Making a Hand Painted Corset

Another old article I’ve written a long long time ago to be published on Foundations Revealed back in 2012.

This one is on the topic of making a hand painted corset. A very inexpensive but very versatile decoration option.

If you haven’t read the other two, older, ones… check them out here and here!

This content is not affiliated or sponsored by Foundations Revealed or any other people and businesses mentioned or referenced.

On corset decorations

Hand painted cream corset with black tea pot mouse and rabbit masks on it

Figure 1 : Hand painted corset

Humans are very visual creatures and we like to look at pretty things. What we wear to cover our naked form protects us from the elements, dirt and injuries but that is just the basic function of garments. Our clothing also tells a story about us, our position in society and what we like. I don’t think that the suit makes the man, but decoration makes a really pretty corset.

“Pimp my corset” is a wide subject. It starts with the basics such as pattern cut and fabric choice followed by stitch, bias binding and ribbon color. From there it progresses to boning choice and placement, busk shape and color. Then we get to the extremely fun part … embellishment.

In the embellishment category we have so much to choose from. Lace application, layering, draping, embroidery, beading, quilting, patchwork, glitter, rhinestones, feathers, tassels … so much fun it makes your head spin!

Some ideas

Painting corsets by hand is a relatively cheap. (Fig. 1) You don’t need a lot of space for it, what to paint is completely your choice and it gives a corset that extra personal touch.

There are three slightly different techniques for hand painting corsets.

  1. Tracing the motif on pattern pieces and filling it in before connecting them
  2. Tracing the motif on pattern pieces, connecting them and then fill them in
  3. Completing the corset and applying the motif in a free hand style

You can always apply all three of them on the same corset. For example, you could first fill in the motif with your main color, sew it together and then layer another color (or more) on top. Then complete the corset and add smaller details all around the corset, such as tiny flowers or glittery dots.

Personally, I prefer to start with the first method and see where it takes me.

Before we get started…

I start my planning with a theme for the corset. It can be something as simple as bows or as crazy as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. From there I develop the design … from the shape of the corset to a rough idea about the motif type, size and placement. For the corset I will make to demonstrate this technique I chose the Mad Hatter as my theme. It will be the centerpiece of a complete outfit with Lolita flair. The motifs I chose are based around a well-known fictional character – which brings me to creative copyright.

Before you jump on your Hello Kitty corset, be sure that it will not lead you to a courtroom. Read up on the copyright laws of your country and make sure you don’t violate them. If you want to use a picture or a motif you found on the internet, be sure that it is free to use. You can also contact the artist to ask whether you could use their work on your corset project, and be sure you credit them later. The safest way not to get in trouble is to draw the motif yourself or to buy motifs you like and want to use in a form of paper magazines or online.

Preparation

With all that in mind, choose motifs and pattern that fit your theme. Your chosen corset pattern should be shaped and fitted because you don’t want to fiddle with that in the middle of your painting process. Depending on what kind of a motif you choose, changing seam lines will affect how precisely that motif comes together.

Pattern shape and size is very important for placement and size of the motif. A pattern that is divided into a lot of pieces is harder to work with if you use a very detailed, complex, or big motif, as it makes pattern matching difficult. Pronounced curved seam lines also affect pattern matching, so it will be a challenge to properly break that dragon motif you want over a curvy bust line.

Aside from all the supplies and tools (Fig. 2) that you usually use to make corsets, you will also need:

  • Thin cardboard/thick crafting paper/see-through pearl paper (depending on what you prefer and what works best for your project)
  • Fabric paint suitable for your fashion fabric
  • Brushes in a few different sizes and shapes
  • Craft knife or a scalpel (be careful not to hurt yourself!)
  • Some kind of container for mixing your paint

For fabric paint you will want to get something that is designed to be used with brushes and that can be fixed with heat into the fabric. Corsets are rarely washed, but you do want a long-lasting decoration. You could use acrylic paint or something similar if you really want to, but be sure to test it on some scraps. Test how well it absorbs into your fabric. Can it withstand a light wash, and does the paint chip off?

Supplies and more needed for painting a corset

Figure 2 : Corset project supplies

Fabric paint is not expensive and most hobby or art supply stores stock it. I used Marabu Textil Plus in color 073 for this corset. It is designed for light and dark colored cotton fabrics, and will work with cotton and synthetic blends if the synthetic portion doesn’t exceed 20%. There is also a version for light colored cotton fabrics, for silks and for leather.

