Alexander McQueen Corset: The Refashioners

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This is a project I have had in mind for while and seeing the Refashioners’ contest gave me the impetus I needed to get started. The challenge, outlined on Portia Lawrie’s Makery blog, is to upcycle or refashion a garment, textiles, accessories, etc, to create an item you have been inspired by. When I came across the photos below of an Alexander McQueen corset during an internet search I was intrigued that it did not look like a traditional corset and seemed to be a cross somewhere between corset, waistcoat and Wrangler/Levi jacket. However, the rounded elongated centre front sections appear to emulate the spoon busk corsets of the late 1800s and the garment also has an armour like feel reminiscent of the tight cuirass bodices, again popular in the late 1800s, which were named after a piece of close fitting medieval defensive armour worn over the torso and chest. The distressed look and use of leather hardware particularly appealed to me and I wondered if I could replicate its style imagining it in a white denim with tan top stitching.

It is often difficult to get the exact fabric you visualise for a garment but when I came across a pair of white denim jeans in a charity shop, on their £1 sale rail of all places, I scooped them up with this corset in mind. As they were a size 10 long there was some extra fabric to play with for an upcycling project.


I browsed my back catalogue of Burdastyle patterns to find one I could use for the basis of the corset and settled on style 112 size 38 from 07/2008 as it had centre pieces which would be perfect for creating the elongated fronts. I had do some tweaking with the pattern including creating a v neck and yokes, the said elongated front pieces, shortening the pieces to just below waist length, adding more curve to the side seams and finally creating my own collar and cap sleeve patterns.


All in all I needed to cut out 17 pieces from the jeans but some unpicking of seams was required to acquire extra fabric plus piecing of the side back pattern. All pattern parts were cut out with scant 1/4 inch seams. I decided I could reuse the unpicked belt loops on my project and so matched up the topstitching thread to that on the original garment which was fortunate to be the required tan.


I did need a few reels of thread to create the myriads of topstitching this garment calls for. I originally tried using one of my wider double needles as I hoped this would speed up the topstitching process but my double needle kept shredding the topstitching thread and so I had to resort to a single size 16 needle and rely on eye to create the double rows. They may not be entirely perfect (in fact they are not on the original McQueen corset either) but that was not the look I was after and there is charm in the imperfections.


Ideally I would have chosen an antique brass metal zip but I had a 16 inch silver metal open ended zip lurking in my stash which was perfectly suitable for the project. I attached a strip of the white denim to the zip puller as per the original. Before attaching the leather strips and boning I machine washed the garment to create the frayed edges as this process had previously worked well on some denim shorts. It was nerve wracking cutting into the collar and sleeves but it had to be done!

A corset implies boning and this is when it would have been useful to handle the original item and see which seams had been boned. It may well be that all the vertical seams are boned as in a traditional corset but some of the seams do not look to have that rigidity about them. The denim fabric provides a fairly solid garment. I toyed with putting boning in the front panels but decided the zip and leather provided enough structure and boning might be uncomfortable when sitting. In the end I settled on just boning the side seams. I used rigilene boning because I had some spare strips left over from previous corset making. I normally make boning channels using a wide seam allowance (at least 5/8 inch) but in this case did not have that luxury. The beauty of rigilene boning is that it can be sewn through and so I decided to securely zig zag the boning to the insides of the side seams before topstitching them down.

For the leather strips at centre front I used a leather belt also gleaned from a charity shop for £1. I already had a leather belt I wanted to use on the corset which has a curved buckle echoing the one on the McQueen corset and so I was pleased to find a leather belt in almost the same shade of brown. It was actually a rather nice leather belt and I felt guilty cutting into it but needs must. I cut out two 3/4 inch wide by 16 inch long strips. There was some curvature in the back of the belt from wear which made it quite difficult to cut entirely straight strips.


I had some brass dome claw studs but the claws were too short and delicate to go into the leather so after racking my brain I remembered I had a pack of copper colour rivets lying around. As the pins are designed to go through several layers of denim on jeans they were perfect for my leather trim. I had 17 rivets left and so it had to be 8 rivets on each strip. I marked the rivet placements using an expander gadget.


I’m not really a gadget person but I recently bought the expander to help with eyelet placement on corset construction. If you read my blog on the fan laced corset you will see that it means I can skip the maths part when working out where to put eyelets! I marked the top and bottom rivet placement and stretched the expander out between the two and hey presto it shows where to mark the others equally. I had to create the holes for the rivets but my punch would not work on the thick leather and so I had to resort to an awl and hammer. The rivet and attachment pin are then loaded in the insertion device provided and more hammer whacking later the studded strips were completed ready to be sewn onto either side of the zip. I did wonder whether I would be able to sew the leather strips to the garment as the leather is quite sturdy in addition to two layers of denim. As I don’t have a leather needle for my sewing machine I stuck with a size 16 using the longest stitch length and also a piping foot to avoid the rivets.


