Lynsey has completed courses in corsetry, dressmaking, and pattern cutting and enjoys sewing in her spare time.
I recently decided to attend a corsetry course. Obviously, I wanted to learn how to make corsets from scratch, and how to alter them later if need be. The course also covered the history of corsets, giving an insight into their origins and future.
As a relative sewing novice, I thought the best way to go about this was to go to a class, because simply following a pattern can get a little tricky, and it's always handy to have someone at hand when things go wrong. With this in mind, I decided to keep a note of my progress over the 10 week course, and post the results at the end. But why stop there? I thought it would be best to show my progress, step by step, so that other aspiring corseteers have more than just a pattern to follow. Be aware that making a corset does take a lot of time and effort, so be prepared for sore fingers and wonky eyes!
This hub will show you, step by step, how to make a corset. While I will be making a standard 6 panel (on each side) corset, the steps can be used along with any pattern, and I will share any issues I had along the way. The detailed photos will help along my explanation of how to put the corset together, from cutting the fabric out, to sewing it all together and sealing the steel bones, all the way through to finishing off the edges and inserting the strong eyelets.
Prefer A Book?
Prepare the Pattern
The first step is to cut out all of the pieces of your pattern. Ensure that the pattern you are using is for the correct size, by measuring, just incase it has printed out wrongly. This is especially important for print at home versions. If not, scale up using a photocopier. There is a handy article here on how to do this, however bear in mind that corset measurements are very unique and you don't want to change the lengths, so it will be better to redraw (baking paper is a great resource to use for patterns, and cheap, too!) If you are between sizes, it is better to go for the size larger, because it is easier to take in than to let out.
Once you have cut out the pieces, lay them out onto your Calico fabric, and secure with plenty of pins. We used 2m of calico fabric, and folded it in half, so that there were enough layers to strengthen the corset. Once folded, the fabric was ironed to ensure that the pattern transferred onto a flat surface.
When laying out your pieces onto the fabric, make sure that you allow extra room for your seam allowance. This should be 2cm around the sides, and 1cm around the top and bottom.
Draw around each piece, and then draw round roughly for your seam allowances- 2cm at the sides, and 1cm top and bottom. A nice dark pencil is best for this, and remember that these layers will not be seen!
Like many corset patterns, the pattern I used only had one side on it, so to get the other side, I flipped each piece over. This ensures that all of the corresponding pieces for each panel are the exact same size.
I recommend writing at the top of each panel, the panel name i.e A, B, C... A2, B2, C2, so that you can easily tell which pieces are which and know that they are the correct side up.
The photo below shows how it should all look once it has been drawn out.
Pin & Cut Calico
Now, begin pinning each section together to prevent the fabric moving when it is being cut. This can lead to irregular cuts, and a waste of fabric. Use plenty of pins!
When all sections are individually pinned, cut them out using sharp fabric scissors, following the outer line, which should include your seam allowance.
You should now have 12 separate panels, which are 2 layers thick and pinned together. On each panel, stitch along the bottom of each channel, about 1cm from the bottom line. This is to stop the boning coming out, so back tack* across the stitches a few times on your sewing machine, to make sure they are strong. This will now permanently hold your calico layers together, but keep the pins in, for now.
* back tacking is where you use the reverse function on your sewing machine to go backwards and forwards over the same line of stitching, for future use.
Pin & Cut Outer Fabric
Lay out your outside fabric onto a table, in a single layer, selvedge to the bottom. If this is patterned, or textured, remember that the part that you want to see, should be facing downwards, onto the table.
The panels should now be laid out onto the fabric. Make sure that the fabric is the correct way!!! The part that you want displayed on your corset should be facing the table! Pin the calico to the outer fabric with plenty of pins. ( I just used the pins that were already used, pulled them out and reinserted through all pieces.)
If you are using a pattern that you want to "join" up, you will need to plan ahead for this, and cut the pieces so that they link according to the little notches that have been drawn on. Also be aware that you will not see the seam allowance, so do not consider this to be part of the pattern. To be on the safe side, I would suggest using plain satin or something similar, particularly for a first attempt.
