Wednesday 4 March 2015

The Great British Sewing Bee Does Corsets - Part 2

I was feeling so positive about the pieces the contestants made, especially as it was the first time for almost all of them, but then the ‘history’ section started and I felt … disappointed. It’s so frustrating that the BBC went for lazy pseudo-history!

Let’s look at what they said …

The Mad Hatter.  Image from Wikipedia.
Well, they started with, “It’s the only garment in history that could kill.” Sigh! I’m not aware of any documented cases where a corset killed anyone (and I believe there was a case where it actually prolonged someone’s life, but that’s for another time), however leaving that aside, what about other garments? In the 19th century they commonly used green arsenic dye in women’s gowns – sounds pretty deadly to me.  The famous Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland was a reference to the mercury poisoning 19th century milliners often suffered from, due to exposure to the element in their work.

Isadora Duncan.  Image from Wikipedia.
Moving towards garments we still wear … The dancer Isadora Duncan was strangled to death when her scarf got caught in the rear wheels of her car.  There have been various other cases where scarves, ties and other neckwear has got caught and strangled someone (such as in the doors of a lift or the moving parts of an escalator).

But, let’s move on from that killer corset comment, shall we? (Well, I’ll try to!)

Next came Rosemary Hawthorne to demonstrate how stiff and thick Victorian corsets were … well, yes, they would be when you’ve got them rolled up and try to bend them. Apparently (according to the BBC’s expert, that is), corsets mean you couldn’t run and made steps a challenge. Of course, women of the 19th century spent all their time walking as slowly as possible on the ground floors of buildings. (Wish there was a sarcasm font I could use here!)  She even claims that “You would have been immobile in a garment like that!”

Well, crap, someone had better tell KathTea Katastrophy, a corsetiere and model who used to work as a personal trainer while wearing her corsets (see the first entry on this Lucy’s Corsetry page for details), because according to Rosemary Hawthorne, that’s impossible.

And what about all those maids and other working women who wore corsets their entire lives throughout the 18th and 19th centuries?  (And as seen in Downton Abbey - the actresses playing servants apparently wear corsets as part of their costumes.)

So you see why I was so disappointed in this segment of the programme – it was all just regurgitated propaganda from Victorian anti-corset writers.

I’m at risk of going into a full-on rant, so I’m going to stop there. If you’d like a more realistic and truly expert discussion of corsetry, you’d do well to read Valerie Steele’s The Corset: A Cultural History (And yes, her name is very apt, isn’t it?!) and do check out Lucy’s Corsetry recent blog post responding to a US TV show’s segment on corsetry and its health implications.

To summarise – The Great British Sewing Bee does corsets gave some good first attempts at making corsets, despite the limitations, but made an epic fail in their attempts at corset history.

Coming up next week, I’ll tell you the three main mistakes they made with the corsets on the Sewing Bee and how you can fix them!

In the meantime, tell me what you thought about the Sewing Bee’s corset history. Lots of lovely folk on the Magpie & Fox Facebook page and in some corsetry groups shared my woes about the faux history on the programme – join in the discussion!

Friday 27 February 2015

The Great British Sewing Bee Does Corsets - Part 1

So last night was the ‘Structure’ episode of The Great British Sewing Bee, which meant corsetry. Making corsets was the technical challenge for the episode, followed by a short piece on the ‘history of the corset’. I’ve put that in inverted commas for a reason, which I’ll get to in my next post!

First things first, thoughts on the contestants’ corsets.

The Corsets

Image from The Great British Sewing Bee Facebook page.
(Of course, this is also another gratuitous Patrick pic, what can I say?)
I’ve got to say, I’m really impressed with what they made! Particularly considering the limitations, which I’ll discuss in a moment, they produced some really pretty garments!

Amanda (a fellow teacher) made her own bias binding, but alas that slowed her down and meant she didn’t quite get finished in time, but top marks for effort and trying to give that fine finish.

Some of the materials they used were appropriate, such as eyelets and spiral steel boning (no rigilene, as some feared, which is a small victory in itself). Rigilene doesn’t work well for corsetry (it’s far too flimsy, for one thing), so it was great to see them working with steel boning.

And I must say just how envious I am that they had access to hand presses for the eyelets! I so badly want one, but they are so expensive! A hand press is definitely on my to-save-for list, but they’re not a necessity for corsetry, so we can do without!

