All about corset making and corsetry components
A blog with plenty of information on Corset Making and corset making supplies.
A new "From the Archives" series will be published every Wednesday and Saturday from 25 February 2023, until 26 March 2023, and these posts will contain 'old' information on corset making which will be updated for the revamped Learn Corset Making information portal whereever that may be.
This article was written for and originally appeared at The Sewing DirectoryCorsetry is all about fashion outlines and firm foundations - from the earliest waist enhancing leather belts worn by the Minoans as far back as 2500BC, to the latest in figure shaping technology using 'powernet' fabrics and nylon to shape, support and enhance the figure. However, our traditional view of the 'corset' is the Victorian version which slims and gives the archetypal feminine 'hour glass' shape to any figure regardless of size, by reducing the waist and thereby exaggerating the bust and hips.Modern Victorian style corsets are typically made from Coutil, a very tightly woven and strong fabric with no stretch, and 'bones' of flexible steel wire which are made from flattened springs. These 'springs' ensure that the corset is flexible yet strong; they will mould your body comfortably, rather than restrict you or mould to your body.The front closure of a Victorian style corset is called a busk and is made from two wide metal 'bones' with a hook side and a stud side which clasp together. Although now made from steel and in two parts, the busk started life in the 17th century as a flat piece of wood (like a giant lollipop stick) which would be slipped into a pocket running down the centre front of the lining of the corset (or 'stays' as they were then known), giving a straight appearance. Sometimes, depending on the wearer's status, these busks would be carved intricately and sometimes they were given to ladies as tokens of love.The back of a corset is laced with a single lace which is tightened at the waist. There should be no more than a two inch gap between the laces - this allows for 'fluctuation' of the figure and also can determine the 'firmness' of the corset. Contrary to popular belief, corsets are not bad for you, they do not squeeze your intestines out of shape, nor do they cause any bodily damage. They are essentially a fashion item with benefits and as with everything else, as long as one is sensible, there is no cause for concern.Corsets not only enhance shape, but also improve posture, they will make you stand straight and therefore tall. If you have the sort of job which means you are on your feet for long periods of time, a corset will help you feel less tired by supporting your body - a bit like wearing an outer skeleton. This is why corsets are sometimes used for medicinal purposes to help people who have bad backs.There is nothing like an underbust corset to give a flawless hourglass shape underneath a dress. Whereas more "elasticated" shapewear can give you unsightly muffintop bulges, or make you feel a bit like a sausage, a properly fitted corset will be totally smooth between corset and flesh and it is for this reason that 'traditional' corsets are preferred by the stars and by brides.The best way to achieve a perfectly fitted corset without spending a fortune is to make one yourself! You can draw on centuries of experience by using one of the many patterns available on the market, so removing some of the guesswork! From there, it's just a question of being able to sew a straight line! A good quality hand made corset will cost hundreds of pounds, whereas your own handmade version will use exactly the same materials, and cost you no more than around £60!Making a corset is fun! You can let your imagination run wild! You can add feathers and bows, and beads and sparkly things. You can make them as plain or as fabulous as you like and you can tailor them to a specific outfit or occasion. You can wear them with jeans, or a dress, or with trousers. You can wear them as underwear or keep them strictly in the bedroom! Corsets are super sexy, creatively versatile, funky, fun and timeless!
It is essential, if you want a perfect fit, to make a corset from ‘scrap’ fabric before you make the real thing. The purpose of this is to check the fit and enable you to make tailor made adjustments accordingly. Obviously with a corset, fit is very important as you will want the waist to be reduced enough for good definition whilst allowing for everything else to be pushed up or down. This is the "squidge factor" and allowances may have to be made by simple adjustments to the bust and hip area. This is where your toile or 'mock-up' comes in. Look at it as a practice run. You not only get to see the fit, but you can figure out construction methods along the way.
These are just a few basic guidelines to making a corset mock up. Some of these points are also extremely relevant for making up the real thing.
You will need:
- Plain 'scrap' fabric - a medium to heavy weight calico or plain cotton coutil is ideal.
- A marker pen
- A seam ripper
- Sharp Scissors
- Corset Boning
- Tapered Awl
Cut your fabric pattern* pieces according to the instructions given in the pattern. Look at hints and tips on how to do this HERE
After cutting and before taking the pattern paper off the fabric, number each side of each piece, 1,2,3,4 etc., for one side, and for the other side 1a, 2a, 3a, 4a etc. This way you wont get confused as to which side is which. Keep the piles separate and work on one side at a time. Organisation is KEY to corset making success. Trust me on this.
Mark up the balance points (notches etc.,) if your pattern has them and most importantly mark the waist line on all peices. NOTE: The waist is not always marked on the paper pattern - if this is the case, sew as per the instructions and mark the waist in later (see 'fitting' below).
It is a good idea to keep the marks on the outside of the toile so that when you eventually try it on, you can see what should be where and what isn't!
Sew the pieces of each side together according to the instructions aligning the waist markings - the finished article should show a nice straight line at the waist.
When both sides are sewn together, attach them together at the front.
There is no need to insert a busk if you are in a hurry, just sew the two centre front pieces together using the prescribed seam allowance, however, you will get a better result if you do include the busk. All components can be taken out of the toile and used for the proper corset.
Press the centre front seems out and sew down the outside edge of each seam in order to form a channel.On each side, press the centre back edge in by the seam allowance and stitch 10mm from the edge creating a channel. Sew a re-inforcing line of stitches next to this.Mark eyelet holes at regular intervals 5mm away from the second edge seam on both sides - make sure they match horizontally on each side.
