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icon freeWhen I first started constructing corsets, finding the right tool for the right job was a real pain. When you think about it, a lot of the tools needed to make a good quality corset can’t be found in the average haberdasher's shop.

There are a myriad of possibilities, so which are the right tools to use?

I have found that there isn’t one tool to suit all. What some people swear by, others have completely sworn off. The trick is to find what is right for you and what serves to increase your productivity and accuracy. So I will share some of what is in my toolbox, what has been relegated to the scrapheap and why.

 

Fabric Preparation

Freezer Paper

freezerpaper
Freezer Paper

The first essential is Reynolds Freezer Paper, which is freely available in the US and can be sourced abroad on sites like eBay (be sure to shop around as prices vary wildly). You might also find it in some haberdasheries and craft stores - look for stores with a large quilting department (freezer paper is a quilter’s favourite).

I have been specific with the brand here because it is the only one I have used and it’s fantastic. Essentially, it's paper with a plastic coating on the underside, and I use it to transfer my pattern to fabric for cutting.  

I always draw up my patterns on thick card. This makes it easy to draw around  accurately, and less risk of damaging the pattern means that it is available to use again. Once I have drawn up my pattern, I transfer it on to the freezer paper. 

I love it because there is no need to pin it to the fabric, which I hate doing. Pinning takes me forever because I worry about the fabric “shifting” and the distortion to the pattern that the pins make – especially with thicker fabrics like coutil.

To use freezer paper you simply draw your pattern piece on the dull side, lay it on top of your fabric (shiny side down) and run a warm iron over it. The plastic coating melts and sticks the paper to the fabric. I have heard people say that there is a risk of the plastic coating seeping into the fabric, but I have never experienced this in six years of using it, even on delicates such as silk. When you need to remove it, you simply hold one corner and pull it off.

I draw all of the pieces I need on the freezer paper and then use it to cut out the fashion fabric, strength layer (coutil, drill, canvas) and the lining. The beauty of it is that you can re-use a single sheet three to four times.

I have tried other methods, such as using brown paper and baking parchment (the pin issue crops up again), and placing the pattern on the fabric and drawing round it – sadly my hands are not that steady and I get a little obsessive about copying things across exactly. A few millimetres here and there add up in the end!

 

Tracing Wheels

Tracing wheels
Tracing wheels

Some people use tracing wheels to mark out seam allowances or bone channel placement. I can’t get on with them; I struggle to see the marks they have left, and drawing over them accurately in chalk is time-consuming.

I don’t use a tracing wheel to mark out seam allowances; instead I use the stitching guide on the right of the machine. It saves a lot of time, especially if you have to adjust the seam allowance during the fitting stage. If I need to let in/out a certain area on a seam I will mark it with chalk from where the increase/decrease starts to where it stops and then continue to use the guide on the machine.

To mark internal boning channels that aren't on a seam I reuse the freezer paper from cutting out the pattern. I cut down one of the lines and then fix the paper back on the fabric with an iron. Then I take out my trusty tailor’s chalk and trace the edge of the cut line.

I use this for any bone casing that is not on a seam, and line up my bone casing along this line. I then use this line as a guide for stitching.

You can also cut out strips of freezer paper 2mm smaller than the width of your boning channels, iron them on to your panel piece and stitch along the edge of each side – I find this is a great way to stitch curved boning channels and a great way to mark out and stitch heavily boned sections.

Wonder Web

Wonder Web

Wonderweb

Tacking down external boning channels is a real pain, and it takes forever. A great time saver is to cut a strip of Wonderweb that is half the size of your boning channel and use this to “stick” your channels to your panel ready for stitching.

For curved channels, use little squares of wonder web placed close together for the curved sections.

 

 

Scissors or Rotary Cutters?

I prefer rotary cutters for a number of reasons. I find them easier to work with when cutting through several layers at once; they are quicker and more accurate than scissors; and I don’t get cramp in my hands when I need to cut a lot of fabric in one go. I use a 45mm cutter for general cutting and a 28mm cutter for more intricate tasks.

A word of warning – you will need to buy a self-healing cutting mat or you will damage your work surface.

Some people say the replacement blades are expensive, but I would have to disagree. I find the blades last a long time, and buying new ones is cheaper than paying to have your scissors sharpened properly (I never could get the hang of sharpening them myself).

In fact, I bought a spare pack of blades when I bought my cutters about four years ago, and I have yet to open them. I bought a blade sharpener instead (right hand side of rotary cutters photo), which is very effective and easy to use, and very cheap! You can find them in your haberdashers, hobby shops or (my personal favourite) eBay.

