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.
This week, after having my course outlines prepared for ages, i've finally taken the plunge, chosen a host, and put the first class outline, online. Wait! That doesn't mean it's live, just that we're much nearer to live than we were last week. There's still a bit of work to do, but it shouldn't take too long.
Many people know that I stopped teaching large corsetry classes during the summer of 2018, preferring to focus on individual students who were at a more advanced level. These were and are my own past students, professional designers, and contour/fashion/costume students who already understand the rudimentries of corsetry. I gave up my dedicated teaching space and have been doing private lessons in my own atelier ever since.
The reasons for deciding to stop teaching corsetry classes in person were many and varied, however at the end of the day, the one big reason which surpassed all others, was weekends. After nearly 8 years of teaching two full weekends a month and not being able to take time off in leui, I became burned out, and decided that a new direction would be more fulfilling for me and my students!
As my 'thing' is really teaching, and I do love teaching the art of corsetry, I needed to find a more sustainable, less exhausting way to do it, and ofcourse, technology came to the rescue!
At the latter end of last year, I enrolled in an unrelated to corsetry, online course - about Instagram actually if you must know - but one of the reasons I did the course, was not so much to find out about Instagram (frankly the money wasn't worth it and my 'growth' has been stagnant ever since*), but to find out how it was presented. I learned a lot at least from that side and as a result, have signed up to the same platform, Teachable.
My new online Beginners Corsetry course will have 7 modules, plus a Facebook support group and a bonus section of information including sources of inspiration, tips and tricks, a glossary and a bibliography of other online resources both free and paid for.
As I intend to take a very hands on role in mentoring each corsetry course, the online course will not be 'open all hours'. I will teach several courses a year and there will be a maxiumum number of students per intake. Each student will be invited to join a special Facebook group where we can share progress, information, tricks/tips and there will be a 'Live' with me every week during the course, where students can ask questions about the module they are on. Access to the course and the group will be for life, so the learning opportunities will be infinate to those signed up.
Cost is yet to be worked out. The format is based on my in person beginners corsetry course but the information load will be much much higher than in person classes. This is because, working at a more relaxed pace, each student will be able to absorb much more information per week, than was ever possible over an intense three day corset making course in the English countryside.
I have alot of work to do still - all the writing is more or less done. Now I have to brave the video part! I don't really like being on camera, but mostly it is my hands that will be doing the talking.
If you'd like to sign up for progress reports and to be first in line to join up, then head over to my School of Corsetry website, and sign up to the mailing list HERE.
If you're not sure what to expect, take a look at the testemonials page HERE.
As one of the most important 'ingredients' of a corset, boning tape is one of my main fixations in life when it comes to sourcing the good stuff for my own work and consequently, for you, my lovely customers - I've said it before and I'm saying it again, I only sell stuff that I use myself. It's tried, tested and given my seal of approval for learners and pro's alike.
So, boning tape. What's on the shelves here? Lets take a look and talk about each type and their pro's and cons. If you want the quick version, just take a look at the video here.
Herringbone Twill Tape
This is the cheapest type of boning tape that I sell, and it comes in three colours and three widths. It took me ages and ages to source this stuff, and I have only ever known one British wholesaler who sells it how I like it - all others are inferior versions or they are not cotton. So what I have here, is pure 100% cotton twill tape which is densly woven, strong, durable and not bulky. The twill tape at Sew Curvy is acutally made for upholstery projects, not corsetry, and that is what makes it strong and durable. If it's good enough to support your armchair, it's good enough for your corset... but don't be fooled. This twill tape is not bulky or clumsy in any way.
Herringbone twill tape for corsetry - can be used as lovely strong boning channels or for busk facings and waist tapes.
100% cotton twill tape, easy to sew, strong, durable and smooth.
When to use it and what to use it for:
10mm - for fine boning 4mm-6mm widths of both spiral and flat
15mm - for regular 7-12mm widths of both spiral and flat boning
25mm - for double or triple boning channels depending on the width of your boning - this is especially popular for double boning channels in Edwardian corsetry.
Cotton herringbone twill tape is good for all sorts of corsetry, but particularly for Edwardian corsets where the boning channels run vertically up and down the corset, and not along the seams as in Victorian corsetry.
This twill tape can be used in single layer corsetry, but I and others prefer to use this when the finished corset will be lined. It's a good tape but it's still a 'budget' option.
All widths can also be used as a strong waist stay although not my preferred choice for that.
Not the prettiest tape, and can fray at the edges if cut too soon before binding.
Not good for uber curves as there is no stretch or tolerance in this tape.
