Thursday, 10 January 2019

Corset Technique Class - and my first wearable corset (though not wearable by me)

I can’t really explain it, but I’ve always fancied a corset! Really, to be honest, a well fitting shapewear bodysuit is what I’ve hankered after. I’ve had difficulty getting the right torso length even from Long Tall Sally (LTS). My height is more in the torso (particularly from waist down) than in my legs. So trousers from LTS tend to be far too long for me. Trousers in stores have legs that are long enough but the rise is too low. Anyway, I also wondered if periodic wearing of a corset would help my back pain.

So when Rory said there was going to be a corset making workshop at Centre Front Studios, I signed up for it. It was originally going to be in October, with a guest tutor. In the end, the guest tutor was unable to do it and Rory took the workshop, sadly far too close to Christmas for my liking. I wouldn't have signed up for it had I known originally. The workshop took place on Saturdays 8th and 15th December but the second Saturday was cut short because of bad weather and Nicky and I finished our corsets in the regular sewing bee slot on Wednesday 19th December, the last slot before the Christmas break.

We used a Victorian type pattern in a standard size 12 (UK) with D cup; Victorian Corset Sewing Pattern by Laughing Moon. LM100. A toile is essential and this standard size was to teach us the techniques, not to fit - indeed it was unlikely to fit anyone straight-off. I have since read some excellent tips in the website Truly Victorian - here.

The pattern comes in a huge range of body and cup sizes. It also comes in two main style  - Dore straight style (counter-intuitively but fitting with the style of the era better for larger busts) and Silverado bust gore (better for smaller busts)plus there are also patterns for a chemise and open drawers in the pack.

The one we did was the Dore, the simpler of the two. In the same range there is a below bust corset suitable for men and women (Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Under Bust Corset (1894 - 1909) LM113) and Nicky and I both ordered that. 

We got the supplies from Rory who had ordered from Vena Cava Design.

Our kit included:
8 x 7 mm Spiral wires 35 cm - I lost one of these. They needed trimmed to length
12 x 7 mm plastic coated steel bones 35 cm
1 Plastic Coated Steel busk with silver clasps 30 cm
3 m 16 mm Boning Tape
1 x 3 m lace with metal tips
1 x 5 mm eyelets and washers (40) - and a kit to insert them
1 x 6 Corset Hooks and Eyes

Rory had cut out the pattern pieces (to save time) for us using coutil. Just plain white coutil though there are black, flesh and patterned versions also. The sample corset (not exactly the one we were doing but rather the sample from the guest tutor) was lovely - it used patterned black coutil.

What is coutil?
Coutil is woven cloth created specifically for making corsets. It is woven tightly to inhibit penetration of the corset's bones and resist stretching. Coutil has a high cotton content. Cotton has good dimensional stability, or a resistance to stretching, which makes it a good choice for such a stressed garment. Wikipedia

Only Nicky and I attended so there was plenty of individual time.

Our first task was to cut out the fabric for the outside of the corset. I loved the striped fabric and thought it was quite thick and stable (turned out not to be); I can’t remember what Rory called the fabric. We then had to mount the fabric to the coutil and we found that our fabric stretched. As the coutil was totally rigid, we were able to trim the fabric to match the coutil. Fortunately, this was a test garment as sadly, the patterns on the individual pieces would no longer match.

We then had to put in the front corset piece, the busk. The pattern instructions suggested holding it up to the midpoint of our breasts and sitting down to see if the metal obstructed our sitting; apparently 95% of women or some such figure need the 30 cm/12” length. A 13” is also available. Well, despite being tall, the 12” was fine for me (though I don’t know why I did this test as there is no way a size 12 corset was ever going to fit me!)
I didn't take a photo of our busk; like the one far left

Putting in the piece involved carefully marking the fabric and leaving gaps when we were sewing to allow the metal loops through. Obviously, we had to reinforce each side of the gap. This is a two-piece item, with rings/hoops on one side and claws (?) on the other. We had to be sure that the two sides would match so there was a lot of careful marking. When the two sides were slotted in place and matched, a  line of stitches held them in.

We also used reinforcing plastic boning. Apparently, a corset can have a lot more boning in it than we used and Rory demonstrated some places it might be used. The demo corset had a lot more. The web site I linked earlier says the more boning, the more comfortable.

After that, we marked the position for the grommet holes on the back - this is where the ties  go through. This was the end of the first day. Rory showed us how to insert the grommets and provided the kit. Both Nicky and I completed them at home. I confess - David did mine! I made a hole of the correct size through the fabric/coutil with a leather punch. Then it was a relatively simple insertion, outside the house, in the cold, using the paving and a large block of wood for solidity and a large hammer wielded by David. He did one practice which was fine and then inserted the 18 grommets without a problem. My excuse for not doing them is that my hands were very sore at the time - they’re somewhat better now; I think the new mediation is helping.

My next task was to sew the pieces together, making sure I got them in the correct order. I didn’t have time to do this before going to the following session. Rory had instructed us to sew the seams joining the pieces with the wrong side together, so the the seam allowance showed on the right side. This was then pressed, trimmed, and the channelling for the spiral steel boning added to the outside covering the seam allowances. Rory suggested that this was easier than the alternative of having the channels on the inside.

While I was stitching the pieces together, I had to ensure that I was matching the coutil rather than the end of the fabric. Even so, there was a touch of trimming required.

