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Corsets from the Hardware Store!

Sep 06, 2011
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I was talking to a correspondent in Wisconsin recently, and we got on the subject of boning for strapless dresses. It seems she had a tight deadline for a wedding dress, and was in a quandary about where to get boning in her small town. I mentioned this tip about using zip ties as boning, and she really was enthusiastic about this–it was something she could readily get it at the building supply store, and not have to send away for it. The tip: Using “zip ties” as boning. These are also called “cable ties”, and I heard about using them from some of my students who are into corsetry–they said the zip ties were a suitable substitute for whalebone. The zip ties come in different thicknesses, but the ones I decided to use were the heavy-duty ones. I decided to try this out, and made myself a men’s-corset-as-cummerbund. Aside from the fashion fabric (which I also lined the corset with), there’s a layer of cotton twill as interlining. The lengthwise grain of the twill is parallel to the waist (meaning it runs 90 degrees to the center lines). These ties are just shy of 3/8″ wide, so when sewing…

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  1. design_e March 16th

    Thank you Mr. King. I'm one of those in a pinch, little time, little money, and in a small town. I was searching for a subtitution for spiral steel and actually read this tip on wikipedia first. I kept searching and found your article. I feel confident that this is a viable solution for our production. This has been a God send. Thanks again. P.S. Can I work with you this summer?

  2. Thenuttyhousewife March 10th

    It is an awesome idea and one I have tried. Unfortunately if you have a curvy or full figured body type the ties tend to bend and flare at the bottom making for a very unattractive trumpet look.

  3. ObjetsTrouves November 4th

    Awesome alternative use of materials! And you won't set off the metal detector at the airport, especially embarrassing when the boning is in an undergarment.

  4. beatriz_cac September 17th

    I'm still at the very, very, very beginning stages of sewing and creating clothes.
    could you help me by answering a very quick questionnaire? Because i would really love to hear the opinions from you experienced artists! it's just so i gather some information for my year 13 school project. you can find the post on readers closet, titled "questionnaire", and its very quick and simple to fill in.
    Thank you so much!!

  5. User avater KennethDKing September 13th

    I adore, and really resonate with the comment on purism versus affordable function. This may be because I come from a retail window display training, not an art background.

    In window display (theater costuming and set design are similar disciplines), one doesn't stand on what the "correct" technique or material is. One needs to get a job done in a fixed amount of time with the materials at hand. So there are times I "sewed" draperies with a hand stapler and hemmed them with duct tape, used foam rubber caulking (it comes in different diameters and accepts latex paint well) to make elaborate crown moldings, and made ice cream from semi-set-up plaster scooped out with an ice cream scoop and painted with latex paint.

    So, while I can appreciate using the correct materials when doing a particular thing, I'm not averse to substituting when time constraints, or lack of available materials keeps me from delivering something on time. So, I feel fortunate that I got a window display training and not an art training--I've met people in the art world who, like Immc writes, look down at my (and others') work because of some of my materials choices.

    But my customers, as well as some museums (like the Victoria and Albert) think otherwise and have my work in their permanent collections. So much for purism.

    This is a long way of saying, that the more we know about different materials and techniques, gives us more versatility and flexibility in our work, and enhances creativity--a really desirable outcome. Something I think we all agree on!

  6. User avater Rogues_of_Thread September 12th

    I can see zip ties working very well for an Elizabethan corset. The multitude of bones or other stiffener in a Ren corset creates a garment that is semi-stiff all over, spreading out the stress more evenly.

  7. Rooty_Tooty September 11th

    Thanks for another super idea! Reading through the comments, it's clear that there are pros & cons with this material as with all materials.

    I have used zip ties in kite making, as well. Several years ago I made some tails called spinners that required a stiff hoop. I removed the locking end as that would have caused a lump. As I recall, I simply used extra long zip ties & overlapped the ends inside the casing. I don't recall what material the directions called for but the zip ties worked great for this purpose.

    Also, Margobears warning is worth repeating. CABLE TIES NEED TO BE KEPT AWAY FROM CHILDREN -- STRANGULATION HAZARD. Perhaps a lock on the sewing room door is the best solution since there are so many things in there that are harmful to curious & exhuberant children. You never know what they are going to think of next!

  8. Joansews September 11th

    A woodburning tool from the craft store works great for smoothing nylon boning. With a little practice you can even taper the edge to reduce bulk.

  9. djackman September 9th

    I have been using Zip ties in my corsets for the past year. They are very comfortable and give good support. But mostly they are affordable. Since I make renaissance corsets with as much as 30 rows of boning front and back, this works really well a bag of 500 8 inch is 15.00 or a bag of 200 11 inch, in some cases i used the really thick 24 inch ones. you do not get nearly as many in a bag, but when you need extra support, these are great and i like to use them down the center front for that stiff flat effect.

