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

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Studio shenanigans at Sew Curvy

I've already done several corset making classes this year including corset making for beginners, intermediate corset making, and how to make a corset pattern from scratch.  Most of my girls this year have been two or three times which is lovely because instead of a bunch of lessons, it feels like a nice sewing circle/social!

Erica, Emily, Tamina and Michele learning how to flat pattern a corset from scratch

One of the girls who came along, lets call her "Erica, Queen of Sewing Gadgets" had the most superb sewing machine, which I had been lusting over for a while before Erica brought hers to class. Upon seeing it's performance, I was immediately smitten, and I decided I had to have one!  I wrote to the nice people at Janome, and they sent me one on loan for a year in exchange for me saying nice things about her.  Well that isn't hard because she is utterly Fabulous!

She's ARRIVED!!! Glee!
And.. here she is:

My new Janome 1600P - she is fast.... very very fast
I immediately set to work on the wedding dress commission I have to finish by the end of this week, while my friend Izabela who had joined me for the day, worked on a very complicated corset drafted from an 1884 patent.

Scaling the pattern

Working out the stitching methods ..

et Voila!  An 1884 pregnancy corset (no she isnt!) come to life, with 'steam punk' customisation in process

The lining of my wedding skirt

Completely ironic really when you consider that Izabela's main occupation is making big flouncy dresses for her brands Prior Attire and Prior Engagement, and my main occupation is making fancy corsets!  

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Bustle making classes with Prior Attire

Just coming up for air again, it's been non-stop as usual here at Sew Curvy / Marmalade Towers.

Teaching season began in March and since then I've had a few lovely ladies coming through the doors to fall in love with corsets, and a number of those very ladies have re-booked for further courses.    This weekend coming I have not one, not two, but THREE repeat students coming so it will be extra fun I'm sure!

Here are some pictures from Izabela Pitcher's Prior Attire courses which covered all manner of Victorian Underwear ...

Here is Helen making a semi hooped petticoat with broderie pleated trim.
This was to be worn under a dress for a masked ball!

This is Jane who has been on two corsetry courses with me and who is
making a Steampunk costume

Does my bum look big in this?

Here is Suzy making with her petticoat that goes over the hooped bustle petticoat

With and without the cage underneath

Does my bum look big in this #2 - I'm trying on EVERYTHING at the same time!

You can read more about Izabela's costuming exploits at her blog: A Damsel in this Dress.  Izabela's skills are amazing!  If you want to book a course with her, get in touch via her blog, and when enough people are gathered, the workshops take place at Sew Curvy!  Great fun!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Corset making classes commence!

It's already March which means it's nearly a year since I moved into my beautiful woodland cottage studio in Oxfordshire.  The reason I took on the studio wasn't just because my husband wanted to reclaim our house and make it free from 'work' (not to mention corset parts), but also because within the cottage was a lovely large workroom from where I could envision teaching lots of lovely corset making classes.

The first class of this year was Sparklewren's creative corsetry patterning masterclass a couple of weeks ago, but March, April and May are  very busy with  a corset pattern drafting course followed by a begginners corset construction course, followed by an intermediate corset construction course and then another beginners corsetry course which is already nearly full.  I am scheduling more classes soon!

The best part about teaching is that I learn as much as my students.  Each class is a feast of revelation for all!  Classes are much better than private tuition because of all the interaction between students - someone may ask a question that nobody else thought of, and you get 4 bodies worth of experience in one go.  This is invaluable and can't be learned from a book.   The courses are quite intense and everybody leaves as good friends -  my studio always feels rather empty on a Monday morning - a bit like the morning after the party with just the debris of a good time to clear up.

My egg mayo sandwiches have become pretty legendary!  We have vintage teas every day on each course, and these feature on the menu frequently.  The eggs come from my own chickens!  There is also plenty of cake and tea involved - all served up on beautiful vintage crockery and from about April onwards, the weather is usually good enough to eat on the picnick bench outside.

Many of my corsetry students have been back to me several times and this makes me very happy because I know it means that they had a good time in the Sew Curvy Cottage Studio, sewing, learning, chatting and lacing!

