How to Make a Basic Two-Layer Coutil Corset

How to Make a Basic Two-Layer Corset, by Sidney Eileen

 

The most basic kind of corset I make is a two-layer, plain coutil corset, using vertical panel piecing.  This tutorial describes exactly how I make these corsets, and will note any simple variations you may want to try for yourself.  As always, this is not the only way to make a corset, and you will want to try different methods until you find one you like.

This method is also extremely similar to how I make the core layers for my covered corsets.  When I use a separate cover material without visible boning channels, it is added after the boning is inserted and secured, before edging or grommeting.  Full details on how to do that will be covered in a different tutorial.

 

Preparations

Before you start, you will want to have extra machine needles and extra pins in the smallest gauge you can find.  Chances are good that you will break at least a couple machine needles on boning, especially when you first learn to make corsets.  You want small gauge pins because they will distort the fabric less than larger pins.

Also, be sure to never purchase brittle-steel pins, because they can shatter instead of bending.  From personal experience, I avoid any and all pins made in China or Japan (good steel, but brittle).  I have never had a problem with any pins made in the USA or Britain.  I have no experience with pins made in other parts of Europe or Asia.  To test your pins, put on a pair of safety glasses and go somewhere safe to potentially shatter your pins.  Use two pairs of pliers to bend a couple of your pins.  If they bend, you’re good to go.

I also recommend wearing eye protection anytime you will be sewing near boning or pins, just in case a pin or needle shatters.

You will need an iron and ironing surface, for pressing your seams while working.

Also, remember that precision is key when making a form-fitting garment.  There is no ease in a corset, especially a multi-layer corset, so if you are imprecise in your cutting or stitching it can cause problems while sewing, or visible distortions in the final garment.  For example, if you have a 6-panel corset and stray an extra 1/8″ deeper on every seam, your corset will be more than an inch smaller in diameter when it’s finished.

The methods I use for making corsets are particularly unforgiving of imprecision in sewing and cutting.  If you know you will not use absolute precision when making your own corset, you may want to try a different method.  Some methods, like the welt-seam method, are much more forgiving of imprecision, and will still yield beautiful and quality functional garments.

 

Materials

Corset coutil is an ideal material, specifically created for use in corset making.  It is very strong for its weight, made from 100% cotton (so it breaths), and has very little give in any direction, even the bias.

If you don’t have coutil, you can use a sturdy cotton duck (canvas) or quality linen instead.  When using cotton duck, expect that the finished corset will have more give (natural stretch in the fabric) and fit slightly larger than would be expected from coutil.  Both will have more bias stretch, which may or may not affect the fit of the corset depending upon the particular piecing you are using.  I would also recommend edge-stitching all your panels before starting, to help prevent fraying while working with the material.

Wash and dry your fabric to prepare it, and press it flat so there are no wrinkles or folds to distort the fabric when cutting.

Purchase a quality matching thread.  Any good all-purpose thread should work.  To test the thread, unravel a length and try to snap it with your hands.  If it breaks easily, don’t use it, because it will break under tension on your finished garment.  If it is very difficult to break, or doesn’t break, it should work well.

 

The Pattern

When I create my patterns, the panels are numbered in ascending order from the backmost panel (where the grommets will be).  In this case, they are from right to left, Panel 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.  Panel 6 will contain the busk.  Throughout the tutorial, I will refer to the panels by their number (ex. Panel 2), and to the seams by the two panels joined together by the seam (ex. Panel2-3 seam).

All pieces are marked at the waistline at seam depth with a solid dot that will be matched when pinning.  They are also marked with different numbers of open dots to help keep them distinct.  For example, the waistline of Panel 1 is marked with a solid dot for the waist and one open dot to show it belongs to panel 1.  The matching waistline mark for Panel 2 (for the Panel1-2 seam) also has only one open dot.  The other waistline mark for Panel 2 (for the Panel2-3 seam) is marked with two open dots, and etc.

Each panel is also marked with an arrow or triangle at the top of the panel, to prevent inverting one of the panels when sewing.  The panels often look so similar that it can be very easy to get them backward or upside down if they are not carefully marked, and the small differences in the shaping can create dramatic differences in the fit of a final corset.

Cut two of Panel 1 on the fold.  If the corset will have a solid front, also cut two of the frontmost panel on the fold (in this case, Panel 6).  Cut four of every other panel (two per side).  Mark all pieces and stack them from highest number to lowest (ex. Panel 6 on the bottom of the stack, then Panel 5, 4, 3, 2, 1).

If you are using my method for inserting a busk, you will want to cut one of Panel 6 on the fold, and two of Panel 6 with seam allowance.

How to Make a Basic Two-Layer Coutil Corset, by Sidney Eileen

The corset panels are all cut, four of each panel, with the pattern pieces laying on top.

