Q&A about corset making

Frequently asked questions from customers about products and services.

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  1. A range of Plastic boning on sale at Sew Curvy
    The range of plastic boning on sale at Sew Curvy.  All of it is suitable for corsets but in different ways and some, only as a supplement to Steel boning.

    I've talked about steel boning in a previous post, so lets now talk about the different types of plastic boning available and the pros and cons of each in relation to corsetry - which is what this site is all about after all.

    rigilene boning
    Rigilene boning comes in three colours, black, white and transparent, and 2 widths, 12mm and 8mm

    The most common type of plastic boning - and the most widely available - is  known as "Rigilene" which is made from polyester, a type of plastic.  Rigilene has been the boning of choice for many a dressmaker over many a decade.  It can stiffen, shape and hold your garment or parts of your garment and gives very light support.  It is thin and flexible, easy to use, can be moulded with an iron, can be sewn through and sometimes comes ready covered in satin or felt, making application to your garment even easier.  You'll find it in a range of ready made garments including prom dresses, bodices, skirts, jackets, wedding gowns.  In short, it can be used for all manner of sewing or craft applications where light stiffening and light shaping is required.

    From the perspective of corsetry,  Rigilene boning is not a good choice because it is too light to support a proper corset pattern, it will not help modify the body in any way, it will also distort over time giving you unsighltly lumps where you really don't want them!

    Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 14.21.27

    Having said all that, I do use Rigilene in corsetry and dressmaking for various little jobs where I need a bit of extra 'body' to a certain section of a garment - horiszontally over the bust to make a rounded shape for instance, or at the side bust to help a forward thrust where light help is required.  I also use it in corset modesty panels where only a slight amount of stiffness is required because I can sew through it and it makes one job less fiddly.  I sometimes use it as a supplement to steel boning in certain closed front corsets and bodices but it wont give enough support on it's own.  A novel application I've heard it being used for is to make feeding tents for babies and breastfeeding mums.

    Tripleflex boning is very lightweight  tripleflex Twill covered tripleflex boningJPG
    Triple flex plastic boning comes in different weights and widthes but is mostly very flimsy

    It is made from thin plastic folded three times - hence 'triple' flex

    It is what is inside 'twill covered boning' and in this formation serves a similar purpose to Rigilene boning.

    Tripleflex' plastic boning is a thin clear plastic boning which has been folded three ways.  It comes in various weights and thicknesses and is used for the same things as rigilene although a separate boning channel is required. Unlike rigilene, it is not heat proof and it is not strong;  it unfolds itself if you so much as show it an iron. The best way to use tripleflex plastic boning is when it is fully enclosed in twill tape aka 'twill covered boning".  This is as easy to use as plain rigilene and as it is ready covered, negates the need for a separate boning channel and therefore gives a smoother, neater finish than rigilene.  Tripleflex plastic boning certainly has its uses but you can't shape it and it will perish over time, so it is no good for heirloom garments or proper dress foundations.

    reenforcedplastic boning
    Reinforced plastic boning is thick and pliable but not springy

    Reinforced plastic boning is a thick pliable translucent plastic boning with harder white plastic threads running through it.  These threads are the 'reinforcement' of the title, and they prevent the boning from twisting.  This sort of boning is about 1-1.5mm thick, comes in various widths, and is good for using in place of flat steel boning where lightness is more important than strength.  It has no spring, and althought it could be used in light "corsetry" (ie: for children or young people where you don't want reduction) it is most commonly found in supportive swimwear because it is waterproof and elasticated fabric will do the job of keeping things streamlined and contained!  It will not help mould the body and it is not sprung which means it creates no tension which, in combination with your pattern and your fabric, aids corset shaping.  I don't stock this type of boning at Sew Curvy as I find it doesn't do anything that the other types of plastic boning I stock doesn't do.

    Synthetic whalebone is made of plastic
    Plastic 'Synthetic Whalebone'  is great for period style corsetry and comes in various widths and thicknesses.  It is extremely hard to photograph!  