But, those limitations:

  • They had four hours to make their pieces – I definitely couldn’t make one of my corsets in that time (though I do cut and tip my own boning and hand-finish my binding, for example).
  • There were some nice things about the pattern they followed – the seamlines down the front and the top and bottom lines were attractive – but there wasn’t much curve to the pattern. It clearly wouldn’t give any reduction and was quite tubular.
  • It didn’t look like they had access to fabrics specifically made for corsetry, ie coutil.  Instead the contestants were left to choose their own fabrics from the usual haberdashery. If they’d been able to use coutil, they would have had much better results, without so much rippling seen in some of the pieces made in finer cottons (looked like a couple were made in poplin, for example).

Get Your Supplies

If you want to make a corset using the right fabric, my favourite suppliers are Vena Cava and Sew Curvy, both UK-based (both ship internationally, though, so go ahead if you’re not in the UK yourself).  

In celebration of the Sewing Bee's corsets, Burda Style are currently giving away this downloadable corset pattern for free - I haven't used this pattern myself, but it does look quite tubular, I'm afraid.  But fear not, if you want something more curvy, Sew Curvy have launched their first corset pattern this week, which promises to be more hourglass - again, I haven't tried this one myself, but Julia is a specialist in corsetry, so she knows what she's doing!

Over to You

What did you think of last night’s Sewing Bee?  Did it give you the courage to try out making your first corset?  Do you have questions about how to do that?   What did you think of the contestant’s pieces?

Watch out for my next post where I'll look at the 'history' part of the show!

Monday 23 February 2015

The Great British Sewing Bee - Corsets or 'boned bodices'?

So, I've just seen a little trailer for this week's episode of The Great British Sewing Bee and it's filled me with trepidation ...  This week is the one I've been waiting for - they're making corsets.

Or, rather, they're making what they're calling 'boned bodices', but it looks like all the contestants are referring to them as 'corsets'.

Gratuitous Patrick Grant photo.
I suspect they're making something that has zero reduction (so doesn't cinch the waist, but does smooth the body) and is designed to function as a bodice/top for wearing with a skirt, perhaps.  That way it's not too racy (Oh, lingerie, too brazen for the Beeb!) and avoids any fearmongering about reduction or body modification ("But your ribs will break!").

Here's the little preview: The Great British Sewing Bee Does Corsetry.

I'm keen to see what techniques they use and how the contestants get on.  I definitely saw spiral steel in the trailer, so they are using steel boning.

What do you think of the Sewing Bee?  Should they be making speed corsets?  Would this encourage you to have a go at making a corset?

If you're thinking about making your first, I've got some info coming up soon about corset patterns, so keep your eyes peeled.  Subscribe to my mailing list, to be first to know when it lands!

Edit: Here is my first post on the corsets made in this episode of the show!  And Part 2 is here!

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Wordless Wednesday - The Wordless Catch-Up!

 Well, mostly wordless ...

Study trip to the Bath Fashion Museum - corsets!

We bought a house in August ...

It has a fox tap in the garden!  Was made for me!

Behind the scenes at OCOC14 photo shoot.  The lovely Alivya Free!

Alivya V Free wearing my Nyx corset.  Photography by Scott Chalmers.
Playing with photography ...

It's been a while, but I'm glad to be back.  

What have you been doing?

