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Why Handmade Matters

sewing-clipart-Rcdo7aXc9 (1)I was rather inspired to see an article from a few months ago that a friend recently re-posted on her social media, and with that in mind, I thought I’d try and recreate it, but giving it slightly more relevance to the UK, and what is going on in our own economy right now (the original article is American).  There is a lot to be said for choosing something handmade over buying something mass produced.

Of course, anyone in the Handmade business know that the notion of ‘Handmade’ does not equal cheap, its a long held yet now inaccurate idea, that derives from the need to ration and reuse whatever people could during and post war where old worn out adult clothes repurposed into ‘new’ smaller childrens clothes, old jumpers would be pulled back and reused to make a new one, new vegetables from seeds that would otherwise be thrown away – but now, not so, we will buy new fabric for new clothes, new wool for jumpers, we will buy new seeds – and all the other things that come with it.

Most women would be working in the home post war, making these new items for their families, and had these valuable skills taught to them when they were children. Not so now, often we are given no choice to stay at home, whether that is both, or a sole adult household working, and somehow, gradually the basic skills of sewing, knitting, mending and so on have become lost too… As the UK roared ahead with its digital revolution, it left the industrial revolution dying in its wake. Weaving sheds and mills shut down one after the other when it became apparent that importing their fabric from India was much cheaper and weaving jobs became redundant, we had thousands of sewing factories dotted all over the country – indeed my first job on leaving school was in a sewing factory in Blackburn (one of the ‘Cotton Towns‘ of the era.) until they too began shutting their doors when the high street transformed from that of small individual shops buying small scale locally produced clothing etc, to multinational corporations buying in HUGE bulk from India and China because not only was it cheaper to now ave fabric woven overseas, it was much cheaper to have the clothing made over there too.

Suddenly, the skills of sewing, joinery, metalwork, art… all seemed to be seen as “things you’ll never earn a living from” at school and slowly, the subjects became irrelevant, Health & safety and fears of litigation kicked in, and children no longer went near the fiery pottery kiln, or learned what knives to use for what in the kitchen, they stood there watching the teacher sew (just incase a pupil sewed through their nail – formerly this was a source of pride:

“You havent learned how to sew unless you’ve sewn into your hand!!”

Valuable skills have now been lost over the course of a generation, many of us in our 40’s will still have some of those skills, but its often a losing battle to teach a child to sew when there’s Pokemon Go! when skills are devalued to such a point in schools that they’re now hardly taught at all, the reliance on technology and imports is such that those of us who retain those skills are in huge demand – BUT – (and there’s always a but eh?) people still expect a handmade skirt to be cheaper than that one they saw in Primark for £4.99, not only that, they ‘expect’ all that time we put into making that garment for free… “Because its just a hobby… You enjoy it… its only a simple/quick job…” not realising that yes, for many of us, although we may be ‘at home’ that work we do, that we can never escape from it because we never actually ‘leave work’ its how we pay the bills, its how we buy Jack’s new football boots, its what pays for our supermarket shop.

A fellow corset making friend of mine recently shared an image (not the one I have randomly picked here) of a generic ‘corset’ (I use that term loosely!!) that can be picked up from any number of Goth/Alt/Fetish stores on the internet – they were selling them wholesale for just £8.99 each – now, as a guide, as an independent maker, I would be able to buy the front busk closure of a corset for that IF i went to collect it myself from the supplier to save on postage costs – Nothing else – JUST A BUSK.

500x500
Corset Busk from £9.00 each
Example Imported Corset £8.99

 

So, now I’ve had a little whine, WHY SHOULD YOU BUY HANDMADE?

It’s Valuing Creativity

When we make something, we leave a part of ourselves in it. We sit, we nurture an idea, we work and we finally create it, we take immense pride in our work partly because we see ourselves in it. The finished piece is reflective of the creator.

When you buy something that someone else made, you yourself are reflected in that purchase, your tastes, your thoughts – what or who you were thinking about when you bought that piece, you were thinking of their likes, dislikes, memories, friendship… all of which are individual to you and/or the person you are buying it for.

Whether it’s the colour, the texture, the shape, or just the mood you happen to be in, an item that has been crafted is an expression of the creative spirit person who made it, the feelings and emotions of the person who bought it, right through to the person who receives it.  It is treasured and valued far beyond an item that was made for worldly mass consumption that was picked off the shelf of hundreds of identical, emotionless pieces found in hundreds of homes throughout the land – that Handmade item is as unique as each one of us.

A Handmade Item Cannot be Duplicated

No two handmade items are exactly alike. Variations in colour, shading, texture, shape and grain are inherent in a handmade item. If you are asking someone to commission an item for you, then you can have endless possibilities to make it yours, So if you love those pants, but hate the hemline, you can have it, love that jacket but hate the fabric? well, change it! want a lasting memory of a departed loved one? Have a Memory Pillow made from a loved one’s favourite shirt.  No two items are alike when its handmade, even if they looks the same, there are often subtle differences. This means that every handmade item you purchase is also one-of-a-kind. What’s not to like about that?