  10. User avater saradipitysews September 8th

    I made an Elizabethan corset with plastic canvas bones and it works great! *disclaimer* I am a b-cup and slim to begin with so I do not require much in the way of support or winching in just some smoothing. If you have a larger bust or are making a waist squeezing corset steel is the way to go.

  11. Sewbee2 September 8th

    WHY on earth would anyone use zip-ties instead of the boning meant for this purpose? Buy it on line, buy it at the fabric store, but boning is made for garments! Zip-ties are not.

  12. Fey September 8th

    If you are going to be using a busk, might as well buy the sprial bones too, a 10 yd coil is only about $10 & its easy to cut & tip

  13. muzzy808 September 7th

    Thank you Mr. King for this information. I thought it was a good idea in time of need. How creative!

  14. Margobears September 7th

    I love cable ties and use them often, but they can be a safety hazard. A customer of mine left her corset in progress and came back in the room just in time to find her child had fastened one around his neck and was frantically pulling the on the end trying to get it off, which only tightened it more. Had she been a minute longer, there would have been a tragedy. If you have children in the house, cut the fastener ends off as soon as you purchase them.

  15. tataconic September 7th

    Heehee! When I first skimmed this article, I though the zip ties were to fasten the corset with. ;-)

  16. User avater KennethDKing September 7th

    I apologize for the double post--working in-flight can be so distracting!

  17. User avater KennethDKing September 7th



    For those comments regarding the drawbacks for the zip ties, indeed there are. They aren't a substitute in all cases for spring steel or spiral steel, but another resource to consider when making a project (especially if you are in a time crunch and don't have the proper materials on hand.

    As for the comfort in wearing, the fabrics on this corset are silk and cotton, and there is quite a bit of space between the bones, so the garment is comfortable to wear. But it is a bit thick from the thickness of the zip ties, but I don't have too much aversion to that.

    Besides, these corsets I made (I did three of them that weekend) were an experiment, so I really expected nothing more. Having something that I could wear afterward was just a bonus!

  18. User avater KennethDKing September 7th

    Hello!
    In response to Puterdame, the show was called Sewing Today, and the host was a lovely woman named Nancy Fleming, who was Miss America 1961 (her talent was sewing). Sewing With Nancy is still on-air and is hosted by Nancy Ziehman, another lovely woman.

    As for the shirt book, that would be David Coffin, who was an editor for this fine publication for a number of years--he has a book out on Trouser construction now, which is excellent. My book, called Cool Couture, is still selling briskly.

  19. User avater KennethDKing September 7th

    Hello!
    In response to Puterdame, the show was called Sewing Today, and the host was a lovely woman named Nancy Fleming, who was Miss America 1961 (her talent was sewing). Sewing With Nancy is still on-air and is hosted by Nancy Ziehman, another lovely woman.

    As for the shirt book, that would be David Coffin, who was an editor for this fine publication for a number of years--he has a book out on Trouser construction now, which is excellent. My book, called Cool Couture, is still selling briskly.

    For those comments regarding the drawbacks for the zip ties, indeed there are. They aren't a substitute in all cases for spring steel or spiral steel, but another resource to consider when making a project (especially if you are in a time crunch and don't have the proper materials on hand.

    As for the comfort in wearing, the fabrics on this corset are silk and cotton, and there is quite a bit of space between the bones, so the garment is comfortable to wear. But it is a bit thick from the thickness of the zip ties, but I don't have too much aversion to that.

    Besides, these corsets I made (I did three of them that weekend) were an experiment, so I really expected nothing more. Having something that I could wear afterward was just a bonus!

  20. eurekamarijka September 7th

    typo -- that's a "snug" casing

  21. eurekamarijka September 7th

    These are also great for threading through a anug casing at the edge of a bell sleeve or hem for a fluted edge on heavier fabrics, especially for the stage. (This is a more dramatic version of serging a narrow hem over fishing line on tulle and such.) Just slide cable ties into the casing end to end. You can close the casing with a tack stitch or a safety pin and remove the ties to clean or store the garment.

