OCOC BLOG


OCOC14 - Pop Antique's "College" Corset

Written by Marianne Faulkner. 

Don't forget to check the #ococ14 hashtag on Instagram and Twitter!

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The Challenge

The second annual Oxford Conference of Corsetry followed the theme of the design process, from start to finish.  Each of us "Corset Fellows" made a corset that represented our workshop topic, inspired by Oxford and Jesus College, our venue, and of course, showcasing our own design sensibility as well.

 

The Design Process

My workshop was on standard sizing and grading, as I am in the unusual position of being highly focused on ready to wear rather than bespoke work.  As such, I knew I needed to create something from one of my standard patterns, but I also wanted to show that ready to wear doesn't have to be boring.  Being inspired by a location was a bit of a challenge for me.  My design concepts tend to be derived from mood and music, rather than specific visual elements.

Finally, one day, inspiration struck, fully formed.  At the inaugural OCOC, I had also been featured as a model for our Sunday photoshoots.  The first couple of shoots I did were in the pool room off the JCR, and I particularly loved Angela Stringer's casual snaps of me posing against the gorgeous paned windows set into drab grey stone walls.  Color blocking and other graphic, silhouette-based design details have long been a mainstay for me.  I could combine the "mink" and "dove" herringbone coutils (sold by Sew Curvy) with contrasting black structure to mimic the stone and paned effect.

Modeling for Angela Stringer at OCOC13, our inaugural year. I have an unyielding love for paned windows.

The Corset

Originally, I had planned to make my corset as a mini-dress, attached to a pencil skirt with a peplum.  Unfortunately, I didn't have enough coutil for that to happen, so I kept the peplum and ditched the skirt, which I wouldn't have had time to properly fit on my model anyway.  What I particularly love about the mink and the dove next to each other is that it's a bit unexpected; they have the same value (relative lightness or darkness) but in very different hues: one cool, one warm, both fairly desaturated. Typically color blocking would rely on two different values to make it pop, but in this case, that was done with the contrasting external casings, waist tape, and petersham binding. If I'm not hiding the structure completely (as with my signature knit corsets), I like to put as much of a corset's structure on the outside as possible because I think it's more comfortable.  This also creates design possibilities that are perfect for my graphical tastes.

 Original sketch © Marianne Faulkner of "College" inspired corset dress design in color blocked herringbone coutil.

Original sketch © Marianne Faulkner of "College" inspired corset dress design in color blocked herringbone coutil.

I decided on a contrast pattern that I call my "Pop Contrast:" center front and the second-to-last back panel in the secondary color.  As with leaving off the skirt, this was a decision based partially on how much of each coutil I had left - which is to say, very little of the dove!

 Sketching out options for color blocking. I settled on what I call my "Pop Contrast," which has the center front and second to last panel only in the contrasting fabric.

Sketching out options for color blocking. I settled on what I call my "Pop Contrast," which has the center front and second to last panel only in the contrasting fabric.

The peplum was simple, with seam allowance that was equivalent to the width of my binding.  I added a petersham binding to the bottom as well, though of course it's hidden by the peplum. The coutil is so firmly woven, though, that I could've gotten away with a raw edge for a sample.

 

The Photoshoot

My model for the photoshoot was Morgana, aka Threnody in Velvet. Though Morgana has a very distinct look, I tried to style her in a way that was very representative of my brand.  I'm sure the originally planned miniskirt would've been more her style, but in its absence I decided to go for more of a vaguely 40s angle. I was excited to use my drapey silk palazzo pants, purchased from Betsey Johnson a couple years ago but as yet unhemmed and therefore unworn. Fortunately Morgana is fairly close to my size... more so to my size two years ago, I must confess! And to top off the look, a hand-blocked silver sinamay pillbox hat. The silver sinamay also has a faint blue hint to it, making it an excellent match to the cool grey of the dove coutil. The pillbox hat also has a space in the band where interchangeable bows can be clipped in, so I selected one in a beautiful cranberry red to match Morgana's deep lipstick, which otherwise might have seemed out of place in such a strongly monochromatic and (for me) subdued look.

