Dear customer….

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This will be a little bit different from my usual posts, and possibly a little controversial, but I feel some things simply have to be said. Running a business has its ups and downs, pros and cons , its challenges and its rewards. I love running mine – and the only thing that sometimes makes me pause is the interaction with some of my potential clients. Usually online, sometimes at trading events. I feel I have been very lucky in general, and my customers at least 90% lovely people (I became friends with many of them), but over the years there have been enough of the less-than-perfect kind to make up that the 10%.

To be honest,  in most cases people simply behave in a particular way because they are oblivious to certain facts about the way of that life people in my line of work lead. They simply do not realize how rude they can sound – I believe if they did, they would be mortified! True, some people are dicks and nothing can change that,  but most of them are simply unaware that their behaviour can cause offence.

This is not simply my own opinion – quite a few folks  running small craft & art related businesses have experienced similar treatment, and probably for the same reason; I suppose that other small business may have been on the receiving end, too.

Below I am going to list the most common ‘faux pas‘  that I have personally come across. Usually small things, but small things do accumulate and can lead to a very negative client experience. And, hopefully, small things are also easy to amend. Some of the interactions mentioned my only be perceived as less than pleasant  from my personal perspective – as a very happy introvert I tend to  have a very specific perception I suppose – things that make me want to turn around and run away may make another costumer jump for joy, for example – but I think some of the  situations are relevant no matter what your personal traits may be.

So without further ado, this is my private list of ‘issues’ – and how they may be avoided!

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 Email/online interactions:

*Being polite matters!

Polite clients are a pleasure to deal with, and as a result I am willing to go the extra mile for them. I either offer a discount, or a free postage, or do additional high quality finishing work, just because they have been a joy to work with. If you are rude to start with, I am unlikely to accept your commission in the first place – despite what everybody seems to think, people in the creative industry rarely do sit around twiddling their thumbs, waiting for some work to miraculously happen to them, and are not therefore simply happy to accept anything from anyone – and so:

*Remember that written word can come across much more harshly than when spoken.

*I understand that nowadays formality tends to be often forgotten, but please when writing to me try to address me by my proper name, and not diminutives or ‘ huni’, ‘sweetie’ etc.  This is a personal pet hate – I understand that some people just use  endearments  automatically, but neither my family, my friends nor even my husband call me ‘sweetie’ . For a complete stranger, in a strictly professional situation, it is simply off-putting,  at least for me. My name is Izabela – please use it and we will all be happy.

*Please do not ask me to copy the work of another designer; Especially if you want it at a fraction of the original price, (more on the cost of bespoke, art items and pricing in the industry can be read about in the this post – A Queen on a Budget, please.) Also, do not  be offended if I cannot take your order because it is something that we do not make – in such cases I will attempt to provide links to other people who specialise in that area, (shoes, fantasy and fancy-dress costume, etc), I simply know my limits and if I decline to accept an order, it is for a good reason. We specialise in historically accurate clothing – if you need a fancy-dress Victorian costume with medieval sleeves and Regency silhouette, in lycra, we may not be the best choice – but we probably know people who can make it for you, so we will endeavour to provide you with an alternative solution if we can!

*Book well ahead – I tend to be booked up to 6 months or more in advance. Yes, I can sometimes have an emergency slot  available, but often I simply cannot provide you with a full Regency finery for ‘next week’ – it is nothing personal, there are simply not enough hours in the day for me to do the work – especially since those rare emergency slots are already digging into my personal time and rest.

9. planning - in the calendar and working out components and time necessary for an order

*Be prepared to sign a contract and don’t be offended when we ask for a deposit; It is simply a part of running a business in a proper and effective manner, and avoiding running at a loss. More on running a business here – and even more, especially on contracts, here.

*Do not be offended if I do not accept your friend request on Facebook. I may be old fashioned, but I keep my personal account  for family and friends – which means people I have met, interacted with, liked, and deal in person often. Having an item made does not make you a friend – yet. Over the time if we meet often enough and find we like each other that may change, (and often does), but since we are starting from a professional footing, simply keep in touch through my page until such a time comes when we may change the status quo.

*also – i do not offer a free advise/tuition/consultation service via fb or email. we do provide the service if needs be, but   it is a hourly paid job.  At the moment , if i was to answer every message/ email asking me for advice, opinion, etc   i would probably not have time to do plaything at all   – we get about 10-120 on avarage. Per day. so nothing personal, but i cannot help you unless you book us in advance for a specific thing, billable by the hour…

St Neots WWI Comemorative July 2014-13

Fittings/home visits.

Dear customer, when you are coming to me for a fitting, please remember that I work from home, not from a studio, and so work and life are intertwined here – this may not be so common for many in the industry, but that does cause a few awkward situations.  And so, please:

*Do tell me how many people are coming along – unless otherwise specified I expect only you. I need to know if there are more people as there are problems of space as well my personal issues. To me, the sudden invasion of 5 people when I was expecting 1 is just like a punch to the face. Suddenly instead of the controlled, serene environment  I am used to working in, the situation is changed into chaos, when everybody is everywhere, all talking very politely no doubt, but nevertheless very distracting. I do need to concentrate when I am fitting toiles, taking measurements and discussing designs with the client. Loud chatter, however amicable, is not helping.

*Ditto children –  my house is not at all child friendly – there are lots of sharp objects around, lots of antique stuff, lots of weaponry, and a pond, too –  so unless you can keep your offspring under control (which means another person to do so while you are busy working with me), preserving any Health and Safety rules will cetainly be tricky – in which case I would have to decline the commission.  Please let me know beforehand so that we can come up with appropriate solution to the situation.

*Do not ‘pop by’  without an appointment. Not only may I not be in, but I may be busy, either working on urgent stuff or working with another customer, (who may be in a state of dishabille), so I would have to turn you away from the door. Again, nothing personal, but it may feel like rejection, so please always ask when is a good time if you need to see me in person.

*Try not to be late.  I usually have 2, 3 appointments on any fitting day, usually, for efficiency’s sake, one after another. If you arrive late, it may impact on another appointment, so please call to let me know if you are running late. If you want me to put aside a whole day, or afternoon just for you, that is fine – but my time comes at a cost. You don’t pop round to your lawyer, doctor or dentist more or less at the time that suits you, so please extend me the same courtesy; working from home doesn’t mean that I am any less busy!

* don’t expect me to work on holidays/ weekends. I often do, and I do suggest weekends to my customers who cannot make it otherwise,  but please  remember, that  our line of work means we are usually  away at the weekend.  So if your contract says  that the fittings will take place, as agreed, in the beginning of a month, please make sure you are available. we can adapt – but all summer we are away weekends, working at events, so if you forget to book a day off it may be another month or more before we have a weekend at home!

*

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  • please understand that we  usually cannot come over to you for fittings. unless  previously agreed on and arranged it is smply not possible as i will need to carry my tools with me ( and believe me, tha machiness ar enot light) and there will be additional charge for travel cost and time used.

At markets

*I am always delighted when people who follow me on social media come to have a chat at the markets. However, please remember that  unless you comment/like/interact with the page, I will not know your name. And even if I do, I may not recognize you, if your profile picture features a fluffy kitten or happy puppy.  Please introduce yourself and then everything will be fine – I know who I am talking to and will try to remember for the future 🙂

*Also, the mere fact that you follow me on facebookPA/twitter, etc, does not make you eligible for a discount at the stall…. or in the online shop. Sorry…

* Please remember that at markets,  I am working. You may be visiting for your leisure or for business – though for majority of people the former is the case.  You may want to come and have a good time, chat and exchange experiences tips etc – it is all fine, but , as I said, I am at work and need to treat everybody the same – which generally leaves very little time for idle chatting, am afraid. There are a few relaxed moments but usually the markets we attend tend to be heaving with public, and we have little time for lunch, let alone relaxed talk. So however much I might love to do so, I need to earn my living and serve paying customers instead 😦

Talking of lunch – please, let the stall holders have their lunch in peace! Trying to answer your questions with a mouth full of bagel is not a nice experience for anyone! We usually have one of us or a helper to front the shop when one person is eating – but people still manage to dodge them and sneak in at the back of the stall to talk to the person who is currently enjoying their lunch.

Do not ask me to work for free.  Whatever tips and advice on costuming I can give I will, and a great deal of information is on the blog here anyway, but do not ask me to provide an ad hoc workshop/lecture for your benefit, for free. This happens quite a lot – a recent one was in Bath, during the market there; let me quote it for you..

-Two women were spending quite some time looking at the stays/corsets and other items, and by looking I mean taking off the hangers, turning upside down, inside out etc. After about 5 minutes of them discussing how the things go together (and meanwhile blocking access for other interested customers) I asked politely if there was anything I could help them with. The answer was:
Yeah, actually, we make stuff like that ourselves, for us and sometimes for sale, and we tried these styles before and they didn’t really work well, so we are just trying to work out the construction details – could you please explain to us how you put these together? Oh and these ones too? (at that point one of them took a notebook and a pencil out).
I looked at her and asked – ‘What do you do for a living madam?
‘Why, I teach the flute’.
‘Could you please explain to me how you play the flute? Could you teach me now, just the basics?
She looked at me, completely taken aback.
‘Why, well, I could, but I charge for my lessons!
My response? ‘So do I’….

