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England Adventures: Oxford Conference of Corsetry (OCOC), Interviews, Factory Tour & More!


At last, after 2 years I’m sharing with you some highlights of my trip to England, and what you can expect at the Oxford Conference of Corsetry if you choose to attend in the future.

There were unfortunately some restrictions placed on what could be photographed or filmed and what couldn’t, and so I filmed very little in 2014 (the first year I attended). In 2015 I filmed a little more, after seeing what other attendees freely filmed / photographed without getting a slap on the wrist – but here’s a nonexhaustive list of limitations (just so you won’t be underwhelmed by the lack of footage in the video above).

  • At Jesus College, where conference was held, you’re not allowed to portray it in any way that could be considered an advertisement.
  • You’re not allowed to show certain signs or crests or logos in video or photography.
  • Regarding the conference itself, I was respectful of attendees who didn’t want to be shown on camera (but when you’re at a conference you’re constantly surrounded by people).
  • I would have loved to do a dozen corset reviews or interviews at the conference as well, but I was not allowed to favour the work of any one maker over the others (if I interviewed one, I would have to interview all of them, and there wasn’t enough time to do so).
  • You’re was also not allowed to film the models or photographers when they were at work.
  • Obviously you’re not allowed to film the workshops in their entirety, as that could be giving away the presenters’ trade secrets.

So what was left that I could film included old architecture and gardens, the backs of people’s heads, tiny snippets of talks, and piles and piles of corsets (of course, the corsets were the whole reason I was there!). I’ve pulled together what I could here, and in this video I’ll also be talking about what I got up to before and after the conference (in both 2014 and 2015).

 

Corset Pilgrimage, 2014: Oxford, London, Leicestershire, Birmingham, Bath

Lowana of Vanyanis (right) and myself in the car (also with Jenni of Sparklewren in the front seat), all of us excited to head to OCOC 2014!

The location itself felt like I was staying at Hogwarts. I’m not certain if there are any buildings in Canada that are quite as old as those in Oxford, and I felt a combination of reverence and the heebie-jeebies. You could choose whether you wanted to share rooms with a friend or whether you wanted your own place (I recommend bunking with a friend – it’s less expensive as well). When you check in at the college, they assign you your room. Attendees are all scattered around the college, you’re not all in one giant rez.

At the conference there’s always a room with a corset pile on a giant table. Corset makers can bring their corsets and label them and leave them here for the weekend for all other attendees to study and try on (if you allow trying on of your corsets). This room is locked after hours so your belongings are protected. Again, I was not allowed to conduct any interviews or corset reviews at the conference, but I did do a couple of interviews (Beata Sievi of Entre-Nous in Bath, and Lowana O’Shea of Vanyanis in London) after the conference in 2014.

Autograph for Christine Wickham from Mr Pearl. It reads, “To Dear Christine / Love is the Messge / Love has no time or space. / Mr Pearl”

There was also a table set up for Christine Wickham, of Ariadne’s Thread, as it was her crowdfunding that helped me afford to travel to England to the OCOC in the first place. Christine passed away unexpectedly in July 2014, just a few months after the campaign ended, and a month before the Conference of Corsetry. I commissioned Sarah Chrisman to hand-bind a book with blank pages, and anyone could come and write a note to Christine or to her family.
I ended up bringing the book 2 years in a row, and at the conference in 2015, the one and only Mr Pearl signed her book.

On the Saturday night, there is a dinner gala where you can dress up in formal or semiformal wear, and many of the corsetieres wore their own creations.
In 2014, the special guest and keynote speaker was Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden, and how her business had evolved over 25 years.

Some of the classes and workshops in 2014 included:

  • Drawing inspiration from architecture and nature, guided by Alison of Crikey Aphrodite
  • Couture hand finishing techniques by Ian Frazer Wallace of Whitechapel Workhouse
  • Studying antique corsets including the bird’s wing corset, with Jenni of Sparklewren
  • Grading different sizes for standard sized collections by Marianne of Pop Antique
  • Working with Worbla and other interesting materials with Barbara of Royal Black

Let’s rewind a bit and talk about going to the Symington corset collection in Leicestershire before the 2014 conference. I made plans to meet Lowana of Vanyanis at the airport, and we made an appointment to study some of the antique corsets in their collections. It was simply amazing; we were allowed to touch the corsets with clean bare hands. See the video for many examples of the corsets we studied there.