Pop Antique "College" corset with peplum | Model: Threnody in Velvet | Photo © Scott Chalmers

In the crush of shooting our four corsets before the delegates' scheduled shoots, we unfortunately only had time for a few minutes of shooting.  Fortunately, our Jenni is quite a talented photographer, and I am always willing to model.  On Monday, when we had the place to ourselves, we squeezed in another shoot. Though we were unfortunately unable to shoot in front of the windows that had been my inspiration source, I still love what we came up with.

 Pop Antique "College" corset with peplum | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Sparklewren

Pop Antique "College" corset with peplum | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Sparklewren

 Pop Antique "College" corset with peplum | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Sparklewren

Pop Antique "College" corset with peplum | Model: Victoria Dagger | Photo © Sparklewren

The Jesus College campus is a wonderfully inspiring environment in which to shoot. The delegates of OCOC15 will have a wonderful array of models and photographers to work with at this singular location. I look forward to seeing this year's batch of OCOC corsets and photoshoots in just a few short weeks!

OCOC14 - Morua Design's "Leaded Glass and English Roses" Corset

Chris Murray Photography

Written by Gerry Quinton.

Don't forget to check the #ococ14 hashtag on Instagram and Twitter!

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For the 2014 conference each of the fellows agreed to design and make a corset inspired by Jesus College; incorporating elements from our workshops. There were two parts of the college that struck me the most when I first saw them. The first was, as it is for many, that grand dining hall with the beautiful dark panelling and Queen Elizabeth overseeing it all. But these days I am very drawn to light and colour so the dark sombre tones did not suit.  Instead I turned to the incredibly beautiful gardens of Jesus College.   The grand array of  leaded window tiles in the second quad, set into the "Oxford" stone and adorned by slightly wild foliage and layers of flowers are nothing short of magical. The greens and supersaturated vibrant hues came alive  under the often grey skies, which somehow complimented their magnificent colours and shapes. So those striking windows, and the flowers that bloomed in controlled wilderness became my inspiration.

 Photos by Julia Bremble and Britain Express

Photos by Julia Bremble and Britain Express

It took a very long time  to solidify my ideas. My talk was to focus on unusual embellishment techniques. I thought of many options and tested quite a few methods. I could have spent two days on everything I originally planned to include in my the class. I had to narrow it down In the end I settled on a focus on fabric flowers, smoking and ruching because I found that they were unusual and rarely used in corsetry. I also touched on pleating, crystals and “found” embellishments. The other dimension that was added to the mix was the stunning model I was lucky enough to work with:  Lovely Ella Rose. I wanted to make something that suited her, but did not overwhelm her fey looks.  I also knew that she was relatively new to corsetry so wanted to keep that in mind when making a corset that would be comfortable and flattering for her.

I decided that a great challenge would be to try to incorporate all of this: the theme, the muse and as many of the techniques as possible into a single corset! It would stretch me as I tend to be quite measured and slick even in my most embellished corsetry work.

With these vague ideas I packed my suitcase with dark grey organza, white corsetry net, a bundle of spray painted metal roses and a few hundred Swarovski crystals. Several weeks before the conference I headed back to Old Blighty, having recently left it after almost a decade living there.  Most of the work would need to be completed at the Sew Curvy Cottage in the lead up to the conference.

I did not have a clear image in my head for this corset, only a mood.   I felt that mesh would be a great choice to mirror the translucence of the windows, while grey organza would keep to the sheer theme while allowing for a great deal of interesting sculptural manipulation. The grey and whites  would echo the leaded silvers and clouded glass I wanted to reference.  I considered adding colour to the mix but in the end only white and crystal were added.

I began the corset by drafting a pattern to Ella Rose’s provided measurements. I knew the fit would probably not be exact as I only had a few measurements to go on, but this did not bother me. In photo shoots it is lucky if you even know the model’s waist size, and it is rarely accurately measured in any case.  

