CORSET GLOSSARY


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Basic construction techniques required for building a boned bodice or corset. Note; italicized words can be found in the Glossary.

There is no definitive method for building a period corset. The method chosen is based on the use for which the corset is being built and to some extent the materials being used. Corsets were made by a multitude of people and most corset makers developed their own techniques.

Consider some important questions before you decide which method to use.

  1. Will the corset or bodice, get worn only by one person or will it be used for other productions, on other people or for costume rental?
  2. Is the corset for one person who hopes to get a few years of wear out of it?

If you answer "Yes" to each of the above then you need to build a garment that can be altered as easily as possible.

The first method I will describe is for an "alterable" corset or boned bodice using two layers of coutil, the second method will be for an "alterable" corset or boned bodice using only one layer of coutil and bone casing. The third method will explain my favorite technique that creates a corset with a perfectly finished interior but is not alterable. I will conclude by explaining briefly how to make any of the above in a fashion fabric.

Note: Your bone casing stitching will be seen on the outside of all three techniques. Only the 4th Technique, which involves fashion fabric, does not have stitches evident on the finished garment.


TECHNIQUE #1

Building an "alterable" corset using two layers of coutil. This results in a much more structured garment and one which will withstand a great deal of wear if built properly. It takes the same amount of time to build a garment of poor fabric as it does to build one from good fabric.

  1. Cut four of each pattern piece, 1-left outer layer, 1- right outer layer, 1- left inside layer and 1 – right inside layer of coutil.
  2. Note: you may choose to use a basic herringbone coutil for the inside layer and a more attractive satin or brocade coutil for the outer layer, if so just cut 2 of each pattern piece in each fabric.

    Inside layer is the "lining" and outside layer is the "shell".

  3. Layout the pieces in order, on a table. Lay them out so that you have each pattern piece side by side as they would be sewn together. Each "pattern piece" should consist of two layers; the inside layer and the outside layer and these should be wrong side to wrong side. See diagram1 below.

    corset_dia1.gif

  4. Mark the top piece of each "set" in the seam allowance so that you know which piece is which. I tend to lay the shell side facing the table and the lining side facing up. I start with the back piece on the left and call it number 1, then I number each piece consecutively after that. Each number goes in the top seam allowance as shown in the diagram above.
  5. Note: I always start with the piece on the far left and work to the right, just to stay organized because it is so easy to get the pieces of a Victorian corset mixed up and even upside down. Other time periods are not as confusing but I tend to like methods which don’t require me to think as much and lend them selves to the least opportunity for error.

  6. Pick up the piece "set" on the far left, it should be a back panel.The back pieces get treated slightly differently as do the front pieces if you are using an opening busk. If you have followed the above directions then the two pieces you have just picked up are the back panel shell and lining and they are on top of one another with wrong sides together. Change this so that the back pieces are right sides together and stitch along the centre back seam line twice. Press the seam open. Now, close the two pieces together so that the wrong sides are face to face and press the centre back seam flat. Stitch 1/8th inch from the pressed edge. Stitch along the side seam line to hold the two layers in place, you can also stitch along the bottom but leave the top edge open. Serge both the side seam and bottom.See diagram 2 below.

corset_dia2.gif

  1. The front panels are handled much the same way but the busk must be inserted. Pick up one front set, place the lining and shell right sides together, matching any notches. Lay your busk with the "loops" in place along the centre front seam line.  See diagram 3 below. Softly trace the outline of the busk and mark where the "loops" need to protrude through the centre seam line.(A) Stitch the centre front seam line, leaving open spots at each "loop" marking. Back stitch before and after each opening. It is important that this seam is well stitched. (B)

corset_dia3.gif

Press the seam open, fold the layers back so that the wrong sides are face to face and press the seam closed. Top stitch 1/8th inch from the edge, but avoid stitching through the gaps where the loops will have to come through. (C) Slide the busk loops through the gaps and push the busk firmly into place. Using a zipper foot stitch around the busk. (D) You may wish to pin the fabrics together. Stitch and serge the side edge and bottom and leave the top edge open. See diagram 3 above.

Return the back and front panels to their place on the table.

  1. Now continue with the other piece "sets". Pick up the next set on the left. It should be a shell layer and a lining layer with wrong sides together. You may wish to pin the two layers together. Be sure the pieces match and are wrong side to wrong side. Take them to your sewing machine and stitch down both sides and across the bottom, just outside the seam line (within the seam allowance). Leave the top edge open as you will need to access the soon to be created bone casings. Repeat this step with each "set" of pieces, returning each to its place on the table.

  2. Serge the same edges of each piece, still leaving the top edge open.

  3. Mark the bone casings onto the lining pieces, "right side" as the wrong side is against the shell fabric. Trace them from the pattern pieces using a tracing wheel and subtly contrasting dress makers carbon. Or use tailors tacks.

  4. Once you have marked all the bone casings take each piece to the sewing machine and make the casings by stitching along each marked line. Note: If any of the marked lines is along the seam line then you need not stitch it as it will get stitched when you sew the pieces together.

  5. All pieces are now "flatted" together and the bone casings are complete. Now pin each piece to the next piece in the correct order! Be sure that notches match. Stitch each seam twice using two different stitch lengths, example: 8 and 12 stitches to the inch. The different lengths assure that the stitches will not be directly on top of each other, which increases strength. Do not use stitches much smaller than 12 as it makes it very difficult to rip out when alterations are required. Note: If you wish to test the fit of the garment then stitch the seams only once and with a longer stitch length. Fit the garment, make the adjustments and then double stitch all seams as described above.

  6. Once all the pieces are sewn together, check that everything looks right and that you do not have one piece upside down, press all seams open. If you wish you can cross tack the seam allowance down.

