Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In-Progress Net Corselet

Why is it that the best inspiration always comes when you don't have time to work with it? I need to finish the garments for my book, so of course I'm totally drawn to another project. I'm giving myself a bit of time to work on it at night just for my own sanity and satisfaction.

I've been doing a lot of research into 50s bathing suits recently because many of them have fascinating inner structures. I've been especially taken by the designs of Rose Marie Reid, who believed that swimwear should be as elegant as evening gowns--and provide the same internal support.

I'm especially in love with her "Hourglass" collection, which came in lovely pastels. This inspiration all sort of converged around the time when I'm making a little outfit for our annual summer day trip to Coney Island, which is planned for the day of the Mermaid Parade this weekend. What better to wear than something inspired by these lovely "jewels of the sea"? (Note to self: you probably won't finish the outfit in time. It's cool. Just chill out, okay?)

It will need an inner foundation, and I've been dying to try a corselet made from cotton bobbinet (blogged here). It just so happened that my friend Brenda, who used to work at a Barbara Matera, a prestigious Broadway costume shop, wrote me an e-mail telling me more about this kind of construction. In Brenda's words:
I know of a technique where you later two pieces of bobbinet perpendicular grain (lay one, turn the next layer 90 degrees and lay that on top) and machine quilt them together at 1/4 inch grids.  THEN you cut the corselet out and make it.  It's light as a feather, strong, and takes an eternity to make.  They used to do that at Barbara Matera.  They did all kinds of crazy beyond couture things there- you wouldn't believe the ballet costumes.  The cotton corselets were great in sheer beaded gowns.  They would dye the bobbinet to match the actor and then the corselet helped not only hold the shape of the gown and actress, but it usually eliminated the need for a bra or slip.  
Amazing, huh? I became entranced with this idea and tried out the quilting myself.

It's weirdly soothing to do, but I couldn't stop thinking about toilet paper commercials as I was doing it. You know, the whole "two-ply quilted" business?

Anyway, here's the front bodice. It really is amazingly sturdy.
I'm super excited to put the boning in tomorrow night. More to come!


  1. that's really cool. out of curiosity, about how long did it take you to do?

  2. The corsetry stuff really intrigues me, and I find it slightly scary as well. I'm just getting into pattern cutting for dresses. Must have a go at this some time - when I have the time and have mastered a few simpler techniques.

  3. So excited to see the finished product!

    Also, a question: what seams are you using to finish it? I'm guessing the ends are kinda prickly? I've never seen bobbinet before and I'm very curious about it!

  4. Wow, that really looks great. The cotton bobbinette looks like it would be light and breathable. Keep the pics coming! And those adorable pastel bathing suits - they look like a "rainbow" 70's wedding which you are too young to remember!

  5. Well, pooh. The 2 layers with perpendicular grains would probably have worked perfectly for my wedding dress corselet, but I'm not about to re-do it (for the umpteenth time) again now!

    However, I will totally keep this in mind for future ballgown-type garments, at least. Thanks very much for sharing!

  6. You may like this link:


    It provides several swimsuits advertisement illustrations - quite inspirational.

  7. I second Kimberly's questions about how long it took to do all that grid quilting? Inquiring minds must know! lol.

    I'm totally intrigued by this project. Which is now causing me to think up all sorts of excuses to buy some materials for a corselet (which I really don't have time for right now--of course). Can't wait to read more about your project and see the finished piece!

  8. Kimberly, the quilting took me about an hour for the front and about two spools of thread!

    Lyra, I'm going put the seam allowances facing the wrong side of the outer bodice, so they won't be touching my skin. I'll just trim them down a bit and press open.

    Lizaveta, thank you! Great images!

  9. Welcome to my obsession, Gertie! I'm very excited to see this as it progresses. Yay, bathing suits! Any chance this will end up in your book?

  10. I'm very intrigued by the idea of a corselet, especially b/c I'm having the problem of all of my bodices loosening up over time (I haven't added boning to any of them) and I've been looking around for a way to keep the structure intact. This might be the way to go!

  11. I'm the costume manager for the Nashville Ballet and I do a similar technique when I need to make a bodice look delicate. The sturdier under-corset allows for a lot of wear. If dyed correctly the fabric disappears into the skin on stage. I love it!

  12. Technical question on this; do you pre-shrink the bobbinet? Many constructed ball gowns are not washable, but swim wear does tend to get wet.

  13. Awesome! If I were in NY (way other coast in Vancouver) I'd book a lesson with you in an instant! Can't wait for your online class!

  14. Hi Gertie,
    I have followed you for a while but have never commented.
    Thank you for all this wonderful information on corselet. You have answered a lot of my questions and provided valuable resources.

    Thanks again

  15. Have you posted a pic of your cutting table setup some place?
    This cotton bobbinet is so cool! I will be using this material in the future. I can't wait to see the next installment. You rock!

  16. Wow this must have taken a while but it is really interesting how all these inner structures are made. I absolutely adore those bathing beauty outfits!

  17. I cannot wait to see the finished product. I want to try this - see what you've done? :) Thank you.

  18. OOH!! I have a Rose Marie Reid swimsuit that was my Grandma's. I actually have pics of me wearing it when I was a kid--along with Gorgeous lace gowns she had. I love this suit and wear it to this day. It is black and has ruching from top to bottom. The inner structure is amazing to look at. If you are interested I can try to photograph the inside and email to you. It has an industrial metal zipper PLUS hooks and eyes up the back. No wardrobe malfunction on these suits. : )

  19. Kyra, I didn't preshrink the bobbinet since I don't actually intend to ge the outfit wet. It's more a "beach playsuit" than a swimsuit. :) I'm sure you could preshrink it in some hot water and then air dry.

    vintagekitchenkitsch, PLEASE! I would love to see photos of the inside of your suit. You can e-mail me at gertie at blogforbettersewing dot com. Thanks so much!

  20. I'd also like to see the inside of one of these! Any chance you could post the photos up? I LOVE these bathing suits.

  21. Was looking for linen tape and found this source of cotton tulle. Black or white; $7.00 a square foot.



Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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