An A To Z Of Corsetry Terms For Beginners

Salleh Sparrow and Georgia A wearing Orchid Corsetry and Katherine Davidson

It seems that one way or another we are lucky enough to get a lot of beginners just finding their feet with corsetry at our virtual door. The world of corsets is a funny one, full of archaic terms and odd calculations.  But it’s also a really welcoming community, full of people with a shared passion and a wide variety of experiences, and I hope you find a happy little family here.

The Lingo

I hope to grow this into a little series, so to start us off what could be better than building up our vocabulary?! As beginners, nothing can make you feel excluded like people using words you don’t fully understand, so let’s call this your reference library for all things corset, or your babel fish if you like your geekery as I do.

If a word is in bold it’s because it has a description in our list should you need to reference it!

Bespoke– If you’ve spent a little while on our site you may have spotted that we have two different sorts of corset that we offer at two different prices. Bespoke and Made to order.  Bespoke is our more exclusive (and expensive) option and it essentially means that all elements of the corset are chosen by you, and that it is made from a unique pattern built from a large number of your own measurements. There will likely be fittings and toiles to ensure comfort and a flattering fit. For a beginners first corset you may not feel this is necessary, but clients who waist train or take a significant waist reduction will quickly need to move onto this option! It’s an opportunity to create a deeply personal piece with levels of comfort that simply cannot be achieved any other way!

Fetish Luxe Collection
Anita DeBauch shot by Sally Sparrow photography

Boning – We still call the corset supports and the process of inserting them “boning” even though it’s been many years since we stopped hunting whales for their precious baleen. Nowadays, if I talk about your corset boning I’m more than likely talking about flat and spiral steel, as illustrated below. Some people think that it’s boning that creates the waist reduction but you can now correct them! Boning prevents the corset from wrinkling at the waist under the tension of tightlacing. It also gives support to the compressed body, and can play a part in adjusting your posture.

Busk – The busk is the front fastening you will come across on a lot of corsets in my shop. It consists of two steel bones, one of which has hooks riveted securely on, and the other has studs to meet them. The patent for the first busk was registered in 1829 and we have not altered it much! There are many different types but this is more than likely what is inside your corset. They make it much easier to get in and out of your corset on your own and as they come in a wide variety of colours and functional styles, they play a part in the beauty and support of your finished garment!

busk description for begginers

Corsetiere– This is the proper term for the person who makes your corsets! Corsetmaker is also fine, but doesn’t corsetiere feel nicer to say? If you want more of a glimpse into my job, here’s another blog post for you.

studio life

Cinch– You may hear about waist cinchers (a type of corset, usually intended for light waist reduction) or asked how much you “cinch” down by. This is effectively another term for waist reduction, or the action of reducing your waist!

Blush silk ribbon corset from rear

Eyelets – Technically we use the higher quality “grommets” for the lacing section of our corsets, but eyelets is the better known term. These metal rings are set into the fabric to reinforce it sufficiently for us to reduce the waist and tighten the lacing time and time again. In earlier styles, hand embroidered eyelets were used until the metal eyelet was invented in 1828, meaning corsets could be laced tighter than ever before, without fear of tearing of the fabric.

Made To Order – This is where most beginners will start their corset wearing journey with us. These corsets are significantly cheaper than bespoke pieces because they are made to a standard size pattern, meaning they will fit most people pretty well! These corsets are a great way to test the waters, experiment with styling your corset and have some fun! Being made to order means these corsets are not sitting, waiting to be posted out to you – we give you lots of options for you to create your perfect “pick and mix” corset look and then make it once you’ve ordered it. This allows us flexibility if you have any special requests or need sizing on the pattern tweaked to work better for you!

Off The Rack – Also known as OTR or RTW (ready to wear) we sell made to order corsets instead as we like to offer you lots of choice, but OTR corsets are also made to a standard size pattern, typically mass produced and ready to be popped through your letterbox! Again, these are a fun way for beginners to experiment with corsetry if you don’t have any specialist fit requirements.

Corset information- A perle mesh corset
Perle in dove grey, a perfect corset for beginners

Standard Size – Fun fact – there’s really no such thing as a size 10. Every clothing store has their own special set of measurements based on market research which are used to develop their clothing patterns. For instance, their target market might be curvy and full busted, or more petite making the body lengths shorter. In our case, our patterns are based on 13 years of bespoke client information, trying to create styles and sizing that will work for our main groups. It won’t be perfect for everyone, but my experience of fitting and selling these corsets is that they are very versatile in providing a flattering and comfortable fit.

