- Written by Laura Loft
Have you ever found yourself repeating a past mistake but not realising until it's too late?
Or got ahead of yourself in constructing your corset and had to unpick your hard work? Miscalculated how long something will take and ended up stitching into the wee hours?
Or the most frustrating, ever tried to recreate a previous success only to discover you have forgotten exactly how you did it? I have – too many times.
The way I try to prevent wasting time and effort is to use a three pronged approach:
1. Construction worksheets
2. Indexed notes
3. A design and construction journal
This works well for all my corsetmaking, but works equally well wth all kinds of sewing projects.
Before I reach for the scissors on any project I go and print off a construction worksheet and use it like a checklist. It lists each step required to make the style of corset I want to make. Most importantly, it lists them in order.
I used to waste so much time trying to visualise the remaining steps and work out which bit to do next, often resulting in getting ahead of myself and unpicking into the wee hours, or worse still, discovering that I couldn't fix my mistake. So I kept a notepad handy and wrote down the sequence of steps as I created different types of corset. The time spent doing this is minimal but it has proved to be invaluable, especially when I moved into drafting my own corsets, leaving me stranded without the pattern instructions to cling to for some sense of order.
You can create your own or you can print out the ones that are posted at the link below. They are instructions for basic corset construction that I have written and used myself, but they are by no means definitive and you may wish to reorder some of the steps or add your own steps for adding lace, appliqués, etc.
One other benefit I have found is that these worksheets allow you to organise your mind and your time. Aiming to get a number of steps completed by a certain time really does help productivity. They also allow you to focus on what you are doing instead of trying to think ahead to what the next step should be.
How many times have you half recalled a really neat technique or solution to a problem but can't remember where you read it? Then spent ages searching for it, I know it was on a website – now which one was it?
When I read anything to do with corsetry I always have a note book handy to jot down nifty tips or techniques. Then I write them down on index/revision cards, which are stored in a caddy with alphabetical tabs.
Every top tip and technique I find ends up in there, from the needle position and foot placement for boning channels to Cathy's superb binding technique. Then as I start each step on the construction worksheet I cross reference it with the relevant index card(s).
Using these note cards has saved a lot of time and ensured that I achieve consistent results. I also find it helpful to make notes of what didn't work and why, so I am never tempted to make the same mistake again!
Here are some examples of my note cards:
Design and Construction Journal
I began keeping a journal when I first started making corsets for other people so I could keep track of what I had done and to help me judge how long each stage took. But I discovered the journals to be more valuable than just a record of time spent. Now I make an entry for every corset-related task I undertake, even if it is just an experiment.
To save going over each step, here is an example of one of my journal entries. It's an old one as I have developed a code for taking notes, which is great for faster and more precise note taking, but makes no sense to anyone else.
Benefits of Keeping a Journal
What I have found most important is to keep a record of every stage of the creation process, from taking the initial measurements to the client trying on the finished corset.
The devil is in the detail and the more information you record the better. I can't remember all the details of how I created each of my corsets, but if you give me a minute to look it up in the journal I would have all the information to recreate an exact replica!
This is very handy when you come to make another corset for the same person. If they have a particularly tricky area of the body to work with, in the journal entries you will have a record of how you overcame this and anything you tried that didn't work quite so well. You can also plan in advance any revisions the new corset may need – was the client particularly squishy in one area and so the toile needed to be taken in more than expected? Knowing this in advance allows you to make an informed decision when drawing up the pattern and can save you time when it comes to the fitting stage.
A word of caution when making a new corset for an old customer– make sure you take up-to-date measurements and compare them with the measurements listed on the pattern before you re-use the old pattern. People's measurements are like stocks and shares, they can go up as well as down in a matter of weeks, as I found out to my utter dismay when trying on a corset I finished in late November. When I finished it, it fitted perfectly then but diving into the Christmas platter one too many times has added a number of inches and unsightly bulges!
Re-reading the journal entries is also very helpful when it comes to reusing a pattern for someone else – you already have a record of the pros and cons of the patterns and the solutions you came up with. I always label my corset patterns and ensure that I write down who the corset is for and their measurements; it makes recycling the pattern that much easier as you can quickly cross reference.
