I always start a project with the thing I find the most difficult to do, if possible. It's not that sewing bone channels is hard, mentally, it's just that it's a lot of work. They are also the first thing you need to do to begin the process of sewing your stays.
I sew mine by hand, I find hand sewing to be much more enjoyable most of the time. I'm also really trying to have the most authentic looking kit as possible, skin out. You can sew the channels by machine though, very quickly, and nobody will get after you for it. Mostly because so very few people will ever see your stays, since you'll be wearing clothes over them, but also because we all have room for improvement in our kit...every last one of us.
The boning you use can range from steel corset bones, nylon zip ties, reed or bents, wool or hemp cording, or in very rare cases, baleen. Steel boning is still used in many schools, theatre houses and by older costumers. Reed, bents, cording and baleen are the truly authentic choices for making stays. Nylon zip ties are what I use, mostly because they provide a look to the garment that most closely resembles baleen in my eye. I also use a mixture of nylon and cording, depending on the stays I'm creating. I have cut baleen myself, for a corset that I made for a museum once. I don't recommend it, mainly because of the environmental impact of creating a whaling industry again, but also because it was probably the grossest thing I ever had to do...burning flesh anyone??? yech. Nylon I can cut with my kitchen shears.
Now, for fabrics. Sometimes you might have to back your fashion fabric with a cotton calico for stability. You can use 'wonder under' to fuse the calico to the back of the fashion fabric quite easily. If your fabric is quite fine, or loosely woven at all, but you have your heart set on it, do this...OR, use two layers of canvas in this next step.
When I sew my boning channels in, I use the fashion fabric and the canvas as a sandwich (the bread), with the boning (the contents) in the middle. I start by scribing a line to guide my stitching on the wrong side of the sandwich. I don't personally like using a running back stitch to sew my channels in, as I don't care for the long carrying stitch on the back side of the work. I use a running stitch, with stitches that are about 1/8" long. Then when that first seam is done, I do another line of running stitches, same size, directly on top of the first line, to fill in the gaps and lock the original stitching line in place.
After I've made that first, beautiful line, I cut a bone to length, rounding the corners, and stick the bone in between the layers of fabric right up next to the stitching line as tightly as possible. Then I stitch that bone in place, using the same running stitch and going back on itself. I stitch every bone in place using this method. * This creates a nice tight boning channel which is key to the success of your stays. * If your method of boning has room to move in the channels, they will twist and bend in the channel and will make for an uncomfortable corset.
If you are wanting to do this step by machine, the half width of your presser foot should be wide enough for the bone channel, do some samples up first. You want a nice, tight channel. If sewing by machine, I will sew all my channels first, then insert my boning material. If you want to do it one bone at a time, a close sewing zipper foot will be your friend. My machine's zipper foot is a waste of time...
When using cording of any kind, I will also stitch all my channels first, then pull the cording through. That way I can control the amount of cord I pack into the channel, and I don't end up sewing through the cord.
Boning a set of stays by hand will take you about a month of serious work. By machine, you could get it done in a day of hard labour, a weekend at most. Things to consider when you're getting ready for your first encampment of the season.
Just like when you are tiling a floor, don't back yourself into a corner when sewing your bone channels in. Some boning will have to be inserted before you start the next row of boning, or you won't ever be able to slide it into place. You may also need to fully bone your corset before sewing the seams together. Figure out what is best for your set of stays and do what they tell you to do.
Have fun with this step.