OCOC BLOG


OCOC14 - Clessidra's "Pearls of Wisdom" Corset

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

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copyright Scott Chalmers

copyright Scott Chalmers

The Challenge

My presentation which came after Alison's opening inspiration class, was all about patterning, but more specifically, how to work a basic corset block and manipulate it into any design you fancy using standard sizing information and a knowledge of the study of anthropometrics.  This was a short presentation designed to inspire seekers to look further into the endlessly fascinating topic of corset pattern creation, manipulation and grading.

In keeping with my topic  I had to take a basic corset block and change the design quite dramatically, into something different,  and not necessarily recognisable as a basic pattern.  However, I wanted to also prove, that 'dramatic' doesn't necessarily mean 'difficult'.

Inspiration

I had some degraded leather in my stash which I thought would be perfect for this project as it reminded me of old books, and where better to find old books than The Jesus College Fellows Library which houses books dating back as far as the 15th century.  But I didn't just want a boring old brown leather corset - brown is not an inspiring colour to me -  so I looked further for inspiration, the gardens outside, the knowledge within the books, gold leather inlays, pearls of wisdom,  gems of information and  the glorious golden panels at the end of the library.  

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

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

Of course all this focus on knowledge and inspiration also reflects the whole reason we were at Jesus in the first place, to share and learn from each other, to gather our own pearls of wisdom and to become enlightened with those little gems of ideas which happen mostly by accident when a group of like minds and kindred spirits come together.   

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

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

I had a lot of inspiration to play with but how to translate this into a corset?

The Design Process

I am not a drawer of pictures or a sketcher of ideas.  The way I design is very hands on and intuitive and usually follows a collection of ideas and concepts.  This means that although I have a basic aesthetic, my design process can be very changeable and will evolve over the whole time of creation until the piece is finished.  I like this more artistic approach as although it can be quite frustrating - ideas tripping over themselves to get out of my head and in the process sometimes getting muddled up and always changing - it does suit the fact that I currently have to fit corset making around all the other jobs I do and so it provides an almost immediate creative outlet for me, without which, I might possibly go mad!  The results are often very surprising.  

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

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

So my initial ideas for the Pearls of Wisdom corset started off very very different to the eventual outcome but, the eventual outcome was better than I could ever have imagined.

The Corset

Of course the design had to illustrate my class - I used the standard Sew Curvy 6 panel corset pattern and changed it very slightly to illustrate that even small changes to a basic pattern, can give dramatically different results and needn't be difficult or too time consuming.  In this case only the bottom and top lines were changed but the practice piece I created beforehand, modelled by our own Marianne after the conference, changed many of the pattern lines too.

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

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

The Pearls of Wisdom corset is made from two pieces of thin brown leather hide which I had actually saved from the reject pile in a leather factory where the metallic coating process went wrong.  Therefore, some parts were suede and some parts were very shiny.  It was beautiful in itself but I wanted to give it more depth and I wanted to somehow incorporate all of those aspects of our beautiful surroundings, hidden knowledge,  gems of inspiration and those gold panels!     

The front panel of the corset is corded with different sizes of cording and these are made to stand out with aged gold leaf - I had in mind gold inlays in old books and desks and corded spines of books.  To give the fabric of the corset it's depth and to reflect the golden panels in the library, I panted it with gold acrylic.  The floral lace winding around the corset mirros the  beautiful gardens outside the library and hidden within that foliage are the tiny sparkly crystals resembling the twinkling lights of inspiration seeping out of every brick in the college.

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

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

Making this corset really pushed my creative muscles.  In making Pearls of Wisdom I learned how to work with leather and explored many different methods of embellishment.  I made many accidental discoveries and over all,   I think it's probably the first time i've ever stood back and loved my work not only for what it is but because there was and still is nothing about it that I would change or do better next time.  

The Photoshoot

As often happens when things are supposed to be, things fell into place rather easily for the Fellows shoot.  None of us could decide which model to work with, so we put names into a hat and these were pulled out by our lovely colleague Ian Frazer Wallace.  I got to work with classic beauty Liv which was very lucky in actual fact because she is very tall and the only one of our models who this corset would fit as it is made to standard measures - it is worth noting here that all of the Fellows corsets were made for the models without prior fitting.  

copyright: Scott Chalmers

copyright: Scott Chalmers

Very serendipitously, a few months earlier, I had been killing time in a shop while waiting for a bus and found the stunning golden skirt on sale which immediately put me in mind of my unadorned distressed brown leather ideas - it was this skirt which gave me the inspiration to literally 'go for gold' in order to tie the two pieces together - it was a catalyst.  Having showed Liv the fabrics I was working with for her, she crafted a perfect golden head piece and the whole outfit looked absolutely stunning.  Together with Liv's excellent modelling and both photographers amazing skills, I got a set of pictures that I adore, and which take pride of place in my studio. 

OCOC14 - Sparklewren's "Jesus" Corset

Written by Jenni Hampshire.

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

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The Challenge

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

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

 

The Design Process

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

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

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

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

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

image.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Corset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Photoshoot

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

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

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

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

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

How to get to OCOC

Are you wondering how to gather funds in order to get to OCOC next year?  Our Business speaker for 2015 is Fiona Pullen, owner of online sewing resource The Sewing Directory, and author of the number one Amazon best selling Craft Business book "Craft a Creative Business".  Here Fiona gives tips and ideas on how to raise money in order to gather funds for any project, not just getting to OCOC.