Sunday 8 September 2013

The Oxford Conference of Corsetry - Sunday & Hometime

As you can imagine, I was quite tired on Sunday, having gone to my room at 2am.  I managed to drag myself out of bed with some help from my friend Nikki who knocked for me to make sure I didn't miss breakfast!
Which reminds me, I haven't mentioned much about the fabulous service and staff at Jesus College.  The ladies and gents working there were so helpful and accommodating all weekend, serving up a full English breakfast with a smile every morning, cleaning up after us and providing endless cups of tea and coffee all day long.  Seriously, when I got home it felt weird to have to actually sort out my own food and drink!
Despite the fab food, I felt a bit ill all Sunday.  Not because of anything I ate (or drank the night before!), but because I was very nervous about my photo shoot that morning.  This was the first time I'd made a corset for anyone other than myself and there were no fittings - I had to make it purely from measurements, so I was doubtful it would fit.  I was also fairly convinced that it would simply fall apart as I tried to lace it up, which I know is illogical, but such is fear!  So, as you can imagine, I was getting a bit worked up.
Detail of the finished corset.
Detail of my finished corset.
Other than feeling nervous, the morning waiting for the shoot was spent adding further embellishment, chatting with my new friends and trying not to actually drool on the other amazing corsets they were working on.
As well as the photo shoots, Sunday brought us antique corsets from the Symington Collection, presided over by Sarah Nicol and her lovely assistant Hannah Wroe (a textile and corsetry teacher I already knew from Nottingham!).  Unfortunately, I missed Sarah's talk as it was during my photo shoot, but I did get to go and check out the corsets after lunch and I am so glad I did!
This is the largest selection of corsets Symington have ever sent out for an event like this and it was a truly impressive array; even better, we were allowed to carefully touch and handle the corsets and take photos to our hearts' content!  I won't share them all, but this should give you an idea of how unique an experience this was:
Courtesy of the Symington Collection.  Many thanks!
Courtesy of the Symington Collection. Many thanks!
Courtesy of the Symington Collection.  With thanks!
Courtesy of the Symington Collection. With thanks!
So many corsets, so little time!
The absolutely stunning Bride of Dracula corset by Royal Black, brought along by Morgana (thank you!).
The absolutely stunning Bride of Dracula corset by Royal Black, brought along by Morgana (thank you!).
Alas, all good things must come to an end and the conference was no exception ... 4pm came ticking around far sooner than any of us would have liked.  Looks were exchanged - the end was nigh.  And sure enough, Julia gave a short speech thanking everyone for their help, support and attendance, and announcing the end of the conference.  Had that really been a whole weekend?!  Was it over already?!
We dragged our feet and stitched a little longer, waiting for buses and trains, but there was no denying it - this was the end.  There were hugs, Facebook friend requests and even tears.  Somehow, this weekend of loving corsets didn't just lead to that rather professional and perhaps impersonal idea of 'networking', it actually brought a lot of people very close very quickly and friendships were forged across the world, with many promises of coming again next year and looking each other up if we were ever in their neck of the woods.  Julia hadn't even worked out whether there would be a next year at that point, but I don't think we were giving her an option.
And luckily we didn't have to - it has since been announced that the college has been booked again.  The Oxford Conference of Corsetry will happen again in 2014.
The journey home was a strange combination of subdued and excited - I was sad that such an amazing weekend was over, but I was also so inspired by everything I'd learnt and all the wonderful people I'd met.  There was much sketching of ideas, pondering of possibilities and pawing of finds from the swap and then I was home.
You want to know how good this year's conference was in short?  Well, I'm already saving for next year.
(And since my last post on this, Marianne Faulkner, designer of Pop Antique and AKA Victoria Dagger (model and the other model at the conference, as well as workshop runner!  Phew, multi-talented, or what?!) has posted her thoughts on the conference, too.)

