Designs on your time

At OCOC'17 we had an icebreaker design class for the second time. This is always good fun and has multiple purposes. Not only does it get everyone going back to basics looking around them and loosening up their design eye, but it also gets everyone familar with the college surroundings and looking that little bit closer. 

In 2014 the goal was to make mini moodboard and design for the paper doll.

In 2014 the goal was to make mini moodboard and design for the paper doll.

In 2017 we had sketchbooks featuring croquis designed by Marianne Faulkner of Pop Antique who was also running a fashion illustration class. And, coloured pencils in the welcome bag courtesy of Foundations Revealed.

In 2017 we had sketchbooks featuring croquis designed by Marianne Faulkner of Pop Antique who was also running a fashion illustration class. And, coloured pencils in the welcome bag courtesy of Foundations Revealed.

Jesus College is a truly lovely place. From the 15th century onwards architecture to the stunning gardens. There is plenty of structure, colour and texture to look at. Oodles of inspiration. We are lucky enough to have access to the Chapel as well as Hall and the lovely quads, but this time I think the lovely weather mean the gardens won. Especially good, as we were concentrating on colour this time.

Colour was a focus this year and the glorious flower borders around the quads gave lots of wonderful inspiration.

Colour was a focus this year and the glorious flower borders around the quads gave lots of wonderful inspiration.

The twisted vines and branches was a popular focus. Several attendees spotted these.

The twisted vines and branches was a popular focus. Several attendees spotted these.

The reason I came up with the class initially (before the 2014 conference) was because I feel social media means we spend a lot of time looking at each other's work and that corset design was getting very inward looking. New corsetmakers (and not so new) were starting to fall into the trap of unintentionally creating pieces that looked like the current favourite makers. I was beginning to find it hard to tell whose work I was looking at. Yet it was clear there was huge talent there. Personally I love the design process, gathering source material and refining it. I wanted our attendees to remember how much fun that is.

Some very cool designs took form.

Some very cool designs took form.

I find it totally fascinating going round the room and seeing what our attendees have focused on. They see things sometimes I've never even noticed despite being in the college a fair number of times now! Now if we could only get to see some of the ideas made up! But there's always more ideas than time!

Inner corselettes and integrated corsetry

I thought I would write a little about a subject I know is something that many are curious about and is not discussed as much as it could be.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to be loaned a few Dior inner corselettes to study. Something I was delighted about. I copied one exactly and then took the pattern on to become a proper reducing corset. I was loaned three variations from the 1950s. One in the dress, one with a petticoat attached and one on it's own. They all differed in shaping but had most basics in common. None were waist reducing in any substantial sense, very much corselettes rather than corsets. 

All were bobbinet, and all double layer and cut in opposing directions. I counted the 'holes's and compared with some samples Julia had. So the bobbinet stocked by Sew Curvy is as close as possible to that used.

All were boned with 5mm spiral steel. Usually in ribbon casings.  Also on the rear closure.

Visible boning, showing how light the construction was.

Visible boning, showing how light the construction was.

All had waist tapes of grosgrain ribbon. 

All had hand worked hooks and eyes mounted on the rear closure reinforced with ribbon.

Some had organza and/or horsehair for structure at key points.


What was notable was the lightness and flexibility of the construction. These were strong but lightweight.

One of the others. Narrow darts were another common factor

One of the others. Narrow darts were another common factor

Petticoats were stitched to the bottom of the corslette allowing a dropped waist to avoid bulk.

They were attached to the top edge of the gown by hand. Some had evidence of thread chains at other points such as side seams, but no solid attachement.

Showing the top edge attachment

Showing the top edge attachment

The waist tape usually fastened with a separate hook and eye to allow it to be closed independently of the gown.

This shows the ribbon channels, the separately hooked waist tape and the hand overcasting on the seam allowances. 

This shows the ribbon channels, the separately hooked waist tape and the hand overcasting on the seam allowances. 

The one I copied had demi cups for lift.


The above picture is the old and the new. The original is on the left, the repro on the right. Not the bobbinet I used on the corset below, which is closer to the original. This was supplied by the client, and then dyed by her which changed the handle. However the pattern is identical.

To translate that pattern into a corset, I simply reduced the waist and added a front solid bone and a lacing closure. I've always intended to add a petticoat but it's never happened sadly. So here it is with a tulle skirt on our own Morgana. Photographed by Louise Cantwell.


If I was building this more waist reducing corset into a gown, I would treat it the same way. Attaching a petticoat to the bottom edge and the corset to the inner top edge of the gown, which would be fitted to close over the corset. The inner laces would be left free with the outer zip closing over it.  The gown could be more firmly attached at the rear, incorporating the lacing through the two parts. Fitting to the wearer would be key.

I've been manically collecting innards pics on Pintrest for a while. You may find some helpful stuff here. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/CrikeyAphrodite/innards-construction/
Modern high end bridal gowns still incorporate inner corselettes, albeit now more likely to be powermesh and plastic boning. But if you can, they are worth a look to see how the construction is ordered. 

Some Tips, From A Model's Point of View - Evie Wolfe

Evie was one of our models from the last two conferences and is an absolute treat to work with. Gorgeous, adaptable and perhaps most importantly fun and easy to work with. She has very kindly written us a blog post to help you through your shoot.


Model details, measurements and selections are passed out to delegates well in advance of the OCOC, so it can be tempting to let the deadline slide for a while, and for all the work to pile up at the end, especially if you're busy with a 'day job' or clients. If you've organised a toile, plan with your model; they might not be able to accommodate you at very short notice, and there are always a hundred things that could go wrong at the worst moment. Start as early as your schedule allows and keep in contact with your model if you want to. The more communication there is before the event, the less chance of a breakdown on the day! I can't speak for everyone, but I get excited seeing the ideas and effort that goes in to creating a corset and/or ensemble, and love to gush and squeal over it taking shape.

If things are running late, communicate! There is so much that goes in to an OCOC event, and such a build up to it, that it can feel like you've failed if things didn't turn out quite how you planned them, or if you didn't manage to get them completed in time. Be kind to yourself, and remember that with or without a photoshoot, you are going to have a fantastic time. You can always book a shoot later, but you can't recapture the magic of the conference if you exhaust yourself before it gets started. If something goes wrong, tell the organisers (and the model and photographer, if necessary) as soon as possible, so the shooting schedule can be amended. 

This last point goes without saying, but be respectful of the schedule, as much as you can. Arriving a few minutes early and finishing on time can mean the difference between me stopping for a cup of tea or not, and the longer I go without tea the more I resemble a goblin. Be kind to the people scheduled after you; don't make them shoot with a goblin.

What To Bring With You

Well, your corset helps! Not everyone brings a full ensemble, so if you'd like your model to bring something extra, like lingerie, skirts, shoes, accessories etc, let them know well ahead of time. Not everything can be catered to, but you'd be surprised what we have hiding in the back of our wardrobes, behind the gimp. 

A few useful items;

  • Small sewing kit (you never know)
  • Any accessories you would like worn
  • An umbrella (not always necessary, but good to have just in case)
  • A couple of pins, and/or a clip
  • Whatever headache treatment works for you
  • Your outfit (it can be helpful to write a checklist if like me you habitually forget important things like keys, phones and your head, if it isn't screwed on tight enough.) I find it easier to read a list than think for myself when I get up in the morning, and it can cut into shoot time if a key piece of the outfit is lost in a suitcase somewhere.

Your model will probably have bobby pins, baby wipes and safety pins, but if you think you're going to need them, maybe grab a couple of those, too. It never hurts to be the only person in a dressing room with wet wipes - you're everyone's best friend.

Alison Campbell lacing Evie into her Crikey Aphrodite corset at OCOC'14 Pic Jenni Hampshire

Alison Campbell lacing Evie into her Crikey Aphrodite corset at OCOC'14 Pic Jenni Hampshire

Getting Dressed

Hair and makeup can be difficult, because it is hard to come up with a look that suits such a diverse range of outfits. For this reason most of the models opt for neutral and classic tones, and hair that can be easily re-styled once one too many quick changes have left it a bit disheveled. If you would like something specific, please talk to your model, they may be able to accommodate you to one extent or another.

It's always helpful when the corset is already unlaced, squishing me can take a couple of minutes and changes are already fraught. If you don't fancy risking the lace to the tangle fairies in your bag, whip over to the changing room a minute or two early (if there is space; if not, there is always somewhere nearby) and unlace it there. The time-related anxiety centres of your brain thank you in advance. 

The Shoot Itself

You finished your outfit, you got the model into it, and you're ready to go. Now what?

If things aren't perfect, don't worry about it. This might be a little general, but I've worked in modelling for a decade, and I've never met a group of people who criticise their work more than designers. I can be standing, starry-eyed, staring at a corset and wondering how far I could run in my stilettos if I made a break for it, and the designer will be looking at the same corset like they might at a pet who peed on the carpet for the fifteenth time. Trust me, your work is beautiful, and you need to give yourself a break.

It's not always going to fit like a corset which has run through four in-person toiles and been blessed by the gods. It might gape a little somewhere, or pinch where you didn't want it to.  Communicate this to your model, and she may be able to help with poses that flatter the fit. Even if she can't, there are not many opportunities to shoot with such talented photographers and models in such an exquisite location. No-one is going to notice the tiny fabric imperfection that is driving you nuts in the splendor of the library, or the beauty of the grounds. 

Take some time to look around and seed some ideas during the conference, and make it known if you would like to shoot in a specific area of the college, or if something has particularly inspired you. Your vision matters to us, and we want to make the shoot the best it can be for you, your corset and your brand. That being said, it can also pay to listen to the advice of the people on your team; they know their craft, and may come up with ideas you hadn't thought of. Similarly, if you really don't like something, be it a pose, a location, etc, let the people you're working with know. The sooner you speak up, the sooner we can move on to something you like.

Flat out in the Chapel. Pic Jennifer Garside

Flat out in the Chapel. Pic Jennifer Garside

After The Shoot

The chances are you will have someone booked in to shoot after you, so the undressing stage of the shoot can be a rushed one for your model, but that doesn't mean we don't want to say thank you and exchange cards, if you want to. The OCOC is also about making friends and connections, and while we might be flying off to our next designer, we appreciate the time and effort you put in to your corset, and that you chose us to wear it. Modeling for you all is a fantastic experience.

Speaking for myself here, while I have been tempted at times to point over your shoulders and run off with your corsets, I have loved working the OCOC, and am always happy to hear from you after the conference, selfie with you in the changing rooms, and drool over the pictures when they come out.

Much Love, Evie Wolfe


Evie at the OCOC'15 Dinner. Pic Chris Murray

Evie at the OCOC'15 Dinner. Pic Chris Murray

The Misapprehension of the Modern Body by Alison Campbell

In the world of corsetmakers there has been some debate lately over whether there's a modern body or not, and I've read and taken part in discussions over the years where it's come up. Largely the debate is between those who approach corsetry from the historic and costume angle and those whose base is in contemporary and fashion corsets. I'm not sure that it hasn't taken a turn into an avenue of misunderstanding about what people actually mean about a modern body.  In reality I don't think the two supposed camps really disagree, but are disagreeing on a misapprehension. 

Have we changed?
At every point in history there has existed some representation of all shapes and sizes. That is a fact. There has always been fat, thin, tall and short, despite what extant museum garments would suggest. For instance, notable Glasgow woman 'Big Rachel' who stood at 6'4" and 17 stone and worked in the Glasgow shipyards in the 1870s. Uncommon enough (even today) to warrant making the history books. But she existed.

Glasgow shipyard worker, special constable and latterly, agricultural worker Rachel Hamilton, or 'Big Rachel'.

Glasgow shipyard worker, special constable and latterly, agricultural worker Rachel Hamilton, or 'Big Rachel'.

However at different points the general trend has been in different ranges, due to diet, childhood health, genetics, environment and so on, that is also a fact. Currently, the general trend is larger, taller, fuller busted. A study by the London College of Fashion discovered the average woman's waist is 6 inches larger than in the 1950s, and that she is also taller. That is dealing in numbers, averages, trends. This is very relevant for mass production,  for smaller scale ready to wear, but not so much for bespoke. Other than in relation to access to numbers of clients for a specialism such as full bust, bespoke is largely unaffected by general size trends. The very nature of bespoke is that we're often dealing with the people who fall outside the general anyway. Therefore, whether 5% or 75% of the population is larger and curvier, whether they are an 'antique' or 'modern' body is largely irrelevant to the bespoke maker. And... I think everyone involved in corsetmaking is well aware of this. If however you are developing a ready to wear line then of course, the general size trends in your demographic are crucial. Target market, location etc all have to be taken into account. No point using short body measurements from a typical Victorian pattern for instance for a RTW range in the Netherlands (which averages out as the world's tallest country http://www.averageheight.co/average-female-height-by-country). So averages and trends are important in that context. But not so much when discussing what is or isn't a 'modern body'. 

What is really meant by the modern body.
The term, as I see it, relates more to how we choose to look and the clothes we currently wear and have been used to wearing. There is a modern aesthetic and a modern cut of clothes and feel of clothes, which does need to be taken into consideration for customers wanting contemporary and fashion corsetry. This includes non-period bridalwear. Especially if it's a corset for underneath clothing or a gown. Shapes are different, bust shapes are different, the bust definition is different.