Fiona with fashion icon, Zandra Rhodes, October 2014

Fiona with fashion icon, Zandra Rhodes, October 2014

How will you afford to go to Oxford Conference of Corsetry?

Tickets have just gone on sale, you’re looking longingly at the photos of past events and wishing that you could go to the Oxford Conference of Corsetry.  You know it will be great for your business, the networking, the new skills you’ll learn, getting professional photos for your portfolio.  However not everyone has £650 sitting in their account ready to spend on an amazing weekend away.

So how can you fund your trip to the Oxford Conference of Corsetry?

Shift that dead stock
Most of us have items we’ve made or bought that just didn’t sell like we expected.  You are reluctant to drop the price because you still believe that perfect buyer is out there.  However, it is taking up space and energy that could be devoted to products that will sell much quicker and easier.  Have a big rummage through and find that stock that has been sitting there for ages, reduce it down, promote your big sale, share pictures across social media, let them know it’s a flash sale (to encourage immediacy) and get it sold.  Put those funds aside to help fund your trip.

Upsell
If you can include a little extra in your sale those extra bits of income could help fund your trip.  If you sell corsets could you offer matching accessories so you can sell 2 items per transaction instead of one?  If you’re selling your products as Christmas gifts could you charge a little extra for gift wrapping?   If you teach corsetry could you offer your students a little discount on another course once they’ve booked one, so you sell 2 spaces instead of one?   Or maybe a bring a friend offer?

Increase your profit margin
This is a bit of a trickier one, there are 3 ways of increasing your profit margin.  You either need to make your product faster (thereby decreasing the amount of time you put in), reduce your materials cost or increase your product costs. 

  • a) With regards to reducing the time I’m going to assume most of you have been doing this a while and are working to full productivity.  If you are still fairly new then do take the time to learn new techniques, study and read up on different ways of doing things to see if you find any shortcuts.  Have you tried batching if you are making several of the same item?
  • b) When it comes to the cost of materials many of us stick with the suppliers we found when we first started a business.  But it does pay to look around and see what else is out there, you could look at trade publications or attend trade shows to see what other suppliers there are or do some online research.  Even if it knocks just a couple of percentage of your costs over a year that can add up to quite a big saving.
  • c) Increase your product costs. Can you justify increasing your prices?  Could you aim at a market with bigger budgets, or use unique supplies that people are willing to pay a little extra for?  Has your skill level grown and your products evolved since you first priced them?  Have you looked to see how your prices compare to your competition, if they are charging more than you then perhaps you could get away with a small increase too?

Big promotional push!
It is the perfect time of year for a big marketing push.  Market your products as the ideal Christmas gift, step up your social media campaign, send a few reminder newsletters, send press releases out.  You may be too late for magazine coverage but perhaps you could get something into the local papers?  It might be worth looking at some low cost advertising like Facebook ads, or speak to complimentary businesses about cross promoting each other’s products to help reach a new audience.  Can you display flyers at Christmas events?  Could you write guest pots for relevant websites to help get your name and products out there?  People are planning to spend a lot of money over the next 5 weeks so make sure your products are in their mind whilst they are spending.

Hopefully I will see you at OCOC in August where I will be speaking about search engine optimisation and how it can help people find your products.

Written by Fiona Pullen, owner of The Sewing Directory and author of Craft a Creative Business.

 

Saturday night at OCOC14

Autumn Adamme and Ian Frazer Wallace at high table.  picture copyright Julia Bremble

Autumn Adamme and Ian Frazer Wallace at high table.  picture copyright Julia Bremble

Written by Julia Bremble

Saturday night at the Conference is a special affair.  After the workshops of the day, there is a little social time before drinks, dinner and more socialising in the bar.  The evening starts with Pimms on the quad Oxford style and  this is served up with a healthy dose of glamour.  Anybody who has watched Inspector Morse on TV may be familiar with the scene!

The drinks reception is where all in attendance gather before dinner to have a chat and catch up with those who they may not have had a chance to meet yet.

Glasses ready to receive the Pimms - a gin based cocktail which is particularly popular in Oxford.  picture copyright Julia Bremlbe

Glasses ready to receive the Pimms - a gin based cocktail which is particularly popular in Oxford.  picture copyright Julia Bremlbe

Here am I with the Godmother of Modern Corsetry, Autumn Adamme.  It was Autumn who back in the 80's and early 90's decided that corsets should be worn on the outside!  Us modern corsetieres have alot to thank her for.  Autumn was particularly enamoured with the picture of Elizabeth I hanging in the Peter North room where the College silver is stored.  picture copyright Steph Selmayr

Here am I with the Godmother of Modern Corsetry, Autumn Adamme.  It was Autumn who back in the 80's and early 90's decided that corsets should be worn on the outside!  Us modern corsetieres have alot to thank her for.  Autumn was particularly enamoured with the picture of Elizabeth I hanging in the Peter North room where the College silver is stored.  picture copyright Steph Selmayr

Our special guest last year was Ian Frazer Wallace of the Whitechapel Workhouse and he was with us again this year.  It has become a tradition for him to make a showpiece for Saturday night.  This year I was very priveledged to be part of this as Ian asked me to make the corset pattern for his Chanel inspired suit.  More on that in a separate post.

