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Perfect Boning Channels

American Lady Corset, Jordan Marsh Catalog, 1897, p202Do you struggle to stitch straight boning channels? Do your stitch lines end up taking unexpected detours? Lots of people have asked how to get perfectly straight and even boning channels and it’s something I struggled with for a long time. But through trial and a lot of error I have come up with a few tips and tricks that help me tame unruly stitching.

I should point out that while I am confident that these techniques will help those of you who are having some problems, you won’t see the full benefit unless you practise. I never found a way round the old adage of “practise, practise, practise”.  I am a firm believer that a great corset maker isn’t someone who can whip up a corset in an afternoon, but someone who has worked hard to polish their skills and sees the value in putting in the extra effort to attain a higher standard.

One of the things that helped me was to draw squiggly lines on a piece of coutil, trace over them with machine stitching, and then stitch beside them again in an attempt to create a swirly boning channel. Granted, you’ll probably never make such a boning channel, but if you can conquer the swirly boning channel, you’ll never feel nervous about stitching curved boning channels again!

Top Tips

  1. As I mentioned before, practice. Try using contrasting thread so you can clearly see your stitching.
  2. ALWAYS stitch boning channels in one direction – top to bottom. This helps prevent wrinkling, especially if you are using silks or satins as your top layer. I also stitch the left stitch line to each boning channel first and then the right.
  3. Go slowly at first. Experience will make you quicker but it’s not a race, so be patient. When I first started it would take me ten minutes to stitch a single line. But then I was using the “wing and a prayer” method! So if your sewing machine has a speed limiter – use it! It will be faster in the long run.
  4. Try to stitch in one continuous motion – sometimes stopping and restarting can create a swerve in your stitch line.
  5. I always stitch boning channels with the outside of the corset facing up.
  6. Make sure that you have the correct thread tension set – I always keep scraps of fabric from cutting out the pattern so that I can do a test run before I stitch the corset.
  7. Use spotlights and lamps to illuminate your work area – it reduces strain on the eyes and helps you to focus.
  8. When stitching straight lines, make sure that you line up your fabric so that the area you intend to stitch is in line with the needle. If you have to move your fabric to the left or right as you stitch, you increase your chances of your stitching taking a detour from where you intended. If you line up your fabric correctly you will find it needs very little adjustment as it is fed to the needle.
  9. Getting the width of the boning channel correct is just as important as accurate stitching. Too narrow and you will struggle to insert the boning (or you could find it won’t go in at all), too wide and your boning will twist inside the boning channel.
  10. Keeping tip 8 in mind, don’t grip your fabric or try to push/pull it through the machine – let the machine's feed dog do the work. Your fingers should be positioned at least 2" (5cm) away from the needle, and the fabric should flow under your fingers as you sew.
  11. When marking fabrics, be sure that your markings can be easily removed. I like using tailor's chalk to mark out my boning channel placement because most of it is removed when I stitch and the rest is removed during the cleaning process, but I always test before I use. If stitching accuracy is something you are having a lot of problems with, try using a chalk pen with a narrow head. It will give you a single clean line that's easy to follow when stitching.

 

Boning Channel Choices

What you use to make your boning channels is as important as how you stitch them. I have tried several ways, using lots of different fabric choices. I’ll list some of them and give my opinions, but remember to use what works for you.

Fabric

Method

Advantages

Disadvantages

Satin Ribbon – External boning channels

Stitch a strip of ribbon onto the front of the corset and insert your bones into them.

It looks pretty when you have stitched them.

It looks horrid when you insert the boning. If you use spiral boning you will most likely see the contours of the spiral.

It doesn’t last five minutes before the boning starts to rub against the ribbon and damage the fabric.

Twill tape – internal boning channels

Stitch a strip of twill tape to the inside of the corset and insert your boning in between the stitch lines.

You can’t see the contour of the bones from the outside of the corset.

