The Battle of the Boning


Since most of ya'll haven't handled baleen before, and I have (for whatever insane reason) almost every type of (suitable) boning options in my possession (how did that happen?), I thought I'd give some examples of how different baleen is and what is the closest substitutes (spoiler: reproduction baleen is not the right answer).
Left to Right we have: Spiral Steel, Spring Steel, Baleen, Faux Baleen, Reed, and a Cable tie

Here's the first thing about baleen that makes it different from all the other options here: You can adjust the width and the width varies naturally. Some of my baleen strips were almost a 1/4" thick while some where maybe 1/16". I also figured out sometime this afternoon that I could split the baleen width wise and double my baleen pieces while also making the really thick pieces thinner and less rigid.

You can't do that with the other options. You can double up, but that's not quite the same, because thick baleen is stiff.  It has give and will mold into shapes thanks to heat, but it is really strong and stiff. So I used my longest and thickest pieces for the CB boning as it will hold the pressure of lacing amazingly well.

Baleen Strips are comin' fer yoo

Trying to get a shot of thickness

Some of my baleen

You can see how one is bent (from being boiled and shaped in a
pot) and the other is straight.
Baleen will mold from heat. It grows soft  (thus boiling to cut the baleen) and the body heat along with some potential external heat will encourage the baleen to mold to your body, thus fitting you extremely well and becoming more comfortable. Other boning can do this too, of course...

The biggest difference about baleen is its flexibility compared to other boning materials. I took photos of me pushing on different boning materials to compare the idea I got from the Burnley and Trowbridge workshop & Mark Hutter.

Baleen: I was pushing pretty hard, it has some give but not tons

Spiral Steel: Alright, it was more for comedic relief anyways...

Monster Cable Tie: This was a HUGE cable tie, resisted surprisingly well,
but I didn't try the smaller ones, as I imagine they're too flimsy.

Faux Baleen: Really flimsy and when I used it to make Sapphire's
stays, I wanted to stomp on it an throw it away. However,
I am pleased with final product.

My 2+ year old reed: Nice and sturdy, but the draw back is wood breaks
I broke one bone the second time I wore my stays. However, it's cheap.
Wood splint, is supposed to be the best 'wood' option, overall, and it was
used during the 18th century. That's the only one I don't have.

Ol' Reliable (Spring Steel): If you've made a corset, you know what this
stuff is like. 

Survey says: Reed/Wood as your best alternative. It's inexpensive, it's strong, it's accurate, and it is easy to trim and shape. The key is to buy quality reed or wood splints. Burnley and Trowbridge have some nice stuff in from the UK right now and you can purchase from basket weaving companies (I've listed a few (or one?) in my shopping page).

If you don't want to use reed/wood, it honestly seems that there is no difference between cable ties and faux baleen.  Though the picture may look like the cable tie was weaker than the baleen, I'd have to disagree. Again, though, I think the cable tie option is dependent on the thickness of the tie, and that it might be more expensive to buy the cable ties? I don't really know, I've never made stays with cable ties....someone chime in here! I know you're out there (Lauren...Lauren.........Lauren)

My biggest issue with the baleen? The splinters. They get caught in the linen weave and will cause the bone to get stuck/have splinters stick out/ tear/ something. Not all pieces do this, but some have. I imagine there will be some cases the first couple times I wear my stays where I feel something poking and itching and it will be baleen sticking out through my lining. Only time will tell though.

I've boned 8 out of 10 stay panels, and I have to say I am incredibly impressed and shocked by how strong and stiff the baleen is. There is give, but it these stays are going to be really strong. Hopefully this means they'll last a long time, but I imagine the first couple of times wear the stays I'm going to be walking funny and re-learning how to move in stays as the boning and the fit are much different than what I'm used to.

Again, if you have anymore questions, feel free to ask and I'll answer the best that I can!

(Side note: due to my lovely friends and their dirty sense of humor I can't help but giggle throughout this post. Just thought I'd share in case you felt like having a slightly immature giggle too.)

<3 <3


  1. Thanks for sharing this with us, it's fascinating!

  2. Yes, this is fascinating, and it's good to hear that splints are available.

    A note on baleen. I have a natural-form era bodice that has some remnants of the original baleen in it. Since the bodice is damaged, the baleen is sticking out, so it's easy to examine. The material has become brittle with time. Otherwise, it's very close to what you have. If you'd like some photos and measurements, I will be happy to send them to you to use as comparisons.

    Very best,

    Natalie in KY where the sun is really shining, but naturally, it has gone cold

  3. Glad you're enjoying it ladies!

    Natalie, I'd love to see pictures! You can email me at abbyelyn at gmail dot com :)

  4. You called me out! Hahaha.

    Cable ties - the monster ones are awesome, nice and strong although not as stiff as balleen. The only thing is that your width is what you get, and that's 1/2" wide for the big ones. I suppose one could cut them down the middle, but what a pain. I use the big-ass zipties on the front and back, anywhere that will lace or take stress. For stays I use the 1/4" ones, which are flimsy but have power-in-numbers, so if it's a fully boned pair of stays, I'll do full channels at 1/2". Half-boned stays, more use of the biggies, like on all seams, or all-over. I use the big zipties in my Victorian corsets, too, and have never had a problem with discomfort, strength in cinching down, breakage, or becoming too bent/molded to the body, although there is some of that if you wear your stays a lot.

    That's my 2 cents. I've also used fatty hemp cord for boning, in Elizabethan bodies, and I know it was done quite a lot in Victorian corsets, in combination with steels. It's a great material, but I wouldn't use it for 18th c. stays.

  5. that's *full channels at 1/4"* sorry, type-o

  6. Muah ha ha ha! thanks dear

    (did you get the Ferris Bueller reference?)

  7. Wonderful post!!!! Thanks for the comparison.

  8. Okay, Abby, photos coming your way soon as I get off work!

    Very best,


  9. Have you tried the stiffer plastic boning available from Farthingales? (91-8142-06 at the bottom of this page:

    I used it in my 18th century corset and really liked it, although it does tend to be thick. I have a leftover piece I can send you if you would like to add it to your comparison!

  10. hey Katherine!

    I am interested! Definitely! I can add it to this post so that way there is a fairly comprehensive comparison with the type of plastic boning you had!

    Can you email me at abbyelyn at gmail dot com ?

  11. Dear Abby,

    Okay, the photos of the baleen from the natural form bodice are coming your way!

    Then it's out to shovel muck...yes, on Derby Day. How apropos. Actually it's horse-poop-rich mulch, but smells exaaaaactly like muck. Attracts flies, too. Nice.

    Very best,

  12. i hope you didn't stomp on my stays! :P

  13. I love your posts on baleen! So interesting!

  14. Yes, please! Where did you get your baleen? I've been searching for quite some time and have come up empty.


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