In this article we are going to look at a simple method for how to make a corset, one that is ideal for beginners. By following the steps you will learn about some of the key principles of a corset.
(For subscribers and those interested in greater detail, this corset is also presented as a two-part article which goes into greater detail. Part 1 and Part 2 are best read following The Six Rules of Good Corsetry: a basic guide.)
Following a small set of basic rules can be a very worthwhile approach for corsetieres both new and old, and here's number one: Simplicity is good. Simplicity of cut and construction can be inspirational, in fact. It is worth noting to new makers that the more you have going on in the corset (figure 2), the more there is to potentially go wrong!
The challenges of more complex corsets can, I fear, put many people off very early in their corsetry studies. By beginning with simple construction, you'll hopefully feel rewarded and encouraged enough to continue past your first few efforts.
In this article, I will be focussing on construction rather than patterning. I will be using one of my own old prototype corset patterns (right), and I'd recommend that you look to the following sources for good beginner's corset patterns:
This corset is about simplicity. With that in mind, it will have a closed front and pared down construction, and is loosely based upon my spot broche coutil corset dresses (below).
I have explored corset dresses in both ornate (figure 4) and simple (figure 5) styles, but each idea has been built around the functional beauty of spot broche coutil fabric. This incredible fabric, especially designed for making corsets with, is thick and heavy without being difficult to handle or sew. Readily available in white, mid-grey, black, butterscotch, mid-nude and so on, it can also be dyed easily.
Broche is beautiful to work with because:
Whilst many new students ignore broche on account of its price tag, it is in fact one of the best and easiest corsetry fabrics to learn on. I firmly believe that one toile made with a proper corsetry-appropriate fabric is worth twenty made with fabrics that are not, in terms of how quickly you will learn and how happy you will be with the corsets you make (even if only for yourself for parties here and there!). The ease with which you can great results with broche make it actually a rather cost-effective way to learn in the long run and I would actively encourage people to buy and try broche so that we may assist in keeping these mills and machines running.
Using spot broche coutil allows us to focus on simplicity of construction. But even with this simplicity in mind, it is possible to have a bit of fun with design... Figure 6 shows a couple of quick scribblings I did when imagining this corset - as you can see, simplicity does not have to be dull or repetitive.
I dyed my broche, but if you are using an existing colour then all you need to do is steam press to shrink it slightly. This will keep the fabric's finish crisp and firm. Please note: if you intend to wet wash your corset in the future (which isn't usually advised) then you will want to pre-shrink your broche in the machine first.
Cut the CB (centre-back) pieces twice, on the fold, with no seam allowance at the back. In other words, put the fold of the fabric on the stitching line at the centre back, not the edge of the pattern piece. This will save you from having to make a neat finish at the back edges, since the fold *is* the back edge. Figure 9 shows this CB fold more clearly as it goes through the sewing machine.
Cut the CF (centre-front) piece once on the fold, also with no seam allowance at the front. Then cut each of the other pieces twice, keeping the waist-line on the cross-grain. (The cross grain goes across the fabric, at right angles to the selvedge, or woven edge of the fabric.)
Once cut, I like to prepare the CB panels first.
Stitch a series of lines to create a boning channel, eyelet/grommet channel, and a final boning channel (figure 9). Either mark these out in advance, or use the edge of the presser-foot and/or gauge on your sewing machine to create nice straight lines.You need to make these channels as wide as is suitable for your preferred width/thickness of flat steel bones. Stitch a couple of test channels first on a scrap piece and make sure your flat steel runs through them smoothly but snugly.
Now we are ready to begin stitching the seams, with the wrong sides together.
You may pin or baste your pieces together before stitching each seam, but if your seams are trued (ie they match properly, as a commercial pattern should) it can be possible to simply match up the top edges and guide the seams through the machine without securing first. Figure 10 shows the CF panel and right-hand panel 2 being stitched.
As I go along, each seam is pressed open (figure 11). The seams are stitched with the fabric edges to the outside (ie: wrong sides together) as the seam allowances are going to be covered by exterior bone casings. Seams that are pressed open are a bit of a hot topic in corsetry, but for a piece that cinches only gently, they work fine (and I have also seen them work brilliantly on tight-lacing corsets).
Stitch all remaining seams in the same manner. Figure 12 shows the corset from the inside with all of the seams stitched except the right-hand CB panel. You can see the waist-tape (currently unattached) running into the left-hand CB seam. This allows for a tidy finish to the interior of the corset.
At this stage I like to stitch the seam allowances down (figure 13), catching the waist tape as I go.
