Sunday, 31 May 2015

Waist Training and #waisttraining - What's the Difference?

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a BBC journalist working for the BBC Trending programme which reports on social media trends.  She wanted to know more about the current trend for waist training and how the new so called waist training 'corsets', or fajas are becoming more popular because of social media - apparently the hashtag #waisttraining is currently one of the most popular!

I was keen to participate and so early in May, a team came to visit me at the Sew Curvy studio to talk about the differences between proper corset waist training, and the modern trend for #waisttraining whilst wearing an elastic band which is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a 'corset'.

Now first things first, the piece wasn't about corsetry as we know it, but the BBC team were keen to understand the difference between real steel boned corsets, and elastic waist trainers known as fajas,  and how this modern trend for #waisttraining may have originated.  It has been a source of consternation for many a modern corset maker that when they receive requests to be interviewed of late, the journalist always mentions the 'new trend set off by Kim Kardashian' - sigh.  So here are some of my thoughts on why I think the whole thing is nonsense.

source - I do not believe the claim of the journalist in the article and note she does not provide photographic evidence of her 'weight loss' and 'smaller waist'.
Look closely at these two images - on the left is Kim Kardashian wearing her new waist trainer / faja.  You can clearly see here, that Kim's body is naturally curvy because she has a full bust and large rounded hips.  Her natural waist is smaller than both, hence curves - I would call this body type 'pear shaped' as most of the hip weight is slung quite low.  What she is wearing is basically a wide elasticated belt which would make any naturally curvy person look a little bit more curvy because it is squeezing the middle of the torso with the same pressure throughout, forming a tube.  On the left, a lady with a small bust, and narrow hips.  She has a naturally straight and athletic body type (not an apple as it states in the original article - an apple shape is where your underbust and hip are both smaller than your natural waist measure and is most often associated with an extremely over weight person).  The waist trainer in the right hand picture is not doing much to enhance the figure of the wearer although it is doing exactly the same job - forming her torso into the same tube shape as the left hand picture -  but with no rounded bust or hip to accentuate her small waist, there is no such extreme curvature visible.

What is the difference between the effect of a faja and the effect of a proper corset?

As we can see from the images above, there is no shaping in the faja, it is literally an elastic tube.  When putting it on, there is also no gradual pressure applied to mould the body into a certain shape - this is the sole purpose of corset lacing, if the 'extreme' hourglass shape in corsetry were not required, then laces would not be required either.  The faja fastens with hooks and eyes and only requires a little bit of pressure to close - because it is not shaped and cannot shape, it forms the mid-torso into a tube which is more likely to cause extreme discomfort than a dramatic silhouette.  In other words, a proper steel boned corset is shaped to enhance the waist, by redistributing fat in order to create the illusion of a smaller waist.  Or in the words of one of my students "It moves your fat around to make a nicer shape".  Both effects are completely temporary but a properly made corset will be safe and comfortable to wear.

Why do people think that Kim Kardashian is successfully #waisttraining?

Kim Kardashian has a natural hourglass/pearshaped figure.  She would look curvy with or without enhancement.  In common with most people who have a 'pear shaped' figure, if she wore a proper steel boned corset, her shape would become quite extreme with little or no effort at all.

Two of my students, Amy and her lovley mum, both 'pear shaped' and exhibiting a much more 'extreme' figure when corsetted with just a 2" reduction.

Student Roxanne with a corset made from exactly the same pattern as above, but with a straighter more 'athletic' figure, a 2" reduction still gives plenty of shape with only a little less drama.

What is the difference between the modern idea of #waisttraining in a faja and waist training in a proper corset?

These 'faja's' claim to be able to train any figure, permanently, into a classic hourglass shape if you wear them constantly including during vigorous exercise.  However my view is that this is a false claim for two reasons.  
  • Those who do not naturally have an 'hourglass' figure, will not be able to make one naturally by any means.  
  • The effect of waist training with a faja and waist training with a corset is temporary.  
Waist training in a proper corset will, over time, cause your waist to become smaller.  It is a non permanent form of body modification and requires a great deal of discipline.

Cathy Jung is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the worlds smallest waist at 15".  She started waist training with proper steel boned corsets in the 1980's to achieve this but if she stopped waist training tomorrow,  despite 35 years of waist training, her body would return to a more regular shape within a month.

So can a faja or a corset help you lose weight?