Everything is more beautiful when it’s made from the heart

tesco-supermarket-birthday-cakes_497733Picture the scene, you’re having friends over for a meal… now, you can serve your guests a generic iced cake from Tesco that cost you £4.99 or you can treat them to the one you made yourself.  The Tesco one will do, its a cake, but the sponge doesnt really taste of much does it? its been made with overly sweet buttercream, and the fondant icing is a bit thick (and sweet) , its a cake, it does the job and no one is going to rave about how delicious it was are they?

homemade-cakeOr, you could be inspired by something you saw on The Great British Bake Off (whether that is Paul Hollywood’s sparkly blue eyes or  that perfectly risen Madeira sponge is totally between me and you!) You spend the afternoon making it, decorating it, you make it yours, stick fresh fruit and fresh cream on it and then listen to the praise from your friends whilst they are mid-scoff.

A cursory look on Facebook and their thousands of assorted craft groups and you will see that there is a consumer shift happening. A movement if you will. More and more, people are willing to be educated about the value of a item that is made by hand – whether that is learning how to make a cake, or a skirt or a book case, or its people searching out those groups and pages to post a request for such an item for a loved one.  People are starting to dream about things that don’t exist yet, but should, they ask themselves “If only it did X… How can I MAKE IT do X?” and then they make it come to life for others to enjoy as well.

This is why handmade matters. Surely everyone can understand that.

The original article in which I may have pinched a few quotes from is here: http://smallbiztrends.com/2016/05/why-handmade-matters.html 

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The importance of comfort & fit

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this want, well, rather a need to learn things, I find myself constantly muttering “But… why is it/does it/doesn’t it…?” over so many topics, sure, it sometimes gets me into hot water as it seems that not everyone is appreciative of my inquisitive, yet logical questioning, but many creators and creatives are the same, we dont just accept that ‘that’s how things are’ we want to know WHY its that way, is there a way to change it, make it better, improve it.

Earlier on in my blog I spoke about how this very trait brought me into the world of corset making, how many OTR corsets didnt fit me properly (being short and chunky) how it wasn’t fair that I should have to conform to the clothes on offer, rather than the other way round. How my wedding evening was spent bathing an open wound, and sporting a rather impressive set of bruised ribs on honeymoon caused by snapped a bone & sub-par metalwork used in a cheap corset.  My now husband muttered those 6 words “You could make a better one…” and thus the seed was sown.  4 years on, many books, tuition courses and interactions with other corset makers and I now offer out my services.

That same inquisitive nature of mine has struck again, this time, my frustration lies with bra’s, and I’m not alone, apparently 76% of women wear the wrong size bra, with reasons ranging from deliberately buying a bra too small thinking it’ll give their smaller boobs a better lift, through to people who believe their boobs are so big, that there surely isn’t a store that will sell one big enough.  One anonymous friend (please dont hurt me) said that her bra shopping consisted of “going into <insert shop name here> and buying the biggest one they have.

milliondollarbra

My own personal experiences have been less than positive, with one notable time where, determined to get one that fitted and didnt leave my boobs wobbling around like half set jelly, I booked a fitting with a ‘professional bra fitter’ at a large well known department store.  The ‘fitter’ measured me, added the time old +4 (which has its roots in the 1950’s vanity sizing and the fact that the stretchy materials we use in today’s bra’s simply were not available 65 years ago) and came out with a size (46B) and the minute she said it i knew it was wrong, but I went along, as you do.  Unsurprisingly, the bra was ludicrously large, I could have used it as a makeshift slingshot – whilst i was wearing it – needless to say the fitter was not impressed at my humorous quips, and went back to get another size, this time coming back with a 36C – again, I knew this wouldn’t fit, I’d put on a few stone since I was that exact size a decade ago, needless to say when this too didn’t fit with the opposite issue – I’d managed to acquire 2 more sets of boobs in as many minutes, 2 under my armpits and 2 on my back – this time, the fitter was determined to put me in my place: “If you just lost a stone your bra’s would fit so much better!” How mortified was I? How dare I not conform to a piece of clothing? God forbid that I question her ability as a bra fitter, who cannot fit a bra.

I pushed this incident to the back of my mind until it came to THAT time again, it was time to buy some more bra’s, I *thought* my bra fitted OK until I started reading up on it, I was dreading that sizing minefield again, how would I know what size I was? clearly I couldn’t trust the only bra fitter in my area for miles, and so I joined a few Bra Making groups on social media, Well, I’d had this same dilemma with corsetry, so why not bras? and so it started, I started asking questions, reading articles, realising that the +4 method that is often used simply isn’t applicable to a lot of women today.  there’s a great article here by Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, but essentially:

  • The materials used in 1950’s were quite rigid, and not stretchy like what is available today (Spandex wasn’t invented by Du Pont until 1958, and wasn’t introduced into clothing until 1962).
  • Fuller figures, combined with elastics might not need an extra 4″ of give in a bra that’s added onto the band size ‘by default’.
  • Slimmer & more athletic figures conversely might actually need those extra 4″ of give, as having such a rigid bra might feel very uncomfortable.

