The ‘intersection of light, black and white’ carries suggestions of precision and sharp lines: of the ornate wrought iron gates, architectural leaded windows… Yet the approach that I wished to take to shadow is one of chaos. In my mind, the most beautiful contrast of shadow is in the organic and chaotic lines of tree branches, filtering sunlight in dappled layers. Rather than the delicacy and exactness that one normally sees in corsetry (whether that be through intricate lace appliqué or stark contrast channels), I wanted to bring a bit more of an avant-garde approach: using ink to layer tone, textural mark making and harsh contrast.
The foundation of this corset is decidedly rooted in historical corsetry. Following what I’d learned from my time interning with, buying from and generally hovering around Jenni Hampshire of Sparklewren Bespoke Corsetry, I’ve acquired quite an admiration for the Edwardian ‘Bird's Wing’ corset: an almost excess of multiple panels, creating a corset that is utterly flexible. I wanted to pair this unique fit not with a traditional fabric like coutil, but with something much more connected to my lingerie roots. Cotton bobbinet was traditionally used as couture foundationwear: it is lightweight and strong without being constricting. It is softly sheer without the crisp and unforgiving nature of synthetic crin. I didn’t want the garment to be interrupted by bulk and heavy materials, so in panels that needed more reinforcement (such as around the eyelets and busk) I utilised traditional lingerie non-stretch liners. Each panel has a minimum of two layers of bobbinet, with each seam encasing a lightweight 5mm spiral steel. The busk is an antique find: it is lightly curved, almost like a baby spoon busk, giving a deliciously graceful curve to the abdomen. The loops are an unusual squared-off shape compared to modern equivalents. The busk is wrapped in paper, which proved a boon in colour blending and later absorbing the ink embellishment.
My lingerie background always brings me back to the challenge of incorporating lingerie-fit cups into the rigid structure of a corset. Some of the biggest challenges have been discussed in my dress diary and blog post about this piece. The keyhole cutout not only provides an unusual design detail but also allows the use of a busk; traditional busks are too wide for bra fit cups, causing too much separation for a comfortable fit. The cups can also be separated for easy dressing, affixing with a simple hook and eye closure. The cups are constructed from panelled foam for structure. To avoid the problem of wire spring (often an issue in cupped corsetry), I incorporated a kind of bra wing that is signature to my lingerie brand: staggered bandage style strapping with full adjustability, leading to a hook and eye in the back that sits separately from the corset. It is anchored into the bra wire and allows the wearer to comfortably tighten the cup structure to fit their body, without risking corset fit problems.
The embellishment of this piece is, of course, the most striking element of the garment. I chose to paint the piece by hand using black drawing ink and black watercolour. The process of application was somewhat chaotic and haphazard: I wanted an obvious contrast between the deep black of the ink and the ivory of the bobbinet, but for the piece to appear as though the darker tones were eating away from the garment edges. In some areas, water would first be applied to the fabric with the pigment applied by pipette to make it bleed, whilst in others the ink would be almost dry-brushed over. The silk binding was the quickest to absorb the deep black tones, with the bobbinet a little more reluctant. My favourite area is the layered lace of the cups: a subtle touch that certainly isn’t visible from a distance, but up close gives a delicious contrast in texture to the foam base and has a delicious gradient in tones.
This corset is actually one of my favourite pieces that I’ve ever made: I adore the shape, the fit and the colouration. It doesn’t have my usual reliance on intricate embellishment. It is far from perfect as a garment but I am nevertheless satisfied with the progress that it represents. I feel as though it’s an excellent embodiment of my personal aesthetic: my love of rawness and chaos, yet with refined and smooth shaping.