The Velvet Letter

Delicious Design I Revel in Refinement

Distillation

As some of you will know I am in the final throws of getting my website up and running, which has proven to be one of the most difficult thinks I have had to do for my business to date. I have been working on it in one form or another for over a year, and I’ve been beating myself up about the delay the whole time.

I find that inward cursing isn’t productive – it just makes me procrastinate a bit more. But I have tried to keep chipping away, doing little things, and they are finally adding up to a pleasing whole… with the help of some very skilled and generous people.

One of these lovely people said a very wonderful thing to me this week, which has completely changed my perspective on my website odyssey.

Sarah, when running a professional eye over my fledgling copy, casually said that everyone thinks a website is something you just need to do, to get out there, a formality. But it’s not. Your website is a distillation of everything that you do. It needs to encompass every facet of your business and communicate all this to your audience in a highly compressed form. You have a few seconds to convey the heart and soul of what you do…

No wonder it is so fiendishly difficult!

I suddenly feel free of the need to criticize myself for my perceived shortcomings, and I can already feel the positive knock-on effect this is having on my work. Less avoiding something I feel I am doing badly, and more slow-but-steady progress in a difficult process.

Thank you Sarah – words really can change the world.

Happy Valentine’s!

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Many thanks to Sam Burrows, Golden Delishas and Scarlit Hearts for their input;)

After Dark

After Dark is a playful photo-story featuring the Hartman long-line corset – a historically inspired show-piece created for the annual Foundations Revealed corset competition.

I’ve been wanting to play around with the old Polaroid aesthetic and this corset, worn by my lovely fitting model Zee , seemed like a great vehicle. Zee’s attitude suited the grungy style, and we had great fun shooting this in my yard, after dark.

This story is about nostalgia and impermanence and fragility. About our hopeless attempts to contain the passing moments, and about the strange and contradictory power of femininity.

The poem quoted bellow is The Night will Never Stay by Eleanor Farjeon, which is part of an illustrated children’s poetry anthology that my mother read to me as a child.

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The night will never stay, the night will still go by

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Though with a million stars, you pin it to the sky

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Though you bind it with the blowing wind, and buckle it with the moon

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The night will slip away, like sorrow or a tune.

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New, shiny and…. a little scary?

Over the last few days I have been researching local expos and fairs, looking for one or two that feel right for my business and will help me take it in the right direction.

After abut a million emails – so many questions, so many forms to sign! – I am signed up for the FAB Bridal Expo, on the 28th and 29th of March. Here is the official badge they sent me to use in my emails etc:

badge

I picked this expo over a couple of others as I really liked the amount of info on their website. Really detailed information about who their target audience is, and how they reach that audience, which was both inspiring and comforting business-wise.

So now I have to prep a stand and run up a few extra corsets to have available for sale… with so much other work in the pipeline I feel some serious list-making coming on!

Am feeling nervous and excited. It is nerve-wracking putting myself out there in such a decided way, but I am feeling really motivated to drive the business forwards this year. I feel like last year I spent too much time sitting on the fence, so, onwards and upwards!

“Faint heart never won fair lady…”

A Very Loooooong Corset

Every year Foundations Revealed runs a corset-making competition for its members, which is open to all subscribers regardless of skill level or past experience. The aim is not to produce the most perfect finished corset, but rather to follow a concept through from inception to completion. Participants are encouraged to keep a dress diary documenting their design and construction process to demonstrate how they got to their finished corsets. The entries are judged by a vote of all subscribers, so it’s also pretty interesting to see which entries are chosen as they are not always the corsets made by the experienced sewers!

Foundations Revealed gives two themes every year – one abstract and one historical patent- which are meant as starting points, rather than rigid categories.

My entry for last years competition worked with the more abstract theme provided (geometry) and I’m pretty pleased with the embellishment, but I wish I had gone for a full overbust or an underbust! I feel like my mid-bust line is just neither here nor there…

This year I thought I would have a go at working with the historical patent theme, partly just for variety’s sake, but largely because this particular patent gives me space to play with several ideas and techniques that I have been ruminating over for some time.

This year’s patent – the E. F. Hume corset from 1913 – has given me the chance to try out some cording and to make a really long-line corset, both of which I’ve been itching to try for some time.

