Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Corsetmaking Part 4: The Folded Seam Method Tutorial

Update: I have an improved tutorial on this method published on the site Foundations Revealed.  It is available now for free.

As I mentioned in my previous post, my favorite method of corset construction doesn't really have a good, agreed-upon, descriptive name. I've seen it called a lot of different things, but none of them really say much about what the method IS. So I've named it the Folded Seam Method. It probably won't catch on and I'll just be one more person calling this method something different, but oh well.

1.  Cut all your corset pieces for all your layers.  For this method it helps to have a generous seam allowance.  I am using a 3/4" allowance, but you can use 5/8".  For this corset I have my outside fashion fabric layer, one layer of coutil, and one cotton lining layer.   My next step was to combine my fashion and strength fabric into one.  I did this by flat-lining: sewing around the edges of the pieces.  You can also use fusible web.  You can see I've marked the numbers of the corset pieces with chalk.  This is important, since they can get confused.  I number my corset pieces from the center front to the back.  It doesn't matter how you number them, just so long as you're consistent.

2.  I wanted this corset to have a floating lining for a cleaner look, so I assembled my lining layer first.   I sewed the seams, pressed the seam allowance (SA) towards the front of the corset, and topstitched the SA down about 1/8" from the seam.  I do this extra line of stitching for added strength and to keep the seam allowances out of the way.

3. Insert the busk at center front, attaching the front layer to the lining.  Busk insertion is not really difficult, but does have a lot of steps.  I'm not going to cover them here, but instead I will point you to the tutorial I used to learn how to do it.  Sidney Eileen's busk insertion tutorial.
The difference from her method is that I am using a 3/4" seam allowance to cover my busk pieces in the back, rather than two layers of strength fabric.  So you can see that my lining is now attached to the front of my corset, as is my waist tape.  As a floating lining is only attached to the corset at the busk and at the back grommet panel, I simply fold it out of my way for the rest of the corset assembly.

4.  Attach your next corset panel.  Sew the panels, right sides together.  If you have two layers of coutil, or a non-floating lining, you will sew ALL the layers of your corset together at once, right side of the top layer against the right side of the previous panel, right side of your lining layer against the right side of the previous lining panel.  Fold the panel pieces into place, leaving ALL the seam allowances pointing towards the rear of the corset.  Press.   (You can see I have carefully pinned my waist tape into it's right place.  It will be caught in the stitches for each seam, so it is secured in place.)

5.  After pressing your seam allowances towards the back, topstitch them in place, about 1/8" from your seam.   (Note: at all points, you are sewing through ALL the layers, unless you are making a floating lining like me.  You can see the lining hanging down, not attached anywhere but at the busk.)

6.  Sew a second line of stitches 1/4" from the first line of topstitching.  This is your bone casing.  If you are using boning wider than 1/4", make your stitching the width of your boning.  For 1/4" bones, I find the standard machine foot works great, because it is the perfect width if you line it up with the previous line of stitches.  You want your boning to insert smoothly, without having to force it in, but not to be loose in the casing because it can twist or rub, causing wear to the corset.

This is what the inside of my corset looks like at this point.   Again, if you are using two layers in your seam construction, all the raw edges will be bound up between your layers.  You can see that the bone will be surrounded fully by the top layer's seam allowance, ensuring it has very strong coutil all around it.  If you are using more layers, obviously your casings will be that much stronger.  This is one reason I like this method: because it is very strong.  Your bones aren't going to be popping out anytime soon.  If needed/wanted you can trim the seam allowances now.

7.  Insert the bone into the casing.  Make sure it is sliding in between your coutil (strength) layers.  I guess you could wait till the end to insert all the boning at once, but I like to finish a seam/bone casing and be DONE with it.  That's another reason I like this method.  It feels faster (even if it isn't) because you're just working from start to finish and not having to go back over and over again.  (Notice the tips of the seam allowance poking out along the edges.  There are fancy ways of drafting patterns to avoid this, but I just trim them off at the end before binding.)

8. Continue attaching each new panel in this way, until you reach the back of your corset.  Congratulations, your corset is all assembled, though you still have some work to do.

9.  Now is the time to insert any additional bones.  I usually like to have one bone down the center of any but the thinnest of panels.  This helps with support and smoothing the figure.  So for this pattern I am going to add bones to the three side panels.  I do this by cutting strips of coutil and sewing these down the middle of the panel, forming a channel.  If you are concerned about strength, you can also make tubes out of these strips and sew the tubes to the inside of the corset, but since I am using really strong fabric, I'm not worried.  The seams take most of the actual strain.

