Second Skin - The Magicicada Corset Bodysuit

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Prime Slumber

The North American genus of Magicicada emerge from the earth precisely every 13 or 17 years, depending on the brood.

The Conception

The intense humidity of summer sets in, as it always does, rhythmically, palpably.  Without fail, the heat summons the cries of the magicada, awoken from a prime slumber. Be it thirteen or seventeen years since the swarm has arisen, the mass immerges with great fanfare and rejoicing. They have slept, they have waited the precise time allotted by nature, and now they emerge to shed their subterranean selves in a perfectly synchronized spectacle, all to the sound of their own companions.

In my own youth, it seemed more so that the gentle cicada’s song was in fact what called forth the heat of summer - not the opposite. They were fundamentally intertwined, in that one could not exist without the other. - the ceaseless symphony of this truly lovely insect and the stifling heaviness of the hot, wet atmosphere. Still, the collected shed shells of cicada broods past decorate my space to commemorate this.

Beyond their great, season-long cry, what the magicicada genus offers to the curious observer is a perfectly preserved replica of their physical selves. Multitudinous molted sculptures adorn every tree, tiny discarded exoskeletons of an already fascinating insect. To see such a creature in the process of leaving its former, earth-dwelling self behind is even more remarkable. The cicada molts above ground only this once, marking its final passage into complete maturity.

The periodical magicicada has been a source of connection to the natural world for me since I was a child. Leftover shells were always a great joy, as if a gift from the insects that I eagerly anticipated each year. And truly, what is a corset if not a second skin, an exoskeleton of sorts?

Those who find comfort in such a fitted garment as a corset understand the simultaneous sensations of both restriction and protection that the steel and fabric offer. This garment becomes another layer to the body, both structurally and ornamentally. Whether a corset is being laced up or removed, it often does hint at a sort of nature-defying transformation. We don our new selves and we shed our old skins. We don our second skins and shed our former selves.

It felt genuinely appropriate to present my concept of the magicicada with such an incredibly fitted garment as a corset bodysuit. In such a piece as this, every measurement needed to be extremely precise, both to express the idea of it being an extension of my own dermis, and to make the deep plunging neckline and high-cut hips possible. Further, reminding myself and others that every layer of skin emerges from beneath another, the chiffon contentedly flows away from the body, simultaneously attached and free. Despite the lace-like embellishment not being part of the original design, the delicate floral patterns add a remarkable softness to the design of this otherwise rather harshly geometric garment.

With all of these aspects in mind, this exoskeleton provided confinement in the most perfect way imaginable.

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Whether a corset is being laced up or removed, it often does hint at a sort of nature-defying transformation.

The Construction

Despite considering myself rather amateur in my techniques, the end result of my efforts on the magicicada “Second Skin” corset bodysuit has left me convinced of my own ability to slowly progress in this craft. In all honesty, this corset was produced primarily with the same basic techniques that I first learned several years ago, when attempting to construct my first waist-training garment. Though this is neither positive nor negative in and of itself, it does provide insight into my own self-imposed limitations. For this I am grateful, as I see this project as one of the greatest catalysts I’ve yet experienced in my understanding of corsetry.

The pattern was developed through a number of small leaps in personal projects. There was no mock-up for this corset bodysuit, but the plunging neckline and high-cut hips were all features of other past creations. In melding these various self-drafted patterns, and methodically and mathematically weeding out the ill-fitting aspects of these previous projects, I was able to build this form-fitting blueprint. A personal first, this pattern was hand-drafted, compared to every other corset I’ve made being designed utilizing CAD software.

In a manner that has become almost standard practice for me, this corset bodysuit was constructed of two layers of herringbone coutil, with one of those layers being fused to a gorgeous, iridescent dupioni silk. These two layers where then attached, along with a waist tape, and given appropriate boning channels. Though it is not shown here, an incredibly soft cotton fabric was used as a floating lining inside of the corset. This functioned both to make it more comfortable to wear and to hide the admitted stitching sins that appeared on the inner layer of coutil.

Perhaps the most questionable portion of my making process came with the manipulation of the brilliant dupioni’s color. Originally, this fabric shone with a fantastic green sheen.  However, to achieve the dusty, blotchy, yellowed color I desired for this project, something rather intense needed to take place. In my often poorly informed way, I opted to seek out this pigment distortion by using sodium hypochlorite and heat. Generally considered an excessively harsh treatment for protein-based fibers, the solution did indeed give me the desired results. It’s long-term effects remain to be seen, though.

In general, the embellishments of this corset bodysuit were applied in a near-serendipitous manner. The chiffon’s placement, as representation of a half-shed husk, was only vaguely planned prior to it’s application.  In this process of draping, the unexpected addition of the perfectly green lace-like fabric took place. Though I, personally, tend to avoid hand-sewing at all costs, these two fabrics required such diligence from me. This task alone proved a worthwhile learning experience.

With the final binding, fasteners, and laces applied, the magicicada corset bodysuit came into being. It seems easy for me to go on and on about the rather standard methods of construction for this project, a topic which I will doubtlessly  be further exploring in future blog posts.

Heidi Wagner