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Plastic boning for corsetry and costume - which is best for what?

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A range of Plastic boning on sale at Sew Curvy
The range of plastic boning on sale at Sew Curvy.  All of it is suitable for corsets but in different ways and some, only as a supplement to Steel boning.

I've talked about steel boning in a previous post, so lets now talk about the different types of plastic boning available and the pros and cons of each in relation to corsetry - which is what this site is all about after all.

rigilene boning
Rigilene boning comes in three colours, black, white and transparent, and 2 widths, 12mm and 8mm

The most common type of plastic boning - and the most widely available - is  known as "Rigilene" which is made from polyester, a type of plastic.  Rigilene has been the boning of choice for many a dressmaker over many a decade.  It can stiffen, shape and hold your garment or parts of your garment and gives very light support.  It is thin and flexible, easy to use, can be moulded with an iron, can be sewn through and sometimes comes ready covered in satin or felt, making application to your garment even easier.  You'll find it in a range of ready made garments including prom dresses, bodices, skirts, jackets, wedding gowns.  In short, it can be used for all manner of sewing or craft applications where light stiffening and light shaping is required.

From the perspective of corsetry,  Rigilene boning is not a good choice because it is too light to support a proper corset pattern, it will not help modify the body in any way, it will also distort over time giving you unsighltly lumps where you really don't want them!

Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 14.21.27

Having said all that, I do use Rigilene in corsetry and dressmaking for various little jobs where I need a bit of extra 'body' to a certain section of a garment - horiszontally over the bust to make a rounded shape for instance, or at the side bust to help a forward thrust where light help is required.  I also use it in corset modesty panels where only a slight amount of stiffness is required because I can sew through it and it makes one job less fiddly.  I sometimes use it as a supplement to steel boning in certain closed front corsets and bodices but it wont give enough support on it's own.  A novel application I've heard it being used for is to make feeding tents for babies and breastfeeding mums.

Tripleflex boning is very lightweight  tripleflex Twill covered tripleflex boningJPG
Triple flex plastic boning comes in different weights and widthes but is mostly very flimsy

It is made from thin plastic folded three times - hence 'triple' flex

It is what is inside 'twill covered boning' and in this formation serves a similar purpose to Rigilene boning.

Tripleflex' plastic boning is a thin clear plastic boning which has been folded three ways.  It comes in various weights and thicknesses and is used for the same things as rigilene although a separate boning channel is required. Unlike rigilene, it is not heat proof and it is not strong;  it unfolds itself if you so much as show it an iron. The best way to use tripleflex plastic boning is when it is fully enclosed in twill tape aka 'twill covered boning".  This is as easy to use as plain rigilene and as it is ready covered, negates the need for a separate boning channel and therefore gives a smoother, neater finish than rigilene.  Tripleflex plastic boning certainly has its uses but you can't shape it and it will perish over time, so it is no good for heirloom garments or proper dress foundations.

reenforcedplastic boning
Reinforced plastic boning is thick and pliable but not springy

Reinforced plastic boning is a thick pliable translucent plastic boning with harder white plastic threads running through it.  These threads are the 'reinforcement' of the title, and they prevent the boning from twisting.  This sort of boning is about 1-1.5mm thick, comes in various widths, and is good for using in place of flat steel boning where lightness is more important than strength.  It has no spring, and althought it could be used in light "corsetry" (ie: for children or young people where you don't want reduction) it is most commonly found in supportive swimwear because it is waterproof and elasticated fabric will do the job of keeping things streamlined and contained!  It will not help mould the body and it is not sprung which means it creates no tension which, in combination with your pattern and your fabric, aids corset shaping.  I don't stock this type of boning at Sew Curvy as I find it doesn't do anything that the other types of plastic boning I stock doesn't do.

Synthetic whalebone is made of plastic
Plastic 'Synthetic Whalebone'  is great for period style corsetry and comes in various widths and thicknesses.  It is extremely hard to photograph!  

Synthetic Whalebone is a semi-rigid, fine translucent plastic boning which comes in a very wide variety of widths and thicknesses.  It is available to retailers from only one manufacturer in Germany and has been specially created to be a good lightweight alternative to flat spring steel boning. 

According to the manufacturers catalogue this type of boning is "100% plastic, is machine washable and possesses good spring characteristics,  therefore returning to its original shape without any tendency to kink".  Note:  I have seen this type of boning being confused with plastic 'multi bones' from the same manufacturer, which are made from spun polyester and are not the same as synthetic boning as they are described in the catalogue as being "extremely soft".

Other benefits of synthetic whalebone:  It is very light, smooth, easy to use, and can be moulded to shape with hot water or an iron/steam.  The thicker 6mm version which is 1.5mm thick, is the type which is most like authentic whalebone and most useful in Victorian style corsetry.  It works well in period corsets and historical costumes where a degree of authenticity is required, however, it is plastic and is therefore not an authentic substitute for either whalebone or metal boning which was invented by the Victorians to replace baleen.

boned with synthetic whalebone
Historical corset boned with Synthetic Whalebone by Izabela Pitcher of Prior Attire

Where it is useful for a degree of authenticity is it's shaping properties and it's lightness and this is the reason that many historical costumers prefer synthetic boning to metal boning in their corsetry.  It is also true that some people find it more comfortable than steel boning, in the same way that some people find steel boning, much more comfortable than plastic boning.  

In Victorian clothing, bodices and jackets are often boned - the lighter synthetic boning is good for this.

whalebone flat
Side by side two authentic baleen corset bones (top) and a plastic 'whalebone' at the bottom (white).  The modern version is maybe half a mm wider than the actual whalebone.
whalebone side

Thickness is also similar.  In the middle is the 6mm x 1.5mm synthetic whalebone, either side are the genuine baleen bones.

To handle, the plastic bone is much stiffer, but ofcourse the baleen bones are very old so it could be that they are more flexible due to age and use - in terms of their flex, they are somewhere between the thinner synthetic wb and the thicker.

Personally I prefer the smoothing properties of steel particularly at the front of the corset where I like a flat appearance rather than the rounded tummy of authentic Victorian style corsetry, however I do know of modern makers who do prefer SW over steel.  It's really down to personal choice and as ever - experimentation.  SW is around the same cost as steel so it's not an economical choice at all.

As for the question, "Is plastic boning better than steel boning?" (or vice versa), the short answer is No.  Plastic boning is different to steel boning, it's not better and it's not worse.  It can perform the same function, but remember all plastic isn't created equal, sometimes it can be the best choice for a particular project, sometimes steel would be a better choice - as usual, it's for the maker to decide what to use project by project - we are lucky to have choice and it's exciting because it means we can do more things!

General note on all types of plastic and polyester boning.  Plastic never decomposes and it's manufacture is not enviromentally friendly.  As discussed elsewhere on this site, most plastic boning will deteriorate with wear over time - it will not disappear and it will not appear to be changed, however it's original properties may be lost or distorted over time - whether that is 10 years or 100 we cannot know yet because plastic hasn't been around long enough

Links:

Buy plastic boning - our selection of plastic boning at Sew Curvy includes Rigilene in three colours and 2 widths, Synthetic Whalebone in 2 widths and 2 thicknesses, Twill covered tripleflex and satin covered Rigeline.

Really interesting article found while researching, on polyester fabric, what it is and how it's made.  This site is also good for other stuff such as fabric printing and labels!

Boning for dress foundations - which to use?

Steel boning - how to use it

 

 

 

 

 

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