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How to Lace a Corset with the Three-Lace Method (The Secret to a Historical Hourglass Figure)

Want to lace up a corset, but don’t know where to begin? You’ve come to the right place! This is part 2 of a corset lacing series I’ve made.

This three-lace corset lacing method is a more advanced technique. If you are a corset lacing or wearing beginner, check out Part 1, which is an easier method to learn for a beginner.

Who is This Article For?

corset lacing civil war white and black how to tutorial
This "new" historical corset lacing technique is more tricky to learn, but worth it!

These instructions for the three-lace method are for you if:

  • You are already a relatively experienced corset wearer

  • You are looking for an improved way to lace your corset, that will help you achieve a historical hourglass silhouette

  • You have trouble achieving an hourglass shape because you can’t or choose not to tighten the waist of your corset, this method is for you.

  • You have a straighter body type - that is, not much of a difference between bust, waist, and hips

With this method, you can easily control the tightness of the waist, hips, and bust, all independently of each other. What this means is that you can easily tighten the waist, while leaving the hips and bust relatively loose, which creates that hourglass illusion.

How I Discovered this “New” Lacing Method

corset lacing civil war white and black how to tutorial
When I read about this technique from a historical reference, I instantly knew I needed to try it!

Personally, I don’t tighten the waist of my corsets very much at all - since having my youngest child, my body just doesn’t like it. I do however, want that historical hourglass silhouette, so I draft the hips of my corset to be a couple inches larger than my real hips, and use this lacing method to control the tightness of the hips and the waist independently of each other.

I first learned about this method from a historical reference recorded in Nora Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines. As those instructions were simply text with no diagrams, I have interpreted the method and that’s what I am going to show you right now. You will need the same amount of lacing you would normally use for a bunny ears laced corset, plus a little extra. Let’s begin!

Materials and Basics You Need to Know

corset lacing civil war white and black how to tutorial
You will need an unlaced corset, and some strong, slippery lacing. I love this polyester satin ribbon

First, you will need an unlaced corset, and some laces. Personally, I use and recommend any kind of lace that is strong, slippery, and streamlined. This could be polyester satin ribbon of a narrow width, or nylon flat lacing. I purchase my lacing from Farthingale’s Corset-Making Supply. The more slippery your lacing, the better, because it is easier to tighten that way.

You are going to start with a base amount of lacing, the same amount you would normally use were you using the bunny ears lacing method, possible plus a little extra so you will have enough for the three sets of “tails” we will create.

First of all, we need to divide our corset into the sections we will be using for our three separate laces - bust, waist, and hips. The first lace, the bust lace, will begin at the top, and criss-cross down to just above the waist.

corset lacing civil war white and black how to tutorial
What makes this technique unique is the use of three separate laces, rather than one like in "bunny ears" lacing

The waist lace will cover the two eyelets on each side of the corset that are at the waist level. Some corsets will have the two waist level eyelets spaced more closely together, otherwise you can look at where your corset’s waist tape is, or where you know the narrowest point of the corset is.

The hip lace will begin at the bottom and criss-cross lace up to just below the waist.

So let’s start lacing!

Lacing the Corset - Bust Lace.

corset lacing civil war white and black how to tutorial
First we will be lacing the bust lace for the corset - that is, the top piece of lace.

First, you will need to cut a piece of lace from your base amount of lacing - that is the right length to cover just the bust area. I estimate the appropriate length by actually laying the lace criss-crossed across the back of the corset (with a few inches of lacing gap), then double that and cut it to length. The video should be self-explanatory if this sounds confusing.

