By Alaina Zulli
Part 2 of our three-part series will take you through all the steps of assembling your corset. You’ll learn how to flat-line, attach the waist ribbon, and make boning channels. Don’t fret if you don’t have your boning and other corset supplies just yet — you won’t need them until Part 3. Read on for the complete tutorial! You can also catch up by checking out last week’s introduction to corset making, including the downloadable pattern.
You should already have all of your pieces cut, both self and lining. In addition to the pieces in the pattern given in Part 1, you will need 2 back-facing pieces, 3″x16″, in both self and lining, and 2 front-facing pieces, about 2″x16″. If your self fabric is fairly stable you can use only self for the front facing. If it threatens to fray under stress, cut pieces of lining to stabilize it.
Becky and I found this black and pink cotton sateen pinstripe at Paron Fabrics in NYC. I go to this place for discounted designer clothing fabrics; they always have lovely things.
Step 1: Baste and press.
I like to mark my pieces in tailor’s wax with their piece number to keep track of which side is the wrong side. Hand-baste each self piece to the corresponding lining piece. You’ll be tempted to skip this step, but I assure you it is crucial! This is called flat-lining. In this case, the purpose of the lining is to support the decorative outer fabric and reduce wear, not to hide seam allowances like with most ready-to-wear.
Baste with long (.5″-.75″) stitches along the long sides from bottom to top. Don’t baste the bottom and top edges, because your 2 layers will shift during sewing and you will end up with bubbles.
Press from the center of each piece, taking care not to slide the iron. You’ll notice that any sliding will cause ripples in the layers, so just press straight down. The pressing is an important step. I can’t explain why (static? the heat makes the fibers mesh together?) but it will help you keep everything together when you assemble the pieces.
Step 2: Assemble the pieces.
With your clear plastic ruler and chalk, mark the sewing lines on the tips of the gores.
Lay out your pieces in order of assembly. This will prevent sewing the wrong ones together, which is easy to do with so many fiddly little pieces.
Sew together the corset using 5/8 seams (see Step 4 for seam variation). Match the notches, and stitch from top to bottom. There may be some small amount of distortion as you sew, so don’t worry too much if the top and bottom edges don’t line up exactly. You’ll trim that later. However, if your pieces are mismatched by more than about 1/4″, you’ll know something is wrong!
Step 3: Press and trim.
Press all of the seam allowances towards the back. At the tip of the gores, you’ll need to clip one side of the seam allowance so that it can lie flat.
Trim the bottom 3 layers of each seam to about 1/4″. I’m using applique scissors, which are great because their bottom blade doesn’t catch on the fabric.
Step 4: Flat-fell.
Technically, flat-felling is done on the right side of the garment, like on a pair of jeans. You can do it this way if you want extra seam definition in your corset. You’ll have to assemble the garment (Step 2) wrong-sides-together.
I do my flat-felling inside. To flat-fell, finger-press the top seam allowance under, and topstitch along the edge. If you want even more seam definition (and strength), topstitch 1/16″ from the seam. From the outside, this will give you the impression of channels running approximately 3/16″ wide.
Flat-fell all of the body seams first, and do the gores last.
Step 5: Attach the waist ribbon.
Cut 2 lengths of grosgrain ribbon. To determine the length of each, take your desired waist size, add 2″ for the seam allowance, and divide by 2.
To find the waist of your corset, pull your corset until you find the line of most tension. The waist ribbon will be slightly tilted, not directly perpendicular to the grain.
Machine-baste the ribbon at the center front and center back. Make sure the ribbon matches evenly on both sides of the corset.
Hand-baste along the length of the ribbon to hold it in place while you sew the boning channels in Step 7.
Step 6: Sew the back facing.
Each back facing will hold a bone along the back edge, a row of grommets for lacing, and another bone for sturdiness.
Sew the back facing to the corset with a 5/8″ seam. Press open, and then press the facing in, making sure the edge is crisp. Topstitch 1/6″ from the back edge.
To form the first boning channel, sew 3/8″ from the topstitching. It is very important that you never sew less than a 1/4″ channel, or your bone will not fit. If you must err, err on the side of more room. However, don’t overestimate, since you don’t want your bones sliding all around. I like to mark my stitching line with chalk.
Sew another line 5/8″ from the last stitching line, to form the grommet channel. Finally, trim the facing about 1″ from the last stitching line. Turn the raw edge under, and sew your last stitching line to form a channel 3/8″ wide.
Step 7: Sew the boning channels.
I sew one channel in the center of each piece, plus one alongside the busk. Corsetiers have all manner of boning techniques, bending them precisely around the body to ensure greatest fit, but I find straight up-and-down boning sufficient for this style corset.
I recommend using bone casing tape. It’s inexpensive and easy to use. If you’re feeling thrifty and DIY, you can use 1″ strips of your lining fabric.
Make sure your boning channels are more or less 3/8″ wide. More is better than less, but try not to deviate too far.
On Becky’s corset, I have turned under the bottom of each boning casing at each of the 3 back pieces. There is no need for stiffening over the flesh of the buttocks. If your derriere is significantly larger than your hip, extend the boning casings to the end to keep the corset straight. I extended the front casings to the edge so that the corset would not fold up in wearing.
Next Part: In Part 3, I’ll go over all the specialized techniques of corset making, including inserting a busk, cutting and tipping boning, and how to lace your corset so that it doesn’t gap at the waist.
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.