Sewing for Curves – Corset making
Sewing for curves
From her woodland workshop in Oxfordshire, Julia Bremble teaches students of all levels how to make and sew beautiful and unique corsets. She talks to Fiona Pullen about the surge in interest in the craft and her own extraordinary creations
What lead you into the world of corsetry?
I first learned to sew at school but then didn’t pick it up again until I was in my 20s when making things like curtains and blinds for my first home.
I made my first corset about 10 years ago and swiftly became addicted! I had always been interested in sewing, and my interest in corsetry began when I needed one for a burlesque-style outfit. Then the passion was sparked.
I set up my company, Sew Curvy, with the goal of becoming a full-time corset maker! I had a tax rebate of £1,200 and with that I bought enough materials to make some corset kits to sell. My aim was to use cost-price materials to make corsets with while at the same time helping other corset makers with quality goods at good prices. I had had a few clients up to that point but spent most of the time honing my skills and then writing a book. When I moved to the studio I started to take more clients for bespoke corsetry and build a portfolio. I do not take many clients a year because my business has grown so much that I don’t have enough time to sew very much these days. I am aiming to change that this year.
There is a vast difference between corset making for costume/leisure and professional corset making. In professional corsetry, if you want to be one of the best, you have to be stitch perfect and know your craft inside out, upside down and back to front. You must also be prepared to improve, progress and innovate. That is why it’s so addictive. On one level it’s easy and creatively satisfying, on another, it is a never-ending quest for perfection.
How could I get my own bespoke corset?
It involves a few things. The point of being a ‘designer’ as opposed to a ‘dressmaker’ is that people come to you especially because of your style and your craftsmanship. My style is very much mid-century film noir/femme fatale; simple and elegant with a distinctive shape. All corset makers have their own distinctive shape. When a client approaches me it is because they like my style so the design ‘mood’ is more or less already established. We talk about the design and purpose of the corset, materials, measurements, costs, embellishments etc. Measurements are taken and a toile is made. After one or two fittings, the real corset is made and there may be one more ‘final’ fitting before the garment is complete. This is necessary with brides because they have a habit of shrinking!
How are they made and how long does it take?
It can take from two hours to 200 or more hours to make, depending upon the level of complexity, the fit and the embellishment. A simple single-layer lapped seam underwear standard sized corset will take two or three hours, while a bespoke, ornate, fitted, heavily embellished bridal, special occasion or show piece can take more than 200 hours. Each corset is crafted differently according to its purpose so it is impossible to say how long it takes. All corset embellishment is done by hand, whether that is a little bit of flossing (embroidery) on the ends of the bone channels, or hand-stitching lace appliqué and beads. Also the complexity of the design, the skill and experience of the designer in terms of patterning, engineering and construction will all dictate the cost of the final piece and the time it takes to make it.
What advice could do you have for anyone interested in making a corset but who doesn’t know where to start?
Don’t be afraid to experiment, try everything and settle on the techniques that work for you, ignore advice which states ‘you must do this or that’, and don’t take online groups too seriously. I have book, entitled Corset Making, which is aimed at people who would like to make a corset but don’t know where to begin. The techniques and information in the book will give them an invaluable grounding in corset making knowledge with very clear and detailed descriptions of the right materials to use for the job and including two projects to work on which will take them from beginner level to intermediate level.
I have just agreed to do a follow-up book which will take intermediate corset makers to advanced level. Corsetry is a big area of interest currently because it is challenging and yet offers infinite creative possibility.
Can you recommend any good online resources for people interested in corsetry?
The best free online resource is the Livejournal Community ‘Corsetmakers’ (www.corsetmakers.
livejournal.com). It holds an enormous archive of information put there by many people who are now at the top of their game in corsetry. The other is the online magazine Foundations Revealed (www.foundationsrevealed.com), which is subscription based but does have many free articles for beginners. My own website (www.sewcurvy.com) is designed to be a helpful resource to beginner corset makers, with free tutorials, articles and advice on how to use each product for sale.
This month sees the second Conference of Corsetry, held at Oxford University. What exactly happens there?
When I started making corsets, I joined online forums to find other likeminded corset makers. It was so much fun I wanted to create that opportunity for more people. The first conference was so successful that nobody wanted to go home at the end of the weekend so we decided to do it all again. Tickets for this year’s conference were sold out by last Christmas. The plans for 2015 are already in place but the details are secret until the big reveal at this year’s conference. There will be more amazing workshops with talented and well-known people in the industry and there is a very special guest coming!
Why do you think sewing in general is becoming
I think it might be generational. Our grandmothers knew how to sew and their skills were almost lost with the next generation who lived through a time of social change where sewing became ‘old fashioned’ and unnecessary. The revival of sewing is driven by passion not necessity and as this passion for sewing grows, so does the industry, and therefore the choice of things to make and materials to make them with. O
For information on Sew Curvy, see www.sewcurvy.com.
To contact Clessidra Couture, seewww.clessidra.co.uk
Sew Curvy (www.sewcurvy.com) is Julia’s online supplies shop specialising in corset-making components and couture haberdashery. She sells steel corset boning, corsetry fabric, tools for making corsets (many of them are premium range quilting tools) and quality haberdashery. All of the products sold are tried and tested by Julia before they go on sale.
Julia also teaches corset-making classes and masterclasses from beginner to advanced at her studio in Oxfordshire. She also holds a residential conference for corset makers every year, The Oxford Conference of Corsetry (OCOC), which attracts students from as far away as the Far East and Australia.
Clessidra Couture (www.clessidra.co.uk) is the name of Julia’s clothing label. (‘Clessidra’ is the Italian word for hourglass). It specialises in corsetry and vintage-style clothing with a corsetry component. It caters for brides in particular, looking for underwear corsetry and outerwear bridal gowns.
Sew Curvy – Oxfordshire
Julia teaches beginner and intermediate corsetry plus one-day masterclasses specialising in particular techniques such as pattern manipulation.
School of Sewing – Leicestershire
Alison Smith (MBE) shows you how to make a traditional Victorian corset in a two-day class.
Sara Radford – Devon
Sara runs a Victorian period corset-making course in Exmouth.
Corset Workshop – Glasgow
Learn the history of corsets and then how to make a Victorian-style corset.
Corset Making by
Julia Bremble (£18)
is available to order from the shop at