I wont even go into the mathematics of it all! It’ll only serve to confuse, and I dont want to pretend that I know THAT much about bra fitting at this point, because I really dont, and this post is more about a regular gal, giving her experience and opinion, but suffice to say whilst the media tell us about how bad it is to wear an ill-fitting bra, the importance of comfort and fit, they then demonstrate this with a poorly fitted bra in so many cases? How are us mere mortals supposed to know what fits us when we get all these mixed messages? When the majority of everything we see/told is also wrong? When those same media outlets then release video’s like this one The History of the Bra – Styles From Every Era where practically every bra the model wears was badly fitted.  What I would suggest is to measure yourself, and go shopping, try on several sizes, push misconceptions aside (as I did today) I am of the ‘fuller’ figured, so I looked at both bands in a 38 (my actual UB measurement) and those in a 42 (the +4 method), I swept aside cup size assumptions (me, and E cup? get away!!) and did as an experienced bra fitter friend I spoke with told me to, start at the 38 and go up the cup sizes if the band is comfortable.  I’ve actually found that by doing this I’ve struck gold (well, for this particular brand anyway) and found my perfect bra in a DD cup… I’m pretty thrilled!

Which brings me onto the next chapter of the bra journey, now that I have information to hand, Ive bought patterning books, Ive got links to Bra making sites, I might well be looking into making my own bras! how fabulous would that be? to be able to have those skills? and hey, to be able to make a bra & pants that go perfectly with an underbust corset? after all, we all love a bit of Matchy Matchy!

matchy matchy

 

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Embroidery

One of the newer projects I have been working on is getting my embroidery machine up and running.  I’ve had a domestic embroidery machine (a Brother 750e) for a few years now, but admittedly, I’ve not done a whole lot with it! I had a play at first, then shoved it in a corner when i started getting a bit confused over the plethora of stabilising fabrics, which types of threads were okay, which often ended up snapping or leaving a large amount of pilling in the machine parts and clogging them up… and I was, at times, rather busy doing corset orders to be able to sit down and learn… however! I decided to try and make time, and I have started! Once I feel confident in that I have mastered the basics, its certainly an additional feature I plan to incorporate into my corsetry! think of the limitless possibilities! I may (if I figure it out!) learn how to make my very own unique lace pieces… I could have lace in ANY colour I choose and I wouldn’t be stuck to offering the very limited range often found in craft stores/online (i.e. black, white, cream with bits of navy or red here & there if you’re lucky!) fancy a bit of Orange lace? heck why not, How about some Lime green lace? hell yes! Shocking neon pink lace? you betcha!

So to start with, ive made a few practice pieces of embroidery using designs by Urban Threads, now dont worry! ive checked their licensing requirements and confirmed that essentially the good folks over there will let you use their designs on ANYTHING! whether its personal or stuff to sell on, those cool guys are fine (so long as you dont sell on the actual templates in their ‘raw’ form – that’s not cool.)  Anyone who doesn’t know who Urban Threads are should check them out, be warned, they are gorgeous! and you can also download the templates for hand embroidery too if you dont have a machine. so any and all of those cool and frankly beautiful designs could be included in your next corset order!

Here are the designs I’ve done so far, and i will likely make these up into sample cinchers to go in the shop at some point, and ill add more pictures as I complete them.    11896028_746573308804267_6980709440605913691_n11889488_10153485905352254_5834758306254639429_n

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Updates

Whist ive not posted in a while (smack my hands!) I have been very busy behind the scenes, some of you might know that I used to run a separate WordPress blog, well, this has now been merged into my new website (which is here, of course!) Now that everything is in one place, I can do updates, keep you informed of sale items and show examples of my work ALL IN ONE PLACE! which is pretty ace! and I do have some samples that will be ready to take pictures of and advertise on here at a discounted price.  keep your eyes peeled!

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Mind Your Manners!

Like many specialist industries, Fine corsetry is one of those niche talents, many of us work for years at our ‘hobby’ to get to where we are, I personally have only been doing this for 4 years which is a mere hiccup in the timescale of some other corsetieres, some were lucky enough to be able to study fashion at college and/or university, some have spent time on unpaid (or minimally paid) internships, volunteered for other makers, whilst others basically slugged it out for years, subsidising their corset making with other paid work.  One thing I can say with all certainty is that regardless of whether we studies by book, by web, or by educational means, its cost us all many thousands of pounds of our own money to be able to do what we do.  Which leads me to the point of this blog post:

Is it any wonder why we get a bit narked when someone outright asks us to give away our methods, our suppliers, our time, our skills… to someone who cannot grasp the basic functions of the Library/Google?

