Written by Gerry Quinton.
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.
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.
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!