This antique corset has teeny tiny stitches – about 25 per inch – and it was considered impressive if the corset lasted 12 months before needing replacement!
Corset courtesy of the Symington Museum Collections in Leicester, UK.

After the museum, Lowana and I went to Birmingham to the Jewellery quarter and spent a day at Sparklewren’s studio. Marianne of Pop Antique was there too, and Lowana hired Inaglo Photography for a day there. I also had a small turn in front of the camera.

After the 2014 conference, I toured different parts of London and Bath – parts with Lowana and Beata, and parts solo. I was particularly excited to visit the roman baths, because my grandmother visited them in the 70s and loved them so much. I’m named after my grandmother but never met her, and it was of an odd importance to me that I walked the same areas she did when she visited England over 40 years ago.

Again, if you’d like to see the interviews I did in Engand in 2014, click here for Beata Sievi of Entre-Nous in Bath, and Lowana O’Shea of Vanyanis in London.

That was the summary of my whirlwind 2014 England trip! Continue reading to learn what I got up to in 2015.


Corset Pilgrimage, 2015: Oxford, London, Portsmouth

Joni (Rainbow Curve Corsetry) and myself (Lucy Corsetry) hugging a really, really old tree somewhere near the fields where Harry Potter’s Quidditch games were filmed.

The Oxford Conference of Corsetry in 2015 was structured similarly to the year before. That year I was only in England for about 5 days, so there were fewer opportunities for tourism, and the itinerary was a lot more jam-packed. I arrived just hours before conference festivities began on the Friday, so I went walking in downtown Oxford with some other corsetieres like Sara of Exquisitely Waisted Designs, Karolina Zarzycka with the label of her own name, Dee from Luscious Pearl Designs, and Joni from Rainbow Curve Corsetry, and we checked out some different sites where Harry Potter was filmed. Later that evening all the attendees went to Bill’s for a casual meetup and grub before lectures and workshops started the next day.

This year, I decided to share a dorm with Laurie Tavan, and as we’re both quiet people who completely nerd out on the minutia of corsetry and aren’t afraid to help each other out, she was the perfect roommate for that weekend.

Again on Saturday night, there’s a semiformal dinner, and the keynote speaker for 2015 was Immodesty Blaize, who gave an amazing performance and then gave a beautiful speech afterward.

Workshops and classes in 2015 included:

  • 3D printing and other interesting materials with Barbara of Royal Black.
  • Pattern matching workshop conducted by Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden.
  • Question and answer period with Mr Pearl.
  • Building your own website and SEO with Fionna Pullen.
  • There was also a class on integrating corsetry into other clothing (led by Ian Frazer Wallace of Whitechapel Workhouse) – arguably the class I was most excited about on the itinerary that year – but that particular year, attendees were divided based on skill & experience level, so not all makers were allowed to attend all workshops. This is the one detail that I would change in the future with OCOC; if all attendees pay the same amount to attend the conference, they should all be able to sit the workshops they’re most interested in. Attendees only learned that we were segregated into different classes after we had already paid for our tickets.
Katie Thomas (right) and myself in the WKD London boutique.

After the conclusion of OCOC 2015, I spent two days with Katie Thomas of What Katie Did. She showed me the headquarters in London, where all the amazing lingerie and corsets are stocked for online orders, and showed how their business operates on the back end – from testing samples, to online customer service, to working with celebrity stylists, to order fulfillment. I also learned about the “What Katy Did” books and the history behind the name, and also we took a trip to their boutique on Portobello Green and saw how they ran their shop. I also got to try on a few corsets, and of course Katie and I sat down for an interview! If you’d like to see the whole interview, click the link in the cards, or in the description below.

Katie’s family also took me to Basildon park, a gorgeous estate where they filmed parts of Downton Abbey. I’m so grateful to Katie and her family for housing me for a few days and showing me such hospitality.

After two days with Katie’s family, I took the train south to Portsmouth where the Vollers family kindly put me up for two nights, and allowed me to tour their factory and see how one of the oldest corset companies in the world runs their business and makes their corsets. They have lots of nifty tools machines, which you can see in this detailed video. Naturally, what would a visit be if I didn’t also interview Corina and Ian, the owners of Vollers corsets?

I wore Vollers Veco corset dress to the formal dinner at OCOC 2015, and then visited the Vollers factory after the conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After leaving the Voller family, I went straight to the airport and flew home.