    Synthetic Whalebone is a semi-rigid, fine translucent plastic boning which comes in a very wide variety of widths and thicknesses.  It is available to retailers from only one manufacturer in Germany and has been specially created to be a good lightweight alternative to flat spring steel boning. 

    According to the manufacturers catalogue this type of boning is "100% plastic, is machine washable and possesses good spring characteristics,  therefore returning to its original shape without any tendency to kink".  Note:  I have seen this type of boning being confused with plastic 'multi bones' from the same manufacturer, which are made from spun polyester and are not the same as synthetic boning as they are described in the catalogue as being "extremely soft".

    Other benefits of synthetic whalebone:  It is very light, smooth, easy to use, and can be moulded to shape with hot water or an iron/steam.  The thicker 6mm version which is 1.5mm thick, is the type which is most like authentic whalebone and most useful in Victorian style corsetry.  It works well in period corsets and historical costumes where a degree of authenticity is required, however, it is plastic and is therefore not an authentic substitute for either whalebone or metal boning which was invented by the Victorians to replace baleen.

    boned with synthetic whalebone
    Historical corset boned with Synthetic Whalebone by Izabela Pitcher of Prior Attire

    Where it is useful for a degree of authenticity is it's shaping properties and it's lightness and this is the reason that many historical costumers prefer synthetic boning to metal boning in their corsetry.  It is also true that some people find it more comfortable than steel boning, in the same way that some people find steel boning, much more comfortable than plastic boning.  

    In Victorian clothing, bodices and jackets are often boned - the lighter synthetic boning is good for this.

    whalebone flat
    Side by side two authentic baleen corset bones (top) and a plastic 'whalebone' at the bottom (white).  The modern version is maybe half a mm wider than the actual whalebone.
    whalebone side

    Thickness is also similar.  In the middle is the 6mm x 1.5mm synthetic whalebone, either side are the genuine baleen bones.

    To handle, the plastic bone is much stiffer, but ofcourse the baleen bones are very old so it could be that they are more flexible due to age and use - in terms of their flex, they are somewhere between the thinner synthetic wb and the thicker.

    Personally I prefer the smoothing properties of steel particularly at the front of the corset where I like a flat appearance rather than the rounded tummy of authentic Victorian style corsetry, however I do know of modern makers who do prefer SW over steel.  It's really down to personal choice and as ever - experimentation.  SW is around the same cost as steel so it's not an economical choice at all.

    As for the question, "Is plastic boning better than steel boning?" (or vice versa), the short answer is No.  Plastic boning is different to steel boning, it's not better and it's not worse.  It can perform the same function, but remember all plastic isn't created equal, sometimes it can be the best choice for a particular project, sometimes steel would be a better choice - as usual, it's for the maker to decide what to use project by project - we are lucky to have choice and it's exciting because it means we can do more things!

    General note on all types of plastic and polyester boning.  Plastic never decomposes and it's manufacture is not enviromentally friendly.  As discussed elsewhere on this site, most plastic boning will deteriorate with wear over time - it will not disappear and it will not appear to be changed, however it's original properties may be lost or distorted over time - whether that is 10 years or 100 we cannot know yet because plastic hasn't been around long enough

    Links:

    Buy plastic boning - our selection of plastic boning at Sew Curvy includes Rigilene in three colours and 2 widths, Synthetic Whalebone in 2 widths and 2 thicknesses, Twill covered tripleflex and satin covered Rigeline.

    Really interesting article found while researching, on polyester fabric, what it is and how it's made.  This site is also good for other stuff such as fabric printing and labels!

    Boning for dress foundations - which to use?

