Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Corset-a-Long: Materials - Boning

Plastic Boning

The most easily found type of boning is plastic. Some varieties are commonly sold in fabric stores, so they are easy to find and easy to use. The most common is rigelene. This is made up of thin tubes of plastic in a grid pattern. This boning is very lightweight and flexible. You can sew through the boning with a regular sewing machine. The boning will conform to the curves of your body with wearings. The downside to this boning really is its flexibility. This boning is really too flexible to hold up to the pressures and tensions involved in corsetry. I’ve used it selectively in places I want gentle curves, such as the bust curve of a bodice, but I always use a sturdier boning on the major seams and lines to re-enforce the feather boning. Another major downfall is plastic’s tendency to learn curves. It can be good, but it can be very bad, too. I’ve had plastic learn the ‘curves’ of my tummy roll, which is definitely not flattering OR what I intended! For this reason I mainly reserve feather boning for the bust area.

Hancock fabrics
The next step up in quality is feather boning. Feather boning is also plastic boning but in a fabric casing, and this style is one solid piece of plastic. It can still be sewn through, although a lot less easily, but it’s stronger than rigelene and less likely to learn a curve. Make that slightly less likely. I pretty much group both Rigelene and feather boning into one category usage-wise. Both come in large rolls in the fabric store and you buy what you need by the yard. Usually the fabric covering is either black or white, and those are your only options.

vogue fabrics store
One other type of plastic boning in fabric stores worth mentioning is horsehair braid. This thin plastic braid is sold in rolls near the plastic boning. It’s really too weak for boning anything but collars and cuffs that are meant to stick out. It won’t work for structural boning at all, so save yourself the trouble.

The Germans have a higher quality of plastic boning that is available in corsetry and costuming supply stores. This German Plastic Boning is stronger and less likely to learn curves than Rigelene or feather boning, but is still washable.

vogue fabrics store
The highest quality of plastic boning is Plastic Whalebone. Whalebone is the authentic boning used in historical corsets. Because of endangered species and poaching, owning enough whalebone to make more than one corset is illegal (kinda, it's kinda legal in theory in the US but I've not found a place to legally purchase it). You can still buy it, but usually it is stripped out of older period corsets or bodices. Since the demand is still there for a boning that works like whalebone, a plastic version has been invented. I’ve never seen real whalebone to make a comparison, but the rumor is that plastic whalebone is the best alternative available, although it’s still not a very good substitute.

There are a few things to remember when working with plastic boning of any kind. The first is that it comes on tightly coiled rolls. Even when unrolled, the nature of plastic boning means that even after you cut the pieces the curve will still be there. There are a few ways to counteract this. Most patterns will recommend that you just ‘switch the curve’ on each bone as you sew. This means sewing one bone with the curl of the boning curving in toward your body and the next bone with the curl curving out. This generally works best if the bones are placed right next to each other. Another good method is to cut one or two yard pieces and place the ends under heavy furniture for a few days. I like to cut pieces the width of my bed and place them under the wooden 2x4x24” blocks that I have under the footboard to make my bed level. The weight of the furniture will keep the boning straight and it will ‘learn’ not to curve. This can be coaxed in stubborn boning by carefully heating the stretched boning with a hairdryer. The heating and cooling process helps the boning to mold straighter. You can also iron plastic boning on low heat until it is straight. This can be a delicate process, though, because leaving the heat on too long can cause the boning to curl back toward the iron, and too high of a heat can melt the boning. This is particularly dangerous with horsehair braid and feather boning because the plastic filaments in them are so thin.

When I need to use plastic boning, I place it in a sink of very hot water for a few minutes. then place it on a flat surface with a book on top of it until it's cooled to straighten it out....if you need to put a curve into one area (like over the bust), then I reheat just that section after I've flattened it and tape the rewarmed section over an appropriately sized can's side until it cools and holds, carefully ironing.  I double-bone and overlay them, so the one going THIS way has another one going THAT way atop of it. That way they sort of cancel each other out in terms of bending, and become nice and straight.

Metal Boning

vogue fabrics store
The next type of boning is metal, which is highly recommended for our type of corset. There are two major types, spring steel and spiral steel. Both are durable and long lasting. Spring steel is the industry standard for corsetry. It is made from sheets of steel that are cut into thin strips, and then cut to length. The ends are filed into rounded tips, the metal is coated with a thin enamel to prevent rust, and the ends are dipped in rubber coating. It is commonly found in ¼” and ½” widths. The ¼” bones are a little thicker, and a little stiffer, in my opinion. The main decision to use one over the other is purely design. Does it work better for your pattern to have bigger bones or smaller ones? Most commercial corsets will use one ½” bone on each seam or two ¼” bones, one on each side of the seam. The main thing with metal boning is to make sure your boning fits the boning channel fabric you bought. You want a snug fit without forcing the boning through the channel. If the channel is tight, not snug, it will get tighter when pressure is put on the corset from lacing it up. This will cause the boning to wear through the fabric much sooner.

Metal boning in the United States is mainly bought by mail order. Corsetry supply sites sell in one or half inch increments. Some shops from Canada and Europe sell by millimeter increments. Some have bulk prices for bones bought by the dozen or gross. Others have longer or shorter bones. Prices vary greatly as well, so shop around. You need to know how many pieces and what lengths you need before you order.  The best idea is to make the corset base first, then measure the channels and order the boning. This takes time but ensures you get exactly what you need without spending too much money.