If you purchase good quality, tightly woven twill tape it creates a secure channel which will last medium to long term.

Getting hold of good quality twill tape can be difficult (especially in the UK).

Twill tape is expensive compared to other methods.

It can make the boning channel appear a little bulky – especially at the edges.   Too often I have seen ridges created from the stitch line and the edge of the twill tape which is noticeable from the outside of the corset.

Lining up the position of the twill tape on the inside of the corset can be a real pain – it’s no fun when you’ve stitched a perfectly straight boning channel only to discover that your stitch line has run off the edge of the twill tape.

It takes time to hand baste your boning channel into position.

Not suitable for external boning channels.

Coutil Tubing – Internal and External boning channels

Create a tube out of coutil and stitch to the inside of the corset to create boning channels.

For external boning channels, you can add a layer of fashion fabric when making the tube to match/contrast with your fashion fabric layer.

You can’t see the contour of the bones from the outside of the corset.

The bone is encased between at least three layers of coutil making for a long term and secure fitting for the boning.

Can be cheaper than twill tape.

Neat and professional finish on the inside of the corset compared with twill tape, making it a great choice for single layer corsets.

As for twill tape, it can be a pain lining up your boning channel on the inside of the corset.

It takes longer to make the tubes than it does to use something “off the roll”.

Again, like twill tape it can be a little bulky.

It takes time to tacking stitch the tube into position ready for stitching.

Double layer coutil corset – sandwich method

This involves creating two identical strength layers and stitching them together to make a single corset. You can then create boning channels by simply stitching two lines wherever you need a boning channel.

You don’t need to make tubes, line up or hand stitch tape/tubes down.

It gives a smooth finish to the boning channel as bulk from adding layers to create the channel is eliminated.

It is the simplest way to make boning channels.

If you are using a lot of bones it is a much cheaper option compared with twill tape.

It creates a secure, long term fitting for the bones.

Creating a double coutil layer corset is a skill in itself. It can be tricky to get each pair of panels to line up exactly.   And if you don’t then the corset will suffer with wrinkles and the wearer will not be comfortable.

Making double layer corsets can be very time consuming because of the need to be exact and accurate at every stage of the construction process.

Seams can be very bulky.

Not suitable for external boning channels.

The double layers cheat

Instead of making a double layer corset, cut one set of panels with seam allowance included and one with seam allowances removed. Before stitching the panels together to create the corset, stitch the panel with the seam allowance removed to the corresponding panel with the seam allowance added, creating a single panel. Then stitch through both layers to create the boning channel.

This has all the advantages of the double layer coutil method.

It is quicker to make than a double layer corset, and reduces bulk at the seams.

It’s quicker to cut two panels and stitch them together than it is to make coutil tubing and hand stitch it in place.

 

Not suitable for external boning channels.

 

Marking Out Your Boning Channels

Great boning channels start with a clear guideline to follow when stitching. Time spent here will be rewarded when you come to stitch and look at your final results.

You should always finalise the position of your boning channels during the toile stage. The only exception would be if you are planning to use an exceptionally high number of bones for a single corset, in which case you can be forgiven for grouping some together. Once the toile has been correctly fitted, transfer any changes over to the pattern and then carefully plot the position of your boning channels.

 

Methods for stitching Boning Channels

Method

Description

Advantages

Disadvantages

Equipment Needed

1

Draw lines on the fabric to represent both the left and right stitching line. Stitch over the lines using an open-toed foot.

 

See video "Stitching a Corset Boning Channel" below

Clear, unobstructed view of the position of the needle in relation to the markings, which is especially useful when stitching curved boning channels.

Requires you to draw both stitch lines.

Ensuring the stitch lines are evenly spaced depends entirely on the accuracy of the markings.

 

Open toed foot

Chalk Pencil/thin chalk marker

 

2

Mark and stitch the left hand stitch line, insert a loop pressing bar (which corresponds to the required width of the boning channel) between the coutil layers. Use a zipper/piping foot to hold the loop pressing bar snug between the layers and stitch the second stitch line.

