The main fabric in any corset is the base fabric. This layer is the strength of the corset; it allows you to tighten and re-distribute. There are very few choices for this layer. Most fabrics available are too weak or loosely woven. The base fabric will also be close to your skin, so you want it to breathe and be comfortable. In your basic fabric store there are few fabrics that fit this description.
So how do you know when you need to spend the extra money for coutil? It all connects back to your purpose. The longer you want your corset to last, the more quality you want in your base fabric. For a corset you’ll wear every day coutil is the only choice if you want your corset to last. For a piece that will be under a lot of stress, like the extreme waist reductions involved in tight-lacing, you may even need more than one layer of coutil. For a one-time costume piece, however, canvas or denim may be a better choice because it is cheaper.
Next you need to decide if you want a lining fabric. The point of a corset lining is to protect the base layer from the salts and sweat on your skin and to protect your skin from the rough base layer and scratchy seam allowances. Because many historical corsets are worn with a chemise underneath a lining is not really necessary (and not historically accurate).
If you decide on adding a lining think of natural fibers. Natural fibers are even more important in this layer because they’ll absorb sweat and moisture instead of trapping it against your skin. You also want the lining to be thin and lightweight so it doesn’t add a lot of bulk to the inside of your corset.
Any of the above should be dyeable due to its high cotton content. Colored linings, however, can bleed and dye your skin or any clothing worn under the corset. To help prevent this, wash your fabric three or four times with hot water and soap. If you have access to Retayne™ or Synthrapol®, or a similar product, use it in the loads as well. This will probably fade your fabric somewhat, but I don’t think it will matter because no one will see your lining fabric when you are wearing your corset. Dye down the drain is better than dye on the skin.
There are some alternatives to cotton fabric. Linen is commonly used in historical reproductions. Linen is stronger than cotton, but it’s more expensive and usually has to be mail-ordered. If you are trying to recreate a pre-1850s historical piece, however, linen is much more authentic. Look for lightweight or handkerchief weight, which is thin and light. Silk can also be used. Habotai, or China Silk, is strong but thin and slick. The tight weave is not as good about wicking moisture away, and its slick texture is harder to sew, but the smooth weave makes it ‘glide’ more against under layers. Crepe De Chine is similar to Habotai but not as strong. Silk broadcloth and sueded charmeuse are closer to cotton in weave and behavior, although silks are generally not as strong or durable. To get silks, look for a bridal fabric store or search online for silk fabric.
The final fabric you need to pick is the fashion fabric. Again, this layer is not necessary. I've done plenty of corsets where the coutil is the only layer of fabric. There are plenty of historical garments done this way, too. There are, however, many examples of historical garments that have a fashion fabric layer, too. The fashion fabric is the outer layer that shows when you wear a corset. For this you can pick pretty much anything you want. Historically silk taffetas and satins were popular. Nowadays dupioni is done for a lot of fashion corsets. I’ve even been known to layer a few fabrics together, like a pattern under a sheer, to get the effect I want. The only think I would recommend against is knits. Stretch fabrics have a tendency to bag over use. If the fabric you choose is weak, especially acetate, you can fuse it with interfacing to strengthen it. A great resource that outlines tons of different types of fabric is Sandra Betzina’s Fabric Savvy or More Fabric Savvy. It helps you to know the strengths and weaknesses for tons of different weaves and fibers, as well as stitch lengths and recommended needles.
|Silk Taffeta - renaissancefabrics.net|
|Silk Satin - orifashion.cn|
I'll be using coutil on my corsets and canvas on my mock-ups. I'm going to make the Silverado with a silk fashion layer, but I haven't decided between dupioni and taffeta yet.