This sloping Edwardian bustline would not be seen as partlcularly atrractive by many women with no interest in historical clothing, and if made for under a modern bridal gown for instance, it would look very strange indeed. By Thylda (http://gallica.bnf.fr/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This sloping Edwardian bustline would not be seen as partlcularly atrractive by many women with no interest in historical clothing, and if made for under a modern bridal gown for instance, it would look very strange indeed.
By Thylda (http://gallica.bnf.fr/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A woman used to only wearing a bra is used to feeling a defined underbust and clothes are cut for that. I've spoken to clients who find the ideal of a sloped bust completely alien. A cupped shape rather than a slope just works best under a modern dress. An overbust rather than a mid. A flat rather than curved abdomen. Perhaps a plunge or a dipped back. There is a modern body but it has little to do with statistics in time periods and all to do with what we're used to wearing in other clothes. It is the aesthetic of our time, just as the 1890's was different to the 1790s. 

A plunge gored cup corset by Crikey Aphrodite worn by Evie Wolfe and photographed by My Boudoir. Hair & Make-up by Sarah Elliot. This shape is dramatic, especially on a full bust. But it has a bra type fit which works under modern clothing. Great as outerwear too.

A plunge gored cup corset by Crikey Aphrodite worn by Evie Wolfe and photographed by My Boudoir. Hair & Make-up by Sarah Elliot.
This shape is dramatic, especially on a full bust. But it has a bra type fit which works under modern clothing. Great as outerwear too.

That of course doesn't mean the shapes and patterns of the past are not still relevant. They very often are, both as reproduction and as a starting point for hybridisation or innovation. Elements can be borrowed and altered (the bust of Regency stays for instance is rather akin to a modern half cup bra, but the overall corset shape is not particularly popular today where we look for more waist emphasis). There is always a lot to learn from the past. But neither should the needs of today's women be discarded as less important than the needs of the Victorian or the Edwardian woman. Corsetry did not stop 100 years ago, it kept adjusting and responding to it's time throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, and it will and should continue to do so. An eye on the past and on the future is surely the best approach for those of us making contemporary rather than reproduction corsets.  I've seen lovely corsets in recent times which marry period shape with modern colour combinations and fabric choices, as well as traditional styling applied to more modern shaping. We have access to all of the past as well as constantly changing materials, which offers us a wonderful array of resources. And, offers our clients unprecedented choice. Want a 21st century plunge bust welded onto an 18th century tabbed stays bottom with Victorian flossing? Go for it! We can if we want to, and that is...well it's fabulously 'modern' of course! 

One of the prettiest combinations of period shape with modern materials I've seen. The very same Evie Wolfe as above but this time wearing a corset and skirt by Laurie Tavan.

One of the prettiest combinations of period shape with modern materials I've seen. The very same Evie Wolfe as above but this time wearing a corset and skirt by Laurie Tavan.

On Fabrics

One of the wonderful things about corsetry is that you are contained by the relatively small area of the garment. Not only does this help the creative process, allowing you to explore ideas without being overwhelmed by dealing with everything! But, it allows for the use of materials that would be prohibitively expensive otherwise. In the same way as interior designers often suggest using the expensive paper in the downstairs loo, we can get a corset from just a metre of luxury. This also means we can be conscious of the enviroment and eek use out of every scrap with careful cutting for minimal wastage. 

Black and red rosebud corsetry brocade from  Sew Curvy . Copyright Sew Curvy

Black and red rosebud corsetry brocade from Sew Curvy. Copyright Sew Curvy

Of course the traditional corset fabrics are wonderful. Where would we be without coutils, broche and brocades. But when your imagination needs further exercise, well the world is your oyster, so don't fall into the trap of poly satin and chinese brocades. They have their place but it's a small place.

Satin coutil corset by Crikey Aphrodite. Image copyright Alison Campbell

Satin coutil corset by Crikey Aphrodite. Image copyright Alison Campbell

Funny thing, every client I have here in Scotland whom I suggest satin to pulls a face. For some reason it's not popular at all here, and yet I have colleagues in England who use nothing else. Now of course in the context of the post, we're not talking £5 poly duchesse here (and some of those are nicer than others) but rather the beautiful silk and silk mix satins or the traditional corset satin coutil. It's very often duchesse which is used for corsets. It's not the most forgiving fabric, it's not nicknamed Satan for nothing. it tends to wrinkle and stitches are very visible. It needs careful handling.  

The classic is dupion, both the smoother machine woven and the slubbier hand loomed. It's pretty ubiquitous in corsets, I've lost count of how many I've made from it. It works, people love it, and it's easy to handle. It also comes in countless colours. But, bit predictable. Why not look at some of the more interesting variations. There are silk and linen mixes, heavier textures and colour blends. Look beyond the obvious.

Textured silk and wool blend from  James Hare

Textured silk and wool blend from James Hare

I'm a huge fan of silk crepe. It's not that common in corsets, as it needs a bit of extra work but it has such a beautiful feel; soft, matt and touchable.

Threnody In Velvet wearing silk crepe corset by Crikey Aphrodite. Image copyright Clare Loftus Photography,

Threnody In Velvet wearing silk crepe corset by Crikey Aphrodite. Image copyright Clare Loftus Photography,

These have improved greatly. I've always had a huge aversion to poly shantung, it makes my skin crawl. But I had a swatch recently for a faux silk that was really lovely! There are also some amazing blends. But if you prefer synthetics on ethical grounds your choices have massively increased. But you also now have the option of wonderful new fabrics from plant fibres such as bamboo which have a lovely hand.

I use wool a fair bit. I prefer to use as many local fabrics as I can, and I live in a country where wool fabric is rightly famed. Tartan (10oz), and various suiting weights work beautifully. So does Harris Tweed, if you can get a lighter weight as it does make a bulky seam, an issue in corsetry. You'll need to grade the seams carefully and keep your bulk minimal. It's worth it though, especially to support a traditional industry which is a way of life in Harris and Lewis. Artisans should support each other as much as possible.

Tartan corset by Crikey Aphrodite. This is a modern tartan from Anta.  Image copyright Alison Campbell

Tartan corset by Crikey Aphrodite. This is a modern tartan from Anta.  Image copyright Alison Campbell

The ultimate luxury, we nearly all love using lace. It is expensive, and if you're gong to use it then swallow that fact and appreciate why it is luxurious. Antique lace is still very available and beautiful, but do keep in mind that it's a finite and diminishing resource. If you're going to use then do so with care, avoiding destroying one beautiful (rare) garment to make another. Luckily, the nature of it's application to corsetry means that damaged pieces find their perfect use. 
Of course, the wonderful laces made in the north of France for generations are just astounding, and give a real couture edge to your garments. They are expensive but a little goes a very long way. We had Solstiss at the conference with samples a couple of years ago, and it was wonderful to have the time to browse the exquisite designs.

Gorgeous lace from  Solstiss  Image copyright Alison Campbell

Gorgeous lace from Solstiss Image copyright Alison Campbell

There are laces produced elsewhere of course. Many countries in Europe have a lace tradition, including the UK. I've made several pieces using Ayrshire lace, produced just 20 minutes from my home. Again, supporting a traditional product and keeping those miles down too!

Corset by Crikey Aphrodite using Ayrshire lace from  MYB Textiles

Corset by Crikey Aphrodite using Ayrshire lace from MYB Textiles

This is a very brief selection of examples of course. Largely based around what I use myself. Explore options, don't feel restrained by what other people use. Look at fabrics not meant for garment use (I used to use a glitter fabric meant for exhibition and window design!) and look at what is produced in your home country or even closer to home. It's a wonderful way to give your work a distinctive mark, not easily appropriated by others. Above all, have fun. Experimenting is the most enjoyable part!

GNAP and Beyond by Jennifer Garside

Early last year, many of the patterns from the Symington Pattern books held by Leicestershire county council were released as high quality images, a truly amazing resource for fashion historians, corset makers and costumers. As part of the Oxford conference of corsetry, the GNAP project was devised. Attendees of last years conference (and a couple of attendees from previous years) selected a pattern to recreate to take to the conference to see what could be learnt from these patterns.

I selected the pattern with the Symingtons reference number 23300, dating from 1894. This pattern particularly appealed to me because of the scooped, quite un-Victorian looking, neckline.

The patterns are supplied as a high quality photograph, which if printed at A2 size will give an image the same size as the original. I decided to make up the pattern initially as close to the original as I could. I chose to use a grey dot broche, 5mm spiral steels throughout, with the exception of 7mm flat steels either side of the eyelets, and a 13” spoon busk.

The pattern went together beautifully, creating a very curvy final corset measuring 34” at the bust, 22” at the waist and 36” at the hips. However as with most Victorian patterns, this corset is very short waisted, so I decided to make a second version, redrafting the pattern to give a slightly more modern cut, but trying to keep as true to the original as possible. The redraft made the pattern an overbust rather than demi bust and curved the line in slightly more over the lower hip as well as increasing the bust to waist length. The redraft measured 32” at the bust, 22” at the waist and 35” at the hip and had a 14” spoon busk.

While at the conference I was delighted to discover that Jess from Ties that Bynde Designs was pretty much perfectly proportioned to fit these corsets, despite the short waist, so I managed to get a couple of phone photos of her wearing them.

Photo: Jessica Crutchfield wearing Wyte Phantom. Image copyright Jennifer Garside 2015

Not content with just two versions of this pattern, I decided to use it as the basis of the corset I made for Evie Wolfe to model for me at the conference. While this corset pattern was already curvy, it was nowhere near curvy enough for Evie who has an 18” difference between bust and waist! I kept the corset shape and style as close to the original design as I could, adding some extra boning for added support. I didn’t have time to check the fit of this piece on Evie in advance or make a toile, so I was understandably rather nervous the first time I put her into it. I was incredibly pleased with how smooth the corset was, and how curvy. As ever there are things I am not 100% happy with, but that’s why version four is under construction!
I have also taken the pattern and converted it into an underbust, keeping the boning pattern the same and the lovely high back.

Photo: Evie Wolfe wearing Wyte Phantom. Image InaGlo Photography 2015

Jennifer has been an attendee at OCOC from year one. One of our very favourite people for her general loveliness and helpfulness to other attendees and to us (and also for her fabulous wardrobe). You can see more of Jennifer's gorgeous work on her business page for Wyte Phantom

Admin Note: Did you make a GNAP corset for OCOC'15? If so, we'd love a blog post on yours too. We're also looking for posts on your experiences, things you've learned and anything you'd like to share.

My Conference - Alison

I've been meaning to write this since September! But time runs away. I thought a little behind the scenes article might be interesting. Perhaps I'll jog Julia and Gerry into their versions. This is also when I realise that I never take enough pictures!

Now obviously 'my conference' runs most of the year. I'm responsible for the graphics etc so a lot of time goes on creating those as well as promotion, hunting for sponsors and advertisers. Julia runs the admin side, but as lowly assistant I luck out by escaping that side of things ;) However things get very hectic the week before, especially so this year as I was completing a huge bridal order for a wedding happening a week after I returned! Lots of running back and forth to the printers (Love you Print Box in Finnieston!) picking up supplies and printing off reams of paper. But once all that's done and the case and bags are packed and the many lists double and treble checked, it's time for the off.

The conference proper starts for me on Wednesday morning. For the last two years I've driven down due to the quantity of stuff I need to carry. It's a fair old run from Glasgow to Oxford - this year got through with audio books (Dresden Files) and Blondie. There is nothing like balling Sunday Girl at the top of your voice to distract from the tedium of the M6. I had the added stress of a dodgy speedo on the way down, not something you want when there's average speed cameras on long stretches. Thank goodness for my phone's sat nav! So due to that there were fewer coffee stops than normal, and even then I found myself still on the road at 9pm in the pouring rain. But got to Julia's house tired and ready for the waiting gin and delicious dinner.  It's always a pleasure to stay at Julia and her husband's house, it's quite a home away from home for me these days. Pre conference of course, Gerry is already there too. So it's hugs (from the dog, Marley, too) and catch ups then it's a night camping on the comfy sofa.

Image Julia Bremble 2014

Image Julia Bremble 2014

Thursday takes us to the Sew Curvy cottage for prepping and packing. As we never feel we manage to fit in any pre conference socialising, frustratingly so, this year we knocked about some ideas and came up with a tea party at the cottage for the early arrivers. We thought it would be a nice way to start things off and let people see Julia's pretty cottage studio, somewhere a bit more personal than a public venue and especially lovely on a sunny day. Of course it rained! The morning saw the welcome bags packed with Julias' assistant Camille's help (including some annoyed calling of a supplier about errors on their part), Gerry taking care of some last minute stitching, Julia tearing about in a blur of email checking and a hundred other things, and me working out the badge system and colour split on the final numbers and doing some necessary last minute chopping and changing on the shoot schedule. After that we were ready to set out the china and pick up the guests (oh and pick some brambles which I was getting laughed at for! but they were very tasty!).  It was a lovely little party, so nice to see people in a quieter setting to get a chat and a relaxed start to the weekend. A photographer turned up from the Oxford paper so we had a scramble to organise and thankfullyLowana O'Shea and Karolina Zarzycka were on hand to do some impromptu modelling in Julia's 'Clessidra' corsets which luckily fit the girls very well indeed! The resulting pics made the next day's paper... front page no less!

