Round Peg In a Square Hole-crafts

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Corset Notes

This is not a “how to” article, but some tips that I have learned in making a blurtload of corsets over the years. Some apply mostly to Victorian corsets, but most are good for any kind of corset-ish support garment.

Note: Tips for the advanced seamstress/costumer/corsetier are noted with *

General fit:

-Some corsets are designed to just come to the nipple, not fully cover the breast. Be aware which type you’re making before you fit it.

-Note that your waist may lie in a different place in the front and the back. Check this very carefully when fitting.

-Past Patterns #213 and #708 tend to both be short-waisted. Laughing Moon tends to be long waisted in the back, but normal in the front. Moral of the story--ALWAYS MAKE A MUSLIN when you use a new pattern.

Fabric considerations:

-It is easier and faster to flatline your fashion fabric layer (ffl) with muslin or kettlecloth/heavy broadcloth than it is to use bone casings. It is also less lumpy. This assumes that you are making a lining and an outer layer. If you flatline all the layers together, then you do need bone casing, though you’ll probably want to face the front and back pieces.

-If using a brocade for your ffl, choose one with a small enough pattern. Larger patterns don’t show on the small pieces, and just look funny.

-While it is possible to stabilize a very fluid piece of fabric with interfacing, and so use it for the ffl, I’ve found that flatlining with muslin or some other midweight, tightly-woven fabric works better.

-When cutting, if you don’t take the fabric off the pattern pieces in between cuts, (I know you’re supposed to, but who does?) cut the heavy inner fabric, then the interlining, then the fashion fabric. This will make the lining just a hair smaller than the other layers, so it will end up taking the strain.

General assembly:

-*When sewing, make the seam allowances just a hair over standard on the lining, and a hair under standard on the fashion fabric layer. (Note! Standard seam allowance on most historical patterns is 1/2”, not the modern 5/8”! Check your pattern to be sure you know which to use!) This will ensure that the lining will be just a tad smaller, and so will be the part that takes the strain. BUT don’t go overboard with this--a difference of 1/16” in the seam allowance on each seam adds up to a 1.5” difference in size, overall. With corsets, it pays to be consistent.

-*I don’t bother to back up/tie off the beginning and end of any seam which will later be sewn across, e.g., the seams between pieces. The only places I do are for the right front, at each of the openings for the busk tabs (where I forward-and-back twice, for a total of 4 rows of stitching, to reinforce those openings); and in binding off the top and bottom, and sewing the trim on. All the other seams are later sewn across, and so are stabilized that way.

-I don’t serge the seams between pieces; rather, I press them open. This gives more sturdiness to the casings on the seams, and evens out the bulk.

-Before putting the lining and the ffl together, sew a band of twill tape to the inside of the fashion fabric layer, right at the waistline. This reinforces the waist, which is where most of the stress is going to be.


-If you must use a busk which is too short, put a 1/2” bone of the correct length in the casing with the busk. Thus, if you require a 13” busk and only have a 12” one, putting a 13” long, 1/2” wide bone into the casing with the busk will allow you to use it. (Doesn’t do much for those of us who are short waisted!) Thank you to Sherri Jerneka for this tip.

-*When sewing the busk seams, cheat the ffl just a little, so that the seam allowance on that piece is a little smaller (no more than a 1/16th of an inch) than on the lining. This allows for the extra distance the ffl will have to go over the busk when you sew it down.

-Busk piece with tabs goes on the wearer’s right side, tab side out.

-To mark the gaps for the tabs, lay the tab side of the busk on the wrong side of the fashion fabric layer, tab side down, then mark on either side of the tabs with a chalk pencil or air-erasable marker. Then sew that seam, leaving gaps between the chalk marks, and reinforcing on either side of the gaps. The gaps will then be slightly bigger than the tabs, allowing for easy insertion of the busk. NOTE: busks used to be made with the tabs spaced equally apart, but the lower two tabs are now often closer together than the others are. If you are having trouble inserting the busk, make sure that you are trying to put it in in the same orientation that you marked and sewed it.

-Examine your zipper foot. If the heel is wider than the toe, you might want to look for one that is a constant width. This will make insertion of the busk much easier, allowing you to get much closer to the busk to lock it in.

More general construction:

-After sewing the inside to the outside, but before turning right side out, cut two 1.5” wide strips of heavy duck the length of the back of the corset. Serge (or trim and zigzag) the center back seams, and the edges of the two duck strips. Butt the edge of one duck strip up against the seam allowance along one center back seam, and zigzag across the gap, to hold it in place. Repeat for the other side with the other duck strip. Once the corset is turned right side out, this extra piece will lie between the inner and outer layers of the corset and will reinforce the back where the grommets will go, giving the grommets something more to hang onto, without adding a lot of bulk.

-Of the 4 seams connecting the lining and the ffl, the only one you need to press open is the front seam on the (wearer’s) right side. This allows for easier insertion of the tab side of the busk. The back seams will be serged or zigzagged closed, (see above) and the (wearer’s) left front seam allowance should all be under the busk, so you only have to poke the posts of that side of the busk through the ffl.

Bones and grommets:

-To determine the length of bones required, put in the channels, then completely finish one edge of the corset, including any trim or lace that will be put on by machine. Measure from the innermost line of stitching, to the other raw edge, then subtract 1”; that will give you the length of bone you need for that channel. (This assumes that you’re using 1/2” bias tape (extra wide double fold) or 1” twill tape (folded over the edge) to finish the edge. If not, take the width of whatever edge finish you’re using, and add 1/2”, to give you some room.) If you are in-between bone sizes, choose the shorter one. If you put in a bone which is too long, it will have a much higher probability of wearing through, since there is more pressure on it.

-For larger cup sizes, you might want to put a 1/2” bone at the outer edge of the breast, and possibly additional 1/4” bones over the breast. This will provide more support for the breast without flattening the bust too much.

-There should be a bone on either side of the grommets; however, unless you are upwards of size 20 you should only need 1/4” bones there.

-Instead of cutting a hole for the grommets, cut two crossing slits, in the shape of an X. This gives the grommets more to hang onto.


-I often combine two pieces of lace for the top of the corset, one long and one short. I set them flat-edge to flat-edge and zigzag over the flat edges, producing a very nice trim, which can then be zigzagged onto the top of the corset.

-If you’re intending to wear the corset only under other things, make sure that the trim isn’t bulky.

Final notes:

-A properly fitting corset does not meet where it’s laced; there should be anywhere from 1” (for smaller sizes, e.g., size 6) to 4” (for larger sizes, e.g., size 20) open. This allows both for size variation and for movement while wearing the corset. The gap shouldn’t be much outside that range, though, even if you are significantly smaller than the small size or larger than the large size.

-Be aware that you may be BIGGER with your corset on, than without. What you are looking for is the correct historical shape, as well as support, not only for the body, but for whatever gown you are putting over it. Thus, you should not fit your bodice until you have built your corset. (Indeed, you should fit your bodice after you make your skirt, and with all appropriate underpinnings (petticoats, bustle or hoop, bum roll) as the waistbands or other masses may affect the fit of the bodice.)

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