Niki’s China Corset

So this would be the second corset I’ve made for dear friend Niki, so I was felling pretty confident about getting the fit right.

Initially she was looking for something quite plain, but with a high back and shoulder straps, almost waistcoat style. Whoever this all got thrown out of the window when she bought a new pair of shoes in a blue and white fabric.

“I want one to go with my shoes, you know made out of that fabric that looks like the design you get on a plate”

Right then…

I spent ages trying to find the right kind of fabric. Initially I thought she wanted a toile de jouy kind of fabric, but that wasn’t quite right. Eventually we found a beautiful cotton on ebay of all places! It was perfect!

But a pattern matching nightmare!

Pattern matching over corsets is hard at the best of times and I am no expert at this! this pattern, although small in design, had a large repeat and was very intricate and I struggled. I’m not going to lie.

But one of the highest moments so far in my corsetry career as to be the moment when I fastened the busk on this corset for the first time and this little pattern matched birdy appeared.

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Niki’s underbust “China” corset – pattern matching

I tried to concentrate on matching the pattern around the waist but in retrospect I should have perhaps focussed on the ribs or hips instead. Normally the waist is the focal point of the corset but I found with this fabric it was more noticeable that the pattern didn’t match across the hips. Still it’s all a learning curve.

Niki loved the corset when it was finished and even wore it to attend the London burlesque festival

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Kate’s Petrol Corded Corset

So I was first approached about this commission not by Kate herself but by her partner Jim. He wanted to buy her a custom corset as a gift. Fabulous! I was super keen and we were booking in first consultations within weeks.

However, in retrospect, I think this may have been a little soon for Kate. When I first spoke with her she was very unsure of what she really wanted. We had a long conversation about shape, colour, detail, fabrics and we settled on an initial idea for quite a simple line, demi bust corset in pale blue.

A little while later Kate came back for her first fitting, and it went very well. We had a few small adjustments to make but as they were quite small I suggested we do the second fitting via Skype (she lives in Manchester and I’m based in Surrey, not something I often suggest as I’d much rather do it in person but I was feeling confident). I made the adjustments, added more boning to the mockup and sent it off.

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Initial Sketch, Second mockup, and reworked sketch

We arranged our skype meeting and it fit perfectly. However Kate wasn’t 100% happy. She had decided on a change of colour, which was no problem, but she was struggling to put into words what she wanted to change about the design. In a somewhat unorthodox approach I told her to draw all over the mockup to get it to look the way she wanted.

Well what arrived back with me was very different from what I’d originally envisioned. A lot more cording, hip gores and flossing. OK, not one to turn down a challenge, I decided to start over again. I redrew sketches in more detail using colour coding on bone channel and cording stitching. What resulted was a pattern of cording that was truly wonderful. Kate’s design of the cording over the hip gores was reminiscent of an Art Deco sun ray motif which sat in contrast to what was a very historical looking corset.

Delicate black lace ruffle around the bust and very subtle cording on the bone channels. This felt like a real modern twist to a period corset. I loved the finished item and was sad to post it off!

Sometimes clients don’t always know what they want. But through trial and error, and sometimes some unusual techniques, we get there in the end. And those corsets are often the most stunning.

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Kate’s Petrol Corded Corset, in silk dupion, with petrol silk flossing and detachable silk suspenders

Spring Bride

Coming from a self taught back ground, design work is something I’ve always felt a little intimidated to try. I haven’t got an education in fashion design, or a concept of the “rules” to fall back on. Although I am an avid follower of the work of the couture houses that by no means qualifies me to “have a bash” at it myself… or at least so I’d told myself for quite some time.

I work mostly on commission, where design work is essentially done collaboratively. My clients come to me with design ideas and I bring them to life. Whilst some ideas are very solid and exact, some are a little more fluid, but in each case I am always working to my clients specifications. I like this, I am comfortable with this, and I love nothing more than bringing someone’s idea’s to life… but this does mean that very rarely do I get the chance to show something that is entirely my own idea. On the few occasions when I do its normally to make something for myself, limited to my own figure, the event I am attending, in a limited time frame and with a very limited budget.

At the beginning of 2016 I decided to take a leap. I was desperate to show how amazing corsetry can be when incorporated into a modern and original bridal gown. I wanted to show exactly what a modern corset was capable of. Both versatile and beautiful, not dated, not bland and not restricted to being an undergarment.

Initially I wanted to create a seasonal bridal collection – spring, summer, autumn and winter – and I was going to do it in one go. However life got in the way a little bit. With two bridal commissions, and a prom dress all lined up for the first six months of the year (not to mention, husband and a toddler), I downsized to just one gown. My spring bride, and the concept that had been stuck in my head the longest.