These are the pics I used for inspiration:

I love the aesthetic of very long-line corsets like this ‘Grable‘ corset by Dark Garden. Note how the ‘v’s made by the lacing point up – this corset (and the ones below) must have been lace from the bottom up!

Mugler

These are gorgeous too – just look at those long rows of eyelets! I think these are by Thierry Mugler, but my Pinterest link is broken, so I’m not sure… If anyone knows please leave a comment. My ‘Google-fu’ is low today;/

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Again, lots of eyelets. Dita Von Teese wearing Jean Paul Gaultier. From Dita’s Book

I love the cording on this corset from Jill Salen's book Corsets

I love the cording on this corset from Jill Salen’s book Corsets

Another example of cording from Salen's Corsets

Another example of cording from Salen’s Corsets

1913 E.F. Hume corset patent

1913 E.F. Hume corset patent

1913 E.F. Hume corset patent

1913 E.F. Hume corset patent

The E.F. Hume corset has nine panels per side, but that is with lacing bones inserted into a very skinny ninth panel. I didn’t have any lacing bones (I have yet to work with them), so I decided to split the width of panel eight between panels seven and nine, making a corset with eight panels per side instead of nine and inserting eyelets and flat steels at the center back as usual.

I absolutely HATE fiddling around enlarging paper patterns so I chose not to enlarge and toile the paper pattern. I got out my trusty clingwrap and duct tape and made a 3D pattern by covering my fitting model (the lovely Zee Hartman – you’ll see pics of her later) in tape and then drawing in my seam lines, taking careful note of where the lines would fall on the original corset.

Zee about to be released from her tape cocoon. This is my favorite method of patterning. I can visualise much better in 3D and I'm a bit of a hardware nut so I like me some duct tape;)

Zee about to be released from her tape cocoon. This is my favorite method of patterning. I can visualise much better in 3D and I’m a bit of a hardware nut so I like me some duct tape;)

A back view of the tape pattern.

A back view of the tape pattern.

The potential disadvantage of working this way is that I might not get the historical shiloette right but I decided that as I am more interested in the longline aesthetic of this corset I wasn’t worried about loosing the period silhouette.

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Tape pattern pieces all cut out and lined up, ready for me to trace around them. it isn’t very clear in this pic, but they are all lined up at the waistline, which I ruled onto the paper before laying out the tape panels.

After tracing around the tape panels I use a ruler and a french curve to smoothe out the lines of the pattern and building a waist reduction. This pattern has a conical rib and a sharply-rounded hip.

After tracing around the tape panels I use a ruler and a french curve to smoothe out the lines of the pattern and building a waist reduction. This pattern has a conical rib and a sharply-rounded hip.

After two toiles to tweak the fit I planned my cording layout by drawing the lines onto the final toile while Zee was wearing it, and transferring those lines to the flat pattern. I traced out all of the panel pieces, including markings for cording, grainline (kept perpendicular to the waist line) and waistline, and added seam allowances.

Here you can see where I have drawn in the guide lines for my cording.

Here you can see where I have drawn in the guide lines for my cording. The lines on the right are my first attempt, which I scrapped pretty quickly in favour of the left hand layout. One of the things I particularly like about this corset pattern are the ‘zig-zag’ panels in the front, all those v-shaped panels, and I placed my cording to emphasize these varying directions.

One of my goals for 2015 is to reduce the size of my fabric stash, so I chose this silvery, olivy silk as a fashion fabric, paired with black lace and with black flossing. I used a single layer of herringbone coutil for the strength layer, with tape channels sewn to the inside of the corset and a floating lining made of thin cotton sateen. Four elements of fabric from the stash!

I sewed the cording channels and set my busk and eyelits first, then roll-pinned all my panels and sewed them together, adding boning channels as I went. I used contrasting black thread for all my seams to emphasize the lenght and number of the channels.

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Cording first…

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Pic pilfered from my Instagram account. All panels corded and sewn together, ready for boning.

Next up, double checking my lengths of boning and cutting and tipping them all.

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This corset is made with a split busk supported by two flat steels (one under the busk and one next to it), flat steels on either side of the eyelets and 5 mm spiral steels at all of the seams around the side of the corset. 12 spiral steels and 8 flat steels, plus the busk.

After inserting the bones I flossed them into place, using a variation on a flossing design on one of my studio samples.

