Sunday, 18 January 2015

What is a corset busk?

A selection of modern corset busks
A corset busk, or stay busk, in its original form is a solid rod made from wood, bone or metal which is inserted into the front panel of a pair of stays (old word for corset) to keep the fabric taught and straight over the abdomen.  Without a busk you do not and cannot have a true corset - the reason for this is because a corset is a garment which shapes the torso into the fashionable silhouette of the day, whether that be an 18th century conical look or the more archetypal  Victorian hourglass.  In other words, without substantial stiffening at the front in the form of a front busk, a corset cannot and will not do it's job.  Different types of busk can be used for different types of corset and to create different effects.

A beautiful carved wooden stay busk dated 1786 and carved with hearts and initials.
These were commonly given to ladies as love tokens from their sweethearts
as they were secret and worn next to the body.
A flat wooden, bone or metal busk was used in closed front corsetry right up to the mid 19th century when the split busk, or two part busk, was invented by the Victorians.  This split busk invention was at the time a revolution for women because for the first time they were able to put their corsets on un-assisted and this of course meant that corsetry was now much more accessible to women who did not have a maid and this in turn meant that the demand for corsetry grew and factories sprung up all over the world to support this demand.There are many types of split busk all of which originate from this period in Victorian history.

Here are some of the types of busk which are still available today for our corset making endeavours.
A white flexible corset busk with stainless steel fasteners
 all split busks have a  loop side and a stud side
The regular 'flexible' busk  - this  is the most common type of modern corset busk, the most widely available and the one with which people are most familiar.  They are made of powder coated spring steel and are about 12mm wide on each side.  They are very very flexible, and feel a bit flimsy but don't forget that once encased in a couple of layers of coutil which they will be in a finished corset, then the flexibility will not be so noticeable and can be quite advantageous.

A narrow stainless steel busk
slightly tougher than the white flexi steel busk

The stainless steel busk - these busks are made of sprung stainless steel with dipped ends.  They come in a variety of widths and shapes and are flexible but much sturdier than the white flexible busks.  In Victorian times of course, all busks were made of uncoated steel.  

See how the spoon busk is curved where the tummy would be

The spoon busk - this is a typically Victorian busk which as it's name suggests is shaped a bit like a spoon - the busk is curved with a wider area at the bottom which forms the 'spoon' and it is completely rigid. The Victorians liked a nice round tummy and the cupped shape of the spoon busk supported the cut of the corset and the tummy.  When ever you see a spoon busk in a corset, you know it's Victorian.

The Edwardians loved a flat tummy
The conical or tapered busk - This is the Edwardian equivalent of a spoon busk.  You have a wider area at the base of the busk but the whole busk is flat and not curved.  This gives tummy control but the Edwardians preferred a flat front and so this busk, while giving support to the flat front cut of the Edwardian corset also helped to smooth the lower abdomen into flatter submission.  This is my favourite type of busk and is very common in Edwardian corsetry.

Wide steel busks are 2 inches wide total and the least flexible of the busks
Wide steel busk - this is a wider busk made from sprung stainless steel in various lengths and a inch wide on each side.  This type of busk is not common in antique corsetry and has a more modern application in the medical corsetry of today because of it's ridgidity.  In fashion corsets, it has it's uses but is the least flexible of the straight busks,  so whilst it can give extra control over your chosen aesthetic (medical corsetry aside),  it can also hinder results by not moulding over the body and creating an overhang gap at the bottom of the corset.  This is particularly common in women who have a prominent rib cage or abdomen - the solid wide busk looks like it might flatten the abdomen very easily but what it actually does is provide too rigid a front - in fashion corsetry, this can also be very bulky and uncomfortable.   

So there we have a very small lesson on Victorian style corset busks.  These amazing fastners are still in production today and easily available from specialist shops.  They come in all the above shapes and sizes but these days you can also get them in black, or colours, and there's even a bling version with diamante studs!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

New year, new corsets!

Happy New year one and all!! I hope yours is filled with much joy and even more corsetry!!  I thought I'd start off this year with some cool corset related links as there has been much writing and scribbling on said subject over the past few weeks and there are always things to learn from the past.

On Making Corsets

The Merry Corsetiere is a Live Journal and remains my favourite resource for learning how to make corsets -  it's where I tell everyone to go when they need corset making information.  'Read everything!' someone once said to me, and so I did.  You take the bits you need, the bits that make sense and you might want to store the rest for a rainy day.  There are some great bits of information in there including posts from today's well known corsetieres 'before they were famous', like Sparklewren, Angela Freidman, Crickey Aphrodite, Morua Designs, Totally Waisted and Electra Designs, to name but a few.  You may not recognise them though as they had different names then.

Sew Curvy - my own website is not only a shop for corsetry supplies and couture haberdashery but a resource of useful information all about corsets and corsetry.  Each product description gives instructions on how to use the product offered for sale, but there are also free tutorials covering such things as inserting busks, dying corset laces, creative ways to use knicker elastic, interesting articles, customer questions & answers and much much more!

shop here for all your corset making supplies
Foundations Revealed - is a subscription website which you can use to find certain articles which will 'raise your game' in corsetry however these useful articles by the experienced, are becoming more rare on the site so do look back at the archives where there are lots of interesting articles about business, branding and  making written by profoessionals.  Newer articles include tips and tutorials from non-professionals, hobbyists and enthusiasts and some interesting sew-alongs.  In the free articles however, you will find much to set you on the way including how to draft a corset pattern from scratch.

