Canals and cameras and computers

We went for a walk by the canal yesterday afternoon. My head was full of emails and plans and budgets and secret blog posts, so some fresh air was much appreciated! When you begin taking photos through the window, you know you need to get outside…

Took the old Fuji to continue playing/learning, but the batteries died very quickly (as always).

I think I have established the camera I would like to get once I can justify the expense… Based partly on paying attention to how and when I take photographs. Essentially, as this is a re-emerging hobby, it needs to be “fit for purpose”, so lightweight, small, nifty, with wi-fi, and the ability to play (ie: change lens), etc. Because when something isn’t a joy to use, or isn’t small enough to have with you, then you just won’t use it.

Birmingham is an odd mix of beautiful and ugly. I do love the canals though.

John and I would still love to live aboard at some point.

I suppose it’s strange to feel content near water, if one didn’t grow up by the sea. We do have a small stream running by my childhood home though, perhaps that’s it.

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Milky skies

Computer tasks were starting to send me stir crazy. So I popped out into the drizzle to take some (bad) snaps and continue learning a bit more about photography.

I love taking Instagram shots and such of my work, and find myself taking more pictures than I ever used to. I do wonder if a big part of this is the ease of doing so these days. My bridge camera (a Fuji Finepix from a decade ago!) is fine I am sure, but it isn’t as intuitive or user-friendly as even an iPad! I am not really qualified to draw proper conclusions, but it seems to me that if I want reliably pretty snaps of my work for Instagram, etc., then the huge screen and easy UI of the iPad is perfect… If I want detailed close-ups from the studio, or to just play and learn more about taking pictures (my current thinking), you’d think my old Fuji (being a “proper” camera in which you can go manual and control aperture/shutter speed/iso/etc.) would do the job. But I do find I am very quickly coming up against limitations. Ha, both my own and the camera’s! For example, I will find that I’m interested in controlling the depth-of-field and focus more than I can with the Fuji’s fixed lens. That I want to get really close to a detail, or that I wish I had slower shutter options so that I could play more.

Of course, none of that accounts for the poor composition and limited knowledge on display in my pictures 😉 One must work with what they’ve got! At any rate, I am enjoying learning a bit more about photographs. I tried when at uni, but lacked confidence and the tuition wasn’t readily available. Would have been better off with a cheap-and-cheerful night-class than the university photography module I think. And normally, I’ve found myself drawn to painting and drawing instead. But painting, unsurprisingly, is just too messy (the way I do it, anyway!) to have in the same studio as bespoke corsetry.

I think perhaps photography begins to be interesting again, precisely because interacting with images (editing) is now so much more intuitive. These are all straight from camera though, else how I am to learn?