I think it is very important not only to record the difficulties but the triumphs. Did the pattern provide a great shape for the bust; did it create a clean silhouette line from the waist to the hip? This will help you when it comes to choosing a corset style for a client with a particular agenda. Perhaps she wants a full shape to her bust line and wants to avoid the "squished look" some corsets give. If you already have a record of this it will save you time and effort.
If, like me, you're a bit of a stationery nut, you'll have an index card listing each pattern that lends itself to a particular need and you can just whip it out and look dead professional: "Oh I have just the corset for you ....".
Time and Customer Management
Having a work journal also helps you plan your time with regards to client fittings and project deadlines.
First of all, you will have a record of how long each stage took for a particular corset, and also whether that style is tricky to fit and so needs more than the average number of fittings.
This way you can prepare your client for it and avoid the risk of him/her thinking "it's all going wrong – she doesn't know what she's doing", or worse, that they have an "awful" body to work with. You will also be mentally prepared for a long project. Sometimes the need for multiple fittings (even if the corset is for me) can really knock my confidence, especially when I haven't accounted for it when setting a deadline.
I often find myself reading through my diary when I am drawing up a new pattern. If I am looking for a certain shape in the hip area I can look up a previous pattern and either use it as inspiration or reuse it in my design. If you take a picture of the client wearing the finished corset and staple it to the relevant page in the journal you can cut your time down even further!
Keeping Track of Improvements
Keeping a project journal is a great way of discovering where your skills and techniques have improved.
It's so easy to get bogged down by the bits you struggled with, so that you fail to see just how far you have come. You focus in on that one stitch that was slightly adrift (that often no-one else notices) and fail to see the fabulous corset surrounding it. I spent too many nights despairing at the sewing machine, fearful that I was wasting my time and would never be able to make a corset that would stand up to scrutiny. It was only when I started to keep a journal that I was able to see that I really was improving.
Learning to create jaw-droppingly gorgeous corsets is not a sprint, it's a marathon. Plotting key landmarks on your way to the finish line and (most importantly) recognising when you have reached them is essential to preventing your confidence and motivation dropping.
On the flip side, a journal is a great way of showing you where you now need to focus your attention. When I first started it was specific techniques – stitching boning channels neatly, binding, flossing. Now my journal tells me that I (still) need to focus on flossing and the amount of time spent making each corset without sacrificing standards. Thankfully I no longer take two hundred hours to construct a corset, but there is still room for improvement!
Keeping a journal is by no means the only way to solve the problem but it works well for me. It doesn't take as much time as you might think, and certainly has saved me far more time, fabric and unpicking in return.
I use a similar system, a "project journal" in which I keep all notes, swatches, techniques and thoughts on each item I make. It has proven useful many times when I am trying to remember how I did something, how NOT to do something, how long something really took me to make and where I got the fabric.
I also enjoy occasionally looking through it for fun, like walking down memory lane.
:-D This is WONDERFUL! I am by far my own worst enemy! I do the same thing, worrying about what to do at the next step. I have carpal tunnel, so I do not write down notecards but print out ideas/techniques, put them in page protectors, which are indexed in binders. It works well for people who can't write as much as you. I used to do the same thing at Cal with my notes, I think I will take the pain in my wrist in order to have all that info written down rather than try to remember.
Thank you so much for this, it is invaluable!
And whoever laid out the article and photos and created the slideshow did an excellent job too!
(PS Now if someone could write about how to overcome indecisiveness when creating new corset styles or picking fabrics...)
"I think I will take the pain in my wrist in order to have all that info written down rather than try to remember."
Could you get hold of a dictaphone? That way you could record ideas and techniques while you work and type them up later perhaps?
I also use the binders/sheet protectors method and keep a (very disorganized) journal. But lifting the techniques out of the journal and binders and into a more orderly indexed system will help me a lot. I've done some dumb things more than once. Flipping through several notebooks at 3 am: not fun!
I've been creating my own "pattern instructions" each time I begin a corset!! (and, I'm sorry to say, never really productive. I think I may have some sort of corset-related ADD.) The construction worksheets outlined here will save me hours of thinking and day dreaming and I'll be able to get more actual work done!!
Thanks, Laura for this. Very helpful.
8-) wonderful! THis is exactly the kind of thing i need to be doing. My memory is terrible and my routine is just getting its much needed overhaul.
Such simple advice really, but i wouldnt have thought of doing it in such a constructive way!
Im going to buy brandnew folders nows :))