After we'd said cheerio to everyone who'd managed to come along, we packed up to decamp to Jesus College. There's always a ton of stuff to move and lots of 'have we forgottens', but we squeezed into Julia's car and headed along. We did have a bit of a slump on arrival as we'd been so used to being welcomed by our conference gem Luke's smiling face and willing help. However he'd moved on to a new job and It just didn't feel the same without him. We soon discovered his replacement Ruth to be a worthy successor, but initially we were three little sad faces once we'd unloaded into our usual room, feeling a little bereft. However, no time for that, we had a reccy to do with Ruth to check everything was going to plan, what was going where, oh and a couple of fights to win over some bureaucracy gone mad!  Finally some food in a nearby restaurant (disappointing with some xenophobic 'humour' thrown in.. something that always seems to happen to me at some point!) and back to make up badges, do a bit of sewing on unfinished showpiece corsets and gather the last minute bits and bobs.

Image Julia Bremble 2015

Image Julia Bremble 2015

Friday morning is countdown day! Early up and breakfast in Hall, and a lovely sunny and very warm day! Today will be punctuated with waves and welcomes to long missed faces and spotting arrivals across the quad with 'wonder if that's xxxx?'. Liase with Ruth, check all the rooms are arranged as requested, make last minute changes. Then Julia's husband and son arrive with the rest of the stuff. Machines for the sewing room, mannequins and more mannequins. Poster boards to go up, the starters for the swap table, corsets, signage and so on. A quick nip out to get some bits and bobs and a takeaway sandwich eaten on a bench on the quad. We spot Autumn Adamme and Stephanie Selmayr arrive and go to say hello and help them with bags. I managed to volunteer for the heaviest case which I bravely hoist up the stairs much to Steph's protestations! LOL! I soon understood why and I didn't realise they were the top floor either.. ouch! We nip back to the JCR to put up the posters, set up machines etc and with the set up 90% done we wash hands, smooth out the creases and go off to meet Mr Pearl from the train. One of the joys (haha) of Oxford is the lack of parking, it's not car friendly. So it's shank's pony to the train station, all three of us, because we're nervous and need the mutual moral support!

So yes.. what do you say when you're picking up an idol, a veritable mythical figure in the world of corsetry! We didn't know what to expect, and personally I'm nervous of meeting strangers although I don't get very phased by 'who' they are. I'm an equal opportunities wuss! But, we needn't have worried, Mr Pearl is a true gentleman and very nice indeed. We walked back chatting and then gave him the grand tour and explained the conference to him as he was rather unsure of what would be happening. As his talk hadn't been planned really due to his attendance being quite last minute, the next stop was a meeting with Autumn who would help put his presentation together (she did wonders with not a lot of time to prepare) and Steph too of course. By this time the rest of the presenters and guests were arriving, Ian Frazer Wallace then Immodesty Blaize and finally Barbara Pesendorfer. We were going out for dinner to all get to know each other and go over final plans for presentations. The only chance to do this as a group as this was the first time we'd all met.  I'm sure you can imagine, it all felt slightly unreal! However it was invaluable time to break the ice and calm nerves. I wonder if the delegates realise how nervous we all are, even the most established and respected of people are quite daunted by standing up in front of a roomful of people. Our chosen profession tends to attract rather solitary and introverted people so we're well out of our comfort zones! Gin helps! Well fed and introduced we went back to the room for a couple of late drinks, some last planning and unbelievably some more sewing! 

Doesn't take long for the swap table to be demolished.

Doesn't take long for the swap table to be demolished.

Saturday first thing and game on! Up early, and make ourselves presentable for breakfast and hellos. Find Ruth and get going! There was a bit of a mix up and the doors were opened too early and so our last minute set up (delayed due to meetings and arrangements the day before) was a bit of a shambles. However, we got there.. got badges and welcome bags dished out and got started. A few notes taken for next year, but these things happen. It's always a blur of a day for us, even if we're not taking classes ourselves. We try to get into some of the classes and I did better on that than Julia, who spent much of the day arranging last minute rehearsal time for Immodesty who'd had some delays preventing her from doing so prior to that. I did have my personal most glamorous moment of the day though in later afternoon.. down on my hands and knees in the Hall covering up floorboard gaps with multiple layers of masking tape so Immodesty's heels wouldn't get stuck in a gap :)

The evening is always a joy. My masking tape duties delayed me a little so the getting ready was a bit rushed. But got down for Pimms among a bevy of glamorous revellers! People make more and more of an effort every year and the combined number of personally made corsets on show was seriously impressive. After the Pimms and mingling it's into the hall for dinner. It's all very Harry Potter, as we're seated down three long refectory tables... on benches which causes some amusement for those with straight skirts! We don't use the high/top table (we did one year and hated it) but as most of the guests haven't yet met everyone as some arrive during Saturday and some have been doing their own thing during the days presentations and some - most are quite nervous of the number of people there we feel it's a nicety to break everyone in gently so we placecard a table for them. It also means we can keep the after dinner speaker accessible and the team on hand if needed. Chris was placed to get shots of Immodesty's performance. .

The incomparable Immodesty Blaize (and some of my masking tape LOL!)

The incomparable Immodesty Blaize (and some of my masking tape LOL!)

This year we were launched by a spectacular performance by Immodesty Blaize. An amazing outfit by The Whitechapel Workhouse and a rare chance to enjoy an up close show by one of the world's top Burlesque performers! We were all left rather gobsmacked and I'll wager if the paintings could talk.. they'd be pretty stunned too! She then followed our tasty dinner with a moving, eloquent and fascinating after dinner talk. I know I went from laughter to welling up and back again in moments.

After dinner we all retired to the bar where things relaxed and everyone mixed. The pictures show just what a good night it was! (not all of which will make the blog!) There were boob autographs, corset trying ons, piggybacks and much laughter. I tried to speak to as many people as I could, but still didn't get anywhere near round everyone. After kicking out time people wandered off...Gerry and I were holding each other up from tiredness but Julia had an duracell bunny type second wind. Mr Pearl, Immodesty and Ruth came back to our room for a few more drinks.. I don't even remember much, I had matchsticks holding my eyes open by that point but I wasn't about to give in. It was a fine night.

Pic Chris Murray 2015

Pic Chris Murray 2015

Sunday and up with the larks again after a few hours sleep. No matter how late the night before, breakfast must be made and we were down for our cooked brekkie and coffee injection. There were a few bleary eyes around the Hall. I bet the coffee consumption rises dramatically on a Sunday. After that it was straight to the dressing room for our shoot. The last two years we've had a mini shoot in the morning to shoot the showpieces we've made for the conference and also give Luke, and now Ruth a photo with the models as a conference Thank You. We only had a slight wait on one model but the others were dressed in jig time and out for pics. I didn't get a shot with Tigz sadly as I had to go off on a dash to find Ruth and make sure one of the delegates was ok who'd had a bit of a panic. But all fine, hug dispensed I ran back as things were winding up. We've decided to ditch this as part of the weekend for ourselves as the corset finishing and the squeezing the shoot in is just too stressful on top of everything else. A shame in a way, especially as I'm a bit far away to get much chance to work with those models and photographers...and Gerry obviously even more so! But we'll work something else out for another, calmer time. I ran up to the JCR to update the what's on whiteboard, then had an errand to run out into the wide world outside the college, which feels really odd after being cloistered inside. Then in to see Steph's wonderful antiques and then a catch of the end of Fiona's SEO second talk. I didn't see Barbara's sunday workshop sadly. But it's always a juggle of a day. After that I had a quick shoot with Liv as we'd filled some cancelled slots so the models didn't lose out. Then I had to dash to the lodge to collect flowers for Julia and back to the JCR just in the nick of time. I missed the treasure hunt and raffle sadly but I was just relieved I made it! It was nice to then get a little bit of chilled time with people as they wound down and said their goodbyes.

As soon as the JCR cleared it was clean up time for us, as we put everything away and packed up the machines, mannequins and bags of corsets, posters and swap table leftovers up and loaded the bulk of it up into the car. It has to be done then so the JCR can revert to normal opening asap. A quick change of clothes and brief freshen and time for the pub! A little later than planned but packing up takes time and we can only do it once everyone has gone. We bumped into a few others on their way there and after a cash machine stop off for some, we headed round the corner. We were a bit disappointed when we got to the pub to find they'd forgotten the arranged space booking leaving us without room for everyone. Our exhaustion had hit and we just wanted a beer, pizza and a gab. But credit to the pub they resolved it well and we thanked them for it later on. Recovered by some drinks and the amazingly great pizza and all was well with the world. It was an evening of hugs and goodbyes. So many lovely people that we hope to see in future years.


Monday morning was our first sleep in.. and it was needed. On Monday the comedown hits us so we stay in the college for another day to decompress. The first year we went back to Julia's and it was far too much for Julia having guests after the weekend, so staying there lets us properly recover. There's still a bit of packing up and checking back with Ruth etc to do. But we generally take our time. As has been traditional over the last two years, the weather was rubbish! We had a lovely late breakfast at the Grand Cafe then had a wander round Oxford. This was the first time I've ever managed to so some touristy stuff in Oxford, for all the times I've been there now. We went to the Eagle and Child for drinks (we've since renamed ourselves 'the busklings' after the famous 'Inklings') then for a lovely dinner of Tapas before returning to the room to talk over the weekend, make plans and deal with the slight slump that's inevitable once it's all over. But we're always cheered by the lovely posts that start popping up on Facebook as people get home.

In the very corner of the Eagle & Child where the Inkings met. Interesting that this year we'll be at Merton College where Tolkien was professor.

In the very corner of the Eagle & Child where the Inkings met. Interesting that this year we'll be at Merton College where Tolkien was professor.

Gerry left at the crack of dawn on Tuesday morning to head back so we'd said our goodbyes the night before. Julia and I wandered depressed to the Hall for our last breakfast. Where we found our last remaining delegate, Bec, whom we had a nice chat with. Cases packed we then said our goodbyes to Jesus and headed back to the Sew Curvy Cottage for a bit of a tidy and a last cuppa before I headed home. 

Goodbye Jesus

Goodbye Jesus

After another 8 hours or so on the road,  I got home to boyfriend and cats.. tired but happy and looking forward to another year.

Meet my duck friend from a service station stop on the way north! He was after my flapjack!

Meet my duck friend from a service station stop on the way north! He was after my flapjack!

The Great New Antique Project

Or "GNAP" (#GNAP) as it became known, is a project that we initiated for OCOC via our private members group in Facebook which is open to all attendees of OCOC past and present.  As a bonus side-effect of the conference, this group has become a fine resource for all questions corset as well as a friendly meeting place for those connected to each other via the conference - it therefore also provides a perfect space for extended learning between events.

GNAP corsets at ococ.  © Beth Moody

GNAP corsets at ococ.  © Beth Moody

When Leicestershire County Council released 109 images from their collection of Symington pattern books for sale online, we immediately jumped at the chance to create a project which would help develop our corset making skills together,  with the end result being that the corsets made during the project would be at OCOC15 as a display of brand new 'antique' corsets. 

Sarah Nicol who looks after the real Symington Antique Corset Collection blessed the project by telling us "Your idea for a project based around the patterns just sums up completely the reason for making them available" .

One of the patterns chosen by Sara Huebschen for the OCOC GNAP project © Leicestershire County Council

The GNAP project was open to all OCOC attendees past and present as a vehicle of learning, where information would be freely shared in order to create a unique opportunity regardless of distance, and to make participants who were not able to attend the conference this year, feel part of the event in absentia.   Whilst modern twists and brand aesthetics were not discouraged, the point of the project was to learn from the antique styles and preserve as much as possible the 'purity of silhouette'.   

Final corset by Sara Huebschen from the picture above.  © Sara Huebschen

During the GNAP project the group shared hints and tips on scaling up the patterns, problems encountered with mock-ups, challenges and successes encountered during production, best and worst materials to use and different techniques learned through the process.  The group was also an excellent forum for trying to decipher the sometimes very cryptic notes written on the patterns themselves.

As our yearly opportunity to study antique corsetry up close and personal at the Conference thanks to the Symington Collection and the incredible private collection of Steph Selmayr has been so popular, we knew that this project would inspire further debate around past, present and future issues in corsetry - many debates did arise, one of the biggest and most publicly discussed being the question of sizing and 'the modern body'.

Steph Selmayr of Past Pleasures brought a fraction of her incredible antique corset collection for us to examine and learn from at ococ15. © Caroline woolin

Steph Selmayr of Past Pleasures brought a fraction of her incredible antique corset collection for us to examine and learn from at ococ15. © Caroline woolin

But why do this?  Why go to all this trouble to make an 'antique' corset which may or may not fit a person today?

Barbara Pesendorfer of royal black trying on an antique corset from the collection of Steph Selmayr.  © Julia Bremble

Barbara Pesendorfer of royal black trying on an antique corset from the collection of Steph Selmayr.  © Julia Bremble

Well firstly there's the inspiration.  I simply don't  know a single corset maker who is not inspired by corsets from the near or distant past, be it their imagery, their social  history, their beauty and elegance or their body modifying properties.  Not so many corset makers have had the opportunity to examine real antique corsets and before I was lucky enough to so, the nearest thing I could do was to make up an antique corset pattern just for the sake of it, regardless of fit and I was blown away by the number of lessons I learned, large and small ... from the way that certain seams went together to 'new'  ways to insert a busk, or indeed ways to hide a busk.  My primary source back then were the incredible patterns by Joelle of Atelier Sylphe who has an extensive collection of antique corsets from which she makes excellent and very accurate patterns.  There are scant instructions with her patterns, but this only serves to exercise the little grey cells and help cement findings in ones brain (with the help of a notebook of course!).

