Perfectly fitting patterns at last! Muhahaha!
One of the most frustrating challenges in corsetmaking is to get the darn thing to fit properly. Corsets are such unforgiving, tightly fitted garments that a good one must have a perfect fit; there's no room for error.
After getting frustrated with commerical patterns, you're probably starting to wonder how to draft (draw out) your own patterns from a list of measurements. Here's how, in a step-by-step format specially designed for complete beginners.
(You can also play with pattern drafting a basic bodice with our equally simple (and free) Easy Pattern Drafting tutorial at our sister site.)
After giving this method a try, I hope you will start to see the awesome designing and dressmaking power that drafting skills can give you. Taking your measurements and drawing out your own pattern can save a lot of money and a lot of time fiddling with fit.
I've devised these instructions for you based on corset designs of the late 1870s. You'll still need a mock-up to check, but you will be very surprised how well it fits. And furthermore, as you can tell from the photographs below of corsets made using this tutorial, it can easily adapted into a variety of styles.
- "chobap", Livejournal
Corsets made using this tutorial
[Above left photo] This is the first corset I drafted for myself using the above tutorial; I've not used a commercial pattern since! Construction wise it's not great (I've learnt a few things since then) but I'm still pretty happy with the shape I managed to create. Thank you for inspiring me, and enabling me to get creative with corsetry! - Hannah Light, UK
[Above centre and right photographs] Both of these designs started as the FR tutorial... - Rachel Haggerty, Ivy Rose Custom Corsetry
A tape measure for taking your measurements. Not a solid ruler, not a metal tape measure from the toolbox, but a dressmaker's fabric tape measure.
A friend to help you take measurements.
A notebook to write your measurements in.
Sharp pencils (preferably hard pencils such as 2H) and an eraser.
A metre ruler or yardstick. It’s just about possible to draft with a shorter ruler, but not half as easy or as accurate. I struggled for a long time without a metre ruler but was amazed what a godsend mine was when I finally bought one from www.morplan.com. At the very least, look for something long and very straight that will help you draw accurate long, straight lines, and then measure them with a normal ruler or tape measure. But if you possibly, possibly can - you need the real thing to get it right.
A set square (preferably a big one) or something rigid with an exact right angle at the corner, such as a hardback book. Again, you can buy a real patternmaker’s square at Morplan and again, you really need the right equipment to expect to get a good, accurate draft. If you're watching the pennies the book will do, but it's really no substitute. (A right angle is the angle at the corner of a square.)
A calculator (to prevent brain meltdown). If you’re using inches, you may find the Patternmaking Calculator useful – it’s a calculator that uses fractions! And it’s free!
A Flexicurve (optional) to help you draw smooth curves. Again, you can buy proper curves at Morplan.
A large sheet of paper. If you don’t wish to buy a large roll of patternmaking paper, try using a roll of brown paper or the back of an old roll of gift wrapping paper.
A large, flat working surface. The higher, the better, to save your back!
Scissors. Make sure you use a different pair of scissors for cutting paper and card from your fabric scissors; cutting paper with fabric scissors will blunt them faster.
Sticky tape (eg. sellotape or Scotch tape), for sticking sheets of paper together if necessary.
Tracing paper, both a small piece and a couple of large sheets. You'll need the large sheets to trace, from the draft, a pattern that you can cut up and pin to fabric.
Scrap fabric, which you'll need to make a mock-up of the finished draft. Classically, we use calico or muslin but I recommend cotton drill for mocking up corsets.
Once you have your equipment assembled, it's time to take your measurements.
Taking measurements is a vital element in the creation of a perfectly fitting block or garment. Extra care at this stage can save you an extraordinary amount of time, effort and extra expense later. So before we begin, I need you to make me a few promises:
- You will be honest about your measurements. Telling little white lies will only result in a garment that does not fit. I can guarantee that you will not be satisfied with the resulting corset if you have not given your true measurements.
- You’ll take it seriously – too often, a costumer is left working with inaccurate measurements because she had a measuring party involving herself, her best friend and a few too many glasses of wine! Make sure you get it right, I can’t stress that enough!
- The measurements have been taken whilst you’ve been wearing what you would normally wear under the finished corset, as much as possible (a slip and well-fitting bra are fine but there’s no point measuring yourself for a fitted bodice block whilst wearing a sweater.) It may help to wear a close-fitting top with sleeves since you'll need to know where your "armscye" (armhole) is.