Valentines waspie with Inira lingerie
Sally Sparrow and Diego!

Tightlacing – Here’s a useful term. Tightlacing is the insider word for wearing your corset, for me it tends to infer that you wear your corsets regularly but you do not waist train. However the practice of waist training is really tightlacing daily with the intention of greater figure alteration!

Miss Deadly Red wears the Rosette pink Seirian Luxe
Miss Deadly Red wears the Seirian Luxe in Rosette Pink shot by Sally Sparrow

Toile – Pronounced “twarrrl“! If you’re having a bespoke corset you will likely come across these! Essentially a toile is your intended corset pattern made up in a basic fabric in order to test the fit, comfort and style in real life. A good friend of mine says that “measurements are a 2D version of a 3D reality” and she’s absolutely right! A toile lets us see where we need to develop and improve from what the tape measure told us. A toile will likely be very rough and simple to look at, but it is the key to unlocking a corset that feels like a second skin.

Training Corset – Generally speaking, a corset intended for waist training tends to be bespoke as it needs to fit the wearer really well to be comfortable for long hours of daily wear. We will put a lot of thought into engineering it to be durable, suitable for the environment of the wearer (it may need to be used in a hot climate or worn discreetly to work) and ensuring it offers the right type of support for the amount of reduction being taken and any other requirements the wearer has. Training corsets can look very simple but there’s a lot of knowledge and skill in bringing the right corset to the right wearer!

Male Corsetry

Waist Reduction – When you’re asked to calculate your waist reduction we’re talking about what the corset is built to cinch you down by. For beginners buying their first corset this is more than likely to be 2-4″ or 5-10cm but a lot of factors can alter this. Confused? We have a sneaky tip to help you find your ideal starter reduction – take your tape measure and note your natural waist measurement.  Then slowly cinch down until it’s no longer comfortable for you (remember that your corset will distribute the pressure more evenly) this second measurement will indicate your potential corseted waist size!

Pink silk Edwardian underbust

Waist Training – You may have heard people talk about their waist training plans. The goal is to create semi-permanent figure modifications through wearing your corset consistently over time (see Tightlacing) Waist training means that you can slowly build up the hours you spend in your corset and subsequently wear a smaller waist size of corset. It is about patience, dedication and persistence. It’s not for overnight results or quick wins! But if you want to achieve a dramatic silhouette, this is the route to it. We sell starter waist training kits which are a great way to care for yourself while you embark on this process. Some beginners do go straight onto waist training but for most it’s a more gradual approach!

Back view of chantilly lace overbust

 

Did we miss out a term you’re curious about? Let us know! We’ll be happy to add it. What would you like our next beginners article to focus on?

Photo Story: Studio Life

studio life

When I think about it, studio life is really my happy place! It’s an arena of challenge and small victories, layering unique aesthetics, trial and error, and midnight eureka moments! It is buckets of tea, contemplative practices, refinement and continual development and learning. I feel so lucky to walk up the stairs to my busy, often messy and creatively chaotic workspace every day! So as I look ahead to the businesses thirteenth birthday I thought it would be nice to share a little glimpse into working practice in the studio, illustrated with photography from Sam Irvine. These photos were actually taken in my previous studio but very little has changed apart from the view from the window!

Cutting Out

You never quite get past the excitement and mild anxiety of marking and cutting a new piece of luxurious cloth. It’s the moment of no return, the start of your adventure. Many of my corsets are formed from two, three, or even four different layers of cloth, an elegant fashion layer of vibrant textured silk or smooth, cool satin. Robust cotton, woven as densely as can be to support the tension of the garment, and a light soft lining to protect the skin. Each must be cut and marked individually, layered and stitched to act as one unit, strength, beauty and comfort combined.

Inserting The Busk

Corsetry is full of tools, components and materials that are completely unique to the craft. The busk is one of my favourite examples. You’ll never find this remarkably simple and effective item anywhere other than in a corsetiere’s kit bag! It was developed in the industrial revolution and remains mostly unchanged, bar a few upgrades such as a glittery finish or a smooth rust proof coating to the steel. The main reason I love it so much is that choosing the correct busk type is crucial to the comfort and fit of a corset. You may need a spoon busk to smooth and support a post partum stomach, a flexible busk with a little reinforcement for a slender figure without much waist reduction. Whatever your requirements, there’s a transformative busk for you!

