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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 (since 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!

 


bindingicon.jpgIn part II of our guide to binding the edges of stays and corsets professionally, we'll conclude by showing you how to bind inside corners (the type you'll be binding if you have spaces between tabs), and how to cope with those turns if you prefer to stick with period-authentic hairpin turns.

We'll look at binding square, acute and obtuse corners smoothly and neatly, and finally, we'll work out once and for all how to finish the ends of the binding neatly, even when the end of the binding meets the end of the corset at an angle!

3. Curves and corners, continued: Inside curves

Inside curves are much less common in stays and corsets than outside curves, but you will come across them. Their most extreme incarnation is as those death-defying hairpin turns between tabs on a pair of stays, but you might choose to make your job simpler by opening out the spaces between tabs to make the turns more rounded and gradual. Let's start there, and work out from there how to do the hairpins.

1. As before, cut your curve and stitch along the stitching line in a smooth curve. The beautifully curved binding can only be as beautifully curved as you cut and mark at this stage.

2. This time, it's your stitching line that's longer than the outside edge of the stays, so there's no need to measure ahead of time. Just slipstitch the first edge to the stitching line by hand, as if it were a straight edge. (Don't try it by machine. It's a lot easier to handstitch and save the tantrums, since the binding gets in the way of your machine foot.)

3. Stick pins into the stitching line at carefully-measured intervals, then mark with more pins directly across from them at the other edge of the binding.This will help you to distribute the binding evenly as you wrap it around the edge.

4. Smooth the binding around the cut edge and pin down. Distribute it evenly by ensuring that the pairs of pins meet.

5. Slipstitch the binding down as before. As you can see, there will be a little bunching at the edge, which is inevitable since the stitching line is longer than the edge. You can smooth it out a little with careful pressing with the point of your iron. (remember, my sample in the photos is huge so that you can see the detail. The wrinkles will be fewer on your smaller version.)

4. Hairpin turns

Those fiendishly difficult hairpin turns can be tackled successfully by adapting the method above.

1. When you're marking the stitching line to start out, use a ruler and water soluble pen to inscribe a circular path around the corner at the top. (Measure your seam allowance out from the end of the split in all directions to create a half circle.)

2. Machine stitch along this line as before (this conveniently transfers your markings to the other side.) Slipstitch the binding around the stitching line by hand.

3. Use the method with the pins in (3) and (4) above - pin at the beginning and end of the curve, and halfway around the curve, directly above the split. Then do the same at the quarter-way marks. You may be able to do this by eye.

Wrap the binding through the slit and bring the pairs of pins together as before.

4. Slipstich the other side of the binding down by hand as before.

Since this curve is so sharp you can't avoid the bunching in the corner, but again, some careful pressing from the stitching line towards the corner can minimise it.

Some people advocate sewing a running stitch and gathering through the part that will become bunched so that it'll at least bunch up neatly, but this hasn't worked well for me. For me, the extra fiddliness wasn't worth the only marginally better results. Always do what works for you - no-one has the "correct" answer to end all answers on these things!

 

 

Corners

Corners can be a problem: it's so difficult to make them into sharp, smart turns when they will insist on becoming truncated curves! But a corner, whether square, obtuse or acute, is fairly easy to negotiate once you look at it closely.

Again, consider the distance the binding must travel both at its stitched edge and around the edge of the corset. The reason that corners turn into curves is that if you simply stitch to the corner, lift your machine's foot, turn and continue, the binding has to try to stretch around the outside of the corner, making it curve. We can make it sharp if we give it some extra room to do so!

Follow my method below as I show you how to turn a sharp acute corner. This is the most tricky type of corner, but the method can be used on a corner of any angle.

1. Shape your corner and stitch along your stitching line carefully, as before.

Slipstitch one side of the binding to the stitching line, as before, up to the corner - and continue right to the edge of the corset. Do the same on the other side.

NB. Don't stitch right up to the edge if it's an obtuse corner (anything bigger than a square corner)- go halfway to the edge at most.

2. Stick a pin into the very furthest point of the corner, through all layers, and bring it out further along the edge of the corset as shown, across the binding.

This will help keep the binding on this first side of the corner steady as you manipulate it to turn the corner.

