Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dolly Boudoir: The Full Torso Corset

As a long time consumer of fancy French lingerie, I now fully understand why something with such little fabric costs so much. Drafting, cutting, manipulating and sewing together tiny pattern pieces is not only labor intensive, it calls for nimble fingers and a lot of patience. For months after spotting a photo of a pretty doll in a corset dress, I was determined to create an real, old fashioned corset for my dolls. The style featured in this post is called "the merry widow," which dates back to 1905. It features a demi-cup bra, a short girdle, lacing down the front or back and enough boning to keep everything perfectly in place.

For me, the boning is the one single element that distinguishes this garment from, say the bustier or a camisole. But in devising a simplified version for the doll, my chief obstacle was finding boning small enough to trace the miniscule torso of my dolls. Finally I discovered twist ties (the kind that comes wrapped around small electronics). These have just the right proportions. And though I did use these little "under wires" for three of the four corsets featured here, my feeling was that, by folding over the seams and topstitching them in place (a.k.a. flat felled seams), you don't always need the boning. The lace used here is really hem tape because it is the easiest to find.

No bones about it, I had such a good time with this project. I made four corsets instead of two with panties to match and had to stop myself so I could get this exercise posted. I will show you two ways to make this garment: the first is created directly on the doll (couture) which is best suited for lace. The other shows you how to make a pattern using tape. With the latter version, you can even forego the boning.

The Made to Order Corset
Though rare, in France, there still exists the "corsetieres," crafts persons specializing in the art of made-to-order bras and corsets. As with Haute Couture, the woman is measured and a "second skin" undergarment is created perfectly conforming to the curves beneath. Though my technique has nothing to do with that employed by this highly skilled specialist, it is my way of paying homage to this disappearing art. I wanted the "boning" to be noticeable, but yours can be more discreet if you prefer. I begin by wrapping a narrow piece of tape around the doll sticky side up. Cut the twist ties in lengths that line up along the body's side front, back side back and side seams. Lay each one against the body on the tape. Lay the lace in between the "bones" and pin well in place.

For the black lace corset, the opening is in the back. The last panels at either side of the center back should end in the scalloped edge of the lace trim. Now carefully remove the corset from the doll. Then very carefully remove the tape. Whip stitch the "boning" in place.

Cut out the bra pattern (minus the seam allowance), aligning the top with the border of the lace. Overlap the bottom of the bra to the outside of the corset. Pin. Hand stitch in place. Join the center of the bra and stitch by hand. Now add the finishing touches. Cut away the edging from the lace trim and apply to the lower edge of the corset. You can also cut away some of the flowers from the trim and applique onto the bra. I've also added a tiny bow dotted a tiny rhinestone. Leave strapless or add small lengths of 1/8-inch ribbon for straps. You can also tack on tiny bits of ribbon at the lower edge of the corset to simulate garters!

At the back, I sewed on hooks to each side of the opening close to the boning. Catch the ribbon through the hooks and tie into a bow. Note: This garment will fit different types of Barbie!

The doll is wearing panties featured on the "Petites Culottes" posting. Because I'm closing them with Velcro on one side, I covered each side with a lace flower motif, dotted with a single rhinestone.

The red version features lacing up the front. For this I used 5/8-inch lace hem tape which was a bit harder to work with.

The real difference with this one is that the front panels will need to be lined with a bit of ribbon so that the hooks won't tear away. I used flat "loops" (from the hook & eye set) sewn to each side of the front panels. I gathered more lace trim and attached it to the end of the corset.

Off the Rack Corset

This is easy, fast and the technique most of you will probably use because you create a pattern that can be used repeatedly and modified into a litany of styles. I used the same technique for creating this version as I used in creating the bra pattern. I use paper tape to cover the torso of the doll from the center front to the center back of the doll. (Again, you're making half a pattern to ensure symmetry.)  Be sure to clip the tape at curves so it lies flat on the doll (at the sides and back). Draw the seam lines and style lines (the shape of the top and bottom) of the corset onto the tape. Carefully remove the tape from the doll in one piece. Now cut along those lines and flatten the tape pattern onto graph paper. Add seam allowance to the sides.

I used pale pink satin for my corset. Press the seams to the side and topstitch. Here, I've used a double row of topstitching to give the feeling of boning. I gathered 5/8-inch tape and added it to the bottom of the corset. You can attach the bra pattern to the top edge, however for this version, I've simply cut away a few lace embroidered motifs and added them to the top. I added a bow over the bust and tiny, adhesive backed pearls down the center front. The back is held closed with hooks.

For my last corset, I wanted to make a more contemporary version of the traditional corset. I used the same pattern as above and a heavyweight silk fabric which provides additional structure to the garment.

You can also use a lighter fabric and stiffen it with iron-on interface (as we did for Ken's jacket).

Take a piece of ripped silk chiffon 3 times wider than the width of the flattened corset. The ripped edges will give this garment a soft, edgy look. Fold the strip in half horizontally and softly pleat it. Pin in place at the hem on the exterior of the corset and stitch in place. Repeat the process, this time attaching the strip to the underside of the top of the corset.

I have finished this corset off with a tiny embroidered rose (taken from an undergarment) and a few tiny self-adhesive pearls. My corset will close in the back with the help of hooks and eyes.

These corsets not only make for sexy lingerie, they can be combined with tulle, sheer fabric or full skirts to make a dramatic evening ensemble.

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  1. Excellent tutorial! So well illustrated, thanks for posting!

  2. Hello, First off I would like to thank you for this website. I have always desired to dress my Barbie in couture fashion but could not afford the collectable dolls. You have inspired me to learn how to sew and I am very grateful to you. Second, I have a few questions regarding your Merry Widow pattern. 1. You have divided the pattern into several pieces that look different and I'm wondering why you didn't keep it in one piece. 2. You have two front pieces and I'm wondering how did you come up with this. 3. What pattern is between the side front and the back? Once again thank you!!!!!

    1. Hello again. I have used those wire twist ties for the boning. They are cut in different lengths to fit under each bust to the top of the hips, at each side from the underarm to the top of the hip. At the back there is one placed between the side of the body and the mid-point of the back. In total, you will have 6 "bones" for the entire corset: 2 in the front, 2 at the sides and 2 at the back. Tape these to the doll while you work. You can later adjust them so that they are more or less equally spaced. Cut the lace to fit in between each piece of "boning." The bra part was made was made to incorporate the front and the side of the bust. This is attached last. Basically what you are doing is to use the body of your doll as a base to create a structure on top. Hope that helps.


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