Broken Branches

The “Twig” corset is a work in progress, commissioned by a model of the same name.

For this piece, I created an entirely new pattern inspired by an Edwardian corset (first image below, copyright of Leicestershire County Council), making use of the construction methods previously developed for the Birds Wing. The first step was to create an unusual pattern, which I did in my usual manner. I will be talking about this technique more, with particular reference to the Birds Wing, at this August’s Oxford Conference of Corsetry. A toile was then created from a light though strong coutil (in Dove-grey, one of my favourites, shown below before the busk was inserted) so that we could assess fit, function and shaping on the lady herself.

The whole process of such a design is naturally more time-consuming than standard corsetry, there are often more steps required to get to the deliciously refined end point… but that is how I create interesting things. The Sparklewren approach is very much about innovation and craftsmanship, and my best work is invariably made when I have free-rein and am pushing the boundaries of my knowledge and skill. I believe this is why so many of my clients give me a basic brief and then trust my judgement, as they have seen the results it produces. My aesthetic is not everyones’ cup of tea, but if you love what I’ve done so far you can feel safe that you’ll love the piece I make for you… After all, these is no benefit to Sparklewren if my clients are unhappy! My approach is all about internalising your preferences with reference to imagery, inspirations, existing Sparklewren designs, etc., so that the piece I create is an expression of those things, as filtered through the brand. And of course, I keep in touch with clients as the design develops, which allows us both to ensure we’re happy at every step of the way.

I certainly believe that whoever you work with on bespoke pieces, it is most fruitful to be mindful of their best working practices. Some of us do well with tightly controlled designs, right down to the exact colour code for the thread, whilst others do best with freedom. I have had a few commissions where every single detail was tightly controlled and whilst such pieces are satisfying in their own way they aren’t the best fit for me as a craftsperson… As soon as I become a pair of hands for hire, as soon as my imagination is disengaged, I lose interest. This is why I focus on the elaborate side of things, and why I am hoping to soon hire my first assistant at Sparklewren, to help out on the commissions that are a little less bonkers (the classic pieces, and so on). I believe it is important to, as far as possible, marry your work tasks to your natural aptitudes rather than force yourself to be all things or to fit into a box that doesn’t suit.

Some do well with tight deadlines, whilst others are frozen by them. I personally do better with a firm due date to work towards, but one that is quite distant so that I’ve time for the ideas to generate naturally (and to wrap up current orders, of course). Knowing this about myself, I schedule commissions on the basis that they will take at least 10 weeks, but I also try to encourage the client to give me firm deadlines where-ever possible (an event to work towards, bridal, etc. etc.). Ultimately schedules can and do change for both parties (designer and client), but having that framework helps. Other corsetmakers will be different though and I do think it’s worth being aware of these things. It is very easy for any one of us to say how things *should* be done, to attempt some sort of industry-wide rule book, but I think that’s a foolish move. You will certainly never see me publicly criticising another brand or artist’s manner of working as it is nothing to do with me. They will have their own T&Cs, their own preferred ways of working, their own timeframes, their own production methods… Try to trust that they have these things for a reason.

Back to “Twig”. Sloping diagonal seams and a light use of steel gave a toile with beautifully mild shaping and interesting lines, and the pattern has since been refined for the final corset. The final piece is being created in “mink” coutil with black embellishment of silk tulle, lace and so on, to reference visions of dark branches cutting through hazy skies. You can see in the last picture, that I have used black thread also, as I wish to emphasise those sloping lines. 

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