Think corsets went out with hoop skirts? Corsets have been used in period plays and movies for decades, but they’ve become popular again with women wanting the look of a nipped-in waist, and with historical costume enthusiasts and cosplayers.
Cynthia Settje, owner and creative mind of Redthreaded, specializes in high quality corsets and costumes with a historical focus, including theatrical costuming, costume recreation, luxury corsetry and reproduction clothing.
“I can count on one hand the retailers offering corsets in a range of historical periods and in different styles,” said Settje. “There are probably no more than four or five companies in the world that do what I do.”
Inspired by Settje’s red hair and the fact that she is usually covered in threads, her husband suggested she name her business Redthreaded. Her work is available online and sold through her Louisville studio.
She got into making corsets after seeing a demand that was not being met and has sold some 400 corsets. Settje delights in making beautifully constructed corsets for costume enthusiasts around the world. While no longer made with whalebone, corsets use steel boning and lacing that can cinch in the waist by several inches. Examples of her corset work include an 18th-century-inspired corset in velvet and leather with steel boning and a piece inspired by 16th- century iron corsets, but made with modern materials and techniques.
Her mother taught her to sew when she was in grade school. It wasn’t until Settje was in her teens that she realized sewing could be a fun career for her.
“I saw a show about a costume designer in a costume shop and thought, ‘Hey, I can do that,’” she said.
Settje was taught the art of corset design and making costumes while earning a BFA in costume technology from the North Carolina School of the Arts. She apprenticed at the Santa Fe Opera and began selling corsets on Etsy in 2009.
Settje doesn’t work from commercial patterns, preferring to draw her own patterns and drape fabric on a dress form. She enjoys working with costume designers to execute the designer’s vision.
“I like the mixture of engineering and artistry in costume work,” she said. “I like taking flat pieces of fabric and turning them into three-dimensional garments that fit the actors and help tell a story onstage”
Retail corsetry comprises 25 percent of her business. The bulk of the business focuses on a wide range of costumes for large theatrical contracts, including Broadway and off-Broadway. Redthreaded most recently completed a 35-piece order for Anastasia, which just completed a successful world premiere at Hartford Stage in Connecticut and will move to Broadway next spring. Her creations are used for theater, film, Renaissance fairs, historical reenactment and cosplay conventions, or an avant-garde request.
This is her fifth season as costume draper at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (CSF) at CU Boulder. As draper, Settje patterns all new costumes for the season, and oversees stitchers and other staff. In addition to costumes for CSF plays this season, the CSF costume shop is also making some corset inspired garments for Troilus and Cressida. Her Shakespeare work extends beyond CSF productions, however. She recently made costumes for a TV pilot about Will Shakespeare.
The Shakespeare season is a busy time for Settje’s business. In addition to working more than 40 hours a week at CSF, she keeps up with business orders with the help of her assistant, who continues to work full time at the Redthreaded studio.
“I keep coming back to CSF because of the people who work there,” she said. “They are some of the best I’ve ever worked with.”