Make holes where you have marked with a tailors awlThere are several ways to secure bones in a toile. Either, press out the seam allowances and sew down the raw edges on each side to form bone channels on either side of the seam, or sew the seam allowance together forming a pocket as shown, or, simply press the seams apart and stick the bones down on the inside with masking tape - it works a treat.Add as you feel necessary but at least one on each seamWhen your bones are in the toile, it's ready to try on - you may need somebody to help lace you in.
The waist line should have a crease running right through it. If this is the case then the corset is in the correct position. If the crease appears elsewhere on the corset, either pull it up or down until it feels comfortable - the marked waistline should have the crease running through it, if not, check that it was marked properly. If the waistline was not marked on the pattern/toile it will be where the crease is. Mark the toile accordingly.
Note: On Sew Curvy patterns, the waist is always marked and this is the matching point for all seams. I always advise that a waist tape is used in the toile in order to avoid stretching if using calico.
The gap at the back should be 2 inches wide all the way down. ie: the back edges should be straight. If they are curved inwards or outwards the corset is either tied incorrectly or it does not fit.
You can adjust minor fitting problems by letting out the seams or taking them in as appropriate and where there is strain or space in the corset .. either pin and tuck or slash and spread.
If you want to reduce the waist, do so at the sides and/or back. If you want to adjust the bust or hip, then these alterations should be done at those points. In other words, do not do what some patterns advise which is to take the amount you want to reduce/increase by, divide it by the number of seams and then add incremental amounts per seam. If you do that you will end up with a very very unsatisfactory shape.
If your corset has a very small waist, and large hip/bust spring, then inserting gussets may help with shaping. Cut a line where you wish the gore to be, insert a peice of calico behind the cut, and pin out a gusset shape in situ to make the extra space required.
Mark all adjustments on the toile and either transfer these to your paper pattern or unpick the toile and use that as your pattern.
it is good practice if using a multi-size pattern, to trace the pattern onto tracing paper thereby preserving a master copy for future use and reference.
- A toile made from plain herringbone coutil will give the best result
- Use a waist tape for accuracy - you can see the waist line, it will feel more comfortable, and stretching while fitting will be minimised
- Use a busk for increased accuracy - or two flat steel bones at the front, depending upon the final effect of the finsihed corset
- Write notes on the toile and take lots of pictures. It's surprising how much you can see from a picture
- Bone your toile with steel bones for the best results. These can be recycled in your finished corset.
- No need to use metal eyelets in your toile
- Lacing panels can be recycled for other toiles
- The starting point for sizing your toile is the waist. Get the waist size on the pattern right and alter the bust/hips around the waist. it's much easier than trying to make the waist bigger or smaller
- No two bodies are the same, only experience will allow you to eventually predict what might happen when you corset.
- Patterns from commercial companies do not work. This is because they are submitted through a process which adds ease to everything regardless of purpose. The commercial companies include Vogue, Simplicity, Burda, McCalls. If you want a proper fitting corset, do not start there.
- DO source patterns from independant companies who specialise in historical costume and corsetry. There are plenty of those companies around now and they create proper corset patterns which are designed to modify the body. These companies include Laughing Moon, Truly Victorian, Sew Curvy and a few others. At Sew Curvy we do not sell patterns that will make you cry.
- Do not attempt to alter the pattern before making an initial toile. If you try to do that you will get hoplessly lost. This is because all pattern makers have a different system. Measurements will not tellyou the whole story, nor will they tell you how each body will compress in that pattern. Always make an intial toile according to the pattern instructions, and make alterations afterwards.
Tell us about yourself - have you always been interested in sewing and corsetry?
I have always been interested in sewing and making things, and my interest in corsetry began out of necessity 6 or 7 years ago, when I needed one for a burlesque style outfit. I looked at corsets I would like to buy, decided they were far to expensive at two or three hundred pounds a piece, and as I was a reasonably competent dressmaker, resolved to make one instead as I really didn’t like the alternative, cheapy, plastic boned corsets which were widely available in the goth section of Camden Market! In conversation, a friend mentioned that kits were available on the internet. I bought one, and my first corset was made. It was rubbish - unwearable! But I had gained enough enthusiasm and experience to try another, which worked fabulously well, and which I was able to wear - and feel amazing in! Thus, an obsession was born!
When and why did you set up the business?
I set up Sew Curvy at the end of last year because I had an idea that, what with the vintage and burlesque revival, there may be other ladies out there like me, with basic sewing skills, who are creative and have their own design ideas or who cannot justify the expense of a bespoke corset, but may like to have one!
There are kits on the market, but they are not packaged like mine. I wanted my kits to be an ‘experience’, a treat ... I was inspired by pictures of corset boxes from the victorian era, and I thought it would be lovely to receive a kit, beautifully packaged in tissue paper and ribbons, just like corsets would have been in their day. A gift to yourself, or someone else, it doesn’t matter.
More that that, I wanted the website to be a useful resource for beginners, so that unlike me, beginner corsetiers do not have disastrous first corsets! Nowadays, there is plenty of information on corsetry on the web, but whilst they give plenty of inspiration, they don’t give basic, practical information - how to sew a bone channel in a straight line, how to mark your pattern, how to insert a busk, how to best fit your corset. You have to dart about here and there and refer to many many books in search of information most of which is quite technical. My site is intended to be a one stop shop which demystifies the art of making a corset - it’s a work in progress, I have lots to add still.
Had you ever used many/any corset kits before you set up Sew Curvy Corsets?
Yes, I bought a corset kit when I started out. It came in a plastic bag. There were no instructions outside of the pattern. It was just a collection of metal rods, fabric, and notions which came from a website that had no handy tips or advice, or even links. In those days, there was no such thing as a sewing blog, or a live journal community. Corsetry was a notoriously secret thing! There were webrings which you had to be professional to join, and not many people were interested in making either clothes or corsets. I could follow the pattern, but I had no idea how to do simple things like sew a straight bone channel to best effect, or the best way to mark up a pattern etc., I learned from patterns, books, experience and error, and it took a very very long time.
