RIP, Chris Cornell.

Poor Chris Cornell. His passing has definitely triggered some heavy thinking on subjective meaning and the stories we tell ourselves about the sum value of our lives in isolation. Suicide scares me; it’s something that has felt like a dark figure in the periphery of my social circle for a long time. When I was very, very young, my father found his friend, our neighbor, in his barn. The first boy I ever kissed committed suicide. My grandfather did, for reasons I don’t understand and he did not explain. During some nightmarish teen years, I considered it myself. Luckily, I never found the resolve, and life improved and took me places I never imagined and gave me many, many reasons to be thankful to be here. I don’t feel in danger anymore, myself, though when something happens like a relatable creative figure choosing the act (despite seeming to have mastered their own emotional turbulence, having every reason to be satisfied with life, having resources to do what they want and positive influence in the world) it frightens me. It’s worse since Chris Cornell was such a large figure of my youth, and I’d been enjoying his music right up to the present; he seemed to have come to a good place of sobriety, contentment, seemed like a decent human being, and to be a great family man, too.

This song used to make me cry in a happy girly way, hopeful for the peace of middle age and the companionship of family. Now it makes me sad for a daughter without a father and burdened forever with the mystery of his reasons. For the mystery all of us are doomed to be to each other.

He spoke in a Rolling Stone interview in 2014 about the death of Kurt Cobain and a few other friends and how it colored the time around the creation of the Superunknown album. What he said sums up the feeling around his death, too:

“It’s not so much the person and the relationship with them, but the creative inspiration that person has and I would get from that person. My perception of the world of music at large artistically shrank, because suddenly this brilliant guy was gone. I’m not even talking about what he meant culturally; I’m talking about his creativity. It was super inspiring from the very first demo I ever heard. It broadened my mental picture of what the world was creatively, and suddenly a big chunk of it fell off…The tragedy was much more than the fact that I would never see him again – it was that I would never hear him again. There’s this projection I had with Andy, Kurt, Jeff Buckley and other friends of mine that died of looking into the future at all these amazing things they’re going to do. I’ll never be able to predict what that is. All this music that will come out that will challenge me and inspire me – that sort of romantic, dramatic version of the perspective. When that goes away, for me in particular, it was a really hard thing. And it continues to be a hard thing.”

Maybe it was the Ativan he was on. As maybe in my grandfather’s case, it was the Ambien–I’ll never know. Or maybe some of us have brains that are prone to falling in to something that we can’t always crawl out of, independent of our lives’ circumstances. Luckily for me a tendency toward emotional turbulence seems to be tempered by a rapid cycling through of emotions; the worst is usually soon passed. As long as there’s hope of improvement and I still enjoy my obsessive interests, my tendency is to just grind through unhappiness. But feeling isolated compounds it all…which gives more impetus to try to connect in some way, at least, to other people and to remember to work at some kind of expression.

I used to write constantly. I’m a lapsed poet, even, which has something to do with my personality type (INTP, stereotypical nerd) and not wanting to live in my emotions, so I pretend they just aren’t there. It’s kind of impossible to write poetry without exposing feelings. Even if I mistrust my emotions as something ephemeral and more like weather moving over a landscape and not something upon which to base my actions, they are going to have an effect. I’m not the rational creature I tell myself I am; no one is. I read a description of INTP emotion that compared the emotions to a quiet passenger in a limo seated in the back behind closed, tinted glass. You, your in your head monologue version of yourself is the semi-rational, driving agent at the wheel, pretending the passenger isn’t there, and going about your business. That’s all fine and good, until, as if in some Godfather movie, emotions assert their existence despite you and the passenger swarms up from the backseat to try to choke you and your supposed control out and you wreck the car. It’s sad how apt a metaphor that is for my own life experiences. The modern version of Plato’s horse drawn chariot.

So my desire is to crack those windows a bit, between emotion/cerebral inner monologue, self and social world. I may be shit at small talk, but I can strive for a semi-regular “this is what I’m working on and this is what it means to me” ramble.

Lately, just bras that experiment with posture control, some work at an 1860s style corset cover. Bullet journals and lifehack systems. The former, nostalgic femininity; the latter, comforting illusions of structure and control.