It’s been a bit of a time consuming project from having to create the pattern, fiddle with the cutting out, sewing all the top stitching, washing and riveting but overall I am very pleased with the end result.

Sure there are tweaks I would make if I were to repeat the project but as with all upcycling challenges there were constrictions regarding the amount and shape of the fabric available. These photos show the piecing of the side back panel. It sits on the waist line and so looks part of the design but is also hidden by the belt. Three of the belt loops were sewn back on and matched the topstitching perfectly.

Here is a photo of the leftovers. I shall be removing the zip from the jeans to add to the stash. Both ends of the belt remain. The large buckle is lovely and I am sure I will find a use for it. In fact I actively hunt down belts in charity shops to obtain nice buckles as they are so expensive to buy new. The leather scraps will also come in useful for creating small details on corsets and waistcoats for example.


Finally I must say thank you to my valiant sewing machine (the Janome Sewist 525S). I know I complain about its little foibles but overall it is a good little work horse and has coped admirably with thick layers of denim and leather.



A Reworked Project: Victorian Spencer Bodice

I love reworking and up-cycling unwanted garments to give them a new lease of life and at the same time hoping that I am doing my small bit to save the planet.

Just lately I have been putting together a Pinterest board of striped Victorian outfits whilst simultaneously looking at the use of stripes in 20th century and contemporary fashion.

Striped fabric can be used in such creative ways depending on how the fabric is cut and draped. The stripes can be used both horizontally and vertically and both orientations can even be used for different pieces of the same garment. This is particularly effective on yokes and pockets. Stripes can also be cut on the bias and used diagonally to create some fantastic chevron patterns. Another technique is also to tuck some of the stripes to produce solid blocks of colour within a striped garment.

At present I am fascinated by the designs of the American mid 20th century designer, Claire McCardell who has been credited with being the pioneer of the American look comprising simple sportswear styles. Her designs were ahead of their time and would not look out of place on the catwalks of today. What was really innovative was her use of patterned fabric particularly stripes and checks.

So when I saw this shirt made of an attractive striped satin fabric in a charity shop I scooped it up. I could immediately see the reworking possibilities and knew I wanted to create a Victorian Steampunk garment from a basic office work shirt style.


One bonus of the shirt was the high collar band and another was the wide cuffs featuring turn backs.
To create the Victorian Spencer bodice:


  1. I cut off the collar leaving a small allowance to hem the edge and attached a some ruffled lace to the allowance using my overlocker. I turned the allowance to the inside and topstitched it down. The lace I used was flat and I used the ruffler foot attachment on my sewing machine. I only bought the ruffler a year ago for a specific project that required me to gather reams of ruffles. Although expensive the ruffler foot has proved invaluable as I can now gather anything I like quickly and efficiently. In fact the ruffler is so much fun I could easily spend all day playing around on it.
  2. I chopped off the cuffs above the placket to make three quarter length sleeves and again added the ruffled lace. Initially I thought about inserting some elastic to the cuff but in the end did not think the sleeve was quite wide enough and it works well as it is. I then shortened the shirt to waist length.
  3. Finally I used the 2 cuffs and 2 turn backs to make a wide corset waistband to create the spencer look. This was a bit more complicated but with some tweaking I was able to line up the stripes to create a horizontally striped band. As there were buttonholes in each end of the cuffs and turnbacks I successfully sewed them into the seams but it left a buttonhole at each end of the band. I therefore machined three more buttonholes next to the remaining buttonholes to create four lacing holes for the corset. The band was then attached to the waist of the bodice.

Using the Sewing the Seventies Prize

A few months back you may remember I entered a Sewing the Seventies competition run by the Steely Seamstress. Well I am pleased to announce that following an online vote I won the prize of some fantastic retro inspired fabrics.

One of the fabrics was a jersey with a surf inspired print that made me think 1950s. I decided to use Kwik Sew pattern 2247 to create a tied top that would look good paired with capri pants, cut off jeans’ shorts or a circle skirt.

This is the only Kwik Sew pattern I have ever used. They are not widely available in the UK but I picked this one up going cheap at a craft fair. I quite like that the pattern comes sized in XS, S, M, L and XL. I don’t know if this is true of all Kwik Sew patterns but I like the way it helps if you are between sizes. The paper pattern is also very thick and good quality but I decided to trace off the tie top in a medium as the tie top pattern is printed over the same pattern piece as the straight blouse so cutting it out would mean that I would be unable to use the pattern for the other styles. As the paper pattern is thick it lends itself well to being traced off which maintains the integrity of the pattern for use for other styles and sizes.

