Sparklewren

aesthetic art corsetry

PINNED POST - main blog topics

As of September 2016 (our seven year anniversary) we are no longer accepting bespoke orders. 

For those curious, I'm taking 2017 (and possibly 2018) "off" from bespoke to explore some interests which have had to take a back seat whilst pursuing corsetry these past nine years. I'll still be embellishing and selling one couture corset per month (the Butterflies), plus creating a separate collection of pieces as a personal project (the Moths). But for now we are finishing up our last few bespoke orders. We also have a small number of bargain sample corsets to sell. 

Please note, as we now work from home our corsets are embellished in an environment that includes a short-haired cat and a coal fire! I also volunteer with horses at a charity stables each week. Items are stored and worked on cleanly, of course, but do keep this in mind in case of allergies, etc.  

As ever, I'll use this blog space to write down whatever ramblings come to mind. Which, fair warning, has slowly been less about corsetry and more about horses over the past little while... Many posts have cross-overs between the two though, since playing around with unexpected parallels and connections is always fun.

History tells me that the readers here will be largely split by interest, so to avoid boring anyone (haha!) here are the three main topics/tags that I think you will be most interested in: 

 

  • Business: thoughts and experiences from being a self-employed corsetmaker
  • Corsetmaking: philosophies of making and some construction techniques
  • Equestrian: merry experiences volunteering at Summerfield Stables, plus notes from my self-directed equine anatomy studies. 

 

I did toy with the idea of making a totally new blog for my horsey leanings and learnings, since making notes on everything I'm observing and studying is much fun. But for now, I think I'll keep everything in the one place.

So, time for a fun and "different" 2017. Thanks to all for your enthusiasm and generosity towards our corsetry over the years! We'll have to wait to see what the next two years bring.  

Pleasant surprises

A good productive day, in the end, which surprised me. 

I slept the sleep of someone who is deeply knackered... Apart from when Cat woke me up by bringing a live rat aboard and letting it go. The damn thing has gotten into the walls and was scratching around somewhere near my head during the night. Eek. I am doubtful it will find its own way off the boat alive, but you never know. 

By the time Holly arrived this morning I was already thinking that waking up had been a bad idea. So I set her off with beading and went straight back to bed for a couple of hours. Hurrah for good employees, she's so chill and reliable. Felt physically exhausted but also pained from the waist down, same as last week. I didn't volunteer on Thursday because of it, and it takes quite a lot for me to decide that I'd be better off at home than out in fresh air and mud. I think it all traces back to my iron levels, so hopefully that'll be sorted soon. 

Anyway, boring preface aside, I thought today would be a write-off. But in the end, Holly finished the beading and lace on a lovely client's watery cincher (photos to follow) and I made some steps forwards in terms of cataloguing our moths and butterflies. The moths page is no longer blank! I've got nearly half of them listed, albeit without full information or pictures. But it's a start. Just imagine them all lined up in an exhibition or book, they're going to be so lovely. 

Updated the Cyclamen Butterfly as we laced it onto a mannequin today and enjoyed writing a little bit about the moths, especially the Mouse corset, which is just more delicious every time I look at it. That colour... 

Truffle (bottom) and Mouse (top). 

Truffle (bottom) and Mouse (top). 

This month I have been feeling increasingly low, which I think is just iron levels again, as noted. I began feeling like I was falling behind and "failing" (not a word that I usually give any significance, I never consider myself a "failure" in any bad way). But actually, we've done most of the things we set out to do.

We've launched the colouring book and raised £100 during the first week for Summerfield Stables (thanks to all who bought a copy!). We've finished all but one of our outstanding orders. We've progressed on butterflies and moths, and found our first collector for one of the former (as always, the listings say "sold out" just to prevent people from buying without discussing with us first as we wish to ensure that you are well matched to your chosen couture corset). I've cleared a bit more of my own debt (which is neither here-nor-there, except that I would like to have no pointless outgoings by the time I'm ready to buy a horse and/or patch of land). I've begun my driving lessons (which are surprisingly fun!) and despite having less than zero energy I've not stepped too much backwards in my fitness efforts. All of which is good news. So despite feeling to the contrary, March has actually been a success and "future me" will be glad of the things we ticked off the To Do list. You can't always trust your own emotions.

I'm trusting them where the corsets are concerned though... They're going to be absolutely delicious.  

A few of the moths and butterflies when they were being sewn in the studio. 

A few of the moths and butterflies when they were being sewn in the studio. 

Driving lesson number four

I am just so run down. Have massively messed up my iron intake these last few weeks and it's caught up with me. Today, volunteering, I was putting ponies away and when putting Bobby away, opened the door of the portaloo (which is next to his stable) and thought, "nope, horse won't fit in there..." before leading him into his actual stable. My brain and my body just aren't up to speed when I reduce my iron. Need more oxygen travelling around! 

Another horse, Mo, decided to have a confused moment too. I was opening the gate to her field when she spotted a yellow carrot-shaped object on the floor and reached down to sniff it. I'm not even sure what this object is, but it's some sort of plastic toy and is about 10 or 12 inches long. Horse then picked it up, took it entirely into her mouth, and I thought, "oh Christ, horse is going to kill herself." Luckily, she's a gentle soul, so opening her mouth and removing the object before she properly started chomping was no problem. But seriously. I think her brain switched off for a moment too, today! 