Corsetry net was a material I had never used before. I had tried bobbinet and other materials but never nylon mesh of the variety popular with modern corset makers, so I found this a good excuse to test it out. I then made boning channels. For some reason instead of my usual method I decided it would be a good time to experiment. I used two twill tapes layered as I did not want the bones exposed but did not want to make coutil channels this time. In retrospect this was an unnecessarily fiddly, slow process and one I will not be using again.

Once the corset was assembled it was time to stare at it for a long time before making a choice. This is something I often do, I get an idea, lay the foundations and then let it sit and simmer for some time. I didn't have a great deal of time though, as this was less than two  weeks before the conference!  The first element of the corset came to me almost by accident. I was demonstrating creative pleating during a master class on draping when hip pleats just happened to form themselves without my knowledge!  I decided this was just the thing to begin with.  I then created various textures using smocking, crouching and fraying to overlay on the corset. I wanted the inside of the corset to be clean and perfect so I kept all stitching between the organza and and the net. This was something that added to the stitching time, but I am obsessed with clean finishing to a perhaps unhealthy degree. After the organza was placed I scattered metal roses that I had previously painted silver and white. Finally I added a great deal of crystals.


I was working on this during conference which was unpleasant. Next time will make it  priority to do earlier, even if it is hard on account of client orders. My design was not as cohesive as I would have liked. I think overall I did too many things in one which was great because it is different than my usual aesthetic but felt a bit overworked to me in the end. Either that or it needed to be taken in the other directions even more roses and crystals! 

The morning of the “fellows” shoot I almost squealed with delight when I saw my corset on the enchanting Ella Rose. Seeing it on her, paired with a flowing long tulle skirt and set in front of the very windows and gardens that inspired it made all that hand stitching worth it! I was lucky enough to have Ella photographed in my corset by two outstanding photographers: Chris Murray and Scott Chalmers. 

 Chris Murray Photography

Chris Murray Photography

This was such a fantastic exercise in stretching my design muscles. I hadn't designed “to a theme” since university and I forgot how inspiring it can be. I am looking forward to tackling next year’s challenge!  

 Scott Chalmers Photograpy

Scott Chalmers Photograpy



OCOC14 - Clessidra's "Pearls of Wisdom" Corset

Don't forget to check the #ococ14 hashtag on Instagram and Twitter!

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 copyright Scott Chalmers

copyright Scott Chalmers

The Challenge

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'.

Inspiration

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.  

 These gold leaf panels in The Fellows Library provided much inspiration, the question was, how to incorporate them into a corset design?  I had lots of ideas before finally settling on paint rather than a real metal overlay.

These gold leaf panels in The Fellows Library provided much inspiration, the question was, how to incorporate them into a corset design?  I had lots of ideas before finally settling on paint rather than a real metal overlay.

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.   

 Old leather books in the Fellows library, with gold leaf inscriptions and corded spines. Image copyright: Julia Bremble

Old leather books in the Fellows library, with gold leaf inscriptions and corded spines.
Image copyright: Julia Bremble

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.  

 The initial sketch is not really like the final design - there were 'pages' symbolised by a stepped top edge and 'golden parchment' symbolised by an organza ribbon trim... this skitch is very literal.  Also shown are close ups of the leather before it was painted, and test pieces with cording.

The initial sketch is not really like the final design - there were 'pages' symbolised by a stepped top edge and 'golden parchment' symbolised by an organza ribbon trim... this skitch is very literal.  Also shown are close ups of the leather before it was painted, and test pieces with cording.

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.

The Corset

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 monochrome 'noir' corset was a leather practice piece made with the same original 6 piece per side basic pattern, and modelled by Marianne after the Conference.  The front panels of the pattern here were split 6 ways to create a different effect although the overall shape is the same as the Pearls of Wisdom corset.  Image copyright: Jenni Hampshire

The monochrome 'noir' corset was a leather practice piece made with the same original 6 piece per side basic pattern, and modelled by Marianne after the Conference.  The front panels of the pattern here were split 6 ways to create a different effect although the overall shape is the same as the Pearls of Wisdom corset.
Image copyright: Jenni Hampshire

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.