See video "Corset boning channels, with a pressing bar" below

You only need to mark out one of the stitch lines.

Pressing bar enables you to stitch the second stitching line quickly and accurately.

Uniformity in the distance between the first and second stitch line.

You need to carefully position the needle to avoid it hitting the pressing bar.

Adjustable zipper or piping foot

Loop pressing bars (available from quilting shops or eBay).

3

(For separate or external boning channels that are then attached to the corset) Fold a piece of coutil in half, insert loop pressing bar that corresponds to the required width of the boning channel. Use a zipper/piping foot to hold the loop pressing bar snug between the layers and stitch the second stitch line.

See video "Corset boning channels, with a pressing bar" below

You don’t need to mark any stitch lines.

Pressing bar enables quick creation of uniform boning channel tubes.

You need to carefully position the needle to avoid it hitting the quilting bar.

Adjustable zipper or piping foot

Loop pressing bars (available from quilting shops or eBay).


sartorbohemia 07.09.2010 07:12  
Yes No   Nice article...but no mention of using just the presser foot as a guide? I doubt all professionals would mark all the boning channels. Especially when there's a curved seam it may be easier to use the foot as a guideline than trying to draw two parallel lines. What do you use for drawing parallel lines anyway?  
 
eggiebert 13.09.2010 20:35  
Yes No   The 'fake' two layer is fairly brilliant, and would work with self drafted patterns that start out with no seam allowances. That is one method I've not worked with, it would almost demand being lined with a loose lining in the case where the no- allowance- layer was inside. Ever more experiments to learn!


Slightly off topic, it's a little bit of a trick getting boning casings to be literally vertical on the body once installed. I've ended up with multiple corsets with the bones twisting as they cross the waist, and lay flat at each end. Perhaps some tips on positioning casings would also be helpful in a later article.
 
 
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lauraloft 13.09.2010 21:00  
Yes No   sartorbohemia, I used to use the edge of a piping foot to create the right hand stitch line, but found pressing bars to be faster and more accurate. To be honest I didn't include it in the article as it is a technique that I no longer use.
I never used the edge of the foot method for curved seams, for me it was never accurate enough and took too long. Instead I have curved channel templates for most basic curves, which I use to draw chalk lines onto the fabric. If I don't want chalk marks then I transfer the boning channels on to freezer paper (see Tools Of The Trade Article) and iron them on to the corset piece and use an open toed foot to stitch.
I should point out that I my autistic side shines through when I'm stitching and I get pretty obsessive about accuracy. I'll unpick an entire line of stitching if it's even a faction of a millimeter out of line.
I'll cover this in more detail in the practical article which will go through the various ways I make, mark and stitch boning channels.
 
 
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lauraloft 13.09.2010 21:18  
Yes No   eggiebert, the fake 2 layer was definately a light bulb moment for me, having spent hours stitching casings on the interior side (and having more than a few just slightly off position).
You can use this method without lining if you wish. There are several ways to cover the edges. Trim one side of the seam allowance to 3-4mm from the stitch line, fold the other seam allowance in half (the fold should be in the direction of the seam allowance you just cut) then stitch the folded seam allowance down.
You can also trim both seam allowances, stitch them down to one side and then cover with either petersham ribbon or strips make of coutil and your fashion fabric.
I'll go into more detail on how to do this in the boning channel article if people want it (it's hard to explain without pictures!).
 
 
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lauraloft 13.09.2010 21:19  
Yes No   With regard to positioning of boning channels, how much room is there for the boning to move inside the channel? I always stitch channels so that the bone is tightly positioned within. Another good tip is to ensure that there is no room for the bones to move up and down, flossing is very handy for this (and pretty). If there is too much room in the channel, the bones will likely twist.
Is there a specfic place (front, side, back) where this happens? How many bones are you using? What style of corset is it?
 
 
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