You know I’m always behind with things – so I know it’s just been my birthday this year (well, make that 3 weeks ago now), but I’m finally posting about my birthday present from last year, yay! (Told you I was slow!). Last year, Ben bought me what is probably one of the best presents I’ve ever had – a corset making kit complete with a pattern made exactly for my measurements. At the time, I was SUPER excited – mostly because I was struggling to find a corset that would fit my odd small underbust, average waist and large hipped shape and also because I was really starting to get into sewing. I was also apprehensive though as I hadn’t yet taken on a project quite like this before, in fact, I don’t think I’d sewn anything more fancy than simple dresses and circle skirts at that point! So I decided it was time to up my sewing skills. In January, I sewed my first Watson bra and knickers set, then I sewed a couple more of those. I also tried my hand at a couple of other pieces too to get out my dresses/skirts rut, then I decided it was finally time to make a start on my corset kit.
The kit and pattern themselves are from Sew Curvy. Ben had decided what he wanted to get me, but was at a bit of a loss as to what to choose and how, so I believe he emailed the company for a bit of advice and they were very helpful. He then sneakily managed to get my measurements off me (lots of measurements!) and figured out the style of corset I liked, then ordered me this custom pattern (I chose Option B for the underbust and rounded bottom shape) along with the Deluxe Corset Making Kit. The only issue that arose from this that I didn’t realise until I actually made it was that the Deluxe Corset Making Kit asked for a busk length, so we based that on my torso measurement (13″ we went for I believe), not realising that the Custom Pattern called for a shorter busk.
The kit itself was amazing – so well packaged with tissue paper and a ribbon inside a little cardboard box with a Sew Curvy sticker on it. It had everything I needed, including the coutil that the corset is constructed from, the spiral and flat steel boning, lacing, boning tape, waist stay tape, a mini eyelet kit, and even the little things like pins, needles of the right sharpness for coutil, a tapered awl for punching the holes, fray stopping glue, dressmaker’s carbon paper, and a dressmaker’s pencil. Basically, all I needed to bring to the table was a sewing machine and thread!
Let’s see some more pics now, then I’ll talk more about the process:
These photos were taken in the gorgeously picturesque cottage that we were staying in this weekend in the Peak District – we’ve been multiple times before with Charley and Frankie, as Frankie’s family owns the cottage, and it was just as much fun as we always have.
Anyway, I took it slow on this project, not wanting to mess anything up since it was expensive and complicated! I first made a mock up of the corset, using normal seams that I sewed down at either side and cable ties to strengthen it to see how it might fit. The material I used was likely an old pair of curtains or similar – not quite the thickness of the coutil but the nearest I could find in my stash, bought at a charity shop for £1! I was so surprised at the fact that even the mock up I made out of slightly flimsier material, weaker seams and cable ties still had the potential to pull in my waist significantly – it was crazy! I traced out the pattern itself from the Master Copy using my giant roll of tracing paper which will (hopefully) last me forever, not wanting to ruin the real thing by making alterations on it.
I then moved on to The Real Thing. I cut out my fabric, labelled it up in chalk (as advised by everything I read – making sure to keep left and right sides in separate piles), and hesitated. In fact, I hesitated for quite a long time. Partly because I was scared, partly because I was really unsure on how to sew the seams and boning channels!
The pattern I had was really for a single layer corset, although it explained that you could use it for more than one layer, but I thought starting out, I’d just go for the single layer just in case. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of information out there that I could find about how to sew seams and boning channels in a single layer corset for an absolute beginner. In the end, I went with flat-felled/welt seams – I’m still not quite sure of the difference, but basically I sewed a seam, pressed it open, trimmed one side right down then folded the raw edge of the other side over the top of that and enclosed it. Apparently you can use this method itself to insert the boning, but I decided to use twill tape over the top as boning channels. I also toyed with the idea of having the boning channels on the outside, but thought I’d best stick to simple for my first time!
