Being an avid fan of burlesque and costuming, I am always delighted to read anything on the topic. I am especially delighted when someone goes into details of how they achieve their finished costume projects. In the spirit of this I am going to show you how I made my costume for my debut act - Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’. As this involves many different pieces it will be split into a 6 part series. For part 1 we will focus on the act inspiration and concept as well as the construction of the corset.
For me the act starts with the music. The music for this act (Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ by Journey) may not seem like it lends itself to a pink boudoir theme, but that’s exactly what I imagined when I listened to the song. My first inspirational image came courtesy of the mega babe Rebekah La Recherche’s Instagram feed. The photo below was taken by Sherbet Birdie and really encapsulated all I wanted for my act.
I cannot thank everyone enough for the love, support and kind messages sent to me in the last few days over this ravishing @sherbetbirdie_photography shoot and video series of Beauty Rebelle on youtube. ("Single mum Rebekah treats herself to a lingerie photoshoot") My absolute favourite team and the results always floor me ❤❤
Sidebar: I keep all my inspiration and any tips I find in ~secret~ Pintrest boards so that I can easily go back to them wherever I am.
As this was my debut solo act I wanted to keep things simple. I decided to go with a classic-themed boudoir style act with powder puffs. Pink was the only choice. For the costume I wanted a luxurious boudoir set with a dressing gown and underwear set. I decided on tap pants because of the vintage style and ease of removal. I went with a triangle bra for this reason as well. As far a props, I wanted to start with a small powder puff and build up to an over-sized puff for the finale.
Sidebar: I now understand how wrong I was about equating classic with simple. Classic burlesque is one of the hardest things to do well. Also, burlesque in the Golden Age wasn’t just about gowns and boas, there was a lot of incredibly creative acts utilising many and varied props (but that’s another story altogether).
I have made a few corsets. They’re not particularly hard to make but they are incredibly difficult to perfect. I based this corset off a pattern I made in a Bombshell Burlesque Academy course taught by the amazing burlesque costumier and icon, Coppelia Jane. It was the first corset I ever made and still the best. The pattern was drafted by wrapping my body in cling wrap then duct tape. The duct tape was wrapped tightly to mimic the reduction required in the final corset. The duct tape ‘corset’ was then marked at the centre back and centre front and divided into 12 equally -sized panels. It was then cut off and the panels cut out and transferred to paper. It was constructed of 2 layers, an outer satin layer strengthened with heavy fusible interfacing and a drill cotton lining, and internal boning channels.
My first attempt to make the corset for this costume was a bit of a disaster. I chose a fairly light-weight satin as the outer layer and a beautiful printed rayon as the lining. The thing about corsets is that they require a fabric of a certain weight to work. Even though I used heavy fusible interfacing on both layers (I tried the non-fusible kind but it just wouldn’t sit flat) I couldn't get the 2 layers to match when I stitched them together. I learnt that for this type of corset, with internal boning channels, you need to use fabric of a specific weight. There is a concept called turn-of-cloth which basically means the more layers you have the wider the outer layer needs to be to account for this extra bulk. Each fabric has it's own turn-of-cloth and I think that the fabrics I chose had such a difference between them that they couldn't work together without some extra finesse. One way of finessing the fabric is roll-pinning (were you drape the fabric over a rounded surface like a dress form or tailors ham then pin the fabric) but this is something that I haven't yet attempted.
The easiest way to fix the corset was to start again. I purchased the same fabric I used in my original corset - party satin and drill cotton from Lincraft. Party satin is surprisingly heavy weight for a cheap satin and is available in many colours. I redid the corset in these fabrics and unsurprisingly they went together much easier. I am however not entirely happy with the finished product. The busk is too short, which was due to me reusing a busk from another failed corset of a different length. This made the top and bottom gape open in an unflattering way (see photo below).
I also had a lot of trouble with the boning slipping off it's caps, busting out of the channels, and stabbing me. I also mysteriously decided to use spiral steel boning in the channels where there was the most reduction and straight steel in the others. This resulted in a ~very~ strange shape. I also somehow missed putting boning in the same channel on both sides of the corset and then put 2 pieces of boning in another 2 corresponding channels. How I managed to do this I do not know. I have since shortened the corset to match the length of the busk and replaced all the boning with straight steel boning. I also recapped the bones with a more generous amount of electrical tape.
These changes have vastly improved the corset, however I am still not entirely happy with it. I feel like it doesn't quite reduce evenly across my body. I have put this down to fabric selection. While the fabric I used is a heavy satin without stretch I suspect that the satin I used in the first version of this corset was either not party satin or the black party satin is simply heavier. I have gone back and checked the leftover pieces of fabric and there is definitely a difference in their weights. There was a large amount of time between the 2 purchases so quality could have changed during that time. Any how, I am considering remaking the corset or adding additional boning to improve the overall shape.
Finally, the boning has again slipped it's casing again and made it's way through the fabric. I have ordered some steel tips from Sew Curvy (where I also bought the incredibly well colour-matched and high quality ribbon for the corset lacing) which I will be replacing the tape with. I also ordered the Sophia corset kit which I intend on making in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned for the blog post!
So there you have it! Corset making can be challenging but is something that most people can do. If you can sew a straight line you can sew a corset. Just make sure you have the right materials for the job and you are wearing your patient pants!
Stay tuned for the next installment of the Making of Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' - The Gown.