Making a Diagonal Corset Pattern : Part 2
So this is Part 2 of the diagonal corset pattern I’ve made for an article published on Foundations Revealed way back in 2010.
Yup. You read that right. 10 freaking years ago! I’m having a hard time believing it myself but here we are and things are as they are.
Diagonal corset patterns are absolutely mesmerizing and fun to look at especially when made using high contrasting colors. It really makes the lines of the pattern pop like mad.
Haven’t gone through Part 1? Check it out! 😁
This content is not affiliated or sponsored by Foundations Revealed or any other people and businesses mentioned or referenced.
Making the corset
Figure 1 : Diagonal corset that gets made
My last article was all about transforming a vertical seamed corset pattern into a diagonal one. That time consuming method will come to life right here, right now and hopefully clear the fog of mystery that is surrounding this fascinating corset. Will we be blown away with the truth that hides behind the cut of diagonal corsets? Or will it be a disappointment?
First I do have to say that this corset was troublesome for me.
I made some mistakes, there were a few hiccups, a nervous breakdown here and there but all in all it was a great experience and I admit that I’m now addicted to diagonal seamed corsets. I won’t pretend that it was a walk in the park, but I can say that the end result (Fig. 1) is worth the loss of hair.
The chosen design
This is the original doodle for the diagonal corset (Fig. 2 & 3).
The pattern I used for this article didn’t let me make the diagonals I imagined, so naturally I had to compromise and balance between what I wanted and what the pattern let me do. However the end result is very pleasing.
Expect that some things won’t go according to plan and that you will have to adjust. If you accept and expect change (in any new and challenging project!) it will be easier for you to work your idea into wearable art while your corset making skills also improve.
Figure 2 : Drawing of the front side of chosen diagonal corset design
Figure 3 : Drawing of the back side of chosen diagonal corset design
Materials (Fig. 4)
- 50cm (5/8 yd) black spot broche coutil
- 50cm (5/8 yd) white spot broche coutil
- 85cm (1 yd) black herringbone coutil
- 12m (13½ yd) spiral steel (5mm or ¼”)
- 5m (5½ yd) flat steel (5.5mm or ¼”)
- 40cm (½ yd) black shantung silk
- 355mm (14″) long spoon busk with silver clasps
- 150cm (1 5/8 yd) black eyelet lace
Figure 4 : Corsetmaking supplies for diagonal corset
What I like to do before I start making a corset is to sketch all the corset parts on a piece of paper and write down all the steps of making that particular corset. It gives me a better view of the whole picture. After that I make a detailed list of all the operations (cutting, sewing, finishes) and I stick it on the wall so that, when I complete an operation, I can cross it off my list. That way I’m more organized and it is easier for me to adjust if I run into problems.
I really like to organize the process of making a corset into small groups of tasks that have the same or similar operations. The whole process is organized into categories such as pattern adjusting, stabilizing fabrics, transferring and marking of pattern pieces on fabric, cutting out pattern pieces, ironing and preparing pattern pieces, pinning and basting all or most patterns pieces together, connecting pattern pieces by machine sewing, removing basting thread, ironing and preparing the corset for boning, and so on.
Since I have a small sewing space I really have no room for jumping from one type of operation to another so I really like to finish, for example, all the cutting in one go and cut out everything I will need for the corset I’m working on. It is the same with every other operation. The way I do it is probably because I am really fascinated with the way “work” is organized in clothing factories.
It must be a professional deformation for all Clothing Technicians. But, of course, you can be as chaotic as you like. It is all about what makes you feel comfortable when you sew.
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Front and Back Modest Panels
Since I like to have everything prepared, I drafted patterns for both back and front modesty panels (Fig. 5). It is really simple but extremely useful, especially for tightlacing corsets.
For the front modesty panel I use the length of the busk and add 0.5mm (1/32″) on top and bottom of the busk length. The shaping and width is a matter of personal choice and what works for you.
