The Secret of the Single Layer Corset

finished corset

Somewhere in the Victorian era, people started coming up with ideas for making corsets more comfortable to wear. Gigglishiously ironical though that may sound, some great innovations came out of it. One of my favs is the single layer corset – no lining, no interlining, just a base layer of fabric and some boning. If you do outdoor events in the summer, it’s a trick worth adapting. (“It’s period! It’s just not quite your period, dear rennie…” says the voice of evil. Heh. ;)  )

So what’s the big secret?

 

A single layer corset, like any other corset, needs two things:

  1. a way to hold its bones securely
  2. a way to hide the ugly

For the bones, you’ll want a big ol’ batch of bias tape. I recommend making your own, since you’ll save a bunch of money and you won’t be tied to whatever odd assortment of colors the nice folks at Wright’s have decided are worthy of bias-tape-dom. Bias tape will also figure into the “hide the ugly” portion of the single layer corset.

Here’s the trick:

pieces assembled with seams on outside
Start by sewing your corset pieces WRONG sides together. This will put your seams on the outside of the corset. I’ve sewn my seam allowances down about 1/8″ from the original seam for extra strength, and I’m trimming them.
waist stay pieces
The design I’m working with has a decorative waist stay on the outside of the corset. (This is a good idea if you’re going single-layer with a waisted corset.) The real strength comes from duck cloth, but I’m covering it with the same twill I used for the bias tape.
stay pieces ironed
The fastest way to do that is to cut the business portion of the stay without seam allowances, whack out the pretty layer with something at least resembling your normal seam allowance, then iron the seam allowances of the pretty layer over the edge of the business layer. You’re looking at the back of the piece, btw.

If that all seems like a lot of bother, you could just use a pretty ribbon. ;) Heck, you could use ribbons for the boning casings as well. I’m using bias because most of my casing lines are curved.

waist stay stitched
Stitch down whatever waist stay you’re using. (Sorry about the busk in the picture. I was more planning for the busk demo than this one when I did the photography!)
additional bust support
Depending on the size of the bust you mean to support, you might want to add a second layer to the corset just at the bust. 

The original this is based on used corded coutil. Mine is made of two bits of twill and 2 layers of 1/8″ cotton quilt batting channel stitched together. I only need to make the bottom edge pretty – everything else will be hidden by other elements of the corset…

busk inserted
If you’re using a front closing busk, now is a good time to put it in. It’s way easier to do before the rest of the bones are in.

Not sure how to put in a closing busk? Try this.

seams covered with bias
Cover all of your seams with bias tape. Your seams are now super-reinforced, so you can stop having nightmares about spontaneous corset explosion… Not that I still have those or anything…

I’m actually using these as functional boning channels, as well. I find that boning the curved seams really helps shape the finished corset.

boning channels added
Add the rest of your boning channels.

 

inserting boning with pliers
Insert your boning. This can get a little dicey in the channels that have seams hidden in them, and where the boning goes over the waist stay. I like to use pliers to push the boning into the channels. It’s easier on the hands that way.
edges bound with bias
Bind the edges of the corset off with bias.

Whack some grommets in, and you’re good to go.

inside of corset showing stitching lines
Here’s an inside view of the corset – you can see all of the stitching lines, but there aren’t any unfinished edges lurking about.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s unfinished bits inside of a project. It’s like they’re just waiting for a chance to rear their ugly little heads and shame you publicly…

So, if this is a single layer corset, how come the back of the body is different to the front? The reason I’m using this technique is because I wanted to make the corset out of this lovely, completely inappropriate, chocolate brown twill. So I flat-mounted the twill pieces on duck that matches the twill I used for the bias. (Flat-mount is a clever way of saying, “I stacked two pieces and treated them like one while sewing.”

finished corset
The finished corset.

12 Comments

    1. Yikes! Sorry – lost something in an edit! That should read, “Flat mount is a clever way of saying treat-these-like-one-piece-now”

      More better? ;)

  1. I am SO going to try this for next year? I’m going to try my hand at going all lady-like and this corset might make it half-way bearable in So Cali heat! Thanks!

    1. Hey, Jamie – If you’re not trying to support too much of a bust/waist curve, you can actually interline your bodice with plastic canvas instead of using a separate boned corset. While this is entirely apocryphal and Comepletely Wrong(tm), of course, it will give you an effect not entirely unlike those bizarrely stiff Italian bodices while still allowing airflow. (If you have a larger bust proportional to your waist, it’s not going to provide enough structure to support the bust. It will keep the bodice stiff around the bust if you give it a titch of ease, but you’re on your own for cleavage.)

    1. Hi, Britt,
      Great question! Do you mean the construction technique, or the use of twill and duck? Construction wise, this would be fine in coutil, but does not require it. Both the the fabrics I used share one of coutil’s greatest strengths, in so far as they are sturdy, relatively tightly woven cotton fabrics. That gives them both the strength and abrasion resistance that you want in a boned garment expected to take some strain – it’s one of many factors that help prevent the bones from wearing through.
      Whether or not coutil is the right fabric for your corset will depend a lot on the specific weave of the coutil and the type of corset being made. Coutil is specifically refers to type of drill (hence the name, french for drill) – a tightly woven cloth made of tightly spun fibers, generally cotton, in any variety of weaves. (Picket, 1999, pp.85). The strength of a fabric is a combination of its base threads (fiber and treatment) and the weave used. The weave also determines its suitability for different patterns.
      The coutil we see most commonly is woven as a herringbone twill. That weave gives it it greater bias movement than a plain weave, but less risk of long-term bias distortion than a single-direction twill. It’s great for multi-piece corsets without long seams on a relatively true bias – many of the Regency/Victorian/Edwardian corsets, through there are exceptions. I’ve used it for 17th and mid 18th century corsets in the shop, and I find that it’s really not suited for early eras. The cut of earlier corsets, which use primarily straight lines for shaping, does not play well with the herringbone weave. My experience has been that the coutil wants to lettuce (ie, expand on the cut edge) when cut on a strong bias, and needs to be worked over with steam to get it back to rights. Sturdy plain wovens work best for those, though tight satin weaves* are also an option. Since coutil is relatively pricey, you should use it for what it’s best for (later era, unless you can get it in a plain weave).

      *no, not the kind you can find and Ye Olde Jo-Annies. Seriously. Do not even try to make a corset out of costume satin. *shudder*

      Cited
      Picken, M. B. (1999). A dictionary of costume and fashion: historic and modern : with over 950 illustrations. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

    1. Hi, Lacey – The pattern was one that I developed off of a moulage (ease-less draft) for a client. It was a very simple mod – basically just nipping the waist in and moving the bustline up. I’m sorry, but I did not do a demo of that one.

  2. I wish I could see HOW you sewed the bias tape over the seams. I have a good idea on my mind but I’m not sure if this is what you did and if it would work… To be honest I’ve only worked with bias tape once and I’m not THAT familiar with it

    1. Hi, Pricila – I just centered the bias tape over the seam. Then the bias tape hides all the nasty bits of the seam, and there’s a place for the boning. There’s no magic. As long as you sew the bias on the edges and it’s mostly straight, you’re good.

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