How to Make a Custom Renaissance Corset for Under $20

My knight (my son) and me.

I’m a geek. You’ve probably noticed that by now. But my geekery extends into my many hobbies, and perhaps none so obviously as my sewing hobby. You see, when I wanted to learn how to sew it wasn’t because I wanted to make shirts or quilts or skirts. No, I wanted to make a Renaissance-style corset. This was my first sewing project as an adult.


A closer look at the corset. Vive la tartan!

Thankfully, six years ago when I decided to undertake this initial project, the internet gave me plenty of ideas and patterns. That corset somehow lost its way in my last move, however, and as our family was planning a trip to the Carolina Renaissance Faire, I needed to be, you know, prepared. (I am not the kind of gal who can go to an event without a costume.)

Thing is, money’s an issue. And busks and boning — the structure of what makes up a corset — are really expensive. (Not to mention this was the night before the actual event.) I made a quick trip to Hancock Fabric to see if there was anything I could use in lieu of boning; I found some plastic stuff for $3.49/yard, but that wasn’t going to cut it. I needed over 12 yards for the project.

While perusing the art supplies at Jerry’s Artarama, I came across some bamboo brush mats. I had two of those, in my kitchen, that I use as placemats. And I remembered that corsets were often strengthened with dried reeds in the Renaissance, especially when whale boning wasn’t available.

Well, isn’t bamboo essentially just that? I figured it’d do the trick.

Since I had all the material I needed (canvas and a corset fabric for the cover — that tartan you see over there) I purchased just a handful of items: grommets for the lacing and ribbon for finishing. It ended up at about $9.00. Then, following the custom design and directions, I cut the bamboo as needed and inserted them in the channels. (If you’re looking for something similar to the placemat, make sure it’s composed of bamboo shoots — some mats have cut-up bamboo, or it’s too thick — and cut apart the string that keeps them together. Then you’ll have dozens of long, flexible pieces of bamboo.)

I had thin bamboo pieces, and I slid those in four at a time; this meant even more support. I even had some thick, flat bamboo pieces I used in lieu of busks that worked marvelously well.

After sewing everything together, the whole process taking about four hours from top to bottom, I was impressed with the strength of the bamboo. And the next day, I wore the corset for over ten hours. I even drove to the Faire in it, and had no problems holding up. It’s serious support!

You can purchase bamboo mats for under $6.00 at art supply stores or anywhere that sells bamboo placemats. Just make sure they’re a little longer than you require. For a Renaissance style corset, the length is just about perfect in a standard placemat. I only had to trim about half an inch off of some of them. Be sure to have a good idea of your design before you go buying, though.

My total cost came to a little over $15 (considering what I spent on the materials; the tartan was .49 cents at Goodwill, and the canvas — of which I used only a small portion of — was $9.00). That’s significantly less than the $150-$375 I saw on price tags at the Faire, forsooth!

Natania Barron is a Gryffindor, a Took, and a Greyjoy (mostly because of the squid).