I definitely winged this. I looked for ideas for making a corset online, and I kept coming across real corset tutorials—complete with boning and all. No thank you!
So I made up my own pattern and my own way of doing things. And you can, too!
What you’ll need:
- Plain black fabric (such as broadcloth) – I think I used about a half a yard
- Black Thread
- Elastic thread for shirring (such as this) or 1/4 inch elastic
- An eyelet kit (such as this one)
- Leather lacing (such as this)
For starters, you need your child’s chest measurement. You’re going to shirr (or add elastic to) the back of the corset so it will be stretchy and adjustable. This is one case where you’re not going to worry too much about accounting for seam allowances and all that. You can make your pattern about the same size and your kiddo and the elastic in the back will make it stretchy enough to fit. You want the corset to be a little tight, anyway, so that it doesn’t fall off!
Cut a pattern piece that’s as wide as your child’s chest width and a little taller than their chest length. You’ll want to wrap the paper around them to make sure it is as wide as you want it. Once you’ve got the width right, cut either end into the shape that you want and cut down the length to what you want it as well. This process basically involves cutting a little, trying the pattern on your child, and then cutting some more until you’ve got the shape that you want. You can see my final pattern above.
Next, you’re going to cut your pattern into three pieces: two front pieces and one piece for the back.
Now, fold your fabric and place your front pattern pieces on it. (If you want your front pieces to be perfectly symmetrical, just use one pattern piece for both sides.) Cut all the way around your pattern pieces. You want four pieces altogether.
Pin two of your fabric pieces (right sides together) together and then pin the other two. You’re going to sew all around them except for the inside edge (sew where the pins are in the picture). I used a smallish (about 1/4 inch) seam allowance.
Sew all the way around leaving that one edge open.
Now be a good seamstress and iron your seams open!
Trim your seams. Along the top of your curves, cut little triangle-shaped notches and clip your corners straight across. This makes it so the curve comes out nice and smooth when you turn it right side out and the corners so they come out nice and pointy. For a fantastic explanation of this, look at Ashley’s great post here!
Once you’re done, your pieces will look something like this.
I chose to top-stitch around the edges (again, leaving that one edge open). This is optional, but I recommend it. It just makes the corset look nicer and more complete.
Now, for the back piece:
Cut a piece of black fabric that is about twice as wide as your pattern piece. This is how wide my fabric was. We are going to shirr this, so it is going to shrink a lot. The idea here is that you cut the fabric wider than you need your finished product to be so that when it is shirred, the shirred piece is close to the same size as the pattern piece.
Hem the top and the bottom of your fabric piece by folding the edge over, folding it over again, and sewing.
Note: I made a mistake here (happens all the time). My other pattern pieces (the front ones, that connect to this back piece) shrunk down in height, because of the seam allowances when I sewed them together. This height of this fabric piece gets a little smaller because of the hemming, but ideally you want it to fit inside those open edges of your front pieces (which openings are also smaller if you’ve top-stitched). Shirring might lessen the length height-wise a little, but not much at all. We are going to tuck the ends of this piece into those open ends of our front pieces, so try and adjust the height of this piece so that it will fit well. If it is a little bigger, don’t worry. Shirring makes it very forgiving.
Once you’ve hemmed the top and bottom edges, it’s time to shirr! (If you need help, refer to this post here). You’re going to shirr from end to end, all the way down the fabric.
(Don’t want to shirr? Look at the bottom of this post for an alternate method.)
When you’re done shirring (I spaced my rows about 1/2 inch apart), your fabric piece will look something like you see above. You can press gently with a steam iron if you want to shrink the elastic further.
You want your finished piece to be approximately the same width as your pattern piece. If it’s a little more or less, don’t worry. You can always just trim it down if it is too wide and if it isn’t as wide, the elastic should stretch enough to make it okay. This is why shirring is awesome!
Now it is time to attach all the pieces together. Lay your shirred piece of fabric on top of one of your front pieces, raw edge to raw edge (right sides together—the front of your corset should be sandwich next to the front, or the good-looking, side of the shirred piece). You also want the top and bottom edges to more-or-less line up (do the best you can).