Controversially, my answer is a tentative yes!  BUT ONLY because they make you more aware of the changes your body goes through in a day.  If you eat too much, a faja will make you feel uncomfortable - very uncomfortable - it may even give you chronic indigestion.  That is the limit of the 'help' a faja can give and it is no different from wearing a piece of string around your waist, or as some more glamorous individuals use, a metal chain, or even a garment that is too tight.  A corset could do the same, but if you eat sensibly while wearing one, then you will naturally eat less or eat foods that are better for you, cause less bloating etc., - in this way and this way only, they are helpful for losing weight or keeping to a strict calorie controlled diet by keeping you mindful of what you are putting into your body.  

As for losing weight while exercising - yes, if you measure your waist before and after exercise in your elastic tube, you will see that you can lose up to 2 inches immediately.  This is water.   As soon as you have a drink, your 'weight' will go straight back on.  The same effect will be achieved with much less effort, by having what's known as a body wrap at your local salon - again, no fat loss, only water sweated out.


In short - there is no easy or magic way to achieve weight loss or a perfect figure quickly.  A good diet and regular exercise is all you need.  For a quick temporary fix to an hourglass figure, wear a proper steel boned corset.

My student Leanne wearing a Clessidra corset made by me.
This is the first time that Leanne has worn a hand made corset.  Look at those curves!

Fajas and the concepts behind them are ridiculous.  They do not change your shape permanently, they do not help you lose weight any more than a good dose of discipline, healthy eating and willpower, and most of all,  they do not enhance your figure and they are ugly.

Corsets are a form of body modification which also will not help you lose weight, and will not shape your body permanently even if you waist train for 40 years!  However, unlike a crude elastic belt, a properly engineered, steel boned corset for the modern figure, apart from being beautiful, will enhance your shape, will not cause medical problems, is not dangerous, and will make you feel a million dollars.

You can see the report on BBC Trending here

Anne-Marie, the BBC journalist from BBC Trending who came to interview me.  She is wearing the corset that was featured in the video.  It has over 80 steel bones in it, and is as comfortable as a second skin, whilst reducing the waist by four inches.  I think I might have converted her!

Further reading:

Website of Cathy Jung who trains her waist with corsets

An article about beginning waist training with corsetry, over at The Lingerie Addict, written by my friend and colleague,  fellow corset maker Marianne Faulkner

The best way to start making corsets - with a corset making kit from Sew Curvy.  The Sophia corset kit has pre-cut bones and is super super easy and will give uber curves with no effort at all!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Interview with a Corset Maker

A couple of weeks ago, I received a flurry of interview requests from trainee journalists.  I found the questions interesting and I love answering these types of requests.  It's always a mind stretch and what you end up with is an affirmation of your own practice in black and white.

So I thought i'd document it here.  For the sake of authenticity, I have not edited the questions so I do apologise for the grammar in advance.

Q: When did you first start being interested in corsets and what made you interested in them?

About 10 years ago.  I needed an outfit, wanted a corset, decided to make one.  I bought a kit, and have been obsessed with them ever since.  This is how most people get into corsetry.

Sophia Loren in the 1960 film The Millionairess. 
This is the image that inspired me to make corsets

Q: Considering the evolution of the corset over the eras of strict Victorian, Hollywood Glamour, Burlesque, Pin Up, Goth, Fetish and even it's use in modern fashion by designers such as Vivienne Westwood and John Paul Gaultier, why do you think the corset has become popular again over the past year and so - but this time in a much more mainstream way? (Do you think it has anything to do with the current 'body ideal' of Kim Kardashian hourglass figures or maybe the modern mainstream interest in pin up, vintage and burlesque fashions?)

An ancient Minoan Goddes statue from around 2000BC
The first records of corsetry being used as body modification date back to c.2000BC in the Minoan culture where it is evident from their art that athletes wore thick leather bands around their waists to make them appear more shapely  This is the beginning of corsetry as we know it - it did not start with the Victorians - there were many ages and fashions before them who used corsetry to create the fashionable silhouette of the day.  However, the classic archetypal hourglass shape was created by the Victorians and it is this shape combined with the flatter Edwardian shape that informs modern corsetry today.

A Victorian corset advert

Corsetry has never ever not been popular, it has always been to do with fashion.  We feel more exposed to corsetry currently because of the Burlesque scene, which in itself is far from 'new', even in it's current incarnation it was underground for long before it was mainstream,  and the current fashion for vintage and hand made.  However, many corsetieres of today have been in business for a very long time.  Autumn Adamme, the Godmother of modern corsetry, started her label 'Dark Garden' 25 years ago in San Fransisco.  It was she who bought corsetry out of the underwear drawer and made it into outerwear.  Today's corsetieres have much to thank her for.