Ian Frazer Wallace with his Chanel inspired corsetted suit made from wool boucle and using traditional corsetry, tailoring and milinery techniques.  Modelled by beautiful and effervesent April.  picture copyright Chris Murray

Ian Frazer Wallace with his Chanel inspired corsetted suit made from wool boucle and using traditional corsetry, tailoring and milinery techniques.  Modelled by beautiful and effervesent April.  picture copyright Chris Murray

After drinks we have dinner in Hall.  Not 'the great hall' or 'the hall' or 'the dining hall'.  In Oxford, the place you eat is simply 'Hall' and all colleges have a very grand Hall where all students eat all meals.   When you become part of an Oxford College, whether as a student, member of staff or conference delegate, you really begin to understand where stories like "Alice in Wonderland" and other fantastical tales from this city come from.  It is literally another world.

Dinner is a three course grand affair followed by a talk by our special guest.   The food is served by attentive waiters and waitresses and wine flows freely along with the conversation.  At night, Hall is a magical place to be.

Jesus Hall is a grand room presided over by Elizabeth I and accompanied by portraits of other luminaries of Jesus including Lawrence of Arabia who was once a student here.  picture copyright  Tavan Photography

Jesus Hall is a grand room presided over by Elizabeth I and accompanied by portraits of other luminaries of Jesus including Lawrence of Arabia who was once a student here.  picture copyright  Tavan Photography

After dinner our very special guest takes the stand.  This year it was Autumn Adamme, Founder and Proprietress of Dark Garden Corsetry and Couture in San Francisco.  Autumn who has been making corsets since she was 10 years old,  spoke about her life in corsetry, her influences, inspirations and mentors,  and then went on to describe her business philosophies which covered the joys and pitfalls of running a corsetry business.  I  found myself nodding vigorously at almost everything she said as I know many others did too.    Autumn gave an interesting and inspiring speech which I am sure will serve to guide many corset makers - beginners and experienced alike, through the rest of their careers in corsetry.   It is always affirming to know that the things we think and believe and are passionate about in our own ideas and practices, are all things that have been felt and experienced before  by others who share those passions, and who have blazed the trails before us.

Autumn also spoke of her time in Paris this summer, studying with Mr Pearl, the acknowledged leader of our field.  picture copyright Chris Murray

Autumn also spoke of her time in Paris this summer, studying with Mr Pearl, the acknowledged leader of our field.  picture copyright Chris Murray

After dinner it's time to assemble in the Fourth Quad - that's the student bar! It's in a cellar and is the perfect place for cosy chatting about corsets!  In naming the pictures below, I see they are a bit of a 'who's who' in Modern Corsetry

Socialising in the Fourth Quad - the student bar - here's Jenni of Sparklewren, Rosie of Rosie Red, Lowana of Vanyanis, Hannah of Neon Duchess, Liz of Elizabeth Armstrong, Steph of Past Pleasures, Caroline of Corsets by Caroline. picture copyright Chris Murray

Socialising in the Fourth Quad - the student bar - here's Jenni of Sparklewren, Rosie of Rosie Red, Lowana of Vanyanis, Hannah of Neon Duchess, Liz of Elizabeth Armstrong, Steph of Past Pleasures, Caroline of Corsets by Caroline. picture copyright Chris Murray

I feel like i'm in Fame!  Here we have Lucy of Lucy's Corsetry, Karolina of Karolina Laskowska Lingerie, Ian of Whitechapel Workhouse, Roxann of Stitched Up, Gerry of Morua Designs, and that little flash of blue hair belongs to Alice of Videnoir.   picture copyright Chris Murray

I feel like i'm in Fame!  Here we have Lucy of Lucy's Corsetry, Karolina of Karolina Laskowska Lingerie, Ian of Whitechapel Workhouse, Roxann of Stitched Up, Gerry of Morua Designs, and that little flash of blue hair belongs to Alice of Videnoir.   picture copyright Chris Murray

Caption competition?   picture copyright Chris Murray

Caption competition?   picture copyright Chris Murray

So that's Saturday night at OCOC.  I am so happy and so proud that so many friendships and bonds have been made at OCOC.   The next post about the conference proceedings will be all about Sunday, where the photographers and models come out to play!  
 

For more pictures, click here.

 

OCOC14 - Crikey Aphrodite's "Queen" Corset

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

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

Written by Alison Campbell. 

The Challenge

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

The Inspiration

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

The Design Process

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

Portrait of Elizabeth I, 1590, artist unknown.

Portrait of Elizabeth I, 1590, artist unknown.

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

 

The Corset

Materials                                                                                

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fit without fitting

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

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

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

Finished Corset

Image copyright Jenni Hampshire 2014

Image copyright Jenni Hampshire 2014

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

 

Image copyright Chris Murray Photography, featuring Evie Wolfe

Image copyright Chris Murray Photography, featuring Evie Wolfe

The Photoshoot

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

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

 

OCOC14 - Saturday Workshops

So the morning of OCOC14 finally came and the day started early, as usual with coffee and welcome in the JCR where the programme was outlined, guests were announced, and goodybags and houserules were given out.  We had decided to run the programme along the theme 'making a corset from start to finish' which may seem basic to some, but this conference is all about learning from others and sharing information, so it seemed apt to have one year where we would literally start from the beginning of how to make a corset,  and work our way through to the finish.  And so, with such a packed programme for the day, there was no time to tarry and the first workshop with Alison Campbell commenced at 9.15 sharp.  Alison devised a fun, interactive class with paper dolls, colouring pencils, scissors and in the age of the smart phone, cameras.  Everyone was sent out for 20 mintues to find inspiration from the College itself and for the duration of the workshop, our teacher was "Miss Campbell" !

