Using Boning in your Costumes: Part 1

Boning creates a smooth silhouette throughout the bodice in this cosplay. Photo by Mineralblu Photography.

Boning creates a smooth silhouette throughout the bodice in this cosplay. Photo by Mineralblu Photography.

Hi all! This week we are bringing you a wealth of information about boning: what it is and how to use it. To make it easy to digest, and because I have lots of pictures for you, the information will be divided across two articles. Today I’ll cover the various types of boning and how to prepare each one for use. Later this week I’ll post an article detailing a few different ways to install boning. So without further ado, let’s delve in!

What is boning and why use it?

Boning refers to thin strips of stiff material used to give structure to a garment. Originally bones were made of reed and whalebone; however, they are now made of either plastic or metal. Boning is necessary to lend support and shape in shape-wear such as corsets, as it helps modify and accentuate the curves of the body. When inserted properly, boning distributes pressure evenly, eliminates pressure points on a garment, and along with the strength layer, reduces stress on garment seams.

Boning gives structure to this iconic suit. Photo by Anna Cosplay Photography

Flat and spiral steel boning gives structure to this iconic suit. Photo by Anna Cosplay Photography

Boning isn’t just for corsetry! It can also be used to eliminate sagging and wrinkling when not caused by incorrect fit. I’ve used boning when I wanted a smooth silhouette around my midriff, but didn’t need to reduce my waist, and in unexpected places when extra support or structure is needed. In my Summoner Yuna cosplay, I placed four lengths of spiral steel boning at the center back waist of my obi. This was necessary to support the weight of the knot and prevent the obi from folding and sagging. Perhaps there are some unusual ways you can use boning in your cosplay!

While non-traditional, the use of boning helps this knot stay upright

Non-traditional use of boning helps this knot stay upright

What types of boning are there?

The most frequently used types of boning are spiral steel, flat spring steel, rigilene, and plastic boning. There are also some specialty types such as lacing bones and hoop boning. Each type has its own unique end uses.

  • Spiral steel boning is available in ¼” and ½” widths. As the name suggests, it is a spiral of steel that resembles a flattened slinky. It is flexible and can bend from side to side as well as front to back. Available in pre-cut lengths as well as in multi-yard, continuous rolls.
  • Flat spring steel is available in ¼” and ½” widths. It is a flat sheet of steel that has been cut into thin strips and coated with white enamel to prevent rust. It is much more rigid than spiral steel and will only bend in one direction (front to back), so it is used in different ways. Flat spring steel can be purchased in pre-cut lengths as well as in continuous rolls.
  • Rigilene boning comes in ¼” and ½” widths. It is made of woven polyester and is available in black and white. Unlike spiral and spring steel boning it can be sewn through.
  • Plastic boning comes in ¼” and ½” widths and is made of flexible plastic that bends front to back. It is available with or without a fabric covering.
Left to right: Rigilene, flat spring steel, and spiral steel boning

Left to right: Rigilene, flat spring steel, and spiral steel boning

Rolls of flat spring steel, spiral steel, and hoop boning are more economical than buying cut to measure.

Rolls of flat spring steel, spiral steel, and hoop boning are more economical than buying cut to measure.

**In addition to the above types of boning, plastic zip-ties may be a suitable alternative for some projects. They can be purchased at a hardware store and cut to size using scissors, and are handy if you are limited on time and can’t find steel bones at a local retailer. Zip ties may not stand up to prolonged wear as well as steel, so they’re best if you don’t plan on wearing the cosplay multiple times.  The edges should be sanded down and slightly melted with heat to prevent poking through your fashion fabric. **

Specialty types of boning:

  • Lacing bones come in ½” width and are made of spring steel with pre-punched lacing holes. They are usually sold in 10”-14” lengths and are placed in the center back of corsets.
  • Hoop boning comes in ¼” to ½” widths. It is made of spring steel, usually covered in buckram or plastic. Hoop boning is essential for creating a sturdy hoop skirt. It can be purchased cut to length or in continuous rolls.
Hoop boning

Hoop boning

Boning preparation (cutting, filing, tipping)

Boning purchased cut-to-size will come ready to install. However, if you buy boning in the more economical continuous rolls then you’ll have to prepare the boning before it can be inserted into boning channels. These preparatory steps are absolutely necessary if you want to preserve the integrity of your costume and save yourself from obtaining gnarly cuts from the sharp ends of your plastic or steel bones. Don’t worry, though! Preparing the bones, while time consuming, is relatively simple. Below I’ll guide you through cutting, filing, and tipping both types of steel and rigilene boning.

Necessities for preparing your boning!

Necessities for preparing your boning!

Cutting:

Use steel cutters for spiral and flat spring steel boning. Regular scissors may be used for cutting rigilene and plastic. For spiral spring steel, mark where you would like to cut your boning, then use your steel cutters to cut the outer spiral on either edge of the boning. The boning should easily snap apart when cut in this way.