Fourth driving lesson. First time in the rain and first time doing three-point turns. Piece of cake, really. But overall I was less good this week, a bit less smooth on the pedals. Didn't manage to fit in lunch beforehand and think, combined with existing fatigue, this was not ideal. Memo to self: eat before driving lessons, got to stay sharp. 

Have been playing with driving theory apps on my phone, also a piece of cake. Most things are common sense, but the ones that just require memorising (stopping distances and such) will come soon enough. Am quite enjoying the whole process. It's certainly much more fun than I thought it would be. I don't know how I'd justify the expense of running a car (though I do now want one, as it would help with future horsey fun), but we'll deal with that when we get there. 

Right, dinner time and then hopefully an early night.  

Oh, was telling one of the apprentices about my "mouse-dun" coloured corset today, saying that I might put a call out on Facebook, etc. in case anyone has a mellow, mouse-dun pony (something photogenic, naturally, like a Highland or Andalucian) that loves to prick its ears up for camera. I'd really love to shoot that corset alongside such a beastie. Hopefully we'll shoot many of the Moths more than once anyhow. 

Mouse

When I saw Glo the other day  she pointed out that we really need to arrange a shoot sometime soon. So today I thought I would look through my Moth corsets and decide which ones I might want to embellish first. Ooh, it's been a fun way to spend the day... 

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I narrowed it down to a selection of seven (shown above) and then managed to narrow it down to five. I think. The shoot is meant to (finally) be the horsey one that we've been daydreaming about for years, so I want to play with muted, neutral tones, made intricate by the addition of couture lace, metallic details, and so on. 

Whilst Holly worked on a corset in "truffle" (the only one shown above with lace), adding steels, finishing lower binding, and continuing lace appliqué, I scribbled ideas for the others and revisited my sketch books. I then began work on the corset shown third from the bottom, a beautiful and unusual shade of duchess. 

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The company sells it as "mouse". I've spent all day looking at it and the longer I look the less accurately I can describe the colour. It is almost warm-grey. Not quite taupe. It's too drab to be blonde, but too luscious to be drab. It has champagne overtones but it looks like it should be velvety to the touch. In the end, I've had to concede that "mouse" is the only way to describe it. Which then made me want to find a mouse-dun horse (http://sporthorse-data.com/horse/10674993/103/Horse_Brownbread_Squirrel-big.jpg) and dark-haired girl to shoot it with! But we will have to be happy with whatever we have available to us. 

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Unfortunately for the reader, the shades of this duchess are often impossible to photograph accurately. These are just phone snaps, but even on a camera it's tricky. They change too often, you can't pin them down, so whenever you capture them in a photo you are only capturing one aspect of their character. I end up trying to use Instagram filters to recreate the colours that were lost in taking the snap, but it never quite works to convey their loveliness. 

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This "mouse" corset is going to involve symmetry (as I feel most, if not all, of my Moth corsets will), intricacy, neutral muted tones, and dulled metallics. Think metal beads and pyrite stones. The silver and gold "rope" you can see to the right is a necklace that I've had for nearly a decade. The beads are cups that sit into one another with a central elasticated thread holding them together. It makes for a snake-like effect, which I think will work beautifully alongside "ropes" of fool's gold. This piece will, I think, be very much akin to Pyrite and Unicorn from the "Where Angels..." collection, except I am hoping it will be even more faded and dusty looking. I'm considering rubbing some ashes from the stove into the silk, to see what happens. Which reminds me of a client I had years ago who said she liked a bit of dirt mixed in with the couture. Quite right, I quite agree. 

You know, with the darker tones of the beads we may use, it is indeed looking very reminiscent of mouse-dun colouring. I like that, it pleases me. Will pursue it further.  

Foolishness, curiosity, and books.

Someone shared this video on Facebook today and, since it describes a large part of the sentiment behind Where Angels Fear to Tread (our curated corsetry project from 2016) I thought you might enjoy it.  

I've spoken about this topic many times before. I meet dozens and dozens of would-be corsetmakers who, even if they have no plans beyond developing a new hobby,  hold themselves back from ever trying. The fear of failure is too great. 

I think, thanks to things like FR, OCOC, and various Facebook groups, this is less of a problem these days. And whilst none of us are immune to "it" (that feeling of shyness and ridiculousness, that fear of other people's judgement), I do firmly feel it benefits us to be foolish every once in a while. Life is largely ridiculous anyway! There's a line, in The Last Unicorn, which expresses this with the utmost pathos and generosity...

"[...] and even Molly, who loved her, could not keep from seeing that a unicorn is an absurd animal when the shining has gone out of her."  

There was once a ridiculous news story, years ago, about tiny heat-seeking missiles disguised as bees. It really tickled my mother who said, "imagine if that was how I died?! Sat on the loo when an explosive bee flies up me!" You laugh from both the horror and the humour of the idea. She said it would have to be written on the headstone and everything, so that every time my brother and I thought of her, or had to explain the story to someone, we would laugh instead of cry. 