Seeking inspiration at Jesus - photo by Jenni Hampshire

paper dolls,  colouring pencils and beautiful surroundings bring out everyone's creativity!

Some fabulous ideas came out and people were surprised at how being made to do something they may not normally do,  re-invigorated their own practice.

All of the presenters bought their own interpretation of Jesus College inspirations and tied these in with the subject of their presentation.  Here is Alison's "Jesus Corset" which is ofcourse inspired by Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scotts.

My own workshop followed with an overview of the corset patterning process.  Having studied for years, the theory of having a 'forumula' for corset patterning - and succeeding in finding said formula - I realised that infact, you don't really need to know how to do it from scratch every single time, you just need to either find a good corset block or make a good block, and adapt each design from that one block.  The key is knowing how that block works and imposing your forumla onto it.  I illustrated this theory by encouraging those present to go forth and study something called "Anthropometrics" which is the study of the relationship between human size and the products we use.  It's fascinating and is the whole reason we can use 'standard' sizing to acheive a near perfect fit, depending upon the demographic we are working with and combining that knowledge with our own personal research.

My own "Jesus Corset" mid production before the Conference.  Made using techniques discussed during my presentation.

Jenni Hampshire took the corset block theory further in the next session, by talking about her modern Birdswing Corset patterns which were inspired by a trip to see antique corsets in the Symington Collection a few years ago with Foundations Revealed.  The original antique birdswing corset which we saw on display that day, comprised of as many as 22 panels per side and was boned on every seam - the name birdswing was given because when laid flat, the corset with all it's panels, looked just like a birdswing.  So Jenni has been working on a modern version ever since and during her interactive talk, she not only showed us her beautiful patterns, but gave away many of her trade secrets.  I must say, even I was a bit surprised at how generous she was on that front!

Just one of the multi panneled Modern Birdswing Patterns that Jenni put on show for the delegates to ponder.  This one is 16 panels each side.

The 'original' Birdswing corset on display at Snibston Museum Fashion Gallery, which inspired the modern Sparkelwren versions.

No day dedicated to corset making and theory would be complete without a lesson in grading.  Marianne Faulkner took the stage after Jenni's Birdswing session, to talk about grading standard corset patterns with a view to creating a line of a certain design.  This was quite a complex talk and covered many aspects of sizing and grading in great detail including how to deal with the different demographic groups which I mentioned in my own talk.

Marianne Faulkner talking about corset pattern grading with her Jesus Corset to the side.  Photo by Jenni Hampshire.

The day of workshops finished on a very fun note with Gerry Quinton's class on advanced surface embellishment.  For this class, Gerry wanted people to really think outside of the box as far as embelleshing a corset is concerned and to illustrate this point, brought with her the most beatufully embellished sheer corset with a smocked and draped overlay covered in metallic flowers and crystals.  In her class she taught those present how to create 'American smocking' and how to make various other embellishments using different methods and materials, including ribbon flowers, and different ways to attach crystals.

Gerry demonstrating advanced surface embellishment techniques

Gerry demonstrating advanced surface embellishment techniques

Gerry's 'Jesus Corset' incorporating some of the techniques she discussed in class.

Gerry's 'Jesus Corset' incorporating some of the techniques she discussed in class.

And so we reached the end of day one at OCOC14.  It disappeared at lightning speed but left us all fully inspired, bursting with new ideas and theories, some of which were perfectly mirrored in our 'wall of Mini Morgana's' displayed in the JCR for all to see.

All the ideas at OCOC14

Full sized, real life Morgana arrived on Saturday afternoon to find that she was omni-present!

Full sized, real life Morgana arrived on Saturday afternoon to find that she was omni-present!

The next installment covers what happened on Saturday night at Jesus!

Julia Bremble, September 2014

 

 

 

Oxford Conference of Corsetry 2014 - the run up

It's been 4 weeks since the end of the second Oxford Conference of Corsetry, which is quite an unreal feeling, because it still only feels like the first one took place last week instead of a whole year ago in 2013!  However, we're so advanced at this point that most everything is in place for 2015, and we're busily gathering materials for 2016!

As has now become habit, the 2014 Conference was over and done with in a matter of nano-seconds, at least that's how it felt!  Many people turned up at Jesus on the Thursday evening preceeding the Conference, and more still arrived on Friday.  In fact, by Friday lunchtime, most of the delegates had arrived and were happily meeting up, catching up and going on the various excursions they had planned together via our own private Facebook group for conference attendees.  There were ghost tours, morse tours, science tours, history tours and a fabric discount to be had at the local haberdashery.

 About 75% of delegates this year were returners from 2013 which left a good 25% who were 'new'.  Those new people were comprised heavily of my own Sew Curvy students plus some others who are well known 'online', so between class, online and the Facebook group, many of them knew eachother already and even if they hadn't met before, the atmosphere during the conference is so friendly and inviting that I think I am right in saying that nobody really felt 'new' at all!  More than a few people have likened our Conference community of corsetieres to a big happy family, and this sentiment does leave me feeling extremely warm and fuzzy inside because it is exactly, and I mean exactly,  how I envisioned things should, would and could be.

Corset Makers from around the world gather at Jesus College Oxford over August Bank Holiday.

My own Conference experience obviously starts somewhere in October of the preceeding year when tickets go on sale (the first of many new traditions).  There is of course a constant trickle of Conference administration to do throughtout the year,  but things really hot up about a month or so before.  It really doesn't matter how well prepared one is, there are always last minute jobs to do, things which can't be done until soon before the event and ofcourse there is the press interest which has to first be generated and then worked through to our best advantage. 

