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Perfect Binding

icon freeHere at YWU we understand first-hand how difficult it can be to bind corsets, stays and bodies neatly. After all those hours of careful work, fitting, boning and stitching, the £$!*?& binding lets you down!

Even if you're otherwise a great costumer, the frustration of binding can inspire the most experienced needleperson to throw things. So in the interests of your inner calm, "Doctor" Cathy offers the cure… find out once and for all how to perfect your stays and corsets with our indispensible guide!


If you’ve ever made a corset (or a pair of stays or bodies, as they were known in earlier centuries), you’ll have found yourself grappling with binding. A bound edge, top and bottom, is the neatest and smoothest way to finish the edge both inside and outside, especially when you’re dealing with multiple layers.

When making your Victorian corsets, with their straight or gently undulating edges, you’ll have found the binding fiddly, especially at the ends. If you’ve graduated to eighteenth century stays or Elizabethan bodies, you will probably have truly got in touch with your own anger; binding those tabs at the bottom edge can be a trial for anyone’s patience!

In this Masterclass we’ll cover all the aspects of binding to a professional standard on all types of corset – not only the curves, but how to tackle those corners and ends, too. One by one, I’ll take you from first principles through to each and every kind of curve and corner and end you’ll ever be likely to come across, and show you how to bind them all professionally.

Binding basics

1. Making bias binding out of your fashion fabric

Store bought bias binding is a time-saver, but it doesn’t always produce the best-looking result. If you’re making a black corset and black polyester satin binding would look good, then fine. However, do consider making your own binding, especially if you’re making your corset in a colour that’s hard to match. One of the most glaring signs of inexperience or corners cut is a corset in baby blue cotton that has thick black satin lines along the edges. With an extra quarter of a metre of fabric, you can make your own binding and achieve a much more polished and professional result.

You’ll need to cut bias strips of fabric to make binding. Why bias? A bias strip deteriorates and frays less easily, and stretches and gives more easily around the gentler curves.

1. Draw a line with chalk or a water soluble pen (available in haberdashery stores - test on a scrap first!) that’s on the true bias of your fabric – at exactly 45 degrees to the grain (the direction of the threads). I like to use silk dupion for binding, since it’s so easy to see the threads and find the bias. Use a normal set square from your old school pencil case, or a dressmaker’s square, which is a larger version of the same thing.
2. Extend the line along the fabric, and use it to draw parallel lines 4cm (1.5”) apart. (I have a metre ruler [yardstick] that’s exactly 4cm wide, which makes this easy.) Cut along the lines to make your own binding.


To fold the binding, use a bias binding maker for speed, or press the creases you need by
- pressing the strips in half along their length
- opening them up and pressing them flat (so that you can still see the crease)
- pressing each edge over to the middle crease, one side at a time (this gets easier with practice!)

If you need to join strips of binding, it's preferable to do so before attaching them to the garment. Click the three photos below to see how to do this. For extra credit, see if you can notice what tiny thing I could have done differently to make the binding in these photos look even better. (answer in the caption of the third photo)

2. Attaching the binding along a straight corset edge

1. First sew the binding down to your edge, by hand or with the machine, as shown.

2. If necessary, trim the edge down to the width of the binding seam allowance, enough to just shave the very edge off the binding seam allowance. Be careful not to snip the main part of the binding.

3. Wrap the binding over the raw edge and slipstitch down by hand.

You could do this by machine, stitching along the ditch between the corset edge and the edge of the binding on the right side. It should work in theory, but it almost never produces a really smooth, professional result, especially on the back of the work.

Handsewing position

Hand sewing tip: Handsewing can be hard on your back as you hunch over the work. Sitting at a desk and raising the work up on a large cushion minimises aches and pains, and also provides opportunities for using lots of lamps to illuminate your subject.


Curves and corners

Why are curves and corners hard to bind?