Why did you decide to sell kits rather than specialising in individual items?
My website/shop is part of a whole ‘beginners’ concept. I wanted to make it easy for people to discover corsetry. Most people - even really experienced seamstresses that I know, think that corsetry is difficult, and ofcourse, it can be if you are designing from scratch. However, to work from a commercial pattern is less challenging and the creativity and satisfaction to be found in sewing a corset is limitless! Building a wearable corset - whether it be for underwear, outerwear, club wear or for the bedroom, is simple. The underbust corset is particularly easy as there are no busty curves to navigate and you get the most fantastic shape from them.
Do you get much feedback from your customers on the kits - do they find the (often scary) process of making their first corset easier because they had everything there ready to make?
My customers always comment on three things: 1) Wonderful idea for a kit - no consternating over which supplies to get from where, 2) great website resource with so much practical help, 3) Beautiful packaging. I wanted my customers to have much more than the ‘plastic bag experience’ that I had. I wanted the box to feel like a corset box would have in the old days, and the recipient to feel the same sense of excitement they must have felt then, when opening the box that they knew would contain some crispy new underwear adorned with pretty lace and ribbons - just like modern underwear today. It’s exciting! The prospect of being able to sew yourself curvy!
What sorts of kits do you offer - have you got any new designs coming up?
I offer a wide range of different corsets designs for ladies - over bust, under bust, easy, moderate and more challenging. All boxed kits contain everything you need to make a fully boned Victorian style corset.
I also offer kits without bits, for people who are perhaps making a second corset from a pattern they have already, or who have some fabric to use of their own.
I do Gentleman’s kits too - which are very popular - think Maralyn Manson! Also “Mr & Mrs Kits” which I also added to the selection by popular request! These contain the Laughing Moon Underbust pattern, and all materials needed for one gentleman’s corset and one ladies corset made from that pattern.
Along with all components available separately, plus a growing range of trims and embellishments, I also offer an ‘Essential tool kit’ which contains tools and notions which I consider to be extremely helpful when building a corset.
Future plans include offering a bespoke pattern drafting service, where I will draft a corset pattern to the customer’s exact measurements, and pack it with the components required to make it. This will result in different, more individual designs and shapes being available with less guess-work involved when it comes to the ‘fitting’ stage.
I am also planning many more tutorials, some more basic ones (how to lace a corset properly) and also some tutorials on embellishing ideas - how to apply rhinestones, how to make a ruffled trim, how to floss (embroider) your corset etc., It’s a work in progress!
Finally have you got any tips for any of our readers who may want to make their first corset (and so invest in one of your lovely kits?)
Corsets were invented and developed long before great pattern cutting skills were discovered, before the age of couture. They are really just a series of shaped panels sewn together. The Royal Worcester Corset Co., in America was started by a man who knew nothing about sewing or clothes, or fashion, but who had spotted a gap in the market, and so with the help of a model, set about making a ladies corset that he could manufacture for the masses. By the late 19th century, his company became one of the biggest suppliers of corsets in the world. It’s a true story of ‘practice makes perfect, and anyone can do it’!
If you can sew a straight line, you can sew a corset. My kits make it easy because you have everything to hand and no guesswork! All you need to provide is a little patience, some imagination, the result will be a handmade, bespoke corset, embellished and fitted to your exact specification, which will last a lifetime, give you super glamourous uber curves, and which, if the equivalent was bought in a shop, would cost you hundreds of pounds.
If you want to start making your own corset patterns, it is necessary to understand the mechanics of pattern design and cut. Here is a quick run down of my own pattern cutting library.
It was my adventures in corsetry which led to my fascination with pattern cutting. I needed to know HOW a corset works - the engineering aspect. I am one of those types of people who needs to fully understand the reasons behind something in order to 'do it', and so I found this book in my Christmas Stocking one year. It explains in full detail the concept of the French Block - how to draw one, make one, fit one, and then how to design your corset or garment within it, for the French block (or sloper as it is also known), is the basis of all garment manufacture and design.This book explained very well the importance of measurements and how they relate to the paper diagram. Most importantly, this is the ONLY book I have which explains the Bust Point well (or even at all!). Let me just tell you ... the bust point is where your nipples are - it's different for everyone. The distance between nipples is VITAL because when you have drawn your front block, you need to know where the dart apex should be - so you draw a line which measures half the distance between your nipples, parallel to the centre front line, and there is the line upon which your bust point should be.Being a book about corsetry, it obviously only deals with the block for the upper section of the body, but this is the hardest part to grasp when pattern making because there are so very many possibilities and one of my other obsessions is how to fit the bust properly - my own having been a constant conundrum. This book includes instructions on how to make 2 styles of bra - not the type you may find on the high street, but a good basis to get started on your own designs and possibly to integrate into a corset.
