After scowering the internet for help in making a fitted leather corset and coming up with zilch, I had to go at lt with just my own creativity and stubborness.
I learned a lot along the way and I am going to share what I learned with you here in hopes of saving you some aggravation.
I will preface by noting that when I began making this corset, I already had about 6 years of leather working under my belt, mostly in the form of armor and a couple of simple panel corsets- but nothing this complex or fitted.
That said, I think this is a project that anyone with enough determination and manual dexterity can accomplish.
Here are some basic principles I live by when working with leather, especially on veg tanned leather which is what we will use here.
-Measure 4 times, measure once more and then cut or mark
-NEVER EVER EVER use anything to write on the face (the pretty side that will be showing) leather- yes even pencil will show up especially if you use any kind of pressure.
- Make sure that all your cutting tools are very sharp. Dull knives make cutting very difficult.
-Do not use any type of tape- not even paper masking tape- it will peel up the finish and fibers of the leather.
(pictures of each item coming shortly)
- some type of mannequin or body form that is similar to the body of the person the corset is for
-3-6oz veg tanned leather (leather comes measured in sqft not yards, you will use your template pieces to determine how much leather you need)
- at least 12 sheets of foamies - the sheets of craft foam that you can even get at the dollar store. Try to aim for a thickness similar to that of the leather you will be using.
-2 fine tip sharpies
-approx 80-100 brads -small ones with about a 1/4" shank is plenty. ( those little metal buttons with two legs that they sell for paper crafting)
-snap off utility knife with plenty of new blades (you can use the cheap ones from harbor freight)- or you can use an exacto knife or one of the special leather knives from Tandy.
-1 roll of saran wrap
-2 or 3ing rolls of paper masking tape (dont use the cheap stuff from the dollar store- it doesn't stick)
-2 part eyelets/grommets (for the lacing, its better to use ones with washers to prevent scratching of skin)
-2 part rivets- color of your choice- you will need to know how many you need based on how many brads you end up using.
-rivet setting tool and eyelet setting tool- tandy leather sells these an they are not very expensive.
-burnishing tool for the inside of the leather
-decent pair of scissors ( NOT fabric scissors)
Step 1: Create the Design and Pattern
The first step is to take your body form and wrap it in saran wrap
If you don't have a body form have a friend wrap you in saran wrap- wear something clingy and close fitting that will show the true dimensions and shape of your body.
Cover the saran wrap with paper masking tape. Try not to place the paper too tightly as it may change the shape.
Take the sharpie and draw onto paper tape what you want the corset to look like.
This is the most important part of the process. You may have to do it a few times until you get the shapes you want.
Keep in mind that you will be recreating these shapes out of leather so don't get too crazy the first time around.
When you think you are happy with the design- create register marks (I like to use dots or numbers) to help you keep track of the assembly order of the pattern and to make sure that you line up the pieces correctly.
Once you are happy with the shapes go ahead and cut them out-These will be your template pieces. You are going to keep the top layer of tape and the saran wrap backing on the tape. This will give your template piece a little heft.
Here is a tricky part- depending on what size rivets you are going to be using- you will need to add extra material on all your pattern pieces sides.
As a general easy rule- I add twice the size of the diameter of the head of the rivet. This allows you to have adequate material on both sides of the rivet for strength and stability. If there is too little material between the rivet and the edge of the material it will be prone to deforming or tearing.
Factor how much extra space you need and trace the pattern pieces- including the extra onto the sheets of foamies.
Make sure you label each pattern piece and their relation to the other pieces so that you can assemble them properly. Transfer all of your register marks onto the foamie template pieces.
Now that you have your foamies all marked up keep the following in mind- its very important.
The pieces of foam you cut up have a face side and a back side
The "face" side is basically the front of the piece- where you are making all your notes and marks. On the finished piece, this would be the side facing out that everyone can see. Make sure that you always have the pieces with the "face" facing out towards you- the viewer.
Step 2: Mock Up Assembly
Now you have a large pile of multi colored pieces of foamies in all kinds of random shapes.
What do you do with them now??
Now you pull out your trusty ruler and you have to decide how far apart you want each rivet to be.
Personally I am a fan of symmetry whenever possible.
I work in metric just because its easier than fractions but you can do whatever you want.
Make sure that when you mark the sides for the rivets, you lined them up to each other.
Now take your brads and use them as mock ups of the rivets that you will use and assemble the corset.
Be gentle, don't pull too hard because you don't want to rip the foam.
Try on your mock up and check yourself out.
Feel the fit- does it pinch or stick you anywhere??
Take any changes you need to make- mark them on the foamies- trim and make the changes necessary- reassemble and try it on again.
Keep going till you are happy.
Once you are happy with the fit- disassemble the foamies carefully by taking out the brads and counting how many you used - that is how many rivets you will need. My recommendation, especially if its your first go at using rivets, buy 10% more to cover any mishaps.
Step 3: About Buying Leather
A bit about buying leather
The type of leather you will need for this project is called Veg Tanned leather. It is natural leather that has been tanned but not dyed or finished in any way. This leather accepts tooling (carving designs into it), wet molding (making the leather wet and shaping it- when dry it will hold the shape), dye, finishing chemicals and can be finished as hard as metal depending on treatment.
