These instructions differ substantially from those for making a corset with unboned tabs. The method described below is, aside from using a machine rather than fingerpower to stitch the boning channels, almost identical to the technique used by the original corset-makers of the 16th century. To see what an original Elizabethan boned tab corset looked like, check out the Effigy Corset.
It is slightly more labor-intensive than the other two versions of the corset, as the binding around the bottom and top edges must be sewn by hand. There are fewer steps to follow, however.
1. Alter the corset pattern.
Starting at the back center of the new pattern, measure down three inches from the waistline and mark this point. Do this every few inches along the waistline. Stop when you're four inches away from the center front, and draw a vertical line connecting the point three inches below the waistline up to the waistline. Now connect the dots that you've drawn, to create a line parallel to the waistline but three inches below it.
This area between the waistline and the new bottom edge is what will become your tabs. Divide this below-the-waist section into 4 equal tabs, by drawing lines from the line you drew up to the waistline. Cut out this new pattern, snipping the vertical lines to create the separate tabs.
2. Cut out the fabric pieces.
Place the center front side of your corset pattern against the fold, and pin it to the fabric. If you have fabric weights, by all means use those instead. Using a pencil, tailor's chalk or other non-permanent marker, trace around the corset pattern. Draw the lines dividing the tabs, as well. Lift the pattern away.
Cut around the pattern tracing. leave no seam allowance; cut on the lines you drew. That's right, this pattern doesn't have any seam allowance. If the fabric you are using tends to fray, be sure to use fray-check along the edges. You will be handling this fabric a lot, so fray check will be necessary. Also, do not cut the tabs.. We'll be waiting till the very end to do this, so that the separate tab pieces will not fray or stretch. For now, leave the tab section as one piece.
Open out your corset pattern, and, using your pattern, draw the tab dividing lines for the other half of the corset.
Place your corset fabric that you've just cut out on your lining fabric. Pin the two together, or use fabric weights. Cut out a lining the same size as the outer fabric. There is no need to mark the tab dividers as you did on the outer fabric.
if your outer material is relatively flimsy (i.e., thin silk or taffeta), cut another layer out of a sturdier fabric to place between the lining and the outer fabric. The boning will be slipped between these two inner layers, saving the outer fabric.
3. Mark and sew the channels for the boning and the busk
if you are using a weaker boning material, such as corset reed or poly boning, you will likely want to sew boning channels completely around the corset, leaving no space unboned. Otherwise the tabs will quickly bend at the waist.
Sew along these boning channel marks to create channels for the boning. Straight pins are useful for insuring that both layers lie flat and even. Sew from the bottom edge all the way to the top, and backstitch at both ends. Test the first channel to see that it is indeed wide enough for the boning before doing the rest.
This is by far the most tedious part of making a corset. Here's a tip to speed it up: instead of running every stitch from the bottom to the top, Run one stitch from the bottom to the top, backstitch, lift the presser foot with the needle in the fabric, rotate the corset 180 degrees, move the needle to the beginning of the next channel, put the presser foot down, backstitch, and sew down the next channel. Note: This may cause wrinkling in the channels if your outer fabric or your lining is a twill or slightly stretchy fabric, or if your channels are exceptionally wide.
5. Cut the Tabs
If you plan to make more corsets or bodices in the future, lacing strips are a good investment that you will use over and over again. Take a five-inch-wide strip of canvas that's about 30 inches long, fold it in half lengthwise, and iron. Cut this strip in half to create 2 15-inch-long-strips. Now set gromments an inch-and-a-half apart, close to the folded edge, down each of these strips.
To fit the corset, stitch the strips with a basting stitch to each back edge of your corset. Make sure the folded edge of the strip is even with the edge. Lace the corset on, snugly but not too snugly. You may have to tighten the laces two to three times before everything's where it should be. Your bosom should be elevated during lacing, and when lacing is complete, it should feel secure but not be squeezing out of the top of the corset. Let the person wear the corset for 10 to 15 minutes, moving around, turning, sitting and lifting their arms. This allows the fabric to stretch if it's going to, and allows the wearer to get a good idea of any uncomfortable areas.
Check that the space between the back edges is the same at the top and bottom of the corset. Ideally you want two inches of space between the back edges. Often the top back will be closer together than the bottom. If this is so, pinch the fabric at the side back top into a downward "dart" to make the back lacings even. If you find that the corset is too loose, mark where you think the back edges of the corset should be, unlace the corset, remove the lacing strips and sew them on at this newly marked edge, and try the corset on again. You may find that the tabs dig into your hips, and need to cut them slightly longer.
Once you've determined any changes that need to be made, take the corset off, remove the lacing strips. If you found that the corset was slightly too big, cut a bit off of the back center to the newly marked edge. if it was too small, stitch an additional bit of fabric to each back side piece to the width you need, and add more boning channels and boning.
Lay the edging strip wrong side up against the right side of the corset, with the edge of the fabric even with the edge of the binding. Stitch the binding with a backstitch to the front layer of the corset about 3/8 an inch away from the edge. If you're using leather, stitch the edge of the leather to the corset 3/8 an inch away from the edge. If you used corset reed or broomstraw, you're lucky--with care, you can machine-stitch the binding to the corset through the boning material.
Stitching around the points of the tabs can be fiddly, and is best done by hand. Once you've stitched the binding all around the bottom edge of the corset, wrap it around to the inside over the edge of the corset. Tuck the raw edge of the binding under if it's fabric (with leather, you don't need to worry about fraying), and whip-stitch the binding to the inside layer of the corset.
Repeat this process with the top edge and the back center edges. If you want your busk to be removable, be sure to stitch the binding material only to the front layer of the busk pocket fabric when you are stitching it to the right side of the corset top. Do not stitch the binding down on the wrong side of the corset behind the busk pocket.
Following the instructions for your grommets, insert and pound the grommets into place. If you've never put grommets into an outfit before, I highly recommend practising on a piece of cloth before you do the corset.
If you're not using grommets, cut a very small hole in the fabric, and sew a buttonhole stitch around it. You can also sew a buttonhole stitch around the metal grommets, to make your outfit look more period.
Long corset laces (basically 4-yard-long flat shoelaces) are sold by some costume supply places like Greenberg & Hammer. Alternately, you can use ice-skating laces from a used sports store, or make your own lace out of a stronger lacing material: linen tape or waxed linen cord (sold by Wooded Hamlet).
It is helpful to finish off the lace you're going to use to lace your corset with by rolling the ends small and either wrapping clear tape or thread tightly around them, or dipping them in wax. This makes it a LOT easier to lace with, and reduces curses and mumbles behind your back.
Slip the busk into place, and poke two holes in the fabric to match the holes in the busk. You can sew a buttonhole stitch around the holes, making sure not to sew the two layers together. Once the busk is in place, a ribbon will go through the holes in the lining, through the busk holes, and tie together in a bow on the front of the corset to keep the busk from sliding out of place.
If you will be wearing your corset with a farthingale, sew pairs of holes at the front side waist and back side waist of the corset. When your farthingale is finished, run a short lace through these holes and through matching holes at the front sides and back sides of the farthingale, and tie them in bows. This is how corsets and farthingales were worn in the 16th century: as one unit. Lacing the two together prevents the farthingale from slipping awkwardly down, helps support the weight of heavy Elizabethan skirts, and makes your outfit move more gracefully. If both farthingale and corset open at the center back, you can put them on and take them off as one unit, which saves time.
10.) Immediately rush to the nearest mirror