As corsetry ignited my interest in general dressmaking, I decided, along with finding a teacher, that I needed a more general book and this is the one I was recommended. It's one of the industry standards for fashion students and is very very good. There are some parts of it which are a little hard to decipher but on the whole, this book is a brilliant introduction with clear and concise diagrams, instructions and explanations.There are chapters on all aspects of flat pattern cutting for all types of garment in a huge range of styles. The initial chapters focus on basic block building for bodice, arms, skirt and trousers, and then the rest has instructions on how to customise those blocks as required.There are also chapters in this book explaining how to cut patterns for stretch and jersey fabrics which don't need darts, and at the end, a look at the more commercial aspects of fashion design.This book is a new acquisition:It is all about construction of garments from the initial pattern making, to special finishes for special fabrics ... It starts off with lots of different techniques which are not found in the previous two books - this book is much more "creative", with inspirational pictures from the catwalk and quotes from all the famous designers.Rather than be put off by these glamorous catwalk pictures, I find them very interesting. At first glance these beautiful gowns look absolutely impossible! But this book breaks them down and shows you that although they are stunning works of art, they are constructed using the same techniques as described in any pattern cutting book. It is the mastery of these techniques by the designers, the cutters, and the people who sew them, that makes these clothes special.There is a whole section in this book on "support" but this doesn't just include corsetry as one might imagine. It also includes tailoring techniques, information about interfacings and other support structures, along with descriptions and tips on how to generally sculpt, shape and manipulate your fabric.These are the books I have, but there are more on my Amazon wishlist!
A book about draping - you drape muslin over your dress form, shape as required, and then make a pattern from it. Fascinating!This book has fantastic reviews and on looking inside as you can on Amazon, seems to be absolutely packed with information.Another fabulous resource which will help you to understand corset patterns, can be found in the free articles section at Foundations Revealed. Click on the link at the bottom of this page to go there!
From an article written in January 2011 over at my blog, The House of Marmalade entitled Corsetry - my journey
Over the last few months, I've been doing some very deep research into corset making because as some of you may know, I am writing an e-book on the process for Rainbow Disks and I want to make sure that I document the best way to do things with information taken from a wide source. Although I have been making and wearing corsets for years, I've developed my own methods of doing so - I am entirely self taught and up until now, I haven't really paid much attention to the ways other people do it.
When I started in corsetry, it was for 'costume' purposes - think "Moulin Rouge"- inspired by burlesque, theatre, sparkle and beauty, I set about making fancy corsets for myself to wear at parties and clubs. I discovered that corsetry as an artistic medium was a very varied subject indeed, full of creative possibilities and I soon became totally hooked.
With each new corset I made, inspiration would flood into my mind for the next and then the next and so on. It seems that for me - and for lots of other people - corsetry provides a very deep well of artistic inspiration and expression but it wasn't until I started getting much deeper into the subject, after first starting up my business and then joining other online communities specifically for corset addicts, that I began to pay more attention to the history of corsetry and the historical methods of construction specifically in relation to the archetypal shape of the Victorian corset.
This in turn lead me to frequently ponder the purpose of corsetry both in a historical and a modern context, from the most ancient manifestations which took the form of thick leather belts to suppress the waist, to the most modern lycra 'tubes' which claim to suck you in by as much as 2 sizes!
There has been alot of negative press about corsetry, especially since Victorian times and also there is alot of misconception and prejudice about the effects of corsetry on women both physically and mentally and one of the most frequent questions I am asked is "Is it painful to wear a corset?" . Much has been written about this but my own view is that during the periods when heavily boned, waist reducing corsets were worn routinely, women were much smaller than we are now, and therefore a 20" waist was nothing out of the ordinary for a young woman - girls wore corsets from a very young age and their skeletons reflected this. In Victorian times there were certain social implications attached to the wearing of corsetry - this is where both the terms "straight laced" and "loose woman" come from however, overall, the corset was a necessary underpinning, perhaps worn under sufferance at times and without the freedom of choice we have now.
As to whether corsets are dangerous or uncomfortable - yes, a corset can and will squash your insides, compress your ribcage and cause bruising - if you lace it too tightly! If you tie a scarf too tightly around your neck you run the risk of suffocation! As with everything, when a corset is worn responsibly, in any century, it's purpose is to shape and smooth the body into whichever fashion silhouette is desirable for that time or purpose, and to make the wearer feel good. A well made and properly fitted corset is very comfortable because it supports the torso whilst shaping it.
Corsets these days are worn by many different people for many different reasons. I do not generally subscribe to the view that corsets are (or ever were), 'anti-feminist' and 'opressive' to women nor to the opposite veiw that they are empowering and totally feminine - unless that is what the wearer wants them to be.
In my opinion, the purpose and effect of corsetry in any time and for any gender, boils down to two things
1) A corset is and always has been a fashion item.
2) Using a corset to enhance or shape one's 'assets' is no more dangerous or oppressive, or uncomfortable, than wearing a pair of high heeled shoes.
Ever wondered what those little colourful flashy bits are on corsets?
copyright: Julia Bremble
Corset flossing is a form of embroidery invented by the Victorians to preserve the life of their corsets by strengthening the ends of the boning channels where the bones may poke through with wear. Being the Victorians, they insisted that everything useful also had to be beautiful. Therefore, antique flossed corsets look very pretty. Back in the day, they had special machines which flossed factory made corsets.
These days we have to floss our corsets by hand and a variety of materials can be used. I love flossing, especially self coloured flossing where the flossing thread is the same colour as the corset - this is quite a modern iteration of corset flossing. I have found that John James Embroidery needles are best for flossing, and you may need some bees wax or dressmakers wax to strengthen your embroidery floss.
As for what to floss with - there are lots of things. Button hole thread or "top stitch" thread (the same thing) is the most easily available and comes in lots of lovely colours. It is very strong and durable, easy to use and doesn't cost the earth. The other good type of thread to use is perle cotton which comes in various thicknesses, or pure silk thread. With silk thread and certain specialists embroidery threads you will get a finer look on your flossing. You can use regular embroidery thread but in my opinion, it really isn't strong enough for corset flossing. Linen thread is an 'authentic' thread to use for older styles and also comes in a variety of colours. Linen thread often needs conditioning with beeswax thread conditioner.