  22. immc September 7th

    Hadn't thought of zip ties in terms of holding heat in an Elizabethan corset. That's what mine has, and I've been wearing it for seven years. The corset is 100% cotton and linen fabrics, most of them re-purposed, and it does get sweaty, so I (gasp) throw it in the washer. Haven't had the issue of the zip ties cracking at the waist or at all. This corset is perhaps heavily boned enuogh to prevent that type of bending - or I'm able to be a little more careful? When I'm wearing it, it's knees and hips that do the bending, not waist. The zip ties do eventually poke through the top seam, so I reinforced that seam. I wear a D cup, so I added a little support inside the corset, based on pistures of historic corsets. I know that historically, less affluent women used things like reeds as stiffening in corsets. I've experimented with all sorts of things, because I simply can't afford steel boning. The heavy duty electrical ties from the lumber yard work. I've used the wimpy little ones to stiffen a hat, but as corset materials, they're no better than that plastic stuff sold as boning in fabric stores. I have a Victorian riding corset (early experiment) made of denim cut from the good parts of worn out jeans, "boned" with rope clothesline. It works quite well to eliminate soreness from driving or riding around mountain roads in vintage pickups with extremely stiff suspension. Purism is all well and good, but it can come off as snobby and exclusionary. It's not just those of us who sew. My dad is a sculptor who spent years being told that his work wasn't art because it wasn't painting or at least cast metals. There are times and places for both purism and affordable function.

  23. User avater racu September 7th

    I have used the plastic cable of a grass trimmer from my husband's garage!. The cable is very thick and you can melt the ends.

  24. ablackram September 7th

    I have issues with using the zip ties in corsets. First they hold in the heat as it is using polyester in your corset. This is fine if it is a short time use costume, but if you are using it for wear under multiple layers for a period correct look you will have heat issues. I have seen ladies go down in a 70F day with having used zip ties in their Elizabethan corset. It also likes to poke through worse than any steel I have used. I also have had the issue in a formal dress where they bent over and stayed that way the whole time. Even when you let it relax after an event (the formal) it will immediately recrimp to the bent form regardless of what you do in subsequent wears.

    In regards to grommets in corsets, yes they work again if a costume, but if you use this for a firming corset (much less CW or Victorian) they will pull out and deform your look. I do however like the stainless steel washers to wrap and use and awl to create the hole for corsets. That is an awesome and strong tie. (Again depends on if it's a few time wear or your undergarment mainstay)
    Lisa - 16th century recreationist

  25. NanTC September 7th

    I greatly enjoy reading Mr. King's articles. He is an amazing artist with great techniques. I have previously worked as a seamstress, needleworker, and costumer. A former boss had told me about using zipties for quick, inexpensive, flexible boning (some bend more one way too, so face them so they do bend outward). She also told me that a quick way to cut them off AND give a gently curved end which was less likely to poke through the end of the channel was to use either fingernail or toenail clippers, depending on the thickness of the ziptie!

  26. User avater Rogues_of_Thread September 6th

    I'm all for using materials in unexpected ways! I use large grommets from the hardware store on corsets. They are just as heavy-duty as the ones usually used on a corset that is made to hold up to a lot of wear (unlike the tiny grommets), but are faster to get a hold of and less expensive (not that grommets are that expensive, mind you).

    The suitability of substitute materials all depends on the the requirements of the garment. If you're making doll clothes or a one time wear Halloween costume, zip-ties may be an excellent choice, but if you want to wear the corset again or have it give you shape, you will find that the "bones" bend in unpleasant and permanent ways. I've had to rebone store bought corsets with 1/4" spring steel bones for people. Of course that was a temporary fix as those corsets are not made with coutil or often even canvas or duck and soon lost their shape anyway.

    Farthingales is an awesome resource for all corset making supplies. Their blog has great tips and shows some beautiful corsets in the making.

    Rogues of Thread
    bythebodkin.wordpress.com

  27. User avater aqn September 6th

    What a great idea!!

  28. LunaMortus September 6th

    I am so excited to try this idea. It came at the perfect time. I am in the process of making several corsets for Halloween. Thank you for sharing!

    Luna (costume maker)

  29. malwae September 6th

    I've used zip ties a fair bit, but I'm not really happy with their springback ability. After several wearings, if you do any bending at the waist, the ties tend to develop a permanent crick, which can make the below the waist bit of the corset try to poke outwards.

    It's an ok solution for one time wear or a learning piece, but not so much for a real sturdy corset.

    I've had luck with using hemp cording - if you use the Elizabethan style of cording the entire piece, really seems to stand up much better if you need stabalizer in a pinch. You can even just cord layers of underbody and then top the whole thing with tacked on fashion fabric if you don't want the look of a gazillion little stitching lines. You can also get that at the hardware store.

  30. User avater madwhimsy September 6th

    Oh, my, what a fantastic idea! I've used items from the hardware store for embellishment (and unusual home decor) but would have never thought of using zip ties in constructing a garment. Thank you so much for sharing this, it somehow makes corset-making less daunting.

    Additionally, your choice of grommets is really quite yummy with the coloring of your fabric and looks so much better than the usual silvertone one finds on corsets.