Status, dignity, youth, ability, beauty, they all come and go on account of being something attributed to you by others (and thus, something you can't control). Desperation to hold onto them is guaranteed to make them go faster! For those of us lucky enough to live in a safe place/time, life is wonderful and ridiculous and rarely more than we can manage (which isn't to negate the seriousness of overwhelm at all, I'm only speaking in general terms).  

I'm not a photographer. But I'm glad I picked up a camera. At one point, I wasn't a corsetmaker, illustrator, or author. I don't recall anything truly "bad" ever happening from pursuing an interest or being open to ideas. I've had plenty of "failures", designs in the bin, spells without money, attacks from other corsetmakers, and hours spent trying to craft perfect emails for fear of accidentally offending someone... But none of that matters, not really. Not compared to the sense of flourishing and discovery that comes with learning anything new. Not compared to the good work that you can look back on and feel proud of and that, if you're very lucky, might ripple out and help others in some way. 

I'm not a photographer. But I'm glad I picked up a camera. At one point, I wasn't a corsetmaker, illustrator, or author. I don't recall anything truly "bad" ever happening from pursuing an interest or being open to ideas. I've had plenty of "failures", designs in the bin, spells without money, attacks from other corsetmakers, and hours spent trying to craft perfect emails for fear of accidentally offending someone... But none of that matters, not really. Not compared to the sense of flourishing and discovery that comes with learning anything new. Not compared to the good work that you can look back on and feel proud of and that, if you're very lucky, might ripple out and help others in some way. 

Do you know that line from Maya Angelou?  

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." 

It's true of work and art too, I think. Details fade, for better or worse. And yet corsetmakers may focus on one skipped stitch or one missing bead, rather than the overall impression. Business people might worry about one mischosen word in an email, rather than the overall nature of the communication or relationship in question. We can fixate on the things we dislike far too much and it wouldn't matter, except that it is often to the detriment of good work, good art, and a good life. And what did Epictetus say? 

"People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them." 

Anyway, there's a thought for a Sunday morning. I have been exhausted recently. Slept until midday today, it was incredible. I fancy going to the cafe to study, but (and Christ, it happens every year) the place was swarming with colourful kids and loud parents from the annual cheerleading competition that takes place in the NIA. Might be the same again today. 

Yesterday I was reading Sara Wyche's "The Anatomy of Riding". It is very good and presents information in quite an unusual way. There is a real focus on explaining functionality in terms of what the rider or trainer needs to know. Joints are shown as mechanical diagrams rather than accurate depictions (eg: some are drawn like the hinges you would see on a door), to make type and range of motion clear. Eg: the base of the neck is super mobile whilst the limb joints don't have much capacity for lateral movement, both facts which rather work against the rider. I've got a second book from Wyche too, on muscles in motion, which I'm looking forward to getting round to. Because this first one focuses on functionality, it sometimes omits details like muscle names. At one point she refers to criss-crossing "flyovers" along the spine, and I think she means the multifidus (which I was studying the other day) but it's never explicitly said. 

My mum still doesn't understand why I'm studying all this stuff when I've no intention of changing to a horse-based job (if I'm really lucky, I hope to be able to craft a life in which books are my primary income, then I can dip in and out of corsetmaking at my leisure). Well it's just curiosity. My dad was into astronomy and physics (he studied the latter at university), but his job was as a self-employed, self-taught, carpenter. Plenty of people have hobbies that they pursue to high levels but I suppose because we live in such a linear culture that's not the norm. Or, when it is, the hobby is the creative thing whilst the work is the "serious" thing! 

But I'm really enjoying that I can put both my work and my hobby to use. Combining the two (with projects like painting those anatomical boards for the stables) is huge fun. 

Oh, and in related news, the colouring book is doing quite nicely! For this first week (so, until Friday) the proceeds are ear-marked as fundraising for the stables I volunteer at, so if you're thinking to buy a copy or two do it now! Just search my name (Jenni Louise Rose Hampshire) on your respective Amazon site. 

The most infuriating part of using CreateSpace to publish is that I can't see sales in "real time". I get to see them a few days after the fact. At the moment, we've got half our sales from Europe and half from UK. None from the USA! Come on stateside supporters, you're letting the side down... ;-) 

Anyway, we've made a start but I'd really like to push for more. So... 

If you know people who might be interested, if you have people you want to buy advance Christmas gifts for, if you want to support the ponies, or even if you just want to support my name so that the corsetmaking book has better visibility once it's ready(!), then please do share the links far and wide. It would make a big difference and be much appreciated. 

Thank you in advance!  

Let's fundraise!

The colouring book is here! 

One of my favourite images from the book. How would you colour this one in? 

One of my favourite images from the book. How would you colour this one in? 

I am so excited about this, it's been an absolute treat to make... Completely lovely to have the opportunity to buy some nice pens and paper and sit down to immerse myself in some frivolous horse-themed drawing. 

