Saturday, 18 January 2014

Drafting a lace overlay for an underbust corset

This article was first published on the amazing corset-making website in 2012.  Thank you to the lovely team at FR for allowing me to re-post the article in full here!

Drafting a lace overlay for an underbust corset

As a costumier working in a particular niche area, there's nothing I enjoy more than combining a lovely curvy corset with delicate lace and sparkling embellishments.
To me, there's nothing more satisfying than holding a shimmering costume piece under various lights and enjoying the reflection of hundreds of Swarovski crystals and beads...

Orange corset with black lace by Flo Foxworthy

For this article we'll be drafting a simple border lace overlay for the top half of an underbust corset (pictured here in Orange silk with black lace). We'll be using a technique called pattern manipulation, if you've done much pattern drafting for regular clothing then you've probably used this technique to manipulate darts.
If you've never drafted anything then don't worry – it's not complicated and once you get the hang of it you'll be able to try all sorts of new design ideas!

This method can be used to create a lace (or any other fabric you care to try) overlay that is shaped to fit your corset exactly, creating the perfect base for some serious embellishment.
The same technique can also be used to draft a pattern for the lower edge of a corset (see corset in Emerald silk with fuchsia lace). Just follow the instructions below, but trace the lower half of the pattern instead of the top half.

Emerald corset with fuchsia lace & beaded flowers

There are already many excellent articles on Foundations Revealed that discuss the various methods for constructing your corset, so this article won't cover any of those details.
For the purposes of this article, i'll assume you have already constructed the outer shell of your corset (or you have constructed your single layer corset), and are ready to attach the lace overlay.

Tools required:

A finished pattern
It's best to use a pattern that has already been fitted and that you are comfortable using. This can be a pattern you've drafted yourself or one you've purchased, all that matters is that you are happy with the fit and are ready to take the design a step further.

I will be using a pattern I drafted as an example, but if you're using a purchased pattern then I suggest you lay it out on a smooth flat surface (your dining room table will do nicely if you don't have the luxury of a dedicated work space) and weight it down securely so it won't shift during the tracing process.

Tracing paper
I use a heavy weight tracing paper known as Vellum (available at most art supply stores), it's used by architects and is fantastic for patterns like this. It is translucent to allow for easy tracing and sturdy enough to stand up to repeated use as a finished pattern piece.
There are a variety of materials you could use instead; waxed paper/freezer paper from the kitchen, light-weight tracing paper, clear plastic sheets etc.

Mechanical pencil
When drafting patterns it's always a good idea to use the finest pencil you can, to allow for greater accuracy. Mechanical pencils are ideal for this purpose as they're always sharp and create a fine even line.
If you're tracing on to plastic sheet, then use a fine tip marker pen – Sharpies are available in a 0.4mm tip.

A ruler and a curve
It's preferable to use a ruler and a curve to maintain accuracy (but if you're more comfortable tracing free-hand then I won't tell you off).
It's also helpful to have a grading ruler on hand if your pattern has a seam allowance included, as a fast way to draw in your stitching line. If you don't have a grading ruler, then you can just measure the seam allowance with a regular ruler.

Lace border

Choosing your lace

It's great if you have the piece of lace you'll be using in front of you at this stage, so you can play with the lace and use it to it's best effect;
For example, if it's a floral lace, pay particular attention to the leaves and petals and position the lace so they flatter the lines of your corset.
Does your lace have a mirrored design or does the design all go in one direction?
Does the lace have a definite right and wrong side or can you flip it and use the reverse without it being obvious?

If your lace has a mirrored design or you can get away with flipping it and using the reverse, then you can create a perfectly mirrored overlay that is the same on the left and right sides of your corset.
If your lace can only be used on one side (e.g. corded lace) and the design only goes in one direction, then take a little time to plan out what part of the lace you'll use on the left and right sides – you want the design to look balanced, even if it's not identical.

Drafting the pattern

To begin, decide where on your corset you'll be placing the overlay; For this example we'll be placing it on an angle at the front of the corset, extending up to the side.
We'll start at the centre front and go through each piece one at a time till we get to the centre back.

Please note: My original pattern does not have any seam allowances added, so I can just trace the lines as they are.
If your pattern DOES have seam allowances included, then take a few minutes to draw in the stitching lines (this is where a grading ruler comes in handy). When drafting patterns it's much easier to do it without the seam allowances included.

