Project Recap: Thoughts on My Upcycled Denim Corset

Author on a 10 mile run in frigid temps. In a skirt. Image Source: Author

I last wore ‘hard pants’ (I wear leggings under my skirts like Daenerys Targaryen so I’m not talking about those) sometime in 2019, in the before-fore times. I’ve never been a huge fan of trousers — I’ve always preferred skirts. I even wore skirts when I was marathoning. Imagine my annoyance when I went to unpack my winter clothes this year, and came upon some denim pants at the bottom. Initially I was thrown into the ‘do I donate these or — ‘ thought spiral, until I realized the jeans might solve a problem I was having. For a couple of weeks I have been wanting to make a mock-up of a new corset pattern I had drafted up of another Pretty Housemaid corset (this draft is for a smaller waist so I can lace down, and better breast shaping), but I needed to find appropriate materials to make a mock-up. I already have a lovely dark green coutil and spoon busk for it because I have a craft-supply hoarding problem.

I wasn’t sure, but I felt like I had found the solution to my problem at the bottom of my clothes bag.

Corset-making requires precision, patience — and mock-ups. The sheer amount of mock-ups help contribute to the general expense of corsetry as a hobby. While sewing corsets doesn’t require any exceptional skills that are out of reach, it does require great amounts of patience, and piles of mock-ups.

My original plan was to just use the denim for a mock-up and throw it away, but I have always been distressed at the sheer amount of waste this can create and strive to make mock-ups that can be reused in some way. Waste, in general, strikes fear into my heart and anxiety in my brain. My plan was to baste the un-corded recycled denim layers together to do a fast fit check, and then, instead of wasting the mockup, I could make then make the double layered corded corset using some of my small stash of coutil.

I didn’t want to have to use the coutil, an expensive fabric, if the mock-up wasn’t going to end up being a viable corset / ‘wearable mockup’.

Pattern pieces on my jeans. Image Source: Author.

Once I decided on the approach, I started arranging pattern pieces on the pants to see how I could use the fabric and some of the more sturdy, helpful seams. Since the busk requires a good, crisp folded over edge (as well as the center back panels where the lacing lives), I wanted to use some of the seaming in the pants. It ended up that the jeans essentially had enough cloth for a corset — as long as I didn’t include the pockets. I’m going to be honest here and admit that I thought about trying to integrate the pockets into the hip-pad design of the corset, but I decided not to, and that’s for the best, since I ended up making another project out of the pockets that I’ll talk about.

Once I had identified how I could use all of the cloth and seaming to my advantage, it was time to do the worst part of any sewing project for me — the cutting. In this case, the cutting was less stressful. After all, I was only ‘losing’ pants I hadn’t worn for at least three years. As I cut them, I thought about some of the things I’ve learned about how people would sew and use their clothes in the past, and how fast fashion actually isn’t as new as people think it is.

In this video about shattering silk, Nicole Rudolph mentions that the Victorian-era practice of weighting silk would have women buying silk that would only last for a brief time. What was surprising to me about that revelation is that cloth by that time was seen as disposable at all. Making fabric takes time — so does chopping it into shapes and then sewing that into place. I haven’t woven any more cloth lately because warping a loom can be such a pain, which is why I’m delighted to be able to re-use fabric whenever I can.

Ironed pieces ready to be sewn. Image Source: Author

Since I’ve had a lot of practice sewing this particular corset, it came together quickly and relatively stress free. Since the fabric was cheap (I hate to call it free, but it didn’t stress my budget), I thought it might be a neat concept to continue to just use items out of my stash to finish the corset. I used leftover navy threads mixed with some leftover burgundy thread. I used leftover cloth for the bias tape. I was rewarded with a great looking corset, even without bones and just basted together.

Here’s the corset before boning. Image Source: Author.

I admire people who strive for historical accuracy in their clothing. It’s fascinating to read and watch their processes, and one of the joys of the internet is being able to share knowledge like that. And while I’m interested in historical fashion and how to sew it, my style is more fusing that with other modern sensibilities which can really open up the space for me. I don’t have to hand sew everything. It opens up the realm of fabrics. It also allowed me to feel free to go ahead and use some crazy ribbon I had in my stash.

I can’t say I’d use this sort of ribbon again, but it sure is prettier than simple cord. Image source: Author

I was able to apply so many lessons from my prior outings sewing this corset, and I’m delighted with the outcome. As I sat and considered how to start on the final corset (I’m working on a wardrobe with the inspiration of Stitch Witch / Victorian Trailer Trash for ‘aesthetic tags’).

I really do love this corset and it does exactly what I was hoping. I’m able to lace down quite a bit (from 28″ waist to 24″) and am still comfortable. I think the adjustments that I made to the pattern are sensible and make the overall corset far more comfortable than other iterations that I’ve tried. Even though the pattern I was working from requires as spoon busk, I find the corset is very workable with a regular busk (but still sewn in the shape of the spoon busk).

My bonus project was a pocket. Pockets, for the longest time, weren’t integrated into clothing. They were separate, worn around the waist, and accessible through slits in the clothing. I saw someone on youtube that had a pocket made from recycled pockets from jeans and I thought — yes. Yes I can do this. And, I did.

The recycled pocket.

This pocket actually has several layers of pockets. A pocket of pockets.

Much like the recycled denim corset, I used supplies that I had on hand and didn’t purchase anything new. I used the last of the bias tape I couldn’t use in the corset, in addition to some canvas I had sitting around from a prior creation.

I’ve started embroidering the pocket while I consider how I’m going to floss my glorious recycled corset. I’m also thinking of a way I can alter it to make it more accessible through slits in clothing (and to possibly cover the poor thing a bit better. It ends up that women’s pockets are barely deep enough to be useful on these!).

While these jeans started as a piece of fast fashion that I thrifted a few years ago, it was a true delight to turn something that I wasn’t using into something that I could. It reminded me of the many alterations that you can see on historical garments. Making things for myself has given me a deeper understanding of the world and the things that I use. It’s also given me a deeper appreciation for the act of creation.

I’ve been doom-scrolling through stories about how stores are running out of things and how things are just running out. The pleasure of taking my own unused jeans and making something I find both useful and beautiful helped remind me of just how much potential we’re all surrounded by.

The finished item. Image Source: Author.


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