I have this product in black (073), dark violet (051) and white (070). They easily mix with water and can be used sheered out. Colors from the same line of products can be mixed together to get new colors without affecting the performance of the paint. The finish is slightly rubbery to touch.

Something to consider

The red swatch (ruby red 638) is from the Marabu Textil 3D line. (Fig. 3) It is very thick and you can’t successfully sheer it out with adding water to it. This product doesn’t work with coutil and similar tightly woven fabric, but you can use it with lightly woven textiles and your motifs will slightly pop up. This product is very rubbery (not like liquid latex) when dried and it gives best results used directly from the container.

The silver swatch (Metallic-silver 728) is Marabu Textil Metallic. Because it has fine glitter in it, herringbone and satin coutil don’t work very well with it. Application is patchy, and depending on how the light hits the glitter, you can see where some places have a lot of glitter and some have little to none. Sheered out with water it gives a very pretty sparkle. It looks better if you apply 2-3 sheer layers instead of one thick layer. The finish is rather smooth and when I vigorously rub my finger over it, only a tiny bit of fine glitter transfers to my finger.

Many different variations and effects can be obtained with this product, but I will demonstrate the most basic for easier understanding of the process.

Fabric paint tested on a scrap piece of cream herrigbone coutil

Figure 3 : Paint tests on coutil

Let’s get creative!

Now that we have bought and prepared all corset making supplies, motifs, paint and brushes, we can start preparing our design and transferring it onto our pattern.

Fabric paint is not expensive and most hobby or art supply stores stock it. I used Marabu Textil Plus in color 073 for this corset. It is designed for light and dark colored cotton fabrics, and will work with cotton and synthetic blends if the synthetic portion doesn’t exceed 20%. There is also a version for light colored cotton fabrics, for silks and for leather.

I have this product in black (073), dark violet (051) and white (070). They easily mix with water and can be used sheered out. Colors from the same line of products can be mixed together to get new colors without affecting the performance of the paint. The finish is slightly rubbery to touch.

If you enjoy Aranea Black content, consider financially supporting the creation of free corset making content by buying me a coffee.

Planing out the positions

Make a copy of all your motifs and arrange them over the pattern pieces that will be painted. It will give you a better idea where to break the motif and how to orient them in relation to one another.

Choose a main motif if you have more than one (as I do) and first work with that motif, then orient everything else around it. Don’t forget to mark everything in some way. (Fig. 4)

Planing out the position of the main motif for hand painted corset

Figure 4 : Positioning the main motif

My main motif is a teapot, to be positioned on the center front and over the waist line. (Fig. 5)
First I added the center front cut (green line). After a bit of playing around with the pattern piece I added the waist line cut (orange line).

Teapot motif drawn on paper as the center piece for the hand painted corset

Figure 5 : Teapot positioned

With that I got a very good starting point so I continued adding and arranging the rest. (Fig. 6)

Positioning the rest of the design elements around the teapot

Figure 6 : Arranging other motifs

Tracing the design on to corset pattern : Simple

When the positioning part of the process is finished and everything is marked, cut up your motif on the waist line and center front line. Copy the pattern pieces on thick paper but don’t add seam allowances just yet. (Fig. 7)

Teapot design cut into quarters for use on corset pattern

Figure 7 : Teapot cut in 4

You can trace around your motif with a pencil (teapot) or you can use indigo paper (the raven riddle). I tried using indigo paper for the tea pot; it didn’t work well there, but it was perfect for the riddle. (Fig. 8)

Design elements prepared for transfer on to corset pattern teapot and raven riddle

Figure 8 : Motifs prepared for transfer

It is easy to transfer your cut-up motif if you are working with a perfectly straight line on a pattern piece. It gets a bit more interesting when you have to match a straight line to a curve.

 

 

 

Align the motif with the waist line and mark the place where the center front line of your motif and pattern stop touching. Trace that portion of the motif onto your pattern. (Fig. 9)

Tracing the teapot motif on to corset pattern

Figure 9 : Motif tracing start

Using that marked place (a pin or a pencil is a great help here) swing the motif so the center front line of your motif touches the center front of the pattern. Again, mark the spot where they stop touching and trace that part of the motif. (Fig. 10)

Pivoting the motif on pattern piece to align motif edge to pattern seam line

Figure 10 : Motif pivoting

Repeat that until you trace everything onto your pattern piece. (Fig. 11)

Smooth out the lines with a pencil and use a felt tip pen or a gel ball pen to highlight the finished shape.