It is the same for the back modesty panel, you can shape it any way you want. I like it to be fancy but not over the top when it comes to the shaping of modesty panels. I don’t advise to make the modesty panel longer than the center back of the corset because it isn’t very appealing to see the modesty panel peeking over the edges of the corset. I would also advise to make a boned modesty panel for the back. The bones will help to keep the laces away from the body and will help to distribute the pressure evenly all over the corset.
Figure 5 : Front & back modesty panel pattern halves
As a tight lacer I create corsets in a way that can endure everyday wear with a substantial waist reduction, but also retain comfort. The same methods and parts can be applied on fashion corsets to make a long lasting garment. Boned modesty panels and stiff front modesty panels are “a must” when it comes to tight lacing corsets*. Details like that make a corset more comfortable and a lot more durable.
* You are free to do what ever you wish but having boning spread out evenly the pressure of laces over a larger surface is generally more comfortable thank having the laces press into soft tissue over narrow surfaces of the chosen laces/corset.
Since my drafting aids were out I made a template for triple boning casing. I don’t use a bias binder at all, I make bias binding and bone casing by hand. (Fig. 6)
I like to make a template out of thin cardboard, one for full width and one for the finished width of boning cases. That way I can easily cut strips of fabric with accuracy and fold and steam iron them to the desired width without the fear of making the finished channels and binding uneven.
Figure 6 : Boning channel template
Tracing the pattern to coutil fabric
After all the drafting and fiddling with paper pieces, it is time to decide what will be white and what will be black. I started with black to make my tummy look slimmer.
A seam allowance of 1cm (3/8″) is optimal for diagonal seamed corsets. 0.5cm (1/8″) looks too small and 1.5cm (5/8″) is too wide, adding unnecessary bulk… 2cm (3/4″) is definitely overkill. (Fig. 7)
When tracing pattern pieces, be sure to transfer everything important onto the fabric. If you have problems figuring out in what direction to lie the diagonal corset pieces on the fabric, refer to the toile. For the pieces that flow over the front busk, use the center front for direction; for pieces that flow over the lacing system use the center back line for direction. For everything else, find the waist line. True grain will be on a right angle to the waist line for most corset styles.
Figure 7 : Diagonal pattern traced on white coutil
After I traced all the pattern pieces for the outer shell, inner shell and modesty panels I double checked every pattern piece. (Fig. 8)
It is really embarrassing to find out later on that you forgot something. When I was sure everything was in place, I started to cut out the fabric pattern pieces.
They don’t say “Measure twice, cut once” for nothing!
Figure 8 : Black & white pattern pieces stacked & checked
Now that everything was marked, cut out and ironed it was ready to be pinned together. (Fig. 9)
I pinned the pattern pieces together in the same way I explained in the first part of the article.
Figure 9 : Pattern pieces pinned together on the seam line
When it was all pinned, I decided that it wasn’t a good idea to just go on and sew everything together with my Bernina. It didn’t look like pins would do a great job at holding everything together properly, so hand basting was necessary. (Fig. 10)
Every pattern piece danced to a different song, and basting really helped to keep the fabric under control. Thread should be in a color that is easy to see and that can’t be confused with anything else on the corset.
Figure 10 : Corset patterns basted together
On a few pattern pieces that had a crazy curve I had to make a cut in the seam allowance to let the fabric stretch a bit for a perfect match of seam lines. (Fig. 11)
Figure 11 : Notching the seam allowance
With everything basted in place, the shells were ready for machine sewing. (Fig. 12) Don’t worry if you sew over the basting, you will remove it as soon as you are done with machine sewing.
For removing basting thread I used a seam ripper, a scalpel (it requires some practice not to damage the fabric, the seams or yourself!), small scissors and a pair of tweezers. With tweezers I was able to pull those tiny annoying pieces of thread that hold to the fabric like their very life depends on it.