Somehow the laws of etiquette flew out of the window in the age of the internet, I reluctantly acknowledge that yes, I was around (just) before the internet was ‘mainstream’ I was in my teens when I got a Commodore 64k, (64K of Ram… can you imagine that now?!) with its tape deck, where you typed line upon line of code so that you could see “Hello World!” come up on the screen in the vain hope someone… anyone would reply (but never did)


pacman-cap
   op03   C64_08

But back in the day, and heck even now… would you for example, stop a solicitor on the street and demand free legal advice? would you ask a plumber to fix your leaky shower… right now, for free? would then you ask that plumber for a list of his suppliers so you can bypass him/her and get all your materials cheaper whilst your at it… and then send a barrage of messages to them asking them how to do it when you cant figure out how to plumb in that shower on your own?  Of course you wouldn’t! But yet… and corsetry is by no means alone here – its fine to do precisely this?  In the last few months, I have personally seen a lot of this happen, a few such examples are:

  • “Did you draft that pattern yourself, if so, can i have a copy?”
  • “Tell me what pattern number it is and where do I get one?”
  • “I want that corset, where is the link/who did it (name is literally plastered ALL OVER the photo)
  • “Please can i have a list of your fabric suppliers?”
  • “I want a corset made for me for a shoot, you wont be paid but think of the exposure!”
  • “Oooh that (Vintage/French/Imported) Lace is gorgeous, do you have any left over that i can have… i’ll pay post!”
  • “I want someone to teach me how to make corsets, I want someone in the <insert country/area> so i can get step by step instructions and be able to come to your house if i get stuck… for free… obvs!” (??!!)

I’ve had people wanting me to guide them through “someone else’s” corset repair, or corset construction via Facebook Messenger on four separate occasions, one even got very mad, sending a barrage of messages, accusing me of being ignorant and snotty when I didnt respond to their demands and threatened to spread lies about my work (that they’d never seen) because I refused to give them one-on-one online tutorial and support (for free of course)  I wouldn’t even say that I am anywhere near the standard of some more accomplished makers that I know of… I certainly wouldn’t be confident of being able to teach a novice how to start when in general conversation they ask “What do you mean by straight grain?”.

People seem to have lost the art of wanting to find out things, to absorb information as and when it comes along, lost the art of experimenting, and getting it wrong… ‘happy accidents’ if you will, rather than go to the library, or buy a book on corsetry and reading it, or going onto Google and typing a question (and God forbid have to look through a few search results!) they would rather go onto social media and ask their question where they could wait hours or even days for a subjective answer (and often several different ones) The whole Google issue troubles me, I dont understand why someone would sit for hours waiting for a forum reply to a question like:

Coutil Suppliers

When Google literally told me in less than 0.51 seconds that there were several local suppliers I could go to. I could even get some basic corsetry tutorials online in the same amount of time (of course nothing will ever beat one-on-one in person tutorials like I was lucky enough to experience) and 4 years on, I’m still teaching myself, pushing boundaries, techniques, reading…

The whole way we have of effective communication (or lack thereof) has changed and yes, times change and we need to change with it, but since when did that equal demanding? Where did the expectation of free ‘stuff’ even become a thing?

spongebob

Again, on other craft forums I am a member of (I am also a fairly apt pencil drawer, general sewer & knitter) I see openly rude demands for free things, people telling other crafts-persons that they want personalised bespoke items but they wont pay for them “until I see it in my own hands” Would they demand that Studio for example (mass produced personalised gifts) send them lots of things before they will pay up? would they place a big order with, say, Amazon, and refuse to pay until Amazon delivered all of their stuff for their approval first? of course not… so why the sudden lack of etiquette when speaking to individual corsetieres and crafts-persons? What happened to make this acceptable?

There are many arts and crafts that are (or were) a dying art, just several decades ago many people would sew their own clothes as a matter of course, everything was cooked from scratch, often even grown in the garden, if you wanted to learn something, the internet wasn’t there, it was either passed down through generations, or you learnt yourself or paid someone to teach you – Now we have cheap clothes on hand whenever we want, you can have a full Sunday roast at the sound of a PING!! if you really want without lifting barely a finger, and Google is there at a keystroke and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find out or learn anything without having to find your local library (if there is even one left in your area)  Such easy to have references should be treasured, and the people who keep old crafts alive should also be treasured.  Please, if you are reading this, do your own little bit to bring a little bit of etiquette back, tell/show a crafts-person how much you appreciate what they do, whether its someone who spent several days knitting your newborn a new hat and jacket, to someone who spends days/weeks making a corset just for you… appreciate what they do, and try not to utter “is that your best price”.

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When is a Corset not a Corset – Part 2 – A REAL Corset.

The other day I posted the first part of this, what is NOT a corset featuring those, quite frankly, ugly car tyre innertube contraptions. So today I’m going to go onto what is a corset – but first, im really sorry to break this to you all, but so long as i draw breath, I will never consider one of these to be a real corset – ever.

