Gussets, Grommets & Cords: Some Novice Corsetry Advice

Please excuse the long quiet on the blog. As you can guess, I have thrown myself into making the corded Regency stays. While this project is really keeping me busy, it has actually made some good progress so far: The sixteen (!) gussets, as well as all the cording and grommets are done now. So far, no major disasters have occurred, either. Well, aside from bleeding on them twice while hand-sewing, ahem…

Here are two photos of the current state of affairs. I will add some more, less messy ones, once the stays have come together. :) :

One of the back pieces, with finished hip gussets, eyelets and cording.

The corded, gusseted and embroidered front (on a less pretty sheet).

And the stays have proven to be a great learning experience, also in terms of general sewing skills. Even though I am still a novice seamstress, I would like to share some of the helpful things I have learned.

I know of quite a few other costumers in the historical community who are attempting similar projects at the moment *waves at Molly of Avant Garbe*. So I am hoping that these hints might make life easier for some of you. I will also link to the tutorials that have helped me the most, so that everyone can profit from them. Here we go:

Three things about gussets.

Firstly, since it is about time someone says it out loud: Gussets are no fun! They are finicky, they need tiny, annoyingly slanted seams and they almost always seem to fray like mad. But, with that knowledge in mind, sewing them actually feels a bit easier. There is no such thing as the perfect gusset, or gore, unless you have a great lot of practice sewing them. So do not stress over them too much.

Secondly, there are several ways of sewing gussets. The one that has worked best for me is to cut a single slit, stay-stitch around it, fold and press over a tapering seam allowance and then slide the gusset in place while looking at the right side of the corset piece. There is also the method of snipping two tiny extra cuts around the bottom end of the slit. But it is a lot more fiddly and frays even worse when you need several tries to place the gusset.
And, even though it took a lot longer than using the machine, I went the long way and hand-sewed all the gussets. It cost a lot of time, but also saved me a great amount of swearing.

If you want to make your gusset sewing even more hassle-free, here is a very good tutorial on a similar gusseting method by Sarah of Romantic History. Molly has pointed it out to me last week and it really is immensely helpful. :)

Lastly, you should double-check the length of your gusset slit with the actual gusset by matching the dots before cutting. Sometimes the slit markings on the pattern happen to be longer than they should be, which in turn leaves you with less neat gussets. And it also helps not to poke the scissor point into the dot mark on the slit. This happened to me on the test stays and I was anxious not to repeat it on the actual stays. The gusset’s pointy end still needs to sit on a section of uncut fabric. Everything else may result in mild to severe cursing. ;)

Some advice on grommets.

Metal grommets really are a great invention. Even though they are not quite historically accurate for Regency stays, they are used more widely than you think. Right now, they are still “naked” on my stays, but I will cover them with embroidery floss in a later step, to hide them and give things a slightly more appropriate look.

With the right equipment, gussets are actually easy-going. Since I was a bit skeptical about the hammer setting method, I invested into a pair of convertible grommet pliers for my birthday. If you are interested to see how these work, here it a quick demonstration video by Lucy’s Corsetry:

However, there are still a few tricks with these. For once, try using a tapered awl instead of a thread cutter or scissors to make the eyelet hole. It is much easier on the fabric and keeps the threads intact. Further, turning the pliers over and giving the grommet another quick squeeze, as shown in the video, really provides a firmer hold. It also leaves a rift-like pattern in the metal, as you can see in my picture above. But I actually kind of like that special look. ;)

A few cording tips.

The most tedious part about cording is tracing and sewing the cording channels. But you need not be afraid of it at all. Technically, it is quite easy, if not the most exciting of sewing tasks. And it works fastest by machine. Yet there is one thing that makes finishing the channels a lot neater: Knot the thread instead of back-tacking. For this you bring the top thread to the back of the fabric by using a needle or the tip of a seam ripper and knot it off.

Here is a general sewing tutorial on knotting machine seams. It details the same knotting and back-tacking advice I have been given in my only sewing machine class ever…
If you use this method and work carefully, you can also undo a few stitches in case you have been too eager with the machine and have overshot the end point of a cording line.

In terms of the cording itself, not much can go wrong, if you follow the cording advice on your pattern: Add the right amounts of cording ease to your pieces to preempt shrinkange. Depending on the fabric, the stays can shrink from almost nothing to up to 1 inch which would be a problem, especially in the horizontal direction. Since my twill and sateen had  a lot of bias stretch, no shrinkage happened at all. But I still added the recommended ease before hand and then simply trimmed it off again after. Better safe than sorry. ;)

Two little, but still useful, points are to really use a blunt tapestry needle to insert the cord. It is still pointy enough to poke through your lining fabric, but will do no lasting damage to the fibers. A size 18-20 needle works best. :) Also, always leave a bit of a tail on the ends of your cords, so they don’t slip out again. I think I have somewhat over-done this bit on my stays:

The lining side of the front piece, with all the cord tails.

For a really awesome cording tutorial, detailing everything you will need to know, I recommend a visit to The Laced Angel’s blog. If you can cord as artistically as she can, you have really made your way in the sewing world. ;)

And this concludes my novice-to-novice corsetry advice. I hope I have not rambled too much and that you will find some of the tips useful for your own historical corsetry projects. Please stay tuned for the next round of stays updates.
Much Love, Nessa

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4 thoughts on “Gussets, Grommets & Cords: Some Novice Corsetry Advice

  1. avantgarbe says:

    Looking good! Your preferred method for gussets is what I am doing on my second mockup, and it’s working out. I think to get them super perfect I would need to hand baste them in first, I may do that on the outer layer.

    • Nessa says:

      Sounds reasonable. :) I’m much looking forward to seeing your progress. I didn’t baste but worked the outer layer last, when I had more practice. Just now, I have also covered up the minor boo-boos at the tips with some flossing. :)

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