Bye for now.

excuse me while I talk about my underwear.

I’ve been sewing a lot of lingerie lately. My life is kind of a series of small possessions–I play host to a revolving door of obsessive interests, immersing in one after another, always centered on an axis of making *something* with a nostalgic eye cast backward in history. My hoarding of pattern catalogs and sewing ephemera *may* be giving way to hoarding of lingerie materials, which in my mind, marks some kind of progress because it’s more about the action of the crafting and the enjoyment of the moment while creating the thing than it is about possession of a thing. We’ll see.

I’m trying to move more into making than owning, more about enjoyment of the process than collecting (but I still love you, bookshelf!). I find trying to sew beautiful things to be a therapeutic exertion of will over a sometimes ugly reality. Politics has me hand-wringing? Grab my lace. Worried about antartic ice sheets? Turn off a few more light bulbs and grab my lace. Focus on the lace. The Western world seems to be both far better than it has been in the last few millenia, in terms of civil rights, gay rights, the standing of women and children, literacy, information access, medicine. Yet in terms of scaled economic injustice and systems of exploitation of labor, climate change, pollution, the island of plastic in the pacific, mercury in and acidification and warming of the oceans, species extinctions, the disappearance of the middle class, the disappearance of privacy, the uncertain future of jobs in a time of automation, it is arguably worse and far more complex than I think most human brains are evolved to be able to grapple with. I don’t know any answers. But in an often ugly, screaming world, I am trying to quietly make what beauty I can. I make lace things. I make lunches. I make babies and make love and make breakfast magic out of 3oz of leftover steak, three eggs and last night’s soggy skinned baked potato. I make scribbles. I make crude jokes. I make my grandma laugh. (Since she watched Sons of Anarchy and Game of Thrones, there’s not much that phases her. <3) That’s often all I feel I have the efficacy in this world to do.

Anyway…I’ve sewn Cloth Habit’s wonderful Harriet pattern at least 10x since I bought it.

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As it was, without modification, the cup placement was slightly narrow for my rather broad boob placement, as to be expected with any pattern I sew. Yet because my shape is shallow up top, the upper cup was sagging sad and empty, as most bras have for me forever. Not the fault of the pattern, just natural variation in human anatomy. (It is a peeve of mine when people complain about patterns not fitting their bodies precisely, especially when it comes to breast shape, when it would be so utterly and obviously impossible for any pattern maker to account for the bajillion types of bodies and mass distribution in existence.) So I tried tweaking the pieces by taking the C cup as a baseline / wireline / cup to cradle joining point and overlaying the B and A size pieces as guides to taper down to the projection of a B cup at the apex and the A cup at the top. Not sure if this was the most efficient way to do this. In fact, it surely wasn’t. But it gave me something that works. I’ve struggled for a few months with the relationship of the wire to the pattern and cup shape, but I think it’s starting to make more sense and really come together for me now. There are a few great blog entries on this topic on bramakingblog.com that were helpful for me.

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After about 10 iterations, I wanted to try something else–specifically, something less pokey in the side boob. Since I need a wire for a bigger cup size than my actual projection, and I have wide boobs on a short torso, I often feel like the wires that fit me are way too long. Demi wires are a great answer to this problem, so I worked some more on a self drafted bra pattern with a different shape. I’ve been trying to up my technical game by working on enclosing all the seams in my bras (there’s a post on doing just that on the Watson pattern on the TailorMadeBlog that got me started on this). So I tried one attempt with a full band.

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Then I reworked my pattern as a partial band bra for shallow demi wires and ended up with this.

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Considering some minor tweaks and fabric variations for this. Happy Sunday!

Tulle Bra, and some 1884 inspirations.

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My bra making is improving, though I still have struggle with some of the finishing details like strap attachment and aligning my channeling just right.

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This is my first attempt to make anything with bra tulle, which I ordered from TailorMadeShoppe on etsy. I was surprised by how easy it was to work with, especially compared to ravelling satin and the constantly stretching and shifting milliskin I used for the band. So much of bra making seems to be about the right materials! I had never tried using bra weight picot elastic in the band but it makes quite a difference in giving feeling of sturdy, good fit, and it looks more properly polished than I could ever make it look with fold over elastic. The cup is two layers–a sturdy inner layer of bra tulle, which has no stretch, and an outer cover I decided to add on a whim of stretchy dot lace draped over and darted to fit the under layer. Next time, I won’t bother with the fussiness of draping and pinning; I’ll just use my pattern to draft a solid, single dart cup outer layer instead.