Scissors
Scissors
Rotary Cutters
Rotary Cutters
Self-healing Mat
Self-healing Mat

 

Construction

Thimble

It probably sounds silly to put it on the list, because I never used a thimble in my first seventeen years of sewing. Then again, I had never tried to stitch through several layers of coutil either. One painful slip and the blunt end buried itself under my nail. Ouch! So for me, thimbles have earned a mention.

 
Thimble
Thimble

Needle Grabbers

When hand stitching through several layers of coutil (especially when flossing) it can be tricky to pull the needle through the fabric. A simple but fantastic invention to the rescue!

Needle grabbers are circular rubber pads that you place between your fingers when pulling the needle through the fabric. They can be found in haberdashers (in the quilting section) and cost about UK£1.50 (US$2) for two.

 
Needle Grabbers
Needle Grabbers

 

Awl vs. hole punches vs. hole cutters

One of my favourites: people have such passionate points of view on this. I’ve heard lots of people say that cutting holes in fabric is a big no-no and will end in disaster with eyelets falling out and fabric tearing itself to shreds. My opinion is that if you use the right technique and good quality eyelets, then they are all viable options.

Awls

An awl is a metal rod with a pointed end. To use it, you push the pointed end through the fabric to create a hole without cutting the threads of the fabric.

I have eight awls in my toolbox – sadly none of them are used to make holes for eyelets. I find pushing one through several layers of fabric is tricky, time-consuming and hurts my hands - which is why I bought so many, hoping that the next one would make it easier.

I do use them to make holes for the knobs on my busks for single and double layer corsets.

Awl
Awl

 

Nail Punches

Nail punches are essentially hollow tubes of metal with the edge of one end sharpened. You place the nail punch on the area of the fabric where you need a hole, and while holding it steady you hit the top end with a rubber mallet.

I tried nail punches for a while and found them to be a good tool. However, I tend not to use them now as it can be a little noisy and I have a habit of working into the wee hours. If you do try them, be sure to grip them in the middle, just to be sure you don’t hit your fingers or catch your skin under the sharpened end.

Protect your worktable! I stuck some cork onto a small square of steel and placed this under the fabric so that I didn’t hammer the table.

Nail Punches
Nail Punches
Nail Punch, close up
Nail Punch, close up

Hole Cutters

Hole Cutters
Hole Cutters

Hole cutters are, for me, the best tool ever - quick, effective and easy to use. Select the size of the hole you want, line up your fabric and squeeze the handles, and voila! A perfect hole through all layers.

A huge word of warning here, don’t buy cheap hole cutters. Often the sharpened edge will buckle with the force needed to cut through several layers of fabric and you will strain your hands. I've had episodes in which I've not been able to use my hands for days at a time. The reason? Cheap hole cutters.

If you need to squeeze the handles tightly to cut your hole, the hole cutter is not suitable and you need to get a new pair. I went through several pairs, literally snapping some, before I found the right ones.

I use Prym’s Vario pliers. You only need a minimal amount of pressure to cut through several layers of fabric at once. The cutting heads are interchangeable (you can also change them for tools for applying different types of fasteners) and the best part is that a new set of cutting heads comes free in every pack of eyelets! I’ve not needed to replace mine yet in three years! They are available in haberdashers, online and yet again, the fabulous eBay.

If you are unsure which to pick, ask to try them out in the store – take a few pieces of folded coutil with you for this. If you are unable to do this, then ask if you would be able to return them if they are not up to the task and remember who you spoke to! Most people are intrigued and will let you have a go!

Vario pliers with hole punch attachments
Vario pliers with hole punch attachments
Vario hole punch close up
Vario hole punch close up
Vario pliers holes for attachments
Vario pliers holes for attachments

 

Tin Snips vs. Bolt Cutters

Tin Snips
Tin Snips
Bolt Cutters
Bolt Cutters

Again, opinion is divided. For spiral boning I choose heavy duty bolt cutters. Nine times out of ten, they cut through like butter. I’ve found the best way is to snip one side first and then the other, as opposed to trying to cut through the boning in one go.

For flat steels and busks I use heavy duty tin snips.

Another word of caution, for exactly the same reason as given for hole cutters, please buy the best pair you can and make sure they are “heavy duty”.  They don’t need to be big enough for a bank robbery, but they do need to be able to apply a lot of pressure without forcing you to strain your hands. Again, where possible, try before you buy, and if not, check the returns policy. Be prepared for some quizzical looks as you pull out your boning, and expect lots of “Looks uncomfortable” and “Really, you put that in underwear?” comments. The hardware store where I got my bolt cutters from (amongst other things) are now well versed in “It’s only uncomfortable if it’s made badly” and “See, look, it bends in all directions”. There are some fantastic bargains to be had if you look online, but be sure you are getting a bargain and not a cheap tool that is not up to the task.