Pin the raw edge of the shirred piece to the raw edge of the other piece. Now, you’ve probably noticed that that front piece has two raw edges. Only pin to the raw edge touching the shirred piece. Leave the other raw edge open for now.
It will look something like the above picture.
Remember that mistake I made? I “fixed” it by creating tucks in my shirred piece. When the corset is on, you can hardly tell that there was even an issue with this.
Now, sew those raw edges together, making sure you don’t accidentally sew that other edge of the front piece. (Of course you’ll need to repeat all this with the other side.)
It will look something like this. Not very pretty, but bear with me. It gets better.
Now you have two things that need to be taken care of, and we’re going to take care of both at once. You have the raw seam edges of those pieces you just sewed together, and you have the raw edge of the back side of that front piece. Take that edge on the front piece, fold it under a little (maybe 1/4 inch or so), and press it. Next, you’re going to take the seam you’ve just created, fold it over so that the raw edges are tucked inside the front piece. You’re then going to take that folded top piece and pin it.
See what I mean? Your seam is now tucked inside, underneath that edge which you’ve folded and ironed. Now normally a very meticulous seamstress would probably tell you to slip-stitch that closed. I’m not going to do that. The fabric is black and we’re using black thread. So just use your machine and sew straight down where you’ve folded the fabric and tucked the seam, where the pins are in this picture. Keep your stitching close to the edge of the fold.
And guess what? The hardest part is done!
This is how the back looks when it is worn. See? All those tucks and mistakes and what have you are hardly noticeable.
Now, for the front. It’s easy. Use an eyelet kit to punch holes and insert the eyelets along the front of the bodice. I used a Dritz eyelet kit and it is seriously so, so easy. Then, all you need is some (fake) leather lacing and you just string it through, and you’re good to go!
Now, if you look at a picture of Zarina’s corset, you’ll see that hers has quite a few eyelet holes and the laces go straight across. I didn’t plan well enough ahead and only used four eyelets on each side. Lacing straight across didn’t look quite right, so I criss-crossed the laces. I wish I’d inserted a few more eyelets because the corset kept coming open a little more than I’d like when my daughter moved around. The point is, do however many eyelets you want and lace however suits your fancy!
If you don’t want to go the eyelet route and your machine has a buttonhole option, you can just create small button holes in your corset and string the laces through those instead!
Okay, one more thing. Do you want to create an elastic back without shirring? No worries, friend! I’ll walk you through it quickly.
Cut two fabric pieces that are 25 – 50% wider than your pattern piece. Sew the two fabric pieces together (right sides together, of course).
You’re going to create an effect similar to shirring by sewing multiple elastic casings through this piece. I recommend doing three casings at the minimum (but you can do as many as your feel like). You want your casings to be a little wider than your elastic (I recommend using 1/4 inch elastic and doing a casing that is about 1/2 inch wide). To make your casing, just sew several sets of two lines that are a little wider than your casing.
This is very hard to see, but I used green thread so hopefully you can make it out a little. For this example, I made two casings, each about 1/2 wide. (You should really do more than two casings, but I wasn’t actually going to use this piece so I only did two to demonstrate).
Cut your elastic to be about the width of your pattern piece.
Insert your elastic and thread it through the casing using a safety pin (for more details, see my casing post here). The ends of your elastic should meet the edges of your fabric, so the fabric will be bunched. Pin the ends of your elastic like you see above.
Sew the ends of your elastic down at the edge of the fabric. And that’s it! You’ve created a piece that is stretchy, just like with shirring!
You can sew this similar to how we sewed in the shirred piece. If you really want to, you can just fold and iron the raw edges of your front pieces, sandwich this piece in the middle, and sew all the layers together in one fell swoop. Sheesh, why didn’t I think of that earlier?
Whew! Two out of the three pieces done!
Is your little fairy getting excited? Mine sure was at this point!
Here she is making her wings flap! She kind of looks like a little ragamuffin! Perfect for a pirate!
As always, have fun!
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