Trace around the 1st pattern piece (front), marking the waist line accurately.

Move your tracing paper to the 2nd pattern piece and line it up along the stitching line, checking that the top of the pieces and the waistline match. Trace the 2nd pattern piece down to the waist and mark the waistline accurately.

Repeat step 2 for each pattern piece, making sure to trace them in the correct order. Remember to mark the waistline on each piece so you can line up the next piece perfectly.

You now essentially have a pattern version of the top half of your corset – just like if you were to lay the finished corset out so that the top edge were flat.

Decide where you'd like the overlay to be placed, and draw it on to the pattern. In my example I started at the 3rd busk loop and angled up towards the back

This is where the tracing paper comes in doubly handy – you can now lay your new pattern piece on top of the lace and mark in the shape of the edge and any design features that will help you with the placement, such as seam lines and bone channel positions. Doing this will make it easier to ensure that your placement is perfectly even on both sides of the corset when the lace is attached.

Cut out your new pattern piece – you don't need to add any seam allowances as they've all been eliminated in the manipulation process.

If you've used a sturdy tracing paper, you can simply use that piece as the actual pattern. If you've used something very light-weight, you may want to carefully trace around it onto a piece of card (or whatever you usually use for your patterns.

Trace the pattern piece onto your lace. You will have already planned what part of the lace you'll be using for each side, so carefully trace and cut each piece as accurately as possible.

Mark any important details such as bone placement lines etc using a fine chalk wheel or thread tracing.

Now it's time to attach the lace to the corset! As mentioned at the start of this article, we're jumping right in and assuming you have already constructed the shell of your corset so carefully place your lace pieces on the corset making sure to line up your placement lines so the pieces are positioned equally on the left and right sides. Use a ruler if necessary, checking that the lace details are balanced.

Pin the lace in place and carefully stitch along the border edge to secure it to the outer layer of corset fabric. 

If you're hand-stitching, use tiny stitches so they aren't obvious, and if you've already inserted your busk and attached your lining then slide your hand between the corset layers to ensure you don't stitch right through to the lining.

Beading the corset before finishing the binding

If you plan to bead the lace, do the majority of the work now - although don't attach beads right up to the edge until after binding, leave those areas till last or you'll just end up breaking something under the machine foot!

If you're making a single-layer corset then think about the threads that will be showing on the inside and try to be as tidy as possible.
Note: You are welcome to machine-stitch the lace to the corset if you like, but I think it's more elegant and effective to use invisible hand stitches – it's all down to personal taste.

You are now ready to continue constructing your corset and bind the top edge - if you're using external casings over the lace then apply them now.
Once your corset has been bound and had eyelets inserted, you can now finish any beading around the edge of the corset... and if you have plans for further embellishment then the fun starts now!

Embellishing your corset

Swarovski beads & rhinestones on a burlesque corset by Flo Foxworthy

As I mentioned earlier in the article, heavy beading should ideally be done before the binding is attached, this makes it easier to stitch through the fabric – it can be somewhat difficult (but not impossible) to stitch large areas of beading to a finished corset.

When beading a corset, use a strong synthetic fibre that won't fray against the edges of the beads. I like to back-stitch two or three times through each bead to make sure it's secure and won't snag easily on other garments.

When planning the embellishment for your corset, look carefully at the design on the lace and consider the effect you'd like to achieve. Do you want a delicate, feminine look or a bold colourful statement piece?

Lace and Swarovski crystal rhinestones on a red burlesque corset

It's fun to use a variety of colours and textures in your embellishment to add depth and interest to the garment. Pick out the details of the lace using flat-back rhinestones on spots, bugle beads on leaves, and groups of round beads on petals.. Try using unusual embellishments such as shells, mirrors or tiny silk flowers and be adventurous with your choice of colour!

Even a simple muted colour scheme can be enhanced using beads in two or three similar shades. Embellishments don't need to be sparkly – maybe pearls or frosted glass beads are more suited to your style. It all adds to the texture of a beautiful and unique garment.

The options are endless, and only limited to your imagination. Have fun creating something completely unique!

Fairy corset by Flo Foxworthy

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