since my strength layer was a complete failure.

I turned back to the Foundations Revealed article and found that the majority of surviving diagonal seamed corsets are one layer.  The bone channels are fabric or twill tape (I am not sure) stitched directly to the diagonal panels.  Since the fabric I selected does of stretch, this is not an ideal solution.  However, I decided to try it anyway since the stretch was all vertical and I hoped it would be O.K.  I used black twill tape to make boning channels and a waist tape.  This of course meant that the vertical stitching which would have been reserved for the strength layer will now be visible on all the panels.  Since I did not want the stitching to match only the pink or the purple, I used a variegated purple thread to stitch down all the channels.   I also added non-stretch twill as a strength layer just to the front closure to stabilize the busk and to the lacing panel.  I was very worried that any stretch around the grommets would mean failure of the corset while wearing it!  The entire corset is bound with bias tape and had the purple straps hand stitched to the inside of the corset.

Here is the final corset, please forgive the odd lumpiness of displaying on the dress form!  My dress form has neither my hips nor my bust.  The extra ribbons on the back are to allow the tail to be attached. The only thing I wish to do now is floss the bone channels.  The use of a single layer makes me really nervous, even though many surviving corsets were only one layer.  I want the flossing to help reduce wear by the bones.

Speaking of tail attachment, I did redo the tail.  My husband boiled some leather and allowed it to dry overnight to make a strong base. He then took the wire supporting the tail and ran it through 2 holes in the first piece of leather.  After the wire was through, he made loops out of the wire flush with the leather.  This prevents the wire from sliding back out of the holes and gives a good strong base to hold up the tail.  The wire is then sandwiched by another thick piece of leather and the two pieces of leather are riveted together.  The image to the left shows the two thick pieces of leather which sandwich the tail wires.

I then added a decorative layer of pink leather which is attached by rivets and some grommets to lace the tail to the corset.

The tail can then be attached to the corset using the short purple ribbons.  This means that the tail is easily removable and easy to put back on for important things like car rides and bathroom breaks. 

The tail is actually quite long as you can see in the second picture.  So long that I often smack people with it on accident.
Don't mind the actual cat, he is trying to pull the fuzzy tail cover off the tail.  He actually did manage to stretch the fabric in the short time it took me to take pictures. He is very young and has not yet learned his costume manners!

This next weekend, I will write up the actual event and include pictures of the full outfit.  I am so glad I felt better in time to actually finish this outfit, it was so fun to play dress up with the full group and we ended up with 11 people doing Alice in Wonderland with us!


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