As a teacher my advice to my students is always always to try making up at least one antique pattern for the self learning experience.  In this respect the Symington patterns are a little more challenging than other patterns available such as those from Atelier Sylphe and consequently not really suitable for absolute beginners, but the learning opportunity is no less great - there are just different things to learn.

Moving forward, for all makers,  as well as the huge and almost endless supply of antique information on corsetry available at the tip of our fingers through the internet, we also have 100 more years of technology that followed the hey-day of Victorian and Edwardian corsetry, where other methods of smoothing and constraining the female body were developed in the shape of couture dress foundations, girdles, bra's of all kinds and even the most modern of elastic shapewear, (hideous as the latter is).  We also have different fabrics and materials to work with and a far greater selection to play and experiment with.  Our own veteran OCOC attendee Nikki Swift, recently made one of her famous Sanakor corsets (inspired by and patterned from the original 1901 Sanakor corset in the Symington Collection) from brass mesh usually found in engine filtering systems!   

Old and new Sanakor Corsets.  L-R:  the original black Sanakor corset from the Symington collection.  the original copy patterned from the original and made up by Nikki Swift.  the 'iso' corset - a modern Sanakor made from brass mesh by Nikki Swift.  © Nikki swift.

It goes without saying that we modern corset makers are in the very fortunate position of being able to take all of that knowledge and apply it to our work today, so although learning from antiques, is an essential part of our training, we should not overlook the things that followed in order to make our modern corsetry the best it can be.  Nikki's metal Sanakor corset is one example, along with many other innovative designs of today which can be seen in the work of many makers, from the intricate and modern 3d designs of Royal Black and Bibian Blue to the simple and elegant historically inspired designs of Morua which are defined by their comfortable modern fit with sleek antique lines,  to the 'mixed media' designs of Sian Hoffmann and the innovations of countless other makers, who although greatly inspired by the past, have a firm focus on fashion and the modern aesthetic.  

A thoroughly modern Sian Hoffman corset girdle which uses inspiration from across the centuries together with modern fabrics to create a whole new aesthetic.  © Nadia Lee Cohen

A thoroughly modern Sian Hoffman corset girdle which uses inspiration from across the centuries together with modern fabrics to create a whole new aesthetic.  © Nadia Lee Cohen

There is one other defining factor of modern corsetry and that is that back in the 19th and early 20th century, corsetry was an every day functional item, Symingtons was the "M&S underwear department" of it's day.  Worn sometimes under sufferance (in the same way as we wear bras and high heels today),  there were luxury corsets too, just as we have luxury lingerie today, but those corsets of yesteryear were never made simply for the sake of creating something beautiful as they are today, so we have yet another dimension to work with now, Corsets as art - barely functional but stunningly beautiful, and corsets as design, where all factors are considered to provide the best aesthetic with the best function.

We will be sharing more about GNAP and our thoughts on fit and the 'modern body' on this blog, with the help of those who took part.  Watch this space!  


An OCOC Journey - by Caroline Woollin

In 2013 I had made two corsets, one of which had been at a weekend ‘learn to make a corset’ course at my local college in Hackney. I have always made things and was looking for a new hobby and this course ticked all my boxes given that I had always admired corsets and wanted one of my own. I then bought Julia’s e book tutorial (thanks Julia!), worked my way through that, bought supplies, poured over YouTube tutorials (thanks Lucy!) and made my first corset on my own from a Truly Victorian pattern. Soon thereafter I saw the advert for the first OCOC and pondered it a while thinking that I was far too inexperienced to attend. After chatting to Julia via e mail she convinced me that it was not just for experienced professionals, that it was for anybody, and that all was required was a passion and propensity to learn about the subject.

Victoria Dagger modelling Caroline's work at OCOC 2013

Victoria Dagger modelling Caroline's work at OCOC 2013

I booked to attend and went along full of trepidation but with a determination to learn from the experience. I learned a few things that weekend;

  • That I loved the art of corsetry;
  • That I was not the only beginner;
  • That I could learn from the people I met;
  • That new friends (giving an excellent support network) could be made;
  • And that there was a world of possibility ahead of me.
Threnody in Velvet wearing Corsets by Caroline at OCOC 2014

Threnody in Velvet wearing Corsets by Caroline at OCOC 2014

The experience made me think, it spurred me on, it created openings and possibilities. In just over two years since this first conference I have started my own business selling on-line patterns, and started taking commissions. Most exciting of all I am coming back to OCOC16 as a presenter where I will be making use of my 15+ years’ experience using  AutoCAD to show how I create digital patterns. I’m also looking forward to having a sabbatical from work where I can push my aesthetic and try and drum up business. And if it doesn’t work out and I have to return to full-time paid employment at the end of 2016? Well at least I can say I tried, I did something very different, and I had a really good time doing it.

And, bang up to date... Corset by Caroline, modelled by Gingerface at the most recent OCOC, in August 2015. Photographed by Tigz Rice Studios

And, bang up to date... Corset by Caroline, modelled by Gingerface at the most recent OCOC, in August 2015. Photographed by Tigz Rice Studios

You can see more of Caroline's work at corsetsbycaroline.co.uk


Note from OCOC: We're really looking forward to Caroline's session, as CAD is a bit of a mystery to us, as I suspect it is for many of you. And, seeing corsetry move ahead with new(ish) technology is something we're all interested in. There will be more class info to come so look out for that.

Sustaining yourself as you grow

Keeping yourself going financially is a common problem for most of us when trying to establish ourselves as working corset makers. I'm not going to pretend to have all the answers or to have cracked it myself, but will give you my pragmatic opinion based on my experience and that of many people I've spoken to. 

I've read quite a few blogs and articles saying 'pack in your job!' 'Go for it 100% and throw it all into your business' and so on. I've also read many of those 'I started my business in my shed and now it's a multi-million pound empire' articles. Sometimes you read them and feel inspired, but often they leave you feeling inadequate and doubtful. Please don't, but instead read between the lines. Is that shed attached to a big house because hubby works in the City earning 6 figures? Is the person prepared to throw in 100% to their business fresh out of college, used to living in a dive eating baked beans and could always go back to mum and dad if they had to? Very, very often the people who can throw it all in have a back-up income. It might be an obvious one, like a partner with a good job. Or less apparent, like a family member helping out indirectly or a nest egg.   Are they even telling the truth or does that old adage - fur coat and no knickers - apply? Things may look wonderful and so they should if the person has any idea of marketing.. but it doesn't mean they are doing well behind the veneer.

Nothing wrong with any of that , and I'm not saying you can never be that person on your own terms.. but the point is, don't use others as a benchmark and be wary of hype. People don't tend to be forthcoming with that sort of information so before you judge yourself against them, keep in mind that you don't know their circumstances. Give yourself a break: Beating yourself up because you can't be superwoman/man is pointless, and, in most cases it's based on a myth. It's like hating how you look because you don't match up to a photoshopped model.. it's not real. What's real is keeping a roof over you head, food in the cupboards and your sanity intact. Being sure of yourself, your goals and your priorities.

dandruff wee.jpg

Where are you now:
If you are starting straight from college, with nothing much in the way of responsibilities then in many ways you're in the best position. You're hungry, you likely have support and you have nowhere to go but forward.
However, many of us come to this industry as a second profession, perhaps after working for a few years. That means you probably have commitments. If you have a mortgage or rent to pay and if perhaps you've been the one solely or half responsible for it and nobody else can take up the slack, then you need a steady income. Some downgrading of lifestyle is easy enough to swallow, but going backwards is pretty unpalatable to most, and some level of maintenance is needed. Nobody wants the worry of repossession. You can't create beauty whilst stressed out your senses about paying the basic bills. Starving in a garret is not romantic, and besides, garrets are premium property these days!  In other words, financial worries can stifle creativity and prevent you from doing your best work.

So, what is the reality?
Corsetry is a slow business. It takes time to make a corset and it takes time to build up a business. There are a tiny number of people who can whirr out great RTW and can build a sustainable business on that. But those people usually have years of experience under their belt and have, over time, developed systems and procedures which maximise profitability, affording them more options and the ability to sell good corsets at lower prices.  On the other hand, it's hard to compete with the factories - it has been done, and I take my hat off to those who can do it. However, if bespoke is your thing then be prepared for the long haul, I reckon it took about 3 years for people to find me unprompted and in any numbers. It varies depending on many factors. Therefore, to sustain you and allow you to grow (if you're lacking other backing) you''re going to need some sort of supplementary income.

Now firstly I'm going to say - there is no law that says you have to do this full time! Either straight away or ever if you don't want to. That is a choice. Three clients a year is as valid as thirty, or three hundred if it works for you.

Secondly, make sure you know your reasons. If you want to make lots of money quickly, bespoke corsetry is the wrong business!  If you love creating beauty, then go for it.

Remember those two points and then decide your priorities. Is the day job a career in itself, or is it there to support your own goals. I suspect for most of us, it's the latter. That is something you have to keep reminding yourself of, as it's very easy to forget.

Full time or part time?
I've done the full time work plus business thing, it's bloody hard. It can be done if you restrict your workload, but as soon as your client numbers grow you knacker yourself and you start to resent the day job as wasted time. Nevertheless, it let me get started on my own terms.  I could finance myself without hardship while building up equipment and materials. Essential for me, as there was little or no opportunity for external funding, especially as I'd passed the 'youth' start up category. So, Working full or part time and building a business is do-able if you make the choice to accept limited clients or if you find a business model that allows you to choose your pace.

(After doing the full time plus business for a while, I then had my lucky shot. I got made redundant. I'd never have jumped so the push was needed. I had enough redundancy to last me a year covering my existing commitments. So, I spent a year promoting and doing wedding shows etc. Making samples as well as some orders. However, after 8 months or so the stress kicked in.. the fear. The redundancy money was finite, I hated feeling like I had to account for my every move to others. I was not able to support myself from sewing at that stage. So.. it was time to look for part time work.) 

Is part time the answer?
For most people, yes it is. It allows you to move from limited part time to more or less full time sewing depending on your hours commitment, whilst getting a regular pay packet to cover the basics.
I know a lot of designers and creatives, some pretty successful. Many of them outside corsetry. The vast majority require a supplementary income. Part time, although not a walk in the park, is the simplest solution. It removes the stress of bills, and it gets you outside and among other people. Also, as hours tend to be more flexible, it may be easier to decrease hours as your business requirements increase.

The trick, in my opinion, is to find something that feeds back to your business. Whether that's in skills gained, contacts made, or something as simple as a useful staff discount. I went into bra fitting as it seemed natural as I was used to visualising fit and had no fear of an intimate fitting situation. It also has the same transformative end result as corsets, and as that's my main motivation, it clicked for me. I also knew it would be a skill that would help my corsetry, so it was a mutually beneficial arrangement. Retail has it's drawbacks, but it's worth it for the trade-off, and its the easiest and most accessible option for many. And it's not likely to suck you in and change your priorities.

I know a milliner who is now stocked in Harvey Nichols among others and whose work has been worn by the great and the good.. While he was getting established he worked as an assistant in a well known trim retailer. Another acquaintance is a stylist who runs fashion events and also is an usher in concert venues. I have friends who run Graphic Design businesses, supplemented by part time jobs in printers.

While Julia was establishing Sew Curvy she found part time work with an employer who gave free job related training in photoshop, illustrator, and web development - however, Sew Curvy in itself was only ever supposed to be the 'day job'  for her corset making business Clessidra - a business she still has not developed to it's full potential after 6 years. Gerry trained people in pattern making software when she was in the UK and I know makers who work in legal firms, on receptions, in fabric stores.  

Other folk,  like OCOC founding fellow, Marianne Faulkner land lucky, and get to work in somewhere utterly relevant like Dark Garden. But even if you can't find a direct link, think laterally. Could a job in a museum provide daily inspiration and perhaps contacts. Fashion retail lets you see trends and gets you used to what people look for in their clothes. That desk job might offer training in web design. Or that fabric shop give you a great staff discount. Now I know in this climate, beggars very often cannot be choosers. But it's something to keep in mind when weighing up options - making connections relevant to your business (plan) is as important to your business as anything else you do to make it successful.

But if I need to work, I've failed!
Never, ever think that. If anyone tries to shame you for that then they should look to themselves, not you. Nobody else can walk in your shoes. A few years ago a friend indirectly and unintentionally made me feel really bad about working part time, leaving me wondering if I wasn't committed enough. Then I realised how different our circumstances were and how mine worked for me and benefited me. There is an argument often given that desperation will fuel success. Perhaps you're the type of person that will work for, then great. I'm not, that sort of worry would leave me catatonic with fear rather than driven. Do what is right for you. It is all a step towards the goal. And you might even enjoy it.

Other ideas:
Of course there are other self-generated options that might raise money. Perhaps you could, like Julia, create your own 'day job' as she has with Sew Curvy.
What other skills do you have? Or how could you apply your talents?
Could you teach? Write? What else could you sell that's related or complimentary?
Although these may not be ideal for steady income, they can be if the time, place and application is right.

There are the traditional sources such as loans, grants and investors. However, the banks aren't lending, grants only apply to very specific cases or age groups, and investors tend to want a faster return than bespoke corsetry can give.