Using the calico pieces as a guide, cut out the corset's outer fabric using your fabric scissors. Be careful not to stab yourself with the pins... I found myself getting a little overconfident at this stage, and constantly stabbed my fingers!
Hand Tack The Fabric Together
Begin hand-tacking each of the panels, using a contrasting colour of thread. I chose pink, because none of my layers were pink, so it was easy to see. Don't be overcautious with your stitching because they will be removed later. However, try to be neat and follow the lines accurately, as some of the stitches could prevent boning from going into the channels later, particularly when testing that the channels are the correct size!
I used a double threaded needle, done by folding the thread over on itself once through the needle, and tying the ends at the bottom. This allows for a nice strong tack that wont snap easily.
Be sure to work slowly, and don't be tempted to do multiple stitches at once, then pull the thread through... this distorts the fabric, and can crumple it, as well as tangles the thread.
Large stitches (about 1cm each) are best for this, and easier to pull out later. Don't worry about stopping and restarting, or even about changing the colour of thread because you've ran out. Remember that these are for your use, and no-one else will see them.
Be aware that this stage is one of the most laborious, particularly if, like me, you do it sitting in bed, hunched over. You should, however, be quite used to the needle pricks by now!
Pin & Cut Lining
The lining fabric should be folded in half, and laid so that the grain is parallel to the table edge. This makes it easier to remember which way the fabric grain is running.
Lay out one side of your nicely tacked panels over the lining fabric. (Just A,B,C,D,E,F- one set of panels) Lay them in such a way that the flat edges run along the grain of the fabric, left to right, all in the same direction. The fabric should not stretch. Because the fabric is folded, we will be able to cut the lining required for all panels in half the time!
This time, put the right side facing up on the table. The side that you want to be in contact with your body should be facing upwards, then place the calico pieces on top, as a guide to cut around.
Try to be economical with your fabric, but do not change the direction of the pieces. They should all be lying, horizontally like a ladder, parallel with the grain of the fabric. Do not cut until you are sure that it is the right way, because you will distort the final results.
Using a ruler will ensure that all straight edges are the same distance from the outer edge, thus increasing the chances of cutting on the grain.
While all of the layers are together, use scissors to cut in the notches that are marked at the side of each pattern piece. This will help in identifying which pieces go together later.
First Panels A & A2
Take panel A and A2. These will be the centre back pieces that have the eyelets and lacing in them. Put the lining to the side for now, and begin to sew the channel lines with your machine. Leave the back outer edge for last, and use this to later attach your piece of lining fabric.
At the top and bottom of each line of stitches, be sure to strengthen them by back-tacking a few times.
I used black thread so that it was almost invisible on the finished design, but if you're more confident, feel free to use a contrasting thread that would work nicely as an accent on your final piece.
Work slowly, as you must follow the channel lines accurately. If you go over the lines, particularly on the inside, you could prevent the boning from going in. Everything would need to be unpicked and redone!
Once you have finished the boning channels, attach the lining using the outer edge. This gives a neater finish than if you had sewn the outer edge of the outside channel, then re-sewn the line to attach the lining.
Now, remove the tacking stitches, being careful to remove all of the thread. It should pull out easily, but if, like me, you sewed over it, you may have a slightly harder time of it!
Then, slide the rigid bones into the channels and seal them by hand, using small, tight stitches. This will stop the bones popping out.
After that, trim off the excess fabric on the sewn centre seam, as this will get in the way with the eyelets. Then pull the lining around and underneath, so that it covers the calico layer. Hand tack into place, along the line of the boning channels, then stitch neatly, close to the outer line to secure the lining, and prevent it from slipping back. You can simply follow the line of stitching on the front! These new tacking stitches help to place the eyelets later.