She actually saw the point and was rather embarrassed, and apologized, but it sort of sums up the fact that a lot of people do not take what I do for a living seriously and assume it is ‘just ‘ a hobby – I suppose other people running craft or art based businesses are often faced by a similar situation.

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*Another point – you don’t generally go to let’s say, a baker, or a carpenter, have a look around, finger the goods, sneer and announce that you can do it better than they, and/or possibly cheaper. So please refrain from doing it to stallholders at the markets.  Even if you indeed, can make the items better and at a lesser cost. Just incredibly rude.

*please ask before touching the clothing. And make sure your children are under control – especially if they are eating at the time we did have a few mishaps involving children, dogs, icecream or a burger….

And finally, some interactions from the online shop.

To start with, let me quote some of the messages/emails directly

* am interested in the blue dress, but it is not my size, can you re-model it so that is 3 sizes bigger?
* am interested in the blue riding habit, I clicked on the link but it takes me to the shop based in the UK. Can you please post the link to your USA branch? Otherwise I would be unable to purchase as shipping and customs duty are expensive.
* am interested in the grey skirt, i clicked on the link to the shop but it gives price in pounds. Why is there no Euro? I don’t like working out the conversion rates myself.
* are the measurements American? How many centimeters in an inch?
* I like your corsets! I want one but in different colour, and in my size – can you make me one for this Saturday? Would the price be the same?
* I love the pink Victorian gown in silk, but is too expensive! I can spend max £150 on a thing like that, would you consider selling it for £150 (postage included), or making me a bespoke one for that price?
* the riding habits are lovely, but why are there only 2 available? and why not in a range of sizes, and colours?
* am interested in the medieval Burgundian gown, but can purchase it in July only – can you keep it for me? I am not saying I will buy it, just considering and would like to know it is still available in July.
* I want a bespoke one, when are you able to make me one? (my answer – am now booked till October) – whaaaatttt!!!! October??? this is ridiculous, I need one for June! how can you run a business like that! Can you not shift other people so that mine can be made first?

Well…

Here I feel  the very fact that  we have an online shop may be put to blame – people simply assume that we are a much bigger business than we are – and flattering as that may be, it often causes  awkward situations.

Also, people assume that our ideology is the same as that of big chain stores and find it difficult to understand that we do not carry a huge stock of the same items in a range of colours and sizes.  Our field is quite  narrow, and I like to think that I specialise in unique and individual items – so our  stock items, though usually in ‘generic’ sizes are still unique. I have no desire to create the same dress in 6 different sizes and 3 different colours – this would not only kills the joy of making an individual item to me, but poses a question of stock control, space, cost, etc. We are a small business, and I have no particular desire to grow into a huge one. Might happen – might not. At the moment I take pleasure in making items unique – even our stock corsets have individual touches that make them unique. Nowadays,  many people are motivated by finance alone – and whereas, as a business you have to be, to some extent, I am in the happy situation where I can make what I want to make and enjoy it – and I treasure the enjoyment coming from creating one specific item much higher than profits coming from mass producing shirts.

And as for being booked well ahead – well,  we often are booked for more than 6 months in advance. Asking me to move other clients around so that your stuff can be made earlier is not only disrespectful to me but to other clients as well – imagine that it is the the other folks who are asking me to shift you around…. just not professional. And it doesn’t mater if you are a Russian princess,  a celebrity, local theater, or an individual  – once the contract is signed,  your order is treated in exactly the same way as everybody else’s.  Full equality.

 

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Well, that’s about it, I think – a bit of a rant, maybe, but as I have said, a lot of the problems stems from misunderstanding of the industry, and not malice. I do not wish to offend anyone and I think there are few people who go out of their way to offend others, especially if they want to develop a professional relationship, so I think maybe this post help both parts to understand each other a bit better.

And if you run a home/craft based business and you have experiences similar situations, or have something to add – please comment!

Green Stripes Beach and Bandstand (35)

Symington corset pattern 1907-07 experiment

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When, earlier on this year, the scans of Symington corset patterns were released, (by Leicester County council, link to the patterns, etc: Leicestershire symington patterns), a lot of corsetmakers  stormed the site and bought the images they wanted to use as an experiment in pattern-making. Well, I was one of the horde who grabbed an image (or two…) but it was only recently that I had time enough to have a go at one of the patterns.

I chose 2 complex patterns and up till the last moment I couldn’t decide on which one to make first – but  in the end the decision fell on one with a lot of gores. I know, a masochistic choice, but well… I just couldn’t resist it, as the ‘gore within a gore’ concept worked for me on a variety of levels –  historically accurate and yet with styling  that would not look amiss in a modern or steampunk corset.

So ‘Gore Galore Corset’ it was – and it turned out be be even more gore-tastic than I had imagined….

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But,  let us start at the beginning.

 

The moment I measured the printed out pattern, I knew there would be serious issues with the fit – it just wasn’t very curvy! There were just a few inches of difference between the  hip, waist, and bust, and my bod calls for more than just a few. Still, I worked out (read: husband  did the calculations) how much the  pattern has to be enlarged, and blew it up in the local photocopying place.

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Then, I took the sheet, components and lunch and drove over to Sew Curvy for our usual Stitch and Bitch session – the corset was to be constructed there –  good company and nice space make it easy for me to focus, and having an accomplished corsetiere on hand to help with the fitting can only help… 🙂

The work could then begin.

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tracing the seam lines on the blown up copy

 

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calico on the pattern and could trace the pieces next…

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Pieces traced

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and pieces cut out….

 

At that point I was cleverly distracted by Julia who dug out 2 lovely antique corsets and I stopped to drool over  them… A teaser here, no doubt Julia will put more info and pictures of them on the Sew Curvy blog at some point…

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Then it was back to work – I wanted to assemble the mock up before lunch…

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The pieces assembled….. outside view

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and inside, below…

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The moment of truth! How does it look on the body..?

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Pretty straight – as expected to be  honest.  As the proportions, length etc worked, I just needed an inch more reduction at the waist – and  to add a few inches at the hip and bust to accommodate my curves…

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And the easiest way to do that was just to cut inside the gores and use bits of calico to cover the areas that needed more expansion… and a bit more boning in front for support…

 

IMG_0308   The hip spring already looks much better, (and feels more comfy too)

 Then it was lunch time!

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well, we had soup first…..

After lunch I amended the pattern to accommodate the changes – all that needed to be done was to enlarge the inside gores….  and since the incisions were sort of already there, I decided to let them remain split – and just get another gore in…. A gore within a gore within a gore! A bit mad, but it just seemed to work better than simply making the inside gore bigger – and it resulted in a much more interesting look too…..

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Corset pieces cut out in black and blue sateen

Alas, it also meant I had 12 gores to sew in…. ouch….

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seam allowances pressed and ready for assembly

but with help of coffee I persevered…

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the corset will be boned with internal boning – but since back looked a bit boring in comparison with the front, I decided to make a casting for double bones in contrasting fabric there to balance the design

The rest of the evening was spent flossing the gores…..

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And next morning saw me with the gores flossed (is it only me, or does that sound a bit weird? ), and I was ready for some boning. (Seriously, take that sentence out of context and it sounds damned indecent! Corsetry nomenclature joys…)

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I marked the channels as close to the original as possible, and added a few more to support my boobage a bit better too…) The tape was applied over a waist stay.

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and done!

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It was time to try it on – if anything needs changing, there is still some scope for reshaping things, if needs be, before the lining comes in and covers all the inside…

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verdict – not too bad!

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a tiny bit too loose at the back hip, but easy to amend. very comfortable too!

At that stage I  said goodbye to Julia and Sew Curvy studio and drove back home, where I finished the corset the next day – black cotton lining was added and the bones were flossed in black. Then it was binding time and it was done!  If needs be, suspenders can be added at the front center and sides, but that can be done later once I decide whether to use it as an undergarment – or a modern top layer corset…

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As it turned out, it was over a month later that we were able to get any decent photos – and  surprise, surprise, my overindulgence in MMA and other martial activities  at the club meant that I lost some inches… The corset still fitted, but was a bit on a loose side. 😦
Even with the corset a tad too big, we got to shoot it and ended up with some interesting images.

First we shot in in the historical style – with black lawn chemise and drawers, with a matching blue ribbon.

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And later on in the evening,  on the way back from the movies, I  changed into leggings, black top and a wig – and we shot it with a cyber punk/comic/ Tron convention  in mind – the results below….

 

Black and Blue SciFiAngel Underlight Neon

 

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As you can see, it turned out to be a pretty versatile piece –  just a shame it is a tad too big now….   And as it is a bit too big, it has already been sold to a friend  who plans to use it for some steampunk events – so it is bound to lead an interesting life….