Figure 12 : Outside & inside corset shell basted in place
Sewing the diagonal corset together
Pressing is a huge part of sewing. You can’t get really good results without proper pressing as you work on the garment. Steam, heat and pressure can make a huge difference to the quality and aesthetic look of any finished garment if used properly.
I pressed all the seam allowances on both shells open to reduce bulk. If I was working with a thinner fabric I would consider steam pressing them all on one side but spot broche coutil was too thick for that.
I have a habit of top-stitching the seam allowance of the inner shell. That way it can’t curl up and create bulk while the corset is worn. (Fig. 13)
Figure 13 : Machine sewing inside layer of diagonal corset
Even though I like to top-stitch the seams on the outer shell it didn’t feel appropriate to do so on this corset.(Fig. 14)
On the other hand, it was going to be difficult to insert the spoon busk and add boning channels if I let the seam allowance run around. I ended up basting every seam so the allowance lay flat, otherwise it would’ve been a nightmare.
Figure 14 : Sewn inside & outside corset layers
The seams of the original corsets have been transferred to the diagonal pieces for easier sewing of the curves and a guide for boning placement. I drew back all the lines that ended up covered by the seam allowance.
With everything basted in place, restrained from wiggling around and causing a serious headache, it was time to add a waist tape. Because spot broche is so thick, using pins was out of the question.
Figure 15 : Waist tape secured on to corset inside
When I pinned the twill tape it ended up distorted and the tape wasn’t in the right place; the tension was too high in some places and too low in others. (Fig. 15)
Sewing it up like that would result in wrinkling of the corset in the waist area and would be a waste of time because the waist tape wouldn’t be doing its job correctly. Instead of pins I used crepe tape [sometimes called masking tape].
Crepe tape has strong glue so it holds on tight, it is made out of paper so you won’t damage your sewing machine if you sew over it, and most importantly it doesn’t leave glue residue on fabric.
After I positioned the twill tape in place and secured it with crepe tape I basted the tape in place with light blue thread. It seems like a good idea to use a different color of thread for basting different pieces of the corset. That way I can’t pull out something that I didn’t want to take out.
Inserting the spoon busk
With the waist tape secured I connected the inner and outer shell in the center front.
A wave of joy splashed me when I realized everything matched perfectly. All the measuring and hours of basting paid off! With a huge smile on my face I prepared the two sides of the corset for the busk. (Fig. 16)
Instead of sewing the front modesty panel in between shells I left it out. The thickness of the outer shell and modesty panel (two layers of spot broche) would distort the center front and ruin the perfect match of the diagonal cut. Instead of sandwiching the modesty panel between the two shells I left it for later to be attached on the inner shell.
Figure 16 : Center front seam sewn together
A spoon busk is easy to insert. Poke holes in one side and make holes in the center front seam for the other side.
Look up Laura Loft’s Basic Flexible Busk Insertion (or my Corsetry Lesson: Inserting a Split Buck on YouTube) if you don’t know how to insert a busk clasp. With the busk placed between the shells, basted so it doesn’t run away when I sew it in by machine, sweat started to run down my face… the center front didn’t match perfectly. I was at the verge of bursting into tears. It didn’t make any sense. (Fig.17 )
After a few hours of measuring everything on the corset and paper pattern I was puzzled. The numbers indicated that everything was perfect. I took human error into account and checked all the pieces again. It drove me insane. There was nothing else left than to rip it apart and do it again. I did that three times… after which I gave up and left it as it is. No-one’s perfect! 🤷♀️
When sewing a spoon busk in the center front press it against your sewing surface to keep it flat!
Figure 17 : Spoon busk sewn in
Adding boning channels
With busk in place I took my boning channels and played a bit with boning positioning. (Fig. 18)
There isn’t a right or a wrong way to position boning and it all depends on the pattern, the build of the future owner of the corset, what type of boning you are using and what will look good. If the corset is wrinkling you probably need more boning, unless something is wrong with the pattern… I don’t think you can have too much boning.
Figure 18 : Boning channels pinned in place
I used pins to keep everything in place until I was satisfied with the position.
