Corset training, also known as waist training, figure training and the more familiar tightlacing, is a method of body modification. The waist (primarily) and the torso are sculpted using external pressure produced by a tightly laced corset. The waist and surrounding area are very gradually reduced over a period of months as the body slowly conforms to the shape of the corset. The wearer should feel comfortable at all times and any discomfort is a sign that the corset is too tight. As a general rule it should feel like a tight hug but not a breathless squeeze. It is very important to gradually progress with reduction as sudden extreme reductions can cause great discomfort, fainting, indigestion, muscle spasms and cramps (I speak from experience!) and breathlessness. Let me dispel the myth that corset training involves suffering on any level, wearing a corset should feel comfortable, unrestrictive and downright sexy! It’s common to forget you’re wearing one (unless you pass a mirror and get a glimpse of those accentuated curves of yours!).
Now as to time scale, reduction can be affected by fat mass and abdominal muscle strength as both lengthen the process, but in general an inch a month is the norm up to around six inches, after which each extra inch can take a whole year to achieve. The corset also needs to be worn for at least 12 hours a day, with most dedicated tightlacers practising a 23/7 rule – only taking the corset off to bathe and only loosening it to sleep, but its up to you to decide how far to take it, if your not enjoying it ease up. I’ve covered correct methods of lacing etc in other posts.
It’s also a common assumption (or just wishful thinking) that corset training for a few months can permanently reduce your waist size. Unfortunately it can’t, although it can be used as a dieting tool (which I’ll go into further in later posts) and worn for a number of years will keep you thinner than you naturally would have been had you never worn a corset. However even dedicated tightlacers with years of waist training under their belt (bad pun) report that after only an hour unlaced their waists have expanded to a degree. This is because the soft tissues have only been displaced and not eradicated. Corset training does however have a semi permanent effect on the shape of your rib cage, which sounds scarier than it is, promise! The ribs are very flexible and will take on the conical shape of the corset over time. They will slowly return to normal shape if corset training is ceased completely, but it is easy to maintain rib shape with reduced corset wear. As for health issues, no medical evidence has been found to prove that even the extreme corset training of the Victorian era had negative health effects for those that practised it – and I’ve looked good and hard for it. The internal organs are moved around to a large degree but still function perfectly, in fact they are put under greater strain during pregnancy and this may be why the female body suffers no ill effects from corset training. I’ll go into the physical effects in detail in a later post.
Other topics I’ll be covering are: making corsets, corset dresses, burlesque corsets and Cathie Jung and other famous tightlacers. ©
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Mock it up
I can’t stress the importance of a mock up enough, I hear you groan but marching ahead with your good material and crossing your fingers your corset will fit is one hell of a risk. Besides, it’s really quick and easy, promise!
Using some plain cotton or other scrap fabric, cut out your pattern leaving an inch extra at the joins as seam allowance, then sew the joins leaving the front and back openings un-sewn.
Now take each seam allowance in turn and sew the two flaps together leaving a pocket wide enough to slide your boning into.
Slide your bones in and if need be stitch the bottoms of the seam allowances to stop the bones falling out. Now cut a strip of material the width of the gap you intend to have at the back of your corset where the laces will be and stitch or pin it between the two back edges. Now you can try on your mock-up, pinning the front closed around you.
Does it fit?
Check the length, how high it comes up under the arms (if its an overbust) and the overall fit. If its too loose around the top and or bottom edges you may have to bring it in at the joins; use pins to alter it while wearing it, then take it off by undoing the front pins and transfer the changes to the pattern pieces. If its too tight let it out by unpicking the seams as far as need be and pinning scraps of material in place to extend the pattern pieces. Again take off and transfer the changes to the paper pattern.
The red lines are the duck tape piece shapes, then I made the above mentioned modifications and shortened the length – shown by the blue lines.
Gathering Your Materials
That said here’s the full list of materials needed for a single corset:
+ half meter of coutil
+ half meter of outer fabric
+ 3 or 4 reels of unbreakable thread in a colour matching your outer fabric
+ an awl or other pointed implement for making holes in fabric without cutting the threads. A fine pointed metal kebab skewer works well.
+ 1 steel busk, this is the front opening mechanism with 2 parts that lock together via loops and knobs (no sniggering please). This needs to be about an inch shorter than the front join of the corset. Read my post ‘Pick your Shape’ for information on the correct length busk for your torso.
+ Steel bones; spiral steel for sides, sprung steel for front and back. There should be one of these for each join between pattern pieces, cut to a size half inch shorter than the join length; they can be bought in various pre-cut sizes (make sure u have one per join for both sides of the corset – but not for both lining and outer layers of fabric mind).
+ Steel lacing bones. These are steel bones with holes punched in them; again get them half inch shorter then the edge of the back pattern piece where the laces will attach, you need 2 per corset.
+ Eyelets (also called grommets) – one per lacing bone hole. You’ll need to buy a packet with the little plastic setting tool unless you happen to have the proper hand tool – which makes it soooo much easier! So maybe invest in one for your second corset.
+ Bone casing – 2 -3 meters (measure all your joints for exact amount). This is a tubular ribbon you stitch on and slide your bones into.
+ Bias tape in a colour matching your outer fabric – 2 meters. This is a folded ribbon-like strip of material ‘cut on the cross’ (across the direction of the fabric weave). It’s best to go into your local sewing store and ask for it by name if you’re not sure what it is, make sure to take your fabric along to match it as it will edge the top and bottom of your corset.
+Petersham ribbon or twill tape – 1 meter. This is your waist tape, its goes on the inside and is optional but gives the waist line that stunning angular curve. Leave it out for a more natural look. Again go into a sewing shop for this, get black or white to match your lining.
+ Laces! Of course. These need to be at least 3 meters long and very sturdy.
For the best (and cheapest) places to buy supplies online (including cheap coutil!) and comprehensive instructions on how to construct your corset, check out my Corset Making PDF manual here!