Not comparable to the tapes you'll find in antique corsetry.*
*Lets not forget that the corset industry in Victorian times was big business. There were coutil mills all over England and Europe, there were lots of different steel factories all over the place because busks and (later) steel bones were in huge demand. There were special machines, special materials and special processes that were created for corsetry, that we don't have these days because there isn't the demand there was back in the day. Nowadays we have different materials, processes and machines - they are different but not inferior and that's what we have to work with now. It's no big deal. Times change. We still have twill tape suitable for boning, it's not the same as Victorian boning tape, neither is steel, neither is coutil - there are literally only one or two original steel factories and coutil mills left in the world none of which are in England whatever you may hear. Trust me. I've looked for them, and they don't exist.
Tubular Boning Tape
This is a cotton viscose blend tape which is basically a flat tube in which you put your boning. It has 'tracks' on both edges which makes it easy to see where to sew.
This tape comes in two colours and one width (it is available in other colours and widths but as yet, not at Sew Curvy).
This is a very fine boning tape which is also very strong. It's much smoother and prettier than the herringbone twill tape, and it's also alot more expensive.
tubular boning tape, smooth, strong, luxurious
Strong weave cotton/viscose blend which fully encloses the corset bone once stitched into place
Adds another layer of 'protection' between the bone and the outer layer of the corset
Is smooth and professional looking - can therefore be used without a lining.
Has a small tolerance for curves due to the special weave.
When to use it and what to use it for:
For wedding and pale corsets where the grey steel of boning can show through - this tubular tape adds a nice dense layer between the bone and the coutil so there is no show through.
In corsetry where a smooth professional finsih in unlined (single layer) corsets is required.
It's expensive and not always necessary if you're making a corset where the innards will be covered up.
Whilst it's better quality than the herringbone twill tape, it doesn't do a better job than twill tape, it does a different job.
Self made coutil boning channels
Coutil boning channels are the best for strength and durability and, they can make very pretty boning channels and reduce waste - they are a fantastic way of using up your odd bits of coutil ensuring very very little waste and therefore economising in the process. They can be made in several ways for different applications.
First, and most obvious is the plain 'bias' strip. I say 'bias' in inverted commas because I rarely actually cut the boning channel on the bias. I cut it on the straight grain, and put it through a bias folder. Several reasons - the straight grain is stronger, non stretch and less prone to 'wrinkling' through stretch. Only on the most uber curvy bits (ie over a large bust or big hip spring) would I use this tape on the bias. To make a good size channel for 7mm boning, you need the 12mm bias maker, cut strips 2.5cm wide, and iron them through.
Coutil boning channels made with a bias maker look so lovely and are a very economical option as well as strong and durable. Use up your scraps!
The second way to make your own coutil binding is with pressing bars - and there are two ways to do this. First, you could make a tube - again on the straight grain - press the seam allowances of the tube over the pressing bar, and apply the channel over your seam - this is good for external boning channels or sheer corsetry where you want your bones to be invisible but need strength.
A corset made by my friend and colleague Izabela of Prior Attire. She folds her fabric around the pressing bar, centres the resulting strip over her seam, stitches it down in the ditch, then stitches either side.
Otherwise, you can simply use your pressing bar as a folding device, cut your boning channel to the required width (this is a particularly good way to do double channels), then press the sides over the pressing bar, making a crisp outer edge. Line up the centre of the tape with your seam, stitch in the ditch, then stitch down each side. Bingo - perfect double boning channels on your corset, matching, and minimum effort.
Pressing bars are therefore good when you're using less bulky coutils, or when you're using fused fashion fabric on coutil.
Coutil boning channels are strong, durable and colour co-ordinated if you want them to be.
Economical - use up your scraps!
Easy and satisfying
Can be bulky depending upon the type of coutil used and the method
Can be fiddly if you don't like making tubes and strips! (practice makes perfect)
Cutting out a corset and boning strips uses most of your fabric that wouldn't otherwise be used. I call this "fabric economy".
What NOT to use when boning a corset?
Well there are several things that I don't think work well for corset boning channels.
Grosgrain ribbon, polyester ribbon (even double faced) and seam tape - these will work if you have absolutely nothing else and no other option but they do tend to wrinkle in a very ugly way if you're not uber careful. They are also quite thin and can fray/wear quite easily if you don't secure them well enough at the edges under the binding. I have tried them for a fancy option and whilst not impossible, they are quite difficult to deal with. Having said that, sometimes a thinner option like this is the only way to make a channel where the 'look' is more important than the purpose, ie: when you need to fold over the edges to acehive a 'floating' effect, as in this sheer corset which has narrow grosgrain ribbon for it's boning channels.
Corset: Julia Bremble, Sew Curvy Couture. Image and retouching by Inaglo Photography, not to be used without permission, model is Valis Volkova
Tailors tape - this can be used for a waist stay because it's fine and non stretch, but although tightly woven, it's a bit too thin to use as a boning tape unless your corset is for light wear only.