    Steel boning - how to use it

     

     

     

     

     

  2. dress foundations should be boned with metal

    I said this in 2014, and I'll say it again - read more to understand the context of why I said it and why I stand by the statement that plastic boning corrupts over time and simply does not stand up to the job.

    photo copyright : Julia Bremble, please do not use without permission

    I've talked about steel boning at length all over this website, and will soon write a blog post on plastic boning for your interest and information.  As ever, I present no pre-conceived conclusions and encourage experimentation at every step of your sewing journeys which is why it's no secret that I do not agree with the statement "plastic boning is better than steel". It isn't better and it isn't worse, it's different.  I stock various types of plastic boning and lots of different types of steel boning because each type is useful and apart from anything else, it isn't in my interests to persuade you one way or another.  In my quest to be a good shopkeeper and educator,  I personally test everything on my shelves and I do extensive research not only because I want to pass the information on so that customers can make an informed choice, but because this is my passion too. My overriding aim is and always has been that YOU choose what is best for your practice, and you make your choices after research, experimentation, experience.  It's your call, I can only give you information, inspiration and my own opinion based upon what I have found to work best for me.  

    Dior dress foundation with steel boning

    Dior dress foundation photographed by veteran corset maker Alison Campbell
    of Crikey Aphrodite who was commissioned by a collector of vintage couture
    to examine and reproduce an authentic Dior style dress foundation.
    It was during this project that we sourced cotton bobbinet for Sew Curvy which
    exactly matched the material in this original Dior garment. 

    Photo copyright: Alison Campbell - please do not use without permission

    So lets talk about dress foundations.  

    When I wrote this article,  dated March 2014 it was a long time before the current popularity of the plastic material known as 'synthetic whalebone' and I was referring to the more commonly available Rigilene, the plastic boning of choice for many a dressmaker over many a decade, a product which at that time sold in much more quantity than synthetic whalebone (or 'whale' as we call it at Sew Curvy HQ).  It still sells by the heap and because not all of my customers are corset makers, attracts queries on an almost daily basis, the most common of which is 'what's best for boning this wedding/prom dress i'm making, rigeline or spiral steel?.  I always reply that, in my opinion, steel is best but sometimes I will recommend the synthetic whalebone as a suitable alternative to steel - it depends on the purpose and desired outcome.  

    Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 12.00.40
    an order for sample boning received yesterday - someone's experimenting!

    Rigilene has its uses but is no good for serious dress foundations because it wont stand up to the job.  Lets look at why that is and why infact,  steel boning is the boning of choice for couturiers.

    Here is a Dior dress foundation photographed by me during the V&A Ballgowns exhibition a few years ago.

    Dior dress foundation ballgowns v and a
    Foundation of a gown from the V&A Ballgowns Exhibition a number of years ago -  you can clearly see that it is lightly boned with narrow spiral steel because the grey of the steel is showing through the pale foundation fabric which is made from a few layers of tightly woven cotton bobbinet.

    Here is another example of a dress foundation boned with spiral steel, and I am particularly interested in this one because it has toile panniers which I have been fascinated about ever since hearing about them from my showgirl friend and vintage couture conniseur, Immodesty Blaize who found them in the vintage wedding dress she wore to her civil wedding ceremony  in France.  This dress foundation also uses steel boning, again clearly visible by the grey colour under the net bodice, and there is a very good reason for this. 

    Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 09.13.30 Dior cocktail dress
    This dress foundation has multi layered tulle petticoats and toile panniers to support and give structure to the heavy satin dress which will go over the top of it. source

    As you can see from this particular example, this dress foundation is doing alot of work - As a whole it is transforming the body by smoothing the torso with the corsolette and creating the illusion of larger hips with the petticoats and panniers.  The bodice is not only smoothing the wearers body, it is also supporting those petticoats and panniers and the whole thing will then support the heavy satin dress that goes over the top of it.  Dress foundations therefore serve two purposes. 

    1. They smooth and shape the torso ensuring a smooth foundation for the wearer.
    2. They support the garment itself, improving shape, structure and comfort.  The garment, as well as the body of the wearer is supported. 

    Boning is used because without it, the foundation would collapse and would not support the weight of either the petticoats or the over garment.  Steel boning is usually used but in some cases, sturdy plastic boning such as synthetic whalebone could  also be used.  Rigline boning cannot stand up to the job because it is far too thin and flexible.

