With the rise in popularity of home dressmaking and couture style DIY fashion as well as the popularity of programmes like The Great British Sewing Bee (#GBSB) and the sell out success of the recent incredible Dior Retrospectives in both Paris and London, there is a lot of renewed interest in shape, cinched waists and making Dior shaped dresses and clothes. Hand in hand with this, there has also been much talk of proper metal corset boning and how 'difficult' it is to use.
What is corset boning used for?
Spiral steel boning is used in corsets and in couture garments for strong and enduring boning support. It is made of steel which has been formed into a continuous spring which has then been flattened.
Because spiral wire boning is a flattened spring, it is extremely flexible and can bend horizontally and vertically (backwards, forwards and sideways), making it perfect for boning over and around curves.
In couture garments - ie: within a dress foundation, it is used in conjunction with 2 layers of tulle or bobbinet which is a very fine and very strong netting material which when layered together, has no stretch but provides a fine, non bulky foundation inside a gown.
In corsetry, sprial wire boning is most commonly used in conjunction with coutil fabric and often in partnership with flat sprung steel bones which are not as flexible and therefore useful when a firmer, straighter support is required. Both types of steel boning were invented during the Victorian age and used instead of whalebone.
Spiral steel boning, sometimes known as spiral wire, comes in various different widths, from 4mm-15mm, and various different thicknesses making it possible to 'mix and match' your boning to achieve whichever level of support is required for any particular project. For instance, you may only need a light 5mm wire to bone a net bodice, but you may need a more robust 7-10mm wire to bone a multi-layer corset for tightlacing. With all boning, there is flexibility!
Flat steel boning, sometimes known as spring steel, also comes in various different widths and thicknesses from 2mm-20mm and is used for a huge range of applications including dressmaking, costume making, corsetry and for making hoop petticoats. In corsetry it can be used all over the corset, but is always used in the centre back panels either side of the eyelets. This is becuase the back of the corset absolutely must be straight and strong.
All types of boning, whether steel or plastic, comes either in pre-cut lengths or in continuous reels. It isn't any more economical to buy your steel in a roll and cut it yourself so you have a vast choice - corset makers who make 'standard size RTW corsets' know which lengths of bones they need and will order each length in bulk. Corsetieres who favour a more bespoke approach will order in rolls and cut to length as required for each project. Sometimes you cant get pre-cut steel that's long enough, for instance in a corset dress which will go over the knee or below the hip. Many are put off by the supposed requirement for 'brute force' with which to cut it.
How to cut metal corset boning
Flat steel can be cut with tin snips - there's a knack though, or plain old bolt cutters which will treat flat steel of any thickness like butter. You can cut spiral steel with bolt cutters too if you have them.
However, if you don't have bolt cutters, spiral wire boning is easy peasy to cut and tip and there is a tutorial on how to do this right HERE.