Now that we're up to speed on the basics, it's time to tackle the fiddly bits. Before you can conquer the binding beast and tackle all the hard parts successfully, it'll be useful to know where the real problem lies. A story:

Madame Alouette and Madame Beauchamp are having tea on the lawn at the Chateau in 1748. Since it's a sunny afternoon and they're stinking rich with nowhere to go, they decide to follow tea with a turn around the formal garden.

Here they are (right). The garden has three circular paths tracing a route around a rather impressive fountain in the middle. A straight path leads from the fountain out to the gate in the perimeter wall.

Arriving in the garden via the gate and the straight path, Madame Alouette (A) (being fond of her terribly expensive fountain) chooses to walk around the inner circular path so that she can admire it from every angle. Madame Beauchamp, meanwhile, is fond of the climbing roses on the walls of the garden, and chooses to walk around the outer path so that she can admire them in all their different varieties.

Both ladies start walking on their respective paths from the point shown in the diagram above. Will they both arrive back where they started at the same time? Who will arrive first? Of course, Madame A's path is shorter, and she has to wait a considerable number of minutes before Madame B catches up with her, since the path around the outside of the garden is much longer.

Now, a lady should never be kept waiting, so on their second turn around the garden, Madame A chooses the middle path (their panniers are far too wide to walk side by side on the same path). This time she finds that she doesn't have to wait as long for Madame B, and that in fact, if she just walks a little slower, she'll arrive at about the same time.

What does this tell you about binding their stays? Firstly, it tells you that the problem with binding curves is that the outside edge of the binding has to travel a different distance from the inside edge where you're sewing it down. The tighter the curve, the more the difference is enhanced and the harder it is to bind it.

It also suggests that narrower binding will be easier to use. This sounds counter-intuitive: surely wider binding is less fiddly? But if your binding is wide on, say, your 18th century tabs, the inner edge of the binding is going to have to gather like crazy in order to make it round that curve at the bottom - or the outside edge will have to stretch like mad - because the inner and outer edges cover such different distances. If your binding is narrower, the distance the inner edge covers is much more similar to the distance around the outside of the edge, and it's much easier to navigate that curve because you won't have to do nearly as much gathering/stretching to make it fit. (click here to see for yourself)

2. Outside curves

Here's the complete method for binding "outside" curves, by which I mean any curve in which you're trying to work out how to gather the inner edge or stretch the outside edge. Examples include bust curves on overbust corsets, to a lesser extent the sides of a Victorian corset over the hips or the hips of an Edwardian corset, which curve down over the wearer's posterior, but most of all, the bottom edges of pre-Victorian tabs on stays and bodies.

For my demonstration, I've blown up a typical tab to four times its usual size so that you can see the fine detail. This means that my binding is also much wider than normal, so you'll see why wide binding is so difficult to use. Don't try this at home! :)

1. Prepare the edge of the tab neatly so that you can clearly see what you're doing. You'll need the edges to be trimmed to their final shape, and a clear line stitched around where you want the sewn edge of the binding to go (1cm or 3/8" from the edge if you've made binding as shown above). Don't be afraid to get that line right by using a ruler and a water-soluble pen on the lining side (test on a scrap first!)

2. Handsewing may be slow, but it does give you precision. You'll be handsewing the binding on both sides around these curves.

Begin by sewing one edge down the line of stitching you've made, just along the straight and easy part, as far as the point when the line begins to curve. Do this with a slipstitch, or "ladder stitch" as I was taught it. From the right side, take equal bites out of the tab, then the binding, then the tab, to form a "ladder" as shown. When pulled closed this looks invisible. Click the photo for an extreme close-up.

3. It's much easier to gather than to stretch the binding, so we're going to measure how much binding we need around the edge of the tab and then pull in the excess to stitch the edge of the binding down.

Start by pinning the binding at the point where the curve begins, with the pin placed at right angles to the straight edge. Wrap the middle of the binding around the edge of the tab and pin it down, again at right angles to the straight edge, at the point where the curve straightens out again.

You've now got the binding for the curve measured out.