Unfortunately I was not able to make it to the 2017 conference of corsetry, but from the sound of it and all the pictures, it seems like it was their best year yet.

Many thanks to the coordinators and presenters at OCOC, Christine Wickham, Lowana, Jenni, Glo, Beata, Katie, Laurie, the Voller family, and everyone who made my two trips to England as wonderful as they were. The next OCOC meetup is in 2019 and I’m determined to attend again – and hopefully spend a little bit longer time there to take in more of what England has to offer.

 

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Vanyanis “Ruby” Corset Review

This entry is a summary of the Vanyanis “Ruby” Corset Review video. If you would like more complete information and side notes about the corset, you can watch the video on YouTube here:

 

Fit, length Center front is 12 inches long, the princess seam is 8.5 inches (4 inches above the waist, 4.5 inches below the waist), the side seam is 9.5 inches and the center back is 11 inches long.
Circumferential measurements: underbust is 28″ (rib spring is 6″), waist is 22″, and hip is 34″ (hip spring is 12″). The ribcage is very conical, and the hips are gently cupped.
Material 3 main layers: the fashion is red satin with black lace overlay. The strength fabric is herringbone coutil, and the floating lining is a soft black cotton.
Construction 7-panel pattern (14 panels total). Panel 4 is designed to curve over the hip so there is no true “side seam”. Construction: satin was flatlined to coutil, and panels assembled with the seam allowances facing inward (added topstitch for reinforcement; each seam was stitched at least 4 times for extra strength). Internal bone casings laid down, and covered by a floating lining.
Waist tape 2 cm wide (slightly less than an inch) cotton waist tape, secured “invisibly” between the layers of fabric.
Binding Made from strips of black duchess silk, machine stitched on outside and inside. Stitched in the ditch on the outside and tiny topstitch on the inside.
Modesty panel Awesome modesty panel in back – 4.75″ wide, finished in matching red satin / black lace overlay on outside, and cotton inside. Quilted and boned with 2 horizontal and 2 vertical bones, and comes with snaps to easily suspend the panel on the laces, or remove the panel when desired.
In the front there is a modesty placket, extending about 1/2″ out from the knob side of the busk, covered matching red satin with black lace.
Busk 11” long, with 5 loops and pins, the bottom two a little closer together. Wissner brand, standard flexible busk (1/2″ on each side) and a bit flexible, but there are added flat steels adjacent to the busk to add stiffness. The busk is also covered in a matte black powder coating.
Boning 30 bones total in this corset, 15 on each side. Single boned on the seams and additional bones in the middle of each panel, with ¼ inch wide spirals. The bones sandwiching the grommets are flat steel, and more flexible than usual, so it could curve to the lumbar spine. There are 4 flat steels by the busk (2 on each side).
Grommets There are 24, two-part size #0 grommets (12 on each side). They have a small-to-medium flange and are spaced equidistantly, and finished in gunmetal grey or pewter. No splits on the underside.
Laces Black 1/2″ wide double-faced satin ribbon (glides well through the grommets, holds knots and bows securely, long enough). Finished with nice metal aglets.
Price Available in sizes 20″ up to 30″.
Price is $795 AUD (converts to about $635 USD).
VIP mailing list members get $100 AUD coupon, which brings the price down to $695 AUD (about $550 USD).


Final Thoughts:

Vanyanis is a couture brand based in Australia, run by Lowana O’Shea.

This corset is the best quality OTR piece I’ve ever seen. Made with herringbone coutil, expertly-matched fine lace, black hardware, evenly distributed steels, and an insanely comfortable pattern, Vanyanis has set a new bar for factory-produced corsetry.

For the pattern of this corset, I believe Lowana mentioned that this started out as the same dimensions and silhouette as her “Alecto” corset (a standard size, made-to-order Vanyanis product made by Lowana herself, introduced back in 2014) – however, the “Ruby” Corset was cut to have points on the top and bottom edges and to ride a bit higher over the hip. The “Lilian” corset is a grey / silver satin, and cut more straight across the top and bottom edges, but still the same general pattern.

And of course, the “Ruby” and “Lilian” corsets were made in a factory under Lowana’s supervision, which is why she describes these as an “off the rack” collection as opposed to the usual “ready to wear”.

