OCOC BLOG


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

Satin
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.  

Silk
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

Crepe
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,

Synthetics
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.

Wool
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

Lace
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!

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!