Screenshot 2014-10-29 13.53.48

This particular one is an infamous Corsets UK/Corset Story/Corset Wholesale/Corset Deal/ Punk 69/ whatever other domain they can get their hands on ‘corset shaped(ish) garment. Yes it has a few separate panels, Yes it has a busk, Yes, it has lacing at the back, and yes, it has steel bones (sometimes).  Aside from the sheer tackiness of the item (this would count as something a rather naive, and soon to be EX boyfriend might present to their lady on Valentines day perhaps) There are a few things about this piece that should instantly raise suspicion as to why is might not be all that great to not only wear, but might not do what you expect a real corset to do – cinch you in at the waist:

  • These are made in Pakistan/China.  whilst some good things come out of Pakistan/China, have you ever looked at the difference in body shape? Western women are, by hereditory and diet/nutrition more rounded, and curvier than say, a Chinese woman.  This is not to say ALL western women are curvy, and ALL Chinese Women are slim & boyish, but you get the idea.  This could explain why so many of this companies ‘corsets’ look like tubes, and have no real curve – dont let those photoshopped pictures fool you!
  • Have you ever wondered why a corsetiere in the UK will charge you anywhere from £150 upwards and well into the thousands in some cases, for a corset, yet Corsets UK et al can sell them for £50 or LESS? its not because we are greedy, its because we we have a UK minimum wage  per hour which is more than some of these places pay their workers PER MONTH.  
  • The materials we use are top quality, to give you an idea, I have just finished a commission where i used a ‘spoon busk’ that spoon busk alone cost me £28. However, several corsetieres I know, including myself (pictured) have actually cut apart these imported ones to find them full of scrap metal, electricians tape and other things: I doubt the sum total of the busk was 28p.

2014-09-25 17.45.54 2014-09-25 17.50.29

SO, NOW I’VE FINISHED RANTING ABOUT THOSE TUBES, LETS LOOK AT REAL CORSETRY!

VALKYRIE CORSETS Gorgeous corset from Valkyrie Corsets (modeled by Threnody in Velvet)

waisted creations darkteaser Beautiful mesh & lace corset by Waisted Creations (modeled by Darkteaser)

Vanyanis Hand beaded corset by Vanyanis (modeled by Threnody in Velvet)

2013-11-07 00.07.57-1 Applique lace & crystal corset by Curvitude Corsetry (Model CoCo Fierce)

There are so many other designers that I absolutely adore and aspire to be as good as, that this blog post would go on forever, so ill stop with 4 (including my own work of course) and simply say that:

if you want curves like the ones that a real corset will give you, save up your pennies and buy a real corset!

Many corsetieres work off bespoke made of order’s but there are still a few companies who sell off the rack corsets that are real corsets, and are suitable for waist training and tightlacing (yes, there IS a difference and many people do get the two confused) and this is something im going to discuss soon – probably in my next blog post.

Now, where are those Hob Nobs again?

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When a ‘Corset’ is not really a Corset. Part 1 – NOT A CORSET

Its the one topic that often incenses corstieres the world over, when celebrities, glossy mags and the people who read them – and BELIEVE them, jabber on about #WaistTraining, about how bad corsets are for you, how uncomfortable and sweaty they are, how painful they are… and then, you see it – the picture of the ‘Corset’ they are actually talking about:

Screenshot 2014-10-27 12.07.48and of course this:  kim-kardashian-hourglass-figure-lead

 Images Courtesy of  Hourglass Angel &  What’s a Waist/Kim Kardashian

Immediately my blood begins to boil, frustration levels rise, my anger toward celebs/glossy mags increases tenfold who do nothing to dispel the myth of corsetry, particularly modern corsetry where we have learned so many new techniques, new ways and materials for construction, more understanding of how the body works, (and doesnt) we have learnt from the methods and mistakes of the 15th centrury onwards.

You would think that journalists and article researchers – note that word, RESEARCHERS, would actually do even a tiny bit of tangible research into their articles, instead of their lazy journalism of copy & paste, perpetuating centuries old myths, scaring readers half to death with un-researched ‘facts’ before telling them that essentially “Its okay…because Kim Kardashian does it.”  I recall one glossy promoting Kim Kardo’s latest post pregnancy HEALTHY diet to its readership which advised that the breakfast plan was:

  • 1 Glass Hot water with squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon of Ghee (for those who dont know, that’s clarified butter where the milk solids are removed, popular in Indian cooking)

wait… what? clarified butter? they want me to get a tablespoon and dig in and eat clarified butter for breakfast?!  Sorry love, but screw that, I’ll stick to my shredded straw, im sure thats WAY more healthier that a mouthful of clarified butter…urgh.

These facts alone are why i’ve basically given up on the glossies, they are basically stupid, lazy, celebrity obsessed journalists who dont like basic facts to get in the way of a good photoshopped picture.  So lets take a typical comment, (not researched at all, just copied and pasted from the <insert brand of rubber tube here> and dig a little deeper (but not too deep yo!)

  • they compress your core, ramp up perspiration, release toxins, and metabolize fat. Does it? does it really? Yes, it will squish you in, I agree there, but really, does it just make you sweat more, thus lose bodily fluids faster which are IMMEDIATELY replaced as soon as you chug a glass of water post-wear/workout. Sweating naturally ‘releases toxins anyway so nothing special there, and please do explain how this rubber garment itself, metabolises fat other than how your body well, normally metabolises fat?
  • The tight fit also restricts your abdomen, reducing your food intake during the day. – as would any super tight fitting garment – have you even managed to eat comfortably, or shoved that Big Mac to one side because the waistband on your jeans is digging in when you sit down?

then whilst reading the comments under the glossy articles.. apart from the general body snarking, horrid comments and general misinformation are these types of remarks – all basically reading and believing whatever the magazine tells them, all believing they are wearing corsets *sigh* :

…Corsets are very tight and extremely uncomfortable, painful OMG….