 Close up of the Pearls of Wisdom corset.  Image copyright: Julia Bremble

Close up of the Pearls of Wisdom corset.  Image copyright: Julia Bremble

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.  

The Photoshoot

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.  

 copyright: Scott Chalmers

copyright: Scott Chalmers

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. 

OCOC14 - Sparklewren's "Jesus" Corset

Written by Jenni Hampshire.

Don't forget to check the #ococ14 hashtag on Instagram and Twitter!

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The Challenge

After the first Oxford Conference of Corsetry, we "corset fellows" had the idea that our second year should have an overarching theme. We wanted to take our attendees through the design process from start-to-finish, with a couple of tangents along the way. This meant beginning with design challenges and ending with embellishment/manipulation ideas, via notes on general patterning principles, resizing/grading, and (my own offering) detailed study of how antique-inspired corsetry can lead to interesting new ideas.

We scheduled and planned our classes to reflect this, and set about dreaming up our own Oxford inspired corsets with which to illustrate.

 

The Design Process

My Oxford corset was very clear in my mind at first. I knew exactly what I wanted it to be (a rare occurrence for me, since much of my self-directed work happens as a series of happy accidents). It was to be very much a contemporary revisioning of Renaissance angels. All that gilding, drapery, grandeur, and handsome androgenous beauty.

Even so, things didn't pan out quite as expected...

 I wanted this dusty mink coutil to be my base colour with rich pink and gold layered above, very Veronese/Renaissance inspired. Leah Axl photographed by InaGlo Photography.

I wanted this dusty mink coutil to be my base colour with rich pink and gold layered above, very Veronese/Renaissance inspired. Leah Axl photographed by InaGlo Photography.

The initial wish was to create a Birds Wing corset-body, much like the Mink corset above, but with the "spine" of the corset extending upwards and radiating out into a disc behind the head.

image.jpg

This disc would be gilded and embellished, to reference Renaissance halos, whilst the mink coutil would be awash with pink and gold Solstiss lace, freshwater pearls (lots of freshwater pearls), beads and so on. There would also be a big robe of iridescent silk duchess, to hang heavily from the models arms.

 I also wanted to revisit this typically stays-inspired topline, for a nod to Queen Elizabeth I. Leah Axl photographed by InaGlo Photography.

I also wanted to revisit this typically stays-inspired topline, for a nod to Queen Elizabeth I. Leah Axl photographed by InaGlo Photography.

Despite being turn-of-the-century inspired, my Birds Wing design is very naturally inclined to give a flattened chest, which was the first connection I had between my work and that 1600s aesthetic. Since my work tends to be about cherry-picking things of beauty (rather than adhering to any sense of historical accuracy), this was an appealing link. For my class, I really wanted to illustrate how things lead into one another, how you could begin by attempting a Victorian corset replica but end up creating a catwalk-style contemporary showpiece... Or how you could have an idea, face a technical challenge, and end up with an even more interesting solution. So in that sense, the challenge I faced with this design was no bad thing, I suppose!

  "  Noli me tangere" -  Paolo Veronese .  These were the tones I wanted to use in my Oxford corset.

"Noli me tangere" - Paolo Veronese. These were the tones I wanted to use in my Oxford corset.

It was a very small but very significant thing which killed the dream of this corset... I hadn't ordered the pink/gold lace in time. Without that particular shade of opulent lace, the entire design fell apart. I did not want to compromise on this one. If I couldn't make my angel, I would make something else instead. 

In the end, that "something else" ended up being far more directly connected to Jesus College.

  Formally attributed to  Nicholas Hilliard   (1547–1619). Held at Jesus College, Oxford. 

Formally attributed to Nicholas Hilliard (1547–1619). Held at Jesus College, Oxford. 