This has been one of my most satisfying projects yet. The pattern is my own draft, which has gone through so many changes and fit adjustments and trials and tribulations over the last few months it’s unbelievable, but I *finally* have a pattern that works for me and a finished bra that fits perfectly. I can’t believe how comfortable an underwired bra can be. It only has taken me about 4 months, three craftsy classes, and a ton of money on supplies and hundreds of hours of my life to accomplish. HA. But never having to waste money in/try a bra on in a lingerie store=priceless.

The pages beneath are from a few issues of La Mode Illustree from 1884. There is no connection whatsoever between the items except a vague notion in my mind of how femininity is universal across the decades. We all like a bit of luxurious prettiness here and there, especially in the 1880s! I thought I’d share some of the inspiration photos I’ve snapped for a future project:

 

This illustration is my favorite, because it shows a woman’s hair let down, which seems rare for any era earlier than the 60s or 70s of this century, and it’s such an intimate feeling for a fashion illustration:

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Wardrobe Building: Underlayers

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(source)

Happy New Year. ‘Tis the season, I suppose, of navel gazing, doomed promises to oneself, aspirational yearnings. Mine usually involve decluttering and increasing my focus, which is why they typically fail to materialize. My nature is what it is.

I think I have a brain that is addicted to systems and systematizing. I was never very interested in all the fripperies and ebbs and flows of fashion until the last few years of my life. Once I started to see it as a system of recurring variances with social connections that ebbs and flows historically, it began to fascinate me. Now I’m like, excuse me, sir, do you have a second to talk about the recurrence of the flounce as a design element in the last 200 years?

I get really interested in wardrobe planning sometimes, too, but this is where a minimalistic focus might just be able to sneak in to my world. There are some great systems that break down wardrobe creation into addictive little chunks of lists and worksheets like Into Mind’s, here–she has a book and a workbook, as well as a ton of free materials on her website. (I think her system would be great for breaking down things other than wardrobes, too–like my cooking aspirations!)  For a similar system for planning what items to actually sew,  Wardrobe Architect is fantastic too. There are vintage inspired ones, actual vintage ones, French ones, minimalist ones, capsule ones, the blogosphere goes on and on. It is funny the way that a perfect wardrobe seems to carry the promise of success, confidence, grace, coherence. If I can dress like a Hitchcock ice queen, surely my life will fall into place glamorously, yes?

I have emerged in the last few years with a relatively stable sense of my style. I learn toward dark minimalism basics with small touches of bohemian and gothic flair–simple presentation with an air of nostalgia or romanticism. Think Morticia Addams or Vanessa Ives in trousers. Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal with a 1930s closet. Scully in a silk blouse and garter belt under that suit. I don’t do full blown femininity like gowns or dresses, nor do I like to show much skin. But I like little touches like a tailored waistline, cowl neckline or lace cuffs. I secretly wish I could wear a medieval ruff to the grocery store.

My sewing over the last few months has been somewhat guided by this style exploration. I decided to start with underthings, since I’m most picky and least satisfied by contemporary ready to wear in this regard, and because why not start at the bottom layer, my closest fit, the least ease and work my way out? Socks, underwear, camisoles, basic knit blouse shells. I also decided to stop fighting it and embrace sewing with knits–they’re more comfortable to wear, and my wardrobe needs are not at all elaborate since I work remotely. I may love trying to sew Vionnet dresses, but it’s silly for me to spend a month on one that I won’t be happy with and will wear maybe once in five years. But a drawer full of flattering, comfortable knit blouses that have some style to them? Yes, please. Also, since the significant other has been sharing his love of the pajama jean with messianic zeal, I have resolved to one day create a stable knit type pant pattern that can be stabilized enough in the right areas to pass as business casual. Also, I am much more likely to actually do my workout if I can do it in the clothes I have on. The more layers of resistance I have working against me being healthy, the easier it is to say screw it, and as silly as it sounds, not having to change into specialized gear will make a difference.

