I got a new toy for my birthday and finally got around to using it this week. As well as 5kg of vegetarian sweets, I was lucky enough to be the delighted recipient of an antique eyelet press. She’s a beauty.
In a previous post, I talked about my ongoing project to make a corset that looked good but was also comfy enough to allow me to indulge in my luxurious habits of eating and breathing. My new eyelet press has made this project a lot more pleasant.
Putting in eyelets has been a disappointing process ever since I left college back in the good old days of 2012, when Covid-19 wasn’t a thing and my body didn’t just randomly injure itself when I picked up a saucepan at a wonky angle. Oh, to be young again. At college we had a wonderful machine for putting eyelets in that has ruined me for all other eyelet inserting systems. It was a huge industrial looking beast that you operated by pressing a reassuringly chunky lever with your foot, producing an exceptionally satisfying clunking noise and a perfectly pressed eyelet. In my head it looked something like this.
Unfortunately, when I left college, nobody thought to give me this wonderful piece of kit as a graduation present. So, I had to find my own way of dealing with these little round metal jobbies, none of which came even close to the big stompy machine we had at college. I bought a very cheap plastic thing-a-mi-jig shaped like Pacman’s mouth that put eyelets in by whacking the two sides together with a hammer. This was inconsiderate to my neighbours and just didn’t work very well. It took a lot of effort to get shoddy results. The next best thing to my new best toy is the type of eyelet punch which looks like a pair of scissors with a pinchy/squeezy bit on the end rather than blades. This took less effort for a pretty good effect, especially compared to the hammering technique. The ratio of effort to effect was still not ideal though. When I’m making anything, I’m aiming for the best effect with the least effort, especially for monotonous tasks like putting eyelets in. This attitude perfectly summarises why I don’t have the patience for embroidery.
A lot of my favourite items of clothing, past and current, are generally black with silver metal bits so it stands to reason that I will want to put eyelets in the things that I make for many years to come. I don’t like change. So, when I decided to start making more of my own clothes, I also started looking for a solution to my eyelet related woes. I stumbled across this little beauty on eBay then asked my in-laws if they fancied buying it for me for my birthday.
The listing described it as an ‘antique cast iron eyelet press’ in full working order. Apparently, it was made by a company called Daude Fabrication in the first quarter of the 20th century, which still operates today in Belgium. I hoped that a quick Google would bring up lots of fascinating information about this ye olde company and I’d have loads of interesting things to tell you about my new toy. Unfortunately, this did not turn out to be the case. Rather than giving you a detailed history of Daude Fabrication and telling you the epic tale of the forging of my new toy in fires of Mount Belgium, I can only give you a short summary. Daude Fabrication have been going since 1828 and my new toy is super pretty. Let’s see this puppy go!
My Father-in-law provided a nice chunky piece of wood to attach the eyelet press to and Husband was kind enough to give it a good sanding and staining, so it looks even prettier than it did flying solo. I now use it by clamping this piece of wood to a sturdy table, with two comically different sized clamps, placing the eyelet between the two pieces of the punch and putting some muscle behind the lever. This is a surprisingly smooth process, especially considering the age of my new toy. The effort to effect ratio is much closer to the perfection achieved by beastly eyelet press at college. I must confess that the eyelets I currently have are not quite the right size, so the finish isn’t perfect. But it’s no worse than the eyelets I put in with other presses and its significantly less effort. We definitely have a new champion.
Also, have I mentioned that it’s really pretty? It’s just so aesthetically pleasing. I just like looking at it. Is that weird? Anyway, moving on.
‘But what about the wretched corset JoJo?’ I hear you ask. Your impatience is justified. It’s been well over a month since I rambled on about my history with corsets and I’ve done a whole other ‘JoJo Makes’ post on the joy of making dog snoods since then. It does appear that I’ve gone a little off topic.