Friday 6 September 2013

The Oxford Conference of Corsetry - Saturday

So, I left off my report on pre-conference Friday by saying how lovely the other conferenceers (I like it, makes us sound like we should have cool chapeaus and big boots) were ...
It was with these delightful ladies I spent Saturday learning about draping corsets on a form (much less scary than I was expecting, thanks to Gerry Quinton, mastermind behind Morua Designs) and the fine art of fitting (with particular emphasis on that trickiest of spots - the bust, led by an expert in that region (!), Alison Campbell, creator of Crikey Aphrodite's yumminess).
Draping design with my crew - Niki and Beth.
There were goody bags with pressies from Janome and pretty corset postcards (yay!), as well as a huge fabric and embellishment swap.  Seriously.  I don't think all that stuff even left the building.  It might even have formed its own gravitational pull at one point:
This isn't even the peak of the swap. Sari fabric, antique lace, pretty, pretty things!
We even had media coverage on the BBC News website 'in pictures'a local newspaper and BBC local radio (Julia speaks about the conference at 2:25:20)
There was stitching, coffee and chatter (the three staples of any corsetier, methinks) between classes in our hub, with much setting of eyelets and other fun.
hate setting eyelets.  It's the most stressful part of corsetry, I think!  So there I was setting eyelets on Saturday afternoon, getting more and more stressed.  You see, one of the (many) awesome parts of the conference was the opportunity to sign up for a short photo shoot with a professional model and photographer and as my City & Guilds deadline finished just before it was announced that one of those models would be the multi-talented and utterly gorgeous Morgana (AKA Threnody in Velvet, a make-up artist and photographer herself), I thought this would be a good idea ... Hence the deadline that's kept me off-blog for a few weeks.  It was a bit of a scary experience, drafting the corset purely from someone's measurements without any fittings, but this was too good an opportunity to miss.  Here's a little sneak peek:
Late night phone snap, sorry!
Late night phone snap, sorry!
The photo shoots were Sunday.  I hadn't finished the eyelets or embellishment and it was Saturday.  Now you see my stress?  Also, I loved the look of the loomstate satin I used (from Sew Curvy earlier in the year), but it frayed like a complete bastard.  Seriously - I think it gave me splinters.  So, more stress.
But it's OK, I soon had a distraction in the shape of Saturday night ...
Saturday night was a real treat - Pimms O'clock (that's the official name, right?) followed by a formal dinner in the Hall.  Oh yes, didn't I tell you?  We ate all our meals beneath the watchful gaze of Queenie (founder of the college):
And Charles I and Lawrence of Arabia (bottom left):
That's just a taste of our imposing and impressive surroundings - it really made the weekend even more dream-like and fabulous, and the staff at Jesus were so friendly and helpful.  I couldn't ask for more!
Due to rain, the Pimms drinks reception was held in a rather fancy room whose name escapes me, but which contained yet more Queenie:
oxoford queenie 2
And what's more, she had a cherry earring!oxford Queenie detail
Yep, so she kept watchful gaze over our drinking (for some people the first time they'd tried Pimms) and admiration of everyone's gladrags, then it was off to dinner and another highlight ...
Our after dinner speaker was Ian Frazer Wallace, someone I admit I hadn't heard of ... and I wasn't the only one - many of us went a-Googling and found precious little about this mysterious corseteer.  Then Julia posted this video of his work on famed burlesque dancer, Immodesty Blaise (mild bottom nudity towards end of video):
Polly Fey in more Ziad Ghanem, made in collaboration with Ian Frazer Wallace.   Image from Fashion PR.
Polly Fey in more Ziad Ghanem, made in collaboration with Ian Frazer Wallace.
Image from Fashion PR.
Ian made the green and white corsets in collaboration with designer Ziad Ghanem.  Wow, eh?  That soon cleared things up, so when the conference finally came around, we were all excited to hear Ian's talk and he did not disappoint.  An interesting fellow and an enlightening speech, giving us a glimpse into the fashion world's take on corsetry, with interjections from his muse, Polly Fey (also glimpsed in the video - second model to walk out on the finale, corsetted, shaved head, many tattoos, looks awesome).  It was something of a double act!
Could things get any better?  Turns out they could - these two weren't a pair of snooty fashionistas, here for their talk, then off to something more important, despite what Hollywood films might lead us to expect.  No, they stayed all night, hit the bar with us, chatted, drank, giggled, entertained, hugged and were just generally delightful company, fun people and genuinely, well, nice.  They spoke to everyone, sharing advice, showing interest and giving encouragement.  (Ian wished me luck with my photo shoot when I said good night and teased me for sewing in the bar at midnight, since I still hadn't finished my corset for the shoot and it turned out mine was in the morning!)
So it was that I ended up tottering to my room at 2am, tired, but inspired.
Thus endeth Saturday at the conference - just one day left!

Friday 30 August 2013

So Colette Patterns have been nominates for a Martha Stewart American Made Award worth $10,000 and they decided they would give that cash to their three employees (ie, the non-owners who work there).

They make gorgeous patterns and they're lovely?!  I've gotta vote.  You should, too. 

(The rules state you can vote up to 6 times a day, apparently.)

Thursday 29 August 2013

The Oxford Conference of Corsetry - Friday, pre-conference

It’s been rather quiet here since my City & Guilds exhibition, because I’ve been working on a corsetry deadline: last weekend I was lucky enough to go to the first Oxford Conference of Corsetry.

I'll come right out and say this from the start: it was one of the best weekends ever.  Gorgeous corsets, stunning surroundings and most excellent company.  And it's not just me who thinks it - Sara has already blogged her reflections on the weekend (spoiler - I think she liked it!).

I took the train on Friday afternoon feeling a bit apprehensive - who would be there?  What would they think of me, a little wannabe corsetier with just 3 (and a bit) corsets under my belt?  Would everyone be a million times more experienced than me?  Would they look down on me?  Would I learn something?  Would it be worth the investment?  So many worries and not a single one of them founded.

We stayed in Jesus College Oxford, which was an amazing setting for the fun to begin as we dragged (HEAVY!) cases up teeny staircases and bumped into people we recognised from the Facebook group for the event.