Rory showed us how to insert the spiral boning and discovered that the bones were not the correct length. She trimmed a couple to show us how they should look.

Rory used this; David used a Dremel
She didn’t have the end caps to put over the raw end of the bone - but as this is simply a test garment to show techniques, that was okay. She also showed us that after that, we would attach bias binding around the top and bottom perimeter.

This all took quite a while and because of the weather warnings suggesting travelling would be hazardous, Rory terminated the class at lunchtime.

At home, I asked David to trim my spiral wires. I had decided the best way to go about the task was to put bias binding over the top edge, insert the bones and then put bias binding over the bottom edge.

Rory recommended using 7 mm bones though other widths are available. They are also available on a roll to cut to size, then add the caps - this would be my preferred route as the set-length bones needed trimmed, anyway and each pair of bones is a different length.

Rory had shown us how to insert the tie on the previous occasion - but I hadn’t quite got that right. There is a long loop in the centre to allow self-tightening of the corset. I corrected this , but not until later as I found it easier to work on the binding when the pieces were separate.
This is the demo corset, completed - bias in place and Rory demonstrating cords

Again, I didn’t have time to do much at home, so I went to the Wednesday sewing bee (already fretting about everything I still had to do with the family descending for Christmas on the Friday). I attached the bias binding to one end of each piece - I only later discovered that I had done the top of one piece and the bottom of the other! When I came to do the other side of bias binding, this was quite tricky and I found that my bones were slightly too long. I decided to sew the bias binding on, leaving gaps for the bone insertion. I decided that was as much as I could do in class and there was so much to do at home, so I left early. My last few steps were very rushed and my fronts didn’t match in length - my bias binding was a bit different on each side. I decided this didn’t matter - I knew what to do and this was a sample to allow us to practice the techniques.

One problem was that I lost a spiral bone. It wasn’t among my things, we couldn’t find it in class or at home, and I hadn’t inserted two bones in any slot. Mystery. Rory offered another but I said it was fine. (As I was getting this post finalised today - David found the missing bone in the garage, where he had been cutting the others. This one was marked, but not cut. Rory doesn't read my blog, as far as I know - but if you are, Rory - for once it wasn't me that lost something!))

Nicky had got to the stage where her daughter was able to try it on and it looked okay - except the cups were too big.

At home, David further trimmed the spirals and I somehow found time to complete the bias binding stitching. There were also a couple of hooks and eyes in the kit Rory gave us but I didn’t have time to sew them on.

I had what looked clearly like a corset!

I had been thinking of Joanne originally while I made this but after Nicky’s experience thought that perhaps Alison was more likely. It didn’t work for Joanne and she said she’d prefer the under bust design.  Helen tried it on over a tee shirt (she’s taller than me) and loved the shape it gave her waist, but the cups were huge for her. I think she takes a B cup in a bra. She was able to insert a couple of cooking apples in the cups while she was wearing it. I asked her permission to post that pic and she agreed!! 
D-cup apples

The gap is supposed to be even , but this was just a quick try on
Side view
Too much space

Alison then tried it, also over a tee shirt. It pretty much fitted. She has a bigger cup size, about G/H. Alison found it difficult to fasten the waist hook but also loved the shape it gave her waist; the laces at the back were not drawn very tight. She took it home with her, even though it was a test garment with a bone missing. I’m afraid all three of my girls have inherited back pain.

Sorry, another out of focus; snapped quickly on my phone

Good fit at bust

Spacing too wide at back, but fairly even

I tried it too of course  - I say tried it but it didn’t get around my body - there were huge gaps front and back!

I didn’t find this difficult (especially with David helping!) or particularly time consuming and would be prepared to have another go, actually making to fit or re-making a decent looking one for Alison if she wishes. I think, like Joanne, I’d prefer the under bust design for me. I’m not sure when we’ll get our patterns as Rory hadn’t yet ordered them.

I mentioned that I loved the test garment left by the test tutor. That had black self-patterned coutil underneath and black upholstery fabric on top, and black channels. It looked much more put together. The patterned coutil is at least twice the price of the plain but you don’t need that much, and Nicky and I could share a length and the postage.

Rory's view of photos
When the sewing bee took up again after the holidays, I showed Rory the photos of the girls. Her conclusions were
This is the correct size for Helen but she needs the A cup size
Alison is good in the D cup but needs a bigger size of corset as there is too much gap at the back.
Nicky also showed a photo of her other daughter in the corset. She needed a smaller size as the corset was tied up to the tightest at the back, the cup was a bit big and the B size was suggested.

Other lingerie thoughts - I have a much loved, beautifully fitting, bra which has already seen its last wear and I’m going to ask advice about cloning it. Others have suggested using a pattern. I’m open to both options, but I’ll see which is likely to be easier.  I discussed with Rory and I’ll take to a future sewing bee to let her see it; her feeling is best to take it apart and clone if in relatively decent order.


  1. Ooh, now that looks a good course, I've made boned bodieces to evening dresses, but never a corset. Well done :-)

  2. What an interesting class to take. I'd love to learn as well, but do not have the strength in my wrist to even contemplate this - per courtesy of mixed connective tissue disorder! As for bra cloning, if you have one that fits, this is the way to go, from what I have read.

    1. I have the same issue - hence David cutting wires, inserting grommets etc. Yes it's an issue
      I'll start to think about the bra in the next few weeks. No hurry! So many other things to do. I want to finish some UFOs before starting anything new


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