For more info on my corset making classes, click here:  Corset Making Classes

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The incredible growing corset

So I've been very busy making a basic portfolio for a shoot which happened back in January. I made two fully corseted wedding gown ensembles, a couple of extravagantly lacy and sparkly 'fun' corsets, a daring bridal boudoir plunge corset inspired by an original from 1910 which I saw in the Symington Collection, and an 'every day' underbust corset which can be worn day or night - the equivalent of the LBD in corsetry. 

One of the bridal ensembles took it's inspiration from the film Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn. Ever since I was small, i've absolutely loved the wedding dress in that film and Audrey has long been one of my main style and beauty idols. 

The pattern was extremely challenging to make! At first, I used a pattern from Atelier Sylphe. I was attracted to the pattern by the closely spaced and uniform boning channels where I could see a beautiful regimented flossing pattern, long before Sarah Burton ever thought of it! So I altered the pattern to size and made it up ... by the time the shell was finished it had grown by a whopping 4 inches. After much head scratching and no solutions, I made another, being extra extra careful with my measurements incase i'd missed some vital step which I thought would surely reveal itself 2nd time around. It didn't. This time the corset was only 2 inches bigger than it should have been. Annoying! 

 I had by this time wasted 2 metres of extremely beautiful silk duchess satin, luckily purchased from ebay, so not the usual exorbitant (but worth it) price and a metre or so of coutil. oyster corset I was hell bent on doing the design because of the flossing, so I tried a third time but on this attempt, made my own pattern, copied some of the styling details from the original pattern and used cheaper materials incase of disaster. When the shell was done, it measured correctly, I had removed one of the panels, so the corset was now eight panels per side, instead of nine but hurray! No unexplained growth! Now the curious incident of the extra inches isn't the fault of the pattern. It's because there are so many bone channels, and so many seams - the original corset is 9 panels on each side, even a 1mm stretch on each seam therefore, will grow the corset irretreivably. I was therefore very gentle on the third round and my patience paid off. However, by this time, I practically hated this corset!!

Nevertheless, I pressed on. it was only a week until the shoot and I had no alternative but to finish it or be without one bridal ensemble in my portfolio which I wasn't prepared to forfeit. The corset is made from my loomstate cotton backed duchess satin. This fabric is a beautiful colour, drapes well despite it's heavy nature, is quite luxurious to look at and the weave is quite 'rough' which makes it interesting. The strength layer of the corset is made from 2 layers of cotton canvas interfacing and the corset has a floating lining of cream silk. The circular skirt which goes with the corset is also made from the loomstate satin which needed only one petticoat to have the required flare.

The corset boning channels are 6mm wide and these accommodate around sixty 4mm spiral steels. The seams at the sides and back of the corset are boned with around fourteen 5mm spirals, and there are 8mm flat steels at the centre back edges and either side of the eyelets for strength. Embellishments are French couture lace and perle cotton flossing. 

The corset also features a concealed busk which is fast becoming a trademark of mine. I am very pleased with the result and will definately use that loomstate cotton again for more bridal corsetry. 

Here's the finished look:

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Leaps of faith and new companies

Can you hear that noise? It's the creaky door which I haven't opened for quite a while it seems! Honestly, since September I have hardly been able to sniff nevermind write anything, it's been non-stop.

I had every intention of writing one of those 'looking back over the year' posts at new year, but you know how it is, life gets in the way of life and all that, and January, which I was expecting to be a quiet month, turned out to be my busiest month out of the last 12!

Now it is February, and things haven't really slowed down although I do find myself with a lull today, enabling me to write this - I may be close to the point of exhaustion collapse!

So this time last year, I took an enormous leap of faith. I spent all the money I had on a 6 year lease agreement to start renting my beautiful woodland cottage studio. It was the worlds most expensive lease agreement I might add - something to do with lawyers in London. I needed to move all my stuff out of home (it was taking over), have a lovely space to see clients, and a space in which to teach and work.  I got all of that - my leap paid off very well and this week  Sew Curvy was officially incorporated as Limited Company which feels very grown up and a trifle scary!