Underbust Corset #1

Allen and I are hosting a Halloween party in 2014, and our theme is Steampunk, which is a blending of Victorian and Industrial futuristic and alternative history aesthetics.  Usually a woman’s Steampunk outfit has some sort of corset.  So I began researching how to make one.  Which led to another.  And another… but more on that later.

simplicity-1819For now I’d like to show the first corset I made.  This is an underbust corset, from a Steampunk pattern, Simplicity #1819.  (Simplicity calls this a “bustier”, but it’s actually a corset.  Splitting hairs of semantics maybe, but a bustier usually covers the bust. Anyway…)

I made a mock-up from heavy duty, white cotton duck canvas. I used the size 12 pattern pieces as-is without alteration, just to see how it would correlate to my shape.  The pattern itself was surprisingly easy to use.  I had just assumed that a corset would be really complicated to make.  But in reality, it’s more time-consuming than complicated, if you’re using a fairly straightforward pattern like this one.

underbust-corset-1d underbust-corset-1e

I made the mock-up in a single layer of duck canvas, just to check the fit.  The lacing holes are made with 2-part grommets, and I used a pair of sport shoelaces from an old pair of tennis shoes as the lacing.  Overall I liked the fit, and it smoothed out my middle-aged torso nicely.  I only needed to make one or two alterations:  I didn’t really like the point between the breasts; and there was a bit too much room in the front center panels.   So I went back to my tissue pattern pieces and made those adjustments.  Then I began constructing the second mock-up.

underbust-corset-1fThis pattern calls for two layers, an outer layer and a lining.  The outer layer (commonly referred to as the “fashion layer” or “fashion fabric”)  is often made from silk, satin, brocade, upholstery fabric, etc.  My outer layer is a paisley cotton duck.  The pretty stuff.  The lining layer is usually made from cotton or linen – something breathable as it’s closest to the skin.  I used a tan linen on mine. Most custom corsetiers (corset makers) use a third inner layer (called the “strength layer”), which is most often made from a super-strong woven fabric called coutil (“coo-tee”).  Coutil is incredibly expensive, so a heavyweight cotton duck canvas or twill can stand in for the coutil on hobby corsets like this one.  My strength layer is made from cotton duck canvas, fused to the fashion layer with Heat N’ Bond to create a single, strong outer/strength layer combo.

underbust corset 1gAn important feature of a corset is how the shape of the torso is smoothed and the waist nipped in, to create an hourglass figure. The amount of reduction in the waist varies from person to person, and from corset to corset, and is usually determined by the goals of the corset wearer.  My goal in wearing a corset is mostly costume related.  So I’m not looking for a permanent change in the shape of my torso.  However, I can see value in sewing variations of a corset that apply to regular clothing.  More on that later.

underbust corset 1iIt’s  not uncommon for a 2-4 inch waist reduction to happen when a properly fitted corset is worn, and yet still be comfortable and able to take deep breaths, bend over, sit, etc. This reduction is made possible by the spreading out of the tension along the strength of the fabrics and the stiffened inserts along each seam, called boning. The boning was made historically from whale bone, but modern corsets usually use a combination of spring steel (sometimes called “white steel”)  and spiral steel.  These are superior types of boning, on all accounts.  However, a hobbyist can make a corset that uses heavy duty cable ties for boning instead of steel.  Hobby corset makers use cable ties for a couple of reasons:  primarily because they are relatively inexpensive, easier to work with than spiral steel by the yard, and the plastic boning allows the corset to be washed.  The down side to using plastic boning is that it responds to body heat and relaxes, sometimes resulting in warped plastic bones that don’t hold a proper trim shape; plus, any waist reduction beyond 2-4 inches isn’t really possible with plastic boning.  Another problem with using cable ties is that while they bend front to back, they do not also bend side to side like spiral steel does.

underbust corset 1hAs this was my first try at making a corset and I didn’t want to make a huge financial investment if this project didn’t turn out, I opted for the plastic.  I’m also incredibly impatient and the cable ties are readily available at Home Depot, so I didn’t have to order them; but also because this corset is for occasional use and not daily waist training or tightlacing, I’m not worried about the negative aspects of the plastic boning.

Overall this corset is surprisingly comfortable.  I like everything about it except the height of the underarm panels.  Once the corset was boned and the edges finished with a binding, the top of the underarm panels hits me too high.  It only needs a small amount of alteration, by releasing the binding edge at the top, pulling the bones out temporarily, shortening the two corset panels under the arm and then also shortening the plastic bones by the same amount, then reinserting the bones and replacing the binding (trimming it shorter as needed).

If you’d like to know more about corsets and corset making, I can’t recommend Lucy’s Corsetry highly enough.  This is the best place to learn about corsets on the internet, hands down.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Overbust Corset #1 (part 1) | Fimo Fanatic: Charlene's Blog
  2. Trackback: Overbust Corset #1 (Part 2) | Fimo Fanatic: Charlene's Blog

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