As you know, I volunteer twice a week at a community stables nearby in Birmingham. So for the first week, I'm using the proceeds from this book as an opportunity to fundraise! Let's drum up some interest, make some sales, and gather up a nice little chunk of money for the ponies! They always need funds for general costs (our horses get through quite a lot of haylage!) but also for bigger projects and improvements like new tack rooms and offices, so anything we can contribute will be useful, I'm sure. 

Here's the UK Amazon link

For those in America, you can purchase either via the CreateSpace e-store (which gives us a higher royalty, almost $2 more for every sale, more money for the ponies) or Amazon.com

For those in the Europe, you should be able to find the book on your respective Amazon site. Just search for the title or my name: "Feathers, Stars, and Moonlight" by Jenni Louise Rose Hampshire. Can't imagine you'll get confused as to which book it is ;-) 

And once you have the book in your hands and are having fun colouring in... don't forget to share your work on the #pegasuscolouringbook hashtag! Especially if you're on Instagram. I'd love to see how everyone imagines these winged horses to be... the colours you choose, whether you add extra line detail, your favourite materials... 

Buy it for your kids, your nieces and nephews, your pony-mad friends of any age, your daydreamer artist friends, your parents who love to relax with colouring... Get a copy for everyone! And then buy a couple more to put aside until Christmas ;-) 

Summerfield Stables' newest resident. Little Snowy is a very timid soul who used to work in beach rides. He's slowly becoming more brave and confident though, and has made friends with our sweet little Shetlands. All our beasties need food, regular farriery (hoof care) and dentistry, well-fitting tack and, of course, enthusiastic people to care for them and children to love them. Anything we can raise, however big or small, would be useful. So please do share the links far and wide! 

Summerfield Stables' newest resident. Little Snowy is a very timid soul who used to work in beach rides. He's slowly becoming more brave and confident though, and has made friends with our sweet little Shetlands. All our beasties need food, regular farriery (hoof care) and dentistry, well-fitting tack and, of course, enthusiastic people to care for them and children to love them.

Anything we can raise, however big or small, would be useful. So please do share the links far and wide! 

For my part, I think I might now play with a couple of the original images, adding metallic ink details and such like. Such fun! I'm also already daydreaming about a unicorn or kelpie book to follow and have begun sketching...  

Ideals

Another glorious Spring day, my goodness me. 

I didn't have a big enough board! So he has no tail and his head is half glued on. Currently, he's just a tool for tracing around but if I can think of a use for a cutout I might retrace/recut a version from one proper piece of board. 

I didn't have a big enough board! So he has no tail and his head is half glued on. Currently, he's just a tool for tracing around but if I can think of a use for a cutout I might retrace/recut a version from one proper piece of board. 

Cracked on with the three educational boards I'm painting for the stables, much fun. One will have muscles, one bones, and another will be blank and in blackboard paint, so that the kids can use it for playing, marking points, and drawing markings, etc. 

My base coats from last week were suffering from an infusion of haylage and dead bugs (painting outdoors is lovely, except for that!), but a light sanding sorted the worst of it. I'd made an MDF template (right), so he was traced out in pencil thrice and today I was able to start painting. 

Also, just to pat myself on the back, how good is the scale of this beastie. When I cut the template out at home I couldn't remember the size of the boards which were at the stables, so I had to eyeball it. Very pleased with how he fits on the board! Means I'll have room for some information and either detail or top views down the side. 

Also, just to pat myself on the back, how good is the scale of this beastie. When I cut the template out at home I couldn't remember the size of the boards which were at the stables, so I had to eyeball it. Very pleased with how he fits on the board! Means I'll have room for some information and either detail or top views down the side. 

First thing I did was paint the outline for our "muscles" board. And then decided that painting was for fools, haha... By the time I was doing the outline for the "skeleton" board I'd switched to marker pen, far nicer and far far faster. Still, the muscles board doesn't need as crisp an outline as the skeleton (on account of all the painting it will be filled with), so I can live with it.  

Isn't he quite smart though! I've outlined a horse that I would buy, ha!  

I had wanted to get further along today, but it's just as well to step back for a while, after sketching in pencil. His eye socket looks a little high, the shoulder possibly slightly more sloping than I'd like, and the cervical spine is coming into the body maybe a shade higher than would be true. Which is all by-the-by I suppose, there seems to be huge variation in the accuracy of the reference images I'm working from, nevermind variety between individual animals... But I'd like for our "model" to have as good conformation as possible, and as accurate details as I can manage. Plenty of our girls end up going to college or uni for horse care studies, or doing their BHS exams up to a certain level, so it certainly wouldn't hurt to get their eye in by seeing a well drawn educational illustration each week.  I love all this anatomy stuff so I'm having much fun doing it, but it's also really satisfying being able to put my skills to use for the benefit of other people. Especially something that will be useful for years to come, regardless of whether I stay in the region or whatever. 

I had wanted to get further along today, but it's just as well to step back for a while, after sketching in pencil. His eye socket looks a little high, the shoulder possibly slightly more sloping than I'd like, and the cervical spine is coming into the body maybe a shade higher than would be true. Which is all by-the-by I suppose, there seems to be huge variation in the accuracy of the reference images I'm working from, nevermind variety between individual animals... But I'd like for our "model" to have as good conformation as possible, and as accurate details as I can manage. Plenty of our girls end up going to college or uni for horse care studies, or doing their BHS exams up to a certain level, so it certainly wouldn't hurt to get their eye in by seeing a well drawn educational illustration each week. 