Teapot motif realigned on the corset pattern piece for more tracing

Figure 11 : Motif tracing end

Tracing the design on to corset pattern : Complex

Some parts of my tea pot don’t fit into one pattern piece. The handle and the spout continue into pattern pieces Left 2 and Right 2. Same goes for the March Hare mask. A small part of ears and jaw bone stick out.

If we were to draw on the motif where it ends on the pattern piece and connect those two markings with a straight line, then proceed to match that straight line with the seam curve of the next pattern piece, we would add or deduct a part of the motif. It wouldn’t be noticeable on the fat bottom of the tea pot but it would considerably distort the finished look of the handle.

Instead of a straight line it is better to take the proper pattern piece (without seam allowances) and draw that seam curve to connect the marked places. (Fig. 12, 13 & 14)

If that portion of seam curve from pattern piece 1 matches the seam curve on pattern piece 2, simply position the motif properly and trace around it. If not, cut the paper motif on that curved line and repeat the swinging method mentioned before.

Teapot marked with the curved seam line

Figure 12 : Preparing motif for tracing on to curved seam line

Making sure the seam line curve is right

Figure 13 : Checking the seam line curve

Teapot motif ready for more transferring on to tricky corset pattern pieces

Figure 14 : Motif ready for transfer on other pattern pieces

With everything transferred to the pattern pieces and highlighted, it is time to add seam allowances. (Fig. 15)

Seam allowances added to pattern pieces and hare motif prepared for transfer

Figure 15 : Added seam allowances

It is very important to add seam allowances if you have motifs that break over a few different pattern pieces. It makes it easier to cut out, position on fabric and trace later on. (Fig. 16)

Large motifs hare and teapot transferred on to multiple corset pattern pieces

Figure 16 : Large motifs broken between connecting pattern pieces

Making the template

This is where the crafting knife comes in really handy if you are working with thin cardboard or thick paper. You can use small scissors but a knife is a better option.
If you have motifs with holes in it, like the eyes on my March Hare and Dormouse masks and the letters of the riddle, add a few lines (light blue) that will not be cut out to hold those details in the right place. (Fig. 17)

Stability lines added to motifs with holes in them for making a hand painted corset

Figure 17 : Security lines added

Be careful and patient while cutting the pieces out. Maybe put on some music and enjoy. It is better to lightly press the blade and go over the same line twice than to use a lot of force to make it divide in one go, because you have less control that way and might end up cutting something you weren’t supposed to cut. (Fig. 18 & 19)

Cutting the design motif for the making a hand painted corset

Figure 18 : Cutting the motif

Design motif cut out for the making a hand painted corset

Figure 19 : Motif successfully cut

For all who decided to work with see-through pearl paper (or baking paper), skip this step.

As you can see in this picture the cut out motif on the pattern piece is very stable, thanks to seam allowance. (Fig. 20)

Design motif cut out of pattern pieces held together by seam allowances

Figure 20 : Motif  held together by seam allowances

Transferring design to fabric

With everything ready, trace all your pattern pieces onto your fabric as you usually would, and cut them out. Take fabric pieces that will be painted and with a new, sharp needle, sew on the seam line. This will leave discreet marks on the face of your fabric and you will use them to precisely position the motif cutouts. (Fig. 21)

Don’t forget to test this on a piece of scrap fabric to adjust needle thickness. Some satin and brocade fabrics are not suitable for this but you can substitute this step with a thin hand sewing needle and a bit of fine thread or (for lighter colored fabrics) disappearing tailors’ ink.

Seam lines sewn through fabric with an empty needle for marking purpose

Figure 21 : Seam lines marked with empty needle

Place the template on the matching fabric pattern piece and secure it. I used crepe yellow tape (masking tape or painter’s tape – test on a scrap first!).(Fig. 22)

I think it is a very versatile product and a very good thing about it is that the glue on it doesn’t (shouldn’t!) damage or stain the fabric. You can use weights, binder clips or secure it with a very long machine stitch.

Pattern motifs placed on fabric and secured with masking tape

Figure 22 : Pattern design secured on fabric

To transfer your motifs, use a softer pencil or disappearing tailors’ ink. (Fig. 23)

I don’t recommend tailor’s chalk because the paint doesn’t perform very well with it. Powdery types get sucked into the brush and they thicken up the paint slightly, making it hard to control.

Oily/wax based chalk makes it very hard for fabric to absorb the paint properly.

I did use a soft pencil on black satin and spot broche coutil and it works well. It is a bit harder to see it than on lighter colored coutil but good lighting helps a lot.

Tailors ink is the best option if you plan on painting everything in a day or two.

