Building your first corset

A number of times I’ve been asked how to build a corset.  It’s not especially hard, but it is fussy and time-consuming.  I have taught classes, but most of the time people want help individually, which I just don’t have time to do, and they don’t have the resources to put together a class.  So, I figured I would start off with some online tutorials (which I will add to bit-by-bit) to help people get started.

Qualifications

Just a few of the corsets I made prior to 2007 when this photo was taken.

Ok, so who am I to tell you how to make a corset?  Well, although it’s been a while since I’ve made one, I consider myself a corsetiere, as I’ve made over 100 corsets for myself and others over the past few years.  I have a diploma in fashion design from the University of the Fraser Valley (although we never did anything approaching corsetry in the program!) and when I worked for a local designer I was generally referred to as the corset-maven (among my many other official and unofficial titles).

I’ve made corsets for costumes, for fetish wear, for evening wear, bridal wear, lingerie wear, and even for dolls!  I’ve made corsets from delicate sheer fabrics and sturdy twills, I’ve embroidered corsets and hand-beaded corsets too!  More importantly, I’ve WORN a lot of corsets – mostly my own designs, but also from other creators.

Classes

Unless you are especially good at following directions and have a fair amount of sewing experience (including pattern reading, tailoring, and alterations) you might find it difficult to learn without some hands-on guidance.  Take your time and review all the resources available to you for the best results!  Before I even start going ‘online’ though, I want to talk about ‘offline’.  I do offer corset classes – I have three classes that I have developed over the years:

  1. Introduction to Corsetry – 1.5 hours – focused on buying corsets, wearing corsets, repairs, getting the most for your money, etc.
  2. Corset Pattern Drafting – approx 3 hours – developing a corset pattern that will fit you, discussion and review of commercially available patterns
  3. Corset Construction – full  day – building the first corset from easy-to-sew materials, as a first go before letting your imagination explode!

I am able to teach these classes still, as long as someone else sets up the venue, sells tickets, etc…  I just don’t have the energy or patience for this kind of thing at the moment.  I live in Calgary, and am totally willing to travel elsewhere to teach if expenses are covered. (And since some of my tools are very heavy, these would have to be supplied or substituted too…)  The first class can be any size – though would work best with 8-20 people.  The second and third classes are better with small groups for hands-on guidance.  I’ve taught theses as small as 5 people, and as large as 12.  If the students are largely experienced sewers, the class can be on the larger end, but if the class is mixed or has a high number of newer sewers, a smaller class size is better.

First step – inspiration & motivation!

Before you start making your first corset, think about WHY you want to MAKE a corset.  Do you have a hard-to-fit figure?  Are high-quality, well-made corsets not available in stores in your area?  Do you want to save money over the pricey corsets you’ve seen for sale?  Do you want a corset with special features that you just can’t find in ready-to-wear corsets? Do you want a corset to match another garment you’ve made?  Do you want a corset that is somehow ‘special’, and you just can’t find it available?

If you have a hard-to-fit figure, making your own corset is a great idea!  However just as making many other garments, you’ve probably experienced the need for significant alterations or modifications.  Be prepared for this during your corset-making experience too.  Be prepared to make a few “not so great” corsets before you make one you fall in love with and want to wear until the busk pops!  Many times “hard-to-fit figure” is code for “I’m a guy!” and unfortunately there are not a lot of ready-to-wear corsets out there for men.  There are some though, so keep looking, or plug in your sewing machine!

If you can’t find high-quality, well-made corsets in your area, you may have thought of looking online.  The problem I have seen is that corsets can be such a personal fit, and buying them off-the-rack (or off-the-internet!) can sometimes lead to an ill-fit.  With that in mind, you have other options.  There are stores that participate in traveling shows, there are your own travels, and there is also the option of ordering custom-made online as well.  Also, cast your net a bit wider… I was recently asked “where can I find a corset in Calgary?” to which I rang off a list of about 5-6 shops off the top of my head. Obviously not all of them are of the same quality as the others, but if the person asking had only looked in lingerie shops, it would explain the lack of options he or she was experiencing.

If you are looking to save money – sorry, you’re probably looking at the wrong avenue.  Consider the number of not-so-nice corsets you’ll make before you accomplish the perfect one you’ve imagined – now consider the cost of making all of those added up into the cost of your finished product.  Next consider the cost of any specialty tools or notions you’ll need, and shipping costs (since some of the materials you will need you probably can’t get locally).  Next, factor in the cost of your TIME.  Sure you might be looking to make your corset an hour at a time between work, school, shopping, cooking, going for coffee, playing with the kids or any other of the things you do in a day, but if you imagine this taking 20-30 hours – is your time worth it?  (Some will answer “YES!” while others will answer “no!”)  Finally, the cost of fabric.  There is this funny notion that sewing is a cost-saving hobby/craft, and it can be if you are thrifty.  Look for sales, recycle old clothing, swap fabric for your fantastic red velvet cupcakes, or anything else you can think of to save money – because when you are looking at meters of embroidered shantung silk at 60$/meter, sewing stops being a hobby for penny-pinchers!  (The only saving grace here is that an average corset will likely only take a meter or less depending on your size and if the fabric has an obvious direction or not.

That`s right.. hot pink fun fur!

Now, if you’re looking for something special, want to match something else you’ve made, or want special features, these are great reasons to make your own corset!  No longer will the desire for a hot-pink fun-fur corset with rainbow streamers elude you!

Next step

Please follow the `Corset Class`category  to keep reading as I add more posts to this topic!

Feedback please!

If you have photos of that hot pink fun fur corset… please share a URL with me in the comments below! Otherwise – share your ideas of why you might want to make your own corset!

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3 comments on “Building your first corset

  1. Katelyn says:

    Thanks so much for posting these! I’m a semi-experienced seamstress. I’ve done a number of bodices, but I’ve been inspired to make a dream corset, and I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of making one.

    • Dawn says:

      You’re welcome! I have a few posts lined up in the queue to post, and more in mind to write, so hopefully I’ll be able to inspire you to try it out! It’s really not that hard – especially if you’ve already made bodices and things!

  2. […] if you are coming to this page and you haven’t made your own corset yet (This is where I’d point you to post #1!) you might be wondering how to clean a ready-made or store-bought corset.  First off – take a […]

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