Look around you and use the creativity you have. Look at people in very rural communities. Most of whom have a portfolio of jobs to keep them going, both paid and freelance. More and more people are finding that having several strings to their bow is a necessity these days.

Angelo Trezzini :   A Tired Seamstress

Angelo Trezzini : A Tired Seamstress

One final point
There is no denying that dissatisfaction at work can be soul destroying and can colour the whole of your life adversely, but before making major decisions, check your motivation. There IS a tipping point where it becomes necessary, even essential to give 100% to your business (if that's what you want and if you're sure it's viable) and that in itself is a massive leap of faith - but get it wrong and you could regret giving up a good career or income prematurely.  Get it right and you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner - Catch 22!

So, in summary:

  • Don't be put off by what you observe, it might not be as it appears on the surface.
  • What fits one person may not fit you.
  • Be prepared for the long haul, there are no sudden shortcuts.
  • Think about whether you really want to be full time, or whether part time, limited clients or a completely different business model would work better for you.
  • If your full time job gives you a cushion, and lets you pick and choose and buy what you need (and buy time) then stick with it if you are able until it's too much. 
  • You are not a failure for needing a reliable income. Don't be shamed into thinking that.
  • Decide your priorities and keep them at the forefront of your mind.
  • Try to find part time work that feeds something back to your business if you can, however loosely.
  • Be creative about what else you can do to raise money.
  • If you get to the point when you believe you can be self-supporting then carefully think through your motivation, priorities and support structure.

As Neil Gaiman said in his his 2012 speech 'Make Good Art', keep heading towards the mountain.
I'll add.. if working lets you wear comfier shoes to get there, or provides the odd timesaving ford across rapids, then all to the good. If it starts to take you off course, then have a rethink.

Friends of OCOC - Foundations Revealed

The first in a series of posts on the friends and sponsors who support us and help make the weekend extra enjoyable for all of us.

Foundations Revealed kindly sponsored the wine at dinner, as well as supplying a lovely branded mug for the welcome bag. Image copyright Laurie Tavan 2015

Foundations Revealed kindly sponsored the wine at dinner, as well as supplying a lovely branded mug for the welcome bag. Image copyright Laurie Tavan 2015

Firstly, let us introduce Foundations Revealed and the ladies behind it.

Foundations Revealed (and it's sister costume publication Your Wardrobe Unlock'd) is an online subscription publication offering an unprecedented number of tutorials and studies of the world of foundations, predominantly corsetry, through history up to the present day. Although the nature of the material means a strong focus on late Victorian and Edwardian corsets, the remit is far wider. With a huge pool of writers and a massive archive or articles it's a vital resource for any serious makers.

All of us on the team have known Cathy Hay, who runs Harman Hay (publisher of Foundations Revealed) for a number of years. Personally, I'd reckon about a decade, from the old days of the Live Journal corsetry and corsetmaking communities up to the present day. The plans and discussions for FR and it's older sister publication 'Your Wardrobe Unlock'd' were revealed and thrashed out on Cathy's Live Journal page where many of it's original subscribers came from. 

Cathy Hay with our organiser and Director Julia Bremble at OCOC'15. Image copyright Laurie Tavan 2015

Cathy Hay with our organiser and Director Julia Bremble at OCOC'15. Image copyright Laurie Tavan 2015

Cathy approached Julia several years ago to pick her brains about a possible conference idea, but decided it wasn't for her. Julia, with her background in conference management, had been mulling the idea over with a couple of us for a while, so decided then to go for it but in a very different format. Cathy has expressed her 'genuine enthusiasm' for the event and has been generous with her praise and congratulations as well as being a sponsor for the last three years.

As well as Foundations Revealed being a sponsor since the first year, Cathy attended the second and third events. In 2015 editor Marion McNealy was also able to join us.

In year two Cathy also gave an inspiring talk. And has been a keen participator in the workshops from the delegate side, always ready with a question and some input. She has recently been running a business mentorship course, her first group of clients including quite a few of our regular conference attendees.

Cathy Hay absorbed during one of the workshops at OCOC'15. Image copyright Beth Moody 2015

Cathy Hay absorbed during one of the workshops at OCOC'15. Image copyright Beth Moody 2015

It was lovely to see Foundations Revealed editor Marion McNealy able to attend the conference this year. I'd met Marion once before, at a Foundations organised visit to the Symingtons Collection in Coalville (where I first met Julia in person incidentally!), and have of course corresponded with her in the past about articles.  Marion is an expert researcher and fount of historical knowledge. I do hope she was able to chat to some potential new writers for Foundations Revealed while at the conference. 

Marion seemed to manage camera avoidance far better than I can even manage (and trust me, I try) So here is the headshot we published in the conference programme leaflet.

Marion seemed to manage camera avoidance far better than I can even manage (and trust me, I try) So here is the headshot we published in the conference programme leaflet.

It was so amazing to be able to meet so many people I had only known online for years. I know I didn’t get a chance to meet everyone and chat, but maybe next year.
— Marion McNealy
Barbara Pesendorfer of Royal Black trying on one of Stephanie Selmayr's gorgeous antiques under the expert gaze of Steph and Marion. Image copyright Laurie Tavan 2015.   

Barbara Pesendorfer of Royal Black trying on one of Stephanie Selmayr's gorgeous antiques under the expert gaze of Steph and Marion. Image copyright Laurie Tavan 2015.


So we thank Foundations Revealed for their continuing support. As Cathy has said herself, our two organisations complement each other. Foundations through continued learning through online tutorials and studies from makers of all levels from beginners to expert, and it's strong focus on historical corsetry and costume. And ourselves, with our ethos of bringing in well known and respected experts to add to our pool of knowledge while fostering sharing and learning from each other, with a focus on pushing innovation and corsetry in contemporary and future fashion. Long may the partnership continue,


Making Covered Suspenders

As I've seen this crop up a few times, and as I had the pics from an old book project, I thought I'd post a short blog on how to make covered suspenders. I used to make retro style suspender belts quite a lot. I also used to wear fully fashioned seamed stockings most of the time.

You will need:
Lightweight fabric
Suspender grips
Optional - hooks to attach to garment if detachable are needed.

Suspender grips - pic courtesy of Sew Curvy

Suspender grips - pic courtesy of Sew Curvy

Suspender adustors/regulators. Pic courtesy Sew Curvy

Suspender adustors/regulators. Pic courtesy Sew Curvy

Suspender general tips
4 straps are minimum. 6 are better for wearing with seams. You can add as many as will fit if you or the client want. It's a more fetishy look but can work well. However for wearing, 4, 6 or 8 is the usual. 
Seam wearers will want a strap pretty much directly above the stocking seam.
Metal hardware is best. Plastic does not offer enough grip.
The skinny suspender straps most high street belts use are no good at all. Use the 20mm grips or, for a very vintage look, you can get 30mm. 
Elastic should be fairly stiff and stable. You don't want too much stretch.

Length of finished straps
There's no right length, as it varies on the body and on the length of the corset or depth of the suspender belt. Measure your subject from place of joining to garment, and the thigh (3 inches or so from the top of leg crease, but again depends on how high they wear stockings). Allow an extra third for the strap to fold over and allow for the stretch (another variable depending on elastic). 
Remember: back straps should be a little longer than the front ones, to allow for sitting. 

Left to right:   Tube of fabric with seam allowance trimmed.  Turn tube and press~Edge stitch down both sides  Thread elastic through and attach hardware 

Left to right: 

Tube of fabric with seam allowance trimmed.

Turn tube and press~Edge stitch down both sides

Thread elastic through and attach hardware 

This is key! Some fabrics will not ruffle up or will be bulky. Satins are no good unless it's a thin charmeuse type. Duchesse will not work well. It won't lie nicely, and it will be too bulky to allow the regulators to shut on the strap. Dupion silk works very well as it wrinkles up very pleasingly.
The crucial thing is grain. You want to cut it lengthwise, parallel to the selvedge. This lets the fabric ruffle properly.

  • Cut strips double your elastic width, plus a seam allowance, plus a few millimetres either side of the elastic. So if your elastic is 19mm, cut around 70mm wide. You want the strips to be anything from 1.5 to 2 times the length of the elastic. It depends on taste and fabric. 
  • Fold in half and stitch along one edge. Then turn the tube so the raw edges are inside.
  • Press flat with the seam in the centre. If you leave the seam on the edge it can case the strap to twist.
  • stitch down each side a couple of mm from the edge.This is optional but it keeps the fabric from catching in the regulator when you try to adjust it.
  • Thread your elastic through the casing. Pin at each end firmly so it doesn't ping back.
  • Pull the elastic taut, and the fabric will form even crinkles when you release it.
  • Thread the adjustor/regulator on one end, fold raw end under and stitch tidily, ensuring you stitch through the elastic inside. If you hold the adjustor clip with the lift up part of the clip away from you, then the seam on the casing should be facing you. 
  • Thread the grip on, then thread the end of the strap up through the adjustor. 
  • Finish the top edge, either sewing a hook on or by stitching it onto the garment.

Suspender components can be purchased from our main sponsor Sew Curvy

Iceni Corset Inspiration by Beth Moody

Inspiration is a tricky thing to pin down sometimes. It can be incredibly fluid and often the final creation you end up with looks nothing like the original starting point. Trying to explain your inspiration can be hard.. so bear with me.

When you start making corsets, very often you take inspiration from other corset makers. And why not, there is some brilliant work out there to be inspired by! Much like when you study art at school you examine the work of well known artists to understand how they achieved what they did, you learn from their composition, colours, materials and skills. It's the same with corsets.

It can continue when you start opening your doors to clients. People will come to you saying “I found this picture of a corset, I want one like this...” That's all well and good, but if you want to create something truly original you need to look to find your own inspiration, outside of the corsetry world.

When I signed up to attend OCOC'15 I instantly started plotting my piece for the shoot on Sunday.

I'd, somewhat accidentally, made this underbust corset.

It originally started life as a mock-up to test a new pattern I was working on... when I got a bit carried away with some lace. I absolutely love combining soft drapey fabrics with the strong structure of a corset, and it's a theme you can often see running through my work. I liked the way the lace draped over this piece but I wanted to take it further.

After the models were announced I immediately felt drawn to Gingerface. I LOVE Pre-Raphaelite art, and redheads and I had all sorts of notions of a neo-gothic, painted ceiling inspired, blue and gold, midnight corset... and that was about as far as I got. Life got in the way a bit.

Not long after that I was signed off sick from stress due to my (then) day job. Which soon prompted the decision to quit and attempt to pursue Moody Corsetry as a legitimate business. At this time our little family decided to escape for a weekend to visit friends in Norfolk. We'd not seen them for an age and I definitely needed time away. Whilst we were there we visited Waxham and the coastline there. Walking along the incredibly windswept, rainy beach I had a moment of clarity, deciding to tackle this new venture head on, and understanding what I really wanted and needed out of life.

I loved that beach, despite the weather. I loved how dramatic the wind, rain, waves, stones all made it despite it just being variations of grey. This was something I really wanted to capture and so took this image. (yeah it's not great but that's camera phones for you)

And this was my new source of inspiration. I wanted to create a piece that looked like it belonged here. The rocks would be my structure and the sea would be my soft drape of fabric. I wanted it to look like the sea was twisting around the corset. Like my model had just walked out of the sea.. and it didn't really take me long from there.

Fabrics wise the corset part was straight forward, I wanted it to be black and wet looking. Corsetry satin it is then, with added antique jet beads for a a bit more interest, to bring in that sort of 'stone' quality and, well, jet is awesome so why not?! The watery fabric was a little more tricky, until I stumbled across silk chiffon shot with silver. It was that fantastic “not quite white” colour of sea foam and I literally skipped around my living room when the postman delivered it.

And here is the final piece.

Iceni corset by Moody Corsetry. Modelled by Gingerface. Copyright InaGlo Photography 2015

Iceni corset by Moody Corsetry. Modelled by Gingerface. Copyright InaGlo Photography 2015

Gingerface modelled it to perfection, and InaGlo photographed it beautifully. I was very pleased with myself I must say! I decided to name the piece Iceni. I like naming my showpieces after the source of the inspiration.. but Waxham didn't have a great ring to it. I thought instead to name it after the Brythonic tribe who inhabited Norfolk in 1st century BC. They were the tribe that the infamous Boudica came from, and I felt this not only linked the piece back to where my inspiration came from but also reflected the drama and strength I hope it emanates.

One day I'd really like to take this corset back to Waxham beach and have it photographed on those rocks!

You can see more of Beth's lovely work at Moody Corsetry

Negotiating the Photography Minefield

This article first appeared in Foundations Revealed in 2013

I think I’ve given myself a job here but I’ve volunteered to help steer you through the complicated area of photoshoot types and photography usage rights and some associated issues. Now I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on this. I’ve encountered few problems personally as most people I’ve worked with have been great. But I’ve had a lot of discussion on it, have chatted with some knowledgeable photographer friends and thrown in some of the experience from my previous life in graphic design.

So, to start with we’ll have a bit of an overview then break down the types of shoot set ups you might be involved in. Look at the pitfalls and benefits of each then I’ll run through some of the things to ask and things to watch out for. And also talk a bit about how to cover yourself. Now I want to stress that I’m based in the UK. I’ve tried to avoid anything too legally specific as much as I can, and have stuck with general advice, but do some reading and check up on the laws in your own part of the world. Copyright law does differ.  There are also differences as regards things like emails being accepted as written contract. So check that out.

