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.
Before you start, you will want to have extra machine needles and extra pins in the smallest guage 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 guage 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 (LiveJournal link), are much more forgiving of imprecision, and will still yield beautiful and quality functional garments.
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 diffuclt to break, or doesn’t break, it should work well.
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. Panel 2,3 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 Panel 1,2 seam) also has only one open dot. The other waistline mark for Panel 2 (for the Panel 2,3 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.