August 23, 2011

Corsets, Leather and... Lasers?

You read that correctly!  LASERS.  I have the great luck to have access through my work to lasers that cut and etch a variety of materials, including fabric and leather.  While I love making corsets that are closely based on historical versions, I also like to make ones with modern fashion fabrics, details and shapes, so I am super excited to explore the possibilities of manipulating my materials with such a cool piece of technology.  And what project is most fitting for my very first laser aided corset design?  A steampunk corset, of course.  

Therefore I will be etching this lovely leather-

With this image of a giant squid attacking a ship-

Denys de Montfort's "Poulpe Colossal" etching, thankfully 
in the public domain and therefore available for me to use

This project is going to be a challenge for me.  I've never sewn leather before, so I'll be learning a lot as I go.  Tips welcome!  I am planning to use the laser to etch the design into my material and cut the pieces for me (after all, cutting everything out is one of the sucky parts of sewing). Prepping my pattern to send to the laser will involve a fair bit of computer wrangling to get it all right.  Even once I've got my files properly set up I'll still have to run several tests to determine the proper settings for etching the squid in.  Too little speed and power will leave me with a faint image, too much will burn right through the leather.  I've got a limited amount of material to work with, so I'm going to have to be totally confident everything is correct when I run the final job. 

But before I can even think about playing with lasers, I have to get my basics ready.  I'll be using a pattern I drafted for myself over a year ago using one of the free corset drafting tutorials at Foundations Revealed.  Here's what the corset I originally made from that pattern looks like-

 The only shot I have is an in progress one, but you can see the intended shape.

The corset has a 24" waist and is drafted with the expectation that the wearer will lace it with a 2" gap in the back, bringing the total waist measurement to 26".   It isn't meant to be a tightlacing corset so it doesn't have very drastic curves.  This makes it perfect for my purposes.  Gentler curves will be easier for me to work with in leather, especially given the fact that I've never sewn this material before. I also need to make the front flatter to give me a good canvas for my image; it would be much harder to rework the pattern successfully if it was super curvy. 

One thing I noticed about the first corset I made off this pattern was that I had miscalculated and it was too tight in the hip.  A year later it's even tighter!  I think two extra inches will do a lot of good.  That's a lot, but the squish from the waist has to go somewhere!  I added an inch to my pattern (because the pattern only shows one half of the corset, you only add half of the total amount you want to increase by).  Since I want to keep the front as smooth as possible I split that inch evenly between the back panels, then redrew the bottom edge so that it will all line up when sewn together.  

The pattern with extra room added in the hip.  CF is to your left, CB to the right.  
This is my master version; there's no seam allowances yet and I'll have to 
trace the pattern on another sheet of paper so the pieces don't overlap.

 Close up of the changes.  The pencil lines show the original pattern lines; the pen shows the new pattern pieces.  

As I mentioned, I want to keep the front of the corset flat to have a smooth, uninterrupted surface for my image.  To that end I won't be using a busk.  The center front won't even have a seam; I'll just make a solid front pattern piece by mirroring panel one across from itself.  I had planned to have the etching cross the side front seams, but to do that I would have to match a flat image along two curved pieces and account for the loss of some of the image along the seamline due to the thickness of the leather.  I'm crazy, but not quite that crazy yet.  The other option was to make up the corset, then put it in the laser; I'm not confident that the etching would turn out consistent across all panels that way due to the corset not being perfectly flat. 

To make it easier on myself I decided to contain the etching to just the front piece and do it at the same time I cut the pieces out.  In order to do that I'll have to make the front bigger; the image will end up being about 5 1/2" wide and that won't fit on the current pattern.  I adjusted it by taking 1" out of the side front piece and adding it into the front, then redrawing my top and bottom lines.

 The revised-yet-again pattern.  I went over the lines of the two new pieces with a pink pen 
in an attempt to make them more visible for you, but you can hardly see the pink.  
The original pieces still show through the tracing paper.

Now that I have my basic paper version of my pattern, I have to find some way to get it on the computer in a laser readable form.  I also have to add in things like balance marks and such.  Hopefully I'll have some progress to show you soon.  In the meantime, I'll gladly take any tips you have on working with leather!



  1. All I can say is: Wow. This is going to be beyond awesome...

    (comment by jafitz AKA J.A. AKA Jean-Anne AKA that red-haired woman :)

  2. Hey you! I certainly hope it works out. If so, I have SO MANY THINGS I CAN DO!!!!

  3. Try Ralph Pink, he has massive amounts of information and you may learn a thing or two. Good luck


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