The first thing I’m going to stress is this; find yourself a photographer that you can build a good working relationship with. It’s far easier to give and take and to approach a photographer you get on well with.  A photographer could be the most wonderfully talented artist, but if they’re a pain in the backside to work with then they aren’t worth the headache. Believe me, there are lots of very good photographers out there so finding someone, or even a few, you can work with happily, whom you can trust, shouldn’t be that difficult and is definitely the key. Because the bottom line is that your photographer should take the lead with this situation, should guide you through and should make all the terms clear. However that sometimes does not happen, hence this article.

The main thing to remember is this:
The photographer always retains copyright.

This applies no matter what type of shoot it is. To purchase the copyright you’d have to be paying a huge amount of money and it would need to be specially negotiated, it rarely happens. What you are getting is usage rights, sometimes quite specific ones. Remembering that and knowing how far those rights reach is the key to avoiding disputes. Even on a paid shoot you are in effect paying for the photographer’s time, not a product that you then own. The use of the results is still controlled by them. Think of it more in the terms of music, rather than a tangible product. Now the fairness of that is another issue and is a subject that causes a lot of arguments. But for the moment we’re dealing with the situation as it stands.

Before you start
Prepare yourself. Familiarise yourself with the types of shoots. Think about what you want to use the images for and where you will want to use them. Also think about how you want them to look and gather references and prepare a moodboard.  I quite often make-up a Pintrest board, usually a private one, which is easy to add collaborators too and allows everyone to see your thinking. Of course if it’s a collaborative TF shoot that may not be appropriate or it may need to be considerably compromised.

Shoot types
TF, or TFP or Time for Prints/Portfolio
This is probably the first type of shoot you’ll encounter. You may be approached by a photographer, by a model or you may spot a casting on facebook or Model Mayhem etc. The point to these shoots is that every person involved gets creative input and everyone gets images at the end and nobody gets actual monetary payment. As soon as one of those elements shifts out of whack the potential for disagreements sets in. The best TF shoots are truly collaborations.

Low or no cost (other than your own costs)
Testing out people you may want to work with again
Unexpected results

Lack of creative control
Unexpected results
Images may be watermarked/branded with a logo

Usage: Usually pretty strictly portfolio, non-commercial. Stretching to social media sharing with full credits.  Equal for every participant. Many photographers will be fine with some other uses as long as the credits are in place. But always always check. Make sure your photographer is trustworthy and on the same page as you. If they get payment for that photograph at a later stage then in all fairness they should pass something back to the rest of the team. However that can be rather tricky to control. The thing to remember is check and credit, credit, credit. Credit everyone, credit the model’s auntie that sent cakes, credit the cat… ok I’m being facetious, but you get the gist. And make sure everyone else does too by the way.

An example of compromise on a TF shoot. The hair was something June wanted to expoeriment with, and although I wouldn’t have suggested it I did like the results. Image Jade Starmore, Towzie Tyke Photography Hair & Make-up: June Long Model: Melanie Long

An example of compromise on a TF shoot. The hair was something June wanted to expoeriment with, and although I wouldn’t have suggested it I did like the results. Image Jade Starmore, Towzie Tyke Photography Hair & Make-up: June Long Model: Melanie Long

TF mark 2!
(made-up name) Now, and this is when it gets complicated, TF shoots can started to diverge from pure and equal collaboration. It may be the photographer has a strong idea and wants people to help with that, or the make-up artist has a look they want to produce for a graded unit at college. Or it could be you, as a designer, that has a specific idea. But everyone must feel they’re gaining something for their portfolio to want to participate. The complicated bit is sometimes this set up can veer into situations that should really be paid and this can be contentious. There is too much of a culture of working for nothing across the creative industries, and TF shoots can be a red rag to a bull in some arenas. However if everyone is gaining something from it and knows where they stand then it usually works fine, especially if it’s a team that likes working together. However in all fairness, the person driving the idea should do the legwork for locations and in most cases shell out for any studio, travel expenses etc.

Low or minimal costs (other than your own) unless it’s you’re idea and you take on costs

Some creative control

Compromise unavoidable, you aren’t paying as such after all
Potential for disagreement
Possible watermarked/logo branded images

Same as before.
Non-commercial for all.

A shoot conceived, driven and funded by the photographer Rob Scott of  CSD_Images, celticshadows.co.uk.  Costume design by me.  Modelled by Kasumi Noir, who also  made the beautiful hair ornament.  An example of thoroughly  crediting all involved... and making  it look good into the bargain.   

A shoot conceived, driven and funded by the photographer Rob Scott of  CSD_Images, celticshadows.co.uk.  Costume design by me.  Modelled by Kasumi Noir, who also  made the beautiful hair ornament.  An example of thoroughly  crediting all involved... and making  it look good into the bargain.


To Loan or not to loan
From our point of view the most hands off version of this is the simple loan. Now this is a minefield all on its own and should be approached with extreme care. As soon as you make your presence known as a corset maker you will be approached with requests for loans. Usually from models and often miles away in another country/state/continent!  It is VERY easy to get bitten with this so work out your comfort level with it and proceed with caution. I’m not going to tell you what to do and don’t do as different things work for different people. But I will tell you my own personal conditions.

  • I don’t loan to models unless I know the photographer and it meets my other terms below
  • I don’t loan to anyone out-with reasonable travelling distance.
  • If I can, I prefer to attend the shoot
  • If I haven’t worked with the person before I charge them a deposit which I refund when the garment is back with me in good condition.
  • I make sure they sign something detailing the items they’ve borrowed and make sure I have their full contact details. This could be anything from a simple delivery note to a full release document. Depends on circumstances and your own approach.
  • I check who they are, who they’ve worked with etc. This is where networks come in.

These things are borne from experience. For instance, once when I started out I loaned to a very famous website that features alternative pin-ups.  This required me posting to the US at my expense to a known creative person (even has her own Wikipedia page) and in return I was to get the items featured in a video shoot, be credited and get a banner ad (which I supplied) on their very high traffic website. That fell through and it was to be a shoot instead which I would get shots from and the items returned. I never got the shots, nor did I get the items back. I think I got the banner ad, though I never saw it, as I did have spike of traffic to my own site. I emailed many times and got no response. Eventually I wrote it off to experience. So now nobody short of a major publication gets anything unless I could physically go to their door to demand it back!

Attending is a similar safeguard. I’m in effect acting as bodyguard for what might be a very expensive pile of garments! And I’m there to lace up. I’ve had one too many shots back of badly laced, or loosely laced corsets when I’ve not been able to hang around. Also it means if a model is being stroppy about wearing a corset (and some are) you’re there to perhaps leave it loose laced until the last minute, and ensure she doesn’t just swap it for a comfier outfit once you’ve left (has happened to me).

If you can’t attend then a returnable deposit means you at least have something to cover specialist dry cleaning (again, ask me how I know!). It also is an incentive for them to get things back to you promptly. Also the borrower should be paying any postage if they aren’t collecting in person (insured of course) and you really want the photographer to have insurance that covers sets/props/ costume.

It is a great way of getting a variety of shots for your facebook page with minimal cost and effort. You get to try out photographers too. But, it’s a gamble. There are shoots where you can’t use a thing, others where you love every one of them. But for no or mimimal cost it can be worth it. It’s just up to you to weigh up the options carefully and work out a way of handling it you are comfortable with and what level of control you need. For some that’s a flat out no to loans, which is fine too. Remember though, that should Vogue call you up looking for a loan for a spread then you’ll probably throw caution to the wind and that’s fine (and at that level you’ll be expected to). If you want proper exposure you sometimes have to learn to not be too precious about things because sometimes the opportunity is far more important than some slight risk to a corset. You can probably remake the corset but that sort of chance may never be repeated. So, it’s a balancing act, be cautious but don’t cut your nose off to spite your face.

Trying out creatives
Low or no cost
Surprising results you may not have thought of yourself

Risk of loss or damage
No creative control
The possibility of your work being out there, badly  presented in bad photographs Images never appearing Possible watermarked/logo branded images

As TF, very much at photographers discretion. You may only get shares on facebook and never get anything  sent to you. Or you may get a dropbox full of them.  Be clear about what you want from it.

A fine example of a loan that went better than I could’ve hoped. Styled by Holly Megan Baxter (a designer in her own right, currently half of the team behind the Hardwear brand), photographed by Gabriela Silveira. Modelled by Victoria Middleton. Hair by Heather Nelson and make-up, Stefanie Carroll. Shot at Chatelherault in Hamilton. As you can see it was successfully submitted to and featured on the Vogue Italia website.

A fine example of a loan that went better than I could’ve hoped. Styled by Holly Megan Baxter (a designer in her own right, currently half of the team behind the Hardwear brand), photographed by Gabriela Silveira. Modelled by Victoria Middleton. Hair by Heather Nelson and make-up, Stefanie Carroll. Shot at Chatelherault in Hamilton. As you can see it was successfully submitted to and featured on the Vogue Italia website.

Where things can go wrong:
I’ve linked a case between a photographer and a well known latex designer. This illustrates why you should never lend to the model unless you’ve discussed things with the photographer. Even when lending to a stylist it’s wise to make some contact with the photographer involved if you can. Because remember, the photographer will hold the copyright. Get the information, you don’t want to land up in court.

Remember that it isn’t just the photographer that could cause a problem regarding usage, it’s any member of the team, it could even be you! So ask about anything you’re in any doubt over and stick to agreements made.

Neither free nor conventionally paid. A small section as it varies too much according to circumstance to really give advice on. But we make a desirable, valuable luxury garment. Many models love corsets, some photographers do too. A shoot in exchange for a corset is a viable and relatively common way of working. Just be sure every party is happy with the equality of the transaction (including you). As for usage rights etc, I would treat this similarly to a paid shoot as you are giving a corset as payment, if it’s for the photographer. If it’s for the model then it’s an arrangement purely between yourselves. So that’s the free and trade variants, now to paid.

You as the client
Now a paid shoot is a different beast in many ways and in some it isn’t. If you commission a shoot you are the client therefore you brief the team creatively to the degree you want to. You have approval on location, model, styling. You get the shots you request and only you have the use of them. Unlike TF shoots, the other parties (photographer, model, make-up artist) don’t get to share images randomly unless you, the client, want them to. However, you do not get the copyright and your usage rights are not limitless. You must, MUST, clarify what the usage is with the photographer. In writing preferably. In the UK an email counts, but check that applies in your locale. If there is no contract then you’d be as well doing TF. I’ve broken down the main areas  you may need covered for usage.

I’ve broken it down to web and print. I would also add to establish how long these rights are for and if there are additional rates required.

Now this may all seem unnecessarily detailed but believe me it will be worth checking if  you land with a strict by-the-book photographer who throws a flaky on you for making a genuine mistake! It should be the photographers responsibility to ensure you are aware of the extent of your usage rights, however that often does not happen.  Sod’s Law guarantees that the time you don’t check these things will be the time something happens, so cover yourself.

An example:
You pay for studio lookbook type images. Everyone is paid, however you have no written contract and nothing informing you of usage rights. At short notice you get a phone call from a high profile media outlet asking to use one to promote you in relation to an even you are participating in. You say yes. The next day you are contacted by an irate photographer complaining about the use of the shots and their name not being credited on them.

Are they in the right?
Legally yes, morally I’d say no. The usage rights for those paid for lookbook shots do not automatically cover you for their promotional use on a third party website. That is a different category of rights. Crediting the photographer would not have solved that but probably would’ve smoothed the water due to the publicity gained. However, there was no contract, the photographer did not make the client’s licence to use clear, but as the copyright automatically resides with the photographer the lack of a contract means they are still covered but you are not.

Result: the photographer has lost a client and gained a reputation amongst the client’s peers as unpleasant to work with. The client has images she has paid for but feels uncomfortable about using but has gained a valuable bit of experience.

Lesson: if you’re paying out money (and it can be a tidy sum) get a contract.

Having paid shots that you are clear on your rights with means you have something to hand so you take advantage of those no time to hang around opportunities with complete peace of mind, such as this BBC coverage of the Oxford Conference of Corsetry. Even professional product shots like these are invaluable to have to hand and are a low cost option.

Having paid shots that you are clear on your rights with means you have something to hand so you take advantage of those no time to hang around opportunities with complete peace of mind, such as this BBC coverage of the Oxford Conference of Corsetry. Even professional product shots like these are invaluable to have to hand and are a low cost option.

In addition to your own rights check the model release/agreement has been arranged, which should be a given, but…

A model has rights over the use of their image. So that should be covered by a written agreement too. A model release as such is not actually needed legally I’ve been told (UK). What they should have though is an agreement of their own regarding the usage etc. If they’re an agency model that should be covered, but the agency may have some controls over usage that affect you, so another thing worth checking. Cover yourself too, you don’t want a model having power of veto over a shot you love on a paid shoot. Be guided by the photographer.

While on the topic of models, ensure she is over 18 and able to give permission herself. You don’t want an angry parent chasing you down. Especially for a corset model.

I would also clarify if the photographer is ok with the image being edited in any way by a party other than them and if they are ok with graphics use such as adding logos, removing backgrounds, overlapping text and so on. This should fall under categories already mentioned, but again, never hurts to check, especially as some photographers have real issues with this.

