Click; Connect; Curate; Create

I am so excited to be writing about the project I am currently working on as part of Leicestershire Museum’s  ‘Click; Connect; Curate; Create’ project.  I have been commissioned to produce a series of corsets based on of the Symington Corset Patterns in their archive, which is held at Leicestershire Costume Collection. These corsets will be used to promote the sale of one of their patterns, and to explore different creative ways of selling corset patterns online.

This project fits into a wider two year research project looking at how museums can work with technology online.  I know I use online archives more and more.  I find them to be invaluable resources,enabling me to access collections around the globe from my living room (and that is another Blog post  I will add to my to-do list - my top favourite online archives! ). So the world is changing, and how we find, access and use information is ever changing.  The internet has created a huge platform and opportunity for museums to widen their audiences and share the treasures which are held inside.

The pattern I was given to work dates from around 1890s, and has been starting point for all the corsets. We do not know if this corset was ever made, and it is just one of many which can be found in the Symington Collection. If you haven’t visited the Fashion Gallery at Snibston Museum there is a beautiful selection of the corsets on permanent display.  Leicestershire Costume Collection has been working really hard to make this 1890’s pattern available to purchase very soon. The paper pattern will be sold in a beautifully designed reproduction corset box, so you too can remake this corset.

 Original 1890s Pattern Made in Drab Coutil

Original 1890s Pattern Made in Drab Coutil

 

My challenge has been to design and make 12 corsets based on this pattern. This is an exciting chance to flex my corsetry making skills once more. Having taught corsetry for the past three years with Central College Nottingham, it is nice to be well and truly behind the sewing machine again and swimming in pattern pieces and ideas. Having tight parameters for a project actually makes me be more creative.  It has made me look at everything in front of me very closely, and by using different fabrics, slight adaptations to the pattern, and exploring decorative techniques, I have developed each design to be unique and different.

Each corset has been based on a different theme as the starting point - such as Bridal, Gothic, Floral, Retro, Burlesque, and Victorian, to name a few. I will be sharing the design inspiration behind each theme, and some of the ‘How I did it’ tutorials along the way here on my blog and over on my pinterest board.  

On Tuesday I will be looking at the story of how Symingtons grew from a small family business in Market Harborough to being a global leading manufacturer and what I think are some of their greatest achievements.

 Beautiful Red and Black Symingon Corset

Beautiful Red and Black Symingon Corset

But for now, take a look at over at Image Leicestershire. This is a growing database containing images from Leicestershire Museums.  



A Summer Road Trip (with a car full of corsets)

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.

 Oxford Corsetry Conference August 2013

Oxford Corsetry Conference August 2013

 My little Corset shop!

My little Corset shop!

 Pretty Housemaid corset (1890) Symington Collection

Pretty Housemaid corset (1890) Symington Collection