Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Corsetmaking Part 1: Drafting and Mock-Up

I've briefly talked about corsetmaking on this blog in the past, but I realize I've never really given any in-depth corsetmaking advice. This is mostly because it's such a huge topic and there are so many better qualified sources of information out there.

But I get the most drastic reactions to my corsets of anything I've ever made, and usually people are AMAZED I made it myself and CONVINCED they could never do that. And that's just wrong. Because two months before finishing my first corset, I was SURE I could never make a corset. I went to a panel on corsetmaking at a con, and I decided maybe this was something I could do. Then I started looking around online, and before I knew it, I was making a corset. And it turned out pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.

Making corsets is not actually all that difficult in my opinion, but it is demanding. You're stitching seams up straight, just like any other sewing project. You don't have to know any special sewing techniques. It's just that the garment in really complicated, takes a lot of time to put together, and has to fit very precisely.

Most clothing is made with a certain amount of ease. The clothes are a few inches bigger than the actual size of the body going to go into them. But a corset has to have no ease, to fit exactly, or actually sometimes a negative ease, since you're trying to reduce the waist. So you can't just pick a pattern, choose your size from a chart, and start sewing. If there's one step about corsetmaking that is the most important it is this: MAKE MOCK-UPS. Sure, go ahead and pick a size from the back of your pattern envelope. Then make a corset in that size using cheap materials and see how it fits.

Actually, I'm going to make it more complicated. If you are like most people, you don't fit one size perfectly. Your bust may be a size 14, your waist a 12, and your hips a 16. So what I recommend you do for a corset is to take some plain paper and transfer your pattern to it, with each of the three measurements matching each different size. Draw the size 16 hips, the size 12 waist, and the size 14 bust. The go freehand and do your best to draw smooth connecting lines between these three sections, matching the curve of the pattern pieces. It's really not that hard. Now you're well on your way to having a custom pattern that will fit you way better than the standard one already.

Yet another complication: this is a corset, and you may want to try to reduce your waist. If so, you may want to go ahead a decrease a size in your waist and increase a size in your hips and bust. You can wait to see how your original drafted pattern fits first if you want. If you're happy with the amount of reduction you get, rock on. But I'm serious that if you want to decrease your waist you will need to increase the hip and bust. You're just moving your body around, and it's got to have somewhere to go. How much you can reduce your waist depends on your build, your muscle tone, lots of things. Don't go overboard, but taking a few inches off you uncorsetted measurement isn't going to hurt you either.

A final thing to consider when drafting your pattern: do you want to make changes to the pattern. If you have a very long or short torso and usually have to remove or add inches to your clothing, you may want to do so now. If you want the top or bottom of the corset to come higher/lower you probably want to add inches now. You can always take some length back off if you decide you don't like it. Remember how much you've added though, so you can accurately take some or all of it away again.

So now we have a pattern we are at least ready to test. Now we make a mock-up (also called a toile or a muslin, after fabrics historically used for the purpose). What I use for my mock-ups is old bedsheets from the thrift store with cable ties from the hardware store. You can use any non-stretchy fabric you have lying around. I highly recommend that you do put boning in your mock-up. Otherwise you will not get an accurate idea of how it will fit you. I bought a couple of packages of long, heavy-duty cable ties from the hardware store and I just reuse these bones over and over in all my mock-ups. Eventually I'll have cut them so many times that I'll need to buy some new ones, but not yet.

You'll also need a way to close the front and back of the corset so you can try it on. You can add extra fabric to front and back and then pin it, but that doesn't really work well. You can sew hook and eyes to the front, use hook and eye tape, or put in a busk. I have a flimsy busk I tore out of a $10 corset that I use now. For the lacing at the back, you should go ahead and grommet some panels and then KEEP THEM so you can use them over and over for all your mock-ups. They don't have to look pretty, just so you can lace them up with something.

So, assemble your corset. Most patterns come with some instructions, and you can test those out if you like. This is nice for anyone who's never made a corset. You can try the technique out and learn and it doesn't matter if you mess up, cause you're only using an old sheet. So by the time you make your real corset, you'll have already made at least one!

There are a lot of methods of corset construction. I will talk about that in my next corset post. There are also a lot of different corset patterns, and I think that's probably it's own post, too.

I posted about my start-to-finish process of fitting my Laughing Moon Silverado Corset. You can see my two mock-ups and the finished corset, although I'm still not happy with it.

But as for now, I'll just point anyone desperate for immediate information to the Corsetmakers group on Livejournal. It's a fantastic source of information, advice, and support. I like to pick a pattern from the tags on the left and see all the corsets people made from that pattern. Follow the tags and you can find LOADS of great info. And if you post questions, people will do their best to answer them.


  1. How much of a lacing gap do you allow? I found a pattern (Simplicity, believe it or not) for an underbust, and found which size matches my waist when I hold it in, but I'm not sure how much smaller to go. Also, where should an underbust corset end? At the bottom of my bra? a little lower?

    1. You should allow for at least a 2 inch lacing gap, more if your weight fluctuates much.

      For a Simplicity pattern, I highly advise you make a mock-up from the size two sizes down from whatever the chart tells you. They tend to run really large in their corset patterns. Other than that, you pretty much need to make a mock-up and judge from there if you need to increase or decrease in any area.

      An underbust should sit just below the bottom of your bra, or a little lower. Sometimes it's uncomfortable to wear one with an underwire if they are too close, so it might be most comfortable with a non-underwire bra, or if it's cut a but lower.

      Good luck!

  2. I find the wardrobe unlocked drafting instructions work brilliantly and once the basic draft is done can be altered to give an infinite amount of variations and styles. in fact my first ever victorian corset was made using these instructions. :)

    1. Yes, you're right they are very good instructions. Although I think it helps to have some experience with making a corset for when you are shaping the panels.

  3. First, I LOVE your blog. I have just discovered steampunk. I went to school for costume construction, and I love to sew. I'm kind of a lazy seamstress, and I never made it through my corset lesson. (Or Costume Construction Tech, for that matter!) I've been terrified of making a corset, but I think you've encouraged me.

    Is it possible to rip seams and reuse the fabric if you make a mistake, or does it compromise the integrity? (Obviously, I didn't make it through Costume Construction for a reason. I'm not the best seamstress! There WILL be ripped seams!) I'm concerned about wasting fabric while I learn.