Q&A about corset making

Frequently asked questions from customers about products and services.

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Category: Dressmaking

  1. Which boning should I use for corset making?

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    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.

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    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.

    tv103
    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.  

    spiral steel boning

    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.

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    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.

     

    Dress foundation with boning
    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:

    How to cut and tip spiral steel boning

    Buy spiral steel boning 
    see more detailed product description with tables on which boning to use where

    Buy flat steel boning
    see more detailed product description with information on which boning to use for which application.

    Quick guide to making a corset

    External links:

    Comparing different types of corset boning -   article by Jenni Hampshire of Sparklewren at Foundations Revealed

    How and why to use spiral steel boning 

    How to make a dress foundation  

    Using metal boning in a strapless dress pattern by Vogue

     

  2. Unpicking

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    I often put a little freebie into my parcels going out to regular customers - only something little as a token of appreciation for their continued support of my business.  I bought a big bag of seam rippers from my wholesaler, to sell on the site, but also to use as a little free gift.  However,  so far, haven't put any of these into a package unless they have been ordered.  Why? I  am frightened people might get the wrong idea about my opinion of their sewing! - a bit like giving someone smellies for Christmas .. 

    The thing is, a sharp seam ripper is an absolutely vital tool for any seamstress or corsetiere.  Believe it or not, seam rippers get blunt very quickly.  The better you are at sewing, the blunter your seam ripper is likely to be.  It's a sad fact but I probably use my seam ripper, more than my sewing machine! 

    Now these seam rippers are the best I can find and the cheapest!  They cost £0.50p.  I don't believe in spending lots of money on a seam ripper because you do have to replace them so often.  Before I bought in bulk, I would buy 4 or 5 of these seam rippers at a time from my local haberdasher.   I still always make sure I have a personal stock of these and mark my current one with a blob of nail varnish - this way, the new sharp ones don't get used until the current one is blunt and in the bin. 

    If you get into the habit of using a sharp seam ripper, you will soon know and appreciate the difference between a sharp one and a blunt one - a sharp seam ripper will unpick your stitches faster and with much less risk to the rest of your sewing.  So! If you haven't replaced your seam ripper for a while, I urge you to assess the situation and replace  your seam rippers frequently for best sewing results. And if you do happen to get one from me that you didn't order, it's a gift but not in a bad way ;)

    seam rippers