Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Great British Sewing Bee Does Corsets - Part 2

I was feeling so positive about the pieces the contestants made, especially as it was the first time for almost all of them, but then the ‘history’ section started and I felt … disappointed. It’s so frustrating that the BBC went for lazy pseudo-history!

Let’s look at what they said …

The Mad Hatter.  Image from Wikipedia.
Well, they started with, “It’s the only garment in history that could kill.” Sigh! I’m not aware of any documented cases where a corset killed anyone (and I believe there was a case where it actually prolonged someone’s life, but that’s for another time), however leaving that aside, what about other garments? In the 19th century they commonly used green arsenic dye in women’s gowns – sounds pretty deadly to me.  The famous Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland was a reference to the mercury poisoning 19th century milliners often suffered from, due to exposure to the element in their work.

Isadora Duncan.  Image from Wikipedia.
Moving towards garments we still wear … The dancer Isadora Duncan was strangled to death when her scarf got caught in the rear wheels of her car.  There have been various other cases where scarves, ties and other neckwear has got caught and strangled someone (such as in the doors of a lift or the moving parts of an escalator).

But, let’s move on from that killer corset comment, shall we? (Well, I’ll try to!)

Next came Rosemary Hawthorne to demonstrate how stiff and thick Victorian corsets were … well, yes, they would be when you’ve got them rolled up and try to bend them. Apparently (according to the BBC’s expert, that is), corsets mean you couldn’t run and made steps a challenge. Of course, women of the 19th century spent all their time walking as slowly as possible on the ground floors of buildings. (Wish there was a sarcasm font I could use here!)  She even claims that “You would have been immobile in a garment like that!”

Well, crap, someone had better tell KathTea Katastrophy, a corsetiere and model who used to work as a personal trainer while wearing her corsets (see the first entry on this Lucy’s Corsetry page for details), because according to Rosemary Hawthorne, that’s impossible.

And what about all those maids and other working women who wore corsets their entire lives throughout the 18th and 19th centuries?  (And as seen in Downton Abbey - the actresses playing servants apparently wear corsets as part of their costumes.)

So you see why I was so disappointed in this segment of the programme – it was all just regurgitated propaganda from Victorian anti-corset writers.

I’m at risk of going into a full-on rant, so I’m going to stop there. If you’d like a more realistic and truly expert discussion of corsetry, you’d do well to read Valerie Steele’s The Corset: A Cultural History (And yes, her name is very apt, isn’t it?!) and do check out Lucy’s Corsetry recent blog post responding to a US TV show’s segment on corsetry and its health implications.

To summarise – The Great British Sewing Bee does corsets gave some good first attempts at making corsets, despite the limitations, but made an epic fail in their attempts at corset history.

Coming up next week, I’ll tell you the three main mistakes they made with the corsets on the Sewing Bee and how you can fix them!

In the meantime, tell me what you thought about the Sewing Bee’s corset history. Lots of lovely folk on the Magpie & Fox Facebook page and in some corsetry groups shared my woes about the faux history on the programme – join in the discussion!

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Great British Sewing Bee Does Corsets - Part 1

So last night was the ‘Structure’ episode of The Great British Sewing Bee, which meant corsetry. Making corsets was the technical challenge for the episode, followed by a short piece on the ‘history of the corset’. I’ve put that in inverted commas for a reason, which I’ll get to in my next post!

First things first, thoughts on the contestants’ corsets.

The Corsets

Image from The Great British Sewing Bee Facebook page.
(Of course, this is also another gratuitous Patrick pic, what can I say?)
I’ve got to say, I’m really impressed with what they made! Particularly considering the limitations, which I’ll discuss in a moment, they produced some really pretty garments!

Amanda (a fellow teacher) made her own bias binding, but alas that slowed her down and meant she didn’t quite get finished in time, but top marks for effort and trying to give that fine finish.

Some of the materials they used were appropriate, such as eyelets and spiral steel boning (no rigilene, as some feared, which is a small victory in itself). Rigilene doesn’t work well for corsetry (it’s far too flimsy, for one thing), so it was great to see them working with steel boning.

And I must say just how envious I am that they had access to hand presses for the eyelets! I so badly want one, but they are so expensive! A hand press is definitely on my to-save-for list, but they’re not a necessity for corsetry, so we can do without!

But, those limitations:

  • They had four hours to make their pieces – I definitely couldn’t make one of my corsets in that time (though I do cut and tip my own boning and hand-finish my binding, for example).
  • There were some nice things about the pattern they followed – the seamlines down the front and the top and bottom lines were attractive – but there wasn’t much curve to the pattern. It clearly wouldn’t give any reduction and was quite tubular.
  • It didn’t look like they had access to fabrics specifically made for corsetry, ie coutil.  Instead the contestants were left to choose their own fabrics from the usual haberdashery. If they’d been able to use coutil, they would have had much better results, without so much rippling seen in some of the pieces made in finer cottons (looked like a couple were made in poplin, for example).

Get Your Supplies

If you want to make a corset using the right fabric, my favourite suppliers are Vena Cava and Sew Curvy, both UK-based (both ship internationally, though, so go ahead if you’re not in the UK yourself).  

In celebration of the Sewing Bee's corsets, Burda Style are currently giving away this downloadable corset pattern for free - I haven't used this pattern myself, but it does look quite tubular, I'm afraid.  But fear not, if you want something more curvy, Sew Curvy have launched their first corset pattern this week, which promises to be more hourglass - again, I haven't tried this one myself, but Julia is a specialist in corsetry, so she knows what she's doing!

Over to You

What did you think of last night’s Sewing Bee?  Did it give you the courage to try out making your first corset?  Do you have questions about how to do that?   What did you think of the contestant’s pieces?

Watch out for my next post where I'll look at the 'history' part of the show!

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Great British Sewing Bee - Corsets or 'boned bodices'?

So, I've just seen a little trailer for this week's episode of The Great British Sewing Bee and it's filled me with trepidation ...  This week is the one I've been waiting for - they're making corsets.

Or, rather, they're making what they're calling 'boned bodices', but it looks like all the contestants are referring to them as 'corsets'.

Gratuitous Patrick Grant photo.
I suspect they're making something that has zero reduction (so doesn't cinch the waist, but does smooth the body) and is designed to function as a bodice/top for wearing with a skirt, perhaps.  That way it's not too racy (Oh, lingerie, too brazen for the Beeb!) and avoids any fearmongering about reduction or body modification ("But your ribs will break!").

Here's the little preview: The Great British Sewing Bee Does Corsetry.

I'm keen to see what techniques they use and how the contestants get on.  I definitely saw spiral steel in the trailer, so they are using steel boning.

What do you think of the Sewing Bee?  Should they be making speed corsets?  Would this encourage you to have a go at making a corset?

If you're thinking about making your first, I've got some info coming up soon about corset patterns, so keep your eyes peeled.  Subscribe to my mailing list, to be first to know when it lands!

Edit: Here is my first post on the corsets made in this episode of the show!  And Part 2 is here!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Wordless Wednesday - The Wordless Catch-Up!

 Well, mostly wordless ...

Study trip to the Bath Fashion Museum - corsets!

We bought a house in August ...

It has a fox tap in the garden!  Was made for me!

Behind the scenes at OCOC14 photo shoot.  The lovely Alivya Free!

Alivya V Free wearing my Nyx corset.  Photography by Scott Chalmers.
Playing with photography ...

It's been a while, but I'm glad to be back.  

What have you been doing?