My youngest son was getting ready to go to kindergarten, and I knew when he entered first grade, I was going to attempt to return to work full time. To get me and the family accustomed to my going to work everyday, I took a part time job in a local fabric store. The owner used to say “The customer is always right unless she’s Roberta’s customer. Then she’ll be right because Roberta will convince her to do it her way.” He always steered the people who wanted to make elaborate things but who had never sewn before to me because I would convince them they couldn’t do it. He would rather not have a customer than have a very dissatisfied one. Hi, Barry! I’m still at it.
So a young girl came into the store with her boyfriend one day. They wanted to buy some black velvet for her to make a dress for a formal they were going to. She had planned a very beautiful dress – strapless with a big sweeping skirt. It truly was a gorgeous dress. We found a pattern that was close. We brought the velvet to the cutting table. I grabbed some rayon lining, a zipper, thread, and the box of boning. She asked what it was. I told her, and in the course of answering her questions, I figured out she had never sewn anything, not even a pillow in home ec class. She had seen this dress in a store and thought she could make it for less money. Without cutting anything, I added up the cost of sewing the dress. She left for the store to buy it. My boss smiled.
But it wasn’t the boning question that clued me in that she couldn’t sew. Boning isn’t hard to do, but not many garments have it anymore. It used to be a staple in dressmaking when clothes were more constructed, but today we usually only find it in strapless evening wear. You also sometimes find boning in heavily constructed swimsuits. Or a corset. If you make your own bras or shapewear, you might add some boning. So if I was still working in the store, and you wanted to buy boning, the only thing I would ask you is if you know how to fit a bodice of a dress or a bustier. Because if you can do that, boning is a piece of cake.
There are different of kinds of boning. You can get metal or plastic. I prefer plastic because it’s easier to cut. It can be washed, and it doesn’t require tips to keep it from pushing through the fabric and sticking into you. Feather Lite is plastic boning that can’t be bent around curves. You couldn’t use it to make a corset, but it does keep a strapless or near strapless dress from rolling down. Flexicurve boning is also plastic, but it will bend around curves, and you could use that to make a corset. You can get it already covered or buy it bare and make a casing for it yourself. I think the pre-covered stuff is a little easier to find in places like JoAnn Fabrics. It also comes in different widths. I’m going to be using Dritz Featherlite Boning in 1/4″ width, pre-covered, because when I went to the store it was all I could find. It’s good stuff, but I’m not endorsing it over anything else. So you buy what you can find that suits your purpose.
I made up a fake strapless bodice. I didn’t make any darts so she’s flat-chested. Definitely going to need boning to hold her dress up. Your pattern may tell you to sew the boning in before you sew the lining to the bodice. Follow the patterns directions. I have pressed the seams open and trimmed them with pinking shears to reduce bulk.
I understitched the lining so it would roll to the back. I usually make sure the stitches are nice and straight, but this is going in the trash in a few minutes.
First cut your boning 1/2″ shorter than the length of the fabric where you’re going to sew it. This is to keep it from stressing the fabric and eventually peeking through. Like underwire bras have a nasty habit of doing.
If your boning is bare, you need to make a casing for it. Cut a piece of fabric 1″ wider and 1″ longer than the piece of boning. Press under a 1/4″ on each of the long sides and 1/2″ upon the bottom. If your boning came with a casing, slip the boning out of it.
If your boning was wound in a coil, it might be all curly. Boil up some water, pour some in a shallow bowl, and put the boning in. After 5 or 10 minutes take it out and put something heavy on top of it while it cools off. It should be better then.
If your garment is lined, stitch the casing to the inside of the lining close to the edges of the casing. The boning is usually placed over a seamline. If it isn’t, your pattern should show you where it goes.
If your garment isn’t lined, carefully hand stitch the casing to the inside of the garment using tiny stitches so they don’t show on the outside. Most garments that have boning are lined.
Now slip the boning into its casing. If the boning is designed to conform to curves, it should take the shape of the garment quite easily. The Featherlite will only slip into a straight casing.
You need to clip off enough of the boning so the plastic won’t get sewn when you attach the bodice to the skirt. Be sure you round the corners when you cut it. Maybe even file it with a nail file so it’s it smooth.
Just in case you’re wondering why I convinced the young woman to buy the dress instead – It wasn’t because the dress had boning. It wasn’t because she had never fit a garment before. She was a pretty standard size. The Vogue pattern she had wouldn’t have required much, if any, adjusting. It was because she insisted on making the dress velvet. That’s a fabric that requires a knowledgeable person to do the cutting, and not knowing how to properly press it as you sew can ruin the dress. I showed her any number of other black dressy fabrics she might have been able to handle, but she had her heart set on one of the prima donna fabrics. It doesn’t give an inch.
On Wednesday I’ll be starting a series on how to insert a zipper.