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Fully boned studio sample with flossing in black Gutterman top-stitching thread. The ‘arms’ of this design are 4 cm and 2 cm, measured vertically along the boning channel.

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The flossing on my Hume corset is identical, but has a 1 cm arm added at the base. Am rather enamored of this design – I look forward to playing with it in different colours etc.

After flossing I attached my floating lining and bound the edges of the corset, then set to applying the lace overlay to the top edge.

I pinned the lace flush against the top binding, and gathered the fullness around the rib-cage into tiny ruffles at the lower edge of the lace, trying to keep the scallops nice and even.

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Pinning the lace into place with super-sharp pins. I had to be careful not to get blood from my savaged fingers on the corset!

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Left half of the corset half-way through lace application.

This is only the second or third time I have done a symmetrical lace overlay and I am really pleased with how it looks. I will have to do a few more…

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Lace finished. Loving it.

So, the corset is laced up and ready to go. I have a photo session booked with Zee this week, and the corset has to be submitted for the competition on the 2nd Feb (can you believe January is gone already?!?!). I’ll share a few snapshot from the shoot in real-time on my Instagram account (Velvet Letter), but the official pics will only be out next week. Keep them peepers peeled!

I’m so excited to see this corset on a body for the first time;)

x a

Much and More

What a bust week it has been! Very efficient and productive, and lots of interesting projects happening.

I’m underway with my FR competition piece (Zee came for a first session on Thursday, and I traced out and refined the pattern this morning) and am getting more and more excited for it! I’ll write a separate post on that so that I can put all my ideas in one place.

Zee about to be released from her tape cocoon. This is my favorite method of patterning. I can visualise much better in 3D and I'm a bit of a hardware nut so I like me some duct tape;)

Zee about to be released from her tape cocoon. This is my favorite method of patterning. I can visualise much better in 3D and I’m a bit of a hardware nut so I like me some duct tape;)

I’ve nearly finished a curvy waist-training underbust corset in black coutil for a client, which I’ll wrap up next week, and I’m making good progress on my current sample, Tempest. At first I was calling this sample Moonshadow because of the silvery silk, shadowy black chiffon draping and starry embellishment, but somehow Moonshadow is to quiet and retiring – this is a corset for a Valkyrie, a corset of blustering winds and dramatic clouds.

Meet Tempest. If you follow me on Instagram you will already have seen a few details of this sample. Lots more to do, but starting to look how I envisioned it...

Meet Tempest. If you follow me on Instagram you will already have seen a few details of this sample. Lots more to do, but starting to look how I envisioned it…

And I had a spot of retail therapy this morning too! I am now the proud owner of an embroidery frame and a set of tambour embroidery hooks and I bought myself a selection of beads to practice with. I need to get going with this as I have an article to write on the subject for FoundationsRevealed.com and I need to make up a sample for a gorgeous 1930s wedding gown (the wedding is in early April, so I do have a bit more time for the gown).

Beads! I haven't dallied in the bead section of the shops for years, so it was like discovering a whole new world of possibilities. I'm really looking forward to incorporating beading into my future work.

Beads! I haven’t dallied in the bead section of the shops for years, so it was like discovering a whole new world of possibilities. I’m really looking forward to incorporating beading into my future work.

Am itching to get going with the tambour beading, but I think I’ll spend a bit more time working on Tempest, maybe get the rest of the flowing chiffon sewn on, then I can start embellishing next week. I also have a whole lot of fittings next week, so I’ll have to run up a few toiles as well… but maybe those can wait till Monday.

So much lovely;)

Aaaand, GO!

Well January is off to a feisty start!

I have four private commissions on the go and possibly another one signing up this month (although that won’t need to be finished until sometime in Feb/Mar). And an article to write for Foundations Revealed which involves learning a new skill – fun but daunting and time-consuming. And on top of all this I realised that the entries for this year’s Foundations Revealed corset competition are due in under a month, and I haven’t started mine yet. Eek!

I decided to go for it with my FR corset and recruited a friend through Facebook who can come to me for lots of fittings in the next week. I’ll post progress pics, but here is a pic of the historical corset that I will be working from:

1913 E.F. Hume corset patent

1913 E.F. Hume corset patent

Sometimes I pile too much on my plate and end up feeling like I’m not doing any of it justice… but I also get far more done when I am busy and working to deadlines. One of my personal challenges is learning to get the balance right in this little See-Saw… lets see if I’ve gotten it right this time!