There are lots of way to floss a corset, the best way to learn is to make a flossing sampler and learn by experimenting. Some people do not like the flossing to be too obvious on the reverse, some people like the workings to show as a sign of craftmanship.
There are many resources for corset flossing teqniques online, just search for 'corset flossing ideas' or 'Symington corset flossing sampler' or similar on Google or any other search engine.
The Symington Flossing Sampler is a huge quilt sized sampler made from lots of samplers sewn together. It illustrates all the corsetry flossing designs that were available on Symington Corsets during the late 19th century and early 20th century. You can see the sampler in person if you travel to the Leciestershire County Council resource centre where it lives. Check the resources below for further links to the Symington Collection of Antique corsetry.
These days, flossing a corset is more of a decorative pursuit but of course, can still be used as a protection against your bones poking through the channels prematurely. Design scope is as endless as your imagination! Go forth and explore!
All images in this section are from
The Symington Collection
Copyright: Julia Bremble
Please do not reproduce
with permission from
Leciestershire County Council
Modern corset flossing with Swarovski crystals
copyright: Julia Bremble / Clessidra Couture
inspired by a Symington original
copyright: Julia Bremble / Clessidra Couture
Self coloured flossing on a sheer corset
copyright: Julia Bremble / Clessidra Couture
When did your interest in vintage textiles begin, and why - Have you ever used vintage fabric to create a garment or a corset? If so, was it any different from using modern fabric?
Generally vintage textiles are not suitable for corsetry unless they are very heavy and still strong. Many corsetieres and costume makers, make corsets and clothes from old curtains, drapes and textiles which they get from 'loft sales' in Statey homes and similar. This is a great source of vintage fabric for that sort of thing not only because it's 'period' but for corsetry because the fabrics are heavier and therefore more suitable. Personally, I have never ventured into vintage textiles for corsetry, but that is only because I haven't yet found something that inspires me to do so.
Do you think it's important to wear a corset underneath vintage garments to get the 'right' shape?
Yes, it is ESSENTIAL to wear good foundations underneath vintage clothes for a number of reasons. (I have taken 'vintage' to mean 40's / 50's syles as opposed to Victorian/Edwardian!).
The couturiers of yesteryear, (with the exception perhaps of Chanel who made it her goal to design clothes which did not need firm foundations) all used corsetry, whether in the form of a separate 'waspie' corset used by Dior for his 'new look' fashions, or in the form of the corsolette dress foundation used by others such as Givenchy whose muse was the beautiful Audrey Hepburn - as thin and waifish as she was, her gowns all contained corset foundations in order to get the desired sillouhete - the foundation was mostly there to support and enhance the lines of the dress.
In modern times, you only have to look at the recent royal wedding dress by Sarah Burton to know that corset technology in couture is still very much in use for when it comes to smoothing, shaping and perfecting the look of the vintage 'style' gown. A corset - however slim, trim and 'perfect' the figure of the person wearing is, is essential.
In other words, a corset foundation supports the garment it is designed to fit under, shapes the wearer, and by default ensures better posture which enables the dress to be worn to it's best advantage. This is true of most vintage fashions which aspire to that look. If you want to achieve the firm shape, cinched waist and smooth look which all work in combination to get the 'right shape', then a properly made and fitted corset, with steel bones, not plastic, is required.
Is there any sort of corset that is 'better' for beginners – underbust vs overbust, for example, or is it purely a matter of choice?
The best corset for beginners to make is an underbust. They are simple to construct, are good practice for a wide range of corsetry techniques, easy to fit, and comfortable to wear - a properly fitting underbust cincher will have a smooth transition between it and the flesh, there will be no bulges which are so common with modern elastic/lycra shapewear. Underbust cinchers also provide the best 'retro' sillouhete as they allow the wearer to use a bra for top support and this in combination with the cinched waist and consequently rounded hips, lends itself to the lovely hourglass shape which is so essential in 40's/50's fashions. A perfect example of this can be found in Sophia Loren's film "The Millionairess" from where the picture below is taken
Corset Mock Ups
I've written a detailed tutorial on making and fitting a corset mock up on the Tutorials page of this website.
You can find it HERE.
This is a supplementary blog post with a few extra pointers following questions i've seen in online groups and in my inbox.
Use the best type of fabric for corset mock-ups
Fabric should be non-stretch. Idealy Coutil. If you can't make it from coutil, then a medium weight non stretch calico will do the job just fine. This is only a mock-up. You want to check fit and shape once. That's all. Calico is all you need. Unless you're fitting a client, then only coutil will do.
Fabrics NOT to use: Any and all types of linen, upholstry fabrics, stretch fabrics, twill unless it's herringbone twill, drill, denimn (especially upcylced), poplin, ripstop, nylon, scuba, synthetic fabrics such as a thick satin unless it's corsetry cotton backed satin.
Fabrics I personally wouldn't use because I think it's too thick: Ticking, canvas
What is Coutil? And why should you use it?
Coutil is a special fabric made especially for corset making. It is very densly woven, but very smooth and light. Plain cotton herringbone coutil is ideal for making a mockup. At under £10 a metre it's not that expensive. You'll only need half a metre for most size of toile if you cut carefully.
Follow the instructions on the corset pattern
All indie corset pattern brands are owned by professional corsetieres. They all have different methods of pattern making. Their metrics are all different. They all include very specific instructions with their patterns, on
2. Making a toile
3. How to alter it.
Read the instructions in your pattern through several times before you start. Make notes. Highlight important parts. Corset patterns are not the same as dress patterns and if you're a first time corset maker, trust me, you don't know how they work on your body. Follow the instructions, make the toile. Take each step one at a time. Remember, all corset makers are different.
