Coutil is a fabric which was especially invented for corsetry back in the 1800's. It was also known, at that time, as "Jean". It is commonly a herringbone weave but it also comes in other forms. The reason coutil is special is because it is a very densly woven fabric which makes it very strong and durable - able to stand up to tension, but can be very smooth and luxurious.
Coutil fabric for corsetry comes in several different 'weights', and also different compositions. The best coutil is 100% cotton or at least a cotton/viscose mix (though some people are allergic to viscose). You can get polyester coutil or polycotton coutil. I do not recommend those as they do not 'breathe' as well as natural fabrics. There is a bit of a myth that the best coutil comes from England. This certainly used to be the case, however, I am sad to report that there are no coutil mills left in England. All coutil is made abroad nowadays, some in India, some in China, and some in Europe. I believe that some coutil is made in America too, although we in the UK do not tend to import from there and many American corset makers prefer the European coutil. You may have heard of 'German coutil'. It is important to use coutil for many reasons. Not only is it the best material to make corsets from, and incomparable to other 'strong' fabrics, but it is also a dying industry. It is expensive because it is a good quality fabric, and we must support the production of coutil, to keep the few mills that are left in Europe open. Many industries use coutil, however, most corsetry components are not made for small production or for fashion, but for the medical industry.
Broche coutil is the heaviest type of coutil available from Sew Curvy, alongside the cotton sateen coutil which I also stock - it's basically the broche without the viscose design. Fine herringbone coutil is the closes substitute to genuine antique coutil and is quite common in Edwardian corsetry. It is very fine but deceptivly strong and therefore suitable for lighter single layer corsets or training corsets - smooth, light and dense. Perfect!
Metal corsetry boning was invented in the 1800's by the Victorians when their preferred corset boning of choice, whalebone, was becoming scarce and expensive. The Victorians came up with two types of boning - both with ingenious features for very specific applications in corsetry and both of which are still in use today with no modern adaptation or equal.
A bone holder for keeping your corset/dress bones sorted. Made by Izabela of Prior Attire these will soon be available to buy in the Sew Curvy shop
First of all there is flat steel boning, sometimes known as 'corset flats' or 'spring steel'. There is a reason for this. Flat steel boning isn't made of any old metal - No. It is made from sprung steel which means that it is naturally very 'bouncy' and it is very very hard to bend. Try bending sprung steel and it will bounce right back into flatness. Why is this best for curvy corsetry? Because the way a corset works is by creating pressure and tension over the body to create the special hourglass shape that the Victorians and Edwardians favoured. If you didn't have sprung steel as boning, then the metal rods inside the corset would simply bend and buckle and would not hold a thing in place. Can you imagine how uncomfortable that would be and how awful it would look? Sprung steel on the other hand, only flexes in a vertical direction and will keep its shape and provide tension in the right places - as your corset pattern dictates - and because of this, you can use flat steel corset boning to help engineer your final outcome. For example, if you want to control a larger bust, or if you want to enhance a smaller bust, flat steel boning can be used in strategic places at the side of the bust to help acheive the desired effect by holding your assets firmly in place and pushing the flesh in a certain direction, unlike spiral steel boning which is much more flexible and will simply mould over curves.
I do not ever recommend pre-bending flat corset bones because doing this removes the tension in the steel which negates it's special properties. If you feel like you want to create very curvy drama or you are boning a corset with a very small waist, then use spiral steel boning instead - it will do the bending for you.
Flat steel boning is also used in hooped petticoats, steel dress cages and panniers and is also sprung so that it keeps it's nice round shape but it is not so thick as flat steel corset boning.
The Elliptical cage crinoline was the main support foundation for the later- and post-American Civil War period of 1863-1868. Called a "cage" because of the cage-like appearance created by the hoop wires and vertical support tapes, this type of crinoline offers maximum support capabilities for a perfect shape, combined with flexibility for comfortable wear
Spiral steel boning is very different to flat sprung steel boning. It is made from 2 springs flattened and then forced together to make one flat looking spring.
