In March 2017 I made an open promise that I would embrace the challenge of entering the 2018 contest. I made the decision to make a cupped corset for the contest long before the “theme” was announced, and chose to trial run a cupped design before starting work on my competition piece. I created two cupped corsets, which enabled me to work out design and construction kinks.
My initial confidence was totally thrown by the theme of insects. I was overwhelmed, and unsure how to translate the theme without it becoming too ‘costume’-like. I feverishly researched exotic insects, thinking that something native to the British Isles would probably be too dull to inspire an astounding piece of corsetry.
Then, unexpectedly, a moth flew into my sewing room. Instantly inspired by this transient, tiny, fragile creature, I narrowed my research to British lepidoptera and stumbled across Diaphora Mendica: the Muslin Moth. (I’ve still got the moth. It died, poor thing, and now lives in a jam jar on my shelf).
The imagery of moths transfixed me. The more ethereal version of butterflies, they seem otherworldly. Only awake in the dark, but attracted to light like little dusty ghosts of our ancestors. The Muslin Moth seemed to epitomise this; beautifully monochrome, delicate wings, fuzzy heads. It even dictated what fabric I should use: the less commonly-used muslin. Once widespread in Regency and 19th century fashions, it has fallen out of favour, now commonly used to strain cheese and mop up baby vomit. I felt it was ripe for a renaissance.
The colours, shapes and textures of these tiny ghost-like time travellers reminded me of 18th century couture and powdered wigs. I wanted to dress the insect-like cupped corset accordingly, while keeping a subtle nod to modern design. I chose black coutil as my strength layer with two layers of muslin to avoid a stark look, retain the detail of the weave, and give depth, reflecting the moth’s black body edged with white fur. A ruffled centre panel captures the fluffy moth’s body, with straight diagonal side seams similar to the stomachers of the 18th century. Ruffles continued down into the knickers, reminiscent of ‘long drawers’ worn in the 19th century. The ‘wings’ fall from the hips, hinting at a panniered gown, while avoiding an overtly “fancy dress” look. The centre black panel draws focus, breaking up the white.
In one of my more insane moments I decided to shoot the completed piece myself. While I have almost no photography experience, I had a definite vision using a dear friend as a model, with make-up and white chalk hair reminiscent of a modern 18th century mothy masked ball. I am immensely proud of what I have achieved, creating final images that really capture the ethereal beauty, delicacy and timelessness of Diaphora Mendica.
The patterning of this piece was based on my two previous cupped corsets. I adjusted the centre front panel to create the right lines, drawing it up between the breasts to create a flat front. I drafted new cups to fit a smaller bust by covering moulded cups from a strapless bra with masking tape and drawing on lines for the seams. Then I cut and flattened the masking tape to create new pattern pieces from there. The cups and underwires of the bra were re-used in the construction of the corset. Accuracy in this pattern was crucial, as there was no opportunity to fit before the shoot.
The strength layer is black coutil, made visible through the two layers of white loose weave muslin. I left raw edges on the ruffles for the centre panel to echo the “motheaten” aesthetic and the "tattiness” of moth wings.
For the centre front panel, I sandwiched two layers of coutil and stitched the boning channels in a fan pattern. I secured a frilly panel on top with stitch lines on the side seams. This gave boning structure with an 18th century feel without having to sew over any frills.
I constructed the panels of the corset first, basted in a waist tape and stitched internal bone channels. With such loose weave muslin, roll pining was unnecessary.
Before adding boning I attached the fabric cups, and hand stitched the moulded cups and underwires in position, then folded down the remaining fabric at the top of the cups to the interior. Raw edges were covered with black bias tape for a smooth finish.
There are ten spiral steels, one on each seam, six flat steels for the boning on the centre front panel, and one either side of the eyelets. Muslin on the bias finishes the top and bottom edges of the corset.
I hand-stitched the black velvet centre panel into place and continued the velvet over the top edge and onto the inside at the breastbone. This covered the last remaining raw edge, but also added comfort where the flat steels press on the breastbone.
Two large, triangular pieces of muslin form the wings. With the bias edge to be attached around the hip of the corset, this enabled the wings to sit smoothly. Before attaching, I added veins using subtle satin ribbon on the inside, with bottom edges raw to add to the worn look.
The wings were hand stitched following the line of the iliac crest over the hip and meeting the eyelets and the front centre panel.
I concentrated heavily layered beading on the black centre panel to keep it subtle, with some beads spreading over the cups to highlight this curve. The frilly knickers use a four-panel construction with centre, side and crotch seams. The centre and crotch seams were sewn together first, then the ruffles added, keeping the edges raw.
More details on my blog
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 more stressful than anticipated, and I was concerned that I was not on a level playing field with people who have greater resources, time and money in particular. However, the support provided by the FR Members' group and the Mentors was invaluable.