Step 1: Insert the right (eye) side of the busk.
Pin or hand-baste the facing to the right side of the corset front. Using your clear plastic ruler, draw your stitching line in chalk 5/8″ from edge. Position the right side of your busk (the eye/loop side) about 3/4″ from the top edge. The bottom of the corset will extend several inches past your busk. This is fine — you can add hooks and eyes at the end if you want.
Mark off in chalk on either side of each eye. Sew from the top, skipping the areas that the eyes will go through. Make a couple of backstitches at the open and close of each gap.
Using your zipper foot, sew the facing on as close to the edge of the busk as possible. Sometimes I hand-baste first if the fabric is slippery.
Trim the facing to about 1″, and finger-press under. Sew a boning channel a scant 3/8″ wide.
Step 2: Insert the left (knob) side of the busk.
On the left corset half, sew the front facing to the center front edge in a 5/8″ seam. Press the seam open, then press the facing in.
You’ll notice that the knobs are closer to one edge than the other.The closer edge should be at center front.
With the corset sides facing up, lay the eye/busk over the left front of the corset with the top and bottom edges aligned. With a chalk or pencil, mark through the eyes onto the left side of the corset for the placement of the knobs. Usually I just mark the first knob this way, and mark the rest as I go.
Using an awl, push a hole through the top layers of the left side (all layers except for the facing and facing seam allowance). Work the awl around a little to loosen the yarns. Don’t cut the threads! This will weaken the area and make ripping during use more likely.
Push the first knob through the hole. I use my awl to gently work the threads over and around the head of the knob. I usually have to work the hole open a few times to get it wide enough to go around the knob.
If you absolutely can’t get the knob through, try going only through the fabric and lining, not the seam allowances. Repeat for all the knobs.
Using a zipper foot, sew the facing as close to the busk as possible. I prefer to sew from the right side, to avoid getting the knobs stuck in the needle plate. Sometimes I baste it by hand to keep all the layers in line.
Step 3: Insert the bones.
If you’re buying your boning pre-cut, this is the step where you measure the length of each channel (remember to subtract a generous 5/8″ from both the top and the bottom for the seam allowance). If you bought a coil of boning and are cutting your own, read on.
I cut, tip, and insert each bone separately. This probably takes more time than if I did it all in a batch, but I find it easiest this way because it is so easy to get the bones mixed up.
To cut, find the correct length by laying the boning on the channel, taking care to not extend the boning into the seam allowance. At the same time, you don’t want the boning to be too short, because too little vertical support could lead to wrinkling. Therefore, try to be precise in your measurement.
Cut the bones with wire cutters. I usually find mere strength and metal insufficient, so I bend the boning back and forth to break it off. I find that the slightly jagged edge helps to anchor the boning tip.
Attach a tip to each end of each bone. Farthingales has their own set of instructions, and they are good. However, I find the two sets of pliers unnecessary and usually just chew around the tip until it sticks. If I’m really desperate I use glue. Tipping bones takes some practice, so don’t despair if the first dozen don’t stick on. That’s why I had you purchase extra tips.
If you haven’t already, sew a stay-stitch along the bottom edges of your corset.
Insert the bones. Sew a stay-stitch along the top edge, taking great care not to break your needle when you come near the bones. I often sew this with my zipper foot.
Step 4: Bind the edges.
Bind the top and bottom edges of the corset. Usually I cut bias strips from the self-fabric 2″ wide. You can also use a matching bias tape, piping, or whatever takes your fancy.
To attach the bias strips, I usually sew them in a 3/8″ seam right-side to right-side, turn under, and whip to the inside by hand. For Becky’s corset, I stitched the bias down from the front side (called stitch-in-the-ditch). Then I did a catch-stitch over the raw edge inside in pink thread, which I think gives a beautiful hand-made finish.
Step 5: Insert the grommets.
Plan your grommet placement so that the top and bottom sets are near the edging. Space the grommets so that they are about 1″-1.5″ apart. The spacing will differ according to the exact length of your finished corset.
I always try to make a set of grommets at the waist slightly closer together to designate where to position the lacing. This will make more sense in Step 6.
Step 6: Lace your corset.
You’ll need approximately 5 yards of lacing. Ribbon and twill have historically been used for lacing, but I find that they do not hold up as well as flat lacing or cable cord.
Have you ever spent your gym period picking apart that plastic bit on the end of your sneaker lacing? You can finish your corset laces with the very same stuff. Farthingales sells it by the foot. To apply, sew around the ends of your lacing, and then thread through the tubing. Hold the tube over a flame until it melts slightly into the lacing.
To lace your corset, start at the top and lace in criss-crosses down to the waist. At the waist, lace two at the outside. You can see this best in the illustration. The point is to get the lacing at the waistline, so that when you pull, the most tension is at the waist.
Photo by Nathan Rosenquist
Step 7: Try it on!
You will have probably already tried it on, but if you haven’t, now is the time! The top of the corset should be just past the nipple. The bottom will extend over your hips, but shouldn’t ride up and cause horizontal wrinkles.
Pull the corset from the loops formed at the waist. Traditionally, corsets were often tied in front, but you can choose to tie yours in front or back according to style.
About the Author:
Alaina Zulli is a dressmaker and costume historian based in Brooklyn, N.Y., who specializes in historical sewing techniques. She spends her days dissecting old clothes, sewing new ones, and researching the lives of the women who wore them.