I think that perhaps a problem with pictures is that if there is something pretty in front of you, you can get away with not actually being that great at taking pictures. Just look at my snaps of corsets! Still, you learn by doing. I've certainly figured out which angles are good for corset/mannequin shots, and have also found that I (in my picture-infancy) seem to prefer square and 16:9 formats over anything else. So the ordinary format of a camera is almost harder to fill than the square frame of my iPad's camera software.
I think that perhaps a problem with pictures is that if there is something pretty in front of you, you can get away with not actually being that great at taking pictures. Just look at my snaps of corsets! Still, you learn by doing. I’ve certainly figured out which angles are good for corset/mannequin shots, and have also found that I (in my picture-infancy) seem to prefer square and 16:9 formats over anything else. So the ordinary format of a camera is almost harder to fill than the square frame of my iPad’s camera software.
I suppose in natural light, getting the exposure you need in one part of an image can be to the cost of another part.
I suppose in natural light, getting the exposure you need in one part of an image can be to the cost of another part.
Though this seems too bright or flat to me. If anything, the shots which are slightly underexposed appeal most. Perhaps that is just a taste thing.
Though this seems too bright or flat to me. If anything, the shots which are slightly underexposed appeal most. Perhaps that is just a taste thing.
Too close to focus. Fury.
Too close to focus. Fury.
I did take some colour shots, but they muddled me. I've not the skill to deal with colour! I think I would have appreciated manual focus and a shallower depth-of-field here.
I did take some colour shots, but they muddled me. I’ve not the skill to deal with colour! I think I would have appreciated manual focus and a shallower depth-of-field here.
Milk of magnesia sky. Though I found myself preferring the darker shot below (even though this one is arguably more “true”).
Darker. I've just remembered another camera my dad had, though I can't remember what it was called... I think it was intended specifically for architecture shots and I remember dragging it around granite-grey Aberdeen with me (I started at Grey's School of Art there, before becoming overwhelmed and ending up at Leeds). It was kind of vertical in it's shape and how you held it, looked sort of more like a little video camera than a stills one. I can't remember if it was digital or film. I'd assume the latter, but really can't remember.
Darker. I’ve just remembered another camera my dad had, though I can’t remember what it was called… I think it was intended specifically for architecture shots and I remember dragging it around granite-grey Aberdeen with me (I started at Grey’s School of Art there, before becoming overwhelmed and ending up at Leeds). It was kind of vertical in it’s shape and how you held it, looked sort of more like a little video camera than a stills one. I can’t remember if it was digital or film. I’d assume the latter, but really can’t remember.
Someone must have had a little crash on my road. In looking up then down, towards the hazy obscured sun and away from it, I was playing with the controls a lot. Which is the point, to learn. Very impractical though, not easy to do swiftly at all and you need to move your right hand around such a lot that you're not really holding your view whilst doing so. You're not thinking about the photograph, you're thinking about pressing the button whilst clicked another so as to change the f-stop. By which I mean, it isn't exactly a pleasure to work with this camera if you have it on manual. I was talking with Glo about this too, that good tools are the ones you use. After all, I've had this Fuji for 10 years. Used it for a while, then only got it out when I really needed to take a picture (eg: to sell something on ebay), and then largely ignored it as smartphones and tablets had come along and made taking casual shots much more enjoyable. Or if I wanted to actually play with depth-of-field and such, any old 35mm film camera was more fun (winding the film, the satisfying shutter sound, it's just nicer). The only reason for playing with it now is that I've a wish to better understand photography and to have a hobby outside of corsetmaking. If I had a different option (and I hope I will, before the year is out), I doubt I'd pick up the Fuji for anything at all. It works, it's functional, but so what? An overlocker is also a wonderful thing, but it's no use for making Birds Wing corsets... Tools have to suit your working habits and requirements.
Someone must have had a little crash on my road. In looking up then down, towards the hazy obscured sun and away from it, I was playing with the controls a lot. Which is the point, to learn. Very impractical though, not easy to do swiftly at all and you need to move your right hand around such a lot that you’re not really holding your view whilst doing so. You’re not thinking about the photograph, you’re thinking about pressing the button whilst clicked another so as to change the f-stop. By which I mean, it isn’t exactly a pleasure to work with this camera if you have it on manual. I was talking with Glo about this too, that good tools are the ones you use. After all, I’ve had this Fuji for 10 years. Used it for a while, then only got it out when I really needed to take a picture (eg: to sell something on ebay), and then largely ignored it as smartphones and tablets had come along and made taking casual shots much more enjoyable. Or if I wanted to actually play with depth-of-field and such, any old 35mm film camera was more fun (winding the film, the satisfying shutter sound, it’s just nicer). The only reason for playing with it now is that I’ve a wish to better understand photography and to have a hobby outside of corsetmaking. If I had a different option (and I hope I will, before the year is out), I doubt I’d pick up the Fuji for anything at all. It works, it’s functional, but so what? An overlocker is also a wonderful thing, but it’s no use for making Birds Wing corsets… Tools have to suit your working habits and requirements.
Actually used the zoom for this shot. Loved the texture of the peeling paint. We've each different notions of beauty and beauty inspires. I create better work when surrounded by beautiful things, that's a fact. I suppose this is why architects concern themselves with creating spaces that elevate the mind, and why craftspeople enthuse over the appearance of their gear... 
Actually used the zoom for this shot. Loved the texture of the peeling paint. We’ve each different notions of beauty and beauty inspires. I create better work when surrounded by beautiful things, that’s a fact. I suppose this is why architects concern themselves with creating spaces that elevate the mind, and why craftspeople enthuse over the appearance of their gear… 

I tell a lie, you can manual focus on this camera, it’s just a right pain in the backside.

1890s – 1900s champagne silk corset

This was one of my favourite pieces from the Bath Fashion Museum’s collection of antique corsetry.

Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.
Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.

It has that quite substantially boned aesthetic of much late-Victorian bridal corsetry, which you may already know is a huge influence for my fully-boned corsets. The combination of sleek silk satin with an elegant shape makes me very happy, even more so when self-coloured flossing is involved. The main challenge of fully-boned corsetry though, is construction. How many layers to use, which fabrics, etc. etc.

Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.
Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.

Again and again I find myself wanting to explore a lighter way of doing this style and a couple of options have been known to me for years… Namely, do what the antiques do. I haven’t tried it yet as there is of course the question of meeting the requirements/expectations of contemporary wearers (and their expectations are often in direct contrast to how most antique corsetry was actually done!), but I’m hoping to find the time soon to explore light-weight fully-boned corsetry. When I do, I’ll write more about it on the soon-to-be-revealed subscription-access blog, Life Behind the Brand. Indeed, I have already started writing on a similar project… 

Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.
Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.

In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy these iPad snaps from Bath. This corset has a few quirky features which I love. It reminded me of creating an Edwardian piece for my friend Cathy. We made it as “antique” as possible, which meant doing some things I wouldn’t normally do. It was very interesting and freeing though! To suddenly find that a detail I would normally consider “wrong” and displeasing was suddenly “good” on account of the context it was in.

Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.
Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.

As ever, it’s always about the time and resources available, but it’s been over a year since I did this Edwardian piece for Cathy (I can’t quite say “replica” as it was based on many pieces and an overall ethos, than just copied from one antique) so perhaps it’s time to revisit the idea… Antiques re-imagined as authentically as possible, in order to learn and unlock their secrets.

 

1902 corset by Sparklewren.
1902 corset by Sparklewren.
1902 corset by Sparklewren.
1902 corset by Sparklewren.
1902 corset by Sparklewren.
1902 corset by Sparklewren.
Cathy in her silk taffeta and thin cotton coutil “Edwardian” corset. 1902 to 2013.

Criss-cross flossing

 

Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.
Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.

Another beauty from Bath. I’m afraid I failed to take photographs of the outside, but the inside is very beautiful and interesting none-the-less. The fabric is not a million miles away from the lovely mink coutil I use (via Sew Curvy) and the patterning is very clean. Understated and elegant. And who knows if the lacing is original, but I love how similar it is to the ecru flat lacing from VenaCava.

Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.
Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.

So much of antique corsetry is hard to replicate due to its use of specialised industrial equipment. But this piece is pretty straight forward. You wouldn’t even need a twin-needle machine (as evidenced by the fact that the channels are not stitched perfectly parallel). A piece like this could be quite accurately recreated on any domestic machine (though I’d recommend an old Singer 99k or 201, they can handle corsetmaking no problem).

Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.
Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.

1997 Mr Pearl

The main impetus for arranging this week’s visit to Bath was to study a 1997 Mr Pearl corset that I hadn’t previously realised they had. For those who are still new to corsetry and don’t know, Mr Pearl is a maker that we all look up to for his distinctive style, personal approach (this is a man who understands corsetry from a tightlacing perspective), and enviable position as corsetier to numerous haute couture houses. For corsetmakers, any chance to study or see a Mr Pearl corset is a welcome thing. 

I will be writing more on the 1997 corset soon (as a complimentary article for Foundations Revealed), but for now I hope you will enjoy a teaser image or two…  

Courtesy of Bath Fashion Museum. Mr Pearl 1997 corset. 
Courtesy of Bath Fashion Museum. Mr Pearl 1997 corset. 
Courtesy of Bath Fashion Museum. Mr Pearl 1997 corset. 
Courtesy of Bath Fashion Museum. Mr Pearl 1997 corset. 

In other news, I am currently working on the creation of a password protected part of the site, especially for corsetmakers and designers who want to know more about life behind the scenes at Sparklewren… 

This area will be essentially a candid blog in which I share more of my secret projects, ideas, business musings, and experiences as a corsetmaker. Do keep your eyes open as I hope to make subscriptions available very soon. 

Smaller, ever smaller

The beauty of antique corsetry is often in its delicacy. Late-Victorian and early-Edwardian in particular, often seems impossibly light, petite and dare I say flimsy in comparison to most contemporary offerings. 