    The boning of choice for couture houses from the golden age, right up to the present day (and I supply many of them with steel boning, never plastic), is steel.  Why?  Steel boning is more widely available than decent plastic boning and it is much more flexible for curvy areas such as over the bust.  Also, steel does not degrade in the same way that plastic does over time, and what I mean by this is that spiral steel retains it's original properties for a very long time, plastic does not.  So although we all know that once plastic is made, it can never be 'unmade', the properties which made it useful when new, will degrade over a relatively short period of time.  Therefore, apart from the other environmental considerations, plastic boning will not produce an heirloom garment. 

    light and fluffy dress foundation

    This dior foundation is light and 'fluffy' and boned with 5mm spiral steel.
    You could probably use synthetic whalebone 6 x 1.5mm but would it last 100 years on a body?

    â’¸ Alison Campbell

    What about the argument that plastic is lighter, and that metal can rust?  Both of those statements are of course true, however, in a couture foundation, 5mm spiral steel boning is commonly used in combination with fine cotton bobbinet which is strong yet very light.  In other words, a dress foundation, although it performs light corsetting duties, is not heavy but it does need to be strong and durable.  The steel will never rust if the garment is looked after properly and also because it is galvanised to protect against rusting and because of it's structure (two flattened springs squashed together) it's properties will not change over time.  It is possible to use plastic whalebone for the same purpose and with the same effect but the integrity of the material over time is not so guaranteed and of course where steel could rust if not looked after, plastic can warp if not looked after.  The pros and cons are almost equal so again, we come back to choice when it comes to your own work.

    detail dress foundation

    no boning caps - don't faint!

    â’¸ Alison Campbell

    Having personally examined a number of couture dress foundations, and having had clients with collections of vintage couture, and friends who have not only studied fashion but have also studied couture garments for particular reasons and having customers from famous couture houses and production companies who order steel boning by the roll,  I can quite categorically state without a shadow of a doubt, that spiral steel boning is more common in couture dress foundations than plastic boning because more often than not, it is the best thing for that particular job.  

    So I am standing by my statement with the following caveat perfectly captured by Robert Dyer in his seminal book "Wasited Efforts' which includes a whole chapter on couture dress foundations that he has studied from the House of Dior who routinely use 5mm spiral steel boning and cotton bobbinet:

    "Interestingly, as scholars research and analyze the techniques of master coutiriers, it is often forgotten that the couturier is a master because they abide by no rules but are so confident with the art of sewing and cutting, that decisions are made depending on need not formula.  Sewing after all is simply a series of seams, some straight, some curved.  The crucial part is that the stitcher must become profient at doing them"

    And so it is with this exquisite dress by Yves St Laurant for Dior which was created in 1958.

    dior floaty dress with foundation
    source

    The materials listed are silk, metallic thread, glass and plastic.  We can assume that this 'plastic' refers either to the bead and sequin embellishment or the boning used for the bodice that supports a very etheareal and airy, sheer dress which is supposed to look like it is swinging off the body.

    "Creating the trapeze silhouette for Dior, Saint Laurent has a rigid understructure veiled under a fly-away cage. A boned corset anchors the dress but allows the delusion of a free swinging cone"  

    Without examining the finer details of this garment in person, we can only imagine that if the creator preferred to use plastic boning here, he did so because it was important for the final effect;  I would say that in order to preserve the light qualities of the garment, boning channels designed to hide grey metal boning would have been deemed to 'heavy' whereas plastic boning, being white, would give a more effortlessly etheareal result. 

    "Thus, in both surface decoration and in structure, Saint Laurent gained the effect of ethereal, bouyant freedom while retaining the structure of the couture. From the earliest works at the house of Dior through the designer's accomplishments in his own house, Saint Laurent has practiced and perfected this modernist wielding of couture construction and proficiency to seem wholly unfettered"

    So here we have a shining example of where, contrary to traditional streams of thought,  the designer may have felt that plastic boning was best for this garment and used it instead of metal boning.  The effect is sublime and as ever proves the point that we should use the things that work best for us and for the project in hand.

