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Pattern Matching for Corsets

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Fabric with an asymmetrical pattern has an image printed on it which is not the same on both sides. If you were to fold the yardage in half lengthwise, the halves would not be a mirror image.

The goal when working with asymmetrical patterns is to reconstruct the image to the best of your ability in order to form a pleasing, “seamless” picture, but this requires a lot of time, patience, planning, and extra fabric.

Unless you are splicing perfectly straight seams, it is impossible to create a perfectly seamless image across the garment. Corsets have many very curvy seams, so they present an interesting challenge. It’s fun to see how the images come together to create a new picture across the body of a corset.

In this demonstration, I will show you how to lay out and pattern match a corset made from asymmetrical printed fabric.

Selecting the Fabric

When selecting fabric for asymmetrical pattern matching, consider the scale of the repeat (ie the size of one complete image). Home decor fabrics tend to have very large repeats. Quilting fabrics tend to have very small repeats. Smaller repeats are easier to match because the seams where the images are spliced are less noticeable.

If you are making something large like curtains, or a small garment with very few seams, like a vest [waistcoat] without darts, fabric with a large repeat may be the best choice.

Yardage of a Baroque Toile fabric One repeat of toile pattern
Full yardage view of a Baroque Toile Fabric One repeat of the Toile design

 

Small garments with many curved seams (corsets, for example) are better suited to fabrics with smaller repeats. If you choose a fabric with a large repeat, it will be harder to reconstruct the image to create a pleasing arrangement, but with practice, patience, and planning it can be accomplished with striking results.

Fragonard Corset, front Fabric for Fragonard Corset
Fragonard Corset by Electra Designs The original fabric

Fabric Selection and Quantity for Corsets

When making a corset, it is best to choose a light- to mid-weight tightly woven fabric. Measure the length of the corset pattern you you plan to use and make sure the printed image on the fabric is a good scale for the garment. Purchase at least three times the yardage you would normally use.

Large repeats require more yardage than small ones, but there is no perfect formula for determining the correct quantity of fabric. It depends on how the image is laid out on the yardage, where the cut was made when it came off the bolt, how wide the fabric is, the size of the repeat, the number of panels, width of your seam allowances, and several other factors.

It’s best to play it safe and buy too much than to find yourself a few inches shy of a perfect corset. The tragedy with using fabric with a large repeat is that most of the fabric waste is not particularly desirable or useful for standard projects. With a little creativity, however, you will find a way to put those scraps to good use.

Fabric Preparation

Normally I interface the fabric before cutting out my corset pieces, but there is so much fabric waste involved in asymmetrical pattern matching that I find it less wasteful to interface the pieces after they are cut.

To prepare your fabric, make sure it is perfectly on grain and press it well. I rarely pre-wash corset fabric because I don’t wash finished corsets, but if you choose to pre-wash it, make sure you straighten the grain and press it well before you lay out your pattern pieces. Lay out your fabric right side up, in one layer, without folding or doubling it.

Planning Your Image Placement

Planning out the image placementEvaluate the image on your yardage. Measure it to see how the picture will fit onto your corset. Try to get an idea of how you want the printed image to come together on your corset. Don’t try to plan it out too perfectly.

Asymmetrical pattern matching is an organic art form. The fabric and panels will dictate the finished result, so you can’t really predict how they will all look until you stitch it up. It’s a lot less stressful to surrender yourself to the materials rather than trying to force them to become what they are not.

 

Pattern Preparation

If you are working with a toile (all three examples shown are toile fabrics), the goal is to keep the medallion image (the main picture) relatively intact. Locate the center of the image. Try to center the medallion on the front of your corset. I always work from the center front of the corset toward the side seams.

For best results, select a pattern with less shaping and fewer panels. When working with very curvy patterns or overbust patterns, you may wish to add style lines to facilitate more visually pleasing image composition.

If your corset pattern has a lot of seams, it may help to combine some of the pattern pieces, especially at center front. Do this only where it won’t affect the shape and fit of the finished garment. In this example, I combined the center front panel (piece #1) with the adjacent panel (piece #2). The idea is to reduce the number of seams that will interrupt the image without compromising the overall shape and fit of the garment.

patternpieces

 

Here's how to do it:

Tape the two pieces together along the seam line, matching waist notches. Pivot to match the seam line above the waist. Notice where the seam lines do not match up below the waist and add this difference to the side seam. Smooth the seamline. Square waist with center front, square grainline with waist and correct seam allowance.

combinepieces_1 combinepieces_2

 

Sometimes you will need to add style lines. In the example of the heron corset (below), I added curved empire seaming under the bust on the front of the corset. By doing this, I was able to create a more pleasing arrangement of images on the bust portion of the corset while keeping the medallion intact.