But I am not saying goodbye to the pattern per se – indeed I liked the gores so much, I have now purchased black and yellow lacquered leather – it will be made into a Hornet Corset:-)

 

 

 

 

Makeover photoshoot with Iberian Black Arts

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This was the last bit of the Geisha collection ( Part 1  and Part 2), and already drifting towards a Chinese or Manchurian influence.  I had enough good-quality Chinese satin brocade, (proper silk stuff, not the poly/viscose thing, for a change!) to make a skirt, corset and a little bolero jacket. And since I knew that  Threnody in Velvet, who modeled a part of the collection, is not only an amazingly gifted model but a talented photographer and make up artist, I decided to book a little makeover session with the other side of her business, Iberian Black Arts … and I wasn’t disappointed!

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Threnody … I know i have posted the image before, but – I cannot get enough of it! 🙂

 

So a date was set, and I  put some time aside to actually make my outfit. And as luck would have it, I ended up with an emergency commission instead – so had just a day to make something wearable…..

The corset was first – and from the start I regretted the choice of fabric.. the satin frayed like a mad, fraying thing, it wrinkled, moved, had a life of its own. It was too late to get fusible interfacing, so had to just get on with it and relay on roll-pinning and pure luck – and hoped the cat wouldn’t mind the amount of bad language that issued forth during the production…

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I do mind, you know…. foulmouthed creature!

In the end, success was just partial, I didn’t  manage to get rid of all the wrinkles, but since it was not an item for sale I decided to leave it as it was and maybe trust the power of Photoshop….

On the day  I grabbed the outfit, accessories etc – and since I was asked to bring another outfit just in case we had time to shoot more I packed  my ‘snow queen’ gear too…

On arrival at Patricia’s studio we did not waste much time and got straight down to business.  That is, I was munching on my sandwich whilst we were  just getting the final details of the make up and hair – I had set up a board for inspiration, so we looked through different photos to get a clear idea of the styling.

The calm scene before we started…

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Make up and hair took a bit of time, but not too much – and it was time well spent on a pleasant chatter, as well as deciding on some editing options, etc, and then it was time to  don the gear, lace up and pose!

One important thing to mention beforehand – I am not a big fan of over the top post-production (Photoshopping, etc). I mentioned this, giving examples of what I definitely didn’t want –  I wanted my body to stay the way it was, with no reduction etc,  and  my face basically unchanged as well –  I often see the results of the popular boudoir make overs where  ladies are virtually unrecognizable in the final image. This is fine if you are working on a product shoot ( though even here I tend to have problems with overphotoshopped models setting impossible standards), but not really for a personal image –  everybody who knows me will just chuckle at a weird attempt to look much younger and much slimmer, and so I asked for minimal amount of post production. This is actually also why I chose Iberian Black Arts –  the images  showcased  in the portfolio were a  high quality ones, but not overly ‘over the top’.

And to be honest – the make up and the light worked wonders on their own…. well, see for yourself below……

 

After we finished shooting, I got the proofs the same day and chose the images I liked most, for editing. We discussed background options for both looks and the rest was just Patricia working her magic….

The  Chinese look ( with a spectacular yellow kanzashi made especially  for the shoot by Kikuya Kanzashi )

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and the Snow Queen one…

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By comparison, see the uneditted  behind the scenes shots – three of the proofs, straight off the camera, showing me having some fun…:

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standard pose for all my shoots….

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As you can see  the skin tone was smoothed and lightened to work with the  styling for the image, the corset wrinkles magically disappeared, but it is still recognizably me, my body with slightly glamorized face. Happy with that:-)

 

Altogether, I must say I was delighted with both only the experience and the end product – highly recommended – If any of you folks would like to have a go at a makeover with Patricia ( Ipswich based), do give her a call, you won’t be disappointed – and the prices are good too! I found it a great way  to showcase my work as a designer and maker, and have a bit of a girly fun as well – so work and play combined 🙂

 

 

 

 

Geisha Corsetry Collection part 2

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As promised  in Part 1 – we are now happy to present the 2 other corsets from the collection, modeled by  the exquisite Threnody in Velvet, and photographed by Iberian Black Arts.

The first of the corsets was in fact the first to be designed – and was also the most challenging one as for the first time I was making  it completely from the scratch – not using and adapting other patterns, but actually designing piece by piece, hoping it would all work together:-)

 

The initial design with different  silk choices… I wanted to convey the traditional aspect of geisha but with a strong modern twist, including the bondage element as well – think sexy bondage manga and you will more or less see where I was planning to head…. 🙂

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I  used my wasp waisted mannequin to get the shape of the pieces right – it is not too far off  Threnody’s measurements, so it was a useful tool. once the pieces worked on the dummy, I made a mock up in plain coutil, boned it and sent it to Threnody to try on and mark any problem areas etc – since she specialises in corsetry modelling, she was able to provide a valuable feedback – a great help!

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mock up on the dummy

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mock up on Threnody, with the improvement suggestions clearly marked

 

 

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Once I received the mock up with the corrections back, I was able to implement them  and change them a bit and start making the thing for real…

I was again due for our bitch and stitch sessions with Julia from Sew Curvy, so took it with me – and Julia’s suggestions and input helped a lot when we were considering minor changes in design.

Then the work started in earnest…

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drawing out the pieces

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cutting out

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sewing the front exterior channel onto the sheer

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getting there….

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the innards showing the hip gores

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the boning channels are on….

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binding, boning and suspender next….

 

Once the inside was tidies up, the suspenders were added ( with a decorative Japanese buttons) and the corset was flossed with  yarn – the flossing character chosen here was a kanji symbol meaning ‘red’.

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Next were the posture collar, reflecting the design of the corset, and the pasties – it was my first go at the pasties, but was pretty please with them – they are made out of leather, silk and the edges are decorated with a chemille braid.

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work in progress –

 

 

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ready!

 

Then the whole set, including satin ribbons for the wrists and kanzashi flower for the hair was packed and sent on to Threnody.

On the day of the shoot we discussed accessories,  hair and make up styles and I got the first proof the very same day – and once I chose the photos I wanted,  Threnody ( yes, she is also the photographer, editor, make up artist – you name it! a very talented lady!) worked on a suitable background options and credits font etc.

and the results – well, I loved the pictures – and I hope you do too!

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The corset is now back from its adventures and is available on sale in our online shop – and i think a few more of the same design will be appearing there  at some point too 🙂

 

The other corset was already half made when due to a sudden change of plans I had to remake it, and make it fit Threnody –  this one was a sheer number with the front panel and exterior boning channels made in  vibrant kimono silk. as accessories, I made a matching set of vambrances:-)

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And the corset  was ready:-)

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Again, it look great on Threnody, and the colours suited her exceptionally well!

 

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  This corset already sold – as I write it is making  its way to Hong Kong:-)

 Btw, the kanzashi flowers used here were by Colorful world of Kanzashi.

 Hope you have enjoyed my little forray into the ethnic inspired corsetry –  and, not surprisingly, I have another collection planned for the summer, with a completely different part of the world being represented:-)

 

Hussar style corset

 

 

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 The inspiration struck  when I was making a Napoleonic set  for a client –  a thing with loads of braiding, military lace etc. Against all odds, I enjoyed making it ( and a post on that one can be found here) and thought that it would be nice to have something like that for myself….  And then I remembered artwork of a Polish artist, Bartek Drejewicz and his Napoleonic pin up girls ( do check his facebook page out,  – not only Napoleonic but different armies through the centuries, beautifully rendered!). And yes, there are Steampunk corsets with military styling etc available – but non actually using the ‘proper’ military lace or specific historical styling… So I wanted to have a go….

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The final design was actually worked out one evening when I was clearing my offcuts and left overs bits – and noticed narrow scraps of the broadcloth i used for the jacket.  Not good for much more, but  just enough for corset panels…  I quickly adapted an overbust pattern to work as a waistcoat – with  a black busk in front and lacing in the back. It did come out a tad short ( not enough fabric) but the first step was done – a waistcoat in broadcloth, cotton twill being used as the strength layer.  I opted for a slight curve and not much of a reduction – so that  I would be able to wear it at work at the markets- but also because it was the trial version:-)

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I ordered more military lace and braid and once it arrived i started putting the lace on – it took me a few months as was working on it  in between commissions….

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So even with help ( ahem…) it took some time….

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Once the frogging was on, I could put some silver soutache on the borders and the collar….

 

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Then it was only getting some buttons ( beads….) and we were ready for shooting!

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I tried the corset first with my Regency chemisette and plain black leggings….

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Then I had an epiphany and fished out Lucas’s  dancing breeches  – in lovely white superfine. The just about fitted too! Then e had some fun with my old cavalry sabre as a prop:-)

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The chemissette, in case anyone asks :

 

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The conclusions – well, loved wearing it ( and wore it to markets since) but a few improvements will be needed for the next  ones –  longer in front, more hip spring, and probably not using busks and frogging together – it is a pain to do it all up! Still, I think it is a success – and  more corsets in the style are planned, in different colours – already have a small stash of silver and gold military lace and braid, and am slowly collecting fabrics and props – I suspect we will have a bigger photoshoot with  more models ( and hopefully horses) just before Waterloo 🙂 Once the next models are done, will post a link here – including a link to the shop as they will be offered  on sale….

