Sunday, February 17, 2013

How to get plastic boning to lie flat in less than two minutes:

Simple Secrets:

(Chuckle) ---- I have read so many websites about how to get boning to lie flat that are really complicated.  My favorite involves a boiling pot of water, tongs, paper towels, and several heavy books.  Really people there is an easy way to get boning to lie flat and it only takes a few minutes...

I'm not going to make you read the entire blog to find the answer: It's simple--Iron it.  Yes it is that simple.  Iron it... use the steam function... it will lie flat every time.

If you want further explanation see the rest of the blog.

The who's what's where's why's and how's....

Question 1: What exactly is boning?  

Answer: Boning's technical term is "stay" or "stays."  In order to get a corset or bodice to retain its shape a stay is put in place between the outer fabric and the lining vertically.  Think of it as the same function as a flexible tent pole.  It is the pole that actually gives the dome tents their shape.  It also makes sure that the tent does not collapse.  Without boning or not enough boning the bodice of the dress or corset collapses and folds. (See the picture to the right)  Boning can also be used to add strength to a fabric, so it can be used to cinch... usually the waist line.

Question 2: Where did boning come from?  Who invented it?  

Answer: The purpose of boning has changed throughout the years.  A majority of the change in purpose is connected to the shape desired during each fashion period.

Catherine de Medici is credited with the creation of the corset.  She used it as a tool to gain information via her Flying Squadron.  (A group of beautiful young women who infiltrated the French nobility and reported back to her and problems that might upset her son's and more importantly her empire.  The fashion of the time turned the woman's body quite literally into an hourglass.  The farthingail (hoop-skirt)  made the lower half of the body into a cone shape and the corset made the top half of the body into a cone shape as well.  These two cones were connected by a very slender waist line, thus the hourglass shape.

Interesting Note: The corsets of Catherine de Medici were made of iron.  Eeek....

The fashion style stuck and by the time we get to the Elizabethan era it is as much as a fashion staple as the bra is today.

Question 3: What is boning made of?  How is it used?

Ivory Busk
whalebone busk
Wooden busk

Answer: As I said above, Catherine started the fashion trend with iron.  Not surprisingly this didn't stick for too long.  Whale bone was a popular choice by the time we get to the Elizabethan era for those who could afford it.  When you couldn't afford whale bone, you used reeds.  Ivory, horn, or metal could also be used.  Wood and reed busks (carved thin knife shaped slats of the materials I mentioned above) were inserted into channels made in the lining.  Unlike the boning of today these busks could be reused over and over with each gown. (A major advantage in my opinion.)  There was an easy replacement factor as well-- another major advantage.  During the 18th century the steel busk was invented and would be used until World War I when the US Government asked women to stop buying corsets to help save on metal for the war.

Steel Boning
In 1910 the steel boning which was basically a metal strip was replaced with spiral stays.  Spiral stays are more flexible so the wearer can turn from side to side.  (Point of note) because they can move they are intrinsically weaker than flat steel boning.  They will eventually break in the middle.

Spiral stay

Rigiline or nylon boning is the modern version of boning.  (Though if you buy a quality corset, it still has steel)   Nylon is not strong enough to make a modern corset though it is perfectly fine for boning an Elizabethan bodice, provided you're not trying to change your shape too much.  Mostly nylon boning is used in strapless gowns and lingerie to keep the bodice from changing its shape, folding, buckling, etc.  Most mass manufactured dresses use it because it is inexpensive compared to steel boning.

Question 4:  Why isn't it flat in the first place?

Answer: Boning comes in a coil or a loop.  When you buy it  it looks like a coil of fabric covered plastic.  The fabric covering the boning can be black or white.  I personally remove the covering, because I detest bulk.  However you can choose to simply sew the casing of the boning to your lining or I suppose your bodice or dress (though the seams would drive me crazy).  

For me, I cut two of every lining and sew channels to contain the boning.  I then insert the boning into the channels, cutting each to the correct size as I go.  If you want your boning to be flat doing this-- iron it before hand.  I don't mind the curve at this stage.  

Once you have inserted the boning the corset or bodice takes on a curved shape.  It doesn't lie flat and no matter how many books you put on it it will not lose it's spring.  As I said above, there are various websites that explain how to straighten these out...

Without a need for anything other than your ironing board and the iron, turn on the iron to the lowest setting where steam can be used.  (or higher if the fabric can take it)

Note: the boning must be encased, so either do this with the fabric casing on it, or when it is in the lining.