  31. User avater MsUm September 6th

    We recently used these (what we call 'electrical ties') in a variety of weights for Elizabethan costumes for the stage. The slightly angled ends are helpful for distributing the pressure around the waist in tab-bottomed corsets, or in corsets that just come down slightly past the natural waist. All of the ties we used were easy to work with and inexpensive. And they didn't add any weight to the already heavy costumes. As another reader observed, they don't change shape, in our case, even after about five weeks of dress rehearsals and performances under hot stage lights. For dance costumes, with which range of motion and freedom of movement are more important, I would use coiled steel boning. But for anything less active, these are fabulous. And they are cheap enough to play with ... imagine the shaping possibilities!

  32. theresa5of8 September 6th

    I do love this tip! Zip Ties!! Forget the hardware store, I have these in my electrical bag :D

    Thought I'd also add this link for anyone interested in more supplies...

    www.farthingalescorsetmakingsupplies.com

  33. Puterdame September 6th

    Mr. King, I always marvel at the perfection of your sewing!!! I remember watching you many years ago on PBS in RI, maybe on Sewing with Nancy (?) and just soaking up the tips and methodology you showed us. I bought your book on shirtmaking, and again learned alot! I've been sewing over 40 years, and have to credit you with a lot of my skills!
    This cumerbund is just beautiful, and every thread appears in place! I would expect nothing less from you! Great idea with the ties, too. I have the tendency to OVER order things, and when I was making Ren Faire fashions a few years ago, I think I ordered 10 miles of boning, but when I finally DO run out, I'll remember this tip.
    Thank you for being so generous with your instructions, and having impeccable teaching as well as sewing skills!

  34. User avater Wycekdry September 6th

    What an AWESOME tip! Thank you so much for posting this! Since I do doll sewing (1/4 and 1/6 scale) cable ties would be so much easier to use!

  35. moogie September 6th

    Brilliant substitute for those of us who don't have sewing supplies close by. Thanks for passing it along.

  36. nobodysgrandma September 6th

    I have found lots of interesting items that lend themselves to various sewing projects at our local Surplus store: tiny key rings, star washers in copper, brass or aluminum, whole spools of key chain in both stainless steel and brass including assorted fasteners and connectors. At a woolen mill in the Amana colonies, IA, wooden spools and bobbins I used to cap off cafe rods I made of wooden dowels. I have trimmed and saved the selvage register marks of some cottons which are as attractive as the printed fabric. Does anyone have any suggestions for these? The Habitat Restore in Davenport, IA, is loaded with hardware items, dresser pulls, escutcheons, etc. that I can see trimming the pockets of jackets.

  37. cdloff September 6th

    You need to be aware that the ties will not do as good a job as spiral steel bones, or better yet, white steel bones. But if you only need light support, they are fine.

    Supplies can always be got by mail order from Farthingales -- they sell by mail order. For the US, they are in California, and for everywhere else, try Stratford, Ontario, Canada. Just Google them -- they are very fast! :)

    Christine
    Maker of Corsets

  38. User avater CostumeDeeva September 6th

    I have worked with electrical ties on many costume projects. They are inexpensive, readily available, and can be cut without special tools. They are not, however, one standard thickness. The smaller ties are narrow and thin, and the longer ties yield a thicker and heavier bone. Use both for the different areas of your corset that require different support.
    Check out the 2009 contest at nationalsewingmonth.org (sponsored by sewing.org). Entry 9 & 10 used these as a recycle/up-cycle alternative along with a lot of other found items.
    September is National Sewing Month, get sewing!

  39. SewcietyMaven September 6th

    I am so going to be looking around the house and garage with an entirely different outlook! LOL!

  40. CostumeGeri2 September 6th

    I have used quick cable ties in costuming as well. They are very handy when time and budget prevents me from using the steel stays. However, be aware that they are 'fatter' and will give the garment a thicker feel than regular corset stays.

  41. User avater SLMiller September 6th

    Great to see this here, Kenneth! I've been contemplating using electrical ties instead of the more expensive steel bones I'm used to for some planned costume bodices, but I just haven't taken the leap. The thing I find most promising about them, from what I've read on various costumers' blogs, is that body heat won't soften the ties and shape them to the wearer's form (bulges, curves, etc.)--they'll retain their firmness, unlike regular plastic boning.

  42. User avater KennethDKing September 6th

    Thanks for the compliment, but I'd say I'm more of a disciple (of fashion)! And besides, it wasn't my idea, I'm just the one passing it along...

  43. maggyblack September 6th

    What a great idea! My hubby always has these things in his garage, so I can steal his and save myelf a small fortune! Mr King, you are a god!

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