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Hope you liked this  experiment!

 

Credits:

Clothes, as always, Prior Attire

photography Pitcheresque Imagery

 

 

A queen on a budget, please…..

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‘I need an Anne  Boleyn dress… my budget is £300.  Can you provide the fabrics? ‘

‘I need a complete posh 15th century outfit ( hose, doublet, gown, hat),  historically accurate, silk and linen, hose in wool.  I can spend £250.’

‘Can you do a posh Victorian for £320? can add another £40 if you make a corset too.’

‘ I want a duchess gown, stays and underpinnings for a ball – how much would it be? I have about £280 to spend on the project’

‘ I found this steampunk coat on ebay,  I want one just like that, but in different wool, with silk lining, and made bespoke – can pay £100. ( the picture of the coat was attached – and I found it online too…. it was a Karen Miller , offered for £200.

The newest one: ‘I cannot afford this gown in silk, because I have sick relatives and the medicines cost a lot, plus I have a lowly paid job and my car needs repairs – but since it is my birthday soon, maybe you can sell it to me at half a price?’

These quotes  are direct lines from many of the inquires  I get – and many similar ones abound too, and I suspect there are a lot of other costumiers who get them. And it doesn’t really matter that the price guide is on my website and facebook page, plainly visible to anyone,  stating plainly how much labour is for a specific item. And if you look, you will see that the labour for, let us say, doublet, gown and hose will amount to more that £250 and that’s not even including the fabrics. People look, add, decide it is too much and go and find a hire service or make things themselves. And that is fine – if you need a fancy dress for a night, you wouldn’t be spending hundreds on it –  but get something cheap  on ebay, make stuff for yourself and have some fun with it, or ask a sewing friend a favour ( backed by gin and chocolate, usually… :-))

But some people, knowing the labour prices still email me asking if I can make the same things  at a quarter ( or less) of their usual value… why? I had no idea, until 2 ‘prospective clients’ answered that question  for me.

‘ I know it is much less that you usually charge, but at least you will have some work from me’

Well…. at least it was straightforward… Needless to say that sometimes their offer would not even cover the cost of the materials – and so I would be actually spending time working at a loss.   Also, needless to say, it assumes I am sitting here twiddling my thumbs, desperate for anything to do, whereas I am usually booked for 9-12months in advance….

It would be an equivalent to me saying to a baker: ‘Here are 3 eggs and some icing sugar, you provide the rest and I want you to make me a 3 tier wedding cake, please’. Nobody does that, so why people assume costumiers ( or jewellers,  corsetieres or generally small businesses) are any different?

I had a good think and I  think there are a few reasons for it….

1. People simply apply the ‘fancy dress’ label  to all unusual clothing, and think the prices are the same as the Chinese mass produced medieval/victorian/edwardian/lotr  garb. Very often it is not badly meant –  nowadays very few of us have things made bespoke as we can get good quality clothing  from the local store.  Occasion wear items are exceptions  (wedding dresses etc), but otherwise, we are no longer used to  commissioning gear to be made for us.

2. Also, cheap, easily available clothing leads us into the illusion that all clothing is cheap.  The wool coat in M&S is £50 –  but if I am to make it, the £50 will cover maybe the fabrics. The time used to research, communicate with the client,  measuring and fitting sessions, patterning and making the garment would be all on top of that… But we are simply used to mass produced items ready to wear and have no idea ow much individual raw materials cost. May also have no knowledge of how much work, expertise, research and experience actually go into the item.   Not really surprising since we are no longer taught specific crafts at school. Also, we don’t know how much quality fabrics cost…

3. People forget that  they are also paying for the years of research, training, experience – and the uniqueness of the item. There are thousands of costumiers – but only very few specializing in historical  items. To boot, the garments will be one of a kind –  so a rarity value should also be considered.

4. For some reason people are convinced that small businesses are forever tittering on the verge of collapse and are desperate for any work at all. And although running a small business successfully means a lot of work and commitment, and it is not all plain sailing,  I don’t think I know of any quality artisans ( and I do know quite a few) who would not be busy. Yes, sometimes the business gets slack, but that’s when many guys work on the basic stock –  things that will sell at some point, whether at markets or on etsy, ebay or self hosted online shop. Those who do take commissions that don’t cover the materials, in hope of a bit of cash usually learn that in most cases, it is much more profitable to decline – and spend the time on a stock items or a showpiece that will be far more beneficial to the business in the long term. And if  cash is desperately needed, well, then we do flashsales:-)

5.  Small businesses are ‘more personal’ – so people  ask for, sometimes outrageous’ discounts because they know the person running the business is responsible for the pricing – and have no doubt put a huge margin on the product.  And so the ‘ pity me’ emails from complete strangers. The fact that  a lot of us do not put much ‘on top’, but charge exactly what the product is worth is so unusual in the corporate world many people do not get it. You do not go to the BMW salon asking them to give you a 20% discount on the new model because  your father is sick ( what on earth are you doing buying luxury products instead of medication and specialist care for the daddy then? ), husband unemployed and your salary is low – you go and buy a 10 year old Ford instead ( mine is 15 year old now and  works great!). But the salesperson in a salon may not have the power to amend the pricing – whereas the individual might just be persuaded to do just that if they pity our situation.

I think the above are the most  common reasons why we get so many request  for the ‘royalty on budget’. People see The Tudors or White Queen and want a dress for their Halloween party –  not realizing I am not the person who caters for such items.

It is slightly better in the established re-enactment ( though  even there  it seems there is an alarming number of wannabe queens, duchesses, princes and kings wanting  royal kit for a few quid… ) as people realise that  if you want to re-enact nobility, there will be a suitable price tag  attached. In the past, a good quality, showy outfit to impress your peers at court would often cost several months of middle class salary, and although  times changed, they haven’t changed that much – silk and cloth of gold may be more accessible and cheaper – but still beyond the means of most people.  And to be honest, you can make a good quality kit middle class  in decent wool and linen or cotton – it will look lovely and though it is not the cheapest thing ever, it will serve its purpose while you save up for the brocaded cloth…..

There are a lot of arguments floating about, how a polyester silk will look quite as good – and they cannot afford silk/handmade etc, so it will have to suffice.   Well, it may be harsh – but if you cannot afford the king’s outfit ( with all the trappings it needs, jewelry, fur etc), than maybe  start with a simple soldier’s kit instead and climb the social ladder – many people do exactly that and  it takes years of saving to get higher class kit – but many stay at the middle class too, for a variety of reasons – and, to be honest, portraying a medieval farrier or an Elizabethan gardener is just as interesting and complex as a queen…

Obviously, lots depends on the purpose of the garment – if you need it for living history, educational displays and events, it simply needs to be correct fabrics, cut, finish etc, no matter what class you re-enact.  If you participate in battles and nobody is likely poking at the seams of your doublet and fingering your collar, you may be able to get some money saving short cuts. And if you  need a gown for a fancy ball, a social gathering, a photoshoot  – simply an item you’ll love to wear  – well, you can use whatever is suitable and you can afford – and produce stunning results with minimal costs:-)

There are a few shortcuts if you need/want a flashy outfit though, even if you want it made correctly and in correct fabrics:

*Save up! obvious, really, but there it is…. designate one  source of savings a month or a week and it will happen –  go our to dinner once less,   buy less modern stuff you don’t actually need all that badly – or even simpler – set up a separate saving account and put an deposit there every month, deducted from your salary straight away – you won’t notice this much, and whether it is a £20 a month, £10 a week or £100 a fortnight, it will soon amount to a neat little sum.

*take small steps…   you can often add on things to enrich your stature ( and clothing) in time.   Opt for a woolen doublet and gown, add handmade braid on it or embroidered cuffs a few months later…. Also – buy bodice, but apply lace, braid decoration yourself

* Sell the items you don’t use any more….

* sell your products – and have one sale a month that goes straight into the new kit fund…

*barter – either skills or products. You make wooden pattens but a doublet is beyond you – talk to the costumiers who re-enact, many are happy to barter  things like that.  Your shoemaker needs driving tuition? a plumber? you’d be surprised how many  things can be arranged this way….

*pay in installments – most businesses welcome the solution.

*learn to sew….. yes, may take time and investment in machinery or courses – but will pay off in the long run.  Even if your skills won’t go beyond a simple chemise or a cap – you are already saving some money

* buy ready made items – stock items are cheaper,  often quite a lot cheaper than bespoke items. If you find an item at a market or in an online shop that you know is of good quality and it fits you – grab it, will  be much cheaper  than ordering the same items bespoke ( then you pay for the time, fittings, individual patterning etc too ). Our stock items in the shop are often about half the price of  bespoke ones – especially if i happen on a sale silk in a local silk mill…

* Hunt bargains! go to markets to look out for bargain  quality fabrics – you can often save up to 50%  on the fabric – and usually this is the factor that drives the price of the costume up.

