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Bobbinet - what is it and what is it for?

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swisstulle bobbinet

I find the story of the fabric known as bobbinet quite fascinating.  Like coutil it is a very rare, difficult to find material and it is only made by a very few factories in the world.  Like coutil there is a certain 'snobbishness' tied to it when put into the context of couture and fashion.  You must have 'genuine' bobbinet and it must be made of the right stuff and in the right way.

Luckily, here at Sew Curvy we have genuine bobbinet, manufactured by one of the UK's only remaining factories and even more luckily, because I was able to get a narrower (but no less useful) width, the cost per metre is extremely competitive - the best you'll find anywhere on the net I think (haha! pun intended!)!

Bobbinet is a very special tulle fabric - sometimes even known as 'genuine tulle' it has been around since 1806 when it was invented by a very clever man called John Heathcoate.  Mr Heathcoate coined the term 'bobbinet' from two words, 'bobbin' and 'net' because it is a lace type net fabric - lace is made with bobbins - but made on a machine which he also invented.  Modern lace is made on similar machines and these days, the design for bobbinet machines, like many Victorian inventions,  is largely unchanged from the original Heathcoate design.

bobbinet fabric structure
The structure of bobbinet tulle is hexaganol and this is what makes it so strong and durable.

Bobbinet tulle is constructed from warp and weft yarns,  but unlike regular woven fabrics and nets, the horizontal weft yarn is looped diagonally around the vertical warp yarn to form a regular and distinctive hexagonal mesh which is completely stable, has minimal stretch and is durable, sheer and very very strong in comparison to it's weight.  This is why it is ideal for foundation garments within dresses and has been favoured by designers since the early 20th century for supporting haute couture gowns.  It is the hexagonal mesh which makes the difference here, without the hexagons, it's not bobbinet.

Bobbinet was originally made from cotton, and it is now available in many different fibres including silk, nylon and special 'technical' fabrics. The threads of bobbinet can be coated in all sorts of non fabricy things including metal and this makes it's range of use outside the fashion industry quite vast!   It is used for theatre back drops, military applications, medical patches,  parachutes, cryogenic insulation, electromagnetic shielding, flexible electronics, fishing nets, high quality wig making and a whole other raft of 'craft' applications including porcelain statue decoration - who knew!!??

bobbinet dress foundation dior couture
             Dior dress foundation with bobbinete corselette

In fashion, which is what we're interested in of course,  bobbinet mesh is still used for couture style dressmaking including bridal wear, corsetry and lingerie or as a base cloth for fine embrodery.  In the world of costume, bobbinet is used in wig making because it is fine, strong, and more or less invisible when hair is woven through it.

bobbinet dress foundation balmain couture
Balmain gown inside and out, with bobbinet corselette foundation

What to use bobbinet for?  I would use it for dress foundations (sometimes called a built in corselete), and I am intending to try it out in light corsetry or as a stand alone corselete.  You can use bobbinet for petticoats but if I were to make a floaty tulle petticoat I would use a more standard silk tulle - not a specialist silk bobbinet.  Why?  Because regular silk tulle is much less expensive than silk bobbinet and just as effective, it also comes in a wider range of colours.  The point of using bobbinet in dressmaking is for strength and lighness to create something fine and elegant.  Bobbinet is not really a fabric to be used for it's looks in any application.

Useful links:

Buy 100% cotton bobbinet here at Sew Curvy - priced at £16.50/m in white only (actualy 'off' white)

Anatomy of a gown by Morua Designs - see how bobbinet is used to create a dress foundation, this is one of my favourite ever posts on the internet.  Very inspirational.

A post from Gerties Blog for Better Sewing regarding bobbinet corselettes in haute couture dress foundations.  I actually disagree that underwear should be worn in a dress with a foundation - a properly constructed couture dress foundation negates the requirement for separate underwear.

Interesting post by Alison of Crikey Aphrodite on the OCOC blog about a lace factory in Scotland.  Lace is mounted on net and these machines are very similar to dedicated bobbinet machines.  A very interesting article with a nice video.

Pictures of a beautiful beaded and goldworked Balmain gown bodice with bobbinet foundation that I found on my quest for bobbinet knowledge.  This is just superb!

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  1. Michele Haywood

    Thank you Julia for a really interesting article. I have never heard of bobbinet before and wondered what it was when you posted it the other day. Working on my corset for the OCOC XX

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