The Cardboard Corset: Done!

And here is the (finally) finished product!

Front view of finished Cardboard Corset.

Front view of finished Cardboard Corset. With Golden paper stomacher.

Side view of finished Cardboard Corset.

Side view of finished Cardboard Corset.

Back view of finished Cardboard Corset.

Back view of finished Cardboard Corset.

The tabs at the bottom of the corset started flaring out during the process of lacing instead of following the curve of the body as it should have done if the corset was made out of fabric and proper boning. I used a length of black trouser elastic attached at their ends to keep them in check, and I think the effect is actually more effective. With the elastic the curve of the hips is better defined and creates a bigger contrast with the cinched waist, which is exactly the kind of optical illusion you want when working with stays.

Close up of finished Cardboard Corset.

Close up of finished Cardboard Corset with a very defined and well-structured cinch at the waist and curve over the hips.

I also created a stomacher of to go with the corset. In this particular case the stomacher provides the wearer with a choice of how tight the corset should be laced. It can be laced tightly so only a sliver of the stomacher wouldn be visible, or loosely so that more of the stomacher shows. The stomacher was made with painted and decorated cartridge and then covered in contact paper to make it more flexible and durable. It is seamed all the way around with the thick golden thread used to sew jeans.

Golden cartridge stomacher for Cardboard Corset.

Golden cartridge stomacher.

The inside of the corset is not lined as it definitely should be, and makes in an interesting comment about fashion as the boning and sewing leaves deep groves in the skin after wear.

Corset marks left on skin.

Deep grooves left in the skin after wearing the unlined cardboard corset.

And that is the Cardboard Corset!

The Cardboard Corset Step 5

Boning! The hardcore part of corsetry! Boning, historically, has been quite a creative area, and people were always looking for materials that would be both sturdy and light enough for everyday wear. Reeds and whalebone were favourites where 18th century stays were concerned, but neither of these were either feasible (or legal) for my particular needs. I’ve heard it suggested in several sources that cable ties (zip ties, tamper proof ties) can work in a pinch, and it seemed poetic to finish a cardboard corset with boning that came from a hardware store rather than a haberdashery. I bought them in bulk: 100+ ties of 30cm/14 inches each.

The corset on which my project is based was a fully boned corset, meaning that the entire corset was boned, not just the seams as is the case with more modern corsets. But since I had been using the corrugated cardboard exactly for the purpose of creating structure I thought it would only be necessary to bone the tabs as that was the area on the waist that would take the most strain.

Cardboard corset with boning at the tabs.

Boning at the tabs. Tabs also received extra stitching between the edging to create more bone channels.

Close-up of boning at the tabs of cardboard corset

Close-up of boning at tabs as well as extra stitching.

However….in the end I decided to bone the whole thing, having bought the ties in bulk in all that. It appears it must have been pre-meditated after all, because when I did the horizontal stitching I made sure that they corresponded to the ridges in the cardboard (marked with black on the cardboard in previous pictures) effectively creating bone channels that I may or may not later choose to use.

Cardboard corset, fully boned

Fully boned.

The overlap in boning at the back and in some places around the waist was mostly intentional to provide extra strength to areas that would likely to take more strain.

Close-up of bones and bone channels of cardboard corset

Close-up of bones and bone channels

The Cardboard Corset Step 4

As the project progressed and I fiddled more and more with the corset the cardboard became quite pliable vertically (not yet horizontally) and I was increasingly concerned about the fact that the cardboard might tear at the seams. In the end I decided to make tearing virtually impossible by reinforcing the entire breadth of the corset with horizontal stitching running from one end to the other. The plan was to make the stitching run from the one eyelet at the centre front, through the corresponding eyelets at the centre back and back to the other eyelet at centre front. The only problem was that the amount of eyelets in the front did not match the amount in the back, which had the result that one eyelet in the front had no stitching going through it. However, this had very little effect on both the structure and the design. I also went to some trouble to make sure that the stitching runs with the ‘flow’ or shape of the corset, rather than running in a straight line from point A to B.

Cardboard Corset with horizontal reinforcing stitches on the inside

Vertical stitches running the breadth of corset on the inside

I also stitched all around the edges to keep everything together and avoid the several layers of the cardboard and contact adhesive to peel away from each other with wear. This also served to reinforce the very weakest part of the cardboard/contact adhesive marriage: the tabs. The edging gave them some strength, structure and elasticity that they previously lacked.

Close-up of horizontal stitches and edging on the inside of cardboard corset.

Close-up of horizontal stitches and edging on the inside.

One thing about the String used for sewing that I didn’t mention before is that I used normal cotton twine that I dyed black myself. I did this because it was less expensive than using lovely solid black embroidery thread and much less ‘woolly’ than using black wool. However, there seemed to have been some synthetic compound in the string because the dye didn’t take too well and left me with blue instead of black. This didn’t matter too much for the inside of the corset that was starting to look increasingly patchy, but it left the outside with blue stitching on black that just looked sadly accidental. In the end I used the blue string as is…

Close-up of the horizontal stitches and edging on the outside of cardboard corset

Close-up of the horisintal stitches and edging on the outside.

But decided to colour in the exposed bits of thread on the outside with a magic marker! It worked wonderfully.

Outside view of cardboard corset with horizontal stitching and edging

Outside view of horizontal stitching and edging with blackened string.

The Cardboard Corset Step 3

Now came the task of sewing it all together. As I’ve mentioned before I added quite big seam allowances to counter any tearing that might occur, and stitched the entire seam allowance. With the later measures I took to avoid tearing I’m no longer convinced that the big seams were necessary and their function is now almost purely decorative. And I say decorative because I like the way the big seems define the panels of the corset which otherwise would have gotten lost in the conical shape of the finished product.

Corset panels sewn together (Inside)

Inside of corset with panels sewn together and center back panels laced very unhistorically.

Close-up of corset panels sewn together (Inside)

Close-up of inside seams.

Outside of cardboard coret with panels sewn together

Outside of corset.

Notice the armholes are now cut a bit lower than before: halfway through sewing the panels together I changed my mind and decided to make some more armpit-allowance in the hopes of increasing the wearability of a garment made out of cardboard…

The Cardboard Corset Step 2

After cutting the panels I painted to outside with black ink. There was not enough for both sides, but in the end, the unpainted inside made for a very interesting effect. Then came the contact paper on both sides, another one of many measures taken to avoid the cardboard tearing under corset-pressure.

Painted and covered panels of cardboard corset (Outside)

The outside of the corset: panels painted and covered with contact adhesive.

Unpainted inside of panels of cardboard corset.

The not-so-nice inside.