Dance of the Dragonflies
Paula Yeomans-Hill, UK
This year I had every intention of starting early. My mood board was on Pinterest straight after the theme was announced. I soon decided that Tiffany lamps were the direction I wanted to go in, specifically the dragonfly ones, the based on the base where the wing tips touch.
I tried a few designs: one, a ballet costume where the skirt is a recreation of the stained glass of a Tiffany lamp, complete with crin and lights, but I ruled this out since I still wanted a corsetted hourglass shape. I also wanted to explore historical corsetry within this more contemporary design. I settled on a design using the stained glass effect, but using wool and needle felting it to mould around an under-corset without the use of seams. The dragonfly wings sit on the hips to give the illusion of extra width and curve, and to hug the hips, curving over the legs.
Of course half the year passed, the year got away from me & my husband became ill. I found myself cutting out my corset during the January FR live mentoring call, with very little time to complete it. I had decided to make a half scale entry due to the time I had, plus it needed to be super portable as I would be travelling to and from the hospital, three times a week, on the bus. This is the first time I have used a half scale mannequin.
Christmas this year brought me Jill Salen's book "Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques". The idea of going half scale came from there. I was lucky enough to win a half scale mannequin last year. Now I had the opportunity to try one of the patterns in the book as printed to see how it could be reproduced. Printing a couple of similar patterns out I made a maquette to see what shape they would produce and chose a corded corset c.1890. It has lovely hip and bust shaping, cording and gussets. I changed the busk at centre front to become a seam with concealed boning.
As I intended to make a costume over the top, I chose a plain black light drill and fused calico; not particularly pretty, but functional. The fabric posed no problems when cutting out or in the sewing, but the scale was tricky. I machine sewed the cording channels in white to give a contrast and show the workings of the corset. I wanted to ensure the shape wasn't compromised, so I stayed with the sew and then thread cording method. At this size there is little room for error. I threaded cotton string through the channels. I also experimented with twisted paper string, but it created a much more lumpy effect at this scale.
My main challenge, other than the size, was boning. I could see that only the CF channels were suitable for traditional boning; I inserted 5mm plastic bones. For the rest, my experiments with zip ties proved perfect for some, but by far the most successful were various thicknesses of strimmer line from the gardening section of the Pound shop. These were slim enough to insert but strong enough to allow the corset to curve in all the right places and stand up on its own. The eyelets are hand sewn and threaded with back round cord for scale.
Many hours of stabbing went into the Tiffany style wool bodice. Needle felting is often described as painting with wool and this is how this process begins. Layering the wool fibres in different directions, then using a felting needle, which has small barbs on the end, drawing the fibres back through and felting them together as you go. The black wool is laid on and felted into place. Curving and shaping the felt gradually around the corseted mannequin as I went along created a curvaceous bodice without the need for seams. On the back of the bodice I reversed the dragonfly and needle felted a 3D body with a pipe cleaner core, which curves away from the body.
I found the corset a good challenge and look forward to creating something similar in full scale in the future. I think the needle felting would be more tricky to create full scale, but not impossible with a more solid felted base to work on.