Monday, 30 January 2017


I'm still feeling pretty lousy about my entry. I'm glad I had the confidence to submit it, but I know of at least one person who has done something comparable in style to my entry and I think they have done a much better job of it.
It sucks to know already that I am going to be feel like my piece isn't as good, but I'm trying to see the positives.

This week I was reminded of how far I have come. I started making corsets in about 2006. I was 13/14 and fell in love with Victorian clothing. I wanted to learn to make it, and realized the first step would be the corset. Here I am 11 years later, and although I have made a few historical pieces, I really found my passion lay with corsetry.
I have a couple of images of my very first corsets, but I can't access the old MySpace account they are on, so the earliest I can find are from 2010.
These are the corsets I first made which I considered good enough that they should be photographed properly.

The top corset is from the "dolls corset" pattern in Jill Salens "Corsets" enlarged to human size.

The bottom corset is a self drafted underbust, which didn't actually reduce my waist at all, but still wrinkled horrifically.

They may not look too bad here, but honestly they were AWFUL. The inside was just a complete mess, the binding at the bottom of the underbust didn't meet up properly, and I don't even know where to begin with the Hello Kitty corset:

Just as a starter, look at the stitching on this channel... I have no idea what I even did. There are other things I could point out, but this is one that even a complete novice will be able to look at and see that it is flawed.
Somehow I nailed the pattern matching at the front so... I guess I had that going for me?

I'm writing this because there is a chance someone will read it, and it will help them.
I look at the entries in this competition every year, and every year I am intimidated.
I know that someone else has done a cupped corset with lace, and I know that at least 2 people have made tutus. I know that some people have worked hours and hours creating truly incredible pieces because like me, some people share sneak peeks of what they have been working on. It's a little terrifying, and it took a lot of courage for me to actually submit my entry, but I felt like I should.
Because maybe someone who couldn't find that courage this year will still follow the competition closely, and read through all the dress diaries, and gain a little confidence from seeing that everyone struggles.
You don't think your work would have been good enough? I'm telling you it would. I'm telling you that in a year, or two years, or five years, you will look back on what you have made today and think "I'm glad I didn't give up."
I'm not a naturally gifted seamstress, as is very clear from the pictures above. It took me a long time to get to what is even "reasonable" standard.

This is for those of you who are where I was 10 years ago:

Some people are naturally gifted at sewing. They sit at a machine, and they create mindblowingly beautiful pieces with infuriatingly perfect stitching with what looks like no effort at all.
You're not like them, and that's OK. You're going to put in months, even years of work, and you're going to see people start months or years after you who make things you could only dream of creating. It's going to break your heart.
That's OK. You're not them. 
Don't hold yourself to their standards.
Look at what you create, and be proud that you created it.
Remember that no matter how many books you read, and how many videos you watch, and how much you know about the history of the corset - it means nothing when you actually try to make something. Not everyone learns in the same way, and some of us need to make the mistakes and learn the hard way. Watch the video, read the article, make the mistake and then look at them again now you can see what it is that you need to learn from them. Finish the corset that is lying half completed because you're ashamed that you messed up one small thing.

 If you've ever seen something I have made - whether it is this corset, or any of my other corsets - and admired it, realize that I am not a naturally gifted sewing genius. I didn't get to where I am overnight. It was a very long, very difficult road. But if you're like me, and you struggle grasping the basics, it is not impossible to improve. 

2010            /             2017

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Silly things.

Well, I knew it would happen eventually. The closer the deadline creeps, the more self doubt kicks in. I was so happy with this and now I keep seeing people talking about/sharing glimpses of amazing projects I am less and less happy with my own.
It's a silly thing, but it's something I wanted to document in my dress diary because I intend to keep this for next years competition, and would like to be able to look back on this years entry to see how things have evolved.
I'm getting really worked up over the fact I didn't get to do a skirt now, I feel like people are going to look at my work and think I was lazy, or that it's not at all relevant for the theme.
I guess this isn't documenting the construction, but maybe other people feel like this about their own entries, and will be happy realizing other people end up feeling like this too.

