Corset Class – Busking for change

Back-laced corset in purple hand-dyed dupioni silk

Back-laced corset in purple hand-dyed dupioni silk

If you are planning to make your own corset (or shopping somewhere with lots of options) one of your considerations should be your front opening. (Assuming your corset laces in the back.)

With no front opening:

  • You’ll have an opportunity for embroidery, painting, beadwork, or other embellishment.
  • You can place fabric with a large motif uncut on your centre front
  • No front-opening is a style common to historical corsets
  • In order to get into your garment you’ll likely need to undo most or all of your lacing. This will almost always need an assistant to get dressed.

With a front opening:

  • You’ll be able to get into (and out of) your corset easier.

Your first corset

For your first corset (and for your muslin) I highly recommend having a front opening.

However, corset busks aren’t the easiest things to find, nor the easiest tools to install into your corset.  I’ve also found them somewhat tricky to do up, if you don’t have an extra set of hands to help you.

With this in mind for your first corset you’ll make, I recommend you use a front opening along with your back lacing.

Front-opening options

There are many different front opening options. You can go with a traditional busk, a spoon busk, hook and eye tape like found on many lingerie corsets, swing-clasp busks which have a great steampunk look, or even a zipper.

Hook and eye tape used in the front of a pink and black brocade  couture custom-made overbust corset

Hook and eye tape used in the front of a brocade corset

Each has benefits. Traditional and spoon busks have a traditional corsetry look. Spoon busks support the correct shape for that style of corset. Hook and eye tape, and zippers are easy to install, and can be purchased at fabric stores, with a fairly low price point. Swing-clasp busks and zippers are easier to do up. Hook and eye tape can be purchased by the meter – you can buy more than you need and cut it to size.

Each also has a downside. Hook and eye tape and spoon busks are difficult to do up. Traditional, spoon, and swing-clasp busks have to be purchased to-size online, and shipped. Traditional, spoon, and swing-clasp busks are fairly expensive (plus that shipping cost). Zippers have to be purchased at the correct length. Zippers and swing-clasp busks don’t look traditional for corsetry.

For your first corset that you’ll make – I recommend a zipper instead of a traditional busk.

A zipper?

Yep, a zipper.  Now, not just any ordinary zipper, but one that will be able to handle the kind of stress and strain you’ll put it under.

If you’re a regular sewer, you know that there are multiple kinds of zippers.  Invisible, fixed vs separating, dress weight vs heavy duty, metal teeth, plastic coil teeth, and plastic molded teeth.  As cute as an invisible zipper might be, it’s not what we’re going to want for this task, and of course to get in and out, a separating zipper is going to be the goal.  A dress weight zipper won’t be strong enough either, we want the heavy duty zipper.

  • Heavy duty
  • Separating

Zipper Teeth

If you’re fortunate, your local fabric store will have a wide selection in various colours and lengths. You can find the heavy-duty separating zippers with metal teeth, coils, or molded plastic teeth.  I’ll start out by saying that I’ve used all three and have never had a problem.

Metal teeth – Theoretically, the metal teeth are the weakest – I believe this because I’m easily able to remove them from the tape with some needle nose pliers and some time, but I’ve used the metal zippers frequently and have never experienced teeth pulling out because of the strain on the corset.

Using a strong needle to pry up the prongs on the zipper stopper. Fine needle nose pliers would work better, but I couldn't find mine!

Using a strong needle to pry up the prongs on the zipper stopper. Fine needle nose pliers would work better, but I couldn’t find mine!

Coil teeth – Again, in theory, the coil teeth are the strongest because they are able to self-heal to an extent if you get off-track.  However, I’ve had several coil zippers (on other things, not corsets) come off track, and it’s not much fun!  I also have found that they are more susceptible to heat (from an iron for instance) so I tend not to use them.

Molded teeth – I’ve also used the molded plastic teeth successfully – they are stronger than metal, more resistant to heat, but won’t self-heal.

There are a number of novelty zippers as well, like those that use rhinestones for the teeth – I haven’t used these myself before, so I can’t really comment on how strong they are – but would recommend sticking to the basics for your first corset.

Length & Colour

Obviously you can pick whatever colour you like for your corset – generally speaking you’ll pick something that matches your corset fashion fabric, but it really is up to you.  With the simplest construction, you will see the zipper teeth and a small amount of the zipper tape as well, so you can treat it like trim, or aim for it to blend in.  Metal teeth are usually on a neutral-coloured tape, so you might have silver-coloured teeth on a black tape, or copper-coloured teeth on a brown tape, while plastic teeth (molded or coil) are usually on a matching tape.

For the length, you’ll need to know the finished front center length of your corset.  Since this is your first corset, you can only look at your pattern for this; if you adjust your pattern later on, the length of your zipper will need to be adjusted accordingly.

The completed shortened zipper.

Shortening a too-long zipper

If your pattern has a notion listing for a 14″ busk – this will NOT mean you should get a 14″ zipper.  Traditional busks fit within the corset length- not end-t0-end.  If you get a 14″ zipper, it will be too short.  For this shopping trip, you’ll need to actually have your pattern piece, and measure the center front.  If in doubt, go longer – you can always trim down a too-long zipper, but you can’t lengthen one that is too short.

But I don’t LIKE the look of a zipper!

Fair enough!  You can certainly use a real busk for your first attempt – but it does add extra work, and there is an extra thing to order; with extra expense.  If you need to alter the length of your corset, you might also find that it is too short or long, and you’ll need to order another one.  It will also make it potentially more difficult to put on when you are going to try on your corset, and you’ll need one anyways for fitting your corset….  I really recommend for your first one, that you start with a zipper… you can get more complicated when you get more experience!

When I mentioned length and colour, I said that in the most simple construction method the zipper will be visible… but just like a fly on jeans, you can also modify your construction technique to cover the zipper entirely as well. This just means a bit more work… and some additional drafting. I suggest saving this option for when you’re more experienced.

What about hooks, buttons, or clasps?

Zipper-front silver foil-printed black velvet corset

Zipper-front silver foil-printed black velvet corset

There are some gorgeous corsets out there using cloak clasps, oversized hooks-and-eyes, Asian-inspired knots/frogs, buttons, and other closures. In several cases these are primarily decorative; there is another, functional closure under the decorative closure.  I’ve recently picked up some heavy-duty riveted over sized hooks-and-eyes that the shop keeper suggested trying with a corset, (I haven’t tried it yet) and I have used commercially available hook-and-eye tape successfully in the past as well as a front closure.  (They’re much more fussy to get into than a zipper!)

I’ve  put a zipper into a corset, added a front placket, and then added decorative Asian-inspired frogs/knots for a very elegant looking closure.  For your first corset, I really recommend staying simple – but definitely keep your eyes open for new and exciting closures that you might want to try in the future!

What is an underbusk?

You might hear about ‘underbusks’ – simply put, these are just additional pieces of (spring steel) boning that are inserted in the center front to support the busk (or any kind of centre front opening for that matter).  This is supposed to give extra strength and support to the busk, so it can handle the strain (largely of fastening and unfastening it).  Don’t worry about it too much for now – we’ll be getting to this when we get to the construction part of our class…




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