Note: Don't even think about using a corset pattern from a commercial company if you want to make a real corset. Just don't. There are plenty of explanations as to why this is in the blog post linked above and in other articles on this website.
Eyelets and Facings
You need facings on your corset mock up at the centre back. You don't need metal eyelets. Remember this is only ever going to be worn once.
Having said that, your lacing panel does need to be strong enough to withstand pressure for that one time fitting so use your facings. That's a double layer of non stretch fabric for your centre back panels where you will then cut the holes for your lacing to go through. If you want to make it a triple layer, then do so.
A single layer will rip as soon as you start pulling the lacing in, so double or triple face and you're good to go. No point wasting corset grommets or eyelets, they're not re-usable.
I personally am not a fan of lacing strips. They are innacurate, they look untidy and they get in the way. Just make your back panels, add a 'seam allowance' of 3-6cm, fold it under once (3cm) or twice (6cm), et voila! automatic facing with no extra sewing.
Personally I'm a fan of sewing a corset toile more or less as I would sew a corset, with a few shortcuts. This means that I do use boning tape. And the reason for this is because it's good practice! Yes, i'm sewing all the time, but you can never know everything, and you can always improve. So I don't use lacing strips, I don't use busk strips (these seem to be a new thing!), and I don't use lacing tape either. Getting to know a corset as it goes through all of it's stages of development is in itself, an essential tool in your mental toolkit and will ensure that the final item is really tip top.
One more tip. If you don't stitch your bones in the channels at either end, you will get wrinkling as the corset bones force their way out of the channels under the pressure of you wearing the corset mock-up. I was absolutely horrified to read a corset making book which gave the reason for these wrinkles as a sway back or an asymetry whilst at the same time showing a picture of bones poking out of the top of their channels. If your bones are not secure in their bone casing, then you will get wrinkles, so stitch them into the corset mock-up at the top and the bottom before you try it on.
I get so many emails and students who say that they want to be a full time corset maker and whilst I can really really understand why - after all I used to be that person - I also have the benefit of knowing just how hard it is to get to a place where you can actually earn a living from corsetry and corset making. You need dedication and passion by the bucket load, and financial support - either a day job, or an understanding partner or parent.
image credit: Roger Askew
At this point I should make a disclaimer: There are certain influencers in the corsetry and costume online community who make it sound easy, who tell tales of their remarkable success as an "artist", or who hold others up as a shining beacon of success, but you should look very closely at what these people are actually selling - how they make a living. You'll find that they may well be an artist of sorts, but what they are selling is content. Nothing else. And the shining beacons of success - what are they selling and how do they really do it? Never judge a book by it's cover. Many of these shining beacons of success live or work in rent free or highly subsidised spaces or have other jobs they don't talk about.
It IS possible to make a living from corsetry - and a good living at that, and I know several who do so very successfully but they are far too busy making corsets to be boasting about how successfull they are. So if you want to go down this path, making and selling your corsets and costumes successfully, then read on.
These little waspies had a breif show at Coco-de-Mer
but honestly working wholesale is a fools game.
image credit: Threnody in Velvet, photographer and model
I had an email last week from someone expressing their wish to make a business who's front product was corsetry but they wanted to know, having been unable to find an 'expert' to help them, if it was really necessary to learn how to make a corset - thereby removing all 'joy' from the proposed enterprise, and if not, then would it be possible to find a 'seamstress' to do the work - a seamstress who could not only cut the specific designs in this person's head, but make them up too. At a low cost.
I asked this person to ask themselves the following questions:
- Why do you want to start a business selling something you know nothing about and have (apparently) no passion for or experience in?
- If it is simply to make money, why do you think you cannot find any skilled 'experts' or 'seamstresses' to help you?
- If you are not willing to spend the time learning about corsetry, how can you expect to make a viable business with corsets as your main product?
Lets first start with the definition of what a corset is. This question came up during a small get together in the Fellows Room at The Oxford Conference of Corsetry in 2015. At the table were several professional corsetieres including me, Autumn Adamme, the Godmother of Modern Corsetry, and Mr Pearl himself. Yes THAT Mr Pearl.
Mr Pearl watches Immodesty Blaize perform at OCOC15
Jesus College, Oxford
Image credit: Julia Bremble
The conversation was very short because we were all in agreement about what a corset is. It is a garment designed to modify the body into a particular shape, by application of gradual pressure. You cannot have a corset without two vital components, that is the busk at the front, and the lacing at the back. Those two things alone, create the pressure and the support needed to reduce the waist by more than 2 inches and up to 10 (or more in some cases!). If this isn't the sort of garment you want to make a living by, then you can probably skip to the end.
Lacing is a vital part of corsetry, it's what enables
the transition into the hourglass shape
It's not all about the lacing though. In order to acheive the desired shape from wearing a corset, the pattern must be good. The more extreme the shape of the corset, the better the pattern must be. There are so many variables that are beyond the scope of this blog post. Suffice to say that it takes an extraordinary amount of skill and study to become a corsetiere who can create amazing shapes. It's a life's work. The more you know about corsetry, the more there IS to know.
Corset patterns are complicated because you
first have to take ease out, then you have to put it back
in exactly the right places
image credit: Julia Bremble
The next question is, What is the difference between a corset maker and a corsetiere? I have been quite militant about this for years, and most corsetieres agree, but I was heartened a couple of years ago to hear the very same definition from iconic corset model Bex Paul when she visited my studio during a fitting with our mutual friend and collegue, Immodesty Blaize. Bex was the muse and model for Velda Lauder, another trail blazer for modern corsetry and the inspiration of many a modern maker. Bex said that "A corset maker is a person who can make a corset from a pattern. A corsetiere, is someone who can make the pattern." Which brings me to my next statement which is: A corsetiere can be a seamstress, but it is rare to find a seamstress who is also a corsetiere.