Stitching

There’s something very meditative about spending a lot of time at the sewing machine- you have to remain focused on your task but the rhythm of the steady stitch, the hum of the motor, the timing of easing a pin out just before the needle hits it is quite ritualistic and draws you into a reverie of it’s own. My machine is nearly 50 years old and she doesn’t look so fancy these days, but she’s been my reliable friend since the first days of the business and we continue to take care of each other.

Pressing

Though it may look like it’s “just ironing” pressing is one of the quieter arts of studio life. It has an array of trusty tools, untreated wood “clappers” “tailors anvils” and sawdust filled “hams” help you to compress the steamed cloth into sharp lines or set into rounded curves, letting it slowly cool under the weight before it can be moved. This step can’t be hurried, and when given time, it transfigures flat cloth into devastating hourglass curves.

 

Handsewing

I always finish my bespoke projects by handsewing the bias binding closed at the top and bottom edge of the corset. This final stage of attention and care is one of those indefinable elements that elevates a piece of work to looking precious, and different to something mass produced. This is a labour of patience. It can only be done with time and care so I put on an audiobook, or an album I’ve been waiting to listen to, and absorb it as stitch by stitch, the project draws to a close.

Studio life this week revolves around working on two new photoshoot samples for a Sally Sparrow workshop in between your commissions! The time pressure is on but it’s exciting to be trying out a few ideas that I’ve been working on behind the scenes! I hope your week is filled with creativity and happiness.

Competition Time!

Competition winner Amethyst Skye in a green corset

Spring is here! And we’re having a little competition to celebrate reaching 40,000 followers on Instagram! If you’d like to win a £200 Orchid Corsetry gift voucher then now is your chance to get snap happy! A few simple steps for your chance to enter before 30/4/19-

  1. Take a picture in your favourite Orchid corset, lingerie or accessory. It can be a selfie, taken by a friend or even a professional photographer if you like!
  2. If possible share the picture on social media (though we do accept email entries too) tagging us @OrchidCorsetry on Instagram and Orchid Corsetry on Facebook and use the hashtag #OrchidSelfie
  3. Tell us how you feel when you’re wearing the garment! Do you feel powerful? graceful? confident? sensuous?

Competition winner Amethyst Skye in her teal overbust corset

Some top tips for entries that make an impact!

  1. Be creative! Choose a beautiful or unexpected location for your shot- sometimes a dramatic backdrop is right around the corner!
  2. Get friends involved! Either helping to take a great photo or even posing with you! Couple shots are very welcome!
  3. Lighting is key- make sure we can see what you’re wearing!
  4. Remember we want to see ALL our clients! It would be lovely to see some of our male and trans clients strutting their stuff this year!
  5. Be aware that we may share entries on social media so feel free to disguise your identity if that’s what you’d prefer to do.
  6. Multiple entries welcome! The more the better!

The images in this post are from last year’s competition winner Amethyst Skye, with most photos taken by Diana Suder.

Remember- the deadline is the 30th April so don’t delay- shot today!

Competition winner wearing corset in a library

Choosing Your Ideal Corset Style

Miss Deadly Red wears the Rosette pink Seirian Luxe

Image credit- Sally Sparrow Photography and Miss Deadly Red

I understand the struggle. You’ve fallen in love with a corset style and are eager to make it your own. But in the back of your mind, a niggling doubt; how is that going to sit on my full hips? What about my petite torso length? We’re always on hand to help with any questions you have but here is a quick quide to our standard size styles* and how to choose the best one for your needs.

*Naturally all our bespoke corsets are made through a consultation process which would deal with your unique build by starting from scratch with your figure as the canvas.

Petite Torso/ Short body

If you find that a lot of “OTR” (off the rack) corsetry digs in under your breasts or into your thighs when you sit down then the chances are that your torso is shorter than the industry standard. This can be the case even if you’re average height or above! It’s all about the spacing between your waist to bust and waist to hips. If you look at our individual corset listings we do put the most important corset lengths at the bottom of the longer description as you scroll down. You can use this to double check a style’s suitability for your exact figure but usually short bodied customers benefit from a waspie style like these

The Seirian and Seirian Luxe are ideal for the most petite frames as they measure just 5.5cm above the waist at the centre front, but the Adara and Eirlys are both still only 11.5cm above and below the waist at centre front and will be suitable for many figures.