Pre-press photography and reporting at the Sew Curvy Studio before the conference.  This appeared in the Oxford Mail

At the beginning of August, the first member of my team, Gerry Quinton arrived at Sew Curvy HQ.  She planned to help me with the workload and complete her own Conference projects during the two weeks leading up to the event.  We soon settled into the routine of Sew Curvy work in the mornings - she would pick and I would pack, and then  conference work in the afternoons and copious amounts of hand stitching in the evenings.   We each made our "Jesus corsets" during this time but more on those in separate posts.

Actually Gerry never really stopped making her Jesus Corset, until the moment she needed it!  Here she is in the packed car on the way to Jesus, needle in hand.

Next to arrive on the Wednesday prior to Conference, was Alison Campbell who has proved herself invaluable to me over the year and has literally been my right hand - responsible for all of the branding and print design for the Conference including this very website which I'm sure you'll agree is pretty snazzy.  Alison bought with her a whole car full of 'stuff' and there was much catching up while gin drinking that evening. 

Gin and catch up, but we're still working! Happy days!

On Thursday the three of us de-camped to Jesus where  the last minute hard work frenzy started - making up badges, packing mannequins, putting the finishing touches to our presentations and class materials, buying party dresses, last minute print and sundry shopping,  and most importantly, sorting out the 70 lace samples which had been loaned to us by Solstiss who had given us a very special deal for conference delegates. 

The lace sorting took a while ... a long while.  No gin this time, couldn't risk getting in a muddle! Note virtuous bottle of water on table.

By Friday evening, the rest of the team, Jenni Hampshire and Marianne Faulkner had arrived from Birmingham and we set about setting up our Conference rooms for the event!   There was much more to set up than last year.  We had pictures to display, more mannequins than ever - in fact some of them were quite naked even after set up - and much more class material to prepare. 

Alison setting up the display in the main plenary room.  Here we have one of her own designs, a silk Sparklewren, the now famous Cage dress made by Rosie Red and last seen being worn by Helena Bonham Carter in Vanity Fair Magazine, and an exquiste leather corset kindly loaned to us by Bizarre Design.

There was also more to go in the goody bags than there was last year.  Our lovely sponsors Janome provided pads, pens and tape measures along with handy sewing machine guides, there was the Morgana Doll, some corset cut outs to clothe her with -both made and designed by Alison, and ofcourse Foundations Revealed provided the beautiful canvas goody bags (again designed by Alison).  While 'team 1' unpacked and dressed the mannequins, 'team 2' stuffed the goody bags and sorted out the fabric swap table which was once again over flowing.

The goody bag this year was packed full of fun and pretty things but would have been wonderful just on it's own!

By midnight, we were as ready as we could be, and far too tired for gin drinking.  Read the rest of the report over the next few days.  There's simply too much to tell for one blog post!!

'Twas the night before Christmas ... Oh no sorry .. .. T'was the night before OCOC ....


Gaultier at the Barbican - Details Part 1

Now that it is September already and the conference is done for another year, I realise just how jam-packed 2014 has been so far! One thing that stands out as a definite highlight is all the wonderful contemporary corsetry I have had the pleasure to study. 

Alison, Julia and I (Jenni) visited the Gaultier exhibition at the Barbican a few months back. I think most of our corsetmaking friends have done likewise since! As you might expect, it was full of incredible things, and joyously the exhibition is allowing photographs. I certainly think this is a wonderful idea, as seeing so many teasers via Instagram and the like whipped me into a bit of a frenzy for this exhibition! I highly recommend attending. I have even been told by a corsetmaking friend that the official exhibition book features a double-page section on the talented Mr Pearl. 

Here are just a few of my favourite details from the exhibition (all iPhone snaps by Jenni Hampshire, courtesy of the Barbican, London). 

This corset-body was the star of the show, to my eyes. I had always wanted to see this piece, ever since discovering it in Dita von Teese's book. Made by Mr Pearl, it featured elegant cutting, beautiful brown lace, and gorgeous lacing detail. As delicious as I'd imagined and wonderful to briefly study. I wish I'd had more time with this piece! 

This corset-body was the star of the show, to my eyes. I had always wanted to see this piece, ever since discovering it in Dita von Teese's book. Made by Mr Pearl, it featured elegant cutting, beautiful brown lace, and gorgeous lacing detail. As delicious as I'd imagined and wonderful to briefly study. I wish I'd had more time with this piece! 

Oh, how I adore those tiny eyelets over the hips... Seeing a picture of this corset of Dita von Teese might be my first memory of seeing proper couture corsetry and really appreciating what I was looking at. 

Oh, how I adore those tiny eyelets over the hips... Seeing a picture of this corset of Dita von Teese might be my first memory of seeing proper couture corsetry and really appreciating what I was looking at. 

Though it is a crying shame for something so beautiful to suffer damage, I actually rather love signs of use, wear and tear. It means a thing has had a life. I also loved discovering that the lace and flat lacing were brown in colour. I had thought from small photos that they were black. So so gorgeous. 

Though it is a crying shame for something so beautiful to suffer damage, I actually rather love signs of use, wear and tear. It means a thing has had a life. I also loved discovering that the lace and flat lacing were brown in colour. I had thought from small photos that they were black. So so gorgeous. 