Whilst I didn't initially want to do a Queen Elizabeth I corset (my friend Alison had gotten there first!), I was drawn to the overlap of regal and religious iconography. My initial Renaissance Angel idea would have had fireball pearls around the halo/disc, in a little nod to Elizabethan whisks and so on, and so I ended up considering that idea more. Elizabeth's symbolic pearls (virginity), her impossible god-like power, her divine rights... I suppose all these things were jumbled up in my mind as I also kept thinking of Gaultier's exploration of religious iconography and the very archetypal way I think many of us instantly imagine icons. The subject very central in the image (often very symmetric), divine light coming from above, sometimes serene, sometimes tortured. I didn't have a clean and simple intent or meaning in mind (and I wanted to do something more "human" and grubby than Elizabeth's magnificent splendour), but the design was beginning to emerge. It was becoming more about the final images than the corset itself, and I could picture many of those images quite precisely. The lighting would be high up and dramatic, the pose inspired by iconography (by Jesus Christ), the tones and textures inspired by Queen Elizabeth I. This meant, as far as I was concerned, many many pearls and lovely silk duchess to capture the light, gleaming subtly. 

 The corset, in progress. Freshwater pearls and rose quartz chips, over layered couture lace and silk duchess.

The corset, in progress. Freshwater pearls and rose quartz chips, over layered couture lace and silk duchess.

Of course, there's never just one thing going on, just one idea in mind... This corset, being illustrative of my class, also became an experiment in single-layer silk corsetry. With diagonal seams, I knew I would encounter some challenges as I hadn't toiled this pattern in anything lighter than coutil. So indeed, we ended up with more ripples than a coutil version would have. And overall, I think that I still would have preferred a regular Birds Wing for this, with all those vertical lines nodding to stays. But I am happy to have continued testing the diagonals even so, and hope to take them further.

 

The Corset

Wednesday before the conference I was sewing down pearls. Thursday, my assistant Holly finished the last of them whilst I played with all our guests! We had loads of lovely people visiting that day for photoshoot fun, including "corset fellow" Marianne (Pop Antique) who was going to be my model come Sunday morning of the conference. So we did an impromptu shoot on Thursday evening too. It was a great relief to check the corset on her prior to the conference, as my brand silhouette is not necessarily the best suited to Marianne's natural shape and we hadn't arranged any fittings. That said, she did well in the pieces we tried that day, which I think is in no small part down to the ever lighter construction. A single layer of silk-cotton or silk duchess is a light thing indeed, and a couple of our corsets (including this one) weren't as hard on her ribs as we had expected.

 Marianne "Victoria Dagger" in Sparklewren. Image by Jenni Hampshire. Behold the pearl eyebrows! They were a nightmare to stick down without proper eyelash adhesive.  You can also see a piece of body jewellery here, that I made especially for the ensemble. Rose-gold chain connects at centre with three freshwater pearls in ivory, natural-pink, and muted green. I hope to explore many more designs like this, as a little piece of body jewellery can really enhance a lovely corset.

Marianne "Victoria Dagger" in Sparklewren. Image by Jenni Hampshire. Behold the pearl eyebrows! They were a nightmare to stick down without proper eyelash adhesive.

You can also see a piece of body jewellery here, that I made especially for the ensemble. Rose-gold chain connects at centre with three freshwater pearls in ivory, natural-pink, and muted green. I hope to explore many more designs like this, as a little piece of body jewellery can really enhance a lovely corset.

It was also a real relief that the corset didn't fall apart! I know these seams to be very strong (and I hope all our attendees got to see that for themselves during my class), but would the fabric itself be strong enough? I knew silk-cotton was, but what about pure silk? Well, so far it has proven very strong, and we haven't exactly been gentle with it. As a single-layer of silk, it naturally isn't intended for daily or frequent wear, which reduces how "strong" it needs to be. And then, a corset like this isn't intended for that anyway, it isn't built for tight-lacing.

 Marianne "Victoria Dagger" in Sparklewren. Image by Jenni Hampshire.

Marianne "Victoria Dagger" in Sparklewren. Image by Jenni Hampshire.

As the "Jesus" corset landed quite low on Marianne, we also tried the "Rose Gold" Birds Wing (above) on her, and ended up layering this beneath the former for the official shoot in Oxford. We always need to take care to not be too risqué at the college!