This type of corset boning is also sprung and is ingenious because it flexes in all directions and is therefore particularly good for the more curvy areas of the body, where you need a bit of moulding - over the breast, over the hips, perhaps over a fuller dierriere. Spiral steel boning is much 'softer' on the body and therefore wearers find it more comfortable. Where flat boning can be used to control and streamline, spiral boning can be used to enhance and create drama. Spiral steel is the most versatile type of corset boning, it comes in different widths and different thicknesses for all sorts of boning projects and ofcourse it isn't just used for corsetry, it is used in couture for boning dress foundations properly.
An antique corset from the famous Symington Collection - this corset is German and dates from 1903. It is made from grey coutil and has exposed 'watch spring' spiral steels which were removable to aid laundering.
In summary, boning can be used in many ways and many combinations. Sometimes it can even be used to even out an asymetry in the body. No body is the same, and it follows that no handmade custom or bespoke corset will be the same as another in terms of how it is boned, however each individual maker will have his or her preferred way of using the bones and this in turn will contribute to the over all look, feel and style of that maker.
The inside of a couture dress foundation from the Fashion Gallery at Snibston Discovery Centre, Leicestershire. (by kind permission). Dress foundations should be boned with metal boning as plastic boning corrupts over time and simply does not stand up to the job.
I therefore encourage everyone to experiment with boning and have put very precise descriptions in my product listings.
Here are some further resources for corset boning:
There's a backlog of new products scheduled for upload in the next few weeks and there are so many that I can't actually fit them all on the very amateur collage I've made for this post. There are:
lots of new embellishments, some of them kitschy, some classy
new colours of boning tape - red and grey - to match the colours of the coutils on sale
ew bindings - grey and natural to match 'dove' and 'biscuit' coutils
planned pattern release
kit re-branding to include easier kits and more 'complete course' kits
many many more lingerie accessories including siliconed hold up elastic, suspender clips and adjusters, several types of elastic, bra back fastners in two sizes and two colours and duo underwired bust forms
metal open ended zips
new fabrics - natural loomstate cotton drill and white cotton lawn plus some new coutil colours on the way and
new threads in colours to match all the coutils on sale
Coming soon we have black busks and pre-cut spiral boning
I'm exhausted just thinking about all the possibilities!
For good corsetry, you need two part metal eyelets with a wide'ish collar - not too wide so as to look clumpy and bulky, and not so narrow that the fabric soon works its way from under the rim and the eyelet falls out, ruining the corset. Also the shank of the eyelet must be not too long so the eyelet is loose when set, and not too short so that the eyelet cuts the fabric when set. It's a fine balance !
You need two part eyelets because the washer part of the eyelet, sandwiches and encloses the fabric safely and ensures a smooth finish to the inside of the corset. One part eyelets which do not come with a washer, are not strong enough for corsetry. One part eyelets are commonly used for leather work - in belts or as a decorative feature, or in paper craft. They are made of softer metal and when hammered, the back of the eyelet shaft collapses and can become jagged. This will not only feel scratchy against the wearer and possibly cause injury or damage to other clothing, but it will certainly decrease the life of the corset substantially by causing wear to the fabric of the corset around the eyelet.
My favourite eyelets for corsetry are 5mm wide however, not all eyelets are created equal! You need different dies to set different eyelets. Dies are the little tools which help to set the eyelets properly either by pliers or by hammer. Prym make it easy by providing an all inclusive eyelet kit which includes a set of dies that fit the separate Prym pliers which in turn do a marvellous job of not only punching a small hole for the eyelet, but setting them too, with hardly any effort. However, these pliers only work with Prym eyelets and the same is true of all other eyelets - they only work with the die's that are made for them. Annoying, but true. Therefore, in order to make a good job of setting your eyelets, you do need the correct set of dies.