Making a Corset with Vanyanis

I am stubborn, and when I want to learn something, I generally teach myself. I taught myself how to sew, and have been making my own clothes for the last five or six years. I’m no expert seamstress, but I have a few tricky garments under my belt (I’m looking at you, wedding dress of ’17) and I’m a competent maker. However, there are some things I am not prepared to attempt to teach myself, and making a corset is right up there with garments that I do not have the patience to try alone. Enter Vanyanis; a studio in Healesville dedicated to corset making and couture.

After a few years of telling myself I would do it, I finally bit the bullet and just signed up for the beginner’s corsetry course, for the weekend just past. Under the careful and patient tutelage of Vanyanis founder, Lowana, I (and the two other women who attended the class) constructed a fully steel boned underbust corset entirely from scratch. Something that would have taken me literal years to attempt myself was managed in three days, and it was absolutely worth the price of admission.

The studio itself, tucked away in a quiet little street in Healesville, was beautifully and tastefully decorated, and had plenty of natural light. Lowana was not only a fabulous teacher, but a wonderful host, and I cannot stress enough how far that goes towards making a learning experience a positive one. The first day was spent learning how to make a toile (pronounced twahl), which is essentially a mock up of the final garment, designed to work out where adjustments need to be made to ensure a better fit. Amidst many cups of tea and chats, our toiles were made and adjusted as per the requirements of our very different bodies. Once all the necessary adjustments were made, the next two days were spent constructing the actual corset.

There is so much involved in making a corset, things that I would never have thought, and it is certainly a time consuming process. But, as someone who loves to learn new things, I was in heaven. Each step was explained and then put into practice, and the breaking down of the total construction into smaller steps made the process – which would otherwise have been a daunting task to tackle – smooth and relatively simple. Short of the final construction, making and piecing together the busk (the front closure of a corset) was one of the more rewarding aspects of the course for me, because it was such a lengthy process, and tricky in a lot of ways. Seeing the satisfactory completion of one of the more difficult aspects of making a corset was a quiet little thrill for my creative heart.

Completed and fully inserted busk

On the final day, we each tried on the corsets that we had painstakingly constructed (I learned how to lace myself into my own corset too, which was a skill I had previously assumed was a two person job), and the silhouette it created was astounding. I think there was a definitely a little bit of jaw dropping going on in that room on Monday evening. And one of the things that struck me most was how comfortable it was to be laced into a corset. Despite the misconceptions about corset wearing, it wasn’t in any way painful, or uncomfortable, or difficult to breathe. Much like any other garment I make to fit myself, it was comfortable and well fitting and, if I may say so myself, quite a lovely creation.

Over the three days I spent at the studio, I learned things that would not only allow me to now complete a corset on my own, but I also picked up a few tricks and tips that will aid me in my general sewing as well. It was honestly such a rewarding experience, and one that I am glad I finally decided to treat myself to. If you happen to be nearby, and want to check the course out for yourself, I have nothing but positive things to say about it, and for all my sewing friends out there, it’s a class I highly recommend.

Sewing Update (Simplicity 1252)

At the start of the year, I set myself a goal to sew one new thing a month. My plan was to make a different item than I have ever attempted before, or use a different or tricky fabric. So far I have stuck to this goal, albeit barely!

January was a Peter Pan collar dress with a waistband. February was a loose fitting tee for my best friend, made from faux leather and a light, floaty patterned fabric that I have no name for. The first was a success, the second…well, I wasn’t overly happy with the end result. I used an existing shirt of hers to create the pattern which,in hindsight, wasn’t the best way to go given what I was working with. The seams were wavy, the sleeves were boxy and a little too GaGa-esque for either of our tastes. I made a couple of quick alterations, but all in all I was pretty disappointed. I also let time get away from me a little bit, and I know that if I had have taken the time, the result would have been better. The good thing about it, is that now I know my weaknesses when it comes to that kind of fabric, and I can work towards improving. Silver lining!

March was a tricky month, and I very nearly didn’t make it. I went on holidays, and I made some small progress on a jumpsuit I’ve had planned since pretty much the start of the year, but then life got in the way. Now, by some wonderful circumstance, I managed to get two days off this week. Two consecutive days off. Which is pretty much a dream come true for me. So yesterday, I abandoned by jumpsuit idea altogether, because it is still too far from completion to get done in a day. Instead, I raced down to the local Lincraft and picked myself up a basic commercial pattern. I’m not usually a pattern kinda girl, preferring to make things up and challenge myself that way. But, desperate times and all that. The pattern I went with was Simplicity 1252, a basic 60’s style sleeveless shift dress.
Image result for simplicity 1252

The other night I caught a film called God Help the Girl (review pending), and I was inspired by the outfits in the film when I chose this pattern. Aside from wanting something I could smash out in an afternoon, I was looking to emulate the vaguely hipster-y, mod style of clothing worn in the film. I found some lightweight wool suiting in a dark green tartan that was perfect for the project – and at only $10 a metre! – and so I set to work.

I count this my new thing for March, because all of the dresses I have previously made, have had a defined bust and skirt, where this dress is one piece. The pattern was simple to follow, and just as simple to put together, though I made a number of alterations. First thing I did was lose the neckline facings, in favour of a full lining. I wanted to be able to just slip the dress on, and the silk lining has the added bonus of helping to keep everything smooth. Secondly, the pattern has a front centre seam, which I think looks a little strange. I did actually add the dart in initially, but ended up unpicking it and leaving just a small detail at the top, and I liked it much better without. The third thing I did was alter the length. I always go a size up when I’m making commercial patterns, because I like to allow for error, so I used the size 10. When I cut out the pattern pieces, the finished dress would have sat at the awkward just below the knee length, because whilst I’m not overly short, I’m not especially tall either. And I wanted to make a mini dress anyway, more reminiscent of the fashion of the late 60’s. So I cut a solid three inches off the length, and then hemmed it with a 1/4 inch seam.

I did have a little trouble when it came to hemming, because I was stitching the lining and the outer fabric together to hide the seams within, and the wool had a little stretch to it, where the lining silk didn’t. This left me with too much fabric at the end of the seam line, which created an unsightly wrinkle. To fix this, I simply unpicked the back seam a little, and did a little snipping and stitching to tidy it up and reduce the bulk. I just had to add a small slit in the back of the dress, but that doesn’t affect the aesthetic, so I was happy with the end result.

All in all, I am infinitely happier with my March make than my previous month’s attempt, and I can see myself wearing this dress a lot, probably styled with a white collared shirt and a cute continental necktie. Or I can grunge it up with a pair of Docs (note to self; buy Docs) and a leather jacket. I think, because of my fabric choice, this will be a really versatile little number. Plus, I have plenty of fabric left over to make a pleated skirt and matching bow tie. So even though I left it until the last minute, and I used a commercial pattern, I am still going strong with this one new make a month goal. And I’m starting to get some ideas for the next ones too, so good things are coming!