Beautiful work is something everyone should be proud of - and I have no doubt everyone will have created something beautiful. It's important to keep that in your mind when you first see all the entries every year - they are all beautiful, and each and every one of them has their own merits. The winners always deserve to win, and some people are lucky in that they are incredibly inspired by the theme. I know in the past certain themes haven't really appealed to me (I remember the Titanic theme was one of them) but I always try to enter to give myself a specific project to try and improve my skills with.

I really hope my entry hasn't strayed far enough from the theme that people completely overlook it - I tried to keep in touch with the theme without having a model to fit in person, or the materials I needed for aspects I had planned on.

I am definitely still in love with the corset though, and I need to keep that in mind rather than worrying about comparing my work to that of other people.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Finished corset (picture heavy)

I finished the corset a few days ago and have some images to share.
I did mail the corset to a model to get some better images, but I am not sure if it will arrive on time as postage from Norway is horrifically slow to anywhere else.
I also wanted to add more pictures than the 5 we are allowed in the main entry :)


I'm really happy with the silhouette. It has a somewhat Edwardian feel from the back, with a modern twist from the front. I could have gone with an older style pattern, closer to the era La Sylphide and the Romantic ballet's were originally popular, but for me the Edwardian era has more of a romantic aesthetic than Victorian corsetry does.


I'm really happy with the embellishment of this piece - It looked really nice plain, but I am honestly incredibly proud of how this has turned out. I really exceeded my expectations, and produced something I would never have imagined I was capable of.
I have found over the past year that I produce the things I am proudest of when I force myself to use colours and styles I would never automatically sway towards.
My first idea when I settled on the ballet theme was a Black Swan corset. I am 100% certain that at least one person will have produced a mind-blowingly gorgeous Black Swan themed corset/tutu for this competition, and I felt like if I were to run with this idea I would end up comparing my work to the other entry (entries?) that had used this as a basis.
I tend to beat myself up, so this was an astronomically bad idea.

So I started looking into ballets I could garner inspiration from, and I realized that I really loved the look of the romantic era, even though I wouldn't attempt something like this myself. I chose a pale colour palette for the original corset, but along with the pale pink coutil I had ordered a pale golden silk from my supplier.
I  deliberately picked a colour I would never have chosen myself for a personal project, but something a little darker than the colours I used for my wedding dress because I didn't want to swing too close to a bridal corset.
This needed to be its own thing.

I was actually a little disappointed with the silk at first, it was darker than I had hoped and I just wasn't feeling it. I made an overbust from some of the fabric with lace, hand sewn beads, and handsewn pearls.It was alright, but nothing breathtaking. I wasn't convinced it would work for the competition after all.
But I had no other options, and I had proven that I was able to use satin without crying into a wrinkled mess at the end of the project.

The corset turned out really well - much better than I had hoped - and it made a really awesome base for embellishment.

I chose to use a gold lace because I wanted the embellishment to be understated. I liked the one I used because it has a lot of "tendrils" which can be used to wrap around curves, and create subtle embellishment rather than just large patches of lace.
It is inconspicuous, and very natural looking.
Corsets can be harsh garments - sharp curves and rigid construction make it very easy to create an item which is impossible to make delicate and feminine, but with the right fabric and embellishment they can also be the most feminine items.

I generally end up making the harsher looking pieces. There's nothing wrong with that, I really like bold colours and embellishments, and it is why I could easily have made something suitable for the Black Swan theme if I had no other ideas and was really desperate to enter something at the last minute.
However, the challenge I set myself with this project was to create something that is romantic. This is something I never normally achieve.

I think that, although the plain corset was beautiful, adding this lace is what made it a really spectacular piece, and is what took it from "pretty nice corset" to a piece which really is romantic and feminine in its styling.

