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Corsets and Boning
By Joan Whetzel
Historically, corsets began appearing in the 16th century. They were used like girdle, to emphasize a woman's curves by defining her waistline. After a while, the corset developed into a modern day fashion statement. Today, they are worn as bustiers and bodices for strapless gowns and wedding dresses. Boning is the secret behind the corset's appeal.
What Are Corsets & Boning?
Corsets are women's body-hugging undergarments, generally laced up the back. They cinch, or pull in the waistline and mid section between the hips and the bust line. The art of corsetry requires that small strips of fabric or flexible leather be sewn together which are reinforced with boning along the seam lines. Many corsets have garters attached along the bottom for fastening to stockings as a means of preventing them from sagging or falling down the legs. Boning usually consists of a rigid, slightly flexible material like plastic, jute, metal and even bones (made from whale bones) in the olden days. The boning, or stays, which support or brace the corsets, are hidden in channels along the vertical seams in the corsets.
How Boning Is Applied
The boning has blunt tips applied to both ends to prevent them from poking through the fabric and stabbing the wearer. The boning remains virtually invisible as long as the right size of boning has been selected for the garment and the boning has been positioned correctly. However, if the corset is constructed from thin or lacy fabric, the boning shows through, becoming part of the fashion statement. In this set of circumstances, the boning materials are chosen specifically to enhance the look of the corset. If the wearer doesn't want the boning to show, it may be hidden within the seam line channels by applying a matching (in color) flannel shield or by sewing in an opaque corset lining and embedding the boning in seam line channels in the lining. To press the finished corsets, the boning is placed downward, between the corset and the ironing board, not on the iron side of the garment. Applying the boning to the inside of the garment and pressing on the outside of the garment keeps the boning from creating creases.
Historic Boning Materials
Historically, boning was made from buckram (a form of pasteboard), reeds, whalebone or horns. Buckram and pasteboard are made from glue stiffened fabric which was favored because it could be cut with scissors.. Modern varieties use cardboard. Reeds, which were used as boning in corsets back in the 1500s, can still be used in today's corsets. They can be found in stores selling basket weaving supplies. Whalebone and horn boning are no longer used. As a matter of fact, nobody sells them anymore due to the moratorium on sales of whalebone and horn products.
Today's corsets use more modern materials for their boning, such as cable ties, hemp twine, jute twine, metal and plastic cable ties. The plastic cable ties can be found at just about any hardware store, usually in 10-count packs, in 24 or 26 inch lengths. The plastic ties can be cut to size using scissors. Use a candle to melt down the jagged edges. (Do the melting process outdoors or in a well ventilated area. The odor is supposed to be really nasty). Hemp twine comes on spools and is sold in the macramé section of any craft supply store. The twine can be cut to length and threaded into the boning channels using a needle with a large eye. Metal boning, made from spring steel, comes in a range of lengths and widths. It is valued as a boning material because it's stiff, while being bendable enough to prevent poking and scratching the wearer. They are cut to size using tin snips and filing the ends to remove the rough edges. Metal boning can usually only be purchased through online mail order companies.
While corsets are no longer made rigid with bones, they can still be stiffened with a number of other "boning" materials. A little creativity and shopping through some seemingly unlikely sources (e.g. the hardware or craft supply stores) is all a corset seamstress needs to create a figure-flattering undergarment.
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