Find the centre point of your piece of bust lace, and then pull one end of the lace through the top hole of the corset, from the inside to the outside. Repeat with the other end of the lace on the opposite side. Pull both ends until the centre point of the piece of lacing is in the centre of the corset - between the two top eyelets - with a few inches of lacing gap between the two sides of corset.

corset pattern 1840's civil war corsets and crinolines tutorial
The pattern I used for this corset from - you guessed it - "Corsets and Crinolines"

You will proceed to criss cross lace down the corset, using the “Double X Method” that I describe in my “How to Lace a Corset” article and video. I am assuming here that you are already acquainted with basic criss-cross lacing, so I won’t rehash it here. If you are not, go check out that article, geared for a beginner! Once you get to the last set of eyelets, directly above the two “waist-level eyelets” that we identified earlier, then you are ready to end the bust lacing and form the tying tails. This is simple: just bring the lacing out of the lace holes, from the inside to the outside, and leave tails of equal length, long enough for tightening and tying later. Done. Just to reiterate - this is not the bunny ears method, so these will simply be tails of lace, like shoelaces. They won’t be loops.

Waist and Hip Lace

corset lacing civil war white and black how to tutorial
Time to add our waist and hip laces!

Now it is time to lace the waist area. Trim a piece of lace of the appropriate length. This will be a much shorter piece than the bust lace was, since it is only for two eyelets plus the tails.

This lacing will follow exactly the same method as with the bust lace, except that there are only two eyelets on either side involved. Start on the uppermost eyelet. Bring the lace through from the inside to the outside. Repeat on the other side, pulling both ends so they are of equal length. Criss cross each side of lace down to the next hole down, bringing it out of those eyelets - again, from the inside to the outside. Leave two tails long enough for tying and tightening.

For the hip lace, we will follow exactly the same technique as with the bust lace, only we will be starting from the bottom of the corset and lacing up to just below the waist lace tails. Remember, we don’t want to leave any empty eyelets - they should all have lace coming through them.

Time to put on the corset!

How to Lace Yourself with the Three Lace Method

corset lacing civil war white and black how to tutorial
The trickiest part of this corset lacing technique is getting it on yourself. Trust me, it is worth the effort!

First of all, let’s be real. This lacing technique is more difficult to put on than the bunny ears method. You will definitely want to have a mirror handy, or at best, a helper! What makes this method more difficult than the bunny ears method is that there are three sets of tails to deal with, rather than one, and they are all set closely together. It can be tricky to identify which ones are which, especially if you are lacing yourself. That’s why it is essential to have a mirror, if you don’t have a helper handy.

corset lacing civil war white and black how to tutorial
You will definitely want a mirror (or a helper!) handy to put the corset on yourself!

I like to begin by pulling on all sets of tails at once to get it all tightened up a bit first. Then, I recommend tightening the waist lace first, because this will ensure that the corset is sitting at the right height level on your body - the waist lined up with your waist. Pull it as tight as you like, keeping in mind that since this lace is only going through two eyelets on each side, there will be more traction to fight against as you are tightening (compared to bunny ears lacing). Once it is tight enough, tie it off in a bow, like tying shoe laces. The tricky part about this is that the other sets of tails, especially the bust tails, may end up underneath this bow. Don’t worry about it - you should be able to gently slip them out from under the waist bow.

Next, tighten the bust lace. Begin by pulling the slack out of the top “X’s” of lace, and pulling that slack down to the tails of bust lace. Once you have done that, tighten these tails and tie off in a bow. Don’t tighten these as much as you did the waist tails - all that will accomplish is squishing your ribs, and you don’t want that.

corset lacing civil war white and black how to tutorial
You will have three sets of corset lace "tails" to tie off, each tightening a different area of the body.

Tighten and tie off the hip lace in exactly the same way, pulling the slack out of the bottommost “X” of lace, and pulling the slack up to the tails, which are directly below the waist tails. Tie off in a bow.

Voila! Done! While this lacing method does take more time, the results are well worth it! It is much easier to accomplish that historical hourglass figure when you can control the tightness of bust, waist, and hips independently of each other.

corset lacing civil war white and black how to tutorial
Voila! It's a little finicky to learn, but so worth the effort!

Are you going to use this method? Let me know how it goes, what you think, or any questions you may have in the comments section below!

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