These delicious stays finished in a very interesting point where all the exterior casings overlapped. I'm not entirely sure how it was done (I remember having a good idea at the time, but didn't write it down!), but they do remind me of antique pre-boned casings that I have seen at Snibston Discover Museum and elsewhere... I believe they were sold so that women could add them to their existing corsets, perhaps as extra support or to replace damaged casings. Either way, it's a lovely idea that I'd adore to see explored in contemporary corsetry. 

These delicious stays finished in a very interesting point where all the exterior casings overlapped. I'm not entirely sure how it was done (I remember having a good idea at the time, but didn't write it down!), but they do remind me of antique pre-boned casings that I have seen at Snibston Discover Museum and elsewhere... I believe they were sold so that women could add them to their existing corsets, perhaps as extra support or to replace damaged casings. Either way, it's a lovely idea that I'd adore to see explored in contemporary corsetry. 

Building around corsets is still something that really appeals to me. I suppose because it has such scope for playfulness. One could do something structural and humorous like this, or something subtle like the hidden "integrated" corsetry of our "corset fellow" Marianne of PopAntique. Other wonderful details in this piece are the sloping waist-tape (if you wrap a tape around a corseted form you will see that it makes sense) and the apparent delicacy of the fabric. 

Building around corsets is still something that really appeals to me. I suppose because it has such scope for playfulness. One could do something structural and humorous like this, or something subtle like the hidden "integrated" corsetry of our "corset fellow" Marianne of PopAntique. Other wonderful details in this piece are the sloping waist-tape (if you wrap a tape around a corseted form you will see that it makes sense) and the apparent delicacy of the fabric. 

I'd be so intrigued to see this piece being laced on, to know exactly how it all fits together. The spine detail is so gorgeous. 

I'd be so intrigued to see this piece being laced on, to know exactly how it all fits together. The spine detail is so gorgeous. 

Sure, not obviously corsetry, but I love this gown. Kylie worn it in the imagery for her X tour which I thoroughly enjoyed. To the right is a silver corset-body that she then wore on a later North-American tour, and it was interesting seeing how the piece had more detail and textural interest than you can see from pictures. 

Sure, not obviously corsetry, but I love this gown. Kylie worn it in the imagery for her X tour which I thoroughly enjoyed. To the right is a silver corset-body that she then wore on a later North-American tour, and it was interesting seeing how the piece had more detail and textural interest than you can see from pictures. 

So, the end for today dear reader! There were many more wonderful corset-based details and I took many more phone snaps... but they will have to wait for another day.

Have you attended this exhibition at the Barbican or elsewhere? Let us know your experiences in the comments. 

Show & Tell - Purdy Corsetry (plus "skeletons")

By Jenni Hampshire (Sparklewren)

 

Skeleton and ventilated corsetry has many different incarnations. Sometimes being corsets that are decorated with a ribcage motif and sometimes being big sculptural wearable-art pieces (McQueen, Gaultier and Iris Van Herpen spring to mind). But for many of us, "skeleton corsetry" refers more specifically to a breed of Victorian corsets made with cutaway sections. Designed, apparently, to let the skin breathe or reduce heat.

Women traveling to foreign climes might be persuaded to buy corsets like this. Our very own tutor Alison (CrikeyAphrodite!) has an affection for ventilated pieces, wondering if an ancestor of hers would have worn one. Worn over chemises and under gowns (and generally with a rather low waist reduction), there would be little risk of unslightly bulges of skin, and perhaps that extra bit of air would make a difference to comfort.

True skeleton corsets might have no solid bands of fabric, being made entirely of bone casings, waist tape, and binding alone. But I personally find the cross-over point to regular corsetry more beautiful. This is where corsets might have open or cutaway sections, but are not entirely skeletal.

This "ventilated" corset is held by the Snibston Fashion Museum. Shared with permission of Leicester County Council, photo taken by Jenni Hampshire.

This "ventilated" corset is held by the Snibston Fashion Museum. Shared with permission of Leicester County Council, photo taken by Jenni Hampshire.

Contemporary makers often shy away from ventilated corsetry but a friend of mine, Jemma of Purdy Corsetry, has embraced it whole-heartedly, making some of the most striking and clever ventilated pieces I have seen!

Corset by  Purdy Corsetry , neckpiece by  Forge Fashion . Made for burlesque artist  Venus Starr .

Corset by Purdy Corsetry, neckpiece by Forge Fashion. Made for burlesque artist Venus Starr.

Having met Jemma in 2013, I can tell you that her work is technically immaculate and very gorgeous. Combine that with a great understanding of colour and a willingness to explore ideas many shy away from, and you have stunningly unique corsets!

As an aside, this "U" shaped plunge is very popular detail this year... It's been growing for perhaps two or three years, but just now we are seeing it quite a lot. Partly perhaps due to work like Jemma's, partly perhaps due to wonderful antiques that are being brought back to life by people like Nikki... It's lovely to see such trends and experimentation within corsetry. When I started a few years back, there wasn't quite so much variety (and I'm a big fan of variety!).

Corset by  Purdy Corsetry , neckpiece by  Forge Fashion . Made for burlesque artist  Venus Starr .

Corset by Purdy Corsetry, neckpiece by Forge Fashion. Made for burlesque artist Venus Starr.

Another piece Jemma is working on is a more muted dark tone and heavily beaded. I cannot wait to see the finished item!

Beaded corset by Purdy Corsetry.

Beaded corset by Purdy Corsetry.