I don’t sew a lot with knitted fabrics or jerseys but as this fabric is a thick jersey and very stable I treated it like a woven. The only noticeable difference was a tendency for the edges of the cut out pieces to curl. Another thing which surprised me about the Kwik Sew pattern is that there is a 1/4″ seam allowance. This makes me wonder if the patterns are designed for sewing with an overlock machine. I guess the only problem with such a narrow seam allowance is that there is not much manoeuvre for fitting. I sewed the garment using a straight stitch sewing machine but did overlock the seams together.

The only frustrating thing about sewing with jersey is that I am a bit of a stickler for pressing believing in the old adage ‘half pressed is half sewn’ but actually this jersey did iron well and as the collar, armholes and ties are top-stitched this helps them lay well.

Choosing buttons presented a dilemma. Should I go for straightforward cream to match the background or use one of the many colours in the fabric. In the end I opted for red to give the garment more pop.

This is a pretty cute pattern which goes together very easily. However I did alter the collar construction as the instructions were different to the method I normally use and seemed back to front to me. For example the pattern calls for you to interface the upper collar but I have always interfaced the lower collar. So I used my usual method although I expect the instructed version works okay too.

I am very pleased with the end result as it reflects the 1950s custom culture look I was after and I was very happy to have found the perfect project for the jersey. I also have a vintage project in mind for the second bolt of prize fabric and I hope to post about that in the near future.

To toile or not to toile

Pronounced Twal

An early version of a finished garment made up in cheap material so that the design can be tested and perfected.


I read a lot of sewing blogs and I am amazed at how much toile-ing goes on out there.  Am I alone in being someone who doesn’t toile?

Of course, I understand the principle of making a toile so that you can hopefully get a pattern which ensures a perfect fit before committing scissors to your best fabric.  And I can totally see that if you were developing a pattern from scratch you would need to make a muslin to see how the design is progressing and will work in practice.  In fact I went to the Yves St Laurent exhibition ‘Style is Eternal’ several years ago and a whole room was devoted to calico toiles of his designs.  I could appreciate that these were used to try out design features such as pocket  and button placement (it was very cute seeing buttons made of calico).

For commercial patterns however I much prefer to take my measurements and compare these to the paper pattern, making adjustments to that before I cut out.  Then I like to do the fitting and alterations on the garment as I go along.  I think the thing is that fabrics behave so differently.  How many times have I cut main pieces and lining from the same pattern only to sometimes find they are slightly out usually due to the weave of the material be it loose or tight or possibly due to the texture of a particular fabric.  So I guess what I’m saying is that you may make a toile in one fabric and find that it fits perfectly but when using a different fabric for the proper garment find some differences occur.  I do remember a Vogue skirt I made years ago.  I used a lightweight woollen fabric for the first skirt I created with the pattern.  It made a fabulous skirt that fit and felt perfect.  As I loved that skirt I decided to make another but this time in a cotton weight fabric.  However, the fit was completely different.  I didn’t love it as much as my first one.

I think I have made precisely two toiles in my life.  One was for the first pattern I drafted for a Victorian jacket using an original Victorian pattern.  Although I drafted by bust size I was wary of Victorian sizing even then so did sew a mock up.  It actually came out true to size but the instructions for the drafting of the patterns include a lot of measuring of the flat pattern and removing or adding any extra to back length, darts,  etc, so they work out surprisingly well.  My other toile was a jacket I was making for a friend and wanted her to see the style I was contemplating.

I can’t see me changing my mind this late in my sewing career and so far I can’t say I have had any major disasters from not toile-ing.  Maybe I think life is too short to toile.  How about you?

Sewing the Seventies: A Retrospective

As mentioned in my previous post I have been feeling very nostalgic for the seventies just lately.  It has been interesting reading the year by year take on the decade by the Steely Seamstress which brought back a lot of memories.

Making my own clothes was a big part of my life in the seventies. In fact I think making clothes for many people was a given as it was one of the few ways to get cheap fashionable clothes as the ubiquitous Primark did not yet exist (although there were the fantastic Chelsea Girl boutiques). I suppose it helped that Domestic Science (Syllabus B), (in other words Needlework) was still on the school curriculum and you were taught the basics of dressmaking right from the word go from how to read patterns to sewing samples of seams etc.