I love all this anatomy stuff so I'm having much fun doing it, but it's also really satisfying being able to put my skills to use for the benefit of other people. Especially something that will be useful for years to come, regardless of whether I stay in the region or whatever. 

The second pic to the right will be the muscles board. Going to paint the deep muscles directly in place and then have laminated separate superficial muscles to stick on top. Going to be so much fun for our teachers to use with the kids! And I'm glad I made the starting template to have consistency throughout. Because then any stick-on bits can be used with any board, loads of fun. I'll be doing some stick-on tack, for example, so say you're teaching about bridle fit... You could teach on the blackboard with no distractions, on the muscles to talk about jaw movement, chewing and such, or on the skeleton to talk about fitting around the projecting cheek bone, being careful of the nasal bone, bit placement, things like that. Or say with a saddle, you could put it on the muscles and talk about how the fit needs to distribute pressure to avoid atrophy, or put it on the skeleton and talk about room for the shoulder blade to come backwards and beneath the saddle. 

But educational fun aside, I'm also just really looking forward to drawing out some different types of tack. I think our "model" horse will be rather spoiled for choice! Reckon he'll look especially smart in a nice dressage saddle, or straight-cut showing saddle. Ooh, or a side-saddle. I'm going to draw all the pretty gear horse-people would buy if money were no object, haha. Ah, could even do headcollars, cavessons, Micklems, etc., alongside the more common bridles. Going to have fun! It's like those paper dolls I played with as a kid, but for ponies. Hmm, I wonder if a book like that exists... If not, I might have to make it! 

In other news, I had my third driving lesson today and it was much fun, once again! We went further afield this time, tackled a few new "hazards" and had to cope with busier roads, pedestrians, and cyclists. Hilariously, my instructor at one point said, "sometimes there's ponies loose on the road at this point, but I'm sure we'll be fine" and I had to laugh. He was referring to a different yard entirely, but since a couple of ours were playing "escape artist" last weekend it was funny timing. 

Got up to fourth gear, woo me, what a speed demon, ha. Did more in the way of turns into busy roads, began intuitively going up the gears without prompting, braved a single-file tunnel, and otherwise had a very good lesson. Each time I get in the car again I think, "it's been a week, I can't remember!" and then it turns out fine, naturally. Apparently we might tackle three point turns and/or roundabouts next week, so that'll be fun. I reckon reversing will be my Achilles' heel, it's going too well so far! 

But I can see how people come to enjoy the freedom of driving, once they've gotten past the feelings of, "how does this work again?"  

Right, dinner's ready so time to go.  

Posture/ponies

I'm just back from an interesting equine anatomy talk in Kidderminster and, since I know I'll probably not get a chance to write over the next couple days, I thought I'd make some notes now. Even though it's late and I'd really like to sleep! 

Firstly, and completely unrelated really, I bought myself a new Moleskine on the way to the train station. Ooh, I love me a new notebook. They all accidentally end up with a "theme". I've a gold one (gift from a friend, such a posh Lacroix embossed cover!) with some basic structural anatomy and beginnings of biomechanics and fascia/muscle chains. A Rhodia all about different classical approaches to riding. A black Moleskine all about anatomy/mechanics of "way of going". Oh, a little blue/gold one (Christmas gift from Holly) which I write my favourite quotes in. And now a taupe-grey Moleskine, fresh and ready to use! Lord, I love a nice notebook, love studying. But what will the taupe one end up being about? Some more anatomy, I should think, to prepare for the dissection I'm attending in April. 

The talk was by Gillian Higgins of Horses Inside Out and was excellent. She's a very good communicator and the information was well paced. But I especially loved having a handle of the bone samples since it's not something I ever get to do. Went with a friend from the stables, am hoping that a bigger group of us will go to the next few talks (they're happening once a month for most of the year). My friend (who runs the stables I volunteer at) was chatting on way home about ideas for obstacle courses this summer, useful ways of getting the ponies stepping slowly over logs, doing carrot stretches, backing up, things like that, which will help the kids learn too. 'Tis a good idea. 

Confirmed a lot of the things I've been learning over the past year but the most interesting "new to me" information was the fact that anatomical variation between individuals (re: the spine) is higher than you might think. Apparently it's not super uncommon to find lumbar vertebrae with weird transverse processes and even mini ribs attached, things like that. Facts like that should make us more aware of limitations that individuals may experience. Reminded me of an article I read once about the human hip joint. Some people apparently just aren't built to turn their toes in whilst on horseback, though they wouldn't necessarily know it. Not without using the "wrong" joints and muscles, at any rate. Which reminded me, in turn, of how ballet has to be slow and progressive because it is very easy and possible to achieve something like turn-out in entirely the wrong way which would be even more "harmful" to the body than ballet already can be. 