 

Extra Curvy Hips/ Hourglass Figure

If you’ve been blessed with a full hourglass figure you may find that many standard size corsets are not roomy enough for comfort. Do remember that we are happy to tweak measurements on our corsets for a small fee if you really want a certain corset style but we have designed something especially for your needs! Our Vala Edwardian underbust is widely acclaimed as our most comfortable style yet thanks to the distinctive generous hip spring that takes the pressure off your curves and really makes your waistline pop! This style also features a dished rib shape to leave more room for your ribcage if you find that is typically a pressure point for you.

The Vala is waiting to smooth your curves in blissful comfort!

Long Torso

As a taller woman I know that sometimes things sitting at the wrong height can be uncomfortable and also unflattering! Our full underbust styles are cut cleverly to suit figures with an average to long torso. That’s not to say that our waspies aren’t suitable for you, but if you’re looking for greater coverage then these styles will be your friends!

The Perle Luxe, Perle in black mesh and Perle in ivory mesh all use the same base pattern which has a high hip (ideal for more movement) and a slightly higher length above the waist than our Vala. If you also want more hip coverage and room for generous curves then our Vala is the perfect choice for you!

Athletic/ Less Curvy Figures

It can be so annoying to find a corset that is comfortable and flattering at the waist but isn’t in contact with the hips or underbust! We can check over your natural measurements against our detailed sizing charts if you get in touch but don’t despair if they aren’t perfect for your sizing as we are happy to tweak the measurements on our patterns for a small fee! This will give you the style you want most with a close fit you will love. However many clients find that waspies will fit better than full underbusts without alterations as they don’t extend to the fuller parts of underbust and hips, so we can look over those sizes with you as well.

Looking For An Everyday Corset

Generally speaking, a less dramatic corset style tends to be a good everyday choice, our Perle or Adara shapes are ideal! However the Perle is made from polyester mesh which is quite delicate compared to traditional corsetry fabrics and can increase perspiration so is not the healthiest thing to wear against your skin consistently. But we are always happy to make a standard size corset in your custom choice of fabric for a small fee which will vary depending on the fabric choice. But our Perle made in a cotton coutil fabric would answer a lot of requirements for a regular use corset! Though not strictly an everyday corset you may also like to look at our Eirlys waspie, made in silk mesh which is an excellent lightweight choice for summer tightlacing!

Creation Stories- Orchid Memorabilia

Creation Stories scrapbook with image of finished corset.

I’m really excited to talk to you about our Creation Stories project. This idea was born from a wedding gift for dear friends who asked me to make their bridal corset, and requested photos of the work in progress, to get a glimpse into the construction and process behind their garment. I decided that I would go one better, and make them an album, mixing creative writing and photography to show them how I work, and some of the stages that might surprise them.

Scrapbbok album featuring an image of corsetry tools

Creation Stories album with image of a corset being made

As I saw things coming together I realised the potential for my other clients, many of whom are deeply interested in the “behind-the-scenes” world in the studio. And I can see why- corsetry is a world apart from dressmaking and other sewing projects. It blends engineering, tailoring, architecture and uses a mystifying array of archaic tools! And each project demands something different. It might be our terrifying looking metal punch or our oddly shaped and bent applique scissors for fine lace work. So I thought why not offer our clients the chance to have their own Creation Stories?

Creation Stories album with binding image

A linen covered album, sealed with a wax stamp, with delicate tissue paper separating handwritten notes by the maker, and photos of all the different stages that brought your treasured garment from cloth on a roll to an intricately stitched second skin, threaded through with steel and made with great care. You might be surprised at the techniques and tools that helped us make your bespoke corset!

Scrapbbok album with image of a finished corset on a mannequin

So from now on, if you’d like a Creation Stories memory book to document the making of your bespoke corset you only have to ask! Each one will be as unique as your commission, featuring the tools and processes used in the creation of your corset. Prices on request. If your loved one has commissioned a special corset for their wedding day or a special event then what could be a more thoughtful surprise gift to present them with!