    In summary

    • Not all plastic boning is created equal 
    • Rigilene boning is too thin and flimsy to support a functional dress foundation and it will not stand up to the job
    • It's a scientifically proven fact that plastic will degrade over time, faster than steel.
    • Some sturdier types of plastic boning can take the place of steel in a dress foundation and do the same job with the same effect.
    • The best type of plastic boning for dress foundations at the current time, is 1mm-1.5mm thick synthetic whalebone.  The thinner types also will not stand up to the job.
    • Metal boning is undisputedly the go-to choice for couture houses to use in their dress foundations.

    As ever, context is important.  Where plastic can be used, use it if you want to.  Where metal is more suitable, use it if you want to.  

    There are no rules.

    The next article will be all about the pros and cons of plastic boning.

    Links for further info:

    A whole page of 'pins' concerning dress foundations old and new

    A Threads article where Susan Kalje uses steel boning as support in garments in surprising ways (probably some of which I would use plastic boning for)

    A blog post where a home sewer makes her own wedding dress with a really good technique on how to make really lovely sheer bone casings

    Anatomy of a modern gown with a bobbinet dress foundation by Morua Corsetry and Couture

    A few blog posts on How to make a dress foundation in several projects by me - including a post where I use rigilene boning in partnership with steel boning to make a moulded bust curve - a technique which I still use in some of my corsetry projects today.  This link also includes more details on the John Cavanah dress which is pictured at the top of this blog post and dates back to a road trip to the Symington archive that I made with friends around 5 years ago.

  3. finished bridal corset sand coutil with ivory net

    As you may know, I only stock products at Sew Curvy that I myself would use - and therefore I like to use them too.  I sometimes have so much inspiration that it's hard to focus on one idea at a time - such is the creative mind, and I imagine that if you are reading this, you are like that aswell!  So, for selfish reasons, not least because i've discovered that making things for fun is good for my stress levels, I've decided to indulge myself a bit and make some inspirational blog posts using materials from the shop.

    Being a shopkeeper I have to stock practical things as well as pretty things, and sometimes certain colours can seem a bit 'hmm' until you've played about with the possiblities; our Sand herringbone coutil is one of those 'hmm' items and probably one of the most difficult colours to pair up so that's where i've started! 

    ivory net and bows

    The sand coloured herringbone coutil on it's own isn't exactly inspirational - It's an odd colour truth be told - made for the medical market to replace what is now the vintage staple corsetry colour "tea rose" which is that salmony pink shade so common in corsets and girdles from the 1940's right up to the 70's, and which was the go to 'nude' of old.  Well this 'sand' colour (also once known as 'nude' and in Europe known as 'skin') is the replacement.  For medical corsetry, this colour was thought to be more compatible with a more multi-racial range of skin colours. 

    I call it 'sand' because it isn't like any skin colour i've ever seen, unless you count American Tan, but it is like a rich honey shaded builders sand.  It goes beautifully with ivory and also black as a base 'skin' tone type colour - it can melt away underneath a sheer underlay, and under ivory, becomes a very pretty bridal option. 

    In my first project,  i've teamed it up with our floral lingerie net, and two of our pretty guipure trims, along with a white busk and a cute little bra bow from the bra making range.  I like to mix and match shop supplies so that they are good for multiple uses and when I started stocking bra making supplies, I visited the warehouse to ensure that I could pick products that could be used for both bra making and corset making in a number of different ways.

    cutting out with no turn of cloth

    The most exciting thing I have to tell you about this project is that there is NO ROLL PINNING !!  Why?  Because the lace fabric has a slight stretch to it, so if you incorporated turn of cloth as you would a normal non-stretch fabric, you might get a bit of unsightly bagging.  Fabric with a slight stretch can cope very well with turn of cloth so no pesky fiddling about with those seam allowances and no tedious pad stitching as some people do. 

    Simply cut out both layers of your corset pattern at the same time, and stitch the coutil and lace together within the seam allowance.  Easy peasy and an excellent place for beginners to start with multi-layer corsetry!

    inside with garter tabs and bias boning channels

    I can't bear waste (ha!), and in my classes I teach what I call "fabric economy".  With this in mind I can literally use almost every single scrap of coutil from half a metre or a metre - whatever i'm using to cut the pattern.  Because 12mm bias strips, which I use for boning channels, are only 2.5cm wide before being processed, you can get alot out of the surplus material around the corset pattern and  when you're paying anywhere between £10-30 for a metre of fabric it pays to be thrifty let me tell you - especially with the more expensive coutils such as the rosebud coutil.

