Corsets! They’re fancy, flattering and easier than you think to DIY. Whether it’s for Halloween, the Renaissance fair, cosplay, lingerie, formal wear or simply a nice outfit, these babies are a fun addition to your wardrobe and might be that polished, poised piece you’ve always been looking for.
Join Anna Fletcher, Content Specialist at Spoonflower, experienced cosplayer and sewist, as she guides you through sewing a corset using her top fabric picks coordinated with different pattern styles and finishing techniques.
Anna: As a cosplayer always seeking fun character designs to bring to life, and a performer who wears big ballgowns constantly, I’ve made more corsets than I can count on my fingers and toes. Over the years I’ve picked up some knowledge in the corset department that I’ve now compiled into one helpful guide below. Plus, stick around until the end for a corset sew-along!
Disclaimer: This is a beginner’s guide. I am not a professional corset maker, I just think corsets are neat! I will not include details pertaining to waist training or historical accuracy in terms of body shape. The following tips, tricks and tutorial are for a bodice that is boned and structured—something still considered a corset but nothing you should depend on for actual body-modifying results.
I invited over my friends Lacey and Nissy for a little party, aka “let’s all model some corsets I made!” Big thanks to them for being so flawless and fabulous.
Fabrics for Corsets
Traditionally, corsets are sewn with a material called coutil specifically designed for corsetry back in the 1800s. Due to its tight weave, it has a superb amount of strength and can easily withstand the constant tightness and structure that professional corsets require.
Nowadays, corsets are made with coutil and a plethora of other woven fabric types, the most popular being cotton, linen or satin based. Cotton provides breathability, linen provides durability and satin provides style, so I picked these fabric types from Spoonflower for my corset trio.
Linen Cotton Canvas
Linen Cotton Canvas has the “durability of linen with the softness of cotton” which sounds like the ideal blend for the perfect corset top… I was not disappointed! Even though Linen Cotton Canvas is a structured and tough fabric, it slid through my sewing machine like butter and resulted in the best corset-making experience of the three I sewed together.
The design I chose, Blueberry Patchwork by hannahshields, is inspired by Spoonflower Ambassador Meg Fleshman’s “cheater” quilt coats that give the illusion of something actually quilted without having to put in the hours of work. I thought this gave a cute cottage core vibe, what do you think?
Cypress Cotton Canvas
Next, I wanted to use something made of 100% cotton and I knew Spoonflower carried plenty of options. I went with Cypress Cotton Canvas for Nissy’s corset in Sage Green Mini Flora by lr-studio. It’s similar to Linen Cotton Canvas in its durability but seems to sit around the curves a little softer and provide a bit more cushion due to its thickness.
I wouldn’t recommend Satin for the entirety of your corset, though this is a fantastic option as an outer layer only for aesthetic purposes. Satin corsets are popular for costumes for this reason! The material is beautiful but also delicate compared to the thick cotton or linen fabrics from above. Corsets have tight seams and boning (we’ll get to that later) that need strong fibers to back it up, so consider using a sturdier fabric as an inner layer.
Lacey’s corset has satin (Damask Bees on Dark Grey by jennifernichols) on the outside and a solid black duck canvas fabric on the inside for support. I think the design printed best on this fabric as well, so crisp!
Finding the Right Corset Pattern
There’s two common types of corset styles: overbust and underbust. They mean exactly as they read— corsets that reach over the top of the bust and ones that sit underneath the bust. There are, of course, other corset styles but I find these two to be the easiest to sew together and you can always alter the shape if needed.
I like easy sewing patterns made for self-taught sewists like myself, which is why I usually head to Etsy when pattern hunting! Lacey’s overbust corset is made with this Basic Overbust Corset Pattern by NZCorsetry and Nissy’s underbust corset is this Waist Cincher Pattern, also by NZCorsetry. My blueberry corset, made with this Butterick 4669 Lace Corset pattern, would technically be considered overbust, but it’s more so just a fashionable corset top or bodice. You might find the over + underbust corset styles used more in layering or as undergarments with a corset top on the outside.
All About Boning
The choice of fabric can determine the overall structure in a corset, but the amount and type of boning you add is also crucial. Boning is literally just corset bones, thin pieces of plastic or steel that are pushed against the inner seams so that it holds up well on its own. This provides extra support especially when most want their corset to hug flush against the hips, waist and bust.
Plastic vs. Steel Boning
When shopping for boning, you’ll stumble across two common types: plastic and steel. You can buy this either by the yard or by the roll depending on how much you need.
Plastic boning or “synthetic whale boning” is a lightweight boning option that’s easy to use and great for your first corset. This boning is a little flexible and gives softer curves while still maintaining shape. Since it’s made of thin plastic, sometimes you can sew through the boning directly to the corset for even more support and layer it up if needed.
