Monday, 17 September 2012

Corsets and Cocktails

June, July, August and September have been ridiculously exciting months for me and my little company Sew Curvy Corsetry.

There was the article in my local paper which I mentioned in my last post...

Which led to the radio interviews on BBC Radio Oxford  also mentioned in the last post.  In August Lou one of the presenters of the morning breakfast show came to my studio to record a series of 4 features with me for her breakfast show.  She was with me for about an hour.  I had made a corset to her measurements so that we could pretend she was a customer coming for a fitting and the "oooh!" factor could be caught live.

Lou was lovely and seemed very interested in my work.  On her list of questions to ask, she had a question about cheap Chinese corsetry.  I'm happy to say that she was so interested in what I was saying about quality hand made corsetry, that she forgot to re-visit the Chinese question and it was never mentioned either in private or in air.  Hooray!

Now before Lou came to record those features with me, she happened to mention to the TV people that she would be interviewing me ... they asked if they could come too!  So hey presto, I found out I was to be on TV ... but another day.  That day dawned when I had a class - they wanted to use that angle for added interest and my lovely students were very game. 

I was expecting a whole film crew to arrive, but no!  Just a camera man and Lou and a couple of microphones.  That's all!  The whole thing took half an hour to film 2 minutes of footage.  It was very exciting and glamorous!

As if  all that wasn't thrilling enough, a few weeks later I was contacted by the PR company acting for Universal Pictures to help promote the new Keira Knightly film, Anna Karenina.  They wanted me to make a presentation to several online journalists all about corsetry.  It was to be an evening of "corsets and cocktails" where I would give a presenation, a fitting demonstration, a little sewing lesson, and let the girls try on some of my finished bespoke corsets.  It was a really fun evening in Soho.

The offices of the PR company were very swish, there was a giant Shrek in the lobby as this company also represent Disney - Infact they represent almost everyone there is to represent in film and TV!  Here's the boardroom all set up and ready.

Doesn't it look lovely?  It so happens that this company's logo is the same colour pink as my own logo! Serendipidy!

I was quite nervous when I arrived there.  I'd taken my presentation which detailed the history of corsets from Minoan times to the present day with a special focus on corsetry in the mid 1870's which is when the story of Anna Karenina was set, plus a n umber of corsets, and a mockup that i'd made   to fit one of the journalists who'd given me her measurements in advance.

The mock up  was for a fitting demo to illustrate how curve can be quite dramatic without making the waist uncomfortable or breathing uneasy,  by fitting the corset properly around the hip and bust area.

After the fitting demo, the other girls couldn't wait to try on some corsets, luckily I took a few!  Here are some of them.  Don't they look gorgeous!

So all in all the summer and early autumn of 2012 has been a very exciting time for me and my corsetry!  There is more exciting news on the horizon, more on that another day!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Corsets in the press!

Hi Folks!

I am sorry it's been so long.  The e-book was published and then everything went WOOOOOOSH!! The Oxford Mail got in touch because they'd seen a BBC article about corsetry on a 'no news day', then once that was published, the actual BBC got in touch and came to record a few sessions with me for BBC Radio Oxford.  Those have already been broadcast on a breakfast show last week, but .... drumroll ... the TV people now want in on the corset action, so they're coming with a film crew next week!  Click the pic to read the Oxford Mail article:

All this means is that it's been insanely busy at Sew Curvy towers.  My sales have gone through the roof - i've already sold 70 copies of the e-book, and ofcourse the knock on sales have added to that mountain of tissue paper, ribbons and postal receipts! ... Gertie of Better Sewing fame also decided to make a corset - have you seen it?  She is going to look AMAZING when it's all done - keep an eye out on her blog for more news on that.

Ofcourse I had to make a corset as if for a fitting for Lou the lovely BBC radio presenter so that we could capture the "ooooh!" factor when she was laced in, for the listeners.  Now I'm making her another for the TV slot - one that I think will 'suit' her more.  More on that in the next post or so.  In the meantime, here she is with her corset ready for final fitting:

And I've been trying to make a little bridal portfolio to take to local wedding fairs this autumn.  I've finished a couple of pieces but the work is on going on that front.  There are all sorts of other possibilities and projects in the pie too, so what I really need to do is figure out a way of either extending the number of hours in the day - or the number of minutes in an hour, or how to clone myself at least 4 times.

You can see a preview of my e-book, and buy a copy if you wish,  by clicking here:

Wednesday, 27 June 2012


Remember a while back I posted a link to a Sponsume page for my friend Jenni?  Well ... She made her target and yesterday opened her pop up corsetry boutique in Birmingham.  I went up to help her for the day, last minute stitching and other preparations...