Oxford 2nd quad

One of my first memories of the conference was opening my bedroom door and thinking 'Wow, that's a wonky wardrobe ... oh wait ... no, it's the room that's wonky.  Okaaaaaaay.'

oxford room

oxford fabric
As you can imagine, there was much texting and Facebooking to organise everyone and find out who was where ... Luckily corsetiers are a little easier to herd than cats.  So, we ventured to the delightful Darn It & Stitch, a teeny tiny haberdashery on a side street in Oxford, which still managed to contain treasure (and was kind enough to give us a 20% discount!).  Of course, I couldn't resist temptation (When have I ever?!) and had to partake in some pretties (in the form of coral pink silk lining fabric for £5 a metre (what's not to like about that?!) and some soft cotton tape in fun designs).

Unfortunately, I'm pretty rubbish at remembering to take photos of the everyday doings of things, but the group (of around 8 of us?) were quick to get talking to each other, immediately bonding over our mutual love of corsets, fabric and stitchery.

Those bonds were soon forged even stronger by dining at The Big Bang - the ultimate bangers and mash experience.  The conference organiser, Julia Bremble (of Sew Curvy fame), kindly booked a table for all 15 of us who had arrived early.

And then there were sausages.  Not just any old sausages, but every kind of sausage and all sorts of mash and your choice of gravy.  Oh yes.

Of course, there was still more chatting and bonding and general awesomeness, together with entertainment from the owner who was friendly, accommodating and ... a bit bonkers?  (In a Good Way.)

At this point I'd met about half of the attendees, was already making friends and hadn't yet met a single unpleasant person.  I'd have considered that a success in itself ... and yet Saturday came, together with the rest of the corsetry crew who all turned out to be utterly lovely and delightful folk.  As you can probably guess by now, I met some wonderful people at the conference and really feel I've made some great friends across the world.

So, that was Friday, more coming up soon!

(Cross-posted from my writing/historical blog, as I thought it would be of interest to both sets of readers.)

Wednesday 3 July 2013

I'm not dead!!! Corsets, bras and exhibitions ...

... though you could be forgiven for thinking I was!

Well, what a year it's been (academic year, that is).  Needless to say, I've been incredibly busy, but now I'm back and if there's anyone out there still reading this little bloglet, I'd like to say hello and thank you for sticking around!

What have I been doing?  Mostly sewing and marking coursework for my students.  I doubt anyone wants to hear about the latter of those two (I certainly don't!), but the former, well ... I suppose I need a big long post to really explain and share all that, so that can wait for another day, but for now I'll give you a taster ...

Last week was the final exhibition for my City & Guilds Level 2 in Corsetry (mentioned way back when, with it being no coincidence that my blogging black-out coincided with the start of the course and the academic year!).  It has been an intense course and I've worked hard, because being over-ambitious, I came up with quite a complex design and I was determined to get top marks.  I'm so, so pleased to say that I did indeed get a Distinction (wewt!) and I'm very pleased with my final pieces.

I'm not going to explain all the ins and outs yet, that's for another day, but here's my display:

It was rather fortuitous that someone from a previous exhibition has used this pale turquoise in her display space, so my tutor, the redoubtable and wonderful Linda Lloyd-Willis, nabbed the space for me and my turquoise and teal creations!

For the qualification, we had to produce an overbust corset and a bra, as well as lots of paperwork and sampling (maybe I'll take some photos of that stuff, if anyone's interested?).

Here's my bra, together with some flower samples:

(And yes, it fits me!)

And my corset:

You'll notice it's not quite finished, but I'll explain about that soon!

So, there are lots of new things for me to share with you, new ideas, new knowledge, new skills.  I'll be updating you on 12 in 2012 (not that it's massively late or anything, lol!), giving details and information about the pieces for the City & Guilds, sharing some other bits and pieces I've made (somehow I've found time to make one or two other bits!) and talking about where things go from here and my plans for the future ...

But for now, hello lovely readers and thanks again for sticking around!  Take care and much love! x

(Big thank you to Nikki from the course for taking these photos on her rather swish camera!)

Thursday 13 September 2012

Sewing Space, Now with more drilling

Remember back when I showed you preview photos of my sewing space?  Yeah, me either!

Well, I said that it was in need of a bit more drilling and I'm pleased to say that's been done by the lovely Mr Magpie:

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Ikea?  That's one of their Bygel rails, which was a bargainacious £2, add on some hooks (which were about £1 for 10), a Bygel basket for bits and pieces and a Fintorp pot for pens.

I'm thinking of making an inspiration line from that duck egg cord to peg inspirational images and pieces of fabric from, I'll put it between the rail and the top of my machine.

Everything being put away makes me feel happy and relaxed and ready to work and create.

This might well be my favourite adage - maybe I need to make a hanging embroidery that says that?

Oh, and yay for cutting implements arranged in size order ;)