And as  I was often asked at how much different outfits cost – let us have a little display of different pieces and their prices…. more info on how much to charge can be read in the blog on running a costuming business

*please note that I do not subscribe to the idea of charging the retail price of fabrics if I get them cheaper at trader’s rates. If   the silk from James Hare costs me £40 per metre, the client will pay  exactly that, and not the inflated retail price.

12/13 century gown, middle class:

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Gown in  wool, lined with linen, all handstitched and hand embroidered – value £500

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gown for a queen – in silk, with silk bands and girdle, lined in silk –  with a kirtle in silk too. Labour (machine and hand finish) and materials  £600 – £700. Together with   the accessories – shoes, jewellery, crown etc, = well over £2000

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Middle class kirtle and gown in wool – £300

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Wealthy merchnat’s wife kit – kirtle and gown in wool, gown lined in linen with fur trim – £400

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Lady/high status gown in brocade, lined with silk, all handstitched – the brocade itself  ( needed 8 metres is now retailing at £140 per metre… the dress value is  around  £2000, plus the kirtle, shoes,  pattens, jewellery – another £400

reversible burgundian gown in silk, with silk lining –  – stock item – £350

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early 15th gown in wool, with linen – commission – value – £300

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robe and chaperon in silk brocade, commission – £ 400. the same items in wool would cost £260

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silk brocade robe, lined with silk – stock item – £220. Normally just the fabric would be that much, plus another £200 for labour – but this particular silk was hunted down at a silk sales, hence the affordable  price!

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Royal Tudor gown – over £3400 ( detailed pricing here );  high born lady gown in silk velvet, lined with silk – £550. same gown in wool would cost £350;

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Upper class Tudor set in wool, silk and fur – around £1000.  same outfit in quality, royal silks would probably double the price

off the peg  high quality Tudor gown and kirtle form the shop –  £400 and £240 respectively

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High status lady outfit, in silk satin, with silver lace – with  2 petticoats – £850

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middle class outfit in wool – £450

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Courtier  outfit in silk, lined with silk, silver lace, wrapped buttons – £800

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Middle class kit in wool  – £400

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18th century set in wool and linen, with lots of handfinish –  £ 600

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similar set but in silk, though machine finish  and blend fibre waistcoat lowers the price – £700

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Day dress in cotton, £300 ( including petticoat and bonnet)

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day dress in wool, stock item – £ 400

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Visiting dress in silk, heavily decorated – £ 1000

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WWI dress in silk with lace, £ 350

Edwardian Outfits July 2014-17

WWI dress in cotton, with a silk sash – £ 270

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Victorian corset, stock item, part of our Bare basic range  – £125

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Victorian corset, bespoke work, with exterior channels and extensive flossing – from £300

 

replicas of 1885 riding habit in quality wool, with handmade ( the blue habit) and hand applied braiding,  made bespoke, with a safety tailored skirt and riding trousers – coat  around £1000

Also replicas ( but not exact) made as stock items, generic sizing, machine finish – pricing from £350 (these ones are actually in our shop equestrian section, here)

 

As you can see, it is often the price of fabric that makes the outfit expensive – or the fact that it is  a commission and not a stock item.

Having said all that – I must stress that  despite a few of the messages like that, the majority of people do appreciate the fact that their items are unique, made lovingly, and  individually fitted. And it is those lovely people that  make businesses like mine thrive – I used to teach in a college before, and the job, though rewarding, was nowhere near as rewarding ( both in hard cash and job satisfaction). I  may be working longer hours, but I love my job, and would not be doing it if i didn’t – or if it didn’t pay my keep:-) 🙂

More on running a costuming business can be read about here: https://adamselindisdress.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/running-a-costuming-business/

Hope the post has been useful to you, if you are new to costuming.  For those of you who are running businesses – have you come across similar experiences? if yes, do you have any other theories  that would explain them? Feedback welcome!

Geisha Corsetry Collection 1

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I have been planning this one for some time – I think it was a glimpse at a kimono silk somewhere on ebay that provided the spark –  30 minutes later and I have purchased several bits of left over kimono silks and started planning.   The silks arrived, and loved them even more – and they were just big enough to incorporate into some corsetry. The theme was not an unfamiliar one to me, as we have used oriental inspiration int the Petal dress, and in our Steampunk Amazones, but this one was to be  a more cohesive collection.

As always the first stage was sketching, drawing, gathering inspiration ( Pinterest board is here), and gathering props.  I already had an early 20th century set of a katana and tanto, and a matching kimono I wanted to use, plus a collection of kanzashi ( japanese hair flowers), parasols etc…

Ironically the first design that emerged wont be shown here – I will present it in another post giving more details – it was the first ever pattern I created myself, and the corset, together with other bits and pieces was sent on adventures, to be photographed by the Iberian Black Arts, modeled on the gorgeous Threnody in Velvet.

Do not despair though – I do have some lovely pieces for you today!

Once I had some idea of the feel for the collection, i purchased more props ( hakama trousers,  jackets etc) and discussed styling and options with our main model, lovely Lizzie ( Miss Lilian Love), who also had a nice collection of oriental props:-)

Then it was just down to finding time in between commissions to make the corsets, but finally in January I managed to free a few days and frantic corsetrymaking ensued…

The feel of the collection was to be a blend of modern and traditional. The form of the corset is not a traditional shape for oriental women, however, it may be argued that obi represents a constriction and shape forming element too. In our corsets the silks or the motives were the traditional part – as well as flossing. I had a brief moment of inspiration where flossing was concerned and decided to floss the bones using  kanji – chinese/japanese characters.  to make it even more difficult, each kanji needed to be matched to the collection too – you cannot have a corset in silks saying  for example ‘rice’ or ‘cow’, can you?

In the end we got the following kanji:

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‘Spring’

 

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‘Bird’

 

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‘Flower

 

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‘Woman’

 

 

 

The first corset to me made was a playful geisha print – I made it as a challenge  – one last corset for 2014 – and completed before midnight:-).  It was meant as a sideline, to be honest, and as an exercise in pattern matching –  but worked so well I decided to include it in the collection. Indeed the pattern matching worked so well that the corset is now featured on Lucy’s Corsetry blog, among other beautifully pattern matched corsets – have a look!

work in progress…

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and  on the Lizzie:-)

 

 

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The next one was the Crane corset – a mix of kimono silks and cotton sateen.. ( this one is offered in our shop)

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then another print followed, and a bit more pattern matching…

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I think this is my favourite corset of the collection – I experimented with the pattern, creating a more pronounced hip spring  – and  as a result I love the silhouette, and it is surprisingly comfortable – I normally lace down to 27inches max – here, 26 with no problems….

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More kimono silks and pattern matching was next – IMG_20150120_150910

 

and on Lizzie – again, this corset is now offered in the shop🙂

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Then  it was experimenting with more silks, broche and sheer mesh 🙂  both corsets are available in the shop:-)

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The last one was a plain piece in broche to match my honey kimono

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A week before the shoot Paul accepted our invitation to play with us on the day – and arranged for the snow machine too…. so the day was a full on fun, getting ready, changing, shooting both outside and inside with a backdrop. Whereas Lucas shot product shots and some arty stuff, Paul went for artistic  and more cinematograpic mood – sexy ninjas, Kill Bill etc…

Below a few more pictures  from the boys:-)

from Lucas:

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and  some great shots from Paul. More of his work can be seen on his blog – link soon!

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and a few behind the scenes shots:-)

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 and after some 6 hours, it was rest time – homemade pizza and wine! 🙂

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Hope you enjoyed the collection – there are 2 more corsets, to be covered n a separate post, and since I still have a few bits of silks, I may add some more stock pieces to the shop at some point. In the meantime,  4 of the corsets are available for sale, plus some other corsets from past projects:-) have a look!

 

Credits:

Corsetry – Prior Attire

Models, Izabela Pitcher and Miss Lilian Love

Photography – Mockford Photography and Pitcheresque Imagery

Corsetry supplies – Sew Curvy

Kanzashi – Kikuya Kanzashi

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sophie’s Wedding dress

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It is always a pleasure to make clothing for friends – and even more so if it is the wedding dress they are after! And since apart from he historical bits ( Prior Attire) we also provide bridal gowns ( Prior Engagement)  it was a pleasure to be asked:-)

We have known Sophie and Chris for several years as we tend to attend the same events – they are accomplished musicians and provide music from medieval to modern times ( Blast from The Past). indeed, they were also our musicians of choice when we organized the Spectacular! Spectacular !ball ).  Over the years we have become good friends – and it was with joy that I agreed to making Sophie’s wedding dress.

Sophie was no stranger to our bridal fashions – indeed you will see her modelling a part of our Winter Bride collection back in 2013

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The first stages was agreeing on the styling, foundations etc. Sophie created a secret Pinterest board where she pinned her inspirations and we discussed the choices. in the end we ended up with a simple and yet surprisingly elegant design. Based on late Victorian fashions, the dress was basically an evening outfit from the late 1890 – a simple bodice and a flowing skirt, both decorated with elaborate lace.