Goth corset c.1980  Picture by Derek Ridgers

Velda Lauder was also a pioneer for modern corsetry, she started her business in the early 90's from Kensington Market in London.  The modern fashion for corsets as outerwear was underground in the clubbing scene for decades.  Famous designers such as Gaultier, Mugler and McQueen to name but a few, plus many more talented artisans were veterens of this scene and through their connections, their infamy and their famous clients, merely bought this new way of wearing corsetry into the public eye but it was around long before they thought of it.

Velda Lauder's 'Dita' Corset from the early 1990's.
 Velda, a veteran of the London clubbing scene herself,  was an inspiration to many a new corsetiere including myself.

As far as I know, Kim Kardashian (I have no idea who she even is) does not wear corsetry and certainly she has absolutely nothing to do with the current mainstream popularity.  Famous women who bought modern corsetry to the mainstream through their designers, were more like (in order of appearance)  Madonna (JPG), Dita von Teese (JPG/Pearl/Dark Garden), Isabela Blow (McQueen), Kylie Minogue (JPG), Beyonce (Mugler) -  in fact most of the aforementioned designers use Mr Pearl to create their corsetry.

Madonna in 1990 wearing her famous Jean Paul Gaultier corset which was made for her Blonde Ambition Tour

Certainly current fashions for Pin-up and Vintage has helped corsetry into the mainstream where importers of cheap chinese corsetry are doing well.  However the much easier accessiblity of corset making information through the internet has also created a boom within the crafting community and ensured a good flow of fresh artisan talent in the field of bespoke corsetry.  (There is a separate post with those sources HERE.) 

Thierry Mugler whose designs frequently feature groundbreaking corsetry provides inspiration
for many a modern corsetiere
This influence is very easy to see in his organic shapes and 3D designs using materials
such as metal and leather to create armour like designs.
3) What makes a good corset - what should a first time waist trainer/tight lacer/corset wearer be looking for (and to avoid the £10 Ebay corsets with additional free g-strings!)

A good corset is always hand made.  There are many things to look for in good corsetry and these depend upon the maker and the materials used.  It's impossible to give a definitive list.  However, it must be borne in mind that a dedicated corsetiere will make corset patterns for the modern figure - we are not the Victorians and our bodies are different - whereas mass manufactured corsetry will be made using standard patterns, with cheap materials.  Most mass produced corsets cost as little as USD$5 each wholesale,  wheras a proper handmade corset made with quality materials by a trained corsetiere will cost anywhere from £200 upwards - the materials alone will cost nearly £50.  If you can buy a mass produced corset for $5. wholesale, imagine how much the workers who produced it are getting paid and how cheap the materials are?  Mass produced corsetry is not only bad for the body but it is totally unethical.  Steel and cotton are two of the most expensive commodities in the world today.  Good corsetry is not something that can be created on the cheap.

Corset wearing veteran Cathy Jung has the smallest waist in the world after waist training for some 30+ years
She has had corsets made for her by many of the pioneers of modern corsetry including Dark Garden, and Bizarre Designs
4) What would would say to someone thinking about trying waist training but is scared to try?

Find a good corsetiere to help you.

5) How has the Oxford Conference of Corsetry gained in popularity since it's beginnings in 2013 and what can we expect from the 2015 event?

When OCOC started we had 25 delegates.  OCOC15 has space for 70 delegates and most of the places were sold a week after going on sale.  This year we have couture expert Ian Frazer Wallace of The Whitechapel Workhouse giving a workshop on integrated corsetry, other special guests are Barbara Pesendorfer of Royal Black Corsetry who will talk about 3d design, Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden, and Europe's top showgirl and burlesque performer, Immodesty Blaize.

This is me and Autumn Adamme at the Oxford Conference of Corsetry last year.
She is wearing one of her own bespoke Dark Garden gowns and we are standing under a portrait of one of her own inspirations, Queem Elizabeth I at Jesus College, Oxford
6) Why did you start the Oxford School of Corsetry and has it been popular?

I have been teaching corsetry for the last 6 years.  Oxford School of Corsetry is just a formal name I have put in place this year in order to expand my repetoire of classes (from beginners to advanced) it was necessary to make a dedicated website.  I have students who come to me from all over the world including Hong Kong, Norway, France, Germany, Poland, America, Australia and all parts of the UK.  It therefore seemed appropriate to make my classes into a 'school' because as far as I know, I am the only person in the world who offers such a wide curriculum of corsetry based lessons.

