You’ll notice I didn’t give a number of commandments. And frankly, since this was my first attempt at making a corset, I know I am terribly UNqualified to be commanding anybody on how to do so. So please keep that disclaimer in mind as I tell you about the many things I learned in the hours I have spent drafting this muslin corset as prep for a final corset for the fairy costume.
So without further ado, my “commandments of corsetry”. (PS. Why does spellcheck not like the word Corsetry? I cannot think of a better way to spell it … maybe I am making up a word??)
1) Get the right materials. I was very proud of myself for purchasing my first ever muslin fabric and planning to do a draft version of the corset prior to the final product. I am glad I made a wise decision there. This decision included purchasing the other corset materials as well so that I could practice working with them in the draft. I ordered from www.corsetmaking.com and this was my haul:
I bought 10 yards of spiral steel boning, a 14″ busk (based on pattern measurement), a 5′ and 8′ lacing (I had no clue which size I would need), boning tips, a grommet kit, and silver grommets. The tool at the top is a metal cutter I have owned for a while now, which I assumed would cut spiral steel.
2) Do not assume that normal metal cutters can cut spiral steel, no matter how flimsy it looks. I am pretty certain that the spiral steel left permanent marks on my metal cutters, actually. I ordered these when I realized I needed something better. I *think* they are the same ones that are listed on www.corsetmaking.com, only 50% less expensive … as long as they cut the spiral steel, I will not care if they are exactly the same.
3) Installing the busk is one of the most difficult parts of making a corset. So naturally, it was the first step – you know, because its important to weed out the pansies or something. In case you are curious where I read up on this, here is the resource I used. Step by step:
- Mark the spots for the hooks (left picture)
- Stitch the front center pieces of the outside and lining together, leaving the spots for the hooks open when you stitch this seam.
- Place the hook side of the busk between the newly stitched center front pieces.
- Pin it in place (center picture)
- Stitch a line to enclose the busk.
- For the other side of the busk, attach the lining and outer fabric together in a standard seam at the center front.
- Place this center front piece right next to the busk piece with the hooks, and use a marker to draw dots where the busk knobs will need to poke through the fabric.
- Use something to poke the marked holes (only through the outer layer of fabric) – the tutorial I used suggests an awl, which I did not have; I improvised, and used Fred the Seamripper since he has a bad habit of ripping holes in things anyway.
- Once the holes are poked, place this side of the busk between the lining and outer layer.
- Force the knobs through the holes made by the awl (or seam ripper).
- Pin the casing shut, and stitch a line.
4) Stitching over the busk piece that has knobs is rather unpleasant. I was literally counting down from six, after I forced my way through the first one. Pushing busk pieces through the machine is complicated because tiny bumps of metal stick out on the underside to hold the knobs and hooks down. The metal bumps get fairly easily stuck in the openings and around the feed dogs. As if the bottom of the busk wasn’t bad enough, maneuvering the presser foot over the knobs themselves was no picnic either. When going over the knobs (like in the picture below), my machine sewed quite a few stitches in the same exact place until I lifted the foot, lifted the busk a little, pushed it back, and replaced it for another stitch. Rinse and repeat. Not fun at all. When I do this for real, I am considering sliding the knob piece into the casing and then poking the knobs through the holes. It was that painful. Maybe The Google will give me a better answer between now and then.
5) The knobs on the busk are NOT centered. I realized this when I hooked the two pieces together and found a tiny amount of overlap. I will pay more attention for the real corset. It is painfully obvious when I look at the picture above that the knobs are not centered; no clue why I didn’t notice the first time. So the marks need to be closer to the edge and the busk piece with the knobs flipped vertically.
6) After you have attached the rest of the corset pieces to the front and the lining on each side of the busk, remember to put wrong sides together and finish them at the center back! I did not realize I was supposed to close the loop on that prior to stitching the boning channels. Oooops. A fixable problem, though. I pressed the edges under and stitched it closed from the outside instead, since I would need to stitch a line on the very edge for the last boning channel anyway. I only did it incorrectly for one side of the corset, thankfully. Here is the corset with all pieces attached, prior to the boning channels.
7) Measuring and re-measuring and then measuring yet another time is very important when creating the boning channels. I repeatedly placed the spiral steel boning next to the first line of stitching for my boning channels, to make sure I began the second line of stitching in an appropriate place. Since the boning is not in the channel during the stitching, I used visual markers (ruler marks or a little metal piece that sticks out to the left of my presser foot) to make sure the channel remained even as I stitched.
8) The grommets go in between two final boning channels along the center back of both corset pieces. Make sure you leave enough space between the channels for the grommets. You can see my test of the grommet space in the leftmost picture above (along with a boning channel fit test).
9) Boning channels can be stitched in three ways – to the left of the seams, to the right of the seams, or directly under the seam. Since directly under the seam would leave me with many more stitching lines, I placed mine to the right and the left of the seams, a mixture.
10) While it is a good idea to use a highly contrasting thread on muslin so you can see your stitching, you should definitely match your thread to your corset to minimize the visuals of the lines. I don’t need every single person who looks at the corset to be able to tell how straight my stitch lines were. My thread will blend with my fabric for the final product for sure!
11) Lining up the seams on the front and lining of a corset is about as likely as winning the lottery if you are a chicken. The tutorial I used suggests hand stitching the seams together first to hold them in line, but my seams were far off enough that I didn’t even bother. As long as the outside of the corset looks good after you have stitched boning channels, I see no reason why the inside of the garment can’t look a little messy. Maybe that is the seamstress in me talking … after all, isn’t sewing really an exercise in living with mistakes? Messy might be a strong term. The lining will look neat, but the boning channels won’t line up with the seams on the lining side.
So far, I have eleven commandments – or a more realistic term, “lessons learned” – for making your own corset. And I am not done yet! I would say that I am … 75-80% there. I need to cut the boning and place it in the channels, deal with the grommets (could not be dreading that more …), stitch the top and bottom, and line the top and bottom with bias tape. I might not line the bottom with bias tape, as I feel I will want to make adjustments to the pattern pieces before the final product. Stay tuned for more!