There are myriad possible reasons for this, but the reasons don’t interest me as much as what we can do with that information. So a wish I have with my corsetry is to make it as delicate as possible (as practical) in reference to what I have seen amongst antique corsetry. 

For example, I mentioned on the private blog (coming soon), that every time I’ve moved down in width of spiral steel I’ve been delighted with the results. Everything else seems hefty and inelegant by comparison. Each material has its uses, naturally, so it’s just about finding what works for any given aesthetic/purpose. As I love delicacy in materials, it was a treat seeing where the bones had worn through on the antique corset below… 

 

Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.
Courtesy/copyright of Bath Fashion Museum.

Everything was so delicate about this piece that I first assumed it to be mostly corded with a few bones at the seams. But then I spotted this. I am unsure of the interior (perhaps cane?), but it was been wrapped in paper or fabric (it was hard to tell with gloves on) as there is a seam down the back (unseen in this photo). The ends are dipped in something. These super-skinny steels were a mere 3mm wide, weren’t even in channels that were really tight enough for them (an issue that many contemporary makers get excessively worried about), but were enough en mass to provide the needed support. That’s the thing, it’s often about the combination of type, width, and number of bones. It is a fine balancing act which the good corsetmaker knows how to utilise, push and exploit. 

Bath Aftermath

What a wonderful day of enthused study, conversation, brainstorming, and general loveliness. Bath is, as one might expect, beautiful, and the corsetry kept at the museum was gorgeously intricate, unusual and interesting, as all antique corsetry generally proves to be. Of course, we also studied the 1997 Mr Pearl, which was lovely. 

Copyright Bath Fashion Museum. 
Copyright Bath Fashion Museum. 

I am completely exhausted now, of course, so I’ll write more tomorrow or over the weekend. For now, I shall just say that it was lovely to see everyone and that I feel renewed in terms of ideas and possibilities. The wonderful thing about antique corsets is that they often achieve certain details that you *cannot* achieve well without breaking some of the typical “rules” of contemporary corsetry. I try to bend and break rules quite frequently anyway, so a couple of the pieces I saw today really inspired me to return to one of two ideas in particular and push that a bit further. 

Define or suggest?

We are off to Bath today! Myself, assistant Holly, and a few corsetmaking friends are roadtripping it there to take a look at a 1997 Mr Pearl corset that I had previously spotted in the recent Isabella Blow exhibition at Somerset House. There will also be antique corsets a-plenty, cannot wait. 

I am increasingly realising that there is an unanswered dichotomy in my feelings towards corsetry (and craft in general), which is the tension between things being explained and unexplained. I love to wax lyrical about technique, but I also love to present things in unclear, even vague, ways. I love to share the details of corsetmaking, but I also hate to “unweave a rainbow” as Keats had it. Certainly, the joy in studying and understanding how exceptional things are made (couture and antique corsetry) is tempered by the slight disappointment of then knowing… Once you know, you need to know more, you need to be constantly looking to new things for inspiration. And the inspiration is most effective when you don’t fully understand the thing you are inspired by. 

A line I recently read from a French Symbolist poet summed it up for me…

To define is to kill. To suggest is to create.

— Stéphane Mallarmé

One must define in order to study and teach a craft, but one must suggest in order to present art or anything with feeling. 

Anyway, enough rambling for the morning. Must brush my hair and get ready to go! Have another “wren behind the scenes” photo whilst I’m gone.

 

 

Happy Hampshire

What a fortunate wren I am. A sunshine-filled day, progress on an exciting project in collaboration with Foundations Revealed (secret, for now), and general contentment. There is much of beauty in the world, it is worth paying attention. 

Lovely client Aurélie in her Phoenix corset. Overlaid with branches from Key Hill Cemetery, 2 minutes away from my studio. Sad pixels.
Lovely client Aurélie in her Phoenix corset. Overlaid with branches from Key Hill Cemetery, 2 minutes away from my studio. Sad pixels.

 

Tingyn in the Antique Bird corset last month. 
Tingyn in the Antique Bird corset last month. 

At the moment I am finding imagery more inspiring than my studio. I think this is because my new premises are comparatively bare compared to the boutique (more space, but not much more “stuff”). I must endeavour to get more imagery up and corsets/gowns on show, to keep the inspiration flowing.