Corset making secrets

Velvet corset by Harman Hay (that's me!)
Velvet corset by Harman Hay (that's me!)

Corsets have become a fashion favourite in the new Millennium. Corset makers and corset companies are springing up everywhere, and there's renewed interest in an art form that was, until recently, almost lost for ever: the art of corset making.

The Web is now chock full of frustrated home corset makers. Amateurs everywhere are posting pictures of themselves wearing the results of their corsetmaking experiments and finding that it is a difficult skill to master.

Edwardian bridal corset by Harman Hay
Edwardian bridal corset by Harman Hay

I've got news for you: corset making isn't as difficult as it seems. The problem is that although there's basic information online about how to make a corset, there's a sorry lack of information on how to do it well. So if you're serious about ending the frustration and making something you can wear with pride, here are a few tips from a pro.

1. Your pattern

You need to start out with a good pattern. You need a specialised corset pattern, preferably from a company that specialise in such things. A "costume" pattern from one of the big pattern companies will make exactly that - a costume, an imitation. Instead, look online for Laughing Moon, Past Patterns and so on. These small companies may be less well known but their reputation rests on providing patterns not for costumes, but for clothes.

2. What if I'm not a standard size?

If your size is not standard, then it can be difficult to make a standard pattern fit. You can get around this by "drafting" (ie making) your own pattern. There are tutorials on how to do this at Your Wardrobe Unlock'd magazine, or you can get an idea of how drafting works by investing in a book on it.

3. Use coutil

I've seen people try to make corsets from denim and drill but there's no substitute for coutil, the strong cotton fabric which is designed specifically for corsetmaking. Use it! You don't need much, it won't stretch, it won't distort and it's easy to work with. Why make things difficult for yourself?

Brocade "hybrid" corset with straps by Harman Hay
Brocade "hybrid" corset with straps by Harman Hay

4. Take your time

You will not be able to finish a corset you can be proud of in an evening, or by the time you leave for the party on Saturday - my basic corsets take 20 hours or so to complete, and some more than 30 hours. You may take a little longer.

5. Tubular channels

Use tubular tape for boning channels - it's much easier than trying to sew a normal piece of tape to the corset or stitching through multiple layers to create your own. Your stitching will be straighter and the corset will be smoother.

6. Be a good driver

When using your sewing machine, think of it like driving. When you drive, you don't grip the steering wheel for dear life and fixate on the bit of road under your wheels - you look ahead, let the car go and you use the steering wheel to change direction if you need to. Do the same when you're sewing - trust the machine, hold the fabric loosely and keep an eye on the bit you're about to sew, not the needle itself. Puckered seams usually result from hanging on to the fabric too tightly.

Inside a professionally made corset
Inside a professionally made corset

7. Securing the bones with flossing

When you have the bones in their casings (and I know you're using steel, not plastic, right?), make sure you secure them tightly inside so that they won't twist. Also - and this is equally important - sew across at the ends of the bones so that they're held tightly in the casings. This will help enormously to stop horizontal wrinkles. You can do this by hand if you prefer - there are some lovely Victorian examples of "flossing" at the Antique Corset Gallery (right).

Flossing by hand on a Harman Hay corset
Flossing by hand on a Harman Hay corset
Details make all the difference - note the front modesty panel. This is an early example of my work - note the crappy binding.
Details make all the difference - note the front modesty panel. This is an early example of my work - note the crappy binding.

8. A front modesty panel

We've all tried making a "modesty panel" to go behind the lacing at the centre back, but my personal gripe with many corsets is the need for a modesty panel at the front! Busks just seem to be made such that you end up with a tiny gap at the front of the corset. Simply sew a narrow panel behind the "stud" side of the corset to hide the gap. It's the small details that make a big difference.

Ah, that's better - my binding has improved a lot.
Ah, that's better - my binding has improved a lot.

9. A professional finish

When binding your corset, take the time to do it well. Measure and pin where the binding needs to be - it must be even on both sides - and baste a line around to show where the binding needs to go. Trim the edge evenly and sew the binding on. Wrap it around and handsew the inside edge of the binding down - "stitching in the ditch" with your machine just doesn't look polished. See the photo of the red corset above to see how poor my own "stitch in the ditch" binding looked before I learnt this lesson!

And finally, the corners - they are a pain to bind, aren't they! My method is to fold the end over along the stitching and pin it down, then fold the binding over into place and pin again. The more pins, the better, and take your time!

10. Stay inspired

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, stay inspired. Surround yourself with great examples of corsetmaking (even if it's just in your "My Pictures" folder!)

Get to know professional corsetmakers' work. Look at it critically and try to see what works and what doesn't, work out what makes a good corset.

Learn all you can from as talented a group of sources as you can. Get involved with other corsetmakers, look out for their blogs and keep track. Put yourself in an inspiring peer group and you can't go wrong. Good luck!

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Comments 25 comments

relache profile image

relache 8 years ago from Seattle, WA

Nice hub! I own a few corsets, but only one is a custom-design/fit one. It's made from metallic purple leather.


singpec476 profile image

singpec476 8 years ago from Not Too Far Away

Great hub corsets do look nice I never actually thought about how much went into making them.


lauralong profile image

lauralong 8 years ago from East Texas

You are very talented!


Karen and Lesley profile image

Karen and Lesley 8 years ago from United Kingdom

Great hub I never really thought about how to make one but I do love the Victorian period and the elegant expensive dresses.