Gillian mentioned, in passing, about the transmission of forces through the spine and I'd have loved to have heard more as it's a topic I've been reading a lot about recently. Right at the beginning of the talk she mentioned that there can be approximately 344 articular surfaces within the spine. That is a huge number of surfaces that you want to be functioning as smoothly as possible if forces (from all directions) are going to be safely and efficiently dealt with.  

We touched on growth plates and how the base of the neck is the last to fuse. Indeed, she touched on the base of the neck a couple of times and seemed super enthused about the topic (advocated FDO naturally, to engage the NL) so I wished we'd had a bit more time spent on it. Perhaps because it's not "visible" it rarely seems to get talked about. And yet, if it overbends or sinks it takes the thoracic spine with it which is the opposite of what we want for the ridden horse. 

Loved the chat about timing leg aids with rib swing, the only other person I've seen explain that is Heather Moffett.  

Oh! Here's a factoid I didn't know! More than a fifth of a horse's weight is made up of his abdominal contents. I knew their stable spine was to support a heavy digestive system, but I had no idea of *how* heavy, wow. 

There were books for sale but PayPal wasn't working, which was just as well for me today! But I'll endeavour to have pennies to buy something at the next talk. I can't keep borrowing "Horse Anatomy for Performance" from the library, other people are going to want it eventually, haha. And discovered the dates for Gillian's educational dissections this year. If I enjoy the SMD one, perhaps I'll try to save up for one of her's in December too. 

There you are. Am tired, so not the most fluid of diary entries, but just wanted to get key impressions down whilst it's all fresh. Very enjoyable talk, highly recommended, looking forward to the future ones. 

Right. Cat fed (much later than he would have liked), fire to be stoked, and then to bed. Stables tomorrow. Weather is meant to be nice, thank goodness. Need the iron tablets I've ordered to arrive, am so very fatigued this month. 

Details

Lovely week, both for work, play, and ponies. 

Spring is actually here. Thursday, in particular, was glorious. Everyone was happy, ponies playing in the fields, humans enjoying their work, the goat sunbathing, and the sheep doing as they always do... I love being outdoors anyway and don't mind mud and muck, but a day like that, what a treat. It's almost time to kill the fire for a few months! 

In corsetry world, we got the Moonchild corset finished on Tuesday and made good progress on a little watery cincher for another client too. I expect we will finish the latter this week coming, which then means we have only one bespoke order left to do before our attention can go fully onto our Butterflies and Moths.

Pyrite (left, on Helen Teiman) and Unicorn (right, on Sarah Simms). 

Pyrite (left, on Helen Teiman) and Unicorn (right, on Sarah Simms). 

Bloom. A richly rose red silk duchess base with hand-painted, cut, and sewn gold-thread lace blossoms, in a variety of pink, ruby, and blood tones. 

Bloom. A richly rose red silk duchess base with hand-painted, cut, and sewn gold-thread lace blossoms, in a variety of pink, ruby, and blood tones. 

Very excitingly, the first of our Butterflies to find her home is Antique Willow. She will be getting embellished with fool's gold and "crunchy" metallic lace, very much akin to the Pyrite corset from Where Angels Fear to Tread. I cannot wait! I've always loved greens and golds together, but when I first began studying the art of corsetmaking I would opt for rather loud expressions of that colour scheme. Really wild two-tone dupionis, things like that. While those silks are incredibly beautiful, my choices did get more and more muted as time went on and these days I would say that pieces like Pyrite are a very good example of that aesthetic. I love me some bling, but let it look like it has lived in an attic for a hundred years. 

Antique Willow will be going to a lovely lady who has four more Sparklewren corsets, including a couple of my absolute favourites, Bloom and Amethyst. She recently sent me a very kind email and gave permission to share it here.

I have meant to message you so many times to express all over again how much I love Bloom, and my deep thanks for making her for me. Seeing your email has spurred me on. So I’m going to ignore work for a moment and write to you.

I wore beautiful Bloom for my 50th birthday on NYE. I had quite a big ‘do’ and lots of lovely friends gathered. Bloom was so beautiful and comfortable and I just felt fabulously happy wearing her. Everyone was full of compliments - loving the design, colour and structure.

It’s such a deliciously beautiful thing to wear. It just makes me so happy.

Also, I’ve worn alluring Amethyst several times. She’s such an exciting, exotic jewel. I was at a very fancy black tie event before Christmas, where several friends told me it was the most stunning outfit there. I had to agree. Not boasting on my behalf but on yours.

I’m excited about the project you’re working on this year, and will keep my eyes peeled for all the sparkly things, (even just looking at them cheers me up) and if anything might suit my shape.
— Anne, bespoke client and collector
Amethyst. Who began life as the toile for Bloom! I really hope to do something similar to this with one of my Moth corsets. 

Amethyst. Who began life as the toile for Bloom! I really hope to do something similar to this with one of my Moth corsets. 

It is an absolute joy when you make something personal for someone, something that functions as an expression of their soul and yours, something that they love, that makes them feel glorious... It is a rare thing that should be shared and celebrated, and I'm very lucky to so often have eloquent, artistic clients who are really much more like collectors or collaborators than "customers". 