10. Close the corset at the back by folding over both the top and bottom layers and topstitching.  I was careful to fold my lining layer a bit more that the outside so it wouldn't show along the back seam.

11.  Sew away from your topstitching at the width of your flat steel bone.  I'm using a 1/2" steel bone, because it's what I have on hand.  If your seam allowance is not large enough for your bone, you can add a large strip that will serve as protective backing for both bones and the grommets. After inserting the center back bone, measure the width needed for your chosen grommets.  I've marked a line with chalk to help me make my next line of stitching.   Create the channel for the bone for the other side of the grommets by stitching two lines 1/4" apart.

12. Insert your grommets. This can be time-consuming.  I hand-grommet my corsets because it is the most secure and reliable method, and I can't afford the really expensive presses.  I also stretch my holes rather than cut them, since this makes the grommets much stronger and less likely to pop out.  I use a corset awl to make the hole and then insert a chopstick to further stretch out the hole so I can get a #0 grommet in.  For further tips, see
Sidney Eileen's grommeting tutorial.  You can use any grommets, but I've had a really good experience with these Lord & Hodge Grommet Kits. The tools are quality and don't warp when you hit them a lot like the ones I bought at the craft store.

13.  Almost done, Almost Done!  All that's left is to clean up the edges of your corset and bind them.  This is another complicated step that I will let Sidney Eileen explain.   I recommend using pre-made bias tape for your first attempt, as the stretch will make it easier.  For this corset I used self-fabric, but after trying to make my own bias tape and ending up with a mess, I decided to try using strips of fabric cut on the crossgrain (with the edges melted to prevent fraying).   It ended up looking pretty good.

And that's it!  If any parts of this tutorial are unclear, please let me know.  And if anyone is interested in this corset, it is for sale!


  1. That corset is really pretty and this guide is interesting guide. When using a floating lining, do you simply just stitch it to the front and back or do you stitch it to the top and bottom too to make sure it lies smooth when you stitch the bias tape/self fabric to it?

    1. I haven't bothered to stitch along the top and bottom before applying the binding. I didn't have any problems with it, but you could certainly baste it all together first.

      And thanks for reading!

  2. When you inserted the busk into the fashion/strength layer, how did you attach the lining at the front?

    1. It's simply seamed together with the front around the busk, as shown in this tutorial.

  3. Thank you so so much for this post! It totally saved a project for me this evening!!!

  4. I'm having trouble using this method over more extreme curves, does this mean I'm doing something wrong? Or are there any tips for using this method on curvier pieces?

    1. What exactly is the problem you're having? I have used this with extreme curves, although it took me a bit of practice to get the results smooth.

  5. Honestly I bought one of those expensive grommet presses years ago and it's been a ginormous paper weight. I don't bother with it and the only time I did try using it, the dyes would get so stuck in the thick layers of fabric that it was just a hot mess. I guess it would help if I properly secured the press to a work table but still, I think the old fashion way of hand setting the grommets is the way to go.

    For more extreme curves or any waist trainers that I make, I angle my boning from the top coming down to the center (inwards) thus adding to the goal of cinching the waist in. I must say, once I switched from a thick cotton for lining/reinforcement to a satin coutil (http://corsetmaking.com/corset-coutil/CMS-F-COUIMP-SATBLK.html) that I now use for just 2 layers and it holds great! :) I've only been ordering my corset making supplies from corsetmaking.com for years now and have only had amazing experiences with each order. Just thought I'd pass that on. I'm also looking into starting my own lingerie line as I was just upgraded to an H cup and my favorite bras don't go past a GG. If you or anyone you know has any advice on making lingerie, please send them my way! I can sew anything that I dream of yet I've never dealt with cups of bras. I have altered the bands of them and had to reinforce the casing for the under wires but I've never built them from scratch. Thanks for the tutorial, it's nice to see how other people like to construct their corsets and I'm always looking to gain new knowledge everyday. Much love and respect,

    Karma Jade
    Karma Clothing Designs LLC

  6. I can't even believe how well this tutorial worked! I was very intimidated by my first corset project, but it came out perfectly when I followed this. Thanks you so much!