Cutting spiral steel. Remember to cut just the outer loops!

Cutting spiral steel. Remember to cut just the outer loops!

To cut flat spring steel, mark where you would like to cut your boning and use your steel cutters to cut at this mark. If you have trouble snipping the spring steel with one go of the cutters, either because you are weak like me or because you have dull snips, it might be helpful to bend the steel back and forth a bit after first trying to cut it.

Cutting flat spring steel. You can bend the steel a bit if at first it doesn't separate.

Cutting flat spring steel. You can bend the steel a bit if at first it doesn’t separate.

 

**When cutting boning, make sure the length of the boning is ½” shorter than the length of its channel to allow for tipping and slight wiggle room. This also prevents the boning tip from putting stress on the sewn channel edge, which over time could lead to the boning poking through the fabric, destroying your handiwork, and potentially inuring the wearer!**

Filing:

Boning, after it’s cut, will have nice sharp edges perfect for ruining your fabric! Get rid of these by filing the edges down. For steel, a dremel or metal file can be used with relatively little effort to round the edges. For plastic, a coarse- or medium-grit sandpaper is usually enough. I usually just cut the edges of rigilene into a smooth curve with scissors.

Smooth the edges of your flat spring steel with a metal file

Smooth the edges of your flat spring steel with a metal file

Tipping:

Now that you have cut and filed your boning, you are almost ready to use it! The last step needed before inserting the bones into your cosplay is to tip the ends with something. Fortunately there are a few methods to choose from.

Spiral steel boning can be tipped with either metal u-shaped boning tips, a rubber coating such as Plasti dip, PTFE tape, or heat-shrink tubing. Flat spring steel can be tipped with Plasti dip, PTFE tape, or heat-shrink tubing; however, metal tips aren’t recommended as they add bulk. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve covered using metal tips and Plasti dip below, but if you would like to see one of the other two methods please let me know in the comments!

Using metal tips:

Metal tips can be purchased in bulk online. To apply them, you will need two pairs of pliers, possibly a friend, and a lot of patience! Hold your spiral steel in one hand and compress the top of the metal tip with one set of pliers. Then, while still pinching the top of the metal tip, have your friend use the second set of pliers to press the sides of the tip. Check that the tip is snug and pinch it again if it is not.

Have a friend help you so you can compress both sides simultaneously!

Have a friend help you so you can compress both sides simultaneously!

Using Plasti dip:

Plasti dip is a rubber coating that can be brushed onto your steel boning. It is very noxious, so make sure you use it in a well-ventilated space while wearing a respirator. Brush a thin coat of plasti dip on either end of the bone and allow it to air dry completely. Repeat once or twice more to get an even coating.

Use plastidip to coat flat spring steel.

Use plastidip to coat flat spring steel.

Rigilene and Plastic boning:

Rigilene and plastic boning if cut or filed adequately does not need to be tipped. Rectangular plastic boning tips can be purchased to tip rigilene.

After cutting, filing, and tipping your boning, it is now ready to be placed in your costume. Stay tuned for my second article later this week, which will discuss when to use each type of boning, placement, and installation methods! I’ll also list a few of my favorite online and local NYC sources for steel boning. Happy cosplaying!

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16 comments

  • Great info, thanks. Can you share any links for sources?

  • Great information! This makes me want to find a cosplay to attempt simply to get a chance to try out boning. I think my next planned project will be for the new Star Wars movie. Can’t wait to put everything I learn from your articles to use!

  • What a great overview! It is darn handy to get an idea of what different boning structures will do for you, and in so much of the ‘out of the box’ thinking that cosplay requires, helpful to see samples.
    And zip ties are sold at stores that are often open 24/7. Inspiration comes at all hours.

    • Thank you! And you are so right– you never know when inspiration will strike (or when you will run out of supplies on a tight deadline!).

  • I used Rigeline (I think – it was in in my stash; it’s got a woven cover and teensy tiny thin plastic rods) for boning a corset for my most recent cosplay (a Wonder Woman Steampunk variation). The problem I’m having is that after wearing a couple of times, the plastic rods from the inside of the boning are poking through the fabric of the corset and attacking me. I can’t open up the corset as it’s fully enclosed, and the boning was stitched into the seam allowances. What can I do to prevent further injury?

    • You need to sew patches over them, the easiest way is to take a narrow strip of light weight leather and stitch it by hand along the inside top of the corset so that it covers the tops of all the bones – even those that are not a problem yet.

  • You can find all of these bones at Farthingales and they even have little rubber tips for the rigelene type bones….so you don’t get the pokey ends! They have lots of other costuming supplies as well.

  • this came right on time! is there a way to make your own boning???

  • I’d love a good bunny suit pattern. I know there are blogs online with tutorials, but a good pattern and instructions in front of you helps!

  • Nice Article! Cheers, Drabo. B-}

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