Corset Class – down to the weave

Shopping for fabric

Fabric photo by Litlnemo

While you’re at the fabric store picking up your pattern (or browsing online) you likely will also be tempted to pick up fabric and notions as well.

For your first corset – stay simple. While of COURSE you want to make a black leather corset with hand-embossed edges and contrast piping… or a gold butterfly brocade corset with hand-beading and a matching ballgown skirt… your very first corset is very likely to be ‘not-quite-perfect’. Plus, you’ll be using a bunch of new tools and techniques. So, with that in mind, keep your fabric choices inexpensive and easy to work with.

(Of course, I say this even though my first corset was a brocade, my second was a sheer fabric with flocking, and my third was pvc…. but do as I say, not as I do! 😉

For your first corset

I won’t give you a list of fabrics to choose, but here are some traits you’ll want to look for:

  • non-stretch
  • firm, even weave
  • affordable
  • sturdy
  • opaque (not see-through)
  • washable

… and here are some traits to stay away from:

  • Stretchy fabrics (knits)
  • Sheer fabrics (chiffon, fishnet, tulle, batiste)
  • Fabrics with a very loose weave or floating threads (satins)
  • Very expensive fabrics (metallic, silk, etc)
  • “Sticky” fabrics (like pvc, latex coated spandex, vinyl, etc)
  • Hard-to-sew fabrics (like leather, velvet, fun fur, etc)

I would recommend avoiding these fabrics too, unless you’re feeling especially ambitious:

  • Fabrics with an obvious direction or nap (these will just be slightly more challenging – if you’re set on them and have worked with them before, go ahead)
  • Fabrics with a large print (if you are fussy and want to match prints that is)
  • Fabrics that are marked “dry-clean only”

Of course, once you get really good at making corsets, all of these not-recommended fabrics can make it back up on your to-do list – but to improve your chances of first-time success, stick with the recommendations to start out.

How much fabric?

I recommend making a corset with a lining, an interlining, and a fashion fabric.

  • The fashion fabric is the fabric that everyone will see. This can be something decorative (I’d recommend a pretty printed quilting cotton for your first corset – this fabric is usually pretty easy to sew with), or something plain if you prefer. Picking out stitches is much easier on a very large print or a solid fabric than on a small pattern though, so keep that in mind.
  • The lining fabric will only be seen by you (and anyone who sees your corset before or after you wear it) so it can be plain or as wild and wacky as you like. This is a good way of using up fabrics that you might have once loved, and now aren’t as fond of anymore. I generally use a cotton broadcloth for this layer myself.
  • Finally there is the interlining. This is the layer that will do all of the hard work, like carrying your boning and your waist stay. Some corset makers will skip the interlining layer and put their support in the lining. Others make four-layer corsets with two layers of interlining. I usually prefer a three-layer corset myself. Coutil is recommended for this layer, however I generally use a very sturdy, stable cotton – mostly because I can’t get coutil locally, and having it shipped in gets expensive! This fabric won’t be seen at all either, so if you find a great deal on something where the colour isn’t quite right – go for it!  (Keep in mind that you don’t want a pattern that might show through your fashion fabric though!)

You’ll need to get fabric for all of these layers. Your pattern envelope will instruct you how much fabric to get, but a good rule of thumb is to get the length of your corset plus 10% for shrinkage. So, if you are doing an underbust corset that goes from under your bust to just below your waist, you’ll need a lot less than someone doing a corset dress! For larger individuals, fabrics that will need to be laid out using a ‘with nap’ direction, or for very narrow fabric, you will need more. For fabrics that are likely to shrink considerably, you should also purchase more fabric to account for this.

For your interlining purchase an extra 10 (approx) inches beyond what you need – you’ll be using this for your lacing strip during your fitting.

What about muslin?

One important step in using a new pattern is making a ‘muslin’ (so called, because muslin fabric is affordable) which is just a mock-up of the finished garment in an inexpensive fabric. This way you can work out all the fitting issues and kinks in something cheap, before cutting into something expensive.

The problem with a corset, is that you practically have to get 80% of the way complete before you can try the garment on to see if it fits. (Unlike a dress, where you could sew the body and a single sleeve, but omit the facings, hem, collar, etc in order to try it on.) Because of this, we’re going to be working with less expensive fabrics to start out, and will modify the corset from there. This means you might have a totally wearable ‘muslin’ when you’re done if you’re fortunate!

A note on breathable fabrics

A lot of people really believe that natural, breathable fabrics are superior, (cotton, linen, silk, wool) or that at minimum the lining that touches your skin should be a natural fiber (namely cotton). However, consider that having a breathable fabric that tight against your skin is never going to be as comfortable as a lightweight floaty sundress in an natural fabric. That being said, I personally don’t LIKE a lot of synthetic lining fabrics, and find that the cost of cotton broadcloth is much nicer than the cost of a really nice rayon lining. I also consider how a fabric will sew, how it will wear, how likely the dye is to bleed, and how easy it will be to clean.

In contrast, some people believe that the only thing you can line a garment in, is lining fabric. Others will say that the only correct fabric to use is linen (typically those who do historical corsets) or coutil (a special fabric made especially for corsets). If any of these ‘rules’ ring true for you, and the type of corset you want to make – go for it!

Fashion fabric considerations

Do consider the ‘wear’ of the fabric you pick as your fashion fabric (and to some degree your lining as well). If you pick dark colours, and wear the corset over/under light fabrics, the dark dye can bleed and stain your other garments (and the reverse too if you wear a dark item over a light corset). PVC, latex-coated, flocked and other fabrics with applied areas can rub off. Satins with long floating threads can snag. Sequin and beaded fabrics can be a pain to sew with, and can loose their embellishments over time.

For your first corset – pick something ‘simple’. Then when you get the hang of it and are ready to create a whole wardrobe of beautiful corsets, you can experiment with all the fabrics you love – including those who might have a shorter lifetime than others.

Feedback

We’re off to a good start – what other corset-making topics are you interested in?  Share them in the comments, and I’ll try to do a future post about them!

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One comment on “Corset Class – down to the weave

  1. May says:

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this information, I can’t wait until the next installment!

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