Class of '14 - this lovely bunch came back to Sew Curvy 3 times last year!
Pharmacist, Antique book collector, Engineer, Security expert, Social worker

The ladies who come to my classes are not all wanting to become corset makers.  For the most part they are very clever women (teachers, engineers, accountants, scientists are very frequent!) who have a deep creativ streak and who need something more challenging than simple dressmaking to work on.  Other students are historical re-enactors, tailors,  professional costumers, fashion graduates, school leavers who want to do costume at college,  ladies looking for a change in career and the odd burlesque performer who makes her own costumes.  I've also taught men.


Are you a corset maker?  What are your influences?

Sunday, 18 January 2015

What is a corset busk?

A selection of modern corset busks
A corset busk, or stay busk, in its original form is a solid rod made from wood, bone or metal which is inserted into the front panel of a pair of stays (old word for corset) to keep the fabric taught and straight over the abdomen.  Without a busk you do not and cannot have a true corset - the reason for this is because a corset is a garment which shapes the torso into the fashionable silhouette of the day, whether that be an 18th century conical look or the more archetypal  Victorian hourglass.  In other words, without substantial stiffening at the front in the form of a front busk, a corset cannot and will not do it's job.  Different types of busk can be used for different types of corset and to create different effects.

A beautiful carved wooden stay busk dated 1786 and carved with hearts and initials.
These were commonly given to ladies as love tokens from their sweethearts
as they were secret and worn next to the body.
A flat wooden, bone or metal busk was used in closed front corsetry right up to the mid 19th century when the split busk, or two part busk, was invented by the Victorians.  This split busk invention was at the time a revolution for women because for the first time they were able to put their corsets on un-assisted and this of course meant that corsetry was now much more accessible to women who did not have a maid and this in turn meant that the demand for corsetry grew and factories sprung up all over the world to support this demand.There are many types of split busk all of which originate from this period in Victorian history.

Here are some of the types of busk which are still available today for our corset making endeavours.
A white flexible corset busk with stainless steel fasteners
 all split busks have a  loop side and a stud side
The regular 'flexible' busk  - this  is the most common type of modern corset busk, the most widely available and the one with which people are most familiar.  They are made of powder coated spring steel and are about 12mm wide on each side.  They are very very flexible, and feel a bit flimsy but don't forget that once encased in a couple of layers of coutil which they will be in a finished corset, then the flexibility will not be so noticeable and can be quite advantageous.

A narrow stainless steel busk
slightly tougher than the white flexi steel busk

The stainless steel busk - these busks are made of sprung stainless steel with dipped ends.  They come in a variety of widths and shapes and are flexible but much sturdier than the white flexible busks.  In Victorian times of course, all busks were made of uncoated steel.  

See how the spoon busk is curved where the tummy would be

The spoon busk - this is a typically Victorian busk which as it's name suggests is shaped a bit like a spoon - the busk is curved with a wider area at the bottom which forms the 'spoon' and it is completely rigid. The Victorians liked a nice round tummy and the cupped shape of the spoon busk supported the cut of the corset and the tummy.  When ever you see a spoon busk in a corset, you know it's Victorian.

The Edwardians loved a flat tummy
The conical or tapered busk - This is the Edwardian equivalent of a spoon busk.  You have a wider area at the base of the busk but the whole busk is flat and not curved.  This gives tummy control but the Edwardians preferred a flat front and so this busk, while giving support to the flat front cut of the Edwardian corset also helped to smooth the lower abdomen into flatter submission.  This is my favourite type of busk and is very common in Edwardian corsetry.

Wide steel busks are 2 inches wide total and the least flexible of the busks
Wide steel busk - this is a wider busk made from sprung stainless steel in various lengths and a inch wide on each side.  This type of busk is not common in antique corsetry and has a more modern application in the medical corsetry of today because of it's ridgidity.  In fashion corsets, it has it's uses but is the least flexible of the straight busks,  so whilst it can give extra control over your chosen aesthetic (medical corsetry aside),  it can also hinder results by not moulding over the body and creating an overhang gap at the bottom of the corset.  This is particularly common in women who have a prominent rib cage or abdomen - the solid wide busk looks like it might flatten the abdomen very easily but what it actually does is provide too rigid a front - in fashion corsetry, this can also be very bulky and uncomfortable.   

So there we have a very small lesson on Victorian style corset busks.  These amazing fastners are still in production today and easily available from specialist shops.  They come in all the above shapes and sizes but these days you can also get them in black, or colours, and there's even a bling version with diamante studs!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

New year, new corsets!