    In this picture you can see that i've used self made boning channels from 2.5cm wide coutil strips, and I've used 15mm satin ribbon stitched into the binding as detachable suspender loops. 

    Using matching coutil for your boning channels gives a single layer corset a very tidy interior negating the need for a separate lining and therefore making sure you end up with a light yet strong and durable corset.

    bias maker and strips of coutil

    I use the Prym bias binding maker for making the bone casings because it has a wide gap in the 'nose' - other bias makers can't take the thicker coutils, and I find that this little maker works very very well.  You cut your strip of coutil on the bias OR on the straight grain - it doesn't matter as long as you use a bias strip over particularly curvy bits.  Then you feed your strip through the little thingy, pin the end of the tape to the ironing board, and pull the contraption along your strip until you have a double folded peice. 

    I'll be making a video on this as soon as it stops raining!

    The bias strips are then used as boning channels and everything is stitched down with my 'wonder thread' - Guterman no 722 - it is literally invisible on a very wide range of fabrics!  Jenni Hampshire of Sparklewren fame discovered this and I've also been a devotee of the colour ever since... It literally disappears into any neutral coloured fabric including a number of the coutil we have at Sew Curvy:   Mink, Sand, Biscuit, ivory/gold rosebud, nude/silver rosebud, dessert orchid brocade, biscuit spot broche and small weave herringbone.  Amazing!

    bow and white busk

    The corset fabrics are all set off rather nicely with a white busk and a little cream bra bow.  Unfortunately, our black and white busks are currently on limited stock as my coloured busk project is on hold - basically the original factory mucked it alot of things up and i've been talking to another local place who have yet to provide samples for me.

    Here are some other palette ideas for the sand herringbone - black spot net, with black 'little crowns' guipure and either a Victorian style guipure with our 'latte' satin ribbon woven into it (good for lacing too) or the black tulle 'scrolls' trim.  Both look pretty and all of these options will go with our suspender elastics very well.

    black net and ribbons black net and scrolls trim

    SO! if you want to have a go - you can do this with any corset pattern at all, and these are the ingredients I used to make this cute little nude underbust.  All she needs now is a name - I think "Daisy" seems quite apt.


    Estimated material cost for a 22" corset approx £40 (excluding tools) if you had to buy everything - but see what's in your stash and have a play! It's good for the soul.

    shopping list 

     

     

  4. We've started the new year off with a bit of a bang!  The most important and exciting news is that we will soon be branching into BRA MAKING SUPPLIES!  Watch this space for more news.  I've been to the wholesalers, I've selected all the things, i'm now waiting on pricing info and stock.  Here's a picture of all the samples bundled on to my work table to whet your appetite!

    lingerie supplies

    Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 09.27.05

    DESIGNER TIP!

    Bees wax conditions and smooths thread.  Simply run your thread through a block of beeswax, iron the thread, and use.  No it doesn't make your work greasy, but it does make your thread super smooth and super strong!  
     
    New! Pure 100% Paraffin wax is offered now as a vegan alternative and is on site now!  

    Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 09.30.32

    Due to popular demand, I've added a new beginners corsetry class to the schedule in MARCH.  Three places have gone, and three are still available!  These go very quickly so do hurry and book if you want to learn corsetry this year.  The next available beginners class will not take place until much later in the year.

    BUSK REVOLUTION!

    In addition to bra and lingerie making supplies, we have powder coated coloured busks coming which will match and tone with the coutil fabric we stock.

    Coloured busks

    But i'm not the only place where you can get special corset busks!  I'll be writing a fuller blog post next week telling you all about the "busk revolution".  In the meantime, here's a taster pic!  Stay tuned to find out more on where to find coloured busks, bespoke colour matched busks, and engraved busks for all your projects!

    powder coated coloured busks