Of the remaining eleven Butterflies, we have begun work on Mauritius (27.5" closed waist) and Cyclamen (18" closed waist), just taking the embellishment wherever the corset tells us it wants to go. This is how we will approach all our work this year, except when a client has ideas to input themselves. 

And of course, I have my Moths too. Though I've not yet had a chance to catalogue them, so the Moths page on the website is rather blank! These really are my absolute "playtime" projects, so I'm only looking at them when the whim takes me. I started applying lace to one before Christmas. That delicious dusty barely-pink Sophie Hallette lace that I always loved. The base silk is in a muted mouse sort of colour, like leather that has faded in the sunshine or the slightly pink ashes we get in our narrowboat stove. 

In other news, I've got a copy of the winged horse colouring book making its way to me. Soon soon soon! I've also just reviewed the corset pattern pages of my corsetmaking book, so that's ever closer too. And my unofficial equine anatomy studies continue nicely too. I was learning about the function of the upper neck architecture the other day... which parts of the nuchal ligament assist in movement by making use of elastic recoil (ie: pendulum motion of the neck), how excessive or sustained stretching of this highly stretchy ligament causes it to actually stiffen at its weakest area in a protective move, how the splenius resists gravity, how the semispinalis capitis is compartmentalised for a variety of functions but also contains a central tendon to assist the NL in its pendulum movement, and how the horse is so built for economy of movement that he will always (unconsciously, of course) choose to compensate with protective evasions rather than risk over-extending himself. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink! You can encourage and guide, but you can't force health.

I have that dissection to attend towards the end of April and I'm so excited! I really hope to have a bit more of a handle on anatomy by then, but the challenge for me is always in the facts and figures when in isolation. I'm good at details because I get very interested in how things work (or don't), but I'm not good at remembering names or numbers without context or further information. In corsetry world, I can tell you how different types of busk work and when/why we would use them, but I can't tell you who invented them or in which year. In equine anatomy, I can understand why we would want the vertebral joints to connect on as large a surface area as possible (reduced pressure, more even distribution, and smoother transmission of forces from the hind legs through the spine, all the way to the poll = fewer blockages/anomalies of movement = soundness), but I sometimes struggle to remember the number of caudal (coccygeal/tail) vertebrae because that number has (as far as I'm currently aware) so little bearing on the things I'm interested in re: healthy movement and riding. 

John recently went on a swimming workshop and one of the tidbits he came home with was the frankly feeble percentage of effort that makes it into forward motion in the human swimmer. Even elite athletes only manage about 10% apparently. We're just not designed for it in the way that dolphins and fish are. And so what athletes are trying to do, fitness aside, is improve efficiency/correctness of movement. It makes sense. It seems to be the same in some horse traditions, though these days there is more science to actually back up or question methodologies both old and new. But I thought that was interesting, the notion of improving efficiency and soundness of movement. It ties in with another topic John and I have spoken of quite a lot, practice and development of skill as craftspeople. They reckon these days that "muscle memory" isn't in your muscles at all, it's in the increased insulation of the most used pathways in the central nervous system. Thus you can reinforce those pathways by practicing in your mind as well as in real life. Isn't that interesting. Movement (employment of those pathways) becomes second nature and thus it is worth doing the thing slowly, consciously, and as correctly as you can right from the start as each repetition is reinforcing something. Repetition is worthless (even harmful) if you repeat the wrong thing. 

I remember writing an article about practice for Foundations Revealed years ago. [FR are undergoing some exciting changes at the moment, by the way, definitely worth taking a look if you're an aspiring corsetmaker!] It tied in with my beginners' corsetmaking articles (you can find all my articles here, by the way) in that one of the ideas I wanted to highlight was the value of proper methodology right from the beginning. Beginner corsetry, at that time, was often more complicated and confused than the work we "advanced" makers would put out. Material choices were often of lower quality and appropriateness to the work, the idea being not to "waste" the expensive fabrics. We all do that, I certainly did on my first corset! But the lessons you learn on inappropriate fabrics are pretty much useless. You learn compromises and tricks and ways of strengthening constructions and handling up to nine layers of fabric which make the overall build heavier, clunkier, less elegant. Silhouette may be compromised by all this, along with your cutting choices and therefore your creative options become narrowed too. Far easier to, with a bit of guidance, learn something that is cleaner and more effective right from the start in which every step has a justification, a value, and is properly understood.

Hopefully this is something I will have managed to put across in my corsetmaking book (it is coming sometime soon this year, I promise!). If you muddle along with confused methodologies and no clear explanations you might eventually figure stuff out, but it'll be a really convoluted path with no certainties and you'll spend a lot of time and money trying to get there. But how many things in life are we taught in this way?! Just do the thing and eventually you'll be better. Nope, not necessarily. I dread to think what I spent on teaching myself corsetmaking... if classes like Julia's and Lowana's, or if FR, had existed then I reckon I'd have saved a lot of time and effort and money overall. 