The space that Jenni has created is dreamily gorgeous, with huge guilt mirrors, soft drapes, and opulent fur rugs, not to mention her exquisite Sparklewren work on display and for sale.

And the window!  The shop is in a Victorian arcade which has kept many of it's original features.  The shop has the most beautiful curved window,  behind which stands a Charles James inspired gown which  is set off by magnificent gilded panels created by textural artist Emily Swift-Jones.

And the bonkers thing ... Years ago when I made my first corset ... and then not so long ago when I wrote my first words on this blog, little did I know where my passion would lead to and that I'd be lacing Britain's top burlesque star into an exquisite corseted gown ready for her special guest appearance at the boutique of a talented friend I met online!

The internet is truly an amazing place, and yesterday was an amazing day ... Here is the picture I took of the beautiful Immodesty Blaize after our rendezvous in the dressing room!

If you're in Birmingham, nip along to see the Sparklewren Boutique.  It's in the Great Western Arcade for 6 months only!  And if you're on Facebook, you can see more pics here.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Plunge corset based on Edwardian original

I've also been making a 'signature portfolio' of my corsetry work.  So far i've got 4 corsets and a wedding gown.  I've also got a model, photographer, hairdresser, location and even an assistant!

My asssitant is a fashion student helping me for a month.  She is a god send!!  I've got through so many tasks with her help.

My portfolio will focus on Bridal wear.  There are some underwear corsets, some outerwear corsets, one complete gown and a couple of boudoir items.

The first bridal boudoir corset is done.  It's made from a beautiful ivory damask, has a very deep plunge, based on an Edwardian original in the Symington Collection which is called the Sanakor Corset.  Who knew the Edwardians would go in for such a plunge?  In reality, the top of the plungy cups only came to mid bust and were there for gentle support rather than cuppage.

The back is a sweetheart shape and the top is trimmed with a beautiful cotton guipre edging.

It has gold accents with light topaz Swarawski rhinestones for added sparkle. 

 I'm very pleased with it.  My next boudoir peice will be similar to this but with a very dramatic edge.

Corset Making Book - Lights camera action!

Is it really nearly a month since I last posted?  Yikes! the time goes too fast ..

Even though I submitted my completed text/pics for my forthcoming e-book back in November, there is still a lot of 'post production' to do and this has been keeping me busy amongst other things.  I'm going through the final proof now but a couple of weeks ago, we shot the videos!  They were shot in my studio with my 'old faithful' sewing machine, and I must say, I think they came out rather well.  We filmed the more 'difficult to explain' aspects of corsetry such as turn of cloth, eyelet setting and seam constructions.

I'm very pleased with the whole e-book over all, I do think it offers much more than any other corset making book on the market currently.  There are over 200 high resolution colour photos, easy to follow diagrams, 2 complete projects to work through, and all the videos.

The only bit of the book I really don't like is my video introduction.  It's horrid seeing yourself on film and worse hearing your own voice don't you think?  I don't know if I was having a bad day or something but I really didn't think I look like that!  hehe!  

This is my "Julia at work" shot for the book
Last but not least, here is the cover of the book.  I'm due to submit my final proof corrections (I don't think there are any) tomorrow, and then the e-book will be distributed from the end of the month!  

Friday, 25 May 2012

Scaling an antique corset pattern

I realise I haven't posted much about making stuff for a while, so here's a little report on my other latest work, the Edwardian corset pattern which is in a book called Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh. This book is a pretty standard text for corstieres and the patterns in it are easily scaled up and adapted for modern use.

The pattern in the book looks like this...

Which translates into this diagram ...

I used Ralph Pink's amazing photoshop tutorial to scale the pattern - so easy!  See HERE.  I then made the pattern up just as it was - no measuring as I only wanted to learn about the construction - how to use silk with this type of pattern and how to hide the bone channels thereby keeping the swooping lines at the front 'clean'.  So that's what I did .. and then I tried it on and by weird co-incidence,  it fit me!  The hips have a little extra space, and the bust is a teensy weensy bit small .. but to the untrained eye, I could get away with wearing this 'out'.

I adapted the pattern a little by adding some 'fins' over the hip panels to accentuate the hips but they didn't really work how I wanted them too - should have padded or stuffed them.  

So the outer layer of the corset  is double sided silk which is a bit heavier than dupion type silk - it's like the silk they make mens ties with - fused to a cotton woven fusible interfacing, and stitched together with lapped seams.