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 8 years ago from Southern California, USA

I have always been intrigued by corsets and thought it would be fun to try one on. Maybe one of these days.


LonelyCorsetier 8 years ago

The "Binding" tip is certainly a good one ! Thank you, of the past 3 or 4 that I've made the binding always takes the time and it is still not perfect !


cathy_hay profile image

cathy_hay 8 years ago Author

Hello LonelyCorsetier, there's more where that came from - we have a vast two-part tutorial on binding corsets professionally at

http://yourwardrobeunlockd.com/content/blogcategor...

Everything you need to know is there!


Corsetfitz 7 years ago

YES! thsnk you for the insight on the binding the ends..this is such a pain in the rear to nicely, I like your way it sounds like it will make this task much less frustrating.thanks again.. corsetfitz


Charly 7 years ago

Really insightful and explained so well


Mr. Seamstress 7 years ago

(Shameless self-promotion)

Hey everyone, I'm currently blogging about my corset construction in detail on http://mrseamstress.blogspot.com/

Hope this helps some people out..


Vannie 7 years ago

What is the deal with flossing? Is there any special way to attach the flossing? I keep hearing it and seeing, and it looks like a piece of ribbon or stich that is at the ends of the bonings. Is there any special method to apply them? Machine? Hand? There's not a lot of info out there on techniques to apply them... so I wonder if you can enlighten me, because the pictures make it seem TOO easy...


cathy_hay profile image

cathy_hay 7 years ago Author

Hi Vannie, that's right, flossing is handstitching applied to hold the bones tightly in place (and thus eliminate horizontal wrinkles.) In fact, some corset companies used to do it by machine, but not over steel bones!

There are lots of posts about flossing, including some tips, at the Corsetmakers Livejournal community, here:

http://community.livejournal.com/corsetmakers/tag/...

Also, there are brief instructions in Jill Salen's book Corsets, here:

http://www.amazon.com/Corsets-Historical-Technique...

I hope that helps!


3cardmonte 7 years ago

excellent, thank you. I always found making corsets so hard!


Vannie 7 years ago

Cathy, thanks! That does help, and actually I did buy the Corset Historical book already and was delighted to see a technique for flossing. I wish there was a flossing book out there because some of the flossing details are so amazing!

My work place blocked livejournal, but I'll surely take a look at it when I get home! Thanks a bunch! :)


CatCanDo 6 years ago

Thank you So much! I'm seriously trying to get started making my own, and a lot of it seems daunting, especially with bones! Thanks for these tips! They make the task much less intimidating, but still a reachable goal for a novice sewer like me. :)


Freki 6 years ago

i've actually started thinking about making my own cuz its kinda hard for me to get to a store that sells them due to a small country town area. but even if i find a store that sells them, they hardly ever fit. the one i have now is kinda small and digs into the middle of my back and hurts like hell. and i can name a few friends of mine that want a few corsets.


I Love Corsets 6 years ago

I've always bought my corsets but your instructions make me want to try making my own. Thanks!


BelegarthBabe 6 years ago

Great tips! My first corset was the crappiest piece I have ever sewn, and it's at the bottom of my closet right now. A reminder that failure always comes before success.

I was wondering, do you knew where to get inexpensive steel boning? As in I have $10 to spend on boning right now, and I need to make at least 2 corsets. (1 to wear so people ask, and one to sell to give me money for the next couple projects.)


kims3003 5 years ago

very well done hub - quite impressive.


Arielle 5 years ago

I have been looking for a good corset tutorial. Thank you. I see a lot of book out there about it any you recommend in particular?


Seneca Houston 4 years ago

I bought corsets from corsetsqueen.com and punk69.com and i was disappointed with the items i received. Ever sense then, i thought of making my own because i want my corset to make me CURVY, not look like a stick. I already have curves but the corsets i ordered made my natural curves invisible and didn't enhance them at all. This really inspired me to look up patterns and begin attempting to make my own. Thank you!


Edwina Richards 4 years ago

Nice page! Very good info!


Dr. Doodle 4 years ago

I have sewn for many years and take great pride in the quality of my finished product. My traing in sewing was with a local lady who did fine couture sewing for many years, she is now 94 years old. Although i see her often her memory is shot and begining a project sush as making a corset is now overwhelming for her. Finding this ssite is a blessing as I have found several sites which I have found inferior. As with anything of intrest to my I go straight to the pros to furnish me with information, Why develop bad habits it only leads ti unferior work. I have ordered a pattern from Laughing Moon and a book on corset making by Linda Sparks. I hope your site will be of value to me, I think it shall living in the north country of New Hampshire finding a corset maker it a joke no offence to the natives. A medical problem has put me in a situation where a corset may give me the support and comfort I am looking for. Off the rack has never been my cup of tea which is why I have made most of my on garments. Between buying some cloths at small specialty shops and making the rest plus taking very good care of my wardrobe I have made an investment in dressing. My style is relaxed and unique i just need to add a couple of corsets. Thank you for you wisdom. kind regards, Dr. Doodle


Rosie Moore 4 years ago

Thanks Cathy for the tips and advice - just starting off making corsets and am gratefull for any help I can get!


Sheryl 4 years ago

I design wedding dress for my friends so that they can have a one of a kind. Well My very best friend is giving me a year and half to make her dream dress. She want's a Corset dress that is one piece. I have never made a corset before and find your tips very helpful but My question is, is Can it be done? To make a one piece Corset dress? Please e-mail me at sherylnsmith@yahoo.com

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