Model Bex Paul in an antique pattern corset by me.
image credit: Julia Bremble
In other words, a corsetiere is a highly skilled artisan who has spent years learning their craft; No matter how different their work or style is, they all, without exception, have one thing in common and that is that they are all driven by their own obsessional passion for corsetry. Passion = joy. If you cannot see joy in this work before you have even started it, then this journey is not for you.
To be successful in business, you must first have passion. You can’t simply go on a beginners corsetry course and then expect to find your fortune immediately. It doesn’t work like that however, there's an extra ingredient, Talent, which counts toward the final product. Talent comes in where you can see that amount of experience doesn't define how good you are or can be. There are corsetiere's who have been working for 20 years or more who are not producing work as good as some who are newer to the craft.
Most modern corsetieres - infact I would go so far as to say ALL of the corsetieres working today, including Mr Pearl, are self taught. There was simply no industry to learn from after the early 1980's and if you think you're going to learn corsetry at college, you've got another thing coming. The last professional corsetiere from 'back in the day' in the UK, was Iris Norris. Long deceased. Educational institutions don't have the specialist knowledge required to teach proper corsetry because of all the bad press corsets received after they went out of fashion. "Corsets kill you", "Corsets squeeze your organs" etc., etc., etc., Costume corsetry is corsetry which is designed to LOOK authentic. It doesn't have to work. I've had countless frustrated contour, costume and fashion students through my doors telling me that their teachers just don't 'get it'.
The real nitty gritty of making corsets for a living, is the business side of things. Being a business person is a very tough job and it isn't for everyone. There are moments of intense joy and satisfaction, but those moments come at a price, and that price is a sometimes unbearable amount of strain caused by blood, sweat, and many many tears of frustration and angst! I remember the nights and nights of anguish where after my day job, and after all the household chores were done and dusted, and my young son was in bed, I would pore over my patterns long into the night, my already tired brain aching with confusion, tears coming from frustration, and the fear that I would never ever be able to make a corset pattern, let alone understand how the damn things work!! But I kept at it. And I practiced and practiced and practiced. Then I started Sew Curvy armed with a tiny amount of knowledge that I wanted to pass on to others who were finding it hard to find help - because there was so little in those days. Then I wrote a book which went a long way towards my understanding of corsetry, but still I did not call myself a corsetiere. It wasn't until I started teaching corsetry that I began to understand it so fully. I learned more than I taught and slowly I found it all slotting into place.
From zero to stage with icons in little over 10 years.
images from Instagram
Great! I got there in the end. I can whip up a fantasticly complex corset pattern in less than half an hour these days and I have a very select list of 'VIP' clients. But knowing how to do something, and doing it well, is not the same as succeding in business with that thing. Yes, the joy can be removed but it isn't the corset making that causes the lack of joy. It's the marketing, the constant hustling, the social media, the disappointments of not making the sale, the balancing of the books, the admin, the sample making, the model wrangling, the photographer finding, the financial outlay - all the grinding daily tasks and that's not even counting the fact that once you've got so far that your work is 'out there', people start copying your designs and that in itself leads to a whole other level of joyless hell :/
So here is my comprehensive check list for prospective professional corset makers and corsetieres
1) Know your subject. Unless you have a bottomless Kardashian style fountain of money, nobody is going to do this for you. Invest in learning - you'll need time and patience - it's possible to teach yourself but it takes dedication, passion, and obsession with details. If you can go on a course to start you off, do so. See my blog post about picking the right corsetry course HERE. Remember, you can't be a Formula One driver without first learning how to drive.
2) Professional corset making is what it says on the tin - it should look like it's been made in a factory! Ridiculous comparison I know, but it's what most people measure a professional standard by. Your corset must look simple and flawless in design even if it's the most complex thing you've ever made in your life.
3) Get good at marketing and branding. The most successful corsetieres aren't necessarily the best or most talented corset makers, but they are the best at social media and marketing their brand. They also have a healthy respect for their worth and their products' worth. ie: They charge properly. Be prepared to wear all the hats you can think of; Pattern cutter, Seamstress, Stylist, Creative Director, Professional Liaison officer (organising photoshoots), Venue Scout, Talent Scout, Social Media Expert, Branding Expert, Sales and Marketing Manager, Customer Services Manager, etc., etc., etc.,
4) Don't under sell yourself, even if you think your work isn't quite as good as the next corsetiere. It helps nobody - least of all yourself - if you sell your goods for cheap outside of your friends circle. What this leads to is stagnation. If you don't make enough from each sale, you can't afford better fabrics and materials or the time to make more samples and practice to get yourself better. Not only that, you make it harder for other makers who are trying to make a living. If you don't charge enough for your work, the work becomes a chore. If you don't value your own work, nobody else will. And you'll be undercutting other indepentant businesses for no reason other than exploiting yourself!
5) Don't oversell yourself either. Designer prices need a designer reputation to go with them. Look at your competition, study what they are doing. Don't copy, but take notes. If they are busy, there's a reason. They're doing something right. Pricing is part of that.
6) Don't feel ashamed about having a 'day job' at least to begin with. Infact keep your job until you start losing money by being employed by someone else! There's nothing more crushing to creativity than worrying about how you're going to pay the bills with only one etsy sale a month.
7) Invest in yourself and your business. If there are professionals selling courses, or information, select which would be best for your business, and invest - there's lots of information out there mostly on Patreon these days. Invest in good materials, invest in quality trims, invest in fancy lace. Don't see these expenses as frivoloties. You are investing in your now and future business. You are building a brand.