The inside is coutil stitched together the same way, and the bone channels which are cotton twill tape, are attached to the coutil layer on the inside.  The channels are placed as per the diagram above, which was pretty easy.   The boning is all 7mm flat steel with extra tough flats on the edges at the centre back.

I joined the two layers together via the front and back panels, and the binding at the top and bottom.  Also, there are three diagonal bone channels sewn through all layers at the back.

The binding and fins are made from ribbed dupion silk, inspired by ladybirds undersides.

All in all a very fascinating and insightful project.  I shall most certainly be customising this pattern in the future.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Corset making courses

Has anyone yet discovered how to make working holograms of oneself - in manner of Star Wars?  I need at least three.

The last few weeks have been a frenzy of activity .. there have been corsets to make ... along with Photographers and models to find ... and I'm happy to report, both have been found so I'll be doing a 'shoot' as they say, in the not too distance future.  My model has a Debbie Harry meets Gwen Stefani meets Jean Harlow look ... Inspiring much drama!

my latest - a bridal boudoir piece

I've also been teaching my socks off! There was the Introduction to Corsetry Course with 5 lovely lovely students including my first male student who was amazing.

Picnic lunch at the Sew Curvy Studio - so good a passer by asked where she could buy some!
He made a corset for his wife, and not only did it go together seamlessly (pardon the pun) but it fit her perfectly when he got home!

A Victorian style corset made with genuine Victorian fabric!
Oh .. and did I mention, he bought fabrics from the 18th and 19th century?  Gorgeous.  See more pics of the course here.

Selection of vintage fabrics from Morgan le Fay Antique Textiles

I've been teaching a weekly dressmaking course for beginners in Oxford, and also, we had the Sparklewren Masterclass at the Sew Curvy Studio - that was on Friday and was amazing!  4 keen beans learning about all manner of embellishments, we made a sampler each with layered lace, beads, crystals, feathers and more.  The day was full of sparkle in every way.  You can read a review here, and see more pics here.

And now the summer seems to have reached us (touch wood!) and I want to make a summer dress ... I have a collection of Collette patterns, but which to choose?  A simple one I think.  Anyone got a hologram going spare?  Must be able to sew.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Sparklewren boutique

A corset making friend of mine is planning something exceptionally exciting and I really want her to succeed.

Jenni, the creative genius behind Sparklewren is one of the most - if not the most - talented and innovative corsetieres in the UK today and I am utterly convinced that one day her name will be whispered in the same breath as Mr Pearl in the highest circles of couture - she has already dressed  Immodesty Blaize the Queen of British Showgirls.

Immodesty Blaize wearing a Sparklewren Corset
The project is ambitious - a temporary pop-up boutique in a Victorian shopping arcade in the centre of Birmingham, with 'living windows', a working atelier, and exclusive 'salon' evenings.  The Sparklewren Boutique will be stunning and it will raise the profile of top class corsetry,  making it much more accessible to those who may not otherwise know such a wonderful art form exists, and it will inspire other young, aspiring British designers to reach for the skies too.

Obviously, to get the project off the ground requires some finance and to this end, Jenni is raising money by crowdfunding, discounted etsy sales, and a little bit of teaching.  The deadline is 18 May - just over 2 weeks time!

I have a great deal to thank Jenni for - a list far too long to explain in this post - but it is why I want to help her raise all the money she needs for this project.   If you beleive in beauty and in art, and have a couple of spare pennies, perhaps you could help this wonderful project on it's way - every pound counts towards the total and she is currently a little behind target.  It really would be a crying shame if her amazing ideas and inspirational plans were to be thwarted by lack of funding.

For more details of the project along with details on how you can help realise a dream,  please click the link above.
Another amazing Sparklewren creation

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Edwardian corset - finished

I've just done an interview with Sew Magazine about 'vintage' corset patterns.  In the interview, I explained that a good way to learn all sorts of things about corsetry techniques, and fit, is to scale up antique patterns and make them up.

Where does one find these patterns?  In books.  Namely, Corsets and Crinolines by Norah Waugh (and others), which is where this one was.

I scaled it up according to the scale given, and hey presto .. it fitted me! Which was a surprise as usually, antique patterns need much adjustment for the modern figure.

I did make a minor adjustment to the hips, in order to include 'fins' which I realise I should have padded in order to make them stand out more.  Other than that, the pattern came together very easily.

It's made from a single layer of coutil on the inside, with boning channels sewn to the inside and the outer shell is made from double sided silk stitched together with lapped seams.

