Earlier this month, I found myself at the Oxford Conference of Corsetry – an amazing event dedicated to one of my favourite garments in the entire world of lingerie. We saw Marianne review the event last year as an organiser, but I thought that this year I could give my perspective as an attendee.
I’d booked my place over 9 months ago (with the entire event selling out very shortly afterwards!), initially with a sense of uncertainty; after all, despite hearing so many wonderful things about its previous year, I’ve never considered myself a fully-fledged corsetiere. I’ve only ever sewn a handful of actual corsets, with nearly all of them being part of school assignments. Nevertheless, I’m so glad that I made the leap and went to this conference – it’s ended up being one of the best experiences of my life.
The conference lasted two days and took place at Jesus College, Oxford. The first day started with tea and goodie bags, with a chance to get to know the fellow attendees. Throughout the day we had the opportunity to peruse the ‘embellishment bar’, a table where attendees donated and traded silks, laces and other embellishment goodies. A room was set aside for attendees to display their own work – I must have spent a good couple of hours there admiring the breadth of design styles, with each piece being inspiring in its own unique way. Not to mention that this provided the perfect opportunity to try on other designer’s work – which unfortunately led to me doubling my corset wish list and wanting to run away with most of the designs!
After a bit of getting to know each other, all of us delegates headed off to our first master class, with Alison Campbell of Crikey Aphrodite. Her talk was about inspiration and the use of moodboards to inform the design process – after which, we all went off through the college grounds in search of our own inspiration, whether it was the beautiful stonework, the intricate stained glass of the chapel or the gorgeous flora that the grounds had to offer. After compiling sketches and photographs, we all made our own collaged moodboards – piecing together our visual inspiration and fabric swatches, to then help us design corsets on the handily provided OCOC ‘paper dolls’!
Our second class was with Julia Bremble, of Sew Curvy/Clessidra corsetry and the main organizer of the entire conference. Her talk was about corset blocks and the importance of good and consistent patterns – extremely valuable advice for those of us who approach corsetry as a business. This was further cemented by our next talk, by TLA’s very own Marianne Faulkner (of her own corsetry brand ‘Pop Antique’), about corset grading (the process of changing the size of a garment through the manipulation of its pattern). Whilst the information in this talk is likely to go completely over the head of the average corset enthusiast, for those of us who enthuse about pattern cutting or ready to wear corsetry, it taught us invaluable lessons.
The final class of the day that I attended was Jenni Hampshire of Sparklewren’s talk about Birdswing corsetry – a signature technique of Jenni’s that uses lots of panels to act as ‘hinges’ around the body for a flexible fit, inspired by an antique corset within the Symington Collection and Snibston Museum. As well as sharing the ins and outs of her construction processes, Jenni’s talk focused on how peculiar antique corsetry can teach us such new and unexpected things to apply to our own work.
The day finished with a wonderful drinks reception and formal 3-course dinner (all of course a wonderful excuse to bring out our poshest corseted attire!), all topped off with a wonderful speech by Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden corsetry – a truly inspiring pioneer of modern corsetry, leaving all of us attendees with a lot of food for thought. The evening was finished by a visit to the college bar – which I have to admit, led to me and several others engaging in some slightly intoxicated last minute corset stitching… Fortunately, without causing too much damage!
The final day of the conference was a little freer in structure, with fluid workshops and photoshoots running throughout the day. I started the day with Gerry Quinton’s (of Morua corsetry) embellishment workshop, where we were shown invaluable fabric manipulation techniques – including some thoroughly enjoyable smocking and fabric petal techniques that I can’t wait to use on my next corset design. This was the last formal workshop, with the rest of the day running on a much more ‘drop in’ structure. I found Cathy Hay’s (of Foundations Revealed, an extremely valuable corset-making resource) workshop about business particularly valuable. The insight and thoughts of the various attendees revealed a wealth of experience and areas to consider for their own businesses. It’s this networking that makes the conference so utterly invaluable – at no other event would you discover so many tiny nuggets of information that make such a huge difference to your business. Although I’m rather sad to say I missed them in lieu of networking and a photoshoot, there were also informal workshops with many of the other corset fellows of the conference.
My experience ended with a wonderful photoshoot with photographer Chris Murray and model Ella Rose – each attendee had the opportunity to photograph their work in the wonderful Jesus College surroundings. I’m impatiently waiting to receive the photos of my ‘Oxford’ corset (made especially for the event!), but the experience was the perfect end to such a wonderful weekend.
I didn’t want the conference to end and I hated having to leave – it was such an amazing experience, both in the sense of learning many new things to push my own corsetry, and in meeting so many like-minded people and making new friends. Corsetry may be more of a hobby than a business for me, but the conference definitely inspired me to push my work further and explore new ideas – I just hope I manage to put them into practice before the conference comes around again next year!
Readers: would you like to attend this event? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!