Sewing the boning channels in was another learning experience as I didn’t quite know how to do it – the boning channel should be on the inside of the corset (the way I chose to do it) but top stitched from the outside. This means that you get a nice parallel stitching line with the seam, but unfortunately means you can’t see what you’re doing from the other side! With the boning needing to be inserted down these channels, you need to ensure there’s enough room left between your lines of stitching too on the boning channels. So after watching multiple tutorials and reading all sorts of guidance on it, I chose to baste my boning channels in place by hand first in a contrasting colour thread which I could then follow on the outside with the machine stitch parallel to the seam, then stitched in the ditch of the seam between panels. In the end, it worked! There was one particular boning channel (the first one I sewed I believe) that was very tight to get the spiral boning into, but I got there in the end! I also included the recommended waist tape along the waistline inside the corset to strengthen it. I’m afraid it veers ever so slightly off the waist when wearing as I wasn’t completely accurate when pinning it in place, but nevertheless, it’s there and mostly doing its job!
So here’s a quick view of the inside of the corset showing the boning channels, waist tape and lacing – oh, and one of me as a proud corset seamstress 😉 :
The eyelets for lacing at the back were actually a lot easier than I imagined to insert. As I said, my kit came with a mini “kit” for these which just needed a hammer to use to get them into place – in fact, I probably enjoyed myself far more than I should have done using that! I did do quite an odd thing though in which I believe I had the wrong number of eyelet holes (I’d changed the length of the pattern slightly between my mock up and real thing, so confused myself!) which means that I have a strange crossover going on in the middle of my lacing, so the bottom of the loop tightens the top half of the corset and vice versa. It’s not an issue as it works for me, but I’m not sure it’s normal!
The steel boning presented me with a minor issue in that I thought it would be easy peasy to cut to size – hint, it’s not. I ended up trying various methods and having to settle on buying a pair of strong bolt cutters for the flat steel boning (Ben was highly embarrassed by me searching for these in B&Q – I hadn’t realised they were what burglars use, just didn’t make the connection!). The spiral steel boning was much easier to cut through and I used a pair of strong wire cutters then filed off the ends before capping them and sliding them into place. I also had way too much fun doing all this metalwork!
And like I said before, I had the slight issue with the busk in that we hadn’t realised the pattern called for a shorter one than my measurements had given us. In the end, I lengthened the front pattern pieces so they have more of a dramatic point than a gentle curve. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite lengthen them enough as I hadn’t thought about the fact that the bias tape around the edges would be sewn down over the top of the pieces, so when sewing on my bias tape, I ended up having to stop just before the busk with the machine and complete it by hand, which I despise doing! One good thing to come out of that though is that I learned the importance of knowing how to hand sew with a thimble – ouch! (Am I the only one that didn’t know how to use on before?!)
I know the corset isn’t perfect – it wrinkles slightly around the waist and is ever so slightly off at the front where I didn’t evenly match up the ends of the busk. But I am SO proud it. I made it completely by myself, with no training whatsoever in sewing, having only taught myself how to sew less than a year before. It was most definitely a steep learning curve, but I managed to do it, to overcome every difficulty I came across, research all the new techniques myself, and at the end of it all, I have my best fitting corset yet as it’s made to suit my measurements exactly. It’s super comfortable and takes my waist down from around 27.5″ to 24″, even when just laced up without having had much seasoning. I mean, just look at it here on my Instagram under my Pin Up Girl Clothing dress!
And every sewing project is a learning experience, right? I’ve been planning on how to make my next one ever since I completed this one and already have some ideas of what to do next. I’d like to make one that’s more than a single layer, using the layers themselves to construct the boning channels (this seems to be the most popular and easiest method), covered in a fashion fabric (although I still can’t quite understand how you match up the print when the panels will have to have seams, anyone help me with that?!), and with double spiral steel boning on each seam rather than single to strengthen it a bit more and hopefully straighten out those wrinkles I have in this one.
PS: If anyone’s interested in the rest of the outfit – the dress is this Dolores from Collectif, a birthday present from Ben this year actually, and has a full outfit post coming up soon!