It's OK but still not the standard i'm aiming for.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Fan making classes

Hello all!!  Just popping my head up again from the mound of stuff I'm currently embroiled in.  Details of which will no doubt unfurl as the year goes on, but for now, some are top secret, which of course means that they are ridiculously exciting!

One thing which i'm working on is using my new workshop and studio to it's full advantage.  It's a shame to have such a beautiful space available and not use all of it after all!  So I am collaborating with talented corset makers, dress makers and hat makers, to bring you 'masterclasses' - one day workshops which will focus on the specialty areas of couture and millinery.  I am going to be announcing the first one this week, and the class while being taught by a corsetiere for corsetiers, would also be very interesting for dressmakers who are perhaps making something very special this year ... a wedding dress or very special occasion outfit perhaps?  Here's a little clue ..

In the meantime, I can also tell you that the lovely Charlotte Raine, of Charlotte Raine Corsetry will be teaching a workshop on how to make a burlesque feather fan at the Sew Curvy Studio on Saturday 19 May.  The workshop will start at 1.30pm, tea and cupcakes will be flowing, as will the ostrich feathers!  Go to Charlotte's web page to find out more and book a place - just click the picture!

And finally, if you would like to collaborate with me to present a Masterclass in your specialty, or if you would like to hire my workshop space which is in Oxfordshire, please do get in touch by clicking HERE.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Spiral steel boning for dressmaking and corsetry

A while ago I wrote a post about how easy it is to use continuous spiral steel boning when making your couture style boned bodices and bombshell dresses, but I am still dismayed to see on blogs around the internet, that people are finding it hard to use and difficult to cut.

It's not hard, it's easy, and it's effortless, so please spread the word!

and if that doesn't convince you ...

Continuous spiral steel boning is much cheaper 
and more economical to use than pre-cut boning

Here's my tutorial again:

Spiral wire boning is used in corsets and in couture garments for strong boning support.  It is made of steel which has been formed into a continuous spring which has then been flattened.  Because spiral wire boning is a flattened spring, it is extremely flexible and can bend horizontally and vertically (backwards, forwards and sideways), making it perfect for boning over and around curves.

The curvy bone channel goes from side to side as well as up and over
In couture garments, it is used in conjunction with 2 layers of tulle or bobbinet which is a very fine and very strong netting material which when layered together, has no stretch but provides a fine, non bulky foundation for a gown.

a corset looks like a skeleton when held to the light
In corsetry, sprial wire boning is used in conjunction with coutil fabric and often in partnership with flat sprung steel bones which are not as flexible and therefore useful when a firmer, straighter support is required.  Both types of steel boning were invented during the Victorian age and used instead of whalebone because it was cheaper and easier.

Spiral wire boning comes in various different widths, from 4mm-15mm, and various different thicknesses making it possible to 'mix and match' your boning to achieve whichever level of support is required for any particular project.  For instance, you may only need a light 5mm wire to bone a net bodice, but you may need a more robust 7-10mm wire to bone a multi-layer corset for tightlacing.  With all boning, there is flexibility!

All types of boning, whether steel or plastic, comes either in pre-cut lengths or in continuous reels.  It is more economical and much more efficient to buy your steel in a roll and cut it yourself but many people are put off by the supposed requirement for 'brute force' with which to cut it. 

Do not fear!  

Spiral wire boning is easy peasy to cut and tip.  
Here is a tutorial to show you how.

To cut and tip spiral wire, you need a pair of wire cutters, and two pairs of pliers, one of which must have flat edges.

my flat pliers are out of shot!
To cut the boning, you need only snip either side of the wire.  When you have snipped the wire either side of the spring, it will come apart naturally.  

Trim any pokeyouty bits with your wire cutters and then apply a metal end cap and push it on so that it feels quite secure.

Now this is the fiddly part - using both pairs of pliers, you need to squish the end cap onto the wire simultaneously from either side and top and bottom.  Like this:

kindly modelled by Mr Marmalade
Now you have a tip which is compressed onto the end of your wire

BUT ... sometimes, if you make a mistake after inserting the bone into a channel and you need to pull the bone out, the cap can come off in the channel leaving you with a nasty conundrum.  To counter this, I use plumbers tape. It's cheap as chips and less messy than glue.  You just wrap a bit on the join between wire and cap, and this holds it all together perfectly and makes it all a bit smoother.  

Easy when you know how!

And if you're wondering where to buy some of this wonderful stuff ... click here:  Spiral Steel Boning