My New Years resolutions are simple enough–sew a new lingerie wardrobe and discard everything old, worn out or unflattering in my wardrobe. Work toward a satisfying, expressive, inspiring wardrobe guided by my style. Work out more so I feel better, and feel better in my clothes. Eat healthier so that I feel better and have more energy to accomplish my goals. Be more selective in my acquisition of material things, trying to opt for quality over quantity in all things, especially my wardrobe. Work on my sewing/writing space so that instead of being full of scraps and broken sewing machine parts and crafting clutter I have an enjoyable place to do my actual work. Try to acquire fewer things but more experiences of working through problems. Work towards my goals in small, steady increments instead of my sweeping general enthusiasms.

Toward that end, a finished object. Stockings, in the style of the 1700s, self drafted:

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I was going for a somewhat Victorian feel with the self stripe fabric and solid sole.
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center back seam with v-effect when sewn into shape.
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view from the bottom of the sole.
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side view.
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in choosing a stable knit rather than softer rayon spandex of my first attempts, the finished seams look much better and the fit is more stable.

 

 

 

 

 

Finished Object: Black Velvet Bra. And, also, on failure.

I have been sewing bras off and on for the last three months. I blame a Craftsy sale for ensnaring me, yet again, in my usual cycle of: oooh, this looks interesting, this class is on sale–I’ll buy it to watch later after I finish what I’m working on now–I’m bored or stalled with current project–I watch just enough Craftsy course to get obsessed with new subject but not enough to actually know how to do it– I try project in creative-lust-fueled mad rush–I fail–watch more class–try again–fail–I repeat again until too bored to continue with original subject or my project is, almost despite my inefficient learning methodology, successful. This may be the only time I’ve ever come close to completing a successful project based on Craftsy viewing.

So please excuse me while I revel in this bra:

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This is a self drafted, full band, underwired bra with pretty much full coverage. This bra is the first and only bra I have ever worn that ACTUALLY FITS ME. I understand now why women wear these things, because it actually does lift and support my breast tissue instead of smashing it down under too-small underwires and too narrow cups.

In this project, as in most of my sewing projects, at least half of the issue has been coming to a better understanding of my actual body mass as it relates to the ideal of a sewing pattern or the median compromise of ready to wear sizing. Bras have never fit me because my body does not fit either the standard of sewing patterns or the fit standards of bra manufacturers, and to be fair, neither industry could possibly be expected to accommodate every shape. But I wish I had understood decades ago how to deal with my body type.

As bras go, no matter the manufacturer or the size I tried, I have always been plagued by one of three problems: sad, empty bra cups; underwires stabbing into my actual breast tissue or preformed cups that don’t conform to anything like my breast shape; too narrowly spaced cups. These issues were also part of my problem trying to sew my first few bras using something like standard pattern sizing as well. It turns out that while, yeah, my breasts are on the smaller side, they aren’t quite as small as I thought. What they are is shallow with a broad root, and the tissue has a sort of tear drop distribution. So for my sewing adventures, once I had the band size right, I adjusted the bridge at center front to get the spacing of the cup bottom/cradle from breast to breast. Then I adjusted the width of the cup bottom/cradle to fit my exact breast width and the placement of that on the band. Finally, I adjusted the cups for the fullness on bottom with much less fullness on top. (This involved a lot of cardboard cutouts, smooshing my boobs around and marking on them with eyeliner, some plastic wrap and tape, and about a billion iterations.)

Long story short, for anyone with a broad rib cage and similar fit issues, I’d suggest experimenting with underwires; I had been wearing ones that were at least three sizes too small for my entire adult life. Also consider the shape of your breast tissue, because if it’s non-typical, no pattern will fit without adjustment to fit that.

But back to my glorious triumph:

This bra has a milliskin band, fold over elastic binding, powernet for the back band, and glorious, glorious stretch velvet for the cup fabric outside *and* the cup lining. (I cut it with the direction of stretch differently for the lining and the outer fabric so that the fabric would be stable and supportive enough–if the stretch is in opposing directions theoretically it will work, and it did work beautifully here.) It’s my way of saying sorry to my boobs for mistreating them with horrible fitting bras for all these years. It feels amazing. It feels so amazing it’s like my boobs are being held aloft by the careful hands of Eric from True Blood all day long. Since it actually holds all of my breast tissue, instead of underwires or cups smooshing some of it down and sitting on top of my actual boobs, this bra looks much better under clothes, makes my bust look larger and is more flattering.