I concentrated on tummy control and giving enough support to the bosom. After that crepe/masking tape came in handy once again. As a cherry on the top all the boning channels ended up basted in place.
I don’t remember when was the last time I used so much basting on just one corset, I really enjoyed it!
Sewing internal boning channels was somewhat tricky. Stitches would sink into the space where two pattern pieces were connected.
To minimize seam distortion I used crepe/masking tape over the connection lines. (Fig. 19) That made a huge difference!
When the boning was done I attached the front modesty panel on the inner shell.
Figure 19 : Sewing boning channels over tricky parts
Last but not least, the back lacing system. (Fig. 20)
There really isn’t a right or wrong way to close a corset. Closing should be adapted to the design and construction of a corset pattern. How many bones you add to your lacing system is also a matter of personal taste but there is a minimum, one bone on each side of the eyelets. When using lacing bones you can add one bone next to each lacing bone if you like, but it is not a “must do”.
Before I started to fiddle with the boning, I removed the basting thread. There was no need for it any more.
Figure 20 : All boning channels sewn
Cutting and preparing boning
The most exhausting part of corsetmaking is preparation of boning.
On this corset I decided to use a lot more boning than I usually do. It really is a time consuming process especially if you don’t have a grinder to smooth the ends of bones you’ve cut to size yourself.
To measure the length I used a long, flat steel bone and marked the length with a colored pen. I gave every boning channel a number and then wrote next to it the length of the bone. (Fig. 21)
Figure 21 : Measuring boning
After an hour or two all the boning was cut to size, smoothed and tipped, assorted in pairs and named so I wouldn’t mix them up. (Fig. 22)
There isn’t much to say about filing/grinding the tips except to say that the end result should be a bone that won’t damage the fabric or your skin.
I have problems with my wrists and I’m not able to squeeze with pliers hard enough to successfully apply aluminium end caps on boning. When I try my wrists turn white and it starts to hurt so I had to find an alternative.
For three years I have used crepe/masking tape to tip bones. It really works nicely. I have never had a bone poke through fabric with crepe tape. End caps are better and I will use them when I get the right equipment, but until then I will be creative with the things I can use.
Figure 22 : Flat & spring steel boning
Making the back lacing
With the boning tipped and snugly resting in its bone channels, it was time to punch a few holes. (Fig. 23)
Since I’m lazy and I don’t want to fiddle with eyelet placing every time I make a corset I have made a template out of thick paper. It’s really useful and it saves some time. I use a greasy dressmaking chalk in a form of a pen so I don’t wipe the markings while handling the fabric. I know many use an awl to poke holes for the back lacing and personally I don’t like awls. Instead I punch a hole that is one millimeter smaller than the hole of the eyelet and I force the eyelet in.
Figure 23 : Using a back lacing hole template
My personal preference is a 4mm / 1/8″ (inner diameter) eyelet with washer. I don’t think it matters much what width you use. The important thing is that they are two pieces (eyelet and washer), that they don’t crack, that they are nickel free and that you like them.
For the back lacing I like to use a large number of eyelets and I really like to squeeze them close together around the waist. For a fashion corset with little to no waist reduction it is not necessary, but on tight lacing corsets it is quite welcome since most of the pressure is on the waist.
Adding decoration & finishing edges
All that was left to do on this corset was to apply bias binding and decorate it.
Suspenders are a kind of decoration so I left them for the end. (Fig. 24)
My suspender regulators are taken from a garter belt from around 1945. The garter belt was in really bad shape. The pink jacquard was full of holes, elastic inserts were coming apart and the elastic fibers had lost their properties and were no longer elastic. It was beyond repair so I took it apart and used the suspender grips on this corset.
They are magnificent! I don’t think they make them this way any more…
Figure 24 : Silk covered black suspenders
Covered suspenders are easy to make.
I used strips of black shantung silk 10cm (4″) wide and 2½ times longer than the finished length of the suspenders. The finished width is 4cm (1 5/8″).