If your center back panel is to be placed on a fold, adjust your pattern piece by making it double-wide (with the center back line as the grain line) so you can lay it on a single layer of fabric instead of a fold. Or, add a seam allowance at center back and cut a facing out of scraps or coutil.

Heron corset, front Heron fabric Heron corset, inside
Heron Corset by Electra Designs The fabric for the Heron corset, an asymmetrical, large repeat home decor fabric. The heron fabric is a good example of a very asymmetrical print. (the orange shape with the vase is only on one side of the heron medallion) Inside view of heron corset reveals empire seaming at center front

 

Pattern Piece Layout Basic Rules

1. Lay every piece ON GRAIN, even if you think tilting it will look better. If you must cut the piece off-grain for aesthetic purposes, be sure to interface (fuse) the piece on grain, and be sure the corset lining (preferably coutil) is cut on grain. Also make sure that you tilt the same pattern piece on the opposite side of the garment at the same angle, in the opposite direction.

2. Decide on your “match-point”. When I make corsets, I match everything at the waist line. Then, where the waist line and seam line intersect is my match-point. Every pattern piece is matched from that point. In practice, you may have a different match point for every panel. Just be sure you use the same match point for each panel on both sides of the corset.

3. Always match center front first. Center front is a straight line. It’s the center of your image and the starting point for asymmetrical pattern matching.

4. Match seam LINES, not seam allowances. Your pattern pieces must have seam lines drawn in.

5. You will not be cutting your pieces out in pairs or folding your yardage in half. Work with ONE layer of fabric. For asymmetrical pattern matching, you must cut each piece individually. Make sure you flip the pattern over for the left side.

6. Your fabric will look like swiss cheese when you are done. To be sure you get the most of your fabric, I suggest you actually make two pattern pieces (right side and left side) for each panel and lay out ALL of the pieces before you cut anything.

7. Draw your pattern pieces on paper that you can see through (not tissue paper though because it shifts too much). I use white butcher paper [Try greaseproof paper or baking parchment in the UK if you can't find butcher paper - Cathy]. Mark grain lines and seam lines very carefully (use hard drafting pencil or fine tip pen) on each panel. Number your panels in order, starting from center front (panel #1).

Pattern Layout Instructions

Start with center front LEFT (shown). Find the center front of the image and place the CF seam line along the center of the image, making sure the piece is on grain. Pin it in place.

In the following images, the green star indicates the “match-point”. The pink lines indicate the traced image on the pattern pieces. The black, vertical lines indicate the grain line.

I have included illustrations depicting pattern pieces 1-3. The remaining pieces are done in the same manner.

Pin the center front seam line (not the edge of the seam allowance!) along the center of medallion image. Temporarily pin panel 2 in place, matching the seam line at the waist line (match point).

Locate your match point (in this case, the waist line) on panel #1. Place the second panel (panel #2) on top of piece 1, matching the waist/seam line. Pivot the piece until it is on grain. Pin or weight the piece temporarily.

Step 1

 

Trace the fabric image near the match point onto panel #2. Remove panel #2 and find an identical image elsewhere on your yardage. Place panel #2 on top of the image you traced onto it. Pivot from the match point until the piece is perfectly on grain. Pin the piece in place.

Because your panels are curved, the pattern won’t match everywhere. It should match at the match point, and the rest should be on grain.

Step 2

Repeat this process for panel 3.

Step 3

This is what the pattern pieces look like after you've traced the lines from the printed image. Keep repeating the process until you reach the side seam.

Finished pattern pieces

The Back

I like the back of the corset to look as well-matched as the front. To avoid ending up with a random image on the back side of your corset, stop matching when you reach the side seam and start again at center back.

Sometimes you will have a fabric with a printed design that is very unbalanced. You have the option of trying to create symmetry, or working with the asymmetry for a different result. The black corset is an example of creating symmetry out of fabric that is very asymmetrical. The yellow corset is an example of working with the asymmetry of the print.

<p>The yellow corset is an example of working with the asymmetry of the print.</p> Heron corset, back Yellow toile corset, back

Fragonard Corset, back by Electra Designs

Heron Corset, back by Electra Designs

Yellow Heron corset, back by Electra Designs

Locate the image on your yardage that you want centered at center back. Place your center back pattern piece (seam line) along the center of that image (on grain). Repeat the process of matching and tracing that you did on the front of the corset, this time working from the center back towards the side seam.

