I was sat in Costa scribbling some notes pre-gym, and I hit upon another tenuous parallel between the world of a corset and the world of a horse. Wait for it, it’s good and tenuous and fun to think through.
I don’t ride very often but because I’m currently a larger rider (or perhaps because it’s something I think about regardless) I am always very keen to sit as well as I can and to learn as much as I can about how an animal may (or may not) comfortably carry someone. In horse world, people talk about “weight carriers” or whether horses are “up to weight”. There’s no definitive answer on all this, though research is done every so often. People like easy answers, so the fall-back is usually to do with what percentage you are of the horse’s bodyweight. Some people have very strict notions of allowable weight whilst others’ ideas seem insanely generous (to the rider, not the horse).
But if, in corset world, you were to ask for a corset to suit your particular size, the answers you might receive would range from incredibly vague to impossibly picky and precise. Because it wouldn’t just be to do with your shape or size. For the corset to be up to the job and not instantly break down, it needs to fulfil certain criteria and the way it does this is going to be different depending upon the details of your needs. A tiny body can break a corset seam with a single strong sneeze or cough. Or, as a better example, a careless body (regardless of size) can bend or even snap bones by excessively bending at the waist repeatedly. In horse world, a tiny rider can thump into a saddle or hang onto reins. Larger bodies and larger riders can obviously do these things likewise, and you could posit that the potential damage done by a larger body/rider having that same “moment” would be greater than the damage done by a smaller body. But the point is, it’s all part of a bigger equation. Appropriateness of horse to rider (or corset to wearer) isn’t in just the statistics. The number of steels or the inches of bone (a circumferal leg measurement sometimes taken to determine the weight a horse can carry), gives you a starting point, but it doesn’t give any guarantees. The weight you can lift isn’t determined by a blanket rule of percentages. I’m a big lass, but I don’t weight train, a 25kg bag of coal is enough of an effort for me. By contrast, I know a very accomplished corsetmaker who is tiny and who dead-lifts more than twice her own bodyweight. That’s about five bags of coal, it’s insane… And not the same as carrying something when you’re a four-legged beastie, but my point is physical size does not automatically equate with physical ability. If anything, small is strong.
At any rate, it all made me think about structure again. I’m not an engineer, so I’m sure this statement would fall down in many instances, but here goes… Here’s my notion for the day:
The larger the body/structure (or the greater the demands placed upon it), the more gymnastic/mobile it must be.
The reason I fell so in love with the Birds Wing corset was because of how the structure flexed to meet the demands of the body. This made the one basic pattern (and even, often, one standard size) suitable for a variety of wearers. The numerous panels and special seams made for a shaping garment that was more dynamic than most corsetry. It was an unecessary level of special, in some ways, which is why I eventually hit upon a patterning/seaming approach which used the best of it and discarded the most challenging aspects, but I digress. The seam construction meant that you could only fit a certain number of seams into a given space, naturally, so although our Birds Wings had a zillion seams, that number did at times vary depending upon the size of the corset. Often, when people talk about how many steels a corset should have, guidelines like “one every two inches” are used. Which is perfectly fine. But, depending upon what the corset needs to do, what the body is like beneath (soft? firm?), etc. etc., it may be far too few or far too many. For me, there was a magic balance that the Birds Wing did of giving structure through many seams/steels, whilst also creating flex through many tiny slivers of single-layer silk duchess (in-between each seam). This flex worked beautifully on many people, but anecdotally and from observation, it was the fuller/curvier girls who seemed to benefit from it most. The larger body benefitted from the greater flex and the corsets, in turn, were “stronger” for having that mobility. They could do their job of sometimes creating extreme shapes because of their flexibility, but that flexibility wouldn’t do the job without the stability of the seams/steels. Stability + flexibility = mobility.
I kept on likening it to tall buildings or suspension bridges. They need to be able to move, just a bit, in order to stay standing, and the bigger they are the more that matters. A small stonework arch over a little river is fine, given the demands put upon it. It doesn’t need the extra mobility.
And so I wonder if it is the same with human and horse bodies. People often talk about stocky native breeds (Dales, Highland, Welsh D, etc.) being strong for their size. They cite the huge weights of stags being carried down from mountains by Highland ponies (up to 21st, apparently) and Shetlands often end up carrying more than any percentage formulas would allow. Short backs and broad loins are the thing, long backs being a nightmare for stability. I’m sure these breeds can and do suffer under saddle at times, but I wonder if the difference in their conformation really is the thing. Or, perhaps more importantly, their fitness and self-carriage in relation to their conformation/size, since much conformation can apparently be “improved” through better fitness/posture. Imagine the world of vaulting! I wonder what things are like there… Sometimes up to three kids tumbling up and down the one horse (who is already working hard, being endlessly on a circle), constantly messing with the balance, and even if their average weight is a tiny 6st each (and of course, they all “carry” themselves perfectly) that’s still far higher than most people’s “limit” once three of them are up there. But the horses must be super-fit for the work.
I’m not very tall, but my torso is comparatively long and I’ve never been especially great where core and upper body strength are concerned. But then, I’ve never put a whole lot of effort into that area compared to everywhere else. Also, I’ve often been told that the two go hand-in-hand, longer distances are harder to control and so proprioception and posture can be trickier for longer people. But that isn’t to say they can’t be improved. You perhaps just have to exercise with particular aims in mind. Stability, mobility. The ability to hold healthy posture(s) at any given moment under any given physical effort. If I were on all fours, my long back wouldn’t hold up to carrying weight for long, not without a lot of strengthening of the core first. It already sometimes struggles when I’m upright!
So there’s today’s tedious link. Perhaps the longer and leggier horses need comparatively more thought put into their posture/stability. Perhaps the stockier beasts need more thought put into flexibility. Both sides aiming for a general healthy mobility in the middle. Just like the more dramatically shaped corsets (whether in size or silhouette) need more thought putting into patterning and construction. And just like my sloping torso needs more thought putting into equalising the necessary muscle groups. So then it isn’t that corset/horse/exercise A, B or C is or isn’t right for you… It’s that there are numerous criteria to consider, lots of little details, as to whether it is possible to make the combination work. And the ultimate question is this: is the horse getting better or worse as time goes on? Is the corset easing to the body or tearing at the seams, as time goes on? Are they “fit for purpose” once that “purpose” has been clearly defined?
And for me, this explains part of why I don’t do many waist-training pieces these days. I’m pursuing a particular aesthetic with my work and it’s better supported by structures that aren’t themselves perfectly suited to proper waist-training. My corsets have a purpose and they fulfil it well because they aren’t also being tasked with fulfilling some other role that would be at cross-purposes.
Anyway, I know it’s tenuous, haha. But seeing as I’m self-studying equine anatomy and can never think of corsetmaking topics when I consciously try to, these silly parallels and comparisons seem like a good blogging route into these corset-related subjects. So I hope you enjoy them!