Corseted formal dress – construction

Thanks for all the love you gave the corsetted ‘formal’ dress of last week – it was very touching to get so many lovely comments. I’d really like to explain how I created the pattern for the dress and the construction details. Let’s just dive in today with the construction, that way if you have a pattern you’d like to try this with; you can just get started. This is picture heavy, so I’ve compressed the images for loading speed – fingers crossed it works!

Disclaimer: I am but a student! To learn this method I took a 2 hour private lesson with a bridal couturier/beader that teaches at my college – cost $150. My course only covers ’embellishment’ and ‘tailoring’, I don’t claim expertise!

My teacher recommended french canvas, but opinions differ quite markedly as to the best understructure to use in corseted gowns, some like the strongest Armoweft. Surprisingly, not a single person I spoke to, student or teacher, had ever heard of coutil, the most common corsetry fabric used to make actual corsets!


You will need:

French Canvas, available in Australia at M. Recht though its not on their website. It may also be called buckram, available at Vogue Fabrics online. This stuff is rough and tough and stands up unassisted. In draping it is used for understructure wherein it is steamed into shape on the mannequin which has been padded out using the client’s moulage and wadding.



Fusible Interfacing – any kind, cheap, expensive, woven, non woven – doesn’t matter. It protects the fashion fabric from the rough french canvas.

Pellon or Vilene fusible fleece – lightweight. Its gross this stuff, just plasticky and yuk, but it is THE SECRET SAUCE – trust me! It smoothes out any slight wrinkling in your under fabrics and makes the silhouette beautiful.img_8080

Rigilene Sew-In Boning – no boning casing needed

optional Spiral or straight bones – bone casing will be necessary if you use these.

a pair of underwires – ripped ours out of an old bra!

fashion fabric aka the good stuff!

standard zip (not invisible, they’re not strong enough)

buttons, covered are nice, I used glass.


You will need a very close fitting (possibly with a little negative ease) moulage/bodice block. At college the couture students were assigned the task of drawing 20 corsets! There is a lot of freedom in a corset pattern, changing the design lines creates lots of possibilities, yours doesn’t need to have underwires of course. A simple princess line corset is lovely, you can choose whether to add a skirt or not. Okay, this below is not simple but wow!



Constructing the corset using french canvas/buckram

  • block fuse both sides of your canvas/buckram with any old cheap interfacing. You can do this with an iron, but check carfeully for areas not properly fused and go over them again. I like to use silicone baking paper to protect the fabric and my iron from high heat, sandwiched both under and over
  • cut out your pattern pieces accurately.
  • Baste the pieces together to check fit. Use a long basting stitch on your machine to make it easier to pull apart again. Checking fit at this point saves time later because unpicking boning is tedious. If everything fits well, unpick the seamlines. If not, make alterations.



  • Sew Rigilene boning to all pieces – the photo below gives you an indication of where to put it within the front pieces, it also needs to be applied to the back pieces, 2 per piece. later you will bone the seamlines also (optional), though we opted for stronger nylon boning there. The boning must start at least 6mm away from the stitching line. So if you have a 1cm seam allowance, start and finish the boning 1.6cm away from the edge. Fuse some calico and cut pieces to cover the ends of the Rigilene, apply the fused calico as you stitch. My teacher warned me if you don’t – there will be blood at some point in the evening as the boning pierces your body!



  • Now roughly fuse the thin wadding to the outside only – use the baking paper and you won’t spend an hour cleaning your iron but be very careful not to melt your Rigilene or you’ll have to recut that piece and start again – like I did! This wasn’t apparent until it cooled some time later. Trim back wadding.


  • Observing the correct grain, cut out and sew your fashion fabric to the french canvas leaving a border around the outside of the canvas, JIC the fabric moves. You must sew within the seam allowance but not on the seamline, smoothing the fashion fabric as you go. You should have no wrinkles. If there are some, it happens, unpick just that portion and resew.



  • If using a second overlay repeat step 4 with the overlay. Now you have 2 lines of stitching on each piece within the seam allowance. Observe for wrinkles and fix them. At this stage you could gather the sheer overlay strategically on a pattern piece, a lovely touch and beautiful on smaller busts.
  • Join all the pieces together to make the bustier.
  • Apply bias tape over the seam lines and insert nylon or steel bones (with caps) – maintain the 6mm distance from the seamline. I chose to apply the bias which would contain the underwire to the inside of the bra cup seamline; I think this has greatly minimised the size of the bust. Stitching it perfectly to the inside was more difficult but worth persisting with I think. Insert underwire at the last moment, it makes getting the corset under the machine foot unwieldy!


  • Note the backmost Rigilene (cut in 1/2 lengthwise to make very narrow) sits within the Centre Back seam allowance on the button loop side only (left as worn). The lapped zip will sit inside the seam allowance, next to it and will be stabilised by the boning. Unpick the uppermost (chiffon) layer of your corset to the closest panel line. It will be closed after the buttonloops are set. This is the sample we made in my lesson.




See how I appropriated one of the Rigilene bones – I’d run out!

  • Apply button loops to LHS as worn. This gave me great peace of mind because I truly had visions of the zip going rip since it was under so much pressure!
  • Insert lapped zipper and buttons


  • Attach lining at neckline, grade and understitch before turning through. I attached 2 loops to hold optional halter straps at this point. You get bonus points for hanger loops!