4. Now you have the middle of the binding wrapped around the edge correctly, you need to gather the edge in to stitch it down. You've got two pins holding it down at each end; now you can pin the halfway point of the loose binding to the halfway point around the stitching line.
5. Do the same at the quarter points.
6. Repeat until you've got most of the edge pinned into place.

7. Now you can continue your ladder stitch along the edge. You may find that the binding edge ripples along the stitching line, but by taking slightly bigger "bites" out of the binding than the tab you'll be able to smooth these out.

In my example, the binding is so wide that the edge ripples like crazy when I draw it in. I'm trying to draw a very long binding edge into a much smaller curve - your binding will be narrower and will only ripple half this much, so you'll have a much easier job than I did!

8. When one side is complete, repeat on the other side of the tab and then press both sides gently, easing out any stray wrinkles.

Right: lining side of my example. Below right: right side of my example. Below: using this technique for real.

Notice how the fabric puckers on my supersized model, showing how using wide binding compromises the results. If you make your binding as described above, as I did in the black and blue stays shown below, you'll get a smooth 1cm (3/8in) wide bound edge, as you see below.


In Part II

Now go on to the next page, where we'll conclude this masterclass by showing you how to bind inside corners (the type you'll be binding if you have spaces between tabs). We'll look at binding square, acute and obtuse corners smoothly and neatly, as well as those maddening hairpin turns between tabs on stays. And finally, we'll work out once and for all how to finish the ends neatly, even when the end of the binding meets the end of the corset at an angle!


Don't Let The Binding Get You Down by Cathy Hay - Don't Let the Binding Get You Down, Part II   Hello! I love this tutorial :) But I do have a question! I've read all over that boning should be cut half an inch shorter than the channels, but I did that and it doesn't seem that there will be room for my binding. How deep should I baste in at the top of the corset before binding it and inserting the boning? I hope that makes sense! I can't find a measurement anywhere. Should it be 1 cm?  
  Hi there! I cut the seam allowance at the edge of the corset or stays down to about half an inch, and then make the boning half an inch or so shorter than the distance from stitching line to stitching line. The binding is attached at the stitching lin, wrapping around the seam allowance. I hope that helps!  
Jill Zimmerman  
Binding   Yes, the binding has definitely gotten me down! Your article on binding tabs has helped me continue a laborious process. Using the wrong materials for bindings (i.e. stretchy knit and then taffeta) has caused me to tear off completed bindings (twice!) and start again (this time with a tightly woven linen.) I am also using a much narrower binding this go 'round and am so pleased with the result. Not sure I'll EVER attempt a corset with so many complex tabs, but once I've completed this one I'll understand the commitment involved. Reading your thorough explanations WITH pictures is so valuable. Thank you!  
Corset training Scarlet  
An amazingly in-depth tutorial!   Wow I thought I knew everything about binding but I'm so impressed by your corners. So neat and so perfect they look like something my scary maths teacher would have produced (she loved her pointy angles)

Thanks for a brilliant tutorial!

Lady Mellilah of Athena\'s Grove Trims  
Binding   Lots of people have trouble with binding and even attaching trim without distorting the fabric underneath. This is a wonderful tutorial to address those issues and thank you for sharing!  
Sherry Poole  
Inside corners   I am so glad I found your blog and your pictures... I love the completed work you showed... I have had better results since finding you... GREAT job....  
  Thank you Sherry, I'm glad you found it helpful!  
Thank you!   Thank you so much for this wonderfully thorough tutorial! I'm re-making some 18th century stays and this is by far the most comprehensive and clear tutorial I have found on binding. I hope this stays up forever. Thank you so much!  
  Thank you very much, you've made my day, Ashley - I'm glad you found it helpful!  
Inside point   Do you have any suggestions for working with inside points? I'm working on a sweetheart overbust with a bit of a sharp point at the center front. I've been wracking my brain trying to think of how to make it look nice but I've come up with nothing. Thanks for any help.  

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