The other metal boning is spiral steel. Spiral boning resembles a slinky that has been smashed flat. It is slightly more expensive than spring steel, but has the advantage of being more flexible. Spiral steel flexes left-to-right as well as front-to-back. Like spring steel, it also comes in ¼” and ½” widths, although the ½” is much more common. Most corsetry suppliers sell it in 1” or ½” increments. Spiral steel’s main disadvantage is washability. The metal isn’t coated with a rustproofing material, so it’s not very washable. The bones will sometimes come with a rust-resistant coating of oil, but this coat will wash away in the first wash, leaving your steel unprotected. It can also stain your material, so I always rub bare metal boning with an old scrap of cotton to remove any traces of oil and grease.  Spiral steel’s flexibility allows me to still touch my toes and sit down, but it doesn’t learn the curve like plastic boning.

You can also buy spring and spiral steel in spools.  The spools can be cut to any length you want. You snip the wires with wire cutters or tin snips and cover the cut ends with special u-tips crimped on with pliers. The tips can be bought by the dozen or the gross wherever you buy the spool of boning.  An alternative to the u-tips is to dip the ends in a plastic compound for extra blunting. There are a few compounds you can use. The most common is Tool Dip. This is found in the hardware section of the store. It’s a plastic/rubbery liquid used to restore the handles of screwdrivers, hammers, and other handgrips. Be sure to use it outside and wear a mask, the stuff is powerful. Just dip the end of the boning in the compound, shake off the extra, and hold it out for a few minutes. I try to do it around a box where I can put a weight on one end, leaving the other hanging off the edge of the box. If you do this just be sure to turn them over the first five minutes, or the dip will coalesce on one side. Non-toxic alternatives are layers of acrylic paint, which you would apply just as the tool dip. I’ve also heard of people using duct tape, masking tape, or medical tape in a pinch. This wouldn’t be good for a long-term corset, I would think, and especially not one that will be washed, but for one or two uses it’d be fine.

Alternatives to Traditional Boning

If buying boning in pre-cut lengths doesn’t seem like your thing, there are plenty of cheap alternatives available. For most of them you will have to put in some time cutting, sanding, or coating to get a good product, but if you’re on a tight budget or time crimp these may be worth it.

The best place to look for boning is your local Home Depot or hardware store. If you are looking for sturdy, washable bones, try to find plastic cable ties. These long plastic strips are so strong and durable they are often used as makeshift handcuffs by the police. To use them as boning just cut to length, sand off burrs, and melt the end in a flame to make a rounded tip. The ends can also be softened with a soldering iron or wood burner. In a pinch you can use an iron set on high, although you will never be able to iron clothes with it again. Be sure to do this step outside, though, because the fumes can be nasty. If you have breathing problems, just skip it. It’s not worth the asthma attack.

Another source of sturdy plastic boning is ABS or Sintra plastic. If your hardware store doesn’t carry it, look for a sign making store or supplier. This plastic comes in large sheets, and sign makers heat-form it to make raised signs such as the McDonalds Ms. It is also used in hard costuming for armor for stormtroopers and SCA fighting gear, so if you have trouble finding some, consider contacting one of these local groups. The plastic will come in many different thicknesses and flexibilities, so pick the one that suits your durability. Personally, I’d never go with one so thick I couldn’t cut it with scissors. This makes it easy to work with and flexible enough to still be able to flex the bones. To make boning, just cut to width and length and round the edges. This is easier with a razor or box-cutter and a straight edge, like a metal ruler. Some stores will sell scraps for a pittance, or even give them away, and some places will require you to buy a whole sheet, which should do at least 10 corsets. Shop or call around for good prices if you’re looking to be thrifty.

Study plastic boning can also be found in the lumber section. That’s right, where they keep the wood.  Go look around a bit under the racks. Stores use long strips of plastic or metal to hold the groups of logs together on the trucks. When it gets to the store, they cut it off and throw it away or leave it under the racks to throw away later. If you can’t find any, ask a clerk. They’ll usually give the stuff away, since it’s trash to them anyway. Make sure that the plastic is thick like a cable tie, not thin woven stuff.  Treat the plastic variety just like the cable ties or ABS. The metal variety is workable; you’ll just need a few tools. Wipe the metal with a clean cloth to get off anything gross that’s left over from the trip, and then cut to length with tin snips. Use a dremel tool or other sanding device with a sturdy bit, or a metal file, to sand off the corners into something somewhat round. Lay them flat and spray paint with enamel paint, or brush on regular enamel or acrylic paint. Turn over and repeat, and do a few coats.

fish - instructables.com
There are also other metal strips out there that are similar to wood strapping. Electricians’ Fish, Drain Cleaner, and Steel Snakes usually have varieties that are thin spring steel. Crate packing also comes in long rolls of bare metal. There are other alternatives that require more work. You can use band saw blades and file off the serrated edge, and then cut to length and coat. The metal bars off of hanging file folders just need to be cut to length and coated.

1 comment:

  1. You don't mention so I was wondering if you had seen the carbon fibre corset bones available from Vena Cava?