I saw these antique suspenders that looked like the suspender elastic is made with a frilly border on both sides. I couldn’t find suspender elastic that was so fancy so I mimicked the look. There are many different ways to decorate suspenders to make them look yummy.
For my suspenders I made a tube out of silk, then stitched with 4mm long stitches (about 6 stitches per inch) a distance of 9mm (3/8″) from both edges of the steam ironed tube to create a channel for suspender elastic.
I needed some help with inserting the elastic so I attached a safety pin on one end to make it easier for me to guide the elastic. My mother taught me that but instead of using that knowledge on old underwear I used it to make sexy suspenders!
I dislike suspenders that can be removed. (Fig. 25)
The ones with suspender hooks really irritate me because they keep on unhooking and I end up in an embarrassing situation with my stocking ending around my ankle.
I also see no use in wearing stay-up stockings with suspenders. With suspenders sewn onto the corset there is no way they will try and make a run for it.
Raw edges will be covered by bias binding, the inner shell of the corset will look good and there will be no visible stitches that hold the suspenders on the outer shell.
If you like to be able to remove suspenders from your corset and use hooks, don’t sew the little noose through all the layers of the corset. Sew the noose on the inner shell before you close the corset, and the stitching won’t show on the outside! 🙂
Figure 25 : Black suspenders sewn on to the corset edge
Before I sewed on the bias binding I added black eyelet lace on the top. On a corset that is made to be worn with a 5cm (2″) gap in the back it is really cute to add lace, pleats and similar decorations (used on the corset) on the modesty panel too.
Tip: When using pleats and ruffles as a decoration it is easier to work with if the pleating is made and secured before it is applied onto the corset.
For a personal touch you can make your own lace, with a sewing machine or by hand. (Fig. 26)
I planned to apply my own lace but I managed to find a bit of lace I had left over from another project and used that instead. I’ll use my home-made lace on another corset!
Figure 26 : Black homemade lace strips
Binding is my favorite part! It’s a sign that I’m almost finished and that I will be able to wear my corset soon!
For the bias binding I used shantung silk. (Fig. 27)
Instead of the usual 4cm (1 5/8″) width I went with 4.5cm (13/4″) since the corset is really thick and I will probably lose 0.5cm (3/16″) because of that.
A bias binder is a great tool and I have one in 38mm (1 1/2″) width, but I don’t use it very often. I use it only if I’m making more than 20m (22yd) of bias binding tape.
Figure 27 : Black silk shantung bias strips
Binding looks really simple, you just have to pin everything and sew it with your machine. (Fig. 28)
Well it looks simple but it is actually tricky to get it right. The main purpose of binding a corset is to fully close it and hide raw edges. The secondary purpose of binding is decoration. You can make a drop dead gorgeous corset but if the binding is sloppy and unattractive it will draw attention away from a fabulous corset. If you worked so much and so hard on the whole corset it doesn’t make any sense to neglect the look of the binding.
Figure 28 : Silk bias tape pinned
Don’t Let The Binding Get You Down by Cathy Hay is great free article dedicated to the art of binding.
If you haven’t read it already you really should. I always follow the instructions and tips in this article and I always end up with a great result. I did practice on scrap fabric to get a hang of the various angles, as Cathy suggests – practice makes perfect!
I like to take my time when it comes to binding corsets. Pin it, baste it, and stitch it on my Bernina. (Fig. 29)
Then iron it, fold it over nice and neat, then I steam and press the binding some more. I make sure the bias binding isn’t twisting around or wrinkling. I let everything cool down before I handle it. Both shantung silk and coutil stiffen up after they cool down. I want to keep a delicate look on corsets so I always finish the binding by hand.
Visible machine stitching on the fashion layer of the bias binding (to me) looks good on leather and PVC corsets or if the bias binding is pre-made, but I feel like I have more control over the bias binding when I stitch it on by hand.
