8 Tips on How Not to Screw Up Your First Corset

Over the weekend, I’m planning to fully dive into my corset for Lulu. This will mark my fourth corset, so I thought today’s post would be a good opportunity to share some of my mishaps and learning experiences in the hopes of helping out a few other newbie corset makers.

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Cosplayer’s first corset!

1.Do your homework: Corset making is not for the faint of heart. While none of the basic steps are particularly difficult, you do need to have a solid understanding of every step required if you want your corset to last longer than one event. Here is a list of a few tutorials and resources I found particularly helpful:

  • Corset Making by Julia Bramble is an amazing book and covers every part of beginner corsetry from types of fabrics to use to seams, grommeting, lacing, and more! Her website also has some great tutorials.
  • Sidney Eileen has some fantastic tutorials. Many take you through the entire process of making a corset, and several also focus on specific corset tasks, such as installing a waist stay or a busk.
  • Foundations Revealed is one of the go-to resources for the corset community. Tons and tons of in-depth tutorials!

2. Make a game plan: Just like other garments, there are dozens of ways you can approach a corset. Do you want a single layer corset? Do you want exposed boning channels? Do you not want visible boning channels? Think about what you want your final product to look like, because your process may change as a result.

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Floating strength layer for Belle.

For example, I knew going into Belle that I didn’t want visible boning channels, which meant that I needed a floating strength layer. All my hardware went into this layer so that the fashion layer could retain the appearance of a bodice. This also meant that I had to construct each layer separately, which impacted the order of construction.

3. Consider your needs: Many corset makers will tell you that your corset isn’t a “real” corset unless it’s made with coutil and steel boning. Well, that might be useful if you’re planning to waist train and wear your corset on a regular basis, but many cosplayers only wear their corsets for a few hours at a time. And let’s also not forget costuming budgets. Thirty-plus dollars a yard for coutil fabric is way more than I normally spend for costumes!

Plastic boning is a perfectly viable alternative to steel boning if you don’t intend to do tight lacing, and German plastic boning is one of my favorite types of boning to use. That said, most of the boning from your big box craft stores is built more for bodices and strapless gowns and is very prone to warping after a few wears. If German plastic boning doesn’t work for your project, consider using zip ties from the hardware store as an alternative.

When one makes a geeky corset, one must include a geeky lining ;)
If you look close, you can see some of the boning I used for Wonder Woman poking out. The only places I used steel boning on this corset were in the center front and in the back by the grommets. Everything else was German plastic boning!

As for fabric, I like cotton duck or a very tightly woven twill for my strength layer. I can get either through my local craft store, and it’s about $10 a yard full price versus $30+ for standard coutil.

A note about fabric: In corsetry, your fabric is what does the work of cinching in your waist, so it’s vital to use a strength layer. The boning is there to keep the fabric from wrinkling. You can have a strength layer separate from your fashion layer, or you can fuse your strength and fashion layers together (as I did with my recent Wonder Woman) using fusible web or flat lining them.

4. Pick the right pattern: Big 4 patterns are notorious for building excess ease into their patterns for corsets, making them more appropriate for bodices. A corset is one of those garments that should have negative ease, meaning that it should be smaller than your body’s natural measurements. It’s certainly possible to make big 4 patterns work, but you’ll need to pay attention to the finished measurements on the back of the pattern envelope and absolutely make a mock-up. Many corset makers recommend going down at least 2 sizes if you use a big 4 pattern.

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Callula in her Codex. I made the corset and she did everything else!

My personal recommendation would be to go with a company known for producing corset patterns even though they’re a little pricier. Truly Victorian and Laughing Moon have some great basic patterns, and TV110  is by far my favorite 12 panel corset. I’ve used it for 2 of my costumes so far as well as Callula Cosplay’s Codex, and it’s been a champ.

Matching notches is suuuuuper important with corsets, especially when working with this many layers!
Matching notches is suuuuuper important with corsets, especially when working with this many layers!

5. Mark your shit: You know those lovely marks on sewing patterns that are supposed to line up? Well, they’re super vital with corsets. Being off even as much as a quarter of an inch can throw off your final product. Make sure to mark and use those notches! Marking your seam allowances for your first couple of corsets can also be really useful.

6. Pay attention to grain lines: You know the saying “Measure twice, cut once?”. With corsetry, it’s more like, “Measure thrice, cut once.” Grain lines are hugely important to corsets. Why? Well, let’s have a brief discussion about fabric grain.

Photo by Roger Enyart on FB.
Circle skirts have large chunks of bias, which stretches over time. This is why you let them hang for a few days before leveling the hem! Photo by Roger Enyart on FB.