Happy New year one and all!! I hope yours is filled with much joy and even more corsetry!!  I thought I'd start off this year with some cool corset related links as there has been much writing and scribbling on said subject over the past few weeks and there are always things to learn from the past.

On Making Corsets

The Merry Corsetiere is a Live Journal and remains my favourite resource for learning how to make corsets -  it's where I tell everyone to go when they need corset making information.  'Read everything!' someone once said to me, and so I did.  You take the bits you need, the bits that make sense and you might want to store the rest for a rainy day.  There are some great bits of information in there including posts from today's well known corsetieres 'before they were famous', like Sparklewren, Angela Freidman, Crickey Aphrodite, Morua Designs, Totally Waisted and Electra Designs, to name but a few.  You may not recognise them though as they had different names then.

Sew Curvy - my own website is not only a shop for corsetry supplies and couture haberdashery but a resource of useful information all about corsets and corsetry.  Each product description gives instructions on how to use the product offered for sale, but there are also free tutorials covering such things as inserting busks, dying corset laces, creative ways to use knicker elastic, interesting articles, customer questions & answers and much much more!

shop here for all your corset making supplies
Foundations Revealed - is a subscription website which you can use to find certain articles which will 'raise your game' in corsetry however these useful articles by the experienced, are becoming more rare on the site so do look back at the archives where there are lots of interesting articles about business, branding and  making written by profoessionals.  Newer articles include tips and tutorials from non-professionals, hobbyists and enthusiasts and some interesting sew-alongs.  In the free articles however, you will find much to set you on the way including how to draft a corset pattern from scratch.

Foundation Revealed: The Corset Maker's Companion
Click the picture to go to Foundations Revealed - image does not show in ad-blocker mode

Prior Attire - my good friend Izabela is always writing tutorials on corsetry and period dressmaking!  Now she has a You Tube channel.  You can check out her blog here, and her channel here - lately she has posted things like 'how to use pressing bars to create external bone channels'.  Her videos are quick, efficient and entertaining.

Google Patents - are old corset patents which have run out of copyright and are now on Google as an information resource for us crazy corset makers.  You can find all manner of pattern here to try, of course there are no instructions and some of the designs are as mad as the people who made them, but I've always said that a fantastic way to innovate in modern corsetry is to look at antique patterns and this resource is a bottomless pit of inspiration!

The Practical Corsetiere - is another 'old' resource on the web where many of the old guard learned a trick or two!  Here you will find information on proportions, measurements and grading, along with a number of old fashioned patterns from waspies, to corsets, to girdles.  Make a pot of tea for this one!

The Complete Vocational Course of Cutting - a web resource in French which is unfortunate if you only speak a language other than French.  But also another mine of authentic information from back in the day including many patterns.

Lucy's Corsetry - No corsetry resource would be complete without Lucy's Corsetry which covers much more than just making corsets -so Lucy belongs in every category here.  Lucy's videos and accompanying blog describe all aspects of corsetry from making, to wearing, to myths and legends surrounding all things corset.  Beware, you could very well lose a day if you click on these links!

On wearing corsets

There are many myths and legends surrounding the wearing of corsets and how they are 'dangerous' and 'crush your insides' and 'make women faint'.  Corsets are none of these things.  Corsets are no more dangerous or sensational than wearing a pair of stiletto shoes.  The social aspects of corsetry is a huge study in itself, probably one for another post!

image by Pitcheresque Imagery
Myths and Reality - of wearing corsets, by Izabella of Prior Attire

Top 10 Corset Myths - another blog post busting the common misconceptions about corset wearing.

How corseting affects your body - very interesting post about the difference between wearing a corset and not, and the more cosmetic effects on the body.

In other popular corset wearing conundrums lies the question "how do I put it on?".  Here are the answers.

How to lace yourself into a corset - a video by Melanie Talkington of Lace Embrace

How to lace someone into a corset - a video by Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden Corsetry

And the bain of many a corsetiere's life, the question "I saw this corset for £30, can you make me one?"

The difference between a real designer corset and a fake one.  If you don't want to believe that corsets should cost more than £30, then watch this video!  It's one of my favourites and was made by Catherine Clavering of British lingerie company, Kiss Me Deadly.