 

The Photoshoot

Sunday morning of the conference, we "fellows" gathered to have our Oxford inspired designs shot together. Completely thrilling to see how we each took such different directions despite being inspired by the one place. Then Chris and Scott began snapping away, and I was thrilled to receive some perfectly beautiful pictures from Chris. I think this is my favourite.

 Victoria Dagger by our wonderful photographer Chris Murray. Headdress by Liv Free, ensemble by Sparklewren.

Victoria Dagger by our wonderful photographer Chris Murray. Headdress by Liv Free, ensemble by Sparklewren.

I was also lucky enough to take 5 minutes to grab some of my own pictures of Marianne... But that's for another blog post.

If I were revisiting this design, I think I would want yet more pearls... I always do though. Plus, to return to the original plan of having vast silk duchess robes as part of the ensemble and perhaps some sort of larger disc, crown or halo to frame the head. Indeed, I had begun making such a crown, but ran out of time and so clever designer (and model!) Liv Free kindly loaned us use of the lovely halo shown above. I wish I had pushed through now, maybe slept one night less! I am pleased that we made those pearl eyebrows though. It's a shame I failed to bring them to the actual conference. They're bonkers, but I love them.

OCOC14 - Crikey Aphrodite's "Queen" Corset

 Image copyright Chris Murray Photography, featuring Evie Wolfe. Headpiece by Creations by Liv Free

Image copyright Chris Murray Photography, featuring Evie Wolfe. Headpiece by Creations by Liv Free

Written by Alison Campbell. 

The Challenge

Right at the start this year we had decided to each make a showpiece corset exclusively for the conference, but the form of that was vague at first. We were all chatting general conference plans one day when we had the bright idea to follow a theme, and the theme we agreed on was to be Jesus college itself. It was a lightbulb moment that went on to inform some of the class content. It was especially relevant to my inspiration class as I'd already planned on getting all the delegates out and about around the college.

The Inspiration

All my life I’ve been fascinated with the Tudors and Stuarts. Childhood holidays and day-trips usually involved visits to whatever castles were in the area. I collected the costume dolls sold in the gift shops and one of my earliest favourite books was a Jean Plaidy novelisation of the childhood of Mary Queen of Scots. I also have strong family links to Falkland where Mary Queen of Scots’ favourite palace and hunting lodge was (and is), a place with many happy memories. So as the leap from Mary to Elizabeth is a short one I rapidly decided on the Queen Elizabeth I portraits as inspiration. I gleefully announced my decision to go for Queenie to Julia, Jenni, Gerry and Marianne and especially my plan to use ALL the pearls! As after all you can’t go Elizabeth without a massive dose of pearliness (she even ‘acquired’ Mary’s rare black pearls).

The Design Process

Next step was to find source images, put them together on a mood board and take a good hard look again at those portraits.  I found I was more swayed to the smaller portrait in the Peter North Room, I liked that it was less ornate than the ridiculously overwrought gowns she’s usually portrayed in.

 Portrait of Elizabeth I, 1590, artist unknown.

Portrait of Elizabeth I, 1590, artist unknown.

I didn’t want to actually replicate the period, after all we’re most of us in fashion corsetry rather than costume. Stays would’ve been a predictable route but way too literal. Also it had to suit the model I was going to work with. There is no way Evie’s generous assets were going to be done justice by a conical stays shape, those boobs need support. That took me straight to bust gores, straps and a sweetheart neckline. I decided to revisit the shape I’d been working on with the recent black gold corset as the multiple hip gores gives a dramatic shape and I’d been investigating a split bust gore for side support, so it seemed like a good option to pursue.

 

The Corset

Materials                                                                                

 Playing with fabrics: An earlier idea sketch: Playing wtih layers: Bead options.

Playing with fabrics: An earlier idea sketch: Playing wtih layers: Bead options.

One of the things that appealed in the portrait was the sleeve of blackwork embroidery. Whilst looking for something else I found my favourite local lace company produce a design in their cotton lace that is very close to the stylised florals of the time. They had two designs, a madras in almost exactly the same design and a lace in a slightly later, more Jacobite style. I ordered a metre of both and found the scale of the madras was too large. But the lace worked, and especially if I dyed it black to overlay on an off white silk, giving the impression of the blackwork without the hours of stitching.

