Today, I am excited to introduce you to another friend of Nancy’s! She is a talented seamstress and the proprietor of Seattle’s premiere custom corset shop. Please welcome Marie Cooley.
Who are you?
I am Marie Cooley of Fitting Room Corsets.
What is your business?
I’m a corset maker, making custom corsets. That means I take your measurements, make a designated pattern for you, and make a corset from fabrics that you select. I do all the work in my Seattle workroom.
As a corset maker, I work in fulfilling peoples’ fantasies. It’s amazing. Everybody has a thing like, “I saw Gone with the Wind and I want to wear a pretty Scarlett O’Hara dress…” and then they come to learn that they really like to wear corsets; it feels good to wear them. You feel presented; your posture is better, when you stand up straight, you immediately look better.
I make between 100 and 200 corsets per year.
How did you get started?
I have been a dressmaker since I was 14 and started sewing for money. I was an all-purpose dressmaker for twenty years. My major skill-set is sewing; it’s what I do.
I started doing historical costuming pretty early on and the first thing I learned was that I needed corsets to make the dresses look good. And all corsets really grow out of historical pattern work.
After I made a few corsets for myself to wear with costumes, I learned that not everyone likes to make corsets. It’s very exacting, it’s drafting, it’s minutiae, it’s little details and engineering. I’m kind of a frustrated engineer, but I like the engineering part.
So, I started making corsets for other people. And I discovered that it is something I like to do and can charge an appropriate price for the amount of work. And the other advantage to corsets is they are small; they don’t take up a huge amount of material and they don’t take up a lot of space in my workroom.
How long have you been acquainted with Nancy’s?
Oh gosh! Since before Nancy’s moved into the building it’s in now. It used to be in a smaller space, which was very dark! [editor’s note: Nancy’s started in the space currently occupied by Caffe Ladro] I remember going into that location just when you were getting ready to move and you were having a big sale.
Nancy’s is my home away from home. It’s a great store and I don’t know what I would ever do without it.
What is your most recently released product or completed project?
I just finished a pretty standard corset. It’s not the most exciting corset I’ve ever made: it’s made from a simple fabric in the under-bust style that reminds me a bit of my mother’s girdles.
At a given time, I might have anywhere from one corset to a dozen in process.
Do you have a most memorable or favorite project?
I have made many memorable corsets over the years, from corsets for a pirate reenactor to a corset made for a goth bride. One memorable corset was made for a fantasy-style wedding. This bride had purchased a bolt of three-dimensional fabric, with all this decoration on it. I initially thought it would be impossible for me to work with and for her to wear. For the most part, however, the fabric itself just made a great corset. I did not add anything to the fabric, though I did take a few pieces and judiciously place them where they needed to be.
The bride also made a skirt using the same fabric and she wore the ensemble with fairy wings. It turned out so beautiful and looked great on her.
I’ve also done a few fashion shows. In 2010, I collaborated with Tamara on a fashion collection of Steampunk garments, which showed in the SteamCon II fashion show. We set out to go very far out on a limb, to push the whole Steampunk aesthetic. Though that movement has delved a little bit into the eighteenth century, the overall aesthetic of Steampunk hasn’t changed much. We wanted to show ideas that were fresh and new.
I thought it was a great collection, though it did not seem to resonate as much with the audience as we’d hoped. I loved doing this show; I was very proud of what we did.
What is next?
In terms of corsets, I am working on something for a cosplay that is a variation on Harley Quinn. This sketch has my scratchy little notes, but you can see the basic shape with the high back and shoulder straps. I was worried it would take a lot of fitting, but when the customer tried it on, it fit just right! It’s going to have alternating black and red panels, with a black & white diamond print in the center front. I’m excited and eager to get this one done!
I also have a grand class in the works! I’ve done one-on-one classes and intensive workshops, but I want to teach the full construction process in a larger setting.
Thanks so much, Marie! It was great to see so much of your work and learn a bit about the world of custom corsets. I am very excited to hear about your grand class; I’ll keep an eye out for more details!
If you have any questions for Marie, please leave them in the comments below! Interested in a corset of your very own? Visit her website to learn more about her work and how to order. And don’t forget to follow her on Facebook!
Photos of corsets, costumes, and the Fitting Room workroom are courtesy of Marie Cooley and may not be used without express permission.