Since Victorian fashions need a corset, a corset was the first to be created…. here at the fitting stage – we decided on a white sateen, with a gentle blue flossing. The corset needed to be providing the correct silhouette ( the whole dress may serve  Sophie as an evening Victorian gown in the years to come, perfect for  her work – concerts etc), but be comfortable enough so that she can stay in it all day, dance eat and enjoy the day.

 

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a modified TV01 pattern was used, white sateen, busk, flat and spiral steels from Sew Curvy

 

Over that a bodice in champagne satin was assembled ( lined with cotton lawn and lightly boned), with a back lacing and a rather stunning lace going over the neck and shoulders

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first fitting of the bodice

 

The skirt of the silk satin and lawn lining was next – here  at the first fitting, with lace pinned up. It as worn over a lacy and fluffy petticoat – an original one I lent Sophie for the wedding.

 

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the lace was  arranged and pinned over the bodice at the last fitting

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and then it was down to hours of stitching the thing on 🙂

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A shaped green silk sash/belt completed the look.

 

On the day, since we were invited to the wedding too ( yay!) I arrived early to help Sophie dress…

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and once we were ready, the fun could begin…..

The wedding was a truly amazing day – relaxed, full of love, laughter and happiness, with great company, excellent food , moving speeches, and, needless to say, fantastic music…

Pictures below by Pitcheresque Imagery – Lucas was providing a back up photography on the day, a few more snaps here..

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It also turned out that Sophie had all of the important three from us too – something blue ( flossing), something old ( antique petticoat) and something borrowed ( the petticoat – and my own bridal veil).

Lovely natural make up by Sarah’s doo-wop-dos

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all together – a fantastic day was had by all – congratulations to Sophie and Chris!

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Corsetted Victorians and others – myths and reality

1851-60 blue ribbed silk corset, Museum of London Prints. Image Number 002188

1851-60 blue ribbed silk corset, Museum of London Prints. Image Number 002188

“Oh my, this must hurt – how do you breathe in this?!” –  Many re-enactors, (and modern corset wearers), will recognize that remark, whether as a comment under a picture or spoken at an event.  I have heard my fill over the last few years, when dressed in Victorian kit, and the discussions that followed were equally interesting and illuminating for both parties.

Recently I have been browsing through Pinterest boards looking for images  of 1895 corsets, and noticed several nice pictures – yet it was not the pictures that captured my attention, rather the comments and descriptions below that were even more arresting…..

Just a few examples:

* ‘They are lovely, but so uncomfortable’ ( on this pin )

* ‘This is a victorian corset which was used to create the perfect hourglasss figure. This is gorgeous but I can’t imagine wearing it. No wonder Victorian women passed out all the time! …They couldn’t breathe ‘ ( on this )

*’Vintage 1910-1918 Fashion Corsets….women used to be laced up so tight in these corsets that they sometimes endured cracked ribs…..can’t imagine! All for the sake of having a tiny waist….’ ( on this pin)

*’how many ribs do you think had to be removed so the ladies could wear this torture device?’ ( on this pin)

*Talk about taking appearance to extremes! In the 18th – 19th century, it was fashionable to either surgically remove smaller rib bones or crush the waistline into an impossibly small size in order to achieve a “waspish” waist. Incredibly dumb!’  ( on this)

There are more, but no doubt you get the idea…
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Well,  I have been wearing corsets for work and for going out for the last 7 years – and earlier-period stays for even longer…. I have also been making Victorian, Edwardian and modern corsets for the last 7  years ( I think I’ve made about 200  altogether)  so have managed to learn a bit about the history of corsets and their day-to-day use….

Let us have a look at a few popular myths.

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1898 Print Victorian Woman Spring Toilette Fashion Clothing Costume Dress Hat

 ‘Their waists were tiny!’

Some of them, probably yes – there are always people with  smaller waists, especially when tight-lacing,  but by no means was that the norm.

*Extant corsets have  waist measurements from roughly 18″ to 30″ or more – and considering that they were not meant to be worn closed but with 2″ gap, and allowing 2-4″ tissue displacement (the so-called “squish” factor), the original waist circumference could be anything from 22″ to 40″ or more. Jennifer  from Historical Sewing explains it very well in her own blog.

*optical illusion factor – crinolines, bustles, hip pads, bug sleeves, sloping shoulders and V-shaped blouse cut and decoration – with these, it was easier to emphasize the waist, which looked smaller when contrasted with hide hips and/or shoulders.

*extant clothing and corsets are usually small –  this is true, but again, there may be several explanations for the fact that it is the smaller items that have survived to the present day:

primo –  people did tend to be just a tad shorter than nowadays – so different proportions…

secundo – and that is just my theory – it seems to me that a lot of surviving clothes belonged to teenagers and very your ladies. I have owned, handled and seen a great deal of the clothing  with labels pronouncing that they belonged to ‘Miss Smith’ or ‘Miss Brown’ – so at that time mostly unmarried, young women  (of course there were exceptions). Since they were only worn for a limited time, once young miss outgrew them, (or got married and had babies etc), they were stored ready to be handed down as necessary to the next generation. Clothes that were worn by grown-ups don’t seem to survive that well – mostly because they were worn much more thoroughly, but also because they were remodeled, restyled, etc, so that the original gown could be used for many years.
This is  just a theory, discussed with a few fellow costumiers, but there might be a little truth to it too – I would be interested in other people’s opinions!

*photoshop. No, really –  at least the Victorian/Edwardian version of it.  Most of the fashion plates from that era are drawings. It is easy to draw a tiny waist…. The reality however is a bit different.  A quick search on Pinterest of Google images will show just as much – or better still, a book I happen to have here – Victorian Costume for Ladies 1860-1900, with over 350 original photographs. Yes, there were  a few tiny waists in evidence (  and let us bear in mind that early attempts at editing was already done – by taking the photograph, concealing unwanted bits and taking the photograph of the  retouched original – an excellent blog post on Victorian/edwardian photo shopping by Cynthia from Redthreaded   here), but looking at the photographs  from the era you will find that the majority of ladies are far from willowy. They look natural, with comfortable sizes of 10-18 or more….. the book is amazing, and recommended! Below a few snaps from the book:

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Also, interestingly enough, have a look at  the  Victorian burlesque dancers –  the lovely ladies are definitely  much more substantial than our “size 0” models…..

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The chorus of fairies in the burlesque Ariel, Gaiety Theatre, London, 8 October 1883

The fact is also  backed up by the original patterns – they encompass a variety of sizes. I use  Francis Grimble’s books a lot, and if you have a look and do some maths, you will see that many garments  are not that small waisted at all. Plus the names are rather endearing – ‘ a jacket for a stout lady’, or ‘a bodice for a medium size  lady’, ‘a bodice for well-developed ladies’, ‘bodice with narrow shoulders and back’ – etc. A superb resource!

All together I think we can safely agree that  the incredibly small waist myth is just that – a bit of a myth….

 Corsets are so uncomfortable! 

This is very true, as most of the ladies who ever bought a modern generic size cheap corset can say….  Ill fitted corsets can be a torture – I have had the dubious ‘pleasure’ of trying on a few of the corsets-UK modern items,  and though no doubt there are women who will find the fit comfortable,  for me it was a very painful experience – and not because of the waist measurements.  It is usually  the hip and rib part that is too small – not enough hip spring can be very uncomfortable! As a result, I ended up in a ‘corset tube’, which did not reduce my waist, but rather pinched my hips and ribs…

However a well-fitted corset can be a real blessing.  I am a comfortable size 12, with 34F bust, and I find Victorian and Edwardian corsets a pleasure to wear.  My natural waist is 34″ and I usually lace to 27-28″  if I know I am wearing the corset for a whole day. They support my bust from underneath – so my shoulders don’t ache from carrying the burden.  They help me maintain my posture – this is a godsend  especially for markets and events when I have to be standing for long periods – for example, the last 2 weekends I spent working with the public, standing for 6 hours with a short lunch break. Normally my lower back would be screaming – but in corset I could feel the comfort of the ‘exoskeleton’, keeping me upright and supporting my back…

Also, in the last few months I have been suffering from costocondritis – a painful condition of the ribs ( connective tissue), that made wearing a modern bra impossible – the band sits just on the painful parts.   But a corset, laced just enough to support the bust from underneath was a real blessing – as a result I ended up wearing mine for a few weeks daily, just in order to work – and only swapped for a soft bralette once the acute stage subsided.

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this is my favourite corset from the days when my ribs ache a lot – a replica of corded 1850s one.

