If you study the history of western fashion or costume for any significant length of time eventually you’re going to run headfirst into the subject of corsetry. There are so many myths and so much misinformation out there that the subject can be a really touchy one for historians and costume enthusiasts. However, the fascination people have with corsets also has the potential to serve as a gateway. Learning about corsets can lead to explorations of fashion history, historic costuming, theatrical costuming, corset making, or lingerie. This roundup is a collection of the resources I’ve come across while exploring my own curiosity about corsets and stays.

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Historic Research: Corsets, Undergarments, and Stays

A library copy of Norah Waugh's Corsets and Crinolines, one of the most respected books about corsets and stays, sitting on a quilt next to a pot of tea.

Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh and Judith Dolan

Norah Waugh is one of the OG costume historians and for a long time, her book Corsets and Crinolines was one of the best resources for costumers looking for information on historic corsets and stays. However, it was out of print. Copies were hard to find and very expensive. A recent revision by Judith Dolan has meant that the book is once more readily available. Descriptions of silhouettes and diagrams of corset patterns from the 1500s to the 1920s are the main draw of this book. You can read my full review here or purchases here: Amazon/Bookshop.

Patterns of Fashion 5 by Janet Arnold et al.

While I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of this book yet, I had to include it this roundup. Jannet Arnold was another one of the OG costume historians. This recently published book from The School of Historical Dress was developed from some of the unpublished research that Arnold left behind. It covers undergarments from the years 1595-1795. Redthreaded has a great review here. Buy through The School of Historical Dress.

The Corset: A Cultural History by Valerie Steele

If you’re looking for a nuanced and well-researched guide to the history of corsets, this is the book you want. Written by the longtime director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, it addresses many of the myths surrounding corsetry in a nuanced and critical way. This book appears to be out of print, but you can still get used copies for a reasonable price on Amazon.

The Corseted Skeleton: A Bioarchaeology of Binding by Rebecca Gibson 

While many of the criticisms of corsetry are rooted in patriarchal nonsense, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have issues. If you’re looking for a clear eyed look into the effects of corsetry on the body, one based on deep research, then The Corseted Skeleton is the book you’re looking for. The book looks at what women wrote about corsetry, medical opinions, and skeletal remains from the 18th and 19th centuries in an attempt to construct a full picture of the corsets effects. Available on Amazon/Bookshop.

Learning How to Sew Stays and Corsets: Books and Classes

Blue 18th century stays with a white lace trim laid flat on a grey surface.
Late 18th Century British Stays. MET Museum 13.49.2.

The Basics of Corset Building by Linda Sparks

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to catch a short class on corset making and supplies taught by Linda at the Novi Sewing and Quilt Expo. The emphasis on supplies wasn’t surprising once I learned that one of her jobs was running the excellent online shop Farthingales Corset Making Supplies. Her book on corset making is slim, but so packed with useful photos that it is very much worth a read if you’re new to corset sewing. It’s the sort of great reference resource that I love to have on hand. Buy at Amazon.

Custom Corsets: Bones, Casings and Busks by Linda Sparks

If the above review has you thinking that you’d love to have gone to that class with me, I have good news: Linda also has an online class! With a focus on boning and busks, it’s great if you’ve already made one or two corsets and are looking to expand your techniques for making corsets and stays. Buy or subscribe at Craftsy.

Sewing Corsets Essential Techniques by Allison Smith

This course walks you through the making of a modern-style corset step by step. Allison Smith is one of my favorite instructors on the Craftsy platform. This class is perfect if you’re looking to make a simple corset with a fashion fabric outer layer and want someone to demonstrate all of the steps. I found myself wanting a little more information on fitting, but that may be too much to ask from a short, mass market, online course. Buy or subscribe at Craftsy.

Stays and Corsets: Historical Patterns Translated for the Modern Body by Mandy Barrington

While it may be fun to work with the patterns taken from historic garments by Waugh and Arnold, sometimes historical accuracy isn’t the most important part of a project. Barrington’s book is great if the project you’re working on is less about making a direct reproduction and more about making a corset or stays that will fit on a specific person. The book uses drafting methods that will be familiar to anyone that has studied pattern making for fashion design but is written clearly enough that it shouldn’t be impossible for a newbie to use. Buy at Amazon/Bookshop.