How to Make a Basic Two-Layer Coutil Corset, by Sidney Eileen

All the panel pieces are cut out and marked.

 

 

20 thoughts on “How to Make a Basic Two-Layer Coutil Corset

  1. Pingback: Making a Victorian Corset | Tea in a Teacup

  2. Thank you so much for this tutorial! It was really helpful! (Especially the abundance of pictures!)

    Will you be posting your covered corset tutorial soon? I’m very curious about that method as well. I want to try it, but I feel like there’s probably more to it than just attaching the outer and base layers at the edges and it’s just not occurring to me.

    • I would love to promise that the covered corset tutorial will be posted soon, but I just don’t know. I’ve been sitting on the photos for some time, but illness has prevented me from doing anything with them. However, since I have shut down business and typing doesn’t take much energy, I’m hoping to get the tutorial written and posted in the next few months. What I will probably be posting first is a piece I wrote last year intended for publication, but publication fell through. Since it’s all written, all I need to do is reformat it for my web site. That tutorial will show how to make a single-layer core corset with a cover, a very different process from the floating cover I mention in this tutorial.

      To make a floating cover, you actually have the right idea with attaching the outer layers at the edges. If you have been precise with your cutting and sewing, they should match up pretty well. That’s the real trick, is being painfully precise. Before you trim the top and bottom edges, sew the lining and cover into a continual loop of fabric, into which you slip the core layers. Line up the seams and the top and bottom edges, pinning thoroughly. Zig-zag baste stitch along the top and bottom edges to secure the cover and lining in place. Then you can stretch the corset around a pillow or dress form to make sure the cover is laying smoothly. Pull stitches and adjust as needed. Then trim and edge like normal.

  3. I was using this method (although not directly following this tutorial), and I found that my inner and outer cores did not match up when I tried putting them together. Especially in the curved areas of bust and hips, one of the cores (usually inner) was slightly bigger and would bunch when I tried sewing down the boning channels.

    How would you avoid that problem? It seems like it wouldn’t be unusual for the two core layers to be off by a little. Mine weren’t off by very much, but it was still problematic. Do I need to just get better at precision, or do people usually just iron the cores after the boning channels are done to line them up?

    Anyway, since I am pressed for time, I am just ripping out the inner core altogether and sticking with a “lite” version of this particular corset, but I would still like to know if you have any tricks for this.

    • Precision is the first and most important step to avoiding that problem, but no matter how precise you are, they are not going to be absolutely identical. The more dramatic a curve is, the more deviation you are inevitably going to see simply because the layer to the outside of the curve is following a longer arc than the layer to the inside of the curve.

      The best way I have found to deal with this is pinning so much it seems almost neurotic. Using slightly bent pins helps, because the layers of the corset can lay flat, the pin curving through the layers instead of the layers curving over the pin. When a curve is being problematic, it works a lot like easing two seams together. Pin at the waist, and at any other critical points, like where the curve out at the bust starts, and at the edge. Ease the layers, keeping the seam lines lined up. If you have a very dramatic curve, you may need to unpin the edge and let the shorter arc layer protrude ever so slightly. If doing so allows the layers to line up smoothly, it’s much better to trim a little excess before edging. Pin as many pins as you need to in order to keep the seams lined up over the curve. I sometimes have a pin every 1/4″ when preparing a dramatic curve, on BOTH sides of the seam. Essentially, I am using the pins to baste the seam together before stitching with the machine, because the movement of the foot and the feed dog can easily cause the two layers to slip slightly, and a slight amount can make a huge difference in the final product.

      Working with lining up the seams accurately and pinning them is also partially a matter of practice, and the more times you do it, the easier it will be to manipulate them into position. Ironing can also be a help if you are running into problems. I have a tendency to avoid the iron as much as possible, but if it helps you get everything where it needs to be, by all means use the iron. This tutorial shows how I make the corsets, but if you find something else works better for you, or something I do doesn’t work at all, then do your own thing. There is no single right way to make garments.

      • Thank you very much, for providing these extremely useful tutorials in the first place, and for being willing to answer questions!

        I’m definitely going to try to be even more precise with my pinning, though it wasn’t bad to begin with. I might also try pinning the layers together for a check *before* I baste down the boning channels. This didn’t occur to me at first, but it seems that it would give me the opportunity to take in seams where I need to for a better fit. I’ll try it with my very next one.

        Thanks so much,
        Nina.

  4. I was curious to know if it is plausible to do a deconstruct/reconstruct type of corset, by this I mean, I would like to take a shirt or garment and add a corset piece in it thus turning itself into a corset. What are the probabilities for this? I can send you pictures to further explain, if need be. This is a project for my wife and a little bit of a surprise to her. Any assistance would be appreciated.