Tailors tape - brilliant as a waist stay, not so good for boning channels.
Fashion fabrics - unless your fashion fabric is very dense, or is interlined with something strong yet light, you will get bad results with fashion fabric on it's own with regular corset boning. Having said that, if you use very fine boning, it could work OK on light use corsets.
So there you have it. There are many opinions about boning tape on the interwebs, some of them quite ill informed because they come from a very narrow viewpoint. As a shopkeeper, I am lucky because I get to explore all the options and bring the best ones to you, my fellow corset making addicts!
It came to my attention over the weekend, that the content on my School of Corsetry webpage for Sew Curvy Corsetry Courses, has yet again been copied verbatim by a sewing teacher jumping on the corsetry bandwagon, but as usual, being unable to understand the content enough to be able to deliver it herself in a meaningful way.
This last case was one I actually spotted last year when the owner of said establishment, apologised profusely and promised to rectify the situation immediately. A year down the line, and here we are again. She didn't rectify it, and the offending copy is still on her website. It should have been removed immediately, so obvious is the plaigarism and intellectual property theft.
The one on the left is the copycat, on the right is my own copy written more than 6 years ago.
But how do I know all this? The usual way I find out. Their students are coming to me deeply dissatisfied at having attended the 'fake' course and asking me to teach them. Properly this time. They have been so confused that they haven't even been able to verbalise what they were taught when I asked them!
The first was a novice to sewing so one might think perhaps she was too new ... but the most recent is a seasoned fashion designer, and she is just as mystified.
In view of this, I thought I'd write a fool proof guide on how to find and research the best corsetry teachers and courses and how to spot a fake corsetry course from a mile off.
First of all, and most obviously, look for pictures.
When you find a corsetry course, are there any pictures advertising said workshop? If there are pictures what are they? For example, I have recently seen courses advertised using pictures of factory made corsets from chinese manufacturers. If a teacher has no work of his or her own to show, then don't go there. It's as simple as that. How do you know where the pictures are from? Image search on Google if they look even mildly 'product' like.
So, there are pictures that seem to be of corsets made by the person presenting the course. Yay! But lets be sure about this .. Is it a picture of a corset, or is it a picture of a bodice that looks like a corset?
If it's a proper corset, there will be a definate hourglass shape, it will be an extreme looking shape if displayed on the correct type of mannequin. If there is a 'normal' shape on a regular mannequin, it's not a corset.
Expect to learn how to make a bodice that looks like a corset.
A real corset on a wasp waisted mannequin. An authentic corset will not fit on a regular mannequin smoothly. You need to look for shape if you want to learn how to make a genuine corset.
How many pictures are there of actual corsets? One? Two? Lots? This is important. Corset making is addictive - if someone is qualified to teach corsetry, they will have ALOT of corsets to show in the pictures. Whether they are good or not is a matter of taste and judgement.. if you don't like them, find a teacher whose work you do like. The important thing is that there are pictures of proper corsets, preferably on people. Even more preferably, on people in prior classes.
Once it is established that the pictures in the course description have indeed been made by the teacher, and that they are proper, shape defining, waist reducing corsets, you need to make sure you know which one you will be making on the course. This should be clearly stated.
The teacher should have a pattern you can follow. Yes. You need a pattern. I'll come to patterns later. If it isn't clear which corset/pattern you're making, those Spidey senses should be going off.
Are there pictures of a class in progress?
If not, why not? It may be the teachers first class, but honestly, i'd expect a few action shots because most people who teach corsetry will have started off small, perhaps with a few friends and/or collegues. There should be pictures of corset making in action or proud owners wearing their freshly made corsets. If there isn't, ask yourself why there isn't.
If all that checks out, check the copy.
The course description should be coherent and make sense.
If you're unsure, or you want to double, triple and quadruple check, just copy and paste some of the text into google and find out if it appears anywhere else. If your text appears below another bunch of identical text, then it's a copy, because google will always prioritise the original text. Which actually makes copying somewhat pointless in the first place.
If a teacher cannot write their own course description, it is highly likely they can't teach their own content either! It's all very well saying "that's how all corsets are made" but it isn't actually. Everyone does things differently and there are enough professional corsetieres in the world teaching corsetry their own way with their own course descriptions, with excellent work behind them. I should know, I made a whole Conference for them and part of the creative process for a corset maker is finding these processes that work for them. If you can't describe them yourself, you can't do them, and you certainly can't teach them.
A few years ago, a state run higher education establishment copied me. They absolutely refused to admit liability because litigation, but they swiftly removed the content and the 'teacher' of that course was given no more work. Their excuse was "she worked for McQueen" .. Sorry, what? She still copied my work. What did she do at McQueen? Wash cups? draw roses? scrub the floor? Who knows. But the fact that Alexander McQueen himself had his corsets made by Mr Pearl in Paris, tells you what you need to know about that.
