About Making Corsets

By | May 4, 2016
Mid or late 19th century corset. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Mid or late 19th century corset. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Corsets are very popular in the cosplay crowd so although this goes outside of this site’s usual scope, I’m going to write a few words about them. You might also want to check out my bit about the importance of foundation garments, too.

People are scared of making corsets – I think it’s the fact they have steel in them – but there’s not much justification for the fear. If you can cut fabric and sew in a straight line, you can make a corset. Really.

For first-timers, I really recommend Laughing Moon’s corset pattern – the Dore version, not the Silverado (not for the very first time, at least) – because the directions are very well written and even call out potential pitfalls as you go through the process.

And once you’ve tackled a Victorian corset, you’re two-thirds of the way there with any other period. Contrariwise, if a Victorian corset is too intimidating for your first project, start with a strapless Tudor corset.

But what should you make your corset from? Well, that depends on the intended function. If you’re making a corset to wear under a costume, then your best choices are duck, coutil, and strong twills. Whichever fabric you choose, make sure the yarns are 100% natural (cotton, for preference). Such fibers will breathe better and feel better against your skin – although you should make a chemise to wear between you and the corset, but I know I’m not the only one guilty of continuously forgetting to add that to my to-do list.

If you want to make an outerwear style corset, they you will still need duck or a twill for the inner layers. Fashion corsets are made just like regular corsets, but you sew your cut fashion fabric on to the twill pieces of the outer layer of the corset, before you assemble it. Think of it as flat-lining your fashion fabric.

What fashion fabrics are good for corsets? Well, since you’re flat-lining with your twill you can use almost anything – as long as it isn’t see through! Brocades are popular, but I find they can be challenging to sew as the fabric will “railroad” under the tension and it frays as soon as  you cut it. As long as you account for that in your prep, you can use it. Dupioni silk is another popular choice, especially the type that features warp yarns that are a different color from the weft – sometimes called “cross-dyed” or “cross-woven”. The curves of the corset when worn will ensure that light falls on both threads and it can be an eye catching effect. Ditto cross-woven taffetas.

I wouldn’t use anything with a lot of texture to it – like boucle or dobby fabrics. It’ll make sewing the boning channels difficult and pressing your seams flat inside the corset will be a challenge, too.

Also avoid any fabric with a really large pattern. When you’re considering a fabric for corsetry, remember that you’re going to be cutting it into pieces that are only three or four inches wide. A paisley brocade with huge “ferns” that span six inches isn’t going to be shown to its best advantage. And before you ask, yes, you could match the pattern pieces, if you’re feeling adventurous. I did it once, with a metallic blue and black paisley, and I think it took a year off my life.

For the love of Pete, don’t use spandex or any other knit fabric. At best, it’ll look like a girdle and at worst, you’ll have weird stress lines all over the place. Leave the spandex to the body-shapers.

Leather is absolutely a viable material but I wouldn’t recommend it for first timers. Or second timers. I’ve made quite a few corsets and cinchers in my time and I haven’t tackled leather yet. I have used some materials that don’t forgive needle holes at all – thin vinyl and some mirror lamé – and that was enough to give me grey hairs. Once you have some experience, you might want to try it, but don’t do it for your first corset.

Come the day that you’re you’re ready for leather, look at light, garment-weight pig skin or cow leather – not heavier than three ounces per square foot. I really like pig skin for sewing projects because it’s relatively cheap and it’s available in some eye popping colors, as well as finished with a metal foil and even embossed to look like it came from a reptile. Fun stuff.

Don’t be intimidated! Corsetry is a lot of fun!

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