Corset making secrets
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.
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.
- Foundations Revealed magazine
A monthly online magazine for the corsetmaker who wants to stay inspired, improve and learn from the professionals. A great resource including FREE pattern drafting tutorials for corsets.
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.
Where to get coutil
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?
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.
- Tubular bone casing
I heart Vena Cava Design! Always try new gadgets and helpful components when they appear.
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.
- Antique Corset Gallery
Images and descriptions of vintage corsetry from Pre, Early and late Victorian into the Edwardian era and on into the 1920s.
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).
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.
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!
- Foundations Revealed magazine
Inspiring online corsetmaking magazine featuring monthly projects and tutorials from some of the best amateur and professional corsetmakers and costumers working today, myself included. Let us be your loyal team of sewing coaches!
- Harman Hay
Here's where you can find more of my work.
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!