Communities for Corset Makers

Foundations Revealed by Kathy Hay

This members-only site is the place to go if you’re really serious about making your own corsets and stays. It contains a wealth of articles related to corset making, both historical and modern, as well as access a vibrant community of other corset enthusiasts. While I found the interface to be clunky when I was a member in the past, there really isn’t anywhere else to get this much corset specific information in once spot. Enrollment right now is on a rolling basis, so if you can’t sign up right away get yourself on the waiting list! Not sure? There are enough free articles up that you can get a feel for the site before committing. Visit here.

r/corsetry

This small (3.6k) subreddit is a great place to start if you have corsetry questions that aren’t easily answered by a quick google. While not the most active of groups (usually only a few posts a week), the posts and replies tend to be thoughtful. It’s free to read and free to join. Visit here.

Finding Supplies and Tools for Corset Making

While there are ways to DIY and hack your way to a nice corset using easily available materials, proper corset making supplies and tools usually can only be found at speciality retailers. While there’s nothing wrong with using zip ties for bones when it works for you, eventually you’ll likely find you want real steel bones or coutil fabric. The good news is, that there are several well established online sources for corsetry supplies.

Farthingales Corset Supplies

A long-time specialty retailer for corset supplies run out of Ontario. This online store sells a wide variety of boning, busks, and other tools and supplies needed to make corsets. This would be my top choice for buying corsetry supplies, as it’s clear there’s a real person with corsetry experience behind it. Shop here.

Vogue Fabrics

I’ve been shopping at Vogue since I was an undergraduate studying fashion design. While they’ve changed over the years (I still miss their Roosevelt location!) they still remain a sold fabric store. They carry supplies source by Farthingales, so if you’d rather have your things ship from US address (or if you happen to be in the North Chicago suburbs) they’re a great option. Shop here.

Richard the Thread

You can’t hang out in the costuming world without running across Richard the Thread. This is another old school supplier thats been around for years. The selection isn’t huge, but you know that’s because they’ve spent time sourcing the good stuff. Plus, they have some of the prettiest corset brocade fabric around. Shop here.

MakingItYourself (Etsy)

Etsy is usually one of the first places I go when I’m looking for niche crafting supplies. And while you can just use the search and browse features, for something specialized like corset supplies, I like to find specific shops fronts to buy from. MakingItYourself has a great selection of corsetry supplies, including boning and some really pretty coutil fabric. Shop here.

BiasBespoke (Etsy)

Another Etsy shop pick, BiasBespoke has a good selection of basic corsetry supplies. They also have a wide variety of tailoring and lingerie related supplies, so they’re a good shop to know in general. Shop here.

CorsetMaking.com

I’m generally pretty skeptical of sites that managed to grab such a great domain name, but CorsetMaking.com appears to be legit. They’ve got a nice selection of corsetry supplies, as well as military, leather, and general costume things as well. Shop here.

Stay and Corset Patterns

There are lots of patterns for corsets and stays on the market, especially since Bridgerton and cottage core became so popular. The list below is where I would start if I was searching for a new pattern. It is by no means exhaustive, but given how overwhelming the number of patterns on the market is, I thought it best to keep it edited. If you have a favorite, drop it in the comments below!

Laughing Moon Mercantile

When I started playing around with corsetry, Laughing Moon came up frequently as a good source for beginner corset patterns. These have been used for years, so it’s easy to people online talking about their experiences working with the patterns and the various ways they’ve adapted them. There are several options, but I think the best beginner option is the 113 Underbust Corset. Working through this corset gives you experience with all the basic parts of corset building without dealing with the hardest part of fitting, the bust. It also includes a men’s corset option, which makes it even more versatile. Shop the store here.

Redthreaded

Are you looking for a corset or stays pattern for a very specific era? And maybe also a kit with all the hard-to-find specialty supplies you need? Then I’d start by looking at Redthreaded. And if you decide that DIY is just too much for you, they also sell ready made corsets! Shop here.

RabbitAndHatPatterns (Etsy)

This very popular Etsy shop has a wide range of corset and stay patterns. To my eye, the vibe of this shop is more costume/cosplay than historically accurate, which is great if you’re looking for more creative styles. Shop here.

The Mantua-Maker

This is another popular source for patterns to make historical reproductions. They have a small selection of basic patterns that can cover a wide swath of history. Shop here.

Conclusion

I definitely have just barely scratched the surface with this post, but I hope it can be of use to someone! Feel free to drop your favorite resources for making corsets and stays in the comments!