Filing Bones

It’s important that the ends of your bones are smooth before capping/dipping them.

Metal File

The first thing I used was a metal file and sandpaper.

This was the cheapest of all the methods I have used and while I was happy with the results, it took a fair amount of time to complete the task.

Files
Metal Files
 

Dremel Tool

Next I used a Dremel tool, which was faster but I didn’t like the vibration it caused. It was great for precision filing and was worth the extra pennies when compared to the metal file and sandpaper method.

 
Dremel
Dremel

Bench Grinder

After the dremel I tried a friend’s bench grinder and have never looked back. It’s fast, very accurate and will file the ends of spiral bones in seconds (I’ve always found spiral bones to be the trickiest to file). My bench grinder has a grinding wheel and a sandpaper belt. I use the grinding wheel for shaping the ends of flat steels and the sandpaper belt for filing the ends of spiral bones, ensuring that the ends of my steels are blunt and smooth. You don’t need a top-of-the-range model: a basic bench grinder will be more than effective, but a sanding belt is a huge bonus if you can get one.

Bench grinder
Bench grinder
Grinding wheel
Grinding wheel
Sanding plate
Sanding plate

 

The Trick with Eyelets

As I said earlier, I think the key to lasting eyelets is a good technique and quality eyelets. I make sure to cut a hole slightly smaller than the eyelet I am fitting, so for a 5mm eyelet, I use the 4mm cutting head.  

When I first started I confess I didn’t use washers, but I was converted when trying to lace up a corset to photograph and found two eyelets had ripped out and a third was on its way. I always use washers on the back of my eyelets now. It looks more professional, is more comfortable for the client and it is secure.

I have made three corsets which have dramatically altered the client's figure and used the technique of cutting holes and eyelets with washers. After three years of frequent wearing, the eyelets are still holding strong without any sign of the strain they are put under.

One other tip which I consider essential is to make sure you always use a facing layer of your strength fabric in the area where eyelets are applied to strengthen the grip of the eyelets.

But how do you insert eyelets?

Hammer Tools

Often packs will come with a little tool that you can use with a hammer to close the eyelets. I’m not keen on these, mainly because hammering eyelets in can be noisy and it is difficult to visually check on what you are doing. But the bonus is that this method doesn’t put any strain on your hands.

Hammer tool
Hammer tool
Hammer Tool closed
Hammer Tool closed

 

Vario plier’s eyelets
Vario plier’s eyelets

Pliers and Dies

Some brands, such as Prymm, include dies in packs of eyelets which you can use with multi-purpose pliers (purchased separately). These are great, but they can put a strain on your hands.

I used this method of setting eyelets until recently, when an injury to my wrist made it almost impossible to use them. Again, these are available in haberdashers, in craft stores and online.

 

Eyelet Setting Press

I brought a hand press a few months ago and I love it!  It takes 90% of the strain out of the job, and it sets the eyelets beautifully. They're expensive if you are only making a few corsets a year, but if you are making a lot of corsets then it is a great investment.

You can get presses that cut the holes and set the eyelets without needing to change the dies (which is a great time saver and saves the frustration of having to keep switching).  If you can afford it, invest in a measuring guide for your press: it makes lining up your fabric much easier.

It’s important to shop around as prices vary greatly.

Eyelet Press
Eyelet Press
Eyelet Press Dyes
Eyelet Press Dyes

 

Lamps

Work Lamp
Work Lamp

I have found that proper lighting on your work table can save straining your eyes and improve the standard of your work. The light on my sewing machine is nowhere near bright enough, especially when stitching the dreaded black on black.

I used to have several headache-inducing desk lamps and light bulbs dotted around my sewing machine. Then I found the Global lamp from IKEA (UK) (US IKEA link).

It has a long tube that floods your work area with a natural light that allows you to see all the details of your work clearly – without giving you a headache. It enables you to focus on a particular area without straining your eyes, especially when stitching black on black. It has four points for adjustment and so will manage any angle you need it to get into. The G-clamp frees up space on your work area and means you can stretch it out without fear of the lamp falling over, and it allows you to move about freely. The best part: it costs a fraction of the price of "craft" lamps, which to my mind do exactly the same thing.