I’ve actually made two corsets since that post and, I have to be honest (mostly because I’m a terrible liar), I’m not totally convinced by either of them. I like them both in very specific contexts, but I don’t think I’ve succeeded in my goal of repairing my relationship with this particular garment. The first photo is of the corset I was working on in my last post, which I made out of fabric left-over from my wedding dress. It fits reasonably well and I’m happy with the quality of the construction (if I do say so myself) but it doesn’t go well with any of my shirts, which is what I had hoped to wear it with. The fabric feels too fancy to wear every day and the length isn’t quite right. I was starting to despair that the whole thing had been a giant waste of time and materials but then I tried it on with this dress I recently bought, also on eBay.
I don't know what I was thinking when I bought this dress. It’s an empire line dress. I never wear empire line dresses. I consider them responsible for some of history’s worst fashion trends. 1790s neoclassical style, I’m talking about you. When I was researching history of costume for college, I discovered this caricature of the white muslin empire line dresses worn in the late eighteenth century. Wikipedia describes this 'an over-the-top caricature by Isaac Cruikshank of allegedly excessively diaphanous styles worn in late 1790s Paris'. I think it's brilliant and perfectly sums up how I feel about this questionable phase in the history of western women’s fashion.
I realise that my dislike of the empire line will spark outrage amongst Jane Austen fans, but I can’t help how I feel, and I strongly feel that the only good thing about dresses with an empire waistline is the amount of room they leave for a decent three course meal. That being said, I’m a fallible human idiot. One that is easily swayed by buckles and zips on clothing. The rational part of my brain would look at this dress and say, ‘don’t buy that, you’ll never wear it’ but the fallible human idiot part of my brain says, ‘it’s black and has buckles on it, buy it now!’. Guess which one won on this occasion.
As you can see, the corset basically changes this dress from an empire line to a more natural waistline. It creates a silhouette that I much prefer and means there’s a much higher chance that I will actually wear this dress when we’re allowed to get dressed up and go out with other humans again.
Corset number one turned out well enough, but it didn’t work with the other items in my wardrobe that I’d hoped it would. The only thing to do was to make another corset. Obviously. I wanted to address the problems with the last one, so I chose a more casual fabric and shortened the pattern. I managed to squeeze enough fabric out of the legs of an old pair of jeans that I chopped off in a fit of rage during one of the unbearably hot summers I spent in Madrid. Trousers are unacceptable for three months of the year in Madrid. Even shorts are pushing it really. Clothes in general become a hindrance rather than a help.
I’m pretty happy with the way this corset turned out. It’s closer to what I was aiming for in the first place and I was fun to make. It looks better than the first one when worn over a shirt and it feels like I can both eat and breathe in it. Here’s evidence to support this statement. Sadly, this post is not sponsored by Double Deckers.
On the other hand. I don’t think I like it enough to convert to the cult of corset wearing and hitch my second-hand wagon to this curvaceous convoy. After going down this road of corset exploration, I’ve concluded that I prefer waistcoats as accompaniments for my shirts. I think they look better on me. They’re more comfortable and less awkward to wear. I also enjoy making them more than I enjoy making corsets. So, it’s a no brainer. Waistcoats, yes. Corsets, no. How fortunate that I bothered to make a proper pattern for a waistcoat recently. Good life choices.
This does not mean that my new eyelet press won’t get its time to shine. I’ve got plans for this bad boy. I bought this sort of waistcoat/corset hybrid thing in Camden Market a long time ago and it remains one of my favourite things in my wardrobe. As I mentioned, I hate change so when I look for or make new clothes, I generally want something similar to what I already have, if not exactly the same as what I already have. Unless the fallible idiot brain is in charge then all bets are off. I could end up with fluorescent orange hotpants. Probably not but you never know. Anyway, the next job for my new toy is to make a waistcoat with eyelets and lacing down the centre back like my existing trusty waistcoat/corset hybrid friend. I’m not sure what fabric I’m going to use for this, but it will probably be black. Change bad. New yet old eyelet press tool good. Here endeth the lesson.
Image of industrial eyelet press
Caricature "Parisian ladies in their full winter dress"