Hollie Dixon, UK
Model: Jasmine Dixon
'Sylvia' is an adaptation of a costume from a final year university project (studying Design for Performance).
The theme was to design costumes for 'The Butterfly's Evil Spell' by Federico Garcia Lorca, a play about a town of insects who stumble across a mysterious butterfly in distress. The character that took my interest was Sylvia, a young beetle with attitude described as ‘the best match in town’. When researching insects, I came across the Rose Chafer Beetle, a small beetle with a segmented metallic green shell. I felt this pretty beetle was an ideal representation of Sylvia.
I chose fabrics for the original costume for their high shine or metallic colours, inspired by the shells of beetles and by the artist Gustav Klimt, who is famous for his use of gold. I also included a burnt orange duchess satin and a metallic green poly-silk.
Two years on, my fourth corset was in the initial stages of production. I have always been attracted to an under-bust corset and was excited to be making one. Because I am currently learning and exploring corsetry, I have been using old fabrics collected during university for the makes. For this corset I decided to use the fabric remains from my university project as I had seen that the theme for the competition was Insects.
Originally Sylvia was designed as a Flapper Girl, with no silhouette to the costume. This time I wanted to create the roundness of the beetle shell, so made a voluminous gathered over-skirt (to go over a petticoat skirt). The two-layered skirt is a fun addition to the corset as the under-bust is plain in design.
To finish the ensemble, I introduced the original cape and headband made for the first Sylvia costume. The cape was the only piece made with a matte fabric – waxed cotton. This fabric ties in with the element of nature, as well as acting as a contrast to the other high shine fabrics. I hand beaded the flapper-inspired head band to my own arabesque design. The V-shape of the head band complements the cut of corset and is made in the same duchess satin fabric.
All pieces complement each other successfully. The separate garments represent the segments of a beetle’s shell and create a beetle-like silhouette. Insects can be quite beautiful, and I would like to think I have portrayed this in the finished Sylvia costume. There are elements of a 1920s Flapper Girl and elements of something contemporary. This is common in my design work: old meets new.
I hand drafted the corset pattern using the book Stays & Corsets by Mandy Barrington. The 1890s riding corset pattern was relatively straightforward to follow as I have practice in pattern cutting from my degree. Unfortunately, in the book there is no input as to what seams to use, only an indication to the boning placement. On my previous corsets I have used welt seams. However reading the Foundations Revealed article by Kim Ryser on The Folded Seam or Welt Seam Corset I learned that I was sewing my seams differently - Kim’s method was more straightforward! I made the corset more quickly and I'll be using the technique again for future corsets.
I also needed help for the binding of the corset. Binding has always been my nemesis, so I turned to Cathy Hay's article for Perfect Binding. This article reassured me that I was sewing it in the correct way. It was also helpful to learn how to finish the binding at different angles. The finished binding was not to the same finish as Cathy’s examples, but it is something I hope to achieve soon with enough practice. Although this is the fourth corset I have ever made, my experience from my costume degree helped me with the remaining technical sides of the sewing.
The skirt was made following the pattern: Butterick B6338. This skirt pattern did not include much detail into seam allowances and required me to use my initiative whilst making the two-layer gathered skirt.
The previously made cape was cut on the stand. The unique shape of the cape was difficult to cut as the calico initially did not lie flat. However, after a couple of toiles, the cape lay the way I wanted it to. Using the waxed cotton also helped, as the fabric gave structure to the final cape.
As I decided to enter with two weeks prior to the deadline, there is more I wish I could have included. For example, embellishing the front of the corset with matching beading to the head band. All wishes will be saved for later projects. And I have learned to make my mind up a little quicker in future!
Of my costume the pieces made by myself are the: Corset, Overskirt, Cape and Headband. The remaining items in the photos (all Black) are additional pieces to finish the costume.
What was it like to compete this year? What would you say to someone who is on the fence about entering next year?
I decided to throw myself into the competition two weeks before the deadline day (but had been making the corset previously with the competition in mind). This was a risky move but I was encouraged by reading the inspirational posts on the Foundations Revealed Facebook page about last year's winners. I have entered not expecting much, only to boost my confidence in my corsetry work.
To anyone who's thinking of entering the competition next year: Go for it, no matter how little experience you have. It opens your mind to creativity and brings up new challenges for you to face. With this in mind I would also advise them to give themselves a respectable amount of time to plan, design and make their entries to avoid any last minute stress!