Now as a graphic designer this is a bone of contention for me. I have altered and adapted countless photos in my previous job. I fail to see how you can design anything other than the most basic brochure or a poster for instance without touching the image in some way. Whether it’s to add a logo, crop or do something more complex. I also can assure you any image sent to a publication will have some sort of image correction done to it to maximise compatibility with the press and paper stock being used. Many photographers seem blissfully unaware of this. But it’s definitely worth sounding out their views on what you can and can’t do to the image in a graphic design context. I do appreciate that an amateur could really mutilate an image and that a photographer may not want a pink sparkly model’s name over it for instance.

Other things to consider
In addition to the usage categories described above you’re going to want to agree the number of images, the format, the size. Also practical matters like what happens should one of the team not show up (these apply to TF shoots too).

When it comes to it, a professional and experienced photographer will be reasonable, knowledgable and will guide you through all this and it should all be obstacle free. It’s in their interest to make sure you’re clear on your mutual positions. The problems mostly seem to come from those who are more amateur than they believe themselves to be or who have egos that overtake their abilities.

Covering your own back
Remember you need some protection too. You’re entitled to ensure your brand cannot be misrepresented, and on a paid shoot that the image has some exclusivity to you. Make sure that is established. Make it clear what you need and what you want to use the images for. You don’t need to cover and pay for every eventuality (you can always get back to them later) but don’t limit yourself either. If the photographer isn’t supplying anything then draw up your own contract, or at least ask questions in emails that you then keep on file as proof the conversation took place (see note in paragraph 2 about your own country’s legal position). If you are in any doubt about any aspect then get legal advice.

On TF shoots be careful who you work with and keep an eye on the future use of the image. Nobody wants to see their corset on an ad for a strip club a year later, and it’s happened. Trouble is, protecting yourself against things like that can be tricky. However that garment is your property, your brand is your property and you don’t want a situation to arise that implies an endorsement from your company. If it’s a worry, get it in writing, you are entitled to impose your own conditions on any loan or TF collaboration.  If that’s not acceptable, move on to another professional. It’s your business too, and remember of all the creatives involved in a fashion shoot, designers are the minority and therefore in demand. If photographers want to shoot fashion, they need you. Corset makers are even more of a rare beast. I did read one photographer say that he’d tell anyone who asked him to sign something to take a running jump! Not a constructive attitude. But as above, if a contract would not be appropriate at least get it in an email.  If things do go wrong then you do have redress in some instances. For instance, if it is used by another corset company you may be able to pursue them for ‘passing off’. However this is going to depend on location and individual circumstances. Again, seek legal advice.

The very fact the photographer retains the copyright potentially puts the other creatives involved at a disadvantage. The photographer very definitely holds the cards. Now in most cases that is fine. Most people are trustworthy and a dream to work with. But nothing is guaranteed. The only way you can maintain complete control is to take the pictures yourself , but obviously that is not ideal, there is no substitute for professional shots. However it’s no coincidence how many designers start out with straight, self-taken, mannequin shots on their websites and in their Etsy listings. If you have a decent camera, an eye for lighting etc you can pull this off. However, for modelled shots and when you want to step up your professionalism, you really do need the real deal. And to be fair, professional product shots are usually far superior to your own efforts.

The thing to remember is this: Unless you really are working with amateurs/ hobbyists everyone involved is a professional trying to earn some sort of living and everyone has costs. You have probably sunk a small fortune into getting those collection samples made, as well as your time (sanity!) and the cost of maintaining your skills. The photographer has the upkeep of equipment, the upgrading of skills and a considerable amount of time editing. The model has to maintain her physical self and keep on top of her skills (never underestimate the value of a good model). Make-up artists and hairdressers have their materials and time spent creating and perfecting the concept. All parties should respect that in each other and work out fair agreements for all. Pay when you need to pay and expect reasonable rights to the results when you do. When it’s TF, compromise and allow everyone their input. Most of the time it works great, and having the knowledge to back it up helps that to happen. 

A self-taken effort by me, passable but not great.

A self-taken effort by me, passable but not great.

Some useful links:
These are UK links, mostly passed on to me by a photographer friend, but check them out, once you know what you’re looking for you should be able to find ones relevant to your location to double check your particular position.

A note on contracts in the UK. As far as I know this will be similar in the US but please check. http://www.bluefinprofessions.co.uk/news/an-exchange-of-emails-could-create-a-binding-contract

An overview of licensing and copyright for photographers http://www.photoassist.co.uk/fullarticle.asp?ano=1161

This is helpful in seeing how categories differ http://www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/index.php?language=en&country=UK&section=Photography

The copyright law website:

It’s worth contacting the Law Society to get hold of a IP solicitor in cases of dispute and/or when forming a contract with a major company.

Tools for keeping track of images you have an interest in:
http://www.picscout.com/ (for stock photos).

Design For Print - General Printed Materials

This article first appeared in Foundations Revealed in 2013

So,  we covered basic logo design last time. In this article I’m going to look at general artwork requirements. The sort of stationery you’re most likely to use and how to prepare artwork for it and also how you should approach press ads etc.

A wee reminder of my background before corsetry took over. After a year or so work experience in an ad agency and a design consultants  I qualified with an HND in Design for Print. This was way back in the early 90s when Macs were tiny and we still used floppy discs and type scales. I then started work for a newspaper publisher as a Mac operator and then carved out my own niche as graphic designer which then led to a small design department until centralisation and redundancy gave me my exit. By then I’d had enough of sitting in front of a Mac screen.

Ok, I’m assuming you now have your logo and you’re happy with it. It’s all nicely designed and you have a few versions tucked away in a folder to draw from for different applications. But a logo isn’t much used without something to put it on, and we can’t do all our promotion and contact on the web.  Sometimes we need something more physical and tangible.

What do you need then.
Well first and foremost the basic is a business card. Even if you use other material for customers you’ll need business cards for networking and just generally tucking in your pocket or bag just in case. Also design it cleverly and it can double as tag!

All you need is a simple design on A4 with your full details (website, registered address, phone number, email)

Promotional literature:
postcards, leaflets, brochures, flyers, posters, banners and pop-up banners. All can be as simple or as elaborate and you desire (and can afford).

Other items such as labels, packaging, tags.
Some of these you can so yourself if you have a decent home/office printer. Others are simply logos applied to different materials so really only require a good vector logo as covered last time.

Successful business cards
A business card has to do a job first and foremost. Like any piece of graphic design, it has to get the message across. In this case it’s who you are, what you do and how you can be reached and, very importantly ‘remember me’. If you do a google search you’ll find sites full of amazing and innovative business cards. Some are very successful but some are totally impractical. For a start I’m assuming you’re working on a fairly tight budget, well complex cuts, textures and fabrication cost money. Also you have to think about retention. A fancy shape might not fit in a wallet so just gets thrown away, or a design might result in a card so fragile it falls apart quickly. I’ve also thrown away cards picked up at networking events because I haven’t a clue what the company actually does because the card is so obscure. Thing is that business card is doing nothing for you from the bottom of the bin. 

You do want your card to look good and also feel good. A lot of the perception of quality comes from touch so a nice strong, stable card with a pleasant texture is going to say more positive things about you than a thin flimsy thing from a ‘print your own business cards’ machine on the station concourse!

I opted for a double sided card. It costs a little more but the addition of a small image on the back really adds something I feel.  I still have lots of white space on there though so I can write on it, something to think about before designing a dark, dense double sided card. I also punch a hole in the corner thread a ribbon through and use the back for fibre and cleaning details and it magically becomes a tag with my full details on it.

Lovely letterheads
Letterheads are fairly self-explanatory. Again think about the paper you use. Standard printer paper is fine for most things but keep some heavier weight paper or perhaps a classier plain or laid paper on hand to give a classier result when needed. I don’t think many small businesses go to the expense of having letter-headed paper printed these days. Home printers are such good quality now that you can get perfectly acceptable results as long as you use nice paper. Have all your relevant details on your letterhead. You must have your registered place of business. Treble check your spelling, something you should do with everything (but if anyone spots an error here keep it to yourself, nobody likes a smart alec haha!) and again, as with everything, pay attention to your choice of typeface. Once it’s set up you can use it as a basic frame for your invoices, contracts and all you general stationery. You can also think about Complement slips when you’re doing that.  Or you may want to use a postcard or card for that. So that’s your basic corporate identity package dealt with.

Promote, promote
I’d say most of us get most use of the small promotional materials like postcards and flyers. As soon as you do a wedding show or any type of selling or promotional event you’ll need something to hand to people. Personally I like postcards as I think people keep hold of them longer. Pick a really nice photograph of your work, add your logo if you wish and keep the text on the back.

Flyers can have a bit more info and perhaps more images. But don’t over clutter.  Then next steps up are leaflets and brochures. Anything from a simple folded sheet up to complicated multi-page affairs can be done but I’m assuming it’s most likely to be the simpler options at the moment. If you do decide to have a lookbook printed up then I’d strongly suggest getting a professional in as it must look classy and professional and you don’t want money wasted because of a simple error.

Up and up and up
Posters, banners and pop-up banners are all useful. Pop-up ones that spring out from a cylinder to give you a tall, narrow, self-supporting sign are ideal for wedding shows etc. They’re also fairly reasonable to have printed.  This is when the vector type I was talking about last time comes into play as you need that type to scale up substantially. Also this is when keeping file sizes manageable gets a little tricky as you need to supply a big enough image  to use at this size without degrading. However the printer will give you guidelines as sometimes it can be surprising. I’ve designed large format posters in the past such as billboards and trackside boards and they are surprisingly low resolution as they’re intended to be seen from a distance. However ideally you still want your type to be vector.

Designing for printing.
The basic rules for all these media are the same.

  • Ask the printer for specifications. They’ll tell you what resolution they need images to be, what file formats they prefer. They may even provide you with a template to drop your artwork onto. If you don’t want to they’ll even design it all for you, for a charge of course.
  • Check your spelling. Nothing says unprofessional like spelling errors and bad grammar.
  • Make sure your images are big enough. You’re looking at images being around 300dpi at actual size in most cases but that takes it back to rule 1. Postage stamp sized images will stay postage stamp sized and remember what looks fairly big at 72dpi on your computer screen will be much smaller at print resolution.
  • Keep it legible (I know I banged on about that one last time, but it’s no good to you if nobody can read it).
  • Embed or outline your fonts. As discussed last time, you can’t rely on sending the font to the printer. If they’re anything like my old company we were strictly forbidden to put an outside, unofficial font on our Macs.
  • Add bleed. The printer will tell you how much and if there’s a provided template there will be an indicator of it. Basically bleed just ensures that your background or image covers the full area if you want it to. Without bleed there’s every possibility a sliver of white could be left at the edges.
  • CMYK!

Template showing - from outside in - bleed, trim line and the safe margin for types. The dotted line is a fold line.

Now you may find when you price up printing for promotional items that your confronted with two price options. One for digital printing and one for litho. Digital printing works best for short runs but if you require a lot of flyers for instance then litho may be cheaper. Offset litho is the method used for large run print jobs such as newspapers. The set up is complicated and expensive as plates need to be made up and the press set up with ink for each colour. And although computers have eased this it’s still more involved than digital. However once the set-up is done thousands of copies can fly off the press. It’s therefore far more cost effective for large runs.

This brings me rather neatly to dealing with newspapers and magazines. I worked for years in newspapers and part of my job involved setting adverts for customers. We designed and laid out the ads for everything from tiny 3x1 ads to full colour double page spreads. Those customers weren’t charged any differently for a fully designed ad than if they sent their own artwork in so consider that if you’re thinking of putting an ad in and aren’t very comfortable with doing the artwork yourself. But do bear in mind the quality can be very variable and with departments shrinking and becoming more pressured and more mechanised you may not get the same quality of service as once existed. But it does make life easier for you, and I have to say, often for the pre-press department too. In my years there I’ve seen logos sent in on crushed carrier bags, and with the usual pen marks and staples through them, pictures sent as the 3k link thumbnail instead of the full image (that was a common one) and so many variations of horrendous ads done in randomly inappropriate software packages (and I include Word in that) that we just had to pull apart and re-set anyway.

When you send in artwork it will probably go into a dropbox to apply standard actions on it to colour correct it for the newspaper’s settings. It will then go through another computer  before it goes to film and then to plate. With increasing computerisation and fewer staff it’s entirely possible a font will default or a mistakenly RGB picture will turn black and white. These things don’t always get noticed so be very careful in your checks before sending it in and check required specifications before you do (they will have a spec sheet with everything on it).

Here are some things to look out for:

  • Print resolutions can be anything from 200 to 340 dpi. Our newspapers were 200dpi. your images must be the appropriate dpi at actual size. Too small and they’ll turn to blurred and pixelated smudges. Too big and you’ll cause yourself unnecessary difficulty in sending it.
  • Papers are printed on low quality paper which can experience ‘dot gain’ where the ink dot spreads making it less legible. You can often set your photo-editing software to allow for this to some extent but it’s crucial that you’re careful about type size. We had a minimum of 6pt in most typefaces but you could get away with 5pt depending on the font and how important the content was.
  • Right hand pages are always the most desirable.
  • Be very, very careful about images and graphic elements. DO NOT use anything you don’t own unless it’s clearly marked as free to use.  You might think nobody will find out but believe me the big companies do. It’s amazing how some US conglomerate can track down an image in a tiny ad in a  local newspaper in a small Scottish town. I’ve seen it happen (coughcoughDisney).
  • Don’t expect magazine quality from a newspaper.  Colour and clarity may not be quite true, the printing plated may be slightly out of register and sometimes ink transfers between pages. If it’s very bad you may be able to push for a free ad but basically don’t expect too much from newsprint. Magazines on the other hand will be printed on better quality paper and more time will be taken in the production therefore quality should be higher generally.