 

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at work…. 🙂

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early edwardian corset 27″ waist

Why the difference between the modern and traditional corsets? Apart from the fit issues, the style is also important – modern corsets are usually overbust, designed to be worn on their own.  Historical pieces are usually mid-bust –  and a well fitted  corset squeezes the waist, but accommodates the rib-cage and supports the bust without compressing one’s lungs (so normal breathing is not impaired). Mid bust corsets are more comfortable to wear as they do not ‘ride up’ like many modern overbust corsets when sitting. 🙂

Some Victorian corset feature a spoon busk –  which is  gently rounded, accommodating the belly ( the famous fashionable rounded belly of the time!), so the internal organs were  comfy, but the support and fashion was achieved at the same time,

I have recently made a replica of a 1880 one – and it is one of the most comfortable corsets i have ever owned.

 

Victorian Dressmaker (85)

 

Of course, the materials used for quality corsets which can be used everyday are very different to the plastic-boned viscose jacquards available in mass produced versions….

Let’s remember that corsets were worn every day, all day and women were not sitting idly looking pretty.  They walked, danced, worked, rode, played sports – all in corsets. True, sport corsets were shorter (especially important for riding), but still, they were all practical garments… In fact we now have a group showing people doing a variety of activities in corsets ( Corsets in Action)

In my Victorian corset I have danced  ( video here), skated

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and ridden side saddle.. in a mock up  first –

7. side view of the mock up - back just a bit too high

8. mock up in action - sides half an inch too high, and digging into armipts when riding - mark the arms position

and in a proper habit

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It is also a myth that you cannot bend in a corset as it is impossible to bend from the waist. Well,  try bending from the waist without one –  you won’t go far…. Humans are designed to bend from the hips!!

A brief demo – my apologies for the style of the pictures but grabbed my corset as I was writing this article and took some pictures to show  that it is possible to bend…

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corset worn on modern clothes, laced to 27.5 waist – the size of my Victorian clothing

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side view

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starting to bend from the hips

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touching the floor. not the most comfortable position , and usually can go further, but sort of makes a point. warning, dont try at home if you are not naturally bendy! 🙂 If you need to pick something up, crouch down instead of bending – healthier and easier….

Voila!  🙂

And so, in my opinion if the corset is well fitted, laced properly (not too tightly), it can be very comfortable. This  refers to both modern and historical wear – well-made corsets will support your back and bust and won’t crush your ribs.
True, if you are wearing a corset just for a photo-shoot, it is OK to lace tightly- I can get to 24″) for fashion corsets, but then I don’t spend a day wearing them…

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natural waist 33″

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corseted waist 24″. Here a lovely underbust by Clessidra Couture

 

 

 No wonder women fainted all the time! 

Here there is some truth to it – but this mostly refers to the lightheaded feeling you can get if you take off your corset too fast, after wearing it for a long time… As the blood rushes down more abruptly, it is indeed possible to swoon…. so gradual lacing  and unlacing is recommended.

It may also have happened if your fashionable women laced too tightly….. more for a fashion’s sake than practical.
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Women had ribs surgically removed!

With surgery as dangerous as it was in Victorian times?  with no antibiotics to battle the infection? Really very, very doubtful…. plus, again, neither medical or the photographic evidence doesn’t really  support it…

Corsets deformed silhouette and caused medical problems

This can be very true if laced excessively, I dare say. Yes, your body will change if you are a trained tightlacer, and wear a corset from early on. We are all familiar with the drawings showing how the organs move and ribs deform and there may be some truth in it. At the same time many of us have seen modern MRI imagery of a corset being worn – and as it turns out it is not as bad as we thought, with the organs being moved in exactly the same way pregnancy would affect them – here the results of the experiment as presented by Lucy Corsetry

 

Also, corsets did not cause pneumonia, colds, consumption etc. You need viruses, bacteria or fungi to cause the infection in the first place. As for the argument that you breathe differently with a corset on – If you do, then the corset doesn’t fit you properly. Opera singers wore them on stage, singing their hearts out…. 🙂

I do however think that if you wore a corset day in and day out, unless you stayed active, you were in serious danger of suffering from muscle atrophy. Corset supports you very well ( many people with back problems find them  great for pain relief!), but it does all the work your lumbar and core muscles usually do. So unless you are an active person and keep in shape, using the muscles,  prolonged  use of corset will weaken the muscles. Also, an interesting point, discussed with a medical friend as a possibility – many more women than today suffered from prolapsed uterus  – usually after the birth. The reason may be just that – long use of corset, weak muscles, especially in the late stages of pregnancy –  and bad things may have happened. Again, just a theory here.

Still,  usually women did stay more active than we nowadays believe –  and so managed to keep at least some reasonable strength in their core muscles ( horseriding was great for that !).

Well, I think I’d better stop – if you have any other remarks or comments, please do so, very interested in others’ opinions and experiences!

Further reading

Our youtube video, showing Victorian activities in corsets – here

 

A great article with more references by Johanna  Goldberg : Did corsets harm women
Lovely article by Historical Sewing – here

…and a comprehensive read on the myths are covered here and a few more – by  Yesterday’s Thimble – here

…also, an interesting article by the  Pragmatic Costumer – here

Hope you can find the article useful – best wishes from Izabela of Prior Attire!

Running a Costuming Business

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Over the last few years I had a few people asking me about doing costuming as a business – and since in the last 3 months I have had several graduates and future entrepreneurs ask me the very same questions again and again, I have decided to deal with them  in one place – so that everybody who thinks of operating a business can benefit.

Just a short background note first – I am a self-taught costumier – my adventure started in 1997 or so, after spending a summer with historical interpreters from Past Pleasures.   I first made a few medieval things for myself for a Christmas party of my group (I was taught the basics of sewing at school and my mum ), and although the garments were, to be honest, quite horrid, I soon had friends and other members of the club asking me to make them kit too.

Within a few years, I made loads of outfits for friends and re-enactors, and after 3 years of serious stitching and even more serious research and costume education, I had a side business established, adding a few good zloties ( I still lived in Poland at that time) to my normal income.  For 5 years I ran it with a friend, making mostly medieval  clothing for clients in Poland, Scandinavia, France and Italy.

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early days, working with my partner at an event

When I moved to the UK in 2005, I had to start anew, more or less – and the first year or two I spent most of my professional time working, teaching in the colleges, getting more teaching qualifications etc. But then I got the bug again, and started attending more events, and as a result, was asked for more kit.

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my first outfits. urgghhrr!!!!

Prior Attire was born in 2009 – as a supplementary 1 woman business.  In 2010 I was able to switch the college workload a bit, and work 80% – leaving Friday and the whole weekend to costuming and teaching the rest of the days. In November 2011 I left the college stint for good – and never looked back…  It hasn’t been easy but since then I am usually fully booked up 3-6 months ahead, sometimes more – and although I do work more hours than ever, it is worth it!

If it all looks great and peachy for you – well, don’t be deceived. It does take years to establish a good customer base, find a niche in the market, and invest your time, money, resources… I am doing the job I love, and am quite good at (false modesty aside), but it was not an easy path – and it not so easy to maintain and grow either….

Still, hope this helps a bit – find below the questions I am asked most often:

* Do I need to have a degree?

Not necessarily – I  read English at University, and it encompassed the history of the language as well as usual history. It did come in useful, as,  being able to decipher Old English or Middle English texts during the research, it provides you with more data. So a related uni or college degree would be  very helpful – but with or without it, be prepared to do a LOT of studying and learning on your own as well. and if you want to maintain your business, you will never stop learning….

* Had you already done a lot of work before you started bespoke historical costuming?

Yes.  Yes. Yes. – as mentioned above I was sewing  for years before I was able to dedicate my career to costuming entirely. It helps if you can phase it out, but it usually takes years. Work also means research – and when I was starting research meant actually going to museums, travelling to other countries to trawl the libraries, galleries etc. Nowadays, with the internet it is much easier!

*How do you advertise and get clients?

You can advertise on Facebook (not worth it, unless you study the algorithyms and can use it to your advantage)), google adverts, magazines, fora, etc. Not really sure how effective that is – for me the greatest advertisement proved to be – well, wearing my work!  Due to my academic background, I am also an interpreter, and I wear historical costume for work. Seeing the clothes worn, on a person, is one of the best adverts you can get, in my experience – be it at an event, or a market, a gown on a person is much more interesting than a small add in a magazine.

And the same goes for my clients – 60 % of my customers find their way to me via word of mouth – usually seeing my work on another client.

Professional social media and internet presence is essential too – that’s the rest of the customers accounted for, mostly. Here you do need to put some time  too – learning fb algorithms,  posting regularly with quality content, engaging etc – but it is all worth it.

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a happy client is your best asset!

 Do you work by yourself?

Yes, I am a 1 woman business. I have a loving and long suffering husband who helps at the market (he possesses much better people skills than I do!), but apart from that, all I do is just me and my needle pricked fingers! Recently I have started hiring a workshop space and some help for the busy periods when I need to make lots of simple stock fast though – and it proved not only fun but profitable too!

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 Do you work normal 9-5 hours?

Ha!  Nope.  My normal working day may start more or less at 9, but it does not finish at 5 – I do take breaks for lunch, to go training in the evening, etc, but it is often that I am still doing some stitching at 11pm, watching a telly or playing scrabble.

