Dedicated with unending gratitude to everyone in the corset making community who has been incredibly supportive and encouraging as I seek treatment for advanced lyme disease. Thank you!
This tutorial will walk you through the process of making a basic, boned Victorian underbust style corset from beginning to end. It is written with the novice corset maker in mind, providing start-to-finish instructions using a method that is much more straightforward and forgiving of imprecision and errors than most of the methods described in my tutorials.
The method described is often called a “welt seam” method, but I have also seen it and variations of it called “folded seam”. The principle idea is that you build the corset from front to back, adding each panel as a complete unit. This makes construction relatively quick and easy by eliminating repetitive tasks and lessening the impact of imprecise cutting and sewing. It can be very strong and durable, and relatively lightweight. It is easy to include one boning channel per seam during construction, or to add boning channels with boning tape after the body is assembled and before edging.
The disadvantages are lack of design flexibility and the quick build-up of bulk at the seams. It is difficult to use with gores because of bulk where multiple seams meet, although gores inserted into a slash can avoid this problem. It can also be difficult or impossible to create extra adornments and features that span multiple panels. However, for the beginning corset maker the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, and this method and other similar variations are mainstays for many experienced corset makers.
You will need:
A Sewing Machine – It doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive, but it does need to be of decent quality. If you are making your corset on the cheapest sewing machine on the market, you may run into some problems with tension, consistent stitch length, or simply overtaxing your machine when sewing the thicker parts of the corset.
Assorted Notions – You’ll want to have a good stock of basic sewing notions like scissors, pins, pin cushion, measuring tape, cutting board, fabric chalk, thread, etc.
Strength-layer Fabric – Ideally, you will want to use corset coutil. However, this fabric can be very pricey so suitable alternates include cotton drill and canvas. Alternates will not hold shape as firmly as coutil and generally will wear out faster. It is also much more likely that your boning will wear through less expensive core material unless you use bone casing. Most people will need less than a yard of material for each layer.
Fashion-layer Fabric – This can be just about anything. Avoid stretchy materials. If you are using an alternative strength-layer fabric, using heavy-duty upholstery fabric for your fashion layer can help extend the life and durability of the corset. Most people will need less than a yard of material, so search the remnant bins at your local fabric store.
Boning – Ideally, you will want flat spring steel and spiral steel boning. What lengths you will need depends upon your pattern.
Grommets – Split metal grommets (with a flat lip around the outside) will hold the best. You will also need a setter for the grommets, a mallet, and a tapered awl. I like using O size grommets. Many other corset makers use OO grommets. Either works well.
Lacing – Something to lace up the corset in back, like corset lacing, parachute cord, or double-face satin ribbon.
Pattern-Making Supplies – Even if you start from a commercial pattern, you will need some pattern-making supplies to modify the pattern. On the cheap end you can use a pencil, tissue paper, tape, any ruler, a length of string, and a basic calculator. On the expensive end you can use a pencil, butcher paper or pattern drafting paper, tape, a large clear ruler, a flexible ruler, and a graphing calculator.
Busk – A split metal busk, 1” shorter than the center front of your corset pattern.
Bone Casing – Ribbon-like material with a pocket through the center, specifically made to hold boning.
Option 1: Purchase a commercial corset pattern and use these instructions instead of the instructions that come with it. If you do this, purchase a pattern with vertical panel piecing as close to your measurements as possible. Expect to alter the pattern if you want a perfect fit.
Option 2: Use duct-tape over a t-shirt to create a 3-D model of your body, drawing the pattern pieces directly onto the tape on your body and then cutting them out. If you do this, you will still want to reduce the waist slightly before actually making your corset, and expect to alter the pattern for a perfect fit because it may not take into account ideal waist placement.
Option 3: You can scale up one of the patterns from my scale pattern tutorial. Again, expect to alter the pattern if you want a perfect fit.
Your Body Measurements
Measuring accurately is very important to achieve the best fitting pattern from the start. Even if you have never taken your measurements before, all that is required is a little time and care and a friend who is willing to help. When in doubt double-check, or even triple-check. Take the extra time, because if the measurements are not accurate you can spend all the time you want on the pattern and your corset won’t fit when you’re done.
For detailed instructions, see How to Measure for a Corset.
To make certain the pattern fits you will want to make a mock-up. However, if you use mock-up materials that are weaker or have more bias stretch than your final core fabric, you will not get an accurate fit from your mock-up. Thus, ideally you will want to use the same material for your mock-up as the core of your finished corset. If you use an alternate material for your mock-up keep that in mind when you are fitting, and consider using two layers of alternate material to help it hold shape.
To make the mock-up use the instructions for making your final corset. Boning does not need to be secured in place, but it does need to be present. To try it on use fewer grommets or use eyelet tape. The mock-up does not need to be edged or finished in any way.
Mark alterations directly onto the mock-up and then alter the pattern pieces accordingly.
Pick Your Cover Material
Just about anything can be used as cover material for a corset, but some materials are easier to use than others. For a first corset try to pick a material that is crisp, can’t be seen through, and does not fray easily. If you do pick a material that frays, immediately after cutting out your pieces stitch the outside edges of each piece using a small stitch length and slight zig-zag. This will help prevent the cover from unraveling while you work. If you choose a material that is very supple, you may want to stabilize it with iron-on interfacing before cutting out your pieces.
Another consideration in cover material is pattern. Corsets with bold patterns or bold strips can look stunning, but they usually require very careful cutting and pattern matching to achieve a fantastic finish. This takes extra material, extra time, and extra precision. A bold pattern corset that lacks pattern matching is as obvious from a distance as a bold pattern corset that is perfectly matched. If you choose a subtle stripe or a small pattern, imprecise or nonexistent pattern matching will be hard to see, if it’s noticeable at all.
For the illustration corset I chose a solid brown herringbone drapery fabric. It is slightly supple, impossible to see through, and frays slightly. The herringbone pattern creates the visual appearance of vertical stripes without needing to worry about pattern matching.
Cut Out Your Materials
You will need at least two layers of material for this method to work. In most cases, that will be one layer of core material and one layer of cover material. You can add in other layers, like a second layer of core material, lining material, or a second layer of cover material. The only limitation is bulk at the seams. If your core material is thick and your cover material is thick, like most upholstery fabrics, you may find that if you add in more layers your seams are too thick to fit in your sewing machine.
For the illustrations I cut out one layer of core material (coutil), one layer of cover material (drapery fabric), and one layer of lining material (white muslin).
I included a busk, so for the core and cover materials I cut one Panel 6 on the fold and two Panel 6 with seam allowance. There is no lining for Panel 6. If the front was solid (no busk), I would cut two Panel 6 core on the fold, one Panel 6 cover on the fold, and one Panel 6 lining on the fold. If a solid Panel 6 has two core layers you can stitch boning channels directly into the center front of the corset to give it stability. If only one core layer is used in a solid front, boning tape must be used to hold the boning.
For Panels 2, 3, 4, and 5 I cut two core pieces, two cover pieces, and two lining pieces.
The lining for Panel 1 does not include the extra allowance for fold-over. I cut two cover pieces including allowance and two core pieces including allowance.
Be sure to transfer all marks to your pieces, including waist point, waist matching marks, and top indicator. On Panel 1 also be sure to mark where the fold-over allowance starts.