One of the things I love best about contemporary corsetry, is having so many friends and acquaintances within it. We can only guess at the motivations of individual cutters and designers back in Victorian and Edwardian times, but with our peers we can geek out to our heart's content about the technical challenges surrounding any new design. Add to that the fact that corsetry can also be pretty and shiny and I think you have a perfect artform :-)

There is so much to be inspired by, like Purdy Corsetry's work here. The trick isn't to replicate the work of those you're inspired by, but to replicate their attitude of innovation, hard-work, study, and boldness. There are a zillion ways we can each have an unique take on corsetry, and referencing antique styles is just one of them.

I hope you've enjoyed reading about Purdy's work! Do bookmark us and check back in the future, for more posts all about beautiful corsetry.

Show & Tell - Sparklewren

"Red Hearts" is a Birds Wing corset-body, made of fine mink coutil (via SewCurvy).

Tingyn in the Red Hearts corset, by InaGlo Photography, 2014.

Tingyn in the Red Hearts corset, by InaGlo Photography, 2014.

I think it can be easy to fall into thinking that plain coutil is not a decorative fabric choice, but that doesn't have to be the case. Aside from how beautiful the fine herringbone coutil is by itself, it is also a wonderful base for draping and/or embellishment, which is what we did with Red Hearts. Bubblegum pink tulle is wrapped across the corset and gathered behind the bustline, whilst layered laces in gold, vanille, neutral-pink and pink/gold add texture. Rose quartz chips and freshwater pearls give a level of opulence that I personally love.

Detail shot by Jenni Hampshire.

Detail shot by Jenni Hampshire.

Of course, any of these ideas can be explored in more subtle (or more dramatic!) ways. You could use coloured tulle flatlined to coutil (or sheer) panels to create an interesting corset. You could completely cover a design in pearls (as my intern Emiah Couture is currently doing on a project of her own), drape different qualities and colours of silk in a more voluminous manner, stick to one lace or layer multiple laces, etc. etc.

For my part, as Birds Wings are quite complicated in the first place, I try to keep their construction as simple and streamlined as possible. Beautiful quality coutils (herringbone, sateen, broche, etc.) allow you to do this with minimal bulk, in comparison to most corset construction. I suppose the basic premise is to shift the balance in terms of where your time goes... I like to streamline the construction and elaborate on the embellishment!

The old made new

By Jenni Hampshire (Sparklewren).

 

Centre-left: the antique "Birds Wing" corset, copyright Snibston Discovery Museum, Coaville.

Centre-left: the antique "Birds Wing" corset, copyright Snibston Discovery Museum, Coaville.

Fashion is cyclical, we know this. Perhaps corsetry is too, though on a longer time-frame!

The Birds Wing corset is, I hope, quite well known now. Inspired by this 1900s antique corset, most of the corsets I make are now "Birds Wings" or at least heavily inspired by the idea. Though it may not be apparent at first glance, each bone channel you see in the above corset is actually a new seam, with this particular design having 21 panels per side.

It's insanity!

I remember once, when I was still quite new to corsetry, having someone ask a curious question. They looked at a corset I had made with numerous exterior casings (which, as you may know, gives visually a very similar effect), and said something like, "wow, there must be something like 50 panels in this corset!" I think I smiled and replied with, "oh no, that would be madness! This only looks like that due to the casings, it actually has an ordinary 6 panels per side..." Little did I know!

An example Sparklewren "Birds Wing" pattern, one of my early-ish testers.

An example Sparklewren "Birds Wing" pattern, one of my early-ish testers.

The talk/class I am giving at this year's conference (next month, time flies!) is all about the Birds Wing. I hope that by tracing out its development into a contemporary design I can illustrate how pursuing one bonkers idea can have unexpected and wonderful side effects. The Birds Wing was like my Karate Kid! You think you're learning how to wax a sodding car, but actually you're learning something far more interesting and fundamental ;-)

"Python", a contemporary Birds Wing corset by Sparklewren.

"Python", a contemporary Birds Wing corset by Sparklewren.

A place for lace

The hunt for good suppliers is always a mixture of frustration and elation as you follow the detective trail to find that elusive company that will offer you something different. Especially if like me you have criteria you try to meet. In my case both an extreme pickiness about quality and a desire to support local businesses for the knock on effect to the economy and the environment. Sometimes you want to keep the suppliers you find close to your chest but other times it pays to shout their name. This was the case with Morton, Young and Borland, or MYB Textiles.

Ecosse Noir outfit by Crikey Aphrodite featuring lace from MYB. Image copyright Louise Cantwell Photography, modelled by Kasumi Noir

Ecosse Noir outfit by Crikey Aphrodite featuring lace from MYB. Image copyright Louise Cantwell Photography, modelled by Kasumi Noir

MYB are a lace manufacturer based in Ayrshire, Scotland. They've been there for over a century and produce lace for some very exciting clients on original looms. No other company in the country is doing what they do. More on their history here, https://www.mybtextiles.com/history. Their lace has been spotted in Hollywood movies (the latest one, look for it in the nursery in Maleficient), and used by international designers. More locally they collaborate with interiors stars such as Timorous' Beasties and talented Scottish designers like Judy R Clark. It's just been reported that their latest big name client is clothing retailer, Hobbs.

I had looked at the website for a while but had hesitated to approach them. I shouldn't have worried, I was invited down for a visit, welcomed warmly with a cup of tea, given a tour and allowed to browse samples at leisure. It's developed into a good relationship where I've loaned them garments for showing as far afield as Moscow. It also was key to me being part of a local exhibition on lace and it's connection to the region. 