Leather is sold by the square foot. So to determine how much leather you will need, take all of your pattern pieces and lay them out close to each other- without overlapping- and try to create a rectangle.
Measure the length and width of the rectangle and do the math
or do a quick google search for Square Footage calculator and you will find lots and lots of handy calculators where you just plug in the numbers.
leather comes in weights measured in ounces- the higher the oz weight the thicker and more rigid the leather is, also more difficult to work and bend into small shapes/corners.
For a corset project stick to the 3-6oz range. Also the thicker the oz the more expensive the leather.
When you buy the leather- its very likely that there will be holes or imperfections in the leather- take that into account. Usually I try to work imperfections into the design as I think it gives the finished pieces a more organic feel.
It is going to be almost impossible for you to buy exactly the amount you need- you will most likely have to buy more.
If you have a Tandy Leather store near you, take the time to visit the store and chat with the people who work there.
They are generally very knowledgeable and will help you pick out the right bit of leather.
If you have to buy online, make sure to read the reviews on the seller.
Step 4: Foam to Leather
For me this is the stressful part- converting your foam pattern pieces to the leather.
Once you have bought your lovely veg tanned leather and brought it home- after you are done smelling it and rolling around in it and petting it- its time to get to work.
Clean off your work area and make sure there is nothing around that can stain- including greasy things- ABSOLUTELY NO EATING FOOD WHILE WORKING WITH LEATHER- I am sorry I yelled at you but its a very important point- even something as simple as handling the leather with lotion on your hands can leave permanent marks that can show through dye.
I like to work on the face side of the leather- that is the smooth finished side.
Take all your foam pattern pieces and lay them down on the leather. Try to fit them as close as possible without overlapping to prevent waste. Make sure that your pattern pieces are facing up so that you are not accidentally cutting the mirror of the pattern piece.
Outline all the pattern pieces with your sharp pencil- preferably a mechanical pencil as they require much less force to leave a mark.
Go over everything and make sure you are not missing anything and that no pieces are touching- there is no going back once you cut.
Once you are satisfied that everything is properly aligned and the pieces are correct take a deep breath and with utility knife in hand start cutting.
Make sure that you have either a self healing cutting mat or some other cutting appropriate surface under the leather- don't cut directly onto carpet for example- sure fire way of losing your security deposit.
It is likely that you will have to snap off or replace the blade (depending on what kind of knife you are using) several times before you are done cutting. Leather is brutal on the sharp edge of a knife and a sharp knife is crucial to clean cuts.
Step 5: Preparing Your Leather Pieces
Ok we have made it trough a tough time and we are still here.
Now you have to undertake the sobering action of preparing all the pattern pieces for assembly.
Take your pencil and recreate all the river and eyelet marks from your pattern pieces to your leather pieces.
Use a ruler to double check measurements and symmetry
These two steps are optional but to me they elevate a leather piece from ordinary to well made.
1-I use a burnishing tool or folding tool to hand burnish the back of the leather to give it a slick and smooth backing. This makes the finished piece much nicer to the touch- easier to dye and doesn't leave little bits of leather everywhere. Burnishing is basically polishing the leather with significant pressure to push down on the skin cells and seal them up tightly.
2- I like to skive (special term meaning that I use a special tool to actually thin out the leather) the edges of my pieces for 2 reasons- it makes the rivets fit better and it gives me more tightly seamed edges on the finished piece.
For pieces that will be riveted you need to use a punching tool and actually punch out a hole from the leather, in which the metal rivet will sit.
For pieces that are hand stitched, use a stitching awl to make a small hole in every stitch point.
For pieces that will take eyelets- punch out the leather- like for rivets. Go ahead and install the eyelets now.
Step 6: Assemble
All your pieces are cut
Your eyelets are installed
all the holes for the rivets are punched. Now we assemble.
Take your time and set all the rivets carefully- they can be tricky buggers. Currently working on writing up a instructable on setting rivets.
In this particular corset I made I chose to hand stitch the boob cups and then rivet them to the body of the corset. I also wet molded the boob cups to make them more round. A wet molding instructable is on its way.
Step 7: Dye and Finish
Here comes the fun part
Finishing your corset.
There are lots and lots of different colors of leather dye to choose from.
The most important thing you need to know is that leather dye is forever, there are no take backs and no do overs. That includes on flooring, furniture and clothes. If you get it on your hands it will take several days of aggressive washing to get it off
so use protective gloves (vinyl or latex) and make sure you protect all the surfaces within a 5' radius of your work area. Definitely do not use dye over carpet.
I like to dye after assembly so that I don't spend time applying dye in places that will never be seen.
Allow for 2 days of total drying to make sure that there are no wet spots.
As far as lacing you can use something as simple as fabric ribbon or go heavy duty with 550 cord (paracord) it really depends on your preference.
If there is enough request for it I will create a instructable for how I dye leather.
As you can see from the last picture, the corset is very versatile and can be easily used/designed for just about anything. You can also design it to have shoulder straps so you don't have to worry about slippage.