On buying corsets

The Lingerie Addict blog has built up a massive archive of corset wearing and buying articles mostly written by my friend a collegue Marianne Faulkner of Pop Antique as their resident corsetry expert.  This archive resource covers everything from things to look for in a quality corset, to why corsets are so expensive, to what to do while wearing a corset and much much more!  Go to The Lingerie Addict and click on the tag "corsets" to find the archive.  There is also a Lingerie Addict Tumblr account where you can find 25 Articles about Corsets

Again, Lucy has buying corsets covered on her amazing World Map of Corsetieres!  Here you can find just about all the worlds current working corset makers.

Lucy's Corsetiere Map only includes corset makers who offer a made to measure or bespoke service
On Learning Corsetry

For those who prefer to learn how to make corsets 'in person' then there are a multitude of videos on Youtube, and there are classes springing up all over the world as the trend for corsetry becomes more popular.  When you look for a corset making class, depending upon the level you are looking for, make sure you have a teacher who is an experienced corsetiere.  There are many sewing schools and dressmakers jumping on the corset making bandwagon who know little about corsetry and teach nothing more than making a laced basque, or worse, who will charge £100+ to help you read a pattern in class.  Look at their work, judge for yourself if they teach what you want to learn.

If you are in Australia, Lowana O'Shea of Vanyanis is teaching corsetry.  She is an excellent, professional who pays huge attention to detail.  She will be teaching her classes using the Sew Curvy pattern.

If you are in Glasgow, my friend and colleague Alison of Crikey Aphrodite will soon be teaching corsetry.

If you are in Austria, Barbara Pesendorfer of Royal Black Corsetry and Couture sometimes teaches (German speaking).

If you are in England or can get here,  I teach corsetry all year round via The Oxford School of Corsetry - courses are popular and sell out fast - this year we are covering beginners, intermediate and advanced, along with masterclasses on sheer, cupped, and Edwardian corsetry, pattern manipulation and draping.

Based in rural Oxfordshire - book courses here

And if you want to get together over a weekend and make lots and lots of new corset obsessed friends, then you must come to The Oxford Conference of Corsetry.  This year it is on 29-30 August, and our special guests are Ian Frazer Wallace of The White Chapel Workhouse, Barbara Pesendorfer of Royal Black and Immodesty Blaize,  Europe's top showgirl and burlesque performer!  Hope to see you there!

Friday, 5 December 2014

Starting over. Again.

So here's an old new blog.  How did we get here?  Well ...  A long long time ago, seems like half a century but in fact it's really only about 10 years, I made my first corset.  I was inspired by lots of things, but I think what finally did it, was the day I met fan dancer Gwendoline L'Amour who had with her a little tiny suitcase stuffed with costumes, and the most beautiful corset I'd ever seen.  This wasn't hard as I hadn't really seen any real corsets up to that point.  It was black silk, encrusted with amber jewels and a matching bra.  "It was made for me" she said casually as if all women have beautiful things made for them every day and as if she was saying 'this old thing' whilst handling what looked like the crown jewells!   "MADE?" I thought?  Aren't these things just magicked into existence for goddesses to wear?  Happily it seems not.  That was one of my moments in time.  There have been others that led to this point, but that was the one specifically to do with corsetry.  It was a defining moment.

This was maybe the third corset I ever made.  Modelled by moi!
It's the Laughing Moon Dore pattern
Quite a long time later, I took a year out and honed my sewing skills.  It was a time when craft blogs were just starting, dressmaking wasn't a thing, and if you searched for 'how to do a vintage hairstyle' you may have been sadly disappointed at the lack of information.  But I started a sewing blog and filled it with silly sewing projects, and domestic tidbits.   During that time I had ideas, and those ideas developed, a business was born, and here I am today.  I outgrew the blog but there were some interesting bits on there.

Those interesting bits, are now here.  And the boring domestic bits are still on the old blog.  I've edited the titles and on some posts i've put "edits from the future" because it's funny how things turn out sometimes.

The old blog.  I still have designs on vintage style but they are corset-centric now

Everything from this point on will be new musings concentrated on corsetry and couture.  I've come a bit of a way since the first post here!  I've got a thriving online haberdashery shop which is in it's 6th year of business, specialising in corset making components, I've founded an International Conference, with it's it's third year nearly booked out already, and I've been teaching corsetry for the last 5 years in and around Oxford, but over the last three years, from my woodland studio in West Oxfordshire.  I've had students come from all over the world to learn corsetry with me and have just launched The Oxford School of Corsetry, the only school dedicated entirely to the art of corset making in the whole wide world!   You can read about some of my journey in the past posts here, and I hope you enjoy reading about the further adventures of Sew Curvy and all it's bits in the future!