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This design actually started life as an alternative design for my own wedding dress, but then was pushed to the back of my head for a few years when I decided to stick with my original (more Edwardian inspired) idea. It was also going to be embellished with lace rather than flowers, but I swiftly changed my mind. I wanted to create something a bit different, and it seems every other wedding dress is covered in lace (not that there is anything wrong with that you understand!)

Floral, ethereal, feminine yet dramatic – that’s what I was hoping to achieve. But I also wanted it to be practical and versatile. I am a great believer in two piece wedding ensembles. If you are going to spend a significant amount of money on something, why wear it only once? The skirt might not be so practical to wear out of an evening (but hey, why not if it takes your fancy), but I wanted the corset to stand on its own, in a boudoir setting or worn out – dressed up smart with a pencil skirt or even teamed with jeans and blazer (cocktail anyone?)!

First thing I did? I booked in Alyvia V Free to model and Sarah Ann Wright as my photographer. Two fantastic people who’s work I had admired for such a long time. As a relatively unknown corsetiere I was very nervous about contacting “Professionals” (stupid really as technically I’m a professional too!). Liv’s stature and dark flowing hair felt elfin like to me, but in a strong and powerful kind of way. I just knew she’d give a depth and emphasis to the ethereal gown I was trying to bring to life. Sarah’s photography is just stunning, and really manages to draw nature into her work with such skill. I’m always taking inspiration from the organic so this quality to her work was really important to me. As you can imagine I was beyond thrilled when both said they’d love to be a part of the shoot.

Next on my list was fabric. You’ve got to get that right, and I cannot tell you how much time I spent trawling the internet for inspiration to no avail. I found plenty of fabric that would have been perfect, but embroidered silk dupion at £85 a meter, and no one is paying me for this… no – I couldn’t stretch to that. So armed with a trusty (and very patient) friend, off I went to Goldhawk Road in search of inspiration… and I found it in this gorgeous digital floral print fabric that was, *hurrah*, budget friendly, and so the design spiralled from there. I found a silk dupion to compliment, swarovski crystals and freshwater pearls to embellish, and I was off into my dream land of lilac florals and sparkly things.

This was my first attempt at this type of appliqué, onto a corset, and I essentially took a decoupage approach to the placement. Reinforcing this very liquid fabric with a fusible interfacing then hand cutting out each flower and positioning onto the corset whilst laced onto the stand. I wanted to create depth, and a real organic feel, drawing inspiration from the work of Monet. Adding the chiffon layer softens the harsh structure of the corset but also adds to this Monet feel and gives even further depth. I added some of the crystals and pearls under the chiffon layer to really highlight that, and then more flowers on top along with more crystals and pearls. Yes – that was a lot of hand stitching.

Corset finished and it was onto the skirt. I adore using historical patterns for skirts. I mean who knows better about voluminous skirts than the Victorians right? I used the Truly Victorian 1865 Elliptical Skirt pattern,which has gorgeous folds over the hips and gathering at the back to give you a bit of ‘booty’ volume and a small train. To give it a more modern vibe, I opted to no use hoops to give the skirt volume – but instead created a petticoat, layered in tulle and with horsehair braid (or crin) around the hem. This created the luxurious feel I wanted and the volume without it looking like forced or like a costume. With the silk chiffon layered over the floral fabric it continued with the theme on the corset. I wish more than anything I had remembered to take a video of Liv wearing it on the shoot. Standing amongst the bluebells there was a subtle breeze which made the chiffon layer of the skirt ripple like water.

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All that remained was ‘The Bow’. I’m not quite sure which part of my brain the inspiration for the bow came from, and I doubted myself about the concept for a while, but I’m so glad I went with it because I think it looked amazing. Something truly different to incorporate a detachable train into the ensemble. I was inspired to bring the floral appliqué down the train after attending a wedding a few years ago, where we threw red rose petals as confetti. They settled beautifully on the brides white train and I just had to recreate this look. It also aided to balance the ensemble, picking out the appliqué on the corset. I spent an age positioning each flower to give the impression they had just fallen there. More pearls, and crystals so more hand-stitching.

On shoot day I’d quickly thrown together a pair of tie side knickers to go with the corset for a “boudoir” bridal shoot as well as the full bridal shoot. Liv made a stunning headdress that complimented the gown perfectly. Sarah wrote a lovely little blog post about the shoot itself and you can find that here.

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Alivya V Free wearing Moody Corsetry, photographed by Sarah Ann Wright

This ensemble is now part of my sample collection and I hope to use it at wedding fairs in the future. The images we got from the shoot are stunning and I’ve had a fantastic response so far. I’m really looking forward to creating my next bridal sample piece… whenever that may be!

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