 

In Conclusion

The hardest lesson I’ve learnt in my career so far is that it can be dangerous not to invest in the right tools. Aside from the effect they have on your corset, you only get one pair of hands. So it is essential that your tools do not place unnecessary strain on your hands and damage them. It really is so easy to do. So make sure you have the best tools you can afford, and remember to take lots of breaks when doing strenuous work.

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aurorauk
this information is invaluable thankyou
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lauraloft
Glad to help, it can be very expensive finding the right tools and when you consider all the fabric you could have brought with the money, it doesn't bear thinking about :-D
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corsetra
I had to zoom the tracing wheel picture to see if it was a normal tracing wheel or a needle-point tracing wheel, the points on yours are pointier than the standard dritz wheel, but not as pointy as the needle-point.

For those of you wondering what all the talk about tracing wheels is, needle-points are for taking patterns off of garments and transferring patterns to another piece of paper.

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vintagegranny
I very much agree about the importance of investing in proper tools. I used the rubber mallet method of inserting grommets until I injured my wrist. This was some 5 years ago, and even if it healed (eventually, it took months), it kept flaring up, and this February it returned with a vengeance. The wrist is now approaching normality, but it still hasn't healed properly, so I would advice people to pay attention to pains and aches.
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ankhayra
Ikea also has a foot for that lamp that works great. You can stretch the lamp completely and the foot will hold it.

This article is very interesting, by the way, and an valuable resource for beginners.

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joann999
I just found out that Ott-Lite makes bulbs. Just bulbs - to fit into pre-existing light fixtures. Since I already have a clamp lamp on my work bench, I purchased an Ott-Light bulb found at Joann's on sale for 40% off. Now I have an Ott-Lite, but it was much less expensive than buying the whole "Ott" mechanism. Lower wattage, too, for eco-friendly high def lighting!

Thanks for the heads up about the hole punch. A similar tool was already in my studio. I'm too embarrassed to say how I 've made holes in the past, but it involved a lot of tears (as in crying), time and agony. I just went to my studio and set a 00 grommet into a previous project (2 layers) in 30 seconds!

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symon
great idea about the freezer paper - good call!!! I have been using tracing paper and pinning, which is fine for looser fitting garments but with something as finicky as a corset it's nice to have an alternative to slippy pins - thanks! ^_^
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morbid_princess122
You haven't mentioned tipping boning.

I find that the hardest thing on my hands and wrists. I use needle nose pliers, but still find it can be time consuming, not to mention frustrating when the tips don't always stay!

Are there any hints you can give me for that?

Thanks!!

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cathyhay
Hi there, I'd firstly ue two pairs of pliers, one held at right angles to the other, and squeeze both at once. With flat steel boning, I wrap the ends in teflon tape (also known as PTFE tape or plumber's tape.)
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cassie45
love this article I never thought to use the wonder under. great idea. I use my dremel tool for every thing though, from cutting my steel bones to sanding them. also have you ever used quilting basting spray? I use it to keep my pattern material on my foundation piece, no pins. Once again thanks.
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Melin
Wondering what you draw on the freezer paper with? Pencil? Pen?
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Alex
I have been making corsets on and off for a while now and when first learning no one would ever show you how it was done so you have to kinda blunder your way through and just keep the fingers crossed. Well I am getting back into it all again and you have just pointed out all the bits that made it really tricky or I hated doing and have found a fabulous technique for it all. Thank you so much for sharing I hope you know it is very much appreciated and I have enjoyed going back to basics and learning so much more...now I just need to get off you beginner section eeek so many things to learn!!
Thank you!lol

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Anne
Hi there, my press broke today and now I'm forced to go back to real hand work. That sucks alot!!! Do you have any recommendation which brand is good for heavy use? I would spend a fortune to save my time. Also my neighbors will love an alternative because of the noise!
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feefashion
Hi there, my first comment after month of reading and learning. Shame on me... ;o) Maybe some of you experts can give me a good advice. Today my press broke and that really sucks. I saw the pictures of the two in one eyelet press here and wonder if anybody can recomment a brand of machine i could buy to save my time and to live in peace with my neighbors. I have to go back to the brutal hammer and punch method right now and have spend some time on research without any result. These paper and tent machines don`t work very long, I suppose... Thanx so much!
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aisling
Hi

I'm sorry that you have not yet had a response to your question. This question might be better directed to a group on facebook called "Learn How To Make Corsets Like A Pro". They may be able to provide you with feedback on various presses.

-Sharon
Harman Hay Publications

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feefashion
Thanx for your answer!!! I'll try this platform to get inspiring answers.
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