Weekends – yep, same applies.  In fact I do need to plan my holidays better – in the last 5 years I had much less holiday than the national quota…..

I do like keeping busy though and cannot imagine it any other way – but you will need to manage your time efficiently (see my article on that here)

Did you research the market first?

Not much – as I started by making clothes for myself, to be able to work as an interpreter and for living history demonstrations, the market research was done more or less on the go.  But it is essential if you are starting with a clear business purpose in mind. You do learn what people need and how much they are willing to pay for it if you are a part of the community – the basic supply and demand laws of economics apply. You might be making lovely Viking dresses, but if people don’t need them, you won’t make much profit! But if you have a particular product or line in mind – yes, market research is essential.  Learn what events are popular, what periods, and how it works with your area of expertise. I would love to make more late 17th century mantuas – but there is scarcely any demand for them as there are almost no big events in UK for this period – so it doesn’t matter if my mantuas are exceptional pieces, if people don’t have a reason to wear them, they won’t buy them.

Still, I made one just for fun…. just in case, you never know…. 🙂

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*How big was your profit in the first year? (Yes, people do ask that!!)

To be honest, forget about any profit for the first few years at the very least. For me, whatever I earned that didn’t go towards taxes, bills, living expenses etc, was spent right back on improving the business – getting more stock, making more samples, getting better websites, banners, courses, equippment,books. If you are after a quick profit, well, that is not the business for it, it seems! It does get better though, as you are becoming more established – I can now afford occasional treats now… ( read – more silks….) ;-0

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silks!!!!!!

 

 Who are your customers?

Mostly re-enactors, historical interpreters, both professional, part time or hobbyists, museums, heritage sites, event companies; less often film and theatre; used to do bridal and Steampunk stuff too, but in the end decided it was not my cup of tea. Really varies!

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providing costume and working as an extra for Horrible Histories

 How to you work out the pricing?

There are many ways to do it, but the general thing is – make sure you charge what is right for you – the cost of the material, the cost of time, research etc.  Remember that undercharging just so that you get a sale is not a good strategy – but neither is overcharging. If you are an artist and price your items as unique masterpieces – be prepared to earn like one –  and yes, from time to time there will be a person who would pay several thousands of pounds of a dress just because it has your name on it. But this is not a reliable income that would pay your mortgage and bills…. If you are in a happy situation that you don’t need to rely on your business to survive, that’s great – but very few of us are!

Generally my prices are mid-range – I don’t really do cheap stuff, and people who expect to pay £20 for a corset or £100 for a dress are simply not my clients. If I accepted such prices, I wouldn’t even begin paying up the costs of the materials in some cases, let alone time and profit!  I sell off the peg items cheaper than bespoke – I don’t have to go through the measuring, consultation, fittings etc process – so they take much less time. Bespoke stuff is more expensive – but then you get a much more personalised item – my prices can be found on my website, if you want to get a feeling for it.

It is really  important  to learn to work fast and precisely. Not in a hurry, mind you – but if you take months to finish one dress, it won’t pay your bills. But with experience, you will be able to speed the process up with no loss of quality – my first bustle cage took me over a day, as I was puzzling out the construction, playing with design and pattern. Half a year later and a few cages more, I was able to make one in 6 hours. Nowadays I make one in just under 2 hours, maybe 3 is it is a fancy one – mostly because I know the process so well and don’t need to ponder on what goes where…

*Do I need to do my own marketing?

Hell yes…. As mentioned before, you need to be visible – have a separate page, website, Instagram account, update it often, learn Facebook algorithms to manage the reach of the posts – and yes, it does take time, and yes it is a part of the job.  Set up promotional photo shoots, invest in making showpieces – it all pays up. When I was developing the bridal side of the business we set up 4 seasonal photo shoots in one year – I made about 20 gowns for these, in between work on historical items. It was an investment – in time, resources, fabric, organizing the shoots around the country, finding models, MUAs, and photographers – and it was worth it.  Most samples sold anyway, and the commissions I got on the strength of my portfolio paid up more than once over the original investment.

At the same time – do not go over the top and over market – There is nothing more irritating than a starting company who is trying to sell in an overaggressive manner.  Steady, moderate and tasteful – yes, loud, in-your-face, incessant – not so much…

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outtake shoot from our first bridal collection and fashion show at Harrowden, 2012

 

*Do I need to have contracts etc?

Absolutely. Contracts protect you and the customer alike – they specify what is to be made, the deadline, the fittings, pricing, deposit, all terms and conditions.  And yes, especially important when making stuff for friends. Always specify the non-refundable deposit (either a percentage of the labour prices, or the cost of fabrics etc) – if the client defaults, you will at least have something, as it may be too late to book another customer in the suddenly vacant plot. Also specify payment options and what happens to unpaid/uncollected items.

Remember the contract binds you too – so make sure to allow for enough time to make the garment…. It doesn’t matter if you produce a fantastic Victorian gown two weeks after the ball the client needed it for – they won’t be coming back to you, and will make sure their friends don’t either.

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working on the set of Horrible Histories

  Some general points and advice…

*quality – goes without saying, strive for the best you can do. Always. And be proud of what you make –  don’t cut corners on fabrics, styles etc if you don’t have to –  well made outfit in quality materials will bring you more customers. A poorly made one, or one that sports inferior fabrics, finish or fit will most likely lose you some potential business.

*communicate – make a point of answering emails in a timely manner, keep people informed about the development, and if you have a problem – talk about it. It won’t go away just because you are ignoring the messages, phone calls etc. deal with it. Be reliable, finish things in time – the reputation for reliability will be crucial in obtaining new customers.

*Mistakes – accept that you will make them. Everybody does. So be prepared to deal with them and learn from them. If it means that you need to start stitching anew, and buy an extra length of fabric out of your own pocket – so be it, shit happens. You will remember next time.

* Don’t stop learning. Ever. There is always something new to learn, a new technique to muster, more in-depth research to do, a new pattern to develop. Don’t accept that this is it, you have made it and know it all, no need for more learning. As you learn, your skills will improve alongside with your reputation. I think we have all been there – we look at an outfit we made a few years ago, and we thought then it was brilliant, the pinnacle of our achievement – and yet now you see how much better you are able to make things now. I look at my past garments and cringe – there is always something I now know I could have done better! But that’s ok, next time I do similar style, I will make it ever more perfect.

Read articles, go on courses, watch how to videos on youtube even – and experiment. It is time well spent.

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learning corsetry …

*invest in good quality.  Good quality sewing equipment, good quality fabrics, boning etc – it will pay off.

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my two sewing machines…. love them!

* manage your time to avoid procrastination, digressions and distractions. Plan for every outfit commissioned, and plan well in advance.

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notes on the timing – how long it takes to make one item

9. planning - in the calendar and working out components and time necessary for an order

planning – in the calendar and working out components and time necessary for an order

* It helps if you have a unique product you want to sell. But remember that may not be enough.  Also, if your product is not unique but your service is (you deliver on time, exceptional quality, etc) – it will work too!

* if you are an introvert, like me, markets, networking etc will be double hard. I am lucky in having my hubby  to share the workload at the markets, but even then it takes me days to recover !  Still, it has to be done – but try and share your work at markets with a friend, spouse – or hire help, if necessary. Dealing with people is necessary – sometimes fun, sometimes hard work – but it is people who buy your products, so treat them right!

* be flexible. Some years you will find demand for different items is greater –  the last few years it was mostly Regency, Titanic and WWI era – because there are events planned to go with the anniversaries. It meant I had to do more research on those periods, play with patterns and invest in shoots, etc – but it was worth it.  I would never have thought that in the last few months our greatest earner would be a Victorian and 1914 style corsetry – but hey, so it is. No doubt a few years on, something else will be in fashion, and more research and learning will be needed – but hey, that’s fun!

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our bestsellers:-)

*Network.  work together with other people in the industry – help them out, learn from them, enjoy working together.

*Have fun – don’t forget you started your business because you wanted to do what you love doing. Yes, it may take a few years when you may be stuck doing 50 boring shirts – but this is your bill money. In time you will be able to choose the commissions you want to do, but before that simply award yourself by working on private projects – make a gown you always wanted to make , spend a day or two just on lace making, embroidery, simply re-affirm your love for the craft.  If you have made a gown of your dreams, wear it – have a photo shoot in it, go to a ball in it, invite friends for a tea in kit !It will keep you motivated and keep the costuming joy going.

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Do comment if you have any other questions you’d like answered!

And if you want a more in depth information on all the aspect of running a creative business – check this little book, Craft a Creative Business by Fiona Pullen. It covers all the basics and more in an accessible way, presents you with a nicely develop points and business strategy and offers invaluable advice on marketing, legal matters, planning –   a must to read!

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p.s. – part 2 of this article, answering more questions and dealing with time management, contracts etc is now available too –  Running a Costuming Business part 2; we are dealing with perception of your own work in  part 3 – The Art of Objectivity, and finally  saying what it takes to make a successful business that lasts in part 4. Getting Real.

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