The designing and making of corsets; a garment worn to hold and train the torso into a desired shape for aesthetic or medical purposes.
|Historic area of significance|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK|
Corset making has a long tradition in the UK and across the world, and there is an increasing interest and market in both historical and modern corsets. Corsetry has never really gone out of fashion, but its focus has changed with fashions over the last century. The bespoke nature of corsetry and the huge diversity of clients means that the hand skills of making are being well preserved and actively transferred between makers. However, not all corsets are bespoke even when they are handmade, with many makers also having ready-to-wear lines.
Corsetry is rising in popularity with the general public with a huge spectrum of clients including for medical use, costume, film, tv, theatre, performance arts, drag, fetish, fashion, historical re-enactment, steampunk, cosplay and everything in between. There are no limits on the type of client and what they look for. Corset making is an increasingly popular hobby with active communities on social media.
There are different schools and techniques of making corsets. But most of the processes have the following steps in common – the process begins with sourcing the fabric (the preference is using corset coutil which was designed specifically for corsets due to its sturdiness that helps keeping the corset shape). Then the maker prepares the corset fabric by applying a pattern (created or existing), sometimes adding inner lining, matching the thread and checking the ‘grain’. The fabric is then applied to the pattern, stitched and sewn together. Then the characteristic structures of boning, binding and busks are added. At the end of the process grommets and laces are added.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Lack of professional makers who are passing on skills – there are very few professional, full time corsetieres in the UK who teach students from the wider population.
Lack of formal training – there are few opportunities for formal training and most will learn from other makers. There are, however, many courses offering corsetry as degree module and there are a large number of online resources, courses and books available.
Difficulties in running a profitable business – whilst there are great number of corset makers, there are not that many who do it as a full time career. Many will rely on the supplementary income from teaching or selling materials, or will have other unrelated careers.
Oxford School of Corsetry (now online)
Foundations Revealed – an online sewing community/magazine/mentorship programme with a heavy focus on corsetry
Craftspeople currently known
A list of UK makers can be found on the corsetiere map at Lucy’s Corsetry.
- A corsetiere is a person who is an expert on the purpose and engineering of a corset and how the body works in combination with corsetry, and can therefore engineer a corset pattern from scratch in order to create a garment which will change the shape of the body in a specific way.
- A corset maker is someone who can sew a corset together from a given pattern.
There is much to be positive about for the future of corset making:
- Strong networks – The strong and active worldwide network of skilled corsetiers and corset makers means that makers have more resources at their fingertips than ever before and more means to share their expertise. Both professional and hobby makers have benefitted from the opportunities to network through social media channels.
- Skills transfer – Many skilled corsetieres in the world today have taught or are teaching and there is no shortage of skill transference. Those that teach say that there are more students that they can keep up with.