I chose to place the lace symmetrically because the tendrils and motifs work really well for a piece inspired by nature, but La Sylphide is super natural, and as symmetry is not generally found within plants/trees in their natural habitats, it gave an "otherworldly" look to the piece - natural, but at the same time unnatural.

If I was able to do something different with the embellishment, I would have used some of the silk chiffon left from making my wedding dress to create flowing "wings" - either a cape, or a Watteau train attached to the back of the corset.
Again, I had made a silk chiffon cape with lace embellishment but it was left in England so I wasn't able to adapt it for this. (Lesson learned, don't leave important projects in another country in the future.)
I think that adding some semblance of wings would have made this more appropriate for the character of La Sylphide, rather than just being a piece inspired by Romantic Ballet in general with La Sylphide as a starting point.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Outside inspirations, minor disappointments.

Whilst I discussed the inspiration I took from my own work yesterday, I didn't go into detail about the inspiration I took from the actual theme - ballet.

The ballet my piece is based on is La Sylphide.

La Sylphide is a romantic ballet, it is one of the oldest surviving ballets and the existing choreography is from the early 1830s.
The tutu's in romantic ballets are the long flowing tulle kind, rather than the impressive plate-like "pancake" tutus many think of. This is part of what drew me to La Sylphide as I really like the romantic style tutus.
Images from Wikimedia Commons:

The costumes in romantic ballet are generally white - I didn't want to make something white, but I wanted to work with paler shades than I have done previously. Romantic ballet precedes "ballet blanc" so whilst it would be unusual for a costume to be another shade, it is not totally mind blowing or against all rules of the genre.
I had a lot of ivory and pale golden silk chiffon and silk tulle in England, which I had purchased in case I changed my mind about having such a short wedding dress, so I already had most of the materials at hand.

My piece is inspired by the character of La Sylphide -  originally I went with a very pale pink Edwardian corset with gentle splashes of lace and roses. I showed this in my previous post, so I won't go into too much detail.

I was going to make a Romantic style tutu to go with this, and embellish it with matching splashes of lace and bigger roses.

I found out I wouldn't be able to go to England and finish this piece on December 16th, giving me less than 2 months to complete an entry I would now have to make from scratch with comparatively limited resources at hand.
I had two suitable silks here -one white silk, and one pale gold.
I also had a small amount of the pale pink spot broche my original entry was in. I also had plenty of sheer mesh.

I crossed off the sheer mesh, because I use this a lot and making something from this would not have challenged me. This meant I had to cross off the pink broche as I only had enough to use as channels/binding.

I liked the idea of the white silk, which fit a little more neatly with the theme I was running with, but it was a silk dupion, which again I find easy to work with.

This left me with the pale gold.

I didn't really have a clear idea of what I wanted to make from it, I just wanted to do something I would find challenging, and then manipulate it to fit the theme if possible.

This will probably lose me points in terms of this being a competition - I know that some people have spent months perfecting a pattern  for their entry. However, as I sat down and thought of what I could do to push myself, I realized that my work with cupped corsets would potentially reach its zenith if I was able to make something I was happy with in satin.
This competition is not about winning, for me. I was put off entering by the "I'll never win" aspect, but I realized that isn't what I should focus on.
It isn't about making something to win, it's about making something you are happy with and using the process as a learning curve.
So I chose to make a cupped corset from satin, because it would challenge me. I chose to make it because it would be something I would never normally push myself to do. And, I chose to do it a because I thought it would make a beautiful base for a costume inspired by La Sylphide.

I'm still gutted that I don't have the chance to make a tutu to match - I may still do so when I get the chance - but I wasn't willing or able to have the materials I needed shipped over in time, and I really didn't want to have to buy things new here, as it's difficult and expensive to find good quality materials especially when I am pampered by my trade accounts with high end fabric suppliers in the UK.

My competition entry has changed completely from what it otherwise would have been. It's a shame, because I almost feel like the original piece is probably a lot more appropriate for the theme, but I also know that it didn't really push me. I dyed the lace by hand, and I was working in paler colours, but the corset itself was not challenging to make or draft.