One of the best features about this corset is the painstakingly pattern-matched lace in this corset. Because the lace had to be cut to each panel and flatlined (as opposed to pieces overlaid when the whole corset was finished being assembled), Lowana says that there was quite a lot of time and care (and stress) put into this step at the factory, and quite a lot of fabric wastage as well as they had to think about having sufficient seam allowance on each piece. This drove up the price of the corset – but it has a truly stunning final effect.

Lowana says that this corset is definitely strong enough for waist training, but due to the delicate nature of the lace overlay, it might become “roughed up” over time, so do keep in mind that the more you wear this piece, the more worn it will look.

This is Lowana’s first OTR line and as such it’s a small run to start (only 25 of the Ruby and 25 of the Lilian corsets in all sizes). If these sell well, Lowana is interested in making more colors, styles, and perhaps extended sizes as well.

If you’d like to see my interview with Lowana of Vanyanis, click here. And if you’d like to visit her Vanyanis shop, click here.

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Corset Jewellery

Vanyanis Engraved Busk loop Jewellery

The corset has been the inspiration behind iconic photographs, songs, body piercings, and various other art pieces, but I’d like to take a moment and create a gallery to highlight some of the lovely corset-themed jewellery, accessories and adornment. If you have a corset enthusiast in your life and you’re looking for a holiday gift for them, perhaps these will give you a few ideas:

 

Corset Inspired Jewellery

LadyTigerLily modelling the tiny pewter busk earrings by Silent Songbyrd
LadyTigerLily modelling the tiny pewter busk earrings by Silent Songbyrd
Detachable busk earrings by Silent Songbyrd
Detachable busk earrings by Silent Songbyrd, worn as a double piercing in one ear

There are only 5 people in the world who own these tiny detachable busk earrings: Silent SongbyrdLadyTigerLily, RandomCorset, The Steel Boned Baker, and myself. Byrdi was the genius artist who created and cast these earrings in pewter – each miniscule busk peg made from the head of a pin, and each busk being unique so the corresponding half of each earring can only be matched to its partner. They can be worn with the busk half in each ear (as LadyTigerlily shows above), or if you have multiple piercings you can wear them together. Although they’re not available for sale currently, I’ve suggested that Byrdi market these someday, as they would make a lovely gift for corset enthusiasts – if they are eventually made on a larger scale, I suggest wearing them with your hair up! See the earrings modelled by us Youtube Corset Vloggers in our interview at Orchard Corset!

 

Vanyanis Engraved Busk loop Jewellery
Vanyanis Engraved Busk necklace and earrings set, $285 AUD

Another friend of mine, Lowana from Vanyanis, has created these beautiful pendants and earrings fashioned from her new line of laurel engraved busks, which are the only busks of their kind in the world. The busks are originally sourced from German Wissner busks, some of the finest quality busks made today – each busk loop is then individually engraved and the contrast black color set using a modern annealing process in Australia. Lastly, the busk loops are detached from the busk with the greatest of care and a jeweller attaches the busk loop to the jump ring and hung onto a solid sterling silver necklace or earring hooks. I find them to be a beautifully mysterious “understated statement piece”. Those who know what a corset is will almost immediately recognize the busk loops as they are, but those unfamiliar with corsetry will simply consider it an ornate keyplate. Amazingly, this jewellery supports four different artists – the busk maker, the corsetiere/designer, the engraver and the jeweller.

 

Spiral steel structured necklace by Forge Fashion
Spiral steel structured necklace by Forge Fashion

Abbey, the woman behind Forge Fashion in New Zealand, is a corsetiere, costumiere and jeweller who has had her works modelled by celebrities like Lady Gaga. She creates stunning and elegant pieces with extra spiral steel bones, like this necklace. Her Etsy store can be found here.

 

Vollers Corset armcuff
Vollers “Downtown” Corset Armcuff, £325
Vollers corset necklace / choker
Vollers corset necklace / choker, £325

Vollers Corsets have had corset-inspired jewellery for many years, made in silver by a local jeweller exclusively for the oldest corset manufacturer in England. They have busk-themed and lacing-themed bracelets, rings, necklaces and even little busk-loop cufflinks options, and these are not your delicate costume jewellery – these are substantial, as you may derive from the photos! Unfortunately these listings no longer appear to be on the Vollers website, but last summer I spoke at length with Corina regarding their themed jewellery and their availability – if you’re interested in any of these pieces, I would encourage you to contact Vollers via email.