Completing the Right side

Now that you have the LEFT side of your corset done, do the RIGHT side the same way. Start at center front by carefully matching the right CF match-point (waist/ seamline) to the left CF match-point. Work your way to the side seam as before. Stop at the side seam. Then start again from center back. First match the image at center back, then work your way toward the side seam the same way you did the left side of the corset.

Pattern Piece Placement

When you have laid out all of your pieces, your yardage should look something like the example below. Notice the LEFT panels in dark pink and the RIGHT panels in light pink. The pattern pieces for the right side are flipped.

All of your pattern pieces are laid out in a single layer. Double check everything before you cut.

Pattern piece placement

Carefully examine your pattern layout for the following:

  1. All pieces on grain
  2. Right side pattern pieces are reversed
  3. Check to see if you can rearrange any of the pieces for fabric conservation
  4. Make sure the pieces are matched from the match point and balanced on right and left side of corset
  5. If you are using thick fabric (or if you understitch CF), shift your CF panel away from the center of the image about 1mm to compensate for turn-of-cloth. Do the same for center back.
  6. Notch your pieces at the waist line.

If everything is correct, carefully cut out your pieces. Cut interfacing for each panel and fuse them together. Cut your lining from coutil or similar strength layer. Use your scraps to cut facings and modesty panels. When you stitch your corset together, match the pieces at the waist line (match point) notches.

Asymmetrical pattern matching for corsetry is a very challenging, fun and rewarding skill to practice. I love to turn a flat image into a three-dimensional work of wearable art. I hope you will try it too and I look forward to seeing what you create.

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lauraloft  
  Stunning, just stunning. Thank you for sharing such an amazing skill. I have wanted to try a patterned project but have been intimidated at the prospect of lining it all the panels up. I don't think I'm ready for a project as complex the examples but am definately going to try a simpler version. Can I be cheeky and ask, what weight of interfacing do you use on your fashion/patterned fabric? I have seen this mentioned many times but the weight is never revealed.
Thanks again :-D
 
 
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emma  
  This is a fabulous article. I've never seen pattern matching explained so clearly! Thank you.  
 
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athenaz  
  Truly beautiful, I will now challenge myself to using a pattern fabric on my new set of stays. They at least have less pieces to be matched :)  
 
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alexis_black  
  Ruby,
Thank you for your complements and question regarding interfacing.

Most professional corsetieres won't give you a direct answer to this question as it falls under the category of "trade secrets".

The interfacing I use depends largely on what fashion fabric I use. Some fabrics require only a woven, fusible interfacing. Others require another layer of fabric such as coutil, or ripstop cotton. Some fabrics are interlined with a combination of light padding, like fleece or flannel plus muslin. Others receive only batiste. Your interfacing should be chosen based on it's ability to stabilize and smooth the fashion fabric, add thickness, if needed, without adding too much bulk.

It really comes down to trial and error, and the particular materials you are using (as well as the corset style). In my experience, there is no one perfect interfacing for all applications.

I hope this helps a bit.
 
 
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lauraloft  
  Thanks Alexis, your feedback helps alot. I have used woven interfacing on fashion fabrics, but was concerned it wasn't the "right" thing to do to stablise them. It's hard to get an idea of what it should feel like with only pictures to go on. I have steered away from using some of the more delicate fabrics I have collected for fear of wasting what I have - I only have a small amount of them and have no way to replace them as they came from a house clearance. Now I have a clearer idea of what can be used I'll experiement with your suggestions and see where it leads me. Thank you :-)  
 
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alexis_black  
  Ruby,
My pleasure. Happy corset making!
Alexis
 
 
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sartorbohemia  
  This is a really great article. Thank you so much! I always loved your pattern-matched corsets.

I am only not sure about sewing the pattern pieces together. You wrote to cut the pattern pieces from a see through paper and pin them to the fabric. Then to fuse the interlining (do you fuse it with the pins in???). But how do you transfer the sewing lines to the wrong side of the fabric? Tracing wheel?
Am I missing something?
 
 
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alexis_black  
  I answered the last question in a personal email to the OP. I'm moving this week, but if anyone needs clarification, I will try to respond after I am settled into my new place.  
 
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cathi  
  Very, very interesting article. A good guide. rolleyes  
 
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Ann Ahlstrom  
  Rather sorry to find that this article isn't available. Why is it under the "free articles" section?
Soo much fantastic information, just don't have a credit card or paypal I use online. Call me old fashioned :-)
 
 
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Ann Ahlstrom  
  Oh you fixed it!
Fantastic, thank you soo much!!! :-)lol

 
 
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