So I drew on one piece for my inspiration, and created two very different things. I had to push through set backs - both minor and major - and I feel like I am happier with the final piece because of those set backs. I made something that actually challenged me, and shows off my skill set. At the end of the day, that is what this is all about :)

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Information overload

I'm not really sure where to begin with this. I'm pretty bad at updating diaries, and so I wasn't going to create a dress diary for this project, but I am really close to the end and there are a few things I am excited or frustrated about that I want to share here rather than in the blurb for my entry.
The main things I wanted to go into more detail about are inspiration, design ideas, and frustrations.

Choosing the theme:

To be honest I was really stuck for ideas for the themes this years, and it took me a while to find my feet. I was bouncing between both themes, and even with the idea of making a ballet themed corset from the Symington pattern, and at some points I really didn't think I would make something to enter at all.

I was initially put off by the ballet theme, because the idea of making a pancake tutu terrified me. I was convinced that there was no way I could possibly win this if I didn't go for a full-blown corset and tutu combo. I don't have the space, skills, or desire to make a huge tutu like this so I scrapped the idea of following the ballet theme altogether without really considering it.

The Symington pattern challenge was interesting, and I did think for a while that I would use this as the basis for my entry. When I started to seriously think about what I would do, I decided that this wasn't an option. I'm currently pregnant, so I couldn't make it to fit myself and I didn't have anyone I could use as a willing victim for the project.
The pleasure I would get from this is from achieving a perfect fit from Cathy's wonderful instructions. I would really have loved to make a period style corset as I keep meaning to do this and getting side tracked and making things which don't look historically accurate at all, but to be happy enough to enter it I really needed a person to make it for.
I considered adapting the pattern - starting with a standard draft, and then completely changing it for a hybrid antique/modern look (for example, altering the pattern to give the corset cups) but again, I needed a real person to fit this on.

Until the end of the year I just shrugged the competition off - I never expect to win, but making something for the sake of entering and then feeling disappointed when I saw my entry next to all the other beautiful things which are entered every year made me hesitant to put anymore time or energy into the idea, but around October I changed my mind.
I realized that I have been happy with the pieces I have made for fun recently, and it meant that I was doing something productive rather than just making random things.

I already knew that the Symington pattern was off the table for me, so I was left with the ballet theme to work with.

Gathering inspiration:

Looking back on my work from a few years ago, I really sucked. I have been making corsets for 12 years this year, which is almost half of my life. But until about 3 years ago I feel that I was atrocious and stuck in a rut. I have no idea why - I think I was convinced that doing the same thing over and over would make me better. I didn't look at the things that weren't good and do something to change them, I just kept on doing things the same way.
I had a wake up call at that point, and have tried to push myself with each thing I made ever since. I feel like my work has improved at a steady rate since then, with a few Eureka moments along the way to help fuel me and keep me going.
For this reason it was important to me that my entry showed progression in my work and helped me look at my work in a positive way - in the same way as I was nervous that entering at all would leave me deflated when I saw the other entries, I was scared that I might end up making something which left me disappointed.

This year was marked with a few Eureka moments, for which I am extremely grateful. There were a few themes which seemed to run through my progression in 2016.

1. The Wedding Dress
I started the year by stepping completely out of my comfort zone and making a wedding dress - my own wedding dress. I hated all the things I saw in the shops, and felt that they were really over priced. There's nothing quite like a saleswoman trying to convince you a £2000 dress is the height of luxury when you work with expensive materials and are aware the lace and silk used are not particularly good quality. It worked out a lot cheaper for me to by couture lace from France and high end British silk than it did to buy a dress I even remotely liked, particularly as I wanted something with sleeves which seems to be like asking for the moon on a stick.
I drafted the pattern from scratch - I went with something fairly simple but which I know looks amazing on my figure. The dress is a princess seam minidress - a strapless silk base layer with a long sleeved lace overlay.