Panels A & A2
Add eyelets to panel A and A2
Once your lining is tacked in place, fairly tightly, you are ready to begin placement of the eyelets which will hold the lacing in your corset. To get the ideal placement, you should revert back to your paper pattern piece, and use it as a guide. To do this, carefully punch out the areas of the pattern which are suggested to be eyelets. Then, place the piece on top of your panel, and use a white chalk pencil to mark through the holes. Repeat for both panels (simply flip the piece over to convert it to the opposite side)
Now, remove the paper and use your own judgement to decide whether the eyelets have been placed centrally, in comparison with your line of stitching. You may find that you have to slightly alter the position of the eyelets, and that's ok, so long as you remember to make any alterations to both sides, so that they match up.
Once you are happy with the placement of the eyelets, use a fabric hole punch (the same kind used to put holes in belts) to punch holes. This takes a firm hand- and a couple of tries each time. Also make sure to make the holes smaller than the eyelets you will be using, otherwise they will fall out.
Now, put the eyelets through the holes and affix as per the instructions. Once all of the eyelets are in place, lay out both back panels together and determine whether they are even. If not, you will have to do the panels again, so try to be careful! Remove any tacking stitches from these panels.
Just a note: Different types of eyelets have different instructions. There are handheld eyelet machines that aren't really suitable for this. There are eyelets that can be sealed by hand with a hammer- these are ok, but practice first on some scrap to ensure a nice result. There are also more industrial eyelet machines that use either a hand or foot press to lower the punch onto the eyelet- these are highly recommended for making a corset. They make the job so simple and so quick, but they may be an unnecessary expense if you only plan to make one corset.
How to Mark Eyelet Holes in a Corset
Fitting The Front Busk (Panel F & F2)
You will need to ensure that the busk is long enough to support the whole length of the corset, otherwise there may be a bit of spillage. To ascertain the correct size, measure the length of the centre front panel, remembering to discount any seam allowance, as well as another 1.5cm or so to allow for bias binding to be sewn over without damaging the machine.
There are two parts to the busk: the loop side and the stud side. The loop side should be on the Right hand side centre panel, and the stud should be on the left hand side centre panel. To ensure no confusion, I suggest marking the top of each side. To determine the top from the bottom, look at the spacing between the studs. They are further spaced at the top than the bottom.
Carefully place the loop side of the busk along the seam line, so that the loops overhang onto the seam allowance. Make sure that there is an equal distance between the top and bottom edges. Then, use a pencil to draw around the loops- this will provide a guide as to where to leave the gaps for the loops to poke out of.
Now, sew along the centre front seam, remembering to back tack any time you stop and resume sewing. This is especially important, as you will stop regularly at the loop markings to leave gaps to allow the busk to be pushed through, and it is very important that the remainder of the stitching is very strong, so back tacking is a must! Then, iron back (wrong sides together) so that the right side of the corset is in view.
Once the loops are through, use a one sided foot (also known as a zipper foot) to slowly sew as close to the edge of the busk as possible- be careful of the needle hitting the steels! Also remember to back tack beginning and end. (this should be standard practice by now)
First of all, sew the centre seam and iron back (wrong sides together) so that the front of the corset is now visible.
Then, lie the front panels down, side by side, right side up, so that you can see where the loops from the right side lay in relation to the left side. You should ensure that everything is lying straight, and the panels are parallel to avoid messing this up. Allow the loops to overhang over the left side, and make a small mark with a white pencil from inside the top loop. This will give you a starting point to put your studs through. Double check before making any holes!
Trim back any seam allowance inside the panel to approx. 1cm, to avoid having to puncture too many layers, and iron flat.
Then, using an awl, push a hole through the fabric (from the right side to the wrong side, to avoid any fraying) and push the first stud through the hole. This does need a good bit of brute strength, and try not to distort the fabric too much while doing it.
Once the first stud is through, check that they match up to the top loop, and that the corset looks even at the front at this stage. Then, use the busk as a guide as to the position of the other holes, and repeat the process, one stud at a time. Don't rush ahead and pierce the holes before pushing the stud through, as the fabric may stretch and the holes will no longer be in the correct place.
Once all the studs are through, check that the loops fit nicely over the studs, and remove any tacking from these pieces.