  • Attach the skirt…
  •  then finish sewing the zip. This was my teacher’s suggestion… but I just couldn’t see the point, so I attached the skirt then sewed the entire zip – no harm done.
  • Top stitch LHS of lapped zip.
  • Sew bodice lining to the waistline seam at this point; that’s the only stitching holding the lining down from the top of the bodice.
  • Bag out the lining to the hem and zipper tape.

Incidentally, the quilting on the front skirt panel was inspired by a Ferragamo corset. I realised that the fabric would wrinkle horrendously so used the iron-on wadding and quilted. I texted Princess to tell of my genius and she was horrified… “QUILTING”. But she absolutely loved it; which just goes to show the customer is not always right! Oh and bones were inserted either side of the CF skirt panel to stop it from popping up above the waist seam. Best to extend those bones down from the bodice in one piece – it was a major pain in the rear to retrofit!

I really hope this helps someone. Do you have a different method? Please share in the comments.

Next post – hints on Frankenpatterning a bust cup pattern to your moulage.




Add yours →

  1. Sam the Aussie 28/09/2016 — 6:56 pm

    Just so good to see the ‘how’ – big thanks. Sam the Aussie

  2. Lesley this is amazing to read and dream about. I am tempted to try it out for my “gold rush” dress next year although in practise I think my bustier wearing days are behind me. 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing this. I am going to read it several times until I understand all of the details. I look forward to the next post, too. You are amazing!

    • Reckon you could definitely wear a corseted dress Steph, perhaps think of it like an undergarment! Allows a gal to go bra-less! What about the idea of a chemise underneath, perhaps a sheer top part so the corseted piece is purely there for structure; its not always necessary to acknowledge the corset outwardly. Oooh, I might try to find some tantalizing inspiration for the next post!

      • I will definitely think about it! In Italy I could get away with anything. I really want to stretch my boundaries this year. Your dress is absolutely beautiful. So very inspiring. I will definitely try to make the bust cup pattern and at least a toile of the bustier for learning.

      • I just had a thought that the bustier might be awesome with trousers and the short jacket (not quite a bolero) that I am imagining… Hmm..look forward to seeing your inspiration pics.

      • You know it occurred to me, here I am spouting on about giving it a go, but I haven’t worn anything like that for years either! It’s really so much easier sewing for others! You go girl!

      • Ha ha .. I am quite serious though: I would wear it under a short jacket, with awesome trousers. Am getting excited about this idea for SWAP

      • Oh beading Steph, please consider beading!

      • If I do that you will definitely have to be available on speed dial to help me. 🙂 Kidding! I think I could handle beading but I am still missing a couple of steps on the corset construction….but that can come later.

  3. Wow….wow……! Thanks for shareing! Fabulous!

  4. Lovely. I do hope Princess reads your blog and sees just how much work went into that fabulous dress!

  5. You explained it all very clearly. I have altered a lot of bridal gowns over the years and have never seen one using coutil, either. I’ve only ever used it to make a stomacher for a period costume. I’ve also never seen fusible fleece used – but I can definitely see the advantage of it, preventing the layers from puckering and would love to try this method. I’ve used flannel as an underlining in the past, so I reckon the fleece would be pretty similar.

    • Fascinating Chris, yes fleece might be lighter in weight than flannel too. It’s interesting the dichotomy between ‘corsetry’ and ‘bridal/after 5’. I’ve previously made a waspie (waist training corset) from coutil and it was a dream to work with. Years later its still going strong (Princess wears it under her school uniform!!) so I’m not sure why it’s not used more often? It would be a shame to fuse it with fleece is all I can think of and that would make layering the fashion fabric difficult? Great input, thanks Chris.

  6. sewitorthrowit 29/09/2016 — 11:53 am

    Her reaction to the quilting —hilarious!

  7. I had to laugh at the thought of buckram, being named french canvas, someone somewhere maybe thought that it might become more popular with an updated, prettier name. But your right, its rough and fairly ugly, but perfect for the job you did, I saw students this year use it in hat brims too. Coutil is one of those basics that I have inherited in the dept’s fabric cupboard, nice weave and solid heavy cotton. Years ago, before the fashion and costume departments split, the costume students always made up Victorian corsets with the other undergarments, in the varying weights of calico/toile and they usually used eyelets and lacing to fasten.Your glass buttons and loops look gorgeous and as I said before the entire dress is fabulous…boots on top…of course!!

    • Couldn’t you just throttle ’em sometimes Linda?! It seems they steam the french canvas/buckram in situ for draping over, love to try that.I did soak a little bit and it didn’t soften that much which was surprising because I was under the impression the stiffness was created by glue?? That coutil in the back of the department’s cupboard might be worth selling; I’d buy it!! x

  8. What a great project, and a fabulous result – I bet your daughter was thrilled Lesley!
    It has been a while since I got stuck into a big project and yours is making my fingers twitch!

  9. Wow, Lesley. I was very impressed by the finished garment, now that I have seen the amount of work and commitment you put into it, well, I find it pretty amazing. I can see bra-making will now seem a breeze for you now.

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