….Corsets are the ones you string up and pass out if you have it too tight.

…my skin has been bruised very badly by this corset, ill never wear one ever again…

….Corsets can snap your ribs, which then puncture your lungs and can kill you…

…”Sarah Gottfried, an integrative physician and gynecologist told us: “The problem is that when you constrict your waist, your organs have to go somewhere…corsets push your lungs up….”

Er… what? silly me… and heres me thinking your lungs were actually under your ribcage, buy hey who am I to question the ‘opinion’ of a Gynecologist? oh wait…

anatomy_lung_frontal

Whilst its true that wearers can often feel ‘constricted’ in a corset, even  REAL corset, rest assured your lungs are not being shifted anywhere. The shock words are also rife in the articles particularly the word “compress” as in the ‘corsets compress your organs – making the reader think all manner of horror stories and visions but really, put into context:

Corsets compress your organs!!!

  • So does Pregnancy
  • So does basic movements such as leaning over or bending. (temporarily)
  • So does Yoga (particularly Nauli Kriya)  (thanks Lucy – she goes into much more – and better technical data on her post on shapewear here

So I guess that before I finish Part 1 (I dont want to witter on too long) its also time to drag out that old Victorian drawing that so many corset haters drag out year after year to attempt to bolster their zero researched arguments:

tumblr_m1bbsz13yp1rrjjh6o1_500There we go, because corsets are BAD!! this drawing tells you so! (Like, I could draw a picture that looks zero like your mom and say “Thats your Mom that is!” and it must be true) there is absolutely no artistic licence here at all, there is of course, staunch medical evidence to back up this ‘drawing’  they did medical X-rays and everything…didnt they? Erm, no.  However, a German quiz show did recently do an MRI scan of what happens  – See the Youtube video here of Lucy (Bisonenrancher) discussing the show and the results HERE which pretty much blows that old Victorian drawing out of the window and we are all eagerly waiting to see if they do a follow up to this experiment.

Next Time I’ll be discussing happier things and what IS a corset… for now, I could murder a cup of tea and some Hob Nobs…

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You Charge HOW MUCH?! (aka The true cost of bespoke corsetry & clothing)

how-much (1)

It’s a phrase that, regardless of how many times corsetieres, dressmakers & assorted craft people alike hear it, it still stings, it still makes you doubt yourself, it still makes you feel you have to justify your craft – even yourself.  It never gets easier to hear, regardless of how you handle it to the outside world – phrases like:

  • Wow… that’s more than i thought….
  • Oh, it’s rather expensive.
  • I can get a corset for £30 from (insert imported online retailer here) – why are yours so expensive?
  • My friend who knows  someone who will make me one for free if I buy the fabric.
  • You must be very good to think you can charge so much.
  • I thought this was just your hobby?

Its not JUST limited to corsetry, ask any dressmaker, any person who makes bags, brooches, knits jumpers.. they’ll all tell you about ‘The Expression’ the expression when some customers get told how much their bespoke item will cost to make, the expression when all manner of thoughts are running through their head whilst attempting not to say something negative – that usually ends up being negative anyway – The expression that tells you that the chances are, this person is not a ‘crafty’ person and has no real grasp of just how much raw materials cost, let alone that you will *gasp* want to pay yourself a wage for working. Working you say? but surely this is a hobby?

Its both – I have no paid outside employment, Yes, I enjoy what I do – sometimes (when things go effortlessly right, when the seam ripper is NOT my eternal friend, when my sewing machine behaves…) but I need money, I need money to buy the raw materials, I need money to pay my mortgage, my bank manager likes it very much when that happens… There is also the question of equipment, machines, space, raw materials, training, research… to give a rough idea of what I have spent monetary wise in the last 3 years, purely related to corsetry, I have a little (non exhaustive) list:

  • Sewing Machines – 1 x Overlocker (serger) £200, 1 x Embroidery machine £800 plus software £1000, 1 x steam iron (with reservoir & stand) £200, 2 x (vintage) Singer machines (cheaper than buying an industrial Juki), plus servicing and electric conversion kits £300

Total Est Cost: £2,500

  • Training courses & Qualifications – Level 1 & level 2 NVQ in Fashion & Textiles plus expenses = £500 (other courses in the pipeline but not paid so far approx £1000), 3 x Courses (so far) on Pattern Drafting, Underbust corsetry techniques, Overbust corsetry techniques (3 x £250) = £750, plus travel/petrol = £150 approx, plus accommodation 9 nights approx = £630

Total Est Cost: £3,030

  • Books/Memberships – Like any craft or hobby, a good supply of books, research, website memberships and so on is vital.  I have a bookshelf full of, and dedicated to corsetry and related topics that are there so I can refer to them if I need tips on historical accuracy, the look of the time, how to do certain techniques and so on – Historical fashion books, modern designers, Le More Illustre books, pattern cutting, embellishment technique books, dressmaking, specific corsetry authors.. plus monthly membership fee’s to online resources. Again an estimation of what I’ve spent on these over the last few years.

