Esther Leon, UK
When I decided to take part in this year’s competition, I was living in Oxford. I’ve always loved to be surrounded by older buildings, in particular Gothic architecture and cathedrals and so my surroundings provided inspiration for the design to come. Corsets have always seemed to me to be particularly ‘architectural’ garments both because of their role in shaping the body and their ability to hold a shape even when not on a body. I was interested in how the bones in a corset could correspond to pillars and how the shape of the panels would end up framing the design. Vaults were an architectural feature that particularly interested me and ended up in most of the panels. I designed each panel separately, inspired by pictures taken on a visit to Cologne Cathedral and other architectural elements drawn from Renaissance paintings and frames.
As for the more technical aspect of the design, I knew that I wanted to draft my own corset pattern, but was interested in various shapes that could showcase the design I had in mind best. I eventually chose to draft the 1868 Madam Foy Corset, which seemed to me like the panels were large enough to include visible designs. I also very much liked the hip panels, which I very quickly decided I wanted to be quilted, which I felt would recall stonework on cathedral floors or at the base of columns, especially combined with the use of grey spot broche coutil.
This is a single layer overbust corset made from dyed grey spot broche coutil with quilted hip panels. The designs were transferred individually to each panel using carbon paper before being painted in black fabric paint. They were then assembled and boning channels were attached to the back of the corset using a matching thread to avoid the seams interfering with the design, with the exception of the side panel, where the boning channels were part of the design and as a result were sewn using black thread. The hip panels were lined in cotton satin and finished with bias tape at the seam.
This piece was very challenging to say the least – although I’ve been interested in corsets for a long time, I’ve only made 2 ‘proper’ corsets which were both underbusts made from commercial patterns. As such a self drafted overbust was certainly a new experience and the fitting process was a steep learning curve. I made two separate mockups, which both went through a variety of changes before arriving to the final pattern. The fit is certainly not perfect, but I am extremely happy with it and I think it works well with the design of the piece. The process of making this has been an amazing learning experience and I hope to refine my skills with time and hopefully in next year’s competition!
What was it like to compete this year? What would you say to someone who is on the fence about entering next year?
It was an amazing experience. I've found projects with a deadline to be the ones that give me enough drive to get really ambitious and the competition definitely provided that. I learnt so much from my project and I am already awaiting next year's competition.