What I also love about this bra is that except for the elastic it is made from the carnage of past sewing failures, painstakingly picked apart and repurposed for this fit experiment. The hook and eye tape was once a failed moulage closure. The velvet was a failed bodysuit. The powernet was scavenged from an earlier bra attempt that fit terribly. The channeling and underwires were stolen from my second-most-recent finished object that didn’t fit–my satin covered foam cup red lace bra:

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This bra turned out great, but the cups were a bit too full when it was entirely done, and there was no way to correct that without ruining the seamless look I was going for. So I deconstructed it and will reuse the band and the lace on a future attempt.

I don’t throw my failures away, because usually I can find some way to reuse odds and ends, and also because it’s a great way to track how far I’ve come. When I get frustrated that I can’t seem to get a certain project right, seeing how terrible I did when I started and how much I’ve learned along the way, even if I’m not getting wearable garments yet, is a great motivator. I have had a LOT of bras not work out:

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This is just a sampling of the many many attempts I went through learning how to work with spandex and mesh and powernet, playing with foam shapes, trying to get the band right, then not realizing the flat, unflattering look was because my cups were too small and were actually minimizing my tissue, then realizing that my breast tissue was even wider than I originally thought. Even though the Craftsy courses with Beverly Johnson are fantastic, there’s a certain real world comprehension of body shapes and how to deal with that geometry that requires experimentation, I think, or at least for me. I’m excited to see how my next one turns out.

 

 

 

 

Vintage Sewing Library: W. D. F. Vincent on Shirtmaking; early 1900s shirt miscellany

 

I’m having a mini-obsession at the moment, trying to learn to make a proper shirt. The boyfriend is in dire need of some new ones, so, armed with a Craftsy course by David Page Coffin on shirtmaking details, this book from late 1890s-early 1900s? by the W. D. F. Vincent, prolific editor of Tailor and Cutter, and a heavy dose of Boardwalk Empire = weekend filled!

Parenthetically, I should say that really, really love the David Page Coffin Craftsy courses. He has an interesting way of approaching his areas of interest, which I find relatable with my usual pattern of get obsessively interested + read a bajillion things tangentially related to subject –> try to synthesize firehose of information in way that makes sense and breaks subject down into components. Of course, I think my process is complicated by attention deficit/distractability issues (which is why I sewed a pair of pants and a cut-on Mandarin collar kimono experiment blouse a whim this week, instead of, oh, say, a SHIRT). But I really enjoy his way of breaking down the problem of shirt or trouser making into a core pattern and interchangeable detail elements, rather than being another dressmaking sew along this is how you do it from start to finish kind of course. This course doesn’t really cover how to construct or draft the bare bones shirt pattern itself, but that’s where the W. D. F. Vincent comes in.

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Detachable collars are familiar enough to me from Peaky Blinders and the mini-obsession with them I had while binge-watching that show, but I wasn’t fully aware that the shirt fronts (or “detachable shirt bosoms”) were also detachable. Apparently these were made in detachable and even disposable form:

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Apparently they were made in cardboard, paper and other materials for kinds of work like waiting tables, where it was easier to just trash the false front rather than launder one.

Then I vaguely remembered seeing the Bugs Bunny opera skit and suddenly the world became comprehensible:

When the singer’s layers start to unfurl, you see his detachable collar come off, his shirt front roll up, his suspenders holding everything in place. Apparently these detachable shirt fronts were typically held in place with buttons to the trouser front. Thank you, google patents! Also, fun fact, apparently they didn’t incorporate this into the elaborate, very accurate costuming for Downton Abbey and you can sometimes see these formal fronts bunching up on the actors where they would not have if buttoned properly. (citing my source) Apparently shirts of the era would have had a button there, where loops like this could fasten:

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Patents reveal a variety of fronts and fastening configurations (I have a patent fetish, not gonna lie):

 

And the cherry on top–did I mention detachable collars in the Vincent book? Because this is sewing porn right here.