8) Make your shape and style - this is your brand and your USP. Its what will draw your customers to you. The best corsetieres' work is identifyable immediately without a caption. That's what you're aiming for.
9) Never. But NEVER, ask a corsetiere to be your low paid seamstress so that you can build a brand on their back. It's just not going to happen and it's extremely insulting.
10) Never copy another designer. Be inspired yes. But take that inspiration, and make your own version. Community is important in any industry and disresepecting your collegues is a recipie for disaster.
11) Finally ask yourself the question: What do you actually want from running your own corsetry business? It better not be money! I've noticed, especially in the digital age that as soon as anybody finds enjoyment in a hobby or is good at something, their friends, family, collegues all say the same thing "You should make a business doing that" ... Honestly WHY? Running a business can be a joyful wonderful thing but it isn't for everyone. It can give you the highest most exhilerating highs but also the stressiest most debilitating of lows too ... Do you want to ruin your beloved hobby by monetising it? Or would you rather do a job where you dont have to manifest money from literally nothing but your own wits and skill, have paid leave and sick time, and make your hobby a release from the day job ? Sometimes I myself wonder and i've been at it for a long time now. Having said that, those thoughts only pass fleetingly through my mind once in a while. Despite the difficulties I can honestly say that I was made to be self employed. It's been the most rewarding and successful part of my life and I wouldn't go back for anything.
Sew Curvy HQ!
The short answer is : nothing. There is nothing wrong with free corset patterns. As long as you understand that nothing worth having, is really cost free and literally everything (even free things) come at a price - that price may not be obvious, but there will be a price if the content is of any value.
I think free content is a great thing. It almost without exception, acts as a gateway to bigger and better things, new skills, new passions, even new careers. My whole business is built on a foundation of free content - in every section of this website, from the product descriptions to the free tutorials, to the links to other free tutorials, there is an abundance of free content.
The 'catch' - becuase there always is a catch, is that hopefully the free content inspires you and then persuades you to buy things from me :) Other examples of exchange for free content might be where the content creator saves the real juicy info for their patreon, paid for subscription website, official course, or soon to be published book.
Free Corset making tutorials are everywhere on this website.
Click HEREfor an index
There are lots of free corset patterns available to download on the internet - If you use one of them - HURRAY! Get your supplies here and everyone is happy.
However, there is something to be said for value.
Just SOME of the students, models and clients
who have passed through my doors over the years
Whilst I do not think that free corset patterns necessarily de-value the work of others, I do have a strong feeling of kinship within the small corset making community in general, and I do have respect for both myself and my skilled collegues and friends. Respect in small communities is important.
I earn a living from corsetry and it's hard. I have to do lots of different things, to earn less money that I would in the 'rat race' doing things I am qualified to do, like managing events and working as a board level executive assistant. But I choose to teach, educate, help, and make corsets and corsetry. I have lots of friends and colleges who do the same and we all have exactly the same thing in common - we are all driven by our passion for corsetry. Some of us focus on embellshements and shinies, some focus on technical details, some focus on shape, some on structure ... we're all different and we all specialise in something.
If you come to me for free advice on a project you're working on, you better be one of my customers or students because I generally don't work for absolutely nothing, and that is because I value what I do and I like to give value to those who seek to invest in their skills.
If I do not value my own work, nobody else will. If you do not value your work, or your time, or anything else that you have, why should anybody else? I learned a long time ago, when I was an event manager in Oxford, that people who waste their own time, are more than happy to waste everyone else's time too. And that applies to most other things - replace the word time, with anything else - money, food, whatever. Again, it all boils down to respect - for yourself mostly..
When things cost money - our ultimate measure of 'value', the cost includes not only the physical end product but also the years of experience that went into creating them. My patterns include that cost and also the hours and hours of sitting at a computer working out the most comprehensive instructions so that they can easily be read, understood and actioned. They include the years I spent teaching with those patterns, honing all aspects of fit and comfort on many many many different body types, so that they don't just fit one type of body perfectly. Any corset pattern or course that costs money is going to be better than the free version. Every Single Time.
Sew Curvy patterns have been tested on literally hundreds of women of all shapes, sizes and ages. And it is that experience that you are paying for when you buy a Sew Curvy Corset Pattern or when you purchase any corset pattern from any other maker who is trying to earn a living in this world.
I have been a grateful and enthusiastic member of the corsetry community for nearly 15 years during which time, I have learned far more than I have ever taught, and I have made good friends, and some enemies - well... you know you've made it when you have haters. But even so, I would never EVER disrespect any fellow creative in public, because whether I like what they do or not, doesn't matter. It's their right to run their business how they see fit, for their own reasons, and make whatever money they can.
Spot the difference: This comment from THIS blog post
took my comment deliberatley out of context with the
specific intention of ridiculing me to other corrset makers
On the one occassion when a high profile collegue deliberately quoted from my blog in order to riducle me on their personal facebook page, they were admonished by mutual friends and they made a very public apology to me. That's the proper way to behave in a room full of adults. Accept responsibility, apologise and move on. We don't all have to like eachother to be respectful.
On the same token, and separately from the aforementioned incident, trying to destroy someone's business because they set their own mental health boundaries which conflicted with your own vanity, is spiteful, hateful, and frankly quite unhinged!
Always remember, there's a reason that some things are free - either the thing is of no value whatsoever, or there is a hidden cost and the free thing is a honey pot designed to make you part with your cash eventually. The top and bottom in any case is, that if you don't invest properly in something, then you cannot expect good results. If you want to make a good corset, then invest in a good corset pattern, and good corset making materials and support independant artisans by supporting their work. You wouldn't go to your day job and expect to work for free, so why should artists be expected to continually give out free resources?