On that note, I think it’s time to get to work. Chat later;)

Fresh

A new year and a fresh start, time to implement some more of the interesting things I learnt last year. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions as such, but I do try to re-affirm in my mind the lessons I have learned in the previous year, hoping to avoid old mistakes and take full advantage of new knowledge.

I’ve had  lovely break – I didn’t do a single corsety stitch! I thought I should take the time to work on some other projects in order to have a proper mental, as well as physical, rest.

Here I am in Betty's Bay with one of my oldest friends, Rebecca. Here we are about to fling off our outerwear and splash off into the lake.

Here I am in Betty’s Bay with one of my oldest friends, Rebecca. Here we are about to fling off our outerwear and splash off into the lake.

Yesterday the lovely Sir G helped me put up a much needed shelf, as I have been desperate for more storage space. Towards the end of last year I felt that I was spending more time moving piles of stuff from A to B than I was actually making garments.

So today will be spent sorting out my studio, packing less essential items onto my lovely new shelf (these days I can get ridiculously excited abut hardware!) and working on a bit of a schedule for the next few weeks.

I have a few commissions to be getting on with – some classic waist training corsets and some more elaborate show pieces – and I’m starting to feel antsy about getting to work.

Throwback Thursday – Havisham Neck Corset

This heavily embellished neck corset has been languishing in a box for several years, so I thought it was high time I unpacked it and gave it some love.

If I were to make this again now I would put a lot less ornamentation on as I think it would be better to see more of the shape of the base.

If I were to make this again now I would put a lot less ornamentation on as I think it would be better to see more of the shape of the base.

I made this piece for a photographic project that was never completed, long before I knew anything about corsets. I must dig out the pictures – they came out really well, but I never finished the series they were supposed to be a part of.

Kind of looks like some sort of coral growth.

I think it looks like some sort of coral growth.

I am not sure what to do with this piece. There are elements of it that I really like, but I’m not entirely happy with it – it’s a bit too bulky, I think – and I don’t know if I should hang onto it. Maybe I should cannibalise it for parts? Some of the loveliest elements are the glass spheres, with their crochet nets hand-made by my friend Caite.

Years later, and I am still blown away by how lovely Caite's crocheted nets are. Apparently the nets tighten themselves as they are made, which lead to several shattered globes.

Years later, and I am still blown away by how lovely Caite’s crocheted nets are. Apparently the nets tighten themselves as they are made, which led to several shattered globes.

I used a lot of different materials in this piece – old tea-stained doilies, scraps of fine silk, and and old nylon stocking to list a few. Maybe it would have been better if I had used fewer materials, as well as reducing the bulk by removing some of the bigger baubles?

Close-up shots of some of the details.

Close-up shots of some of the details.

Ah well, I suppose it will have to go back in it’s box until I figure out what to do with it.

Productive Sunday

Uuf! What a long day it has been.

After a rather slow start, I dashed off to take pictures of the lovely Demi Monde wearing some of my new lingerie accessories, to use online. I’m really excited about these new items, and I’ve been getting loads of lovely feedback which is always encouraging.

Demi and I posing like mad while we wait for the timer to wind down (no one else was around to press the shutter button for us).

Demi and I posing like mad while we wait for the timer to wind down (no one else was around to press the shutter button for us). Am so in love with the heart-shaped gold leaf pasties that I made for this shoot.

After photographing Demi I packed up my gear again and headed over to Woodstock to shoot Halloween themed portraits for the next Naked Girls (in this case Ghouls) Reading Cape Town. NGR shoots are always fun, thanks to the friendly readers and the very welcoming host, but today was extra exciting for me because we had a smoke machine! Smoke machines are one of those slightly kitsch numbers that I just love. They go so well with cheesy 80s and 90s pop music;)

I am dying to post some of the Naked Ghouls pictures, but I’l have to wait until after the event. Here is a little behind the scenes pic to keep you entertained for now:

 

A little bit of make up fun;)

A little bit of make up fun;)

So, now I can kick back and relax for the evening, and get back to editing the pics tomorrow.

Perhaps in the mean time I will #readnaked 😉

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