The last corset I made for Oxford Conference of Corsetry.
This is the Pearls of Wisdom Corset and was inspired by the Fellows Library at Jesus College
modelled by Liv Free and photographed by Scott Chalmers

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Improving your corsetry with antique patterns

One of the best ways to learn corsetry is to examine and make antique corset patterns.  These patterns are widely available either via collectors who have taken patterns from antique corsets in their collections, or via Google patents, or via the many historical costuming books available, the most popular for corset making being "Corsets: historic patterns and techniques" by Jill Salen which contains a veritable compendium of historical corset patterns to scale up and try.
Ref R pattern from Atelier Sylphe available here.
One such pattern I have made was from Atelier Sylphe who takes corset patterns from her lovely antique corset collection - these patterns come in one size only (the size that the corset happens to be) and with very scant instructions however having tried two of them, I can report that her patterns are excellent and with each one, Joelle supplies a large number of digital photographs of the original corset from all angles, inside and out with plenty of close ups.  These are emailed to you upon receipt of your order.

I tried Joelle's  "Ref R" pattern which is taken from a beautiful corset with a gentle line and continious flossing over fully boned front panels.  This corset has 9 panels on each side and a hidden busk which I found intreguing.
The first thing to do when making up your antique pattern is to make a paper version of it.  Cut out your pieces, stick them together with masking tape.  This way you get an idea of how the peices fit together without wasting too many resoucres.  Minor problems, if there are any, can be ironed out at this stage and the corset can also be re-sized more easily when you can see a '3d' model infront of your eyes rather than a collection of flat shapes.  Sometimes with antique patterns there are extra parts which you can't quite work out until you 'do' them.  In the case of the 'Ref R' pattern, this was the hidden busk.  The pattern peices for both sides of the centre front panels where the busk is,  are a curious shape, there are no instructions for the pattern, you just have to trace the peice, and fold it until it makes sense - this is easier than it sounds and results in several "ahhh!" moments!

I resized Ref R by imposing it on my own corset block and basically copying the style of the panels to the size I wanted - I had to reduce the pattern because the original is a 24.5" waist and so would fit a modern (UK) size 10-12 lady.  I needed it in a size 8-10 in order to fit the model I was making for.

Now this particular corset pattern it seems was possessed by evil pixies and became known between my corset making friends and me as "The incredible growing corset"!! I made it no less than 3 times (after the initial toile), the first two times in expensive silk, the third time in less expensive loomstate cotton satin.  I wasn't taking any more chances and in future, I would always make up the 'final' version in a cheaper fabric first - just in case!  The problem, which I never fully got to the bottom of, was the number of panels and the number of bone channels within those front panels.  Basically, during the action of sewing it together, with welt seams at every panel, the corset stretched on each seam.  Version one ended up 4 inches bigger than it should have been, version 2 grew by 2 inches, version 3 was just right but only because I gave up and removed a panel thus changing it from an 18 panel corset to a 16 panel corset.  It is still somewhat of a mystery because if I measured the paper pattern peices they were correct, if I measured the corset panels individually they were correct, if I superimposted the paper pattern peices onto the corset panels, they were correct,  if I added up all the numbers on both the paper pattern and the corset they were correct, but put it all together, and petite sized corset became plus sized corset!  Totally infuriating and it still makes my head hurt.  The best way I can explain what happened is, if you think, you have 9 panels to stitch together... if those panels 'stretch' by 1mm each, perhaps by making a welt seam, then by the end your corset has grown by 1cm on each side.  That's nearly an inch overall without noticing!  These are things to be careful of when sewing any corset - handle with care!

The final version of my 'Ref R' corset has 8 panels on each side and is fully boned over three of the front panels.  The hidden busk is not constructed quite the same as the antique because in experimenting with the original pattern I discovered a better mechanism for modern corsetry and so I applied that method instead - the original has an underbusk, mine does not.  
The finished Clessidra version of  'Ref R' made from cotton satin coutil 
with french applique lace details and ivory 'diamond flossing'.
photo: Catherine Day
I'm very pleased with the way this corset turned out, and I have applied techniques learned from making this to other corsets that i've made since then.  I also learned a huge amount about corsets with more than a 'normal' number of panels and how careful you have to be when stitching... in short, the more panels you have, the bigger the discrepancy you could end up with if you're not careful.
he next corset I made was also fully boned, made using the same techniques as 'Ref R' but
did not 'stretch' while sewing 
and as you can see I used the 'diamond flossing' again
to pick out the boning structure
photo: Chris Murray

Construction details:  The 'Alice' corset was constructed with cotton satin coutil on the outide with a double layer of cotton canvas inside which supports the boning and the structure without the bulk of coutil.  It is lined with silk and embellished with french metallic lace in two colours.  The flossing is done using perle cotton size 8, and the boning used throughout the corset is a combination of 4mm spiral steel bones in the fully boned areas, 5mm spiral steel bones on the seams and 6mm sturdy flat bones at the centre back edges.  The pink corset was made using similar techniques and materials and in addition has Swarawski crystals highlighting the flossing and placed within the antique Edwardian lace applique.