Once the waist-tape is anchored at each seam, you can stitch the final CB panel in place. Simply catch the waist-tape between the layers as you stitch the seam (figure 14), press it open, and stitch the allowances down as previously (figure 15). Figure 16 shows the interior at this stage.
Measure the waist to check the size, and when you're sure it's right, trim the seam allowances down (Fig 17).
We have stitched our seams to the outside and now we need to create and attach casings for the bones to slip into.
Firstly, I cut a couple of strips of broche out of my leftovers "on the bias" (ie diagonally to the edges of the fabric).
Cut a couple of strips of your broche on the bias and a few on the straight-grain (parallel to the fabric edges). The bias strips create casings that can be pressed into nice curving lines, which is useful if you're adding decorative casings. The straight-grain strips will become your vertical casings (those which contain the steels).
After pressing using a bias-maker, the strip has crisp edges and is ready for stitching (figure 19 shows the inside of such a strip). I find that thicker fabrics like broche often need to be cut slightly narrower than the bias-maker suggests.
With the casings ready, you can decide upon placement of the decorative bias casings and stitch them down along each edge.
I then stitched down the CF casing and checked the layout of my remaining vertical casings (figure 21).
Each remaining vertical casing is stitched down at the edges and once through the centre (figure 22). When choosing width for your casings, make sure there will be enough room for your preferred steels. In my experience, broche exterior casings need an extra mm or two space more than sandwiched channels.
Continue until your casings are complete!
The easiest choice for beginners is to use a pre-made bias binding to finish the corset. Satin, cotton, faux leather, etc. can all create different effects, and for this corset I decided to use black faux leather. We're going to bind the bottom edge, put the steel bones in, and then finish off by binding the top edge.
The quickest way to bind a corset is by machine. First we need to sort out those ends. Leather and faux leather do not recover from stitching, so we cannot baste or pin our binding in place. Instead, we can tape it. Figure 24 shows a small bit of clear water-soluble dressmaking tape placed at the bottom outer corner of one of the CB panels.
The faux leather binding is pressed onto the tape and folded and taped to the inside (figure 25).
The binding is then folded and taped (figure 26) to hold it temporarily in place. Alternatively, you may trim the binding edges rather than fold them away (leather and faux leather won't fray). At this stage, you can either tape the entire length of the binding, or you can start stitching folding the binding around the lower edge of the corset by hand as you go (figure 27). You can also purchase feet designed to make this process easier, but I wished to challenge my machine-finishing skills as they aren't as strong as my hand-finishing.
Continue around the corset, folding and taping the final edge under in the same way that you started off. Secure your stitching.
Cut, tip and insert your steel bones in the channels as required. Preparing steels is really simple, but for beginners it can be a good idea to buy in a range of lengths of spiral and flat steel which you can use over and over again in toiles and your first few experiments. I used spirals throughout (with flats at CB and CF) to give a corset that will mould into its desired shape quickly and smoothly. As the broche holds such a sturdy shape, only a minimum of steels are needed. Once your steels are in place, you may apply the top binding following your chosen technique.
Your two-part eyelets/grommets can be inserted following the directions on the pack. If you are widening your holes rather than punching them, it really is worth buying a tailor's awl as soon as possible. It makes the job so much easier and neater. When I first began learning, I used all sorts of implements which I had read could work as alternatives, sometimes resulting in injury to my hands (once a cut that produced so much blood I fainted!). Life is just easier if you get the appropriate tools.
Within the UK and Europe I can certainly recommend small packs of Prym 5mm two-part eyelets. Use a rubber mallet when hammering the eyelets in place, placing them 2cm (¾") apart down the length of the CB except at the waist, where 4 pairs can be spaced more closely together (1.5cm) to help disperse the extra strain found at the waist (figure 30).
Finally, you may lace your corset! I have here used “shoelace” style lacing with “bunny ears” at the waist. When trying your corset on for the first few times, lace up slowly to prevent any excessive strain or potential damage to your corset.
Ultimately, corset construction does not have to be excessively complex. As you progress with your corset-making studies you may find that your focus becomes one of complexity or of simplicity. Perhaps you will endeavour to develop swift and simple processes that result in exceptionally strong, lightweight, beautiful corsets. Or perhaps you will become enthralled with the difficulty of the numerous processes required in certain construction styles...
Either way, by beginning with a swift and clean construction method, I hope you will kick-start your studies. After all, the best way to assess fit and shaping is to make numerous corsets and toiles, for lacing onto your friends/models/self. Having a reliable and quick construction method can really speed up and enhance that process. Don't wait around, hoping to make a perfect corset first time... Even those of us who've made hundreds still have the odd failed or unsatisfactory attempt. It's best just to get working and experimenting as soon as inspiration hits you!