The green leather winked at me from the ladder-of-leather as soon as I said ’insects!’
However, it need not have done – I knew it was the one that I was going to use.
I used to work as the Space Manager at the Natural History Museum. I would often find myself in one of the huge rooms at the back of Museum, where there are thousands of drawers containing the species of the natural world. The entomology stores were always a particular delight, with beetles and all sorts with the most incredible, iridescent colours.
The green leather reminded me of those beetles, but in the end I went for the humble caterpillar – one of the few insects I would see in my not-very-diverse London garden. I had been thinking about patterning a horizontally panelled corset, and the segmented body of a caterpillar was the perfect inspiration for this design. Colour, shape and structure were the important aspects for me with this theme. I didn’t want anything to detract from the shape I was trying to emulate, so no flossing, embellishment or a busk, just horizontal panels, like concentric circles extending along the body, made up from the leather I had plus a matched merino wool knitted fabric for the upper and lower dress sections.
If I could walk on stilts I would have extended the rings further so I could have extended higher into the air for the photography, but alas, I can’t, so my feet had to stay firmly planted on earth.
I enjoy being able to add different sections to my corsets, particularly bra sections that can be interchanged to create a different look. This dress is an under-bust design with two different bra sections (attached by magnets attached inside at the top of the dress) plus a hood, which I also designed in a segmented style. "Cocoon" indicates the stage in the lifecycle of a caterpillar/butterfly when it is cocooned in its chrysalis - I wanted the entire garment to feel like the wearer was being cocooned, so the hood and scarf finished it off nicely.
I was intrigued by the horizontal corset article written by Sara Huebschen for Foundations Revealed, and why there are so few corset designs like this throughout history. My belief is that obtaining subtlety of shape is more difficult when orienting the panels in this direction. A conical silhouette is the result, and an even distribution of tension around the body does not allow for much specific control, in flattening the stomach, for instance. The design in the article had relatively wide panels and darts at the waist – I wanted my panels to be narrower, with no darts.
Cocoon is double layered, with coutil forming the strength layer, from the top of the dress to the bottom of the leather corset section. I only had sufficient leather for the five panels that make up the corset section of the dress. The skirt section extends from the bottom of the coutil/leather section and is lined with a stretch cotton. The hood is the same merino/cotton lining. The leather bra sections are also lined in the same cotton lining. The geometry of the panels is interesting – like a parenthesis bracket turned on its side, the edges curving downwards on the panels above the waist, and the edges curving upwards on the panels below the waist. The curve of the panels are more acute on the panels above the waist and flatten out the further from the waist they are. I had to vary the panel width at the front, mid and back according to where it was on the body – the narrowest part being roughly in the area of a mid-panel 4 on a standard 7 panelled (per side) corset, and widening a little at the centre back. The skirt section centre back edges are also made wider to accommodate the bum and ensure the panels lie horizontal when on the body. This involved a lot of trial and error! The coutil layer floats behind the leather with the bones in vertical channels between the two layers. Every seam is top-stitched. The biggest challenge I overcome was where the corset section attaches to the skirt. The corset closes, so a zip was needed at the centre back to allow it to be put on, particularly as there is no busk (I didn’t want a busk or zip at the centre front to detract from the simple horizontal nature of the design). A short zip initially did not work as it stuck out too much, so a zip the entire length of the skirt was needed. Stopping the coutil at the bottom of the leather and allowing the horizontal fabric panels to fall away created a lovely smoothness that I have not been able to achieve before when making corset dresses in the usual vertically panelled manner (the coutil always seems to show if the fashion fabric extends further past the coutil and create an unsightly line). The design, though seemingly simple, was frustrating and very time-consuming, but I’m super happy with the result!