Usefull links:

Atelier Sylphe shop - where you can buy full size antique corset patterns
Buy 5mm boning used in this corset
How to scale up a pattern from a book - tutorial using a photoshop technique to accurately scale up patterns
Printing a digital pattern using photoshop - this website has a trillion other corset related links!
"Corsets : Historic patterns and techniques" by Jill Salen - book of antique corset patterns 
Google Patents - corset patterns
Clessidra Couture - bespoke corsetry by moi!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Oxford Conference of Corsetry 2013 - review

Just over a month after the corsetting event of the year, I've finally caught my breath and can start planning for next year the dates for which were confirmed soon after the end of the Conference.  Nobody wanted to leave theis year which I thought was a good enough indication that we can build on the huge successes of this year to make an even better event next year!  Excitement! 

My own perspective on the event is that it went better than even I could possibly have imangined!  There were less people than I had prepared for but ultimately that was good.  The group was not too small to make us feel like we were rattling around and not too large as to overwhelm the venue.  People gelled really well and some good and lasting friendships were made.  The venue staff were an absolute joy to work with - I have many years of experience as a conference organiser both as someone who organises large academic conferences and someone who manages the venue - my last venue job was Conference Manager at Keble College, Oxford, and so not only do I know how an event works from the inside, but I do have a very critical eye.  I simply wouldn't have booked a venue if I doubted their helpfulness or efficiency and Jesus has a real asset with their Conference Administrator Luke, who clearly has a natural gift for the job.  I hope they appreciate him.

My good friends and collegues did sterling work supporting me while organising the conference and teaching during the conference.  Alison who gave a superb fitting workshop with specially created mannequin, Dolly Button, gave me much moral support and helped with all the graphic design, Gerry who gave a fantastic masterclass taster on draping corset designs, enthused me no end with her excitement over the prospect of such an event and was a life-saver when it came to finding the wonderful photographer Chris Murray and liaising with corset queen Morgana who very kindly agreed to do the modelling alongside Victoria Dagger.  Jenni the embeillishment expert, kept the Conference Facebook page going by tempting people to book with snippets of the knowledge they could gain by coming to the conference, learning from experts and sharing information with eachother, and Marianne modelled to perfection although I am sad that we didn't use her more academic skills more fully - this will hopefully be rectified next year.

Dinner with Jesus!

Our guests Ian and Polly stole the show on Saturday night and I'm hoping they will both join in the fun again next year,  I didn't know it but they and others had their very first Pimms that evening!  Of course there would have been no event at all without our wonderful and talented delegates who completely personified the spirit of my vision which was to share knowledge, network, make friends and have fun!
We had generous sponsors too - Foundations Revealed paid for the wonderful Symington Collection of Antique Corsets to be present for examination, Proportion London provided mannequins for show, as did our friend Lucy at Corset Laced MannequinsJanome supplied fantastic goody bags, Sew Curvy (that's me!) funded various parts of the conference, and we had generous donations of fabrics and embellishments from everyone but special thanks must go to both Lisa Armstrong of Elizabeth Armstrong Design, and Izabela Pitcher of Prior Attire who literally donated suitcases full of silk, lace, beads and trims!

Ian Fraser Wallace of The Whitechapel Workhouse, and muse extraordinaire Polly Fey
Most amazingly we were covered by the local press and radio and we were featured on the BBC News "In Pictures" website!

You can read a whole lot more about the conference from all sorts of different perspectives by following the links below and I'll be doing some separate posts on some of the guests and sponsors over the next few weeks.  I'll also be getting the details of OCOC'14 together, so do keep watching!

BBC Radio Oxford interview with Julia Bremble - forward to 2:25:20
Oxford Mail Article with pictures
Review of the Conference by Marianne Faulkner on The Lingerie Addict Blog
Review of the Conference by Clare Sager, attendee from Nottingham, UK
Review of the Conference by Sara Spookystitch, attendee from Minneaopolis, USA
Oxford Conference of Corsetry Facebook Page - for further updates and news