Woven (non-stretchy) fabrics are comprised of a grain and a cross grain that run vertically and horizontally on your fabric. These are typically the least stretchy parts of your fabric. The part of your fabric that runs diagonally to the grain and cross grain is the bias, and it’s the stretchiest part of your fabric. You know those packs of bias tape you can get at the fabric store? They’re made of material cut on this angle. Since corsets are designed to cinch everything in, it’s important to use the part of the fabric that *won’t* stretch, thus keeping the corset’s shape even when under heavy stress. So make sure everything is lined up properly when you cut!

7. Make a mock-up: I get it, making mock-ups isn’t a lot of fun. But if there’s any garment I recommend making a mock-up of, it’s a corset. Corsets are incredibly time consuming, so it’d be heartbreaking to pour 20 hours into a project only to realize it doesn’t fit. You also really need to make sure that it will be comfortable for extended wear and that you aren’t inadvertently flashing more (or less) boob than you mean to.

I normally make my corset mock-ups out of duck cloth, since that’s one less set of pieces I have to worry about cutting when I get to my final fabric. I also cut a 3″ wide rectangle of fabric the same length as my back piece to mimic the lacing in the back. Many corset suppliers also have pre-grommeted strips you can use for mock-ups, but I’m not a fan of lacing myself in and out of a mock-up multiple times for fittings. So far the basic rectangle has worked for me!

In lieu of a busk, I baste in a zipper. Speaking of basting, I also baste all my seams and press them one direction. When fitting, I turn my corset inside out and make all my markings on the wrong side so that it’s easier to see places I need to make adjustments. Taping your boning to the channels is also a useful way to see how your corset will fit!

Nearly finished corset!
Wonder Woman corset!

8. Take your time: Corsets might seem daunting when you first dive into them, but the saying, “If you can sew a straight line, you can sew a corset,” is true. The main thing to keep in mind during construction is to take your time and make sure you’re doing everything properly, and you’ll end up with a beautiful corset!

Where I buy corset supplies:

  • Corset Making Supplies : Go-to resource. Do double-check on some supplies though. Their coutil in particular is a little higher than some Etsy sellers.
  • Vogue Fabrics : Expensive shipping, but very fast and prompt customer service.
  • Farthingales : Great service, but based in Canada. Shipping takes a while.
  • Various Etsy sellers

I hope that helps some aspiring corset makers. Have you made a corset before? What tips would you share?

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13 thoughts on “8 Tips on How Not to Screw Up Your First Corset

  1. I love you so much! I’m just about to start working on my first corset for my live-action Cinderella dress, and am super nervous! I’ve ordered TV110 (mostly because of your Belle corset, which is exactly what I want it to look like!) and am so happy you’ve posted this. Thank you!!

  2. These are great tips, and especially for making a mock up. The fit is so personal and the shapes so not like anything else, that I think it’d be hard to not make a muslin to get a good idea of what you’re dealing with. I will check out German plastic boning. I’ve only ever used boning for nursing covers, and the plastic boning from JoAnn while fine for nursing covers, tends to really wear at the fabric and poke at you over time.

    1. Yeah, I’ve had that issue with plastic boning from JoAnn’s as well. I first heard about German plastic boning through Lauren of Castle Corsetry. Supposedly it’s as strong as spiral steel boning, though I haven’t tried to put that to the test yet. I’ve used it as my primary boning for 3 corsets so far, which has been a huge cost savings, and it does a great job of holding up under long periods of stress!

  3. Ah, corsets! Too bad I didn’t have this post when I made my first corset a year ago! I cannot agree more about the mock-up. I always always make one. And it’s very true about sewing a straight line…the pattern is the hardest part of a corset, the sewing actually isn’t bad.

    Another tip is to find/make a pattern that works for you, and SAVE it. When I need to modify a corset pattern, I’ll copy my “original” pattern and modify a new one. I’ll never forget making a great Ariel corset, throwing the pattern away, then having to start from scratch again to make Elsa!

  4. It’s not traditional, of course, but I like to make my corsets out of material with slight stretch, including the strength layer, if it’s separate. I like to line them with power net (I get that at http://www.tutu.com). This allows better breathing while still giving tons of smoothing support. I have a ballet background, and went into costuming because I wanted more flattering costumes to perform in and by now I’m completely spoiled; I don’t want a costume that’s not all-in-one supportive comfort! The trick is to be picky about the amount of stretch. Too much, and it won’t act much like a corset, too little and you might as well have just cut it on the bias. 2-way (not 4-way) taffettas, satins, or suitings are all good. I also love my serger, because 2-way and no stretch fabrics fray like mad when you’re cutting all those curves. Once I’ve finished my mock-up and cut my pieces in their final shapes, I serge each piece individually before I sew. I find it as critical as pressing my pattern pieces before layout; it just makes everything so much easier taking the time for this one precise step. I tried zip ties for bones once, but they bent pretty easily on me, so I stitch rigilene directly into straight seams and insert spiral steel in curves.

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