As promised, ( – quite some time ago – I know, I know!) I am sharing with you all the techniques on building a corset. Due to the detail involved I will be doing this over a number of posts three, possibly four – small easily digested chunks – I don’t want your eyes glazing over and looking off into the middle distance, cause that’s when I’ve lost you and I’m not for losing any one, – not on my watch!.
Yes building is the term, not sewing, not making! The reasons will become clear by the end of the tutorial. NO! don’t go….Don’t be put off by the level of “perceived” expertise involved, take the time, do each stage at a time and practice, practice, practice!. Trust me, once you’ve mastered the basics people will stand you a drink in the pub, small children will present you with flowers and men who’s wives you’ve made for, will smile beguilingly at you in the street. Also, I am here for any questions, there are books and information galore on the net too. It is well within your capabilities! So Man up Girl!
This brings us neatly on to Tools! First off there is specific equipment needed to build your corset. Here is a picture of the basics- I know, its like instruments of torture! Raid your man’s tool box!- remember the amount of times he’s used your best fabric shears for cutting…… Fuse Wire!!!!!
Well ladies its payback time! He’ll think he’s going crazy – after-all what does a woman want with a pair of bolt cutters!!
Moving from left to right I will explain each tool and its purpose in building a corset.
1. Coutil – corset fabric
2. Stay tape – for housing the steel stays
3. Bias binding – for finishing the top and bottom edges of the corset.
3. Lace – for tightening the corset
4. Eylets – for holding the laces.
5. Busk – front opening closure
6. Steels – boning to shape and support
7. Eyelet die kit (use with 9.)*
8. Eyelet press tool
10. Awl – for making eyelet holes
11. Bolt cutters – to shorten the steels
*I prefer the eyelet die kit with the hammer as opposed to the eyelet press tool. Some people however prefer the press tool. You need only one or the other. I will be showing how to use both.
Second and of course of the utmost importance is the pattern. I have here a couple of basic Victorian Corset Patterns however I shall be making an under-bust corset the reason is firstly that I am making this for my sister in law and its her preference and second I shall dispense with the need for a proper fitting as its just for yourself. I will be doing a separate full post on how to fit a full corset at the end of the series of tutorials. Also an under-bust corset is fairly easy to do for the first foray into making a corset and it simplifies the instructions and focuses on building techniques.
Here is your pattern to print off full French Corset or Long line Corset Print off the pattern pieces to correspond to the grid matching 1″ key. This is a medium sized corset without seam allowances and if you are larger than the waist measurement (of all pieces at waist x2 ) then you will have to grade up dividing the excess between the middle pattern pieces 3, 4, 5 divided by 2. And conversely if you are smaller. When measuring your waist it is a cinched measurement i.e as tight as possible with your measuring tape.
The pattern pieces are the same for the under bust as they are for the full bust. The pattern pieces are for one half of the corset – right hand side and cut on the double of the fabric to give the left side- conventional cutting technique. Always, Always mark your pieces (number at the top and b= back and f= front as illustrated on the long line corset pattern) as they can look almost indistinguishable from each other when cut. This is a full bust pattern but to alter to an under-bust simply tie tape around you waist and measure from your waist to under your bust and then from your waist to your preferred finish below the waist. The pieces are without seam allowances therefore you need to add 1″ seam allowances to the sides of each piece, 2″ at the top and 2″ at the bottom – this will be adjusted to preferred finish. At the centre back add on 5″ as an extension for housing the eyelets and at centre front pieces a add 2″ to house the busk (hook and eye closing).
Your pieces should look,something like this – 1 to 5 left to right Cut the pieces out in a stout canvas – muslin. We will be fitting this to the body without steels/stays using a machine tack stitch to close the front to determine the back spacing. Only once you are happy with the fit will it be cut in the corset fabric. All properly fitting corsets have a space at the back. If the back of the corset meet in the middle its too big! You can insert a modesty panel in the back but there should still be a gap of at least an inch between centre back pieces.
The notes I had taken at time of fitting in my sketch correspond to the finished length. This will determine the length of the busk to be used.
A word now on fabric, traditional corset fabric is known as coutil. This is a strong cotton so tightly woven that it is resistant to stretching. They come in a choice of finishes, all corsets featured here in this post are coutil. This fabric receives considerable strain as it can reduce the waist measurement by 2″ and often a good deal more, so great care has to be given on the choice of fabric. You might fancy a nice fashion fabric but this should be underlined with coutil,, (as I have done with the lace using a flesh coloured coutil), if you intend for your corset to alter your shape. Proper traditionally made corsets are expensive to buy for this reason and due to the insertion of proper steels any sold cheaply will invariably be due to inferior materials and will not withstand the strain of lacing. I personally am not a fan of tight lacing, quite frankly that level of waist reduction you can see on the net makes me quite queasy, but I do think for certain garments and special occasions a correct fitting corset can make you look and feel fabulous!
A great book for the novice I highly recommend is The Basics of Corset Building: A Handbook for Beginners: I dip into this from time to time for any number of reasons – usually acute memory loss!
Next time on Building a Corset we shall be looking at cutting your fabric sewing seams; adding the channels for the steels and steel insertion – this will involve cutting the steels to the desired length.