Exhibition on the history of lace in Ayrshire at the Dick Institute in Kilmarnock

Exhibition on the history of lace in Ayrshire at the Dick Institute in Kilmarnock

But now to the extra interesting bit, the tour. This was truly fascinating for anyone interested in textiles. To repeat, they've been around since 1900. The business has literally grown around the huge looms. The building is a maze of doors and stairs and rooms squeezed in where they can. Very easy to get lost in. Funnily enough it reminded me strongly of the newspaper office I used to work in, which was another old industrial building with no fixed layout which had grown around the heavy machinery. And I was struck very much by the similarity between the enormous blacked looms chugging away noisily in the heart of the building and the old printing presses that crouched into the dark and noisy press hall in the newspaper office.

Image copyright MYBtextiles.com

Image copyright MYBtextiles.com

The patterns are filed on huge punched cards the size of doors. Many of them original. Technology of course has also entered in as computerised design has taken over. This leads to an odd mix of hi-tech and tradition, the old and the new co-existing. Which rather sums up the use of the fabric too. Lace, the most 'antique' of fabrics being used in new and exciting ways.

The jet black looms rattle away either side of long access galleys with raised platforms. These looms are enormous, enabling them to be able to produce large widths for items on the scale of theatre backdrops. It's a strange contrast, this fine light cloth cobwebbing off the blackened iron. In another side of the hall the cotton madras unique to MYB is produced. And then through into a huge room where yards of cloth are hand checked by women bundled up in jumpers perched on tiny stools amid a sea of lace.

Image copyright MYBtextiles.com

Image copyright MYBtextiles.com

In another room curtain panels are made up, boxes of lace are everywhere and there's a cheerful atmosphere of a business where people work for years, not just a year before moving on. A company where the employees are as 'in with the bricks' as the machinery. I like that in a company, it's becoming rare.

At the end of the tour I was left among racks of samples to note and snap the ones of interest to me before popping back through to the office and design room (another familiar atmosphere for an ex graphic designer like me) for another cuppa and to discuss what would work for me.

A Crikey Aphrodite corset using cotton madras from MYB overlaid on copper metallic silk.

I would definitely recommend you research textile companies in your area and make contact. Not only is it interesting and educational, but it's building contacts and relationships like these that make a difference to your business. And of course, it can take you down unexpected routes in your own work, especially if you're like me and dictated to by the materials in your hands. But most importantly, it's these contacts that make your work stand out. Don't fall into the trap of always using the same suppliers and materials as every other corset maker. Find the difference and build on it.

Take a moment and watch the wonderful video above.

Behind the scenes at OCOC

(Taken from the OCOC Facebook page)

Today I thought I’d talk a wee bit about the behind the scenes of the conference and big up our boss lady, as she won’t do it herself 

The planning for this year started immediately after last years. We were so full of enthusiasm that the ideas were flowing fast, and in fact now there are already ideas on the go for next year, and plans being put in place. One of the wonderful things about OCOC is that we have such a tight little team. Julia is the boss it’s Julia’s conference and it’s her many, many, many years (a many too many? I’ll get my backside kicked for that haha) experience in the hospitality and conference industries linked of course with her experience as a corsetiere and as an unsurpassable teacher of corsetry that makes her uniquely able to work her way through the logistics and details to create an amazing conference. Having been party to some of the planning I know I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t know where to start with some of the less obvious elements. It’s utterly daunting, believe me. But our Julia has done it while making it outwardly look like there’s nothing to it, which is most definitely not the case. And after all any grey hairs gained in the process are easily hidden.

Behind Julia is our little core team of friends and co-horts. Gerry, Jenni, Marianne and me (Alison).. Between us we have a fair whack of experience we can throw in to the mix. Not just in corsetry, and in our own corsetry businesses but in teaching and training, modelling, art, graphics and publishing. We also have different but complimentary interests in corsetry, from Jenni’s highly embellished art pieces to Marianne’s passion for quality ready to wear. But perhaps even more importantly we’re all friends and are all invested in building a supportive team that works together to produce this fab event. Having this tight team enables us to come up with a programme that exploits our own strengths, and very importantly, that we’ll enjoy sharing with you. Enthusiasm, our enthusiasm is vital.

What has been really exciting is seeing new people come into the fold and increase their involvement. Ian Frazer Wallace, our wonderful speaker from last year, (who along with the whirlwind of charisma that is Polly Fey made last year’s Saturday night a joy) will continue being part of OCOC Our wonderful models, headed up by boss model Morgana are a vital and glamorous part of the weekend, and our photographers of course. This year we’ll have the amazing Autumn Adame with us as speaker which is a treat we’re all looking forward to!

I can’t fail to mention the staff at Jesus College, especially the indispensable Luke. I think everyone who was there last year can testify to him being an absolute gem among men, as well as an outnumbered man among corset makers! The gorgeous, historic, idyllic venue is such a core part of the conference and the super-helpful team there help to make it that way. Then there are our fab and generous sponsors of course! And I think Julia’s husband Paul deserves a wee mention too for his support, as well as a fair bit of fetching and carrying!

So as you can see, it takes quite a few committed people, a shedload of skill and experience and a lot of love, passion and enthusiasm to bring you OCOC, and it’s what goes a long way to making it, not only the first of it’s kind, but truly inimitable.And you know what goes the rest of the way to doing that? You guys! Our wonderful attendees, whose skills, talents, warmth and again, enthusiasm were wonderful to behold last year. Here’s to 2014 and and beyond.(oops, didn’t mention the gin makers, they deserve some credit too!)

Alison (Crikey Aphrodite)