3. Press the excess binding flat against the edge, like this...

...so that the middle of the binding runs down the edge of the corset.

4. Fold the binding over the edge of the corset and pin on both sides at the point where your stitching will begin again.

5. Tuck the excess binding away to form a neat mitred effect with a fold running from the stitching corner to the point. On a corner as sharp as this one, you may need to trim a little of the excess away first in order to avoid ending up with a lump. Secure with a pin.

6. Slipstitch on both sides along the fold and then continue along the stitching line.

I recommend beginning at the stitching line corner, working your way up the fold to the point and then passing your needle back through the binding to the stitching line. Pulling gently at this point will gently reduce any excess "pointy-ness". Meanwhile, pulling and pinching gently will make a sharp corner like mine pointier.

 

 

For those of you who are more experienced or perfectionist, here's an advanced challenge. In the photo of my finished sharp corner above, you'll notice that the portion of the point on the left of the fold, where I've tucked the excess away, is a little bulkier than the portion on the right. Can you find a way to reduce the bulk by tucking one way on one side of the corset and the other way on the other side? Clue: you'll have to adapt parts of this method right from the beginning!

 

Ends

Finally, to finish the binding on your corset, stays or bodies, we need to make the ends of the binding neat.

TIP: When I'm folding the ends of the binding, I use my ironing board as a table since I can stick pins right into it. Alternatively, try taking a cork noticeboard off the wall and using that as a table.

1. Square ends

Where the end of the binding meets the edge of the corset at a right angle, your job is fairly simple.

1. After sewing one edge of the binding up to the edge of the corset in the usual way, trim the end to 2cm [3/4"]. Fold the end of the binding back over the edge of the corset and pin down. Angle it slightly down and away from the stitching to ensure that the end doesn't peek out once the binding is done.

2. Use a pin to push the middle of the binding into the fold as you fold the other side over.

3. Pin down and stitch, ensuring that you include a few neat stitches in the end of the binding.

 

2. Acute ends

Binding that makes an acute angle with the edge of the corset can be tricky, but you can work out what to do by trying the method above and then adapting it.

1. Fold the end over as before and pin it down. Place the pin at the edge of the main (horizontal) section of binding, directly opposite the end of the stitching line.

2. Trim the excess away, ensuring that you don't snip the main (horizontal) section of the binding.

3. Form a fold from the pin to the corner and pin. Again, trim the excess a little.

Tip: Trim away just enough that the end of the binding won't have to crease again when you wrap the binding over the corset edge. But DON'T trim right up to the point, or you'll have fraying threads at the corner!

4. Wrap the binding over the edge, pin down and stitch, ensuring that you include a few neat stitches in the end of the binding.

The completed end, seen from the right side.

TIP: Consider making yourself a large sized sample like mine to practice binding ends and corners with before you do it for real! It's only on curves that a big sample presents extra problems - for ends and corners it makes the task much easier.

 

3. Obtuse ends

1. Fold the end of the binding over the edge as before.

2. You may wish to put a pin in the very furthest point at the corner, or hold it down with your forefinger.

3. Play with the excess fabric until you have a neat edge that can be folded down to match the corner. Pin as shown.

4. Trim away the excess. You may wish to open the binding up again so that you can trim more neatly: either make crisp folds in the binding or pin down, then open up and trim.

5. Slipstitch down as before, including a few neat stitches along the edge.

 

In conclusion

Finishing binding in a professional way can be fiddly and time-consuming, but the results are worth it. It's one of those little extras that Josie Public and Jane Doe may not immediately pick out but will sense quality from. Meanwhile, other costumers will appreciate and envy your effort!

Remember to consider where the binding must make its longest journey first; measure for this and tuck in or distribute the excess neatly around that.

Finally, if you're stuck and don't know what to do, use pins to try different methods on your ironing board or a cork board and check the result. Notice where it goes wrong and ask yourself how you could improve your method, then try again until you have a smooth result!

 

 

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anachronisminded
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?
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cathyhay
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!
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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!
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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!

Scarlet

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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!
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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....
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cathyhay
Thank you Sherry, I'm glad you found it helpful!
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Ashley
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!
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cathyhay
Thank you very much, you've made my day, Ashley - I'm glad you found it helpful!
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Tyler
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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