This summer I had the privilege of working with Sarah Nicols (Inspiring Collections Officer for Leicestershire Museum Costume Collection) in taking a number of the corsets from the Symington Collection out of the county for the first time.
So, with a car full of corsets and the help of google maps we headed down to Oxford to spend the day at the first ever Corsetry Conference in the UK. This was a weekend filled with both practical demonstrations and workshops, inspiring talks and a chance to have a close up look at the Symmington collection and hear about its history.
The Symington collection is a huge collection of corsets held at the Leicestershire costume collection from the Symington Factory based in Market Harborough which started production in corsets in the 1850s. This collection is really a great example of the Victorian industrialisation of corset making. This family company made corset making an international business and the Symington brand produced and sold across the globe. Some of the corsets are examples of they produced and others were bought in as samples which they used to develop their own products.
Sarah had carefully chosen a range of examples including one of my favourites The Pretty Housemaid corset from 1890 which came with a reinforced busk and a years guarantee.
Being able to take the collection into the community and make the collection accessible as a researcher is something I very much believe in. Using historic costume to inform current practice, to understand the role of clothing through seeing actual garments provides a very tangible link to our past. Looking at internals of garments can provide so much information on materials used and methods of how shape and form are created. As a pattern cutter by trade my first question when I see a piece of historic costume is always ‘how is it made?’.
My job on the day was to manage the shop and I think you will agree that I had one of the best shops in town that day!
What I really took away from the day was that there is a growing community of very talented corset makers which are part of a global network. They are inspired by the past and making very much for corset wearers of today. I was so happy to see some of my own students I have previously taught in the audience and see their careers grow and develop.
It is very easy to overlook sometimes the importance of gathering people together, sharing ideas, informing each other and making costume collections available to makers and researchers to be both inspire and learn to keep this craft alive.
If you would like to know more about the Symington Collection some of the collection is on permanent display at Snibston Discovery Museum in the Fashion Gallery and I would recommend you make a visit.