Foundation Revealed: The Corset Maker's Companion
Click the picture to go to Foundations Revealed - image does not show in ad-blocker mode

Prior Attire - my good friend Izabela is always writing tutorials on corsetry and period dressmaking!  Now she has a You Tube channel.  You can check out her blog here, and her channel here - lately she has posted things like 'how to use pressing bars to create external bone channels'.  Her videos are quick, efficient and entertaining.

Google Patents - are old corset patents which have run out of copyright and are now on Google as an information resource for us crazy corset makers.  You can find all manner of pattern here to try, of course there are no instructions and some of the designs are as mad as the people who made them, but I've always said that a fantastic way to innovate in modern corsetry is to look at antique patterns and this resource is a bottomless pit of inspiration!

The Practical Corsetiere - is another 'old' resource on the web where many of the old guard learned a trick or two!  Here you will find information on proportions, measurements and grading, along with a number of old fashioned patterns from waspies, to corsets, to girdles.  Make a pot of tea for this one!

The Complete Vocational Course of Cutting - a web resource in French which is unfortunate if you only speak a language other than French.  But also another mine of authentic information from back in the day including many patterns.

Lucy's Corsetry - No corsetry resource would be complete without Lucy's Corsetry which covers much more than just making corsets -so Lucy belongs in every category here.  Lucy's videos and accompanying blog describe all aspects of corsetry from making, to wearing, to myths and legends surrounding all things corset.  Beware, you could very well lose a day if you click on these links!

On wearing corsets

There are many myths and legends surrounding the wearing of corsets and how they are 'dangerous' and 'crush your insides' and 'make women faint'.  Corsets are none of these things.  Corsets are no more dangerous or sensational than wearing a pair of stiletto shoes.  The social aspects of corsetry is a huge study in itself, probably one for another post!

image by Pitcheresque Imagery
Myths and Reality - of wearing corsets, by Izabella of Prior Attire

Top 10 Corset Myths - another blog post busting the common misconceptions about corset wearing.

How corseting affects your body - very interesting post about the difference between wearing a corset and not, and the more cosmetic effects on the body.

In other popular corset wearing conundrums lies the question "how do I put it on?".  Here are the answers.

How to lace yourself into a corset - a video by Melanie Talkington of Lace Embrace

How to lace someone into a corset - a video by Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden Corsetry

And the bain of many a corsetiere's life, the question "I saw this corset for £30, can you make me one?"

The difference between a real designer corset and a fake one.  If you don't want to believe that corsets should cost more than £30, then watch this video!  It's one of my favourites and was made by Catherine Clavering of British lingerie company, Kiss Me Deadly.

On buying corsets

The Lingerie Addict blog has built up a massive archive of corset wearing and buying articles mostly written by my friend a collegue Marianne Faulkner of Pop Antique as their resident corsetry expert.  This archive resource covers everything from things to look for in a quality corset, to why corsets are so expensive, to what to do while wearing a corset and much much more!  Go to The Lingerie Addict and click on the tag "corsets" to find the archive.  There is also a Lingerie Addict Tumblr account where you can find 25 Articles about Corsets

Again, Lucy has buying corsets covered on her amazing World Map of Corsetieres!  Here you can find just about all the worlds current working corset makers.

Lucy's Corsetiere Map only includes corset makers who offer a made to measure or bespoke service
On Learning Corsetry

For those who prefer to learn how to make corsets 'in person' then there are a multitude of videos on Youtube, and there are classes springing up all over the world as the trend for corsetry becomes more popular.  When you look for a corset making class, depending upon the level you are looking for, make sure you have a teacher who is an experienced corsetiere.  There are many sewing schools and dressmakers jumping on the corset making bandwagon who know little about corsetry and teach nothing more than making a laced basque, or worse, who will charge £100+ to help you read a pattern in class.  Look at their work, judge for yourself if they teach what you want to learn.

If you are in Australia, Lowana O'Shea of Vanyanis is teaching corsetry.  She is an excellent, professional who pays huge attention to detail.  She will be teaching her classes using the Sew Curvy pattern.

If you are in Glasgow, my friend and colleague Alison of Crikey Aphrodite will soon be teaching corsetry.

If you are in Austria, Barbara Pesendorfer of Royal Black Corsetry and Couture sometimes teaches (German speaking).

If you are in England or can get here,  I teach corsetry all year round via The Oxford School of Corsetry - courses are popular and sell out fast - this year we are covering beginners, intermediate and advanced, along with masterclasses on sheer, cupped, and Edwardian corsetry, pattern manipulation and draping.

Based in rural Oxfordshire - book courses here

And if you want to get together over a weekend and make lots and lots of new corset obsessed friends, then you must come to The Oxford Conference of Corsetry.  This year it is on 29-30 August, and our special guests are Ian Frazer Wallace of The White Chapel Workhouse, Barbara Pesendorfer of Royal Black and Immodesty Blaize,  Europe's top showgirl and burlesque performer!  Hope to see you there!