So over the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed that our regular herringbone cotton coutil fabric feels a bit different - a bit softer, a lot softer actually.
First of all PANIC NOT! This is not a bad thing. The thread count and quality of the fabric is still the same. The sizing has changed - what is 'sizing'? I hear you ask...
Size is the glue product which is put onto the coutil fabric during the finishing process to make the material stiff and therefore suitable for corsetry. In the past, to be honest, I think the fabric has been oversized which has resulted in a really cardboard like feel to the fabric. However, this over-sizing did have benefits too because it meant that you could dye the white herringbone with ease and the fabric would remain firm even after several washing cycles.
Now, we have a softer product but no less strong and certainly still the best fabric to use for making a corset.
If you do wish to dye the coutil, you can still do so but will need to use starch in order to get a crisp result.
The new softer herringbone corsetry coutil allows you much more flexibility especially when it comes to fusing other fabrics to it (ie: silk); before you would end up with a really stiff and bulky cardboard like fabric which would permenantly crease if you weren't careful. With the softer base, this will not happen.
Customers often ask for 'fan lacing sliders' which are not that common these days and I am unable to find a factory in Europe that makes them now. To source them in China would require me to find a warehouse here to store them in, such are min. qty amounts from factories in China! I even spoke about 'opening a mould' with a fellow British indie lingerie brand but we decided that even between us, the expense was prohibitave.
So I thought we could talk about fan lacing - how it came about, how to do it, different types, and how the same (or better imo) effect can be acheived without those pesky metal slides.
Although the Victorians dabbled in several models of front fastening corsets, it wasn't until 1908 when fan lacing became popular and took off as a viable alternative to the traditional back lacing corset. In that year, Samuel Higby Camp of Jackson, Michigan, invented a new system of fan lacing using a special metal buckle which was mounted with loops and was patented in the US in June 1921.
Metal fan lacing slides - difficult to obtain in the 21st century
Camp's system with the metal buckle uses one single corset lace which is passed through the looped metal tab several times. The angle of pull means that the pulley effect of the lacing is effective over a wide range and this means that tightening the corset from the front is extremely easy. The other side of the fan lacing slide attaches to a belt which fastens at the front or side of the corset using special sliding buckles which are low profile and therefore sit smoothly underneath clothing. These are still used today in waistcoats.
Front fastening corsets The Camp fan lacing system on the left is bulkier but uses only one lace passed through the special metal slider. The Jenyns fan lacing system on the right is flatter but uses several laces all stitched to the controlling belt. source
Camp patented his unique slider but that didn't stop other manufacturers copying the idea, the most successful of which was an Australian firm called Jenyns who in order to circumvent the patent, simply stitched the apex of the 'fan' onto a strap. The main difference in this system is that sevaral individual laces are required to form an effective closure. This makes for a prettier effect but it means the system is not quite so effective. Nevertheless, this was also a popular and successful design and seasoned wearers of both models at the time, report the difference as completely negligible. Jenyns licenced the UK factory Symingtons to make this type of corset for the European market, and here is one such example I handled and photographed myself in the Symingtons resource centre.
Below is a diagram from a blog post by American Duchess which clearly demonstrates how the laces are attached to the 'strap' system of fan lacing. This system was first seen in Victorian times, but made popular much later in the early 20th century. The blog post describes how to convert a traditionaly laced corset into a fan laced corset using a corset made from a Red Threaded pattern. Please go and read it!
I can feel a tutorial coming on myself as I'd like to explore this system more in practice and ofcourse the creative options are limitless - I mean, multicoloured lacing for one!
Here's some modern interpretations of fan lacing.
Hopefully that's got your creative juices flowing! Here are a few more resources for you to have a further read.
Every so often my friend Izabela of Prior Attire comes to visit. We enjoy sewing together as we share similar interests that are completely non-conflicting! ie: we both love corsets, but she is interested in authentic period corsetry and I am interested in very modern corsetry. The shape unites us! So when she comes to visit, she brings stock items to make for her shop and I take the time to experiment.
The Victoria corset made from pale nude broche with black spots
With the arrival of several new fabrics in the shop I decided to formulate a new kit using my Sew Curvy Victoria pattern (#sewcurvyvictoria) and the new spot broche in nude/black which I have been lusting after for literally years!
Izabela also fell in love with said fabric, and decided to make some stock Edwardian corsets for her shop, using my new Sew Curvy Edwardian pattern - this is a pattern that I made for classes a couple of years ago, but have yet to write the instructions. I will be doing so soon so that we can add it to our catalogue of British made corset patterns. Here's her finished Edwardian corset.
The Sew Curvy Edwardian pattern will be in the shop just as soon as I write the instructions!
This new spot broche coutil is a lovely stiff fabric, which is also very smooth and fine. It's therefore perfect for sturdy single layer corsetry, not least because in addition to it being very strong, it also hides a multitude of 'sins' - if you're a beginner, or worry about the odd squint stitch - this fabric is for you!
Izabela wearing the Sew Curvy Edwardian Corset
Izabela wearing the Sew Curvy Victoria Corset
These are some of the lace trims we have in stock, which go beautifully with this lovely corsetry fabric.
For the new corset kit, I decided to include the 'Little Crowns' guipure trim, which I offset with black flossing along the bottom edge. The inside is boned out with tubular boning tape (don't say I don't make things easy for you), with a grosgrain ribbon as a waist stay.
The bow is a little added extra which I think finishes the corset off perfectly!
For more insights on our day of corset making exploits, do pop over to the Sew Curvy Instagram account and look at the story highlight called "sewing day" - there you can see the story of our corset making day with useful hints and tips on corsetry including the best colour of thread to use for this coutil, why you need a taperd awl, which busk is Edwardian, the best use for a zip tie, how to insert a busk, and in progress shots of both corsets being made and worn!
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!