Last week Allen and I made some progress on my overbust corset. (If you haven’t read part 1 of this project, you can find it here. And you can find Part 3 here.) We worked on cutting and tipping the spiral steel bones. I want to give a huge shout out to Baroness Violet from Steam Ingenious for their fantastic tutorial on how to do this! I’d have been completely lost without her advice.
The first thing we did was to order the spiral steel from corsetmaking.com. If you’re thinking of making your own corset, this website has very good prices and reasonable shipping, with a wide variety of corsetmaking products to choose from. Their shipping was fast, and they even answered a question I had within 24 hours. Made me a happy customer likely to return.
I explained to Allen how to cut and tip the bones from the Steam Ingenious tutorial. The important part is having the right tool to cut the steel! You can get the steel cutting tool from corsetmaking.com. but it’s about $40. Or you could get a pair of Lineman’s Pliers for $16 at Sears. Fortunately for us, Allen already owned a pair. They look a little worse for wear, but they’re good stuff. The thing about cutting steel is that if the pliers you use aren’t made for it, you’re likely going to ruin them. So don’t just run out and grab any old pair of cable cutters. Even with the Lineman’s Pliers, it’s going to be tough to do. Having a man around with strong hands is a definite bonus. And don’t forget eye protection!
So we measured the length of each boning channel, minus 3/4 of an inch (to allow for the length of the boning tips and the binding seam). It’s not a good idea to have the bones in their channels so that they butt too tightly against the ends of the channel, because that gets in the way of sewing on the binding, because they may cut through the binding and work their way loose out of the channel. But if they are too short, they’ll possibly twist in there. So that’s why there’s a happy medium somewhere, and we subtracted 3/4 of an inch, figuring that would be about right. Did I mention wearing eye protection while you do this?
Now the next part is what is so, so ingenious about the Steam Ingenious tutorial. She used heat shrink plastic tubing to tip the bones. I’m in awe of what a simple idea that is. And talk about inexpensive. Oh and did I say easy? Yeah. All of those things. You can pick up the heat shrink tubing at any hardware store. We went to Lowe’s, and found this tubing by Ideal. If you’re unsure about what size to get, it will depend on the width of your spiral steel. Mine was 1/4 inch wide, so I bought the 1/4 inch wide tubing. You’ll just cut small sections, about 3/4 inch long to tip your bones with.
Next, we lit a tea light candle to shrink the tubing around the end of the spiral steel. You could also use a heat gun if you’d rather do that. We have both but we found that the candle was just a little easier and less cumbersome to work with. Bonus to that is, it’s cheaper than using the electricity for the gun. Allen just held the end of the steel boning with the tube on it over the flame, about 1/4 to 1/8 inch above the flame, and allowed the rising heat to shrink the tubing. Rotating the steel so that both sides shrink is important. It took less than 30 seconds for the tubing to shrink, and we didn’t want to get it directly into the flame because it could actually burn. But more likely it would weaken or get too thin– that happened with one of the tips we put on, and we had to put a second one over the top of it and shrink that one down to cover the steel that got exposed.
Crimping the end of the tubing is important, so that the steel doesn’t wiggle it’s way through the tubing and cut the fabric. We just used the edge of the pair of scissors we had cut the tubing with, pressing the end of the tubing closed. Once that tubing cools, then trim the corners of the tubing rounded so that they don’t fray any fabric in the boning channel. That’s easily done with the scissors.
Once Allen finished tipping a spiral steel bone, I’d slide it into the boning channel to check and make sure it fit. And it was a good thing I did, because I made a mistake on one of the bones when I measured it. That bone was about 1/2 inch too long. It wasn’t hard to cut one end and put another tip on it. But if for some reason I’d accidentally told him a length that was too short, then I’d have just set that bone aside and used it on another corset. So no loss if that happened. That’s one advantage of buying the spiral steel in a coil rather than buying the individual bones. If you’re wondering what the brown fabric is, that’s the underside of the corset fabric. I had sealed two fabrics together using Heat N’ Bond to make one strong layer for making this corset. It’s also the same printed duck cloth that I’d used for the underbust corset that I made.
Trying the corset on after adding the steel bones — we were both soooooo happy with how the steel lays in comparison to the duct ties. I mean, the steel bones are flatter and so they lay better in the fabric and are less noticeable. They conform to the curve of the bust, which the duct ties just cannot do. We both agreed that the next corset will be all steel bones. It wasn’t that much more expensive than buying the duct ties — maybe 50 cents more per bone. 10 yards of boning was about $15 including shipping. I had only resisted getting steel bones before because I was impatient and I didn’t want to wait for the steel to arrive. Well, trust me. You want the steel.
So we had a mild surprise when Allen laced me into this. He could get the lacing completely closed! I hadn’t anticipated that, and I was actually a little disappointed. Usually a corset won’t lace down all the way until it’s been “seasoned” – kindof like breaking in a brand new pair of 100% cotton jeans. Know what I mean? You have to wear them a few dozen times before they really feel comfortable. It’s the same thing with a corset. Initially there should be a few inches of gap between the lacing sides, and as the corset gets broken in (seasoned), the corset can be laced down tighter because the fabric has loosened up and stretched a bit. So. That’s why I was kinda disappointed that this one laced down all the way on only it’s second try-on. I guess I underestimated the size I needed. I’ll plan on going down a size for the next one.
Yes, there will indeed be a next one! In spite of the size being a little big apparently, I actually really like the shape and fit of this corset. It has a “modern fit” – which means the waist is more or less balanced in how the corset is cut. It’s not cone-shaped like a Victorian corset, but instead a gentle hourglass. Better for modern figures that haven’t been trained to wear corsets since childhood! Even with it laced completely down, I could breathe and had some upper torso movement inside the corset. Now probably some of that is due to the fact that my ribcage is a little small for my torso. But. It’s not going to be an issue. And besides — this corset will be worn over a blouse so that will mean I’m probably not lacing it all the way down at first anyway. It’s good. It’s all good.
My next step with this piece is to decide what I want to do with the back. If you recall Part 1 of this project, the back of the corset dips down toward the bum just like the front does. A waistcoat doesn’t do that; so I’m tempted to cut it straight across at the back, and I haven’t added the final grommets in case that’s what I decide to go with. But Allen and I were discussing it, and he thought that if my plan was to wear this corset with skirts, that the dip down the back might be more attractive than a straight cut across. And I think he has a point.
Lastly I’ll get the self-binding put on (that means a binding that is made from the same fabric as the outer shell of the garment). Making seam binding is fun, actually. A little zen. And when this is all done, Allen and I will do some glamour shots with it on to show you how the final piece looks. I’m getting excited for that!