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Inserting a Two-Part Busk

The first steel, front-fastening busk was invented in 1829. (Waugh, 79) They’re nifty little beasties, especially at the end of the day when you would really, sincerely like to be OUT of your ding-dang corset. I’ve hear rumors that they can be used to get into a pre-tightened corset, as well, but I’ve tried, and I’m clearly missing a clue or two there. :/ The clue I do have is in how to insert the little buggers. Interested?

You will need:

  • Two-part steel separating busk (I order mine from
  • Back lacing corset, nearing completion

I’m inserting my busk into a bias-bound boning channel at the center front of the corset. The process is about the same if you’re inserting between a lining and an outer fabric – just use your outer fabric everywhere I’m using the bias.

busk and corset
Just to be clear, this is the gizmo we're talking about. The busk has metal eyes on one side and metal buttons on the other.
approximate busk position relative to edge of corset
In practice, the metal eyes protrude from the seam on one side of the corset, and the metal buttons poke through the face on the other side.
marking eye positions
Mark the top/bottom position of the busk on the corset. Place the eye side of the busk under the eye-edge of the corset, and mark the positions of the eyes.

Word of warning: check the position of the buttons/eyes of the busk first. Not all busks are symmetrical top-to-bottom. (I don’t know why. It seems silly to have one that’s not, but I’ve met them in the wild.)

lining up the layers
Make sure your upper layer has about 1/8" less seam allowance than your lower layer. (My bias tape does, but you might need to trim if you're using a full outer layer.) This will allow you to see your marks as you sew.
layers sewn together
Sew the layers together (right side to wrong side with my bias binding, right side to right side for a lining and outer layer). When you come to an eye-mark, backtack 2-3 stitches, jump the eye area, backtack and sew to the next eye area.

DO NOT make stitches in the eye areas. Even if it’s just one at the edge, it may make it impossible to get the eye through it’s opening.

checking that the eyes fit
This is a really good time to slip the eye side of the busk into the seam and make sure all the eyes fit in their little holes. If not, redo the offenders.
Eye side complete
If everything checks out in the last step, you're clear to turn your eye side right-side-out. I've got a boning channel right next to my eye-side, so I'm sewing right next to the edge of the busk as well as at the edge of the bias strip.

Don’t do that, btw… It’s rather persnickety. If you just can’t resist a challenge, use the zipper foot to sew next to the metal busk, and be very careful. It will break your needle.

button side
Ok, so the eye side is done. I've sewn bias to the button side of the corset - if you're using an outer fabric, just go ahead and sew around the pieces, leaving room for the turning.
alignment of busk halves
In practice, the button side of the busk will be inside the corset, placed like this relative to the eyes.

Please note: if you ordered a busk, it probably came fastened. Often, the buttons are closer to one side or the other of their metal stay. It’s a really great idea to note which edge is meant to go towards the eye side. In my case, it’s the side the button is closest to. (This particular busk works both ways, but is more inclined to jam when closed the other way.)

pin-marking the button locations
You could measure really, really carefully. Or you could butt the two edges together so the eyes are on top of the button side and put a pin through each eye where the button will be.

My secret super-power involves the ability to bend time and space in unlikely ways every time I pick up a ruler. I use the pin method. ;)

double checking distance of button from edge of busk
Pin method or no, it's a very good idea to check how far the bottom is from the business end of the busk, and then go make sure that all your pins are at least that far away from the edge of the corset.
checking pins are in line
Also, check to make sure that all of your pins ended up in a straight line. The edge of the ruler works well for this.
using an awl to poke the button holes
Using an awl, poke a hole in the bias strip (or the outer fabric) for the button to push through.
buttons through holes
Once you have a hole, push a button through it. I prefer to deal with these guys one at a time.

Now, more than likely, when you try to push the button through the hole you just made with the awl, the curved top of the button will make the hole magically disappear. That’s where Mr. Knitting Needle comes in – use him to enlarge the holes so they are as large as the button top. Trust me; they’ll snug down around the base of the button.

If your corset has a full outer layer, then congrats – you’re basically done. If you’re silly like me and using a bias binding, you’ll have to sew the other side of it down. (Or make it into a home for a piece of boning, as the case may be.)

finished busk
Voila! Mischief managed!


Works Cited

Waugh, Norah. Corsets and Crinolines. 1954. New York: Theater Arts Books, 2000.

One Comment

  1. Gregory
    Gregory October 30, 2011

    Simply beautiful. I also had no idea what bias binding was, but Google fixed that misunderstanding right up.

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