 

Miniature jute corset pendant made by Too Sweet
Miniature jute corset pendant made by Too Sweet – recreation of the original work by Snowblack Corsets
Recreation of RetroFolie's "Mucha" corset - pendant made by Too Sweet
Recreation of RetroFolie’s “Mucha” corset – pendant made by Too Sweet

Too Sweet from Poland is an incredibly talented designer who makes miniature versions of her favourite corsets – featured here are recreations of Snowblack’s “My Secret Garden” corset, and Retrofolie’s pattern matched corset featuring Alfons Mucha’s “Primrose and Feathers” (which I particularly love, as it’s a pendant inspired by a corset inspired by a painting). See more of Too Sweet’s creations here!

Jewellery for your Corsets

"Carmim Passion" adorned cupped overbust, made by Ferrer Corsets in Brazil
“Carmine Passion” adorned cupped overbust, made by Ferrer Corsets in Brazil
Custom cup jewellery for Ferrer's "Carmim Passion" overbust.
Custom cup jewellery for Ferrer’s “Carmine Passion” overbust.

I’m in love with this jewelled corset by Ferrer Corsets. The Carmine Passion corset is a radiant red cupped overbust with gold busk and grommets, and amazing sparkling golden wire “flames” with attached red and clear stones adorning the cups. In the second photo you can see how each piece starts with a curved base similar to the underwire of a bra, with small loops to sew it to the corset. Each one is built up and made to curve smoothly around the cup – and of course, would be made to order to fit the wearer.

 

Detachable corset chain by Institut Corsetologie on Etsy
Detachable corset chain by Institut Corsetologie, £35
Detachable Corset busk charm by Institut Corsetologie on Etsy
Detachable Corset busk charm by Institut Corsetologie, £5

Institut Corsetologie has an Etsy shop that sells one-of-a-kind adorable ornaments to add bling to your corsets, including little hanging tokens that can be hung from your busk, or dangling chains of multiple charms. They are made with your corset in mind, and Miss K ensures that the non-sharp pieces won’t catch on the outer fabric for your corset.

 

Sarah Chrisman, author of "This Victorian Life" and "Victorian Secrets" wearing her Chatelaine
Sarah Chrisman, author of “This Victorian Life” and “Victorian Secrets” wearing her Chatelaine

While not a piece of jewellery specifically for the corset, the chatelaine has a long and rich history amongst Victorian women and have been used to denote the status of the woman wearing it. Indeed, “chatelaine” means “woman of the house” (derived from the French word for a house for nobility, chateau) and the woman was the keeper of all the keys! While at first a glorified keychain, the chatelaine was later used to hold sewing tools, perfume, and other small tokens and notions, sometimes gilded and jewelled. Even if a chatelaine became heavy, the support from a corset would help distribute the weight. There have been a several proponents for bringing back a variation of the chatelaine, allowing people to hang their clutches, wallets and handbags from their corset – with style, of course! See my 2011 video of how I made my own chatelaine, or pick up a copy of Sarah Chrisman’s newest book (where she describes how she made her own chatelaine as well), “This Victorian Life“!

 

Do you know of any other corset jewellery, or do you make your own corset jewellery? Let me know in the comments and it may be added to this list!

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Interview with Lowana O’Shea of Vanyanis

In September of 2014 I had the pleasure of interviewing the ever-beautiful and talented corsetiere behind Vanyanis: Lowana O’Shea. I have a lot to thank Lowana for: she and the late Christine Wickham had personally launched a fundraiser to allow me to attend the Oxford Conference of Corsetry that year, and Lowana let me tag along during much of our adventures in England!

As filming interviews was not permitted on location in Jesus College, this interview was filmed in our hotel in London about a week after the Conference:

Timeline:

Here I'm wearing the gorgeous engraved busk loop necklace and earring set made by Vanyanis. Click through to learn more about this jewelry!
Here I’m wearing the gorgeous engraved busk loop necklace and earring set made by Vanyanis. Click through to learn more about this jewelry!

0:28 You’re looking very glamorous today, what exciting things did you get up to today before this interview?

1:05 How did you come up with the name Vanyanis?

1:35 How long have you been in business, and how did you come to love corsetry?

2:27 What is your favorite part of the creative process?

3:10 (Showcase of one of Lowana’s couture overbust corsets with over 3000 Swarovski crystals!)

4:38 What is your least favorite part of corset making?

5:20 What do you see in the future of your business? What are your aspirations for Vanyanis?

You can find more of Lowana’s work on her website, Vanyanis.