Figure 29 : Corset bias binding edges prepared
The corset is finished but it is still not “broken in”. (Fig. 30)
I spent one day steaming it every now and then while it was on me** to speed up the “breaking in” process. I’m still not able to fully close it but in time it will be tamed.
**Don’t do this. It’s a stupid idea. I was more brain dead 10 years ago. Don’t recommend.
Figure 30 : Black & white diagonal corset laced on a mannequin
Comparing the diagonal to vertical patterned corset
Since I can’t close the Diagonal corset completely for now I decided to lace the white corset like it isn’t “broken in” for a better comparison of the “new” (Fig. 31, 32 & 33) and the “old” (Fig. 34, 35 & 36) corset.
Figure 31 : New diagonal corset worn (Front)
Figure 32 : New diagonal corset worn (Side)
Figure 30 : Black & white diagonal corset laced on a mannequin
It is clear that these corsets don’t fit properly with a gap of 5cm (2″) in the back. They are too big in the bust and on the hips but let’s put that aside and concentrate on the shape that these corsets give. I’m kind of disappointed since I was hoping that the diagonal cut would have a big impact on the shaping of the body. It is painfully obvious that the difference in shape is almost nonexistent.
The waist area is has a more gentle curve on the diagonal corset while the waist shape on the white corset has a more of a dramatic angle, but it really isn’t anything drastic. The center front is a bit different but that is because of the spoon busk. The white corset wrinkles in the back but the diagonal corset has so much boning in it that it’s impossible for it to wrinkle.
Figure 34 : Old vertical corset worn (Front)
Figure 35 : Old vertical corset worn (Side)
Figure 36 : Old vertical corset worn (Back)
I wore the diagonal corset for eight hours and it doesn’t feel any different from the white one. It is a bit stiffer but it has more boning and the fabric is much thicker than the one used for the white corset. Both are very comfortable to wear for longer time periods. The spoon busk feels somewhat strange but it isn’t uncomfortable.
It doesn’t show any signs of stretching, it is actually stubborn and the “breaking in” process will take a bit longer than usual. There are no wrinkles that were present on the toile, so the coutil is handling the diagonal cut well.
Since I can’t close the Diagonal corset completely for now I decided to lace the white corset like it isn’t “broken in” for a better comparison of the “old” and the “new” corset.
Figure 37 : Y & N Corset dual color (1904, Price List for Jeremia Rotherman)
With all this I have to conclude that the diagonal cut has no practical use, and was a sales gimmick giving the corset a new look. I have to admit that it looks very appealing and interesting, and is a great style to experiment with. I wonder how they drafted diagonal corset patterns in those days?
In the end there are some things I will do differently when I make another diagonal seamed corset.
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While I was still working on the transformation of the original pattern I ordered the corsetry supplies for this corset. Since the diagonal pattern was totally new to me I decided that it would be great to work with other corset goodies that I hadn’t used before. That is the biggest mistake I made with this corset.
Spot broche coutil looked too good not to use it on this corset, and it was a perfect match for the concept I had in mind: it looks delicate but elegant and it has a feel of dignity to it. I wanted the diagonals to really be the main decoration of the corset so a strong contrast was needed… a black and white combo seemed like a perfect choice but, in the end, it wasn’t the best choice. I didn’t know that spot broche coutil was so thick. I am used to using plain herringbone coutil and satin coutil in corsets, but they are like paper compared to spot broche. Since I’m stubborn I went on, and perhaps should have followed my instinct and used a fabric I was familiar with – the design is actually suitable for very thin fabric.
Spot broche would be great for design 1 from the first part of the article. That way there could be no bulk that would offset the design in the center front and It would be easier to sew in the front busk. One small change would have made a huge difference on the quality of the finished corset.
It was a wild ride and I enjoyed every second of it.
Enjoy corset making since it is a lost art, and be proud of your hunger for learning. Be bold and try new things, no matter how scary they may look. The world is your oyster!