Total Est Cost – £2000

  • Misc Hardware/Tools – Various pliers, Bolt Cutters, Eyelet setting press, Awls, Rotary Cutters & blades, cutting Boards, Sheers, Tailors Hams,  task lighting, pattern card and papers, Spiral steel boning of various thicknesses, flat steel bonings, various sizes of busks, eyelets, boning end caps…I can’t even begin to think how much ive spent here, but its safe to quote a figure of around £1800 but likely more

Total Est Cost £1800

  • Misc FabricsANY crafter will attest to their ‘Fabric Stash’ (including secret stashes hidden from their significant others) these are not only those “oooh pretty” fabrics that are randomly picked up, fabrics on sale, but staple fabrics that you *know* are asked for frequently, so a good stock of basic fabrics, cottons, drills, duchesse satin’s, silks, tafetta’s.. plus the inevitable stock needed of medium weight calico for client mock ups, and that corsetry necessity (and expensive) coutil fabric needed for the strength layers which can cost anywhere between £9-25 per meter) having gone through my current fabric stock, i’d say there is several thousand pounds worth of stock, and this is a continuous outlay.

Total Est Cost £3000

  • Misc additional corsetry materials – More materials you say? heck yes! these include corsetry lacing, bias bindings, bone casing tapes, waist tapes, herringbone tapes, fancy laces (£25+ per meter easily), swarovski’s, crystals, beads, studs/spikes and all manner of fancy, pretty things and sewing threads (Gutermann is the more expensive, but having tried others, they just aren’t strong enough for the demands of corsetry –  a 1000m reel of plain white thread is almost £9 in the shops) I’ve probably missed a lot of things here but you get the idea!

Total Est Cost £1000

  • The last and final outlay, the one no one like to speak of, the losses that need to be factored in and absorbed. Craftspeople the country wide will speak of their naivety in the fledgling business beginnings over those people who didnt pay or only partially paid for their item right down to those who paid, received their item then immediately did a chargeback, Ebay/Etsy type sales where the buyers then claims it wasn’t ‘the right shade/colour’ or it was damaged (dare I say, after wearing it for the posh do they wanted it for) and issue Paypal disputes… and so, these extra costs of what is essentially theft are inevitably re-absorbed into the final cost of the items.

So even here, the total monetary cost of what I’ve spent is before I’ve even sewn a stitch, before I’ve actually sat down, spent any time researching, drafting a pattern for a client, or done any actual work at all. It’s safe to assume that all in all, drafting a pattern, alterations, fittings, down to the finished completed corset can easily take (me) 3 x 8 hour days, Sure, I’m not the quickest, but here you get an idea of the time taken – so even on the UK minimum wage  (which often isn’t applied in our attempts to compete with cheaper imported corsets), would equal £156 just on wage costs alone.  I know of corsetieres who spend 180 HOURS alone on handstitched beading/lace on their beautiful corsets that are more like works of art – if they also charge minimum wage for that on top of the normal rate for the basic corset, plus material costs your easily talking £1500+ and that’s before you’ve factored in the years that they spend learning, training, equipment costs, overheads, shop rentals, we have to find our own ‘Pension Pot’ and our own ‘Holiday Pay’… Luckily in the UK we have the NHS to cover health bills… other countries, that’s another expense…

Now I’ve bored most people to a semi-sleep state by my ramblings, the short answer, is that corsets require specialised skills, specialised equipment and materials to produce, and as a niche item, they are done in small, often individual quantities.  I’ve tried in the past to reduce my prices to compete with ‘fashion’ corsets from High Street Stores or other imported online retailers, but it’s impossible, But I realise that now, and I no longer wish to devalue my skills or my time by trying to compete.  When people Buy British, or come to a locally based, self employed corsetiere or craftsperson, they are doing so much more than paying for a well made, quality item – they are putting back into the British Economy, they are helping to pay for other small businesses to stay afloat, not just those that supply my corsetry materials, (for example, I don’t buy meat from a supermarket chain, I support my local butcher, I buy my fruit & veg mostly from the local markets) your custom to these people might also pay for a child to have ballet/karate/extra maths lessons, College or Uni… It doesn’t just disappear into a tidal wave of Multi-Million Pound Annual Profits –  Isn’t that enough to give you a lovely fuzzy warm feeling inside when you think about it?

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Why I started to learn Corsetry

Its an interesting question, with a very interesting, if amusing answer!

Whilst this is a ‘business’ blog, I still want to retain the element of personal thoughts, events and feelings, I dont want it to be a rigid, ‘businessfied’ efficient page of no personality.  Since my early twenties, I began wearing corsetry and more adventurous get ups (thanks to a LOT of soul searching, and the break up of Marriage #1) I would buy RTW corsets (shop bought, ready to wear, standard size) and these came from 2 companies, Vollers, and Axfords. the fit was okay, the comfort factor was also fine for RTW, but, being standard sizing, it was never going to be perfect, and let face it, there’s not a whole lot of people out there who conform to a standard size all over – I NEVER have, even though I’ve been many different sizes, I’ve been underweight, I’ve been average weight, ive been slightly overweight and ‘obese’, yet one thing remained consistent, my ‘well defined’ bottom and hips – yes, even when I was underweight, this ‘Baby got Back’To get jeans to fit my bottom, there would be several inches of gape at the waistband, and this inevitably made other RTW garments including corsetry difficult, and the bigger I got, the bigger my butt got, but I still retained a waistline, which in corsetry gives me quite a decent ‘Hip spring’ and made RTW corsetry more and more difficult.