Put the iron on the boning and press for several seconds.  You may want to pump the steam but you can do it without going that far.  After a moment the boning will lie flat.  No drama... just iron it.


  1. Thanks so much for your tip on straightening boning it sure saved me!!

  2. You're welcome! I'm glad that it helped you out. :)

  3. a friend of mine gave me a few of her corsets (they're all cheap hot topic ones) and two of the three fit beautifully. the last one, however, is all misshapen from her posture, so there are like weird bumps right on the waistline. do you think ironing it would help to straighten the boning that's warped?

    1. Tricky to say

      There are several possibilities.

      First, if it is really the cheep boning you buy at the sewing store and it's just taken on a new shape, yes ironing will fix the problem. Keep in mind if there is a fracture or break ironing won't help because the structure of the stay is damaged.

      But... Most professional corsets are not cheep sewing store boning... Usually there is a heavier grade plastic or spiral/metal which function differently than the store stuff. First most corsets mold to the body of the wearer... So if you wear someone else's its a little like wearing someone else's running shoes. Once they've molded, some change can be encouraged by wearing the corset, but it really can't be reset and molded to another body. Second, corsets are funny things. If your corset was worn by someone who strained the corset by lacing it too tight, wearing it improperly, or mishandling it, the integrity of the corset may be compromised.

      I would say that if you really like it, you can cross your fingers and iron it, but it may be headed for the trash... Or you can pick it apart and re-bone it. Though that's a really messy option.

      If you decide to iron, be careful of the fabric, and test, test, test. If it has velvet you'll need a pin board, if it's silk or synthetic beware how hot you take your iron. Remember many, many bulk corsets are made from fabric that reacts poorly to water and will spot, so watch the steam. Again, test, test, test. :)

      Good Luck!

    2. Hi Katherine, just saw your blog and its awesome, I have a stunning corset that i bought in the UK years ago that has always fit me well - I lent it to my cousin who sorta hunches when she stands and now round my belly area there are huge bulges, its made of cotton with bead work on it - will it be ok to iron it on the inside of the corset? the rest of the boning is still fine though just two strips down the front?

    3. Hi there, I'm glad you enjoy the blog. I can see your dilemma. I'm assuming that since you want to iron it that you know it has plastic boning. If you don't know for sure, you can feel the tops of the boning. Steel and spiral will be smooth because they are machine edged or capped. Plastic boning is usually cut so there is a rougher edge.
      I'm thinking the way you described it, the boning is probably plastic, so ironing should help... but...

      The real problem is the bead work. Beading is a funny thing. I love to bead and glass beading would be fine under the heat of an iron; however, if the beading is plastic they might melt or equally worse dull. Okay here is the way to test, take the beads and run them along your teeth. (Not kidding) Plastic will feel smooth like running a barbie shoe along your teeth. Gross I know but there you are. Glass will feel gritty like sand along your teeth.

      Beads are usually glass so you've got a 9 out of 10 chance you're okay on the beads themselves. Still you want to protect the bead work as much as you can. When you try the iron technique, take two towels and sandwich the bodice. Given that it is cotton it will also help the fabric from being dulled by the direct heat or getting iron imprint. Start with a low heat and work upwards carefully. Check the beadwork and the cotton often for issues before you increase the heat.

      Good Luck!


  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Thank you. It worked for my best fitting bra!

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Thank you for this. Will be trying this on my warped plastic stencil!

  9. i thought the corset was ruined,,,,thnx

  10. Thank you so much! I am making my wedding dress. I thought about leaving the boning out until I found your blog. After some iron and steam, the boning is nice and flat!

  11. Any suggestions on shaping boning in velvet since you cant iron velvet?

    1. Hi Cloud, well technically it is the steam that flattens the boning. The heat releases the curve, so steam and a finger press may do the job. You still will need to protect the pile on the velvet fabric. I use a pinboard to do this, but in a pinch you can make a faux version with a yardstick and a foot of the non-fluffy side/strip of Velcro. You'll still need to be careful. Don't let the iron touch the velvet. Use the steam function and put the pile side of the velvet face down on the Velcro strip. Press the boning with your fingers until it lies flat. It will take time, but it can be done. As always try this technique in a small out of sight place area of the garment to make sure it will work. Good luck.

  12. Great stuff, thanks! Any ideas on how to keep the ends of the plastic boning from wearing through the fabric with use of the garment?