One of the first things I made was a smock dress and I choose a plaid fabric for the yoke. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end but I had the most fantastic, wonderful needlework teacher who showed me the importance of pattern matching.

1970s Smock pattern

Unfortunately I only have a few of my original seventies’ patterns but this skirt pattern is one of the first I bought and I always have a chuckle when I see the length of the legs on the envelope cover drawings.


Recently I set myself the task of scouring websites to see if I can find any photos of my favourite seventies’ makes. I remember making this short sleeved jacket in a white drill to go with a pair of red M and S Oxford bags.  I struggled with the square front panels and lapels with it being my first ‘tailored’ item and at that age I was not the mad perfectionist I am today.


I recall making a brushed flowered cotton dress similar to this style (version 1) but I did cut out two left sleeves (forgot to flip the pattern). It was a learning curve and who knew the difference when I wore it anyway.  The high neck dress with puffed sleeves and a tie belt at the back was a popular silhouette in the early seventies.


There was a definite forties’ revival thing going on in the seventies with lots of pencil skirts and shirt dresses. This pattern was hugely popular with all the girls at school and we quite often shared patterns. I made this in a gorgeous small flowered turquoise seersucker with white collar and cuffs.  That tie belt was featuring again.


I was so excited to find this pattern in a vintage shop recently for £1. It was probably my most favourite make of the seventies because if fit like a dream. My version was made in dark blue corduroy and I wore it with a checked cheesecloth shirt. Cheesecloth was the fabric of the mid seventies, right?, except it shrank every time you washed it and to be honest was a bit scratchy on the skin.


I’ve started to pick up a few more seventies’ patterns to add to my collection. Here are two finds. I think the two piece does reflect that forties feel with its flying jacket design and wide legged trousers and of course pinafore dresses/sundresses, depending on how your wore them, were de rigueur in the seventies.

Style and Simplicity were the main pattern companies of the seventies, although I did treat myself to a few Vogue patterns.  I was also recently bequeathed a whole heap of seventies’ Burda magazines but I have to say I am slightly disappointed with these as the majority of styles are a bit matronly although there are a few gems if you look past Burda’s fabric choices. Burda did choose the dress on the cover of their November 1975 issue below to feature in their vintage Seventies Special. As an aside I do love looking at the hairstyles, shoes and accessories used in the Burda photoshoots. WP_20180401_10_01_01_Pro

I think seventies’ fashion often gets a bad press sometimes which is totally unjustified. I may be biased but the seventies is one of my favourite decades for fashion and I think the fact that current fashions are still referencing them is testament to that.

Sewing the Seventies


As anyone who knows me will tell you I am passionate about historical and vintage clothing.  I enjoy making things using original vintage patterns but I also like to look through modern patterns to see if there are any with a vintage flavour.  At the moment I’m nostalgic for the clothes of the late 1960s and early 1970s and have been making garments with that vibe in mind, so imagine my excitement when I saw that the Steely Seamstress was running a competition called ‘Sewing the Seventies‘.  It was too good an opportunity to miss.

I may be looking through rose tinted spectacles but I remember the seventies with a fondness, you know, like every summer was long and hot, despite the 3 day working week and all that malarkey because whatever was happening politically the fashions and the music shone through.  The fashions were colourful and eclectic in fabulous tactile fabrics such as satin, velvet and suede. Knitting was also also popular with waistcoats, tank tops and even full trouser suits made from wool. Prints were plentiful as epitomised by Laura Ashley and Celia Birtwell.

A length of  lightweight cotton paisley fabric that I had lying around in the stash was just calling out 1970s to me and for some time I’d been planning some sort of blouse with it.  I can’t even remember where I bought the fabric from but it must have been a while ago as it was 36 inch wide and most fabric is now 45 inch or 60 inch wide.  So instead of continually swooning and admiring it I thought it was about time I put it to good use.

I knew it would be perfect for the Lutterloh pattern that had been on my radar for a while. The blouse was giving me a 70s feel with its beautiful full length puffed sleeves.

For people not familiar with Lutterloh it is a self pattern drafting system from Germany.  The Lutterloh system, or Golden Rule as it is also known, dates from the 1930s and produce four supplements (A5 size) a year with a variety of styles ranging from fashionable, middle of the road, fuller size, children, men’s and maternity as well as recently starting to add a vintage pattern from their archives.  The supplements cost around £15 and if you intend to make half a dozen or more of the designs then it is fairly economical.  I first found out about Lutterloh back in the 1980s when I attended a presentation on the system and bought my first supplement and the special graded tape measure needed for drafting the patterns.


