The costumer may have a few more tools at the ready than a modern garment seamstress. Things like a grommet punch, wire cutters, plastic tubing, copper spray paint, and yards upon yards of canvas cloth. The list of supplies may be overwhelming for a beginner. Here’s a list of the most essential corset-making supplies and where you can buy them.
Grommet setter or punchAs a costumer, you won’t get too far without punching a few grommets into something. I use grommets down the center back of corsets and for some steampunk crafts.
Grommets and eyelets are two different creatures. A grommet is made for heavy duty applications such as tarps, tents and (yes) corsets. Eyelets are made for scrapbooking and decoration. Eyelets will always rip out of a corset because they are not made to withstand the stress of lacing. If you own an eyelet tool, put it aside for bedazzling and get one of the following two tools:
Some people swear by and use a simple grommet punch. You set the grommet in the fabric using the punch and a hammer. I haven’t used this type of punch set, but it is a very economical for beginners or “casual” corsetmakers. I found the one pictured on the right at the Campmor website. I recommend using the 1/4” grommets.
The next step up is the Homepro LR tool. The grommets are punched and set by various sized dies. The tool sits on your table and does all the heavy work. Google “Homepro LR tool” to find websites that carry it. I found this website that carries a complete line of Homepro dies and various sized grommets. I’ve owned this tool for three years and haven’t had one problem with it. Well, except that my grommets weren’t lining up straight. I remedied that by making a grommet jig for the tool.
Boning and BusksTraditional boning or stays includes steel and spiral boning. They come in various lengths and width. Steel boning is just that - a length of barely flexible steel. Spiral boning is made of interwoven steel. This makes the boning very flexible and comfortable. Consult your pattern to find out what size and width you’ll need for the project.
The front of the corset is usually set with a busk. A busk is made of two parts. One side has “hooks”, the other side has “eyes”. They are set into the center front of the corset and allows the corset to open.
You may want to invest in a pair of wire cutters if you purchase boning by the roll. You will also need to purchase steel tips or Plasti-Dip to cover the edges of the raw steel.
Two great websites for boning, busks and tips are Delicious LLC and Lacis. They also carry a wide assortment of corset making supplies. You can purchase wire cutters and Plasti-Dip at your local home improvement store.
I have a slightly curved back, so when I wear a steel boned corset I am in severe pain by the end of the day. I need a flexible version. I could buy the spiral boning but I’m also cheap. I (as many costumers) use heavy duty plastic cable ties. Plastic ties are the perfect marriage of economy and strength for corset boning. They can be found at Home Depot or Lowes. To find out more about heavy duty cable ties and where to buy them, check out my in-depth article “Arte’s Guide to Cable Ties”.
Utility fabricThe fabric, not the boning, is what compresses your body to the proper shape. The boning keeps the fabric from wrinkling. The fabric does all the work. Don’t depend on your fashion silk, cotton or satin fabric to do the job alone. Use a second layer of utility cloth. Good utility cloths to use are duck, canvas, ticking, herringbone twill and some types of drill. Buy it at your local Joann’s, Walmart or even Home Depot.
Once you’ve made a few corsets, you may want to invest in coutil. Coutil is a fabric made especially for corsets. It has a high thread count and threads are woven very tight in a herringbone pattern. It is very expensive, which is why I don’t use it. On the other hand, it is quite beautiful and can make a corset last for decades. You won’t need a fashion fabric to cover coutil. It is beautiful on its own.
Bone casingBoning is attached by sewing in a casing and slipping the boning into the casing. I’ve found petersham ribbon to be the best for boning casing. It’s is strong enough to keep the edges of the boning from ripping through.
Do not confuse petersham with grosgrain. Grosgrain has a straight finished edge. I’ve tried grosgrain ribbon as boning casing and believe me, it doesn’t work. Petersham has a scalloped finished edge. I’ve used petersham as boning casing and as bustle ties. I think the petersham will outlast the garment. I use the 7/8” width because it works with the cable ties. You can purchase petersham ribbon online by the yard or roll at Judith M or Vogue Fabrics.
LacingI use 7/8” wide satin ribbon for lacing. It’s pretty, cheap, easy to find, and comes in all types of colors. I pick it up at Michaels Arts and Crafts. I also use drawstring cord or round athletic lacing. It’s basically the same cord used to make shoelaces. Don’t buy actual shoelaces. You’ll need four packages (expensive) and you’ll have to tie them together (ugly knots). You could also use 16 ft long parachute cord.
Quilt basting sprayQuilting basting spray isn’t necessary but oh so convenient. I use it to temporarily baste fabrics together while cutting out the pattern. Be sure to test it on scrap pieces of your fashion fabric to make sure it doesn’t stain. I buy it at Joann’s with a 40% off coupon.
Always test fit a corset before making it. Unless you are really lucky, the pattern as-is will not fit your body. The corset is a tight fitting garment and everyone’s body “squishes” differently. To make the fitting process easier, you should have these three tools on hand:
Lacing strip: Two strips of grommeted canvas. You sew it to the center back of the test corset instead of grommeting the test corset. Easy to sew in, easy to rip out and use on the fitting. Here’s an excellent tutorial by Bridges on the Body on how to make a lacing strip. Alternatively, you can simply sew a piece of 2” fabric to the center back to stand in for the gap.
Heavy duty separating zipper: A good substitute for a busk. Get one with metal teeth and is at least 18” long. Measure the center front of the pattern to get the right length. Just sew it in to the center front. Zip in, zip out.
A roll of wide masking tape or duct tape: This is a great substitute for bone casing. Just center your boning on the tape and press the tape in the corset.
Nothing is more annoying than cutting out the original corset pattern and needing a different size after the first fitting. Save the original by tracing the pattern onto 4mil clear plastic sheeting.