Steel boning, specifically spiral steel boning, is flexible in its own way that plastic just can’t compete with. Due to the weave of spirals going from top to bottom, the piece of boning can bend nearly 360 degrees in any direction, whereas the plastic can only bend well forward and back. Steel boning is best for longevity, so you might see it in performance costumes or anything that needs to be super durable.
If you’re not sewing in the boning directly to the corset like you can with the plastic version, where does it go? Boning channels are the little houses that boning lives in and are made with just a couple of seams. You can either sew directly into the corset’s inside seams, creating a little pocket to slip the boning in, or you can create a separate tiny fabric tube and sew that directly on top of each seam.
Spiral steel boning will need to be capped off at the end, either with separate steel caps or even a dab of hot glue, to prevent the sharp edges from poking through the fabric.
Your corset has fabric, it has boning and now you need it to close around the body! Any closure will work depending on what you find the most comfortable: zippers, buttons, Velcro, snaps, etc. However, the lace-up style using eyelets will give you that true corset shape without having to pattern everything to your body’s exact curves. Lacing some cord or ribbon through those eyelets will allow you to adjust the size and tighten/loosen as needed.
Also consider using busks! I didn’t for the corsets in this post, but here’s some that I bought for future corsets. Common busks are usually made of steel and are sewn into the front of the bodice after the front middle seam is split open. This way you can keep the exact lacing in the back as you please and can take off the corset without having to undo all that lacing work (because it takes a while to put on!).
Note: You are supposed to be comfortable while wearing your corset! It should at most feel like someone is tightly hugging you. Unless you’re a pro corset wearer and you know exactly what you’re doing, do not overtighten just for the cinched-waist look because this could damage your body if worn for too long.
How to Sew Your First Corset
Skill Level: Intermediate
- 1 yard of durable fabric (such as Linen Cotton Canvas or Cypress Cotton Canvas, or Satin with one of the previous two fabrics as an under layer)
- Sewing machine
- Matching thread
- Plastic or steel boning
- Eyelets or other closure of choice
- Roll of cord or ribbon (if using eyelets)
- Sewing pins or clips
- Bias tape (purchased or handmade!)
1. Cut the Pieces
Use your sewing pattern of choice and cut out the corset’s pieces (panels). Cut two sets since you’ll need both an inner and outer layer total. I like to cut 1 cm (.4 inches) from the edges for seam allowance but it’s totally up to you, just make sure to sew your seams with that exact same size of allowance all the way through the process.
2. Sew and Iron the Panels
Align the panels together and sew according to the layout of your pattern. I like to lay everything out in front of me like the corset is already sewn together and sew one piece to another left to right. In the end you should have a big piece that looks kind of like a corset! Do this again with the other layer until you have two big pieces, one inner and one outer. If you’d like, go ahead and wrap these around your body to see if the size fits and make any adjustments as needed.
Take these pieces to the ironing board and iron out all the seams completely flat. This is key for that super smooth look and so the boning won’t catch the seam fabric as you feed it through the boning channel in a later step.
3. Sew the Layers Together
Match up the ironed pieces wrong sides together and pin in place at the top of the corset, aligning all the edges and seams. If everything doesn’t line up exactly that’s okay. Remember that you need to sew your seams with the exact same seam allowance all the way through for it to match.
Sew a straight stitch over the top edge of your corset, officially connecting the two pieces together. We want to leave the bottom open to insert the boning.
4. Add Boning and Channels
For these corsets, I opened the outer layer back and sewed plastic boning directly on top of the seams of the inner layer. If you plan to use spiral steel boning or a thicker plastic boning then definitely create separate channels, or purchase boning that includes channels already wrapped around (a wonderful thing).
Channels can be made by sewing a long skinny fabric tube big enough for the boning to fit through, then cutting the tube to the size of all the seams you want to add boning to. Place each cut channel on top of each inside layer seam, pin in place and sew the left and right edges down leaving a small space in the middle. Slide the boning inside leaving about 1/2″ (1.3 cm) of room at the top and bottom so you have space to finish the corset’s edges.
5. Close the Bottom Edge
Now close the bottom edge of the corset like you did with the top in step 3, remembering to keep the seams aligned. You should now have an almost finished corset with lots of structure!
6. Add Bias Tape
With matching pre-purchased bias tape, or something that’s handmade with your leftover fabric, seal off the top, bottom and back edges of the corset. Sew down one edge of the tape, right sides together, to one side of the corset’s edge then fold it over and repeat on the other side.
7. Add Closures
Use eyelets, buttons, snaps, Velcro or another closure of choice and insert it in the back of the corset. Put it on and strut your stuff!
Thanks for reading and happy corseting! 🙂