Anyway, to loop back... I suppose I'll get a lot from the dissection, regardless of how prepared I feel. I just really want to make the most of it, it's my big educational treat for the year, haha. Oh wow, this must be how new attendees to the Oxford Conference of Corsetry feel! I shall tell myself not to be shy or nervous, since that is what I always tell new corsetmakers. 

Right, this has turned into a much longer and multi-topic post that I had expected. I will sign off now, got a couple more work things to do (on a Sunday, waaahhhh), then perhaps a canal-side walk to stretch the legs. 

Impatience!

Ah, so close! As I said the other day, my mum has a proof printed copy of the winged horse colouring book and I'd like to see a copy myself before hitting "publish". But, my mother is hard work to get hold of. Never answers the landline (which, to be fair, isn't in her half of the house) and never has her mobile phone charged or on. 

So I thought to myself, "I'm confident enough re: copy, it's only the image quality and placement that I want to check... perhaps I'll just order myself another copy before publicising the listings." 

Alas, because reasons, I can't get a hold of an affordable copy for a week or so anyway. With CreateSpace you can order author copies at cost, but they are printed in the USA so it ends up expensive to ship. Unless you're happy to wait almost two months, ha. Might as well just work on getting hold of mum to send her copy. But I feel so impatient about it now! So excited to see it. Mostly because I want to know everything has printed okay so that I am free to do whatever I like with the original drawings (and then of course, open up to sales). There are one or two that I would like to add more detail and colour too. I really want to break out the silver and gold pens. 

But no! Must be patient a few more days. What's a few days after three months of patiently drawing, scanning, and so on? I do hate waiting once I've got an idea in my head though. I like to have a question/problem, research solutions, and then implement them. Fast, decisive, educated, done. But hey ho, patience is a virtue that I need to develop so this is just another opportunity to practice. 

Excited though. And already considering a unicorn book to follow. If my winged horses are made of air, frost, and moonlight, I think the unicorns would be made of water, broken light, and seaweed. 

Friends over for dinner last night, was lovely. Barely left the boat all day though, so bad. Spent the day tidying, but kept getting distracted by small, fun, DIY projects, so time just ran away with me. Then I was putting my broken china pony safely on a shelf and managed to slice my hand open on a sharp edge. Tiny but very deep, blood everywhere. So many things are falling apart this month! I might come out of March feeling like less of a go-getter than I did these past two months. Anyway, I sat on the sofa feeling sorry for myself for a while, so that was more time wasted. No exercise yesterday, nothing, and barely any food. But nevermind, dinner was lovely, everyone was on good form, Cat provided entertainment and cuddles, and I do love chilling on my little boat. It's all I want right now. My little boat, some intellectual stimulation, physical work in the fresh air, animals and artistic scribbles... It's a lovely life. 

Today, Holly and I have made good progress on client work. The Moonchild corset is finished (just waiting on lacing) and very delicious she is too. Must take a picture for Instagram. Then a watery cincher for another client needed spiral steels and embellishment, so we've been doing that too. Had fun sewing lace on this morning, haven't had much opportunity to do so for a few weeks. 

We got talking about schedules last night and I thought, my readers possibly don't know exactly what a day in the life of a corsetmaker is like. Well the answer is varied. Especially now that I'm so very much part-time. I have my Monday with John as he works weekends, then Tuesday is work with Holly.

At the moment, our priority is finishing outstanding projects to free things up. Both in terms of workload and psychology! My wonderful photographer friend InaGlo asked if I had any new things to shoot the other day and the answer is no! A couple of things are begun, but they're not priority and with so many personal things to focus on this year they need to wait for now. Anyway, our Tuesdays usually involve me dealing with emails, admin, blog, finances, and dull stuff like that, whilst Holly does the actual sewing stuff. But that's because we have to clear projects like client orders, the corsetry book, pay off my business credit card, and so on. Once all that's further along we will have more freedom to play with couture flights of fancy

Wednesday and Thursday are volunteering days at the stables (mucking out, general dogsbody stuff you know, good physical activity), so the evenings are not for corsetry. 

Friday tends to be a chance to have a day off alone, so I go walking or see a friend or go to the library. Just chill. Then the weekends, well I'm keeping them free as I'm trying to visit home more this year. It's not quite happening as I'd like due to monies (train fares are prohibitive) but I'm just very aware of time passing. Have been since I was sixteen. My mum isn't old, but she's been on-and-off sick a lot over the past year and I normally only get home once or twice a year which just isn't good enough. But when that doesn't happen I use the weekends to focus on personal projects anyway. Drawing, the colouring book, writing, the gym, the boat, lots of canal walks and lots of equine anatomy study. John teaches on the weekend, so it gives me a good chance to focus in solitude, very important.

So as you can see, a "day in the life" for this corsetmaker currently involves very little corsetry at all! If you are what you do (more than what you think), then am I really a corsetmaker right now? I guess I am, on some Tuesdays! But I now also get to be a student, a walker, an artist, a volunteer, a better daughter... It's a much more well-rounded lifestyle than before, even if before I was madly prolific as a corsetmaker and turning out some very satisfying work. 

And with all that mind, I should get back to it! Step-by-step, tick things off the list, craft the constraints and freedoms that you want from life. Very fortunate.