Corsetmaking Tools of the Trade

Corsetmaking Tools of the Trade

You might know about the anatomy of a corset itself, but if you've ever wondered what tools and equipment are needed to create one, this is the post for you!

Corsets are a complex garment to construct – their difficulty lies primarily in creating fit, in maintaining accuracy over many seams, and in the sourcing of specialized hardware components. While most of the stitching can be done on any basic sewing machine, setting in the hardware (busk, bones, and grommets) calls for a bit more. Of course, the specifics will vary somewhat by maker, but here's a rough breakdown of the tools used to create a corset.

 Marianne Faulkner (Pop Antique) pattern drafting with a lightbox under the tutelage of Alexis Black (Electra Designs) circa 2010. For efficiency, I now just use the slight transparency of pattern paper itself.

Marianne Faulkner (Pop Antique) pattern drafting with a lightbox under the tutelage of Alexis Black (Electra Designs) circa 2010. For efficiency, I now just use the slight transparency of pattern paper itself.

Step 1: The Pattern
To create a pattern for a corset calls for paper, a flexible ruler with a grid, a pencil (and eraser), and often some kind of french curve. The pattern informs the shape of the pieces of fabric that you cut out. Personally, I only use drafting pencils for drafting patterns, as I find the point on anything else too inaccurate. Lastly, of course you need scissors to cut it out.

Step 2: Cutting
Many corsetmakers prefer to use a "rotary cutter" (like a fancy pizza cutter!) to cut out their fabric in lieu of using scissors. It tends to be both faster and more accurate than using scissors, as the lower blade of the scissors lifts and distorts the fabric. The setup for a rotary cutter is a large cutting mat on a table of ergonomic height. Rather than pins, weights are used to hold the pattern pieces steady while the corsetiere cuts around them. Some makers trace their patterns onto the fabric with tailor's chalk or a wax pencil (marking either the stitch line or the cut line with the included seam allowance), and then cut around that rather than using the patterns directly.

 Cat Woish at Dark Garden working on a fully boned bespoke leather corset.

Cat Woish at Dark Garden working on a fully boned bespoke leather corset.

Step 3: Sewing
A standard single needle, straight stitch sewing machine is all that's called for with most modern corset constructions! Even pins may not be necessary. (Depending on the construction, I sometimes only use a single pin right at the waist level on each seam.) Home and industrial sewing machine models are both used. In addition to standard tools like thread snips and a seam ripper, a zipper foot and an awl are both needed to set in the busk. Some makers may also choose to switch to a specialty foot for topstitching bone channels or binding. And of course, a good iron is a must for clean stitching, while a tailor's ham can be used to help steam-mold a corset's curves.

Step 4: Boning
If your boning or busk is not pre-cut to the correct length, additional tools are required to do so. Cutting down bones (or a busk) calls for a hefty blade: either hand-lever shears or heavy-duty bolt cutters can be used. The ends must then be sanded down with a file, belt sander, or dremel. Plumber's tape, tool dip, or boning caps may all be used to finish the smoothed tips. Then, to insert the bones into the corset occasionally requires the aid of a pair of pliers.

 
 Corset: Dark Garden | Photo © Loic Nicolas

Corset: Dark Garden | Photo © Loic Nicolas

 

Step 5: Grommets
Lastly, to set the grommets calls for another piece of specialized equipment, which comes in several different makes. The most basic option is a loose die set which is used with the aid of a hammer. While plier-shaped hand tools are available, they aren't popular as they tend to set grommets unevenly. The next step up is to use a hand-lever device (again with dies that are the correct size for your grommets). Best of all is a free-standing press, operated by a foot/kick lever. Corset lacing ends may be finished by with a lighter (if using a satin ribbon) or with crimped aglets (for wider ribbon or shoelace style lacing).

 
 Corset: Pop Antique "Vamp" | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © John Carey

Corset: Pop Antique "Vamp" | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © John Carey

 

What do you think – are you more or less daunted by the idea of making a corset now that you know what equipment is needed?