Up close: Ink Cupped Corset

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, polaroid by Jenni Hampshire
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, polaroid by Jenni Hampshire

It is a rare occurrence indeed that I am actually pleased with something I’ve made. Call it the ‘creative curse’ if you will, but almost every time I make a garment it doesn’t take long for me to become intensely dissatisfied with it. Either I get bored with the design or think of a million things that could be improved.

The Ink corset in action: my outfit for the Oxford Conference of Corsetry 2015 dinner. Corset by Karolina Laskowska, gown by Gareth Pugh.
The Ink corset in action: my outfit for the Oxford Conference of Corsetry 2015 dinner. Corset by Karolina Laskowska, gown by Gareth Pugh.

Bizarrely enough, the ‘Ink’ corset is a piece that I can honestly say that I’m happy with. I can recognise that there’s several flaws in it, but that doesn’t affect my love of the piece. This piece was the first style in which I attempted the ‘keyhole’ cut out in a cupped corset; cupped corsets are tricky at the best of times, but in my usual haphazard approach I didn’t bother toiling it. Somehow, be it fluke or reliable pattern blocks, the final garment came together exactly as I’d hoped.

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Jenni Hampshire
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Jenni Hampshire

This was the second corset which I’d made using cotton bobbinet. The first piece I’d made left certain elements to be desired when it came to fit and had the additional issue in that it was a closed front (never a fun style to dress yourself in). When I started this piece, I had two primary aims: to create cups that fit correctly (as in a bra), and to use a busk.  These might sound like somewhat simple goals but they brought with themselves a whole slew of challenges…

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Marianne Faulkner
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Marianne Faulkner

I briefly covered my love of cotton bobbinet in my write up on the ‘Klimt’ corset. It’s a delightful fabric for corsetry: strong enough to shape the body, but lightweight enough for a flexible fit. Putting cups into coutil or crin can be incredibly challenging due to the extreme bulk of these heavy fabrics: bobbinet makes the stitching process much easier and more accurate.  Nevertheless, its loose weave brings its own challenges. It can’t take strain as easily as coutil. I wanted this corset to be made completely of bobbinet, without using coutil on the harder-wearing areas. This meant that there needed to be additional re-enforcement around the busk and eyelets to prevent the fabric from tearing. On these areas, I ended up using 4 layers of the bobbinet, as well as 3 layers of a sheer tight-weave nylon normally used to line lingerie. I wasn’t entirely convinced at the time that this would be enough to prevent eyelets or busk ripping out of the fabric, but fortunately the corset seems to have survived fairly significant wear unscathed so far!

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska

Although partially an aesthetic decision, I originally decided to use this keyhole as a method of improving cup fit. Cupped corsets encounter a lot of difficulties in this area, as the rigid and structured nature of a corset prevents the normal tension and elastication that a