October 29, 2015

Unexpected Essentials: Boning and Hymo

Hello, dear readers! Welcome to a new series: unexpected essentials in the sewing nerd's supply bin. This is not a list of basics; you already have scissors, pins, thread, etc. Instead, I wanted to highlight some niche goodies for intermediate and advanced sewists -- the stuff you don't need to buy right away, but when you finally do, you'll wonder why you didn't earlier.

For our first sashay into the topic, let's yak about two extreme sewing-nerd essentials: boning and hymo canvas. Before I started tailoring, these were totally off my radar. Now I can't do without them. Boning and hymo both add structure, stability, and all-around classiness to the fit of a garment. They're lumped together in one post because they help make your garments un-lumpy.


Boning gives form to strapless dresses and corsets. If you have an inner 10-year-old, it's thinking, "hur-hur-hurrr, she said boning." I'm not here to talk about corsets. Many talented corset-makers have shared their knowledge with the world. In fact, let's pause to go down a mostwonderful. rat-hole. with. them.

I like to let my boning out into the backyard. It enjoys running around, curling up in the sun, and digging holes in the garden.

No, in my workshop/atelier/pile-of-shame-I-call-a-sewing corner, boning is the master of day-to-day stability and shaping. It tames wayward seams and whips flappy edges into shape. Here, just go read Threads magazine contributor (and couture badass) Susan Khalje where she sums up the many non-corset uses for boning.

I personally have used boning to:

  • Keep a wide neckline in place with Butterick 5880
  • Create symmetry on a dress with a side zipper; the non-zipper side was hanging differently due to drapey fabric, and the asymmetry was driving me bananas
  • Add crispness to seams in areas that lose their shape when you wear the garment, such as the side or center seam on a body-hugging dress

There are different kinds of boning: spiral steel, plastic, rigilene, hoop. Unless I'm making a corset or strapless garment, plastic boning is my preference. Cheap, semi-flexible, easy to cut in any length.

Today, JoAnn Fabrics sells 2 yards for about $7. It's cheaper in bulk, but do you really need 5 or 10 yards? Let me help: yes you do!

Two years ago, I went hog-wild and ordered 10 yards of covered plastic boning from a guy on eBay. Since then, I've used a bit here and there, and I still have a lot left. Which is good, because it's ready for action whenever an almost-finished dress needs a little something to rescue a "meh" fit.

You can find bulk boning on eBay, Etsy, Wawak.

Hymo canvas 

Hymo, or hair canvas, goes into high-end tailored coats, blazers, and jackets. Think of it as the rich, brandy-sipping, cigar-smoking uncle of fusible interfacing. It's classy as heck. Yeah, you have to sew it in; and yeah, it's usually not washable (per the label, but I've washed it CUZ I'M A REBEL); and yeah, you have to special-order it from a tailoring supplier.

But here's why it's worth it: it has great movement, while it also adding structure. I've used it in dresses, as well as every coat and jacket since investing in 5 yards of the stuff a while back..

  • Something's not hanging quite right? Hair canvas that sucker into shape! 
  • Need a little structure along a seamline, but boning would be too extreme? Hair canvas it! 
  • Want to make a skirt fuller without a petticoat? Hair canvas the mofo!

For more, see Khalje's piece in Threads magazine: Create Gentle Inner Support with Horsehair. Or read Thread And Theory's Tailored Peacoat tutorial.

Horsehair canvas is sometimes sold by the yard, and sometimes as pre-cut pieces in the shape of suit lapels. Obviously, for my purposes, I get the yardage.

Unlike fusible interfacing, hymo won't get bubbly and separate from the fabric after you wash it. Instead, you physically sew it to the fashion fabric, with either pad stitching or permanent uneven basting (both links are from Gertie's Lady Grey Coat sew-along).

Horse hair canvas, specifically, is made from real horse hair, collected from the tails of living horsesYour imaginary childhood pony named Buttons nods approvingly. Other versions use goat hair.

There's some confusion in the home sewing world about hair canvas vs. hymo. Honestly, I haven't found a satisfactory explanation of the difference. Wawak, where I get my stuff, seems to use "hymo" and "hair canvas" to describe the same basic hairy textile, although they do come in different weights and fusing options. Any advanced sewing wizards want to weigh in?

You're looking at the guts of a thick wool bouclé coat I'm currently working on. I'll show more pics in another post, but here I wanted to point out the strip of horsehair along the hemline for crispness. It's attached with permanent uneven basting stitches.

So where can you get it? WawakB. Black and Sons, Fabric.com. Look for Hymo Canvas 74" x 5 yds. It also comes in narrower widths, as well as 2-inch bands specifically made for hemlines and sleeve ends. 

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