I had already decided to use a leather remnant I had in a strange matt texture as it rather reminded me of old vellum. I’d gathered together various pearls and semi-precious garnet chips and other beads to work out my design.

I tend to work by sketching a design, then letting the materials take over and move on organically. Often the result ends up very different to the original. And so it happened with this. I went through a patch of utterly hating it. I’d chose a red suede for some contrast parts, and in retrospect I wished I’d chosen something more muted as the contrast was too much. I looked at it for days, pinning bits on, going away and coming back to it. I knew it would change once I beaded it but I could not get the visual back into my head. Then I overlaid some fine ivory lace over parts of it and it clicked back into place. Lace can be a useful blender, as well as adding texture.

The beading also took some playing about with. It went from an original plan of draped pearl strands, to pearl and crystal drops before growing into areas of solid pearl beading studded with garnets. I’m sure you won’t be surprised that I was sewing the last of those pearls on at 2am on Saturday morning before the conference started!

Fit without fitting

 Freya bra in Evie's size padded out with custom made pads made from close woven fabric filled with micro beads (from a lumbar cushion)

Freya bra in Evie's size padded out with custom made pads made from close woven fabric filled with micro beads (from a lumbar cushion)

Fit was going to be crucial for this, and nerve-wracking.  Normally for a sample corset I work to a tried and tested pattern that seems to work pretty well on a wide range of models. The black gold ones I had Morgana shoot for me recently also were worn by local alt model Kasumi Noir and on the catwalk by some 6 feet tall agency  girls. But this approach wasn’t going to work with Evie’s curves. Due to the distance it was going to have to be measurements only and no fitting. So I got the measuring tape out, the bag of padding and bought a bra in her size. This is when my bra fitting experience is an advantage as I reckoned from pics she was on the top side of the bra size so I padded it out to the maximum. In fact in retrospect I realised her preferred bra runs a bit large so I was glad I picked the same brand, although a slightly smaller cut one. I found the rest of the adjustable mannequin didn’t need much in the way of padding as her measurements matched it pretty closely. I then proceeded by fitting the drafted pattern to the mannequin and used a flat pattern/drape mash up to get the final corset. The results weren’t bad at all. Had I had a mock-up fit obviously it would've been better, as supplied measurements are always a bit of a gamble.

Finished Corset

 Image copyright Jenni Hampshire 2014

Image copyright Jenni Hampshire 2014

I was relieved to see the final piece come together in a way I was happy with, no mean feat considering I was fitting it in between client work, and the peak of the graphics work for the conference. I wouldn’t say it’s my best piece ever or the piece most reflective of my own aesthetic. Working to a theme stretches you and takes you out of your comfort zone to some degree. I learned some things from it, I tested out a bust cut that worked well on a full bust, and I did way more beading than I ever normally do. I felt it did answer the brief and had attitude to suit the inspiration source and the model.

 

 Image copyright Chris Murray Photography, featuring Evie Wolfe

Image copyright Chris Murray Photography, featuring Evie Wolfe

The Photoshoot

The final stage was our all too brief photoshoot on the Sunday morning. Having met Evie the night before I was glad I’d gone with my instincts for something pretty dramatic. I don’t think she’ll mind me saying it just was more her than a refined and sedate piece would’ve been. I was nervous lacing it onto her, you always are when there’s been no chance to fit. But although it wasn’t quite perfect, it wasn’t half bad. The bust fit was good, gave her the support and coverage I wanted and the whole thing worked on her. I had intended to make a collar and skirt but ran out of time. We got some really nice shots, you can see a couple taken by Chris here, and I’m hoping to do a more styled shoot in the near future when hopefully I'll have all the other bits in place. So all in all, I’m happy with the result and the gains from the process. And I hope you’ve all picked up some useful info from it too. And of course I’m very much hoping that some of the designs being worked on in the inspiration class turn up next year as Jesus corsets of your own.

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