Motif transferred to fabric with pencil and disappearing ink

Figure 23 : Pencil and disappearing ink samples

After you trace everything onto your fashion fabric, remove the template and fill the missing lines. (Fig. 24 & 25)

Mouse mask design motif transferred to the herringbone coutil fabric

Figure 24 : Design motif transferred to herringbone coutil fabric

Filled in details on the mouse mask design motif transferred to the herringbone coutil fabric

Figure 25 : Filled in design elements

If you decided to use transparent paper for your templates instead of using pencils to transfer your design to fabric pieces, secure the template and sew over the outlines with an empty (no thread) sharp needle. Use a shorter stitch length for this. I would use the paper method for bigger, simple designs.

Smaller designs like letters on my corset aren’t suitable for this as the chance of irreparably damaging the fabric is rather high.

Before starting the painting/sewing process, check how well your design fits together. (Fig. 26)

If there is a major irregularity, you have the chance to fix your template and replace the pattern piece that is wonky. It will save a lot of time and hair pulling.

Fabric corset patterns pieces taped together with masking tape to check the motif

Figure 26 : Pattern pieces temporarily taped together

Painting the fabric

Depending on your fashion fabric and fabric paint brand/kind you might have to adjust the thickness of the paint to get better results. Herringbone coutil had a problem with absorbing the paint I used directly from the container. It was too thick to sink into tiny ridges of this wave and that resulted in a few bald spots after my sample dried. Adding water to it made the paint a lot more absorbent and the coverage was better. I added a very small amount of water so it didn’t sheer out the color.

That mix didn’t work well on letters so I added a bit more water. Letters are so small I didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver my brush and force the paint into the tight wave. I don’t think you want to be very hectic with your brush and move it up and down then left to right very fast. Not all bristles will be able to follow your movement and that might deliver the color to somewhere it should not be. (Fig. 27)

Hand painted motifs on corset fabric black paint on cream herringbone coutil

Figure 27 : Motif painted on to coutil

It worked better for me to use the tip of my brush on a 90 degree angle and tap the paint into the fabric with smaller motifs and on the edges of bigger ones.

You don’t need a very wide selection of brushes for this. (Fig. 28)
It is better to have a few brushes that do the job properly then to have many but none of them are suitable for your project. I have started with only two brushes (green handle on the right) but they did a great job on three painted corsets I made before this one. For letters I needed something smaller and more precise so I bought two more. I believe I won’t go brush shopping any time soon. Use brushes that will work well with your design.

Brushes for fabric painting

Figure 28 : Brushes

Marabu Textil paint has to dry for 24 hours before you can fixate the color with heat but I didn’t have any problems adding layers of new paint over the dried layer. After the paint has dried, I sewed everything together and it didn’t fit properly everywhere. The letters were a mismatched mess, and because of that I recommend basting pattern pieces together instead of using just pins. Mistakes happen when you are overly confident and very excited. (Fig. 29)

Teapot painted on fabric and sewn together

Figure 29 : Teapot painted on fabric and sewn together

You can still fix mistakes and make it look like nothing wrong ever happened.

Aside from correcting the shape of motifs, I filled in the ditch on seam lines. (Fig. 30)

Teapot motif corrected an filled in

Figure 30 : Teapot motif corrected

To top it all off I painted all the stitches that ran over my black motifs. (Fig. 31)

The thread is 100% polyester but I wanted to see how well will it work and I am very pleased by the result. I left it to dry for another 24 hours and fixed the color ironing on high over a thin clean cotton cloth.

Stitching over motifs covered with paint

Figure 31 : Stitches painted

That’s it!

With all that said and done the corset is ready for application of other forms of embellishment – boning, binding and last but not least… wearing. (Fig. 32)

Hand painted cream corset with black tea pot mouse and rabbit masks on it

Figure 32 : Hand painted corset finished

I do hope I inspired you to try this method of embellishment.

 

White corset with black butterfly wings painted on

Figure 21 : Measuring boning

White corset with black ribbon bow motif painted on

Figure 22 : Flat & spring steel boning

Black and red corset with raven skull cross painted on center front

Figure 23 : Using a back lacing hole template

Black and red corset with raven skull and leaves painted on hip pattern piece

Figure 24 : Silk covered black suspenders

Don’t forget that there are other options available to try and experiment with. There are companies that print designs of your choice onto fabric and there is also silk-screening as an option if you don’t like the idea of manually applying motifs with a brush. I haven’t used those methods yet but I heard great things about them.

As always, the only thing standing between us and our creativity is fear of failure. Don’t submit to that fear!