Claire & David proofs-008

Spin forwards to 16th April 2011.  This was my wedding day (#2) to my wonderful soulmate David.  Like many brides I’d planned on losing a LOT of weight, and which I inevitably failed, I’d lost some, but not enough to fit into the corset I’d bought for the big day and so, in a mad panic, 3 weeks before the day and the dawning realisation that my wedding corset just wasn’t going to fit, I delved into the ‘dark side‘ of corsetry, I knew it wasn’t great, I knew it would probably be rather uncomfortable, but I also knew I could get a ‘Plus-Size’ corset and it would be delivered in time – I ordered a corset from CorsetsUK.

It arrived within 7 days, it fit (kind of) and it was uncomfortable.  the day of the wedding arrived, and I rapidly began to realise that the longer I wore this ‘corset’ the more uncomfortable I was getting, and then discomfort turned into actual PAIN.  Now, I need to point out that I’ve worn corsets for a number of years, and I’m no lightweight when it comes to pain, I’ve had Arthritis since I was diagnosed in my early 20’s, I’m ‘used to’ pain, but this was different, my lower fixed ribs were aching, the bones were digging in my ribs, my hips and my lower lumbar… but the moment when I first though “I’m sure I MUST be able to make something better myself (even though I’d barely sewn since school) was this conversation, with the registrar, just before the ceremony:

“Are You sure you want to get married? … You look VERY uncomfortable… You are not being forced into this marriage against your will?”

Sweet Lord, I was looking THAT uncomfortable, the registrar actually thought I was involved in a forced/sham marriage?!! I had to explain to this registrar that I was fine, and it was actually the corset that was making me uncomfortable… Wow.  Anyway, the ceremony was perfect, just how we wanted (instrumental Guns & Roses  – November Rain in the background) and I managed to keep the corset on, longer than my shoes! but I’m sure the copious amounts of alcohol that night numbed the pain somewhat!

When we left the venue for our honeymoon suite, the anticipation building of that delicious moment I’d been waiting for ALL DAY… the moment of sheer unadulterated bliss when I could unlace this damn corset and get it off me!  What I wasn’t expecting were the deep gouges where the bones had been pressing against my ribs, the blue bruising was already evident along my rib cage, down the ribs on my back where one of the bones had snapped, and the deep bruising and once bleeding cut in one of my hips, where a ‘bone’ had cut through the fabric, and into my skin.  This corset had injured me, and I’d only been wearing it for a period of around 10 hours.  I hadn’t taken photos (and looking back, i really wish I had) but the bruising was still there toward the end of our honeymoon.

Claire & David proofs-016

Not long after that, after some employment related issues, I lost my job, and with the money I received in settlement, I paid for several courses so that I could learn corsetry, even after such a bad experience, I still loved corsets, as I know myself its NOT the corset that is the bad guy here, its the cheap sweatshop factories producing these tube like garments in vast numbers, garments that are geared more toward the Asian build (slender, with little hip/waist ratio) and the Transgender community which bears little resemblance to the typical Western woman of today. By training in corsetry, I could not only make my own corsets that actually fit ME, but I could in time, offer my services to other people.

Its always going to be hard to convince people who want to buy corsets, that they should invest their hard earned money in a well fitted quality piece that will last them, that won’t hurt, that FITS, but all I can do, is tell it how it was for me, there are lots of people out there that will always take cost over comfort, but all I hope is that in time, people will see the benefits of good, locally made, bespoke corsetry over cheap imported corsetry – hopefully before another Rana Plaza type disaster happens.

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Humble Beginnings

I thought I’d start off my new blog by harking back to one of my first ever corset makes.

The lovely Pauline in her black suede underbust corset we made for her Role-Playing  hobby
The lovely Pauline in her black suede underbust corset we made for her Role-Playing hobby

A long time friend had heard of my desire to start making corsetry, and was incredibly supportive.  She did a lot of role-play and was looking for someone to make her a new corset for her outfit and this is the result!  This was made before I’d even gone on any corsetière training or courses so it was very trying at times, with the limited resources and information that I had acquired at that point.

I’m amazed that, as my first piece, it fitted so well – I do recall that I has so many issue with how to figure out how to attach the fake buckles to the front of the corset, that they were all assembled and attached with hand sewing!  Its made from a black vegan suede fabric, and black cotton coutil with spiral steel boning.  Id managed to find a good supplier of coutil and boning in the UK that I still use now, and it was though her, that I found out about the training courses she offered.  Not long after making this first corset, I saved my pennies and paid for several courses and quite simply, I haven’t looked back since!

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