- Yes, that's right, wear your bra too when you're measuring for a corset - it'll ensure that your bust is in a more similar position to its final, corsetted location and make it easier to find the measurements of the corset that'll hold it there!
Do we have a deal? Right, here goes!
Tie a string or ribbon around your waist, where you bend naturally – not too tightly, just snug, and horizontal. This will help you to take the vertical measurements accurately. Move around, bend from side to side and so on until it sits comfortably. Wear a well-fitting bra. (Even though you won't wear one under the corset, it will help position your bust in a more accurate corset-like position!)
Remember to stand up straight (but not overly so) with your weight evenly distributed.
Here are the measurements you'll need to draft your own corset:
Bust (1) - Around the fullest part of your bust, with the tape straight across your back, as usual.
Bust to waist(2) - Measure at your side from the waist tape up to the level where you took your bust measurement.
Underbust (3) - measured along your bra band, directly under the bust.
Apex to waist (4) - measure from one nipple (ie. the fullest point of your breast) down to the waist tape at the side front, over the contours, not straight there.
Underbust to waist (5) - measure vertically from your bra band to the waist tape at the side front.
Desired waist (6) - Suck it in and pull the tape tight! Alternatively, measure your relaxed waist and take away your desired reduction from this value. (Beginner corsetwearers should aim for 5cm-10cm (2"-4") of reduction only for best results.)
Hips (7) - Measure around your hips at the fullest point. Note how far your measurement is below the waist tape.
Waist to hips (8) - The distance down your side from the level of the waist tape to the level where you took the hip measurement.
Front hip - The part of your hips at the front of your body. Measure along your hip line again as above, from the side seam on one side to the side seam on the other.
Back hip - This is just [your hip measurement] - [front hip], so you don't need to measure it again unless you wish to double-check.
Lap (9) - Sit on a hard chair (like a kitchen or dining chair) and measure from the waist tape at the side front straight down to the point where your thigh meets your torso. This measure will help to ensure that the corset doesn't extend too low here so that you can sit down in it!
Finally, for the following six values, measure vertically from the waist tape to the point where you'd like the edge of the corset to be.
Waist to top edge of corset (centre front)
Waist to top edge of corset (side)
Waist to top edge of corset (centre back)
Waist to bottom edge of corset (centre front)
Waist to bottom edge of corset (side)
Waist to bottom edge of corset (centre back)
Finally, don't forget to check all your measurements one more time, just to make sure. Measure twice, draft once!
Accounting for cup size
You'll need to split your bust measurement into "front bust" and "back bust". This will help the pattern to take account of your cup size, but you can work it out without any more measuring.
Your Back bust (the part of your bust behind your side seams) is worked out as follows:
Work out [Your underbust measurement] + 10cm (4")
Halve this to get your back bust measurement.
So if your underbust is 30", add 4" to get 34". Then halve this to get a back bust of 17".
Your Front bust (the part of your bust forward of your side seams) is
[Your bust measurement] - [your back bust measurement]
In other words, if your bust is 36" and your back bust is 17", then your front bust is 19".
Preparing the paper
Width of the paper = [half of front bust] + [half of back hip] + 10cm (4")
So if your front bust is 24" and your back hip is 26", then the paper should be
[half of 24]+[half of 26]+4 = 29" wide.
The height of the paper will depend on how long the corset is from waist to top and from waist to bottom. Pick the biggest of your three waist to bottom measurements. Then pick the biggest of the three waist to top measurements (or the apex to waist measurement, if it's bigger than all those three.)
The height of the paper is these two biggest measurements added together, plus 10cm (4").
Ready? Here we go!
These downloads require Acrobat Reader - download it free here!
AND DON'T FORGET - the most important thing...
IF YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND OR CAN'T DO ANY PART OF THIS, IT'S BECAUSE I HAVEN'T EXPLAINED IT PROPERLY!! So if you find any part of this doesn't make sense, email me at cathy dot hay at harmanhay dot com! Good luck, and do let me know how your corset turns out!
"I would LOVE to thank you for actually getting back to me. Every other site hostess I've emailed in regards to their tutorial just gave me something along the lines of "I'm too busy being amazing. Go away." So you rock my socks. Hands down!!" - Chance, California, USA