Images by Linn Carlson Photography

Things I learned from this project:

I am more patient than I ever imagined - every thing on this dress was perfect. I pattern matched everything. When I was unable to do so (where the sleeves join to the dress) I hand sewed appliques of the lace over the seams to give the illusion of it being seamless.
I hand sewed the eyelash lace around the keyhole at the back of the dress above the buttons.
I literally sewed every single part of the lace to the silk -the entire lace overlay has been painstakingly stitched to the silk. It took me several hundred hours to make.
It was an entirely different experience to what I normally do - I was making something tight fitting but it wasn't boned, and wasn't made to be worn with a corset.  - it was so strange to make something which is so pliable and soft, as I have worked with coutil for so long.
I can work with satin This has always been a hang up of mine - satin shows wrinkles up really easily and I haven't been confident enough to work with it for a few years. When I got the pictures of my dress back, I loved them. OK, you are basically looking at the lace, but the dress isn't wrinkled, it isn't cheap looking, and I didn't make a huge mess of it.

2. Cupped corsetry

I've loved cupped corsets for a long time, but making them is a little terrifying.
I am really indebted to Karolina Laskowska who helped give me the confidence to make my first cupped corset, and gave me my first cupped corset pattern to play with.

This is about 2.5 years old. It's really really awesome, and I am in love with the shape of this. I can, however, see a lot of faults in it. The fit wasn't great, because I just made up the pattern as it was given to me, rather than attempting to make something which fit me. The construction left a lot to be desired (I'm looking at you, binding at the top edge...)
It's around this time that something else spurred me on in my desire to create cupped corsets - the Foundations Revealed "corsets with cups" series
At the time I read it and was kind of like "eh, this is interesting but I'm not good enough." I filed it under "some day" and forgot about it for a while.
As my confidence increased, I went back to the article, and this year I feel like it has been one of the biggest things to push me and improve my skill set.

I made a few trial and error patterns, some of them followed the technique in the article to a T:
image by Threnody in Velvet

After this I began to branch further out and began to draft my own patterns.

The Corset

(kind of...)
Here it is! My competition entry for 2016/17:

I adapted a midbust Edwardian pattern, I used period accurate techniques, I hand dyed lace and painstakingly placed and stitched it.
It's so beautiful I want to cry.

Well, that pretty much happened when I realized I wouldn't be able to enter it.
I was making this in England when I was visiting my parents in the autumn, and I had left it there to finish off over Christmas.
Well, it sucks to be me because a week before Christmas I was told I wouldn't be able to fly for medical reasons.
It's so beautiful, and I was really really heartbroken (again, I was going to give up and not make anything to enter) but it was a blessing in disguise.

I ended up making something I am much happier with.

I made the actual competition corset from silk satin - the corset makers nemesis - and from a pattern I drafted with cups.

I was going to leave it plain but the further along I got, the more I wanted to add something (because lets me honest, that is what always happens when left to my own devices.)

I went with a simple but striking lace applique, as my inspiration was La Sylphide, who is traditionally costumed in an elegant but not extravagant costume.

The feedback I got from this stupid picture of the corset laced to a pillow before there were any bones added left me overwhelmed.
I am so in love with this piece, and honestly looking at it I cannot believe it is me that made it.
It's like something I would see online and sigh over - wishing I had the skills to make.
Well, I do.
I have worked hard this year.
* Making my dress left me refreshed and with a new outlook when it came to corset making .
* I was more willing to use a paler palette, which I was a bit wary of in the past.
* I was willing to use satin, which I have been terrified of since about 3 years ago.
* Honing my skills at creating cupped corsets has started to pay off - I love the things I am able to make using this technique.

It's not finished yet - I've actually been adding the finishing touches today - but I think I have bored people enough for one post anyway.

I hope this has offered some insight into my thought process over the course of the year, and how this piece came to be.
I will add some more about things I would have liked to do, or would have done differently, when I post some more after it is totally finished.