Now lets talk about patterns...
Corset pattern drafting is an extremely complicated business. It takes a whole day to teach my method and that's before we've even looked at half a metre of calico for the toile. There is maths involved. There is much head scratching and brow wrinkling. My mantra during my corset pattern drafting courses is "don't worry, keep going, trust me, it'll all make sense in the end" ... They keep going and indeed by the end of day two, it all makes sense in the end. That's how long it takes to teach the very BASICS of effective flat patterning for corsetry. Draping corsetry on the stand is even more complex in some ways so don't accept that as an easy way to do it.
In short, any corset making course which promises to 'draft your pattern from your measurements and make a corset in two days" is rubbish. It's not possible. It just isn't. Trust me on this. I've been teaching for nearly 10 years, I'm good at relaying complex information in a simple way, but teaching corset patterning is very very hard and it just isn't possible to teach a class how to produce a good bespoke pattern that fits, in one day.
These gorgeous four ladies came to the last pattern making course I ran last summer - I only ever teach it on request these days because it is so hard. It took them two days to get here. You know, they are all clever girls. Kath on top left has been to several of my classes and is very familiar with corset making, Chris top right is a high flying professional, Danute bottom left is the head couturier of a very famous couture house, she can drape things you can't even imagine, and Renee bottom right is literally a Rocket Scientist. These are the patterns they created over 2 days. And we were all exhausted by the end of it!
There is only one course I know which will teach you how to make a proper corset pattern followed by a proper corset. It takes a very intense 5 days, and it is my own Summer School course. There may be others that I don't know about, or some in Higher Education or costume courses, but even they are not so specialised. Top designers leave corsetry to the pros - that's why we have Mr Pearl.
How much should I pay?
A good corset making course will cost. I'm sorry to say this but you get what you pay for. Anything under £300 for 2-3 days will not be worth the paper your money is printed on. Why? Because corsetry is a skill. It takes years of obsessive study to learn and perfect. To teach it, you have to be able to answer any question that is thrown at you. More importantly, you have to be able to demonstrate why that is the answer, and if you can, give alternatives and promote discussion, and inspire further investigation. This valuable skill should not be handed out free. Yes, there's a place for free tutorials on the internet and there are plenty of them, but I have yet to see a single professional corset maker (myself included) who gives their trade secrets away for nothing. You don't go to work for free, so please don't expect this sort of specialist knoweldge to be cheap.
Craft studios, sewing teachers and fashion designers who do not specialise in corsetry cannot teach it.
So where to learn?
Costume corsetry - on the whole - is not the same as authentic, body modyfying modern corsetry but there are some good costumers who can teach historical corsetry and some who can teach both. There are plenty of proper corsetieres all over the world who teach corsetry. They may not even advertise. It's always worth an ask. And better to learn from someone who's work you love - and therefore to support that work, than to spend money on a bandwagon.
So my main advice here, if your'e looking for a course, check the points I mention here, check the testemonials, check everything out thoroughly. If you can't find a course near you, or one that looks authentic, then find a working corsetiere who's work you like/admire/respect and ask them. You have nothing to lose. You'll flatter them even if they say no. But they might not say no. And then you'll be helping sustain and support a beautiful art for future generations to enjoy.
Here is a list of people I know who teach corsetry and who I would wholehearteldy recommend over any 'design school' , or craft outfit who do not specialise in corsetry.
The Oxford School of Corsetry - my own teaching practice, based in Oxfordshire, UK, and the only place in the world dedicated fully 100% to teaching many different types of corsetry including one day masterclasses, private tuition, and entire summer schools.
Crickey Aphrodite - based in Scotland, teaches classes whenever she can find a suitable venue. It's worth keeping an eagle eye on her website. She will also teach in your own home or teach indviduals in her home.
Morua Designs - based in Chicago. Teaches perhaps once a year but it's a top notch class and very sought after.
Vanyanis School of Couture - based in Australia. I myself mentored Lowana's early teaching practice and she, like me runs classes regularly at different levels and has many happy returning students.
Prior Attire - based in Bedford. Izabela sometimes runs courses on how to make an authentic Victorian corset to go under your costume.
School of Historical Dress - Based in London also run the odd corsetry course although these are very old fashioned - even using vintage machines and other antique techniques. These courses are what they say on the tin - for realy history geeks! You wont find a modern corset here or many modern methods. But they are real authentic corsets which do the job.
Oxford Conference of Corsetry - a bi-ennual gathering of the worlds top corsetieres from Mr Pearl down. Meet here to discuss techniques, share knowledge, make friends and have fun. For all levels of corset maker, be they hobbiyists, professionals or icons! The next conference will be in August 2019.