After the publication of my article discussing the stitching of boning channels, some questions arose as to the positioning of boning channels and some misconceptions as to the reasons for boning a corset. This article aims to address those issues and provide some ideas for experimentation.
Let’s start with some of the misconceptions, because they appear to be one of the main reasons that people experience difficulties when working out the positioning of their bones.
Boning has one primary function: to keep the shape of the corset by ensuring the fabric is taut. And that’s it.
Trying to work out where to place your boning channels is a common problem when venturing into drafting your own corset patterns. Should you use the seam allowances? Is there a minimum gap between bones? Do they have to be vertical to the corset when worn?
Sadly, there is no simple answer – no hard and fast rule - all possibilities are suitable in some situations and not recommended in others.
There are so many things that can influence the positioning: shaping and number of boning channels, the corset style, the body wearing it, the fabrics and construction techniques used. It’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by the different combinations of considerations.
For me, the time to work out the boning plan for a corset is at the toile stage, while the toile is being worn. Boning your toile is essential for a precise fitting. For new styles of corsets, I find it is best to keep things simple and start small: add vertical boning to the centres of panels for the first toile fitting. This leaves the seams free for any adjustments that need to be made. Then, as the fit takes shape, I add boning channels around the area of the seam where needed.
It’s pretty easy to work out where the corset needs a little extra support – look for bunching and wrinkling, and add bones until the problem is resolved. You may find that you need to move your boning channels closer together or group them differently. As you replicate the pattern for different corset projects, you’ll soon build up an idea of the requirements each body type and so you’ll likely start with a basic pattern of boning that you know works, and build upon this during the fitting process.
This is also the perfect time to experiment and see how the shape of the corset reacts to different types of boning (see Jenni Hampshire’s article on Boning).
Boning channels can be used to greatly enhance the aesthetic effect of the corset, in many different ways and to dramatic effect. For example, you can use fake boning channels under external bone casings to create slimming patterns (see this example from the Symington collection, circa 1900).
Alternatively, you can cover your fashion fabric in fake boning channels and have the real boning channels attached to the strength layer. This allows you to break every rule in the handbook when it comes to boning – such as a boning channel that ends in a magnificent swirling spiral effect (impossible even with so-called spiral boning). You can place your boning channels in a pattern to create optical illusions (making waists appear smaller or bust lines larger).
All of this sounds great until you come to working out where to put the channels. It’s important to remember that the angle and spacing between your channels will either create the illusion you are looking for or detract from it – in the case of optical illusions you can actually create an effect that is the opposite of what you were looking for!
I have several ways I work out the boning for these corsets:
1 Design on the Body
One way is to fit the corset on the body it is intended for and use temporary vertical boning channels to ensure the corset is smooth. Then mark the intended boning straight on to the toile. Attach the boning and check for bunching and wrinkles. The advantage here is that you can ensure you are getting the right dimensions for your pattern. For optical illusions it is the best way of achieving the corset perspective. It does have one major flaw though – if you find fitting yourself in a corset is a nightmare, then this will quite literally drive you nutty, best take a look at option 2.
2 Design on a Dummy
Another way is to put your corset on a tailor’s dummy or lace it on to a pillow. For both, ensure that when laced the corset is simulating the dimensions it has when worn on the body. An adjustable tailor’s dummy will be a huge advantage here, but you can also use padding to ensure the correct shape. Then follow the marking and attaching process for the above option.
Marking the Channels
I find that the best way of plotting and marking your boning channels is to use fashion tape to mark out possible positioning, but at a push, thin strips of electrical tape or masking tape will suffice. It has the advantage of being adjustable without leaving you with lots of confusing lines to try to ignore.
You need to keep your toile clean of misleading markings to ensure you have settled on an effective pattern, and to make sure you mark out the right lines. When you have a pattern you are happy with, draw it onto the toile in a contrasting coloured pen.
If you have only used vertical boning, transferring the placement of the boning channels on to the pattern is pretty simple and straightforward. Simply measure the position at the edges and draw straight on to the pattern.
For complex patterns, a more efficient way of transferral is needed. I find the best way is to unpick the toile, lay each panel over the corresponding pattern piece and use a tailor’s wheel to trace over the lines marked in pen.
If your toile is made of a strong fabric, you’ll need to push quite hard to ensure the wheel perforates the pattern underneath. If you don’t have a tailor’s wheel you can use the sharp end of a compass or a pin instead, but it does take some time.
Another option is to stitch over the lines using an unthreaded sewing machine – do this at your own risk and ensure that the toile and pattern pieces are secured together. I’ve done this for very complicated patterns as it is much quicker, and the resulting markings are much clearer.
One point to note: I use thin card to create my patterns as the pattern pieces are much more robust – you’ll see the benefit of this in the next section.
I don’t mind admitting that this is the part of corset making that drove me insane for the longest time. You’ve got to ensure that your markings are accurate and do not permanently mark the outer layer - no small feat - which is magnified when dealing with delicate fabric such as silks and satins. So I developed a range of techniques to overcome the common problems. As always, make sure to test the suitability of each technique on some scraps of your corset fabric.
For outer layer fabrics that allow the removal of chalk markings – coutil, cotton, etc I transfer the markings for each panel piece by cutting the pattern along one of the marked boning channel lines, placing it over the corset panel (right side up) and drawing along the cut edge (gently) with a chalk pencil marker. Repeat the process until all of the boning channel lines have been marked out.
If your outer layer fabric will allow you to stitch into it without leaving a permanent mark, another option is to use tacking stitches to mark your bone channel placements. I find the best way is to again cut along the edge of one of the boning channel lines and lay the pattern over the corset panel (right side down). Draw along the line and then use it as a guide to for your stitches. I find small stitches are best. This is my least preferred method: it isn’t as accurate as all the others and is the one that takes up the most time.
If your outer layer fabric won’t allow for chalk markings or stitches (or you can’t face hours hand stitching) then it’s time to get the freezer paper out. (Please see the tools of the trade article)
1. On a piece of freezer paper draw around the outline of the pattern piece.
2. Then cut the pattern along one of the marked boning channel lines
3. Place the pattern on top of the freezer paper and draw along the cut line with a pencil or thin pen.
4. Repeat for the other line of the boning channel.
5. Carefully cut along both lines on the freezer paper.
6. Now put the pattern piece on the top of the corset panel (right side up) and then place the boning channel you just cut out of freezer paper on to the corset piece and line it up with the cut edge.
Gently run a warm iron over the freezer paper to “stick” it into place. Repeat for all other boning channels.
For very curvy patterns, or those that cross seams, I will run a line of long machine stitches down the middle of the freezer paper to help maintain its position on the corset panel (if the outer layer fabric allows). Use the edges of the freezer paper as a guide for your stitches (I find a piping foot is the best sewing machine foot to use, although any open toed sewing foot will do as long as it allows for clear visibility of where the needle enters the fabric).
If all else fails, then I will iron some tissue paper flat, spray it with hairspray (to stiffen it), then when completely dry I carefully draw round the outline of the panel piece and mark the boning channels on it (using the cut card method).
Next I place the tissue paper over the corset panel and stitch the two together in the seam allowance.
Then I stitch the boning channels using the tissue paper to guide me. When all the stitching is complete I tear away the tissue paper.
You can use any of these methods to mark out internal or external boning channels (and fake ones too!)