Time for the bones. Regardless of the type of boneing you are using the next steps remain the same

  1. Measure the length of the bone channels/casing. Subtract at least ½ an inch from this measurement and cut the bone to this length. It is imperative that the bone be at least ½ an inch shorter than the casing and even ¾" shorter is good, in fact it may be better. If the bone is not shorter, holes will result at either end of the casing where the bone ends rub. I tend to measure one length and cut one length rather than measure all and cut all, it saves my hands and it saves confusion as each piece gets slid into its casing as soon as it is cut.

    The bones can be slid into their casings from the top edge.

    Depending on the type of bone you choose, you may have to tip the cut ends. Tipping instructions can be found under "Tips & Techniques"

  2. Finish the top and bottom edges. You can do this however you like. I like to bind the edges with bias and encase a draw cord of fine cable cord in the top edge. This allows the top edge to be drawn in and inhibits "fallout" when the wearer leans forward. Lace trim can also be used to finish the edges. To encase a draw cord, strongly tack the cord ends near the centre back within the top seam allowance, after stitching the bias strip to the top edge, right sides together. Now, finish the bias binding as usual making sure you do not catch the cable cord as you stitch. Ribbon can also be used which is more attractive but not as strong or long wearing.

TECHNIQUE #2

Building an "alterable" corset or boned bodice using only one layer of coutil and bone casing tape. Only later period corsets used this technique.

Note: front and back pieces would need to have four of each cut if you are using a busk and setting eyelets or grommets for lacing. However if you are using a zipper and there is no front opening then four fronts and four backs would not be necessary.

  1. Cut two of each pattern piece. 1 – left and 1- right as stated by the pattern.

  2. Mark the casing lines on the wrong side of the fabric, unless you want them on the outside. Use a tracing wheel and subtly contrasting dress maker’s carbon.

  3. Place the bone casing tape along the lines and pin into place.

    If the bone casing is to follow a seam then stitch the seam before applying the bone casing tape as you may be able to use the "seam allowance" which will eliminate the bulk of having seam allowance and bone casing tape together.

  4. Stitch the bone casing tape into place using an average stitch length of about 12 stitches per inch.

  5. Serge the sides and bottom of each piece.

  6. Now pin each piece to the next piece in the correct order! Be sure that notches match. Stitch each seam twice using two different stitch lengths, example: 8 and 12 stitches to the inch. The different lengths assure that the stitches will not be directly on top of each other, which increases strength. Do not use stitches much smaller than 12 as it makes it very difficult to rip out when alterations are required. If you need to fit the garment first then only stitch the seams once with a longer stitch length. Fit the garment, make the alterations and double stitch the seams as directed.

  7. Once all the pieces are sewn together, check that everything looks right and that you do not have one piece upside down, press all seams open. If you wish you can cross tack the seam allowance down.

    Note: If you are using a seam allowance for a bone casing it will have to be stitched into place either by hand or by machine, I stitch by machine right along the inside edge of the serging.

  8. Measure the length of the bone channels/casing. Subtract at least ½ an inch from this measurement and cut the bone to this length. It is imperative that the bone be at least ½ an inch shorter than the casing and even ¾" shorter is good. If the bone is not shorter, holes will result at either end of the casing where the bone ends rub. I tend to measure one length and cut one length rather than measure all and cut all, it saves my hands and it saves confusion as each piece gets slid into its casing as soon as it is cut.

    The bones can be slid into their casings from the top edge.

  9. Finish the top and bottom edges with bias as described for the two layer coutil corset, make facings for the top and bottom edges or "bag it out" using an identically shaped "shell" layer. By doing this no bone stitching will be seen on the out side.

TECHNIQUE #3

The technique which results in a corset with a beautifully finished interior, but one that is not alterable.

  1. Cut four of each pattern piece, 1-left outer layer, 1- right outer layer, 1- left inside layer and 1 – right inside layer of coutil.

    Note: you may choose to use a basic herringbone coutil for the inside layer and a more attractive satin or brocade coutil for the outer layer, if so just cut 2 of each pattern piece in each fabric.

    Inside layer is the "lining" and outside layer is the "shell". Mark the bone casing channels on the right side of the lining using disappearing ink pens or a tracing wheel with chalk carbon paper in a similar colour to lining fabric. Or, use tailors tacks (best method).

  2. Layout the pieces in order, on a table. Lay them out so that you have each pattern piece side by side as they would be sewn together. Each "pattern piece" should consist of two layers; the inside layer and the outside layer and these should be wrong side to wrong side. See diagram 1 above.
  3. Pick up the top piece on the far left and pin it to the next top piece, right sides together, notches matching. Continue along the line of pieces, pinning and double stitching each top layer piece into place. Be careful that all pieces are in the correct order and are not stitched into place upside down! Go through the same process with the second layer, stitching all pieces, right sides together and matching all notches. You now have a complete shell and a complete lining. If you are using a front opening and a back opening you will have four pieces. Press all seams open and clip seams at waist to allow the curve. All seams should be double stitched using two different stitch lengths. Top stitch twill tape along the waistline of the lining, stitching along top and bottom of twill tape from front to back.

  4. Lay the lining on top of the shell and with right sides together, pin into place on the front and back pieces. Stitch the centre front and centre back seams as described in Technique #1 or #2 for busk and grommet applications step #’s 4 & 5.

  5. Turn the pieces right sides out. Pin the pieces lining to shell and hand baste in the seam "ditches", being sure all seams line up.

  6. With lining side up, machine stitch all bone casing lines through both layers of fabric. Where bone casing is to follow a seam stitch in the ditch and along the casing line. Remove basting stitches.

  7. Handle bones and finishing of top and bottom edges as in Technique #1.

The inside of this corset will have the same finished look as the outside with no visible seam allowances.


CORSET GLOSSARY

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