Here’s a good wee example of a slight problem. The Kris Kristoffersen ad hasn’t quite taken the mediun into consideration in that the type is dark with poor contrast to the black background. On glossy magazine paper this would probably be fine but on newsprint, not so good. It gets away with it here because this is a quality broadsheet printed on good paper but on a cheaper tabloid it would be a difficult read. The Primal Scream ad is a better design for a newspaper.

Images for editorial
If you’ve been asked to supply images and copy for editorial then the principles are just the same. Make sure you have good quality images at a high enough resolution.

I hope I’ve been of some help. It’s a big topic and I can only give a broad overview here. But I hope I’ve been able to help you avoid the most common pitfalls.

Design For Print - Logo Design

This appeared as an article in Foundations Revealed in 2013, so I've slightly updated it to share with you.

For anyone going into business the first thing you think about is your name, and subsequently that name in any visual form becomes a logo.  Now, we aren't talking here about branding as a whole, which goes into the full theory of presenting your public face to the world. I’m here to help you with the practical. I’m assuming some basic familarity with a graphics program, no matter how elementary. I’m most familiar with Illustrator but I’ll keep it nonspecific as software use isn’t the point of this.

Some background. Before concentrating on corsetry I was a graphic designer. I worked for 18 years in the newspaper industry and before that did some of the manual  junior work in a couple of agencies. I astarted in graphics when it was still letraset and repro cameras, and Apple Macs were  mystical rare things that lived in darkened rooms.  As someone who has seen the profession undermined by the prevalence of home desktop publishing packages, I would of course say to use a professional when you can but I appreciate it isn’t always possible. However most printers will offer a design service and if you’re advertising in a magazine or newspaper then they should too. However I’ll go into advertising, brochures and so on at a later date. For now we’re talking logos. 

Why do you need a professional looking logo? 
Peers, professionalism, seriousness, quality
It’s more than likely the first thing you see. It’s a representation of you, your brand in black and white. People have to read and remember your name from it, so it must be legible (something I’ll be returning to again and again). If it’s shoddy, broken up, unprofessional then people may very well think you are too.

What do you want to say about your brand?
Demographics, colour theory, typefaces
 won’t dwell on the psychology here. But have a really good think about who you want to attract and how you want to attract them. Your choice of typeface is crucial, as is colour. A heavy, blocky face or a slab-serif is masculine and aggressive. A script can be feminine and soft. It can be elegant or casual, even punky.

Colour, letterspacing, rules and other graphic devices all make a difference. Conservative and classic, young and fun, gothic, historical, alternative, fetish can all be suggested with font and colour.

These say very different things (not all of them good)

What to look for and what to avoid
Gimmicks, bad fonts, bad typography
There are simple rules to good use of type.
Keep it legible
Use novelty fonts with care.
Never use display/fancy/script fonts in all uppercase
Don’t mix lots of fonts.
Try to keep within one or two complimentary font families
Oh yeah, and legibility again
Rules are made to be broken (requires skill and care)

The golden rule is legibility. Your logo is useless if it’s unrecognisable.

There are countless fancy fonts, and many of them are very eyecatching. But approach with care. Not only are you risking the legibility factor, but the fancier the font the shorter the lifespan and the more risk of it looking amateurish. Many of these fonts can end up looking twee or childish. They can summon up images of tacky shop signs, that downmarket hairdresser round the corner or the worst internet excesses of the MySpace pages of old. Of course a clever designer could employ them with tongue in cheek irony and make them work. That’s a tricky gamble though. For most of us it’s better to underplay things. Maybe use that novelty font as an initial or a monogram and then something simpler for the remaining lettering.

And of course – 

Also be very careful with how you handle that type. Don’t stretch or squish fonts. Somebody has spent time carefully crafting the design of every one of those characters. You distorting that font would be like someone taking your corset design and chopping a bit off it.

While we’re on fonts, check out the licensing. When you download a font there will be a read me or a doc with it detailing the allowable usage. If you download from one of the very many free font sites on the web there’s a fair chance that the originator will have specified non-commercial use only. If you’re in any doubt pay for your font. There are decent free fonts about but just check out the usage carefully. This is your business, don’t start it off on a wrong note. You can of course use one of the standard fonts on your computer. There’s nothing wrong with the classics like Times New Roman. They aren’t world shaking but, like a painter using a limited palette, restrictions can make you more creative. And if it sends the message you want to send then it’s perfectly appropriate.

Spaces and refinements
Spend some time on the details. Rattling off a word in a typeface can lead to some odd letterspacings, especially in script typefaces and between certain characters.

This font was typed straight in and obviously that gap after the F has to be closed.

If you find manipulating individual letter spacings using the character tools tricky then try outlining your type (as discussed below) and moving the individual letters point by point until they’re perfect. I usually resort to the old squint through half closed eyes trick to judge it.
The other thing to watch for is letterforms with ascenders and descenders and be very careful to avoid clashes.

To make this work all I did was move Crikey to the right and down so the y and h interlocked and made the C and the A a little bigger and shifted them slightly. A quick tweak but it sorts the clash of characters out and makes a feature of the interlocking ascender and descender.

Try to find a pleasing balance between the various words in your logo. Play around with sizes, perhaps enlarge an initial letter. Fit smaller type in suitable spaces and pay careful attention to lining things up.

Don’t rule it out
Don’t undestimate the effect of basic graphics like lines and boxes, or as one of my old tutors said, recto-linear frameworks! One of my favourite designers was always Vaughan Oliver and as I was at college in the early 90s the curved box he tended to favour often crept into my work. Pixies album covers were a big influence!

Adding pictures
Small illustrations, whether realistic or abstract can be very effective but be very aware of how they work at different sizes. Be wary of small detail that will vanish at a small size or on a rougher paper. And make sure it is perfect and sharp or it will look dreadful at a large scale.

The technical considerations
Reproduction in mono & colour, scaleability, 
In these days of web centric design it’s easy to forget about print limitations. But you’ll get brought up short if you want to put an ad in a local free paper or take out an ad in a programme or fanzine where the budget isn’t stretching to full colour printing.

I was always taught to design a logo in mono. A good design should work on the simplest terms. Think of someone photocopying a page with your name on it. You would want your logo to be readable, to hold up even on a low quality black and white image. So design something in mono then add colour later so you have both options. Keep things clean and, that word again, legible. Having a set of logos to hand - mono, one colour, full colour – means you have something ready for all print eventualities.  I’d also suggest having copies in a spot colour, CMYK and RGB. But more on that later.

Vector v Raster
Why does it matter, what does it mean

In the most simplistic terms – vector images are mathematical patterns of lines. Raster images are made of dots. Programs like Illustrator use vectors and mean your logo could be scaled up to the size of a building with no degradation. But a raster image is restricted by the number of dots per inch. Photographs are raster images and if you enlarge them too far you’ll end up with something akin to a pop art image of huge dots. With vector images you don’t have to worry about resolution, with raster you do.

Enlarge a vector and you get this:

 Nice and clean and will work on a business card or a billboard.

Enlarge a raster image too far you’ll get something like this:

Image I don't.jpg

Pretty self-explanatory.

So, for a logo we want vector. When you see paths with the little clickable points in a program like Illustrator then you’re safe, it’s vector. That also goes for any image graphics you have as part of your logo, like a scroll or small illustration. 

Now obviously for web use things change. You’re dealing with pixels on a screen rather than print on a page. You have to save in formats that will suit the site you’re uploading too. So don’t worry about vectors in that instance. You’re saving to screen resolution, equivalent to 72dpi, usually to a specific size to keep the file size low.  

Preparation for print
You have your beautifully designed and perfectly honed logo and now you want to save it to send to your printer to pop on some business cards for you. 

Outline your type
No printer has every font ever made and to supply him with the font is illegal, unless it’s a completely free font of course. But it’s unlikely he’ll want to install every random font and in a larger company they won’t permit it. If you send a logo and they don’t have the font it will default to an ugly, mis-spaced screen font. So, make sure it’s converted to paths. In Illustrator, it’s under the type menu and it’s ‘create outlines’. 

There are three options. For screen use we work in RGB, the light primaries of Red/Green/Blue. If you’re putting something on the web RGB is perfect. 

But RGB will produce odd results when put through some printer’s software. The colours might go a bit odd or it might change to black and white. For print we work in CMYK, which is the ink colours of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black (K being used to avoid confusion, stands for ‘key’ or some printers will tell you it stands for kohl). For full colour work a plate Is created for each ink colour. On a basic job the paper is white. This is why a one or two colour print job is cheaper than full colour with traditional print methods. And also why all the cost is in the set-up and it’s cost effective to print high quantities. For small print jobs though, it’s often digital print rather than the traditional offset litho.

On the left, RGB and CMYK on the right

The other alternative is spot colour where  a specific ink colour, such as a pantone colour is specified. A spot colour is also the format if you want a metallic ink, or a varnish (glossy area on an otherwise matt job). When the colours are seperated out (literally) to make plates, a seperate plate is made for a spot colour, varnish or special ink.

Case study.... Me!
This is the logo for my company Crikey Aphrodite. I’m thinking of changing it soon but this is how it stands for now

.I’m very influenced by mid 20th century fashion so I wanted a typeface that looked rather retro and feminine so I chose Ribbon 131. I wanted a script but to maintain legibility. My name isn’t always easy to spell for some people so I wanted to avoid fonts that didn’t have a clear ‘r’  as many script faces don’t.

Below are a couple of images showing my logo on different mediums. It’s used on business cards, postcards, vouchers, banners, a rubber stamp and I have it set up on my embroidery machine too. A good logo should be versatile and work for you.

Please note, none of the font combinations in the article are proper refined logos, merely examples to show the pitfalls and give you food for thought. Play around with typefaces, think about what you want to say and have some fun. Look at other logos and think about how they link in with the business. Make a note of the things you like and what appeals to you. 

I hope this is helpful to you. I’ll be putting another article together on designing other promotional material and things to look out for when submitting to publications which will be along soon

OCOC14 - Pop Antique's "College" Corset

Written by Marianne Faulkner. 

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


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!

Best Practices: 3 Quick Tips to a Better Website

As I write my weekly column for The Lingerie Addict, I'm thrilled every time I get to feature one of our Oxford Conference of Corsetry alumni. Seeing the modern generation of corsetieres graduate from enthusiastic dabblers to passionate entrepreneurs is pretty exciting. As you transition from a Facebook fanpage to a professional website, here are a few things to keep in mind. (I'm leaving the design stuff pretty out of this installment - with Alison on board, I don't think I could do the topic much justice!)

I know it's a lot of work to launch a website. It's important to remember that a website will continually be in a state of evolution. You can't wait until it's "done" or "just right," because there'll always be something to change, update, improve. Figure out what the minimum of content you need is and start with that. Too much information will just confuse your clients anyway. That said, here are some tips, focusing on things that are often forgotten in creating a site.

  1. Location, location, location - I shouldn't have to hunt through a bio, about me, contact page, Facebook page, and Etsy store looking for your location only to eventually track it down on your Model Mayhem page. Make your location easy to find. You don't have to spotlight it on your front page unless you feel an innate connection to your home base, but it should be in either your about me or contact page, if not both. In a craft industry, clients like to support not only artists, but local artists. Plus, corsetry is an intimate experience and nothing can beat an in-person consultation and fitting.
  2. The second thing I look for is the date your brand was established. I realize that's a fuzzy line - is it when you made your first corset or made your first sale? For me, I chose the year I named my line, Pop Antique. Either way, let people know. It's always the most shocking to me when legacy brands (those established 15, 20, 25 or more years ago) don't include their launch year. Even if you just launched, that's okay! That means you're "up-and-coming," maybe even a new corsetry prodigy. It's often the brands that I see seemingly come out of nowhere that excite me the most with a fresh perspective. Re-branding is a good way to reinvigorate interest, but remember to make a clean switch to your new name and marketing strategy, and do mention your former name in your company history.
  3. Have some pricing guidelines clearly posted. An Etsy store may be easy and affordable to set up, but from what I hear, it's not the best sales tool these days. At least, not at this price point! A professional website is a must, and most of them make it easy to integrate a shopping card/web-store. I use, and LOVE, Squarespace. It's affordable and easy to set up. When an Etsy store is barren, it's sometimes hard to gauge whether the person is on hiatus or inattentive, and there's no way (as a client) to gauge your interest in that person's style and price point. Even if you're stuck on using Etsy for actual sales, or only do bespoke and therefore have few standard prices, try to have some basic pricing guidelines easily available on the website. You could put this on a page called, "Pricing," or, "Investment," something that will feel intuitive when seen in a menu. Don't confuse your portfolio with your pricing information. Clients easily fixate on specifics and will have a hard time understanding what parts of a concept are standard.

With all that said... I do have one design tip. When in doubt, simpler is better. Go with clean, easy to read formatting and fonts.

Now that you've got your website spruced up, don't forget to submit to the new Alumni Directory!

Marianne Faulkner

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!


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