Using the special tape measure you draft tops by corresponding bust measurement and bottoms by hip measurement.  You pin the tape measure to a cross marked on the the minature pattern piece provided and swivel it around to measure off the various points onto your pattern paper and then join the dots.  This is a simplistic explanation and I hope to do a comprehensive blog on a Lutterloh project at some time in the future but in the meantime in depth instructions can be found on the Lutterloh site.  I have drafted a few patterns previously but I have to say I am not 100% sold on the method yet because despite double and triple checking measurements sometimes the pieces look out to me and I have to realign them to what I am accustomed to seeing on a pattern piece.  However as I have a Lutterloh book dating from the 1950s that has the most beautiful designs and which I am determined to use, then I am going to need a bit more practise with the technique so this blouse was a good opportunity.

I set about drafting it for an average 34 inch bust (86 centimetres as the system is German) and all went well apart from the front edge line which despite several measurement checks sloped off at a strange diagonal.  I decided to just draw in the front edge as straight and ignore the measuring.  After that slight adjustment the pattern pieces all looked like the ones on the Lutterloh diagram and so I was happy to go ahead and cut out the fabric.  As the fabric was narrow it was quite a tight squeeze fitting all the pieces on especially the wide sleeves but I just managed it.  As with Burdastyle patterns you must remember to add seam and hem allowances.  Now when it comes to sewing up the garment there are no instructions with the Lutterloh system and you do need to have knowledge and experience of techniques such as attaching collars inserting sleeves etc, so for someone new to sewing this could prove a challenge. The blouse made up extremely well and all pieces matched.  I particularly love the peterpan collar and the tuck effect to give the elongated cuffs.

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To complete the seventies look I have paired the blouse with a pair of flood length flared trousers made in a mock snakeskin effect fabric.  This garment was one that was chosen and begun by my daughter a couple of years’ back that I happened to stumble upon in their half finished state in a drawer recently.  As I thought the fabric was really interesting I took it upon myself to finish them which involved sewing the legs together, inserting an invisible zip, attaching the waistband and hemming.  I also kept visualising a mock lace up on the front to give them that rock chick edge so attached eyelets, a facing and inserted a lace.  The pattern used for these was Burdastyle 110 9/2012.

So here is the completed 1970s rock chick look as immortalised by style icons of the time such as Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithful.WP_20180122_14_41_03_Pro (2)

How I miss the seventies!


1900s Beach Corset: An Interpretation

While browsing the internet I came across a photo of what was described as a ‘beachwear corset’ dating from around the 1900s.  I am wondering if these were worn under those charming two piece bathing suits of the time.  It would fit in with what was happening to corsets around that time.  Riding corsets were being produced that were cut away under the bust and over the hips to allow more movement for the activities women were beginning to engage with such as tennis, skating and cycling.

Beachwear corset from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I especially liked the  intertwining Y pieces at the front of the corset.  I couldn’t find a back view so assumed it may have been buckled or alternatively buttoned closed.  Suffice to say I immediately wanted to try out this design.  I took one of my existing corset patterns and traced off the centre front pieces in order to measure and draw the Y front design to create a pattern.PlanI don’t often make toiles but I wanted to see if the Y pieces would work and so I quickly ran up a mock corset with some old fabric.ToileThe original corset looks like it is made of a heavyweight cotton or calico and I do think this would look good in a heavy denim.  As I did not have any denim in my stash I took a faux leather pencil skirt I had lying around and decided to use that to upcycle into a corset belt based on the original style.

However no sooner had I made that decision but I realised I had forgotten what a pain faux leather is to sew with for the following reasons:

  1. Pinning, tacking and unpicking leaves holes in the fabric and so you only have one go with sewing it unless you have a lot of spare fabric to recut pieces.  As I was recycling a garment it was a tight squeeze to cut out the pieces anyway so cutting replacement pieces was not an option.
  2. Ideally a special foot for the sewing machine is needed as the faux leather sticks to the metal machine foot and causes the fabric to wrinkle up.  In this case use of either a teflon non-stick foot or a roller foot is recommended.  As neither of these are in my possession I had to resort to a tip I found online of sewing over non-stick baking parchment.  This worked surprisingly well but it did limit your vision of the actual sewing.
  3. You cannot iron it.  I think this is self explanatory but as I decided to line the corset I did need to apply an iron.  I followed online suggestions of using a non-steam setting, a cool iron and ironing over brown paper (although I think ironing over a cloth would work too).  I kept ironing to a minimum mainly over the lining as I did not want melted faux leather over everything.

Anyhow I struggled on and got an end result which I’m more than pleased with for my first attempt.  There are certainly some tweaks I would make to the design and I think I will definitely be shopping for some heavier weight fabric for my next attempt!