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I think that’s about all the overcaffeinated tangents I’ve got. Happy weekend!

There Will Be Blood; or, Amanda Works on Hand Sewing and other August Sewing Randomness

Often I find myself hesitant to post because I’m never satisfied with the work I’ve done and tend to not complete things as often as some sewers. Often I discover mid-project the shoulder slant isn’t right or the fit is off in some way that will prevent me from ever wearing the garment so in the fabric scrap pile it goes. But this month, I actually finished two things! Self drafted corsets, no less. They aren’t perfect, but I’m going to try not to look at my sewing that way from the point on…instead I’m going to appreciate everything I learned this month, and the skills I started to acquire while doing these projects…like inserting boning, adding eyelets, encasing boning channels, inserting a busk, cording, hand stitching, adding puller loops to a corset, etc…

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An underbust/waist cincher in black shantung and cotton duck.
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My first go at inserting eyelets.

I liked this corset and wore it for a full day to test the fit and how it behaved actually on my body. Since it didn’t have a busk and is somewhat long for my short torso, I found it a bit uncomfortable for some activity. My grandma helped me lace it up initially and since grandma was a very accomplished lacer of corsets back in the 50s when the ladies in her family took it to near tightlacing levels for an evening out, it was quite the study in masochism until I loosened it up a bit. Driving in it was absolutely miserable because it somehow seemed to be too long for comfort while at the same time riding up and compressing my rib cage to a degree that was miserable. I think part of the problem might be the ratio of my hip / waist / bust being what it is; without the valley of a significantly defined waist to rest it, if I didn’t have it cinched very tight it sort of drifted. I think a waist tape might help with this, and/or converting the corset to a proper underbust where the bust might help it stay in position.

So then I tried a shorter version:

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Puller loops for the win! These are the loops that look out of place above–most of the time the lace goes from one side to the other but to create a puller loop, go to the hole directly above where the cord last came through. Keep a lot of slack in the lacing here. Lace up the rest in the normal crossover pattern. Then when you’re lacing it up, you tie it at the top or bottom or wherever as usual, but you can pull the puller loops to tighten and then tie them off in a bow too. I found this made it much much easier to remove them too!

The shorter version is more comfortable but sort of wanders freely over my rectangular torso. Also the shorter version seems to give a much less satisfying line, since my proportions are what they are, and the corset seems to actually add a bit of girth even as it smooths the line of the torso. For me, the result wasn’t hourglassy; my ribs are too large for that figure flattery. The look is much more abrupt and I discovered when I squish in everything, it creates a nice squidgey little roll of displaced fat between my underbust and the top of the corset. Oof. I’m sure with practice and some habitual waist shaping these things would be less of an issue for me. (Also, I cut the bias binding far too narrow, so it’s a bit messy, but I found hand sewing the binding to be the most soothing activity ever. It’s what I do at school pickup time when I’m trying to quell my social awkwardness around my parent peers. Go ahead, mfers, ask me about my obsessive interest. I DARE you.)

On the uncompleted front, I tried a Renaissance era set of stays and also a set of 1810s-ish conical stays; they didn’t work out for me. (Large ribcage + small bust + large waist = bust fabric floppage and/or unflattering boob squishdown with nothing left to spill over like some heaving bosomed Jane Austen romantic-yet-snarky heroine.) But I learned so much!

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Cording is time and thread consuming but actually pretty magical. Same with handsewn eyelets. This is done here with plain old yarn and muslin for practice 🙂

Now I’m on to a simple pattern for a very simple corset with gores for shaping. It’s self drafted and it’s a crude trial run I’m giving myself full permission to make a mess of. It’s in cotton duck with a front busk and back lacing. I inserted a busk for the first time. I did a ton of hand sewing on it for practice, even though it’s terribly inefficient and I have torn the living sh*t out of my fingers in the process.

Super sewing tip–if you get blood on a garment you’re sewing, saliva does a fantastic job of removing it before it stains. Just spit on the spots and rub. Probably something to do with enzymes breaking down the blood. Also–beeswax is your friend. This is rapidly turning into my favorite thing to do.

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Be it ever so humble, my hand stitching is starting to resemble a proper line.

Happy almost autumn…getting excited for the return of layered clothing!