My presentation which came after Alison's opening inspiration class, was all about patterning, but more specifically, how to work a basic corset block and manipulate it into any design you fancy using standard sizing information and a knowledge of the study of anthropometrics. This was a short presentation designed to inspire seekers to look further into the endlessly fascinating topic of corset pattern creation, manipulation and grading.
In keeping with my topic I had to take a basic corset block and change the design quite dramatically, into something different, and not necessarily recognisable as a basic pattern. However, I wanted to also prove, that 'dramatic' doesn't necessarily mean 'difficult'.
I had some degraded leather in my stash which I thought would be perfect for this project as it reminded me of old books, and where better to find old books than The Jesus College Fellows Library which houses books dating back as far as the 15th century. But I didn't just want a boring old brown leather corset - brown is not an inspiring colour to me - so I looked further for inspiration, the gardens outside, the knowledge within the books, gold leather inlays, pearls of wisdom, gems of information and the glorious golden panels at the end of the library.
Of course all this focus on knowledge and inspiration also reflects the whole reason we were at Jesus in the first place, to share and learn from each other, to gather our own pearls of wisdom and to become enlightened with those little gems of ideas which happen mostly by accident when a group of like minds and kindred spirits come together.
I had a lot of inspiration to play with but how to translate this into a corset?
The Design Process
I am not a drawer of pictures or a sketcher of ideas. The way I design is very hands on and intuitive and usually follows a collection of ideas and concepts. This means that although I have a basic aesthetic, my design process can be very changeable and will evolve over the whole time of creation until the piece is finished. I like this more artistic approach as although it can be quite frustrating - ideas tripping over themselves to get out of my head and in the process sometimes getting muddled up and always changing - it does suit the fact that I currently have to fit corset making around all the other jobs I do and so it provides an almost immediate creative outlet for me, without which, I might possibly go mad! The results are often very surprising.
So my initial ideas for the Pearls of Wisdom corset started off very very different to the eventual outcome but, the eventual outcome was better than I could ever have imagined.
Of course the design had to illustrate my class - I used the standard Sew Curvy 6 panel corset pattern and changed it very slightly to illustrate that even small changes to a basic pattern, can give dramatically different results and needn't be difficult or too time consuming. In this case only the bottom and top lines were changed but the practice piece I created beforehand, modelled by our own Marianne after the conference, changed many of the pattern lines too.
The Pearls of Wisdom corset is made from two pieces of thin brown leather hide which I had actually saved from the reject pile in a leather factory where the metallic coating process went wrong. Therefore, some parts were suede and some parts were very shiny. It was beautiful in itself but I wanted to give it more depth and I wanted to somehow incorporate all of those aspects of our beautiful surroundings, hidden knowledge, gems of inspiration and those gold panels!
The front panel of the corset is corded with different sizes of cording and these are made to stand out with aged gold leaf - I had in mind gold inlays in old books and desks and corded spines of books. To give the fabric of the corset it's depth and to reflect the golden panels in the library, I panted it with gold acrylic. The floral lace winding around the corset mirros the beautiful gardens outside the library and hidden within that foliage are the tiny sparkly crystals resembling the twinkling lights of inspiration seeping out of every brick in the college.
Making this corset really pushed my creative muscles. In making Pearls of Wisdom I learned how to work with leather and explored many different methods of embellishment. I made many accidental discoveries and over all, I think it's probably the first time i've ever stood back and loved my work not only for what it is but because there was and still is nothing about it that I would change or do better next time.
As often happens when things are supposed to be, things fell into place rather easily for the Fellows shoot. None of us could decide which model to work with, so we put names into a hat and these were pulled out by our lovely colleague Ian Frazer Wallace. I got to work with classic beauty Liv which was very lucky in actual fact because she is very tall and the only one of our models who this corset would fit as it is made to standard measures - it is worth noting here that all of the Fellows corsets were made for the models without prior fitting.
Very serendipitously, a few months earlier, I had been killing time in a shop while waiting for a bus and found the stunning golden skirt on sale which immediately put me in mind of my unadorned distressed brown leather ideas - it was this skirt which gave me the inspiration to literally 'go for gold' in order to tie the two pieces together - it was a catalyst. Having showed Liv the fabrics I was working with for her, she crafted a perfect golden head piece and the whole outfit looked absolutely stunning. Together with Liv's excellent modelling and both photographers amazing skills, I got a set of pictures that I adore, and which take pride of place in my studio.