    Thank you,
    -Jon

    • I’m sure it’s possible. I’ve seen blouses and shirts available mass produced which use corset piecing to create a corset-like appearance, often with very flattering effect. The construction, structure, and function, however, are completely different, so I don’t consider such garments to actually be corsets. If you mean you would like to use a fitting shirt as the basis for a corset pattern, it’s technically possible, but probably easier to start from scratch or from a duct tape form. This is because any normal garment is either stretchy (rendering it useless for sizing a non-stretchy garment) or is going to add ease so it fits comfortably over the body. Corsets are very rigid garments, so in order to stay in place without shifting and chaffing, they need to be smaller at the waist than the natural measurement, and ease out to the same or slightly greater measurement than natural at the top and bottom edges. I always work from measurements because in order to ensure a completely comfortable fit the corset needs to take into account the locations of bone structures, not just the outer shape.

  5. This is very interesting, I just wonder though what happened to the coutil, it only shows making one layer. But anyway I have once with the help of my mum made a one layer corset where you can see the bonning line showing through on the outside like this one, I now need to make a corset with velvet as my outer layer, some coutil that I bought becuase I was told it would help stiffen it more and keep it in shape and some cotton linning. Though I don’t want the bonning lines/channels to be seen from the outside like this one and my other one do. If I put the bonning channels on my coutil instead, will this work the same. I have seen those old fashioned corsets and some modern ones where you can’t see from the outside that it is bonned becasue all you see is one seam line where one piece joins the next and not 2 lines of stitching on each seam. My first attempt wasn’t brilliant and had very little smooth shape, I wish I could make one that looks flawless and smooth like yours and holds it curvy shape.
    I admit I like those corsets that come in very tight to the waist then, flare out over the hips, I keep getting frustrated trying to work out how they made it so good.
    Well done on the work on yours, though if you could e-mail me some pointers on my main issue with one i’m making now as described I would very greatful.

    Thank you from
    Tracy

    • There are two layers there. Each half is sewn as a continual piece (inside and outside layers), and then when the last seam is sewn you have a continual loop of fabric, two layers, with all the raw seam edges to the inside. If you look through my portfolio, you’ll see a lot of corsets where the boning channels are hidden. This is done by making a core like this, with the boning, and then sewing the cover and lining as a completely separate entity. That slips over the top of the completed core, hiding the channels and securing stitches for the boning. It is then fixed in place at the front and back ends, and along the top and bottom edges before the edging is added.

      It can be very tricky to prevent puckering at the hips, especially if there is a lot of hip spring. One way to help combat that is to add more panels. It’s easier to smoothly shape and sew lots of panels that each have only a little curve, than it is to smoothly shape a couple panels that each have a lot of curve.

  6. Pingback: How to Make a Basic Two-Layer Coutil Corset « Bank of Mom

  7. Reading all your tutorials (after making my first corset two day ago) I feel a lot more confident I didn’t do it too wrong! As through guessing (and looking at my current corsets) a lot of the things I did in a similar way.
    But there’s lots new in here I never even thought of. Oh and after cutting my own bones I am definitely buying pre cut next time!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the tutorials! :)
      I’ve never actually cut my own bones, but it does not look like it’s worth the trouble. Way too much time and effort. The only ones I might cut myself are the spiral boning, but for that to be worth it I would need to buy a huge coil whole-sale. I priced it out for the tips and length of spiral vs. pre-cut, and it worked out to be about the same price from most online suppliers, and one of them actually charged MORE for the coil plus tips than the pre-cut lengths.

    • All of my corsets are high enough quality to be used for tight lacing, and should last as long as a well-made bra even when used daily, regardless of the amount of waist reduction.

      • Oh, I was just meaning b/c of the shape. I want to start waist training/possibly tight lacing and people keep telling me not to get a corset that goes down on the hips b/c it’ll reduce the amount i can pull my waist in, but longer ones are what look better on me. Thank you for answering my question, though =)

        • The waist placement has more to do with your body type and natural waist location than anything else. If your natural waistline is low, you will want your corset waist low so it stays put. The waist of the corset will try to migrate to wherever your natural waist is, which can create uncomfortable pressure if the two are very different. A low waist does not inherently mean less waist reduction, and I’m not sure why you would have been told that. I’ve actually found it’s a very high waist that usually cannot take as much waist reduction, because the compression is uneven on the rib cage. When the waist is at the bottom of the rib cage or lower, the compression is gradual down the ribs, with the greatest pressure at the bottom where the ribs are naturally the most mobile. However, if the waist is low and tight lacing, in order to be comfortable and avoid pinching the pelvis it can require a very dramatic spring out to the hips, which is a shaping not normally found in ready-to-wear corsets.

  8. This tutorial is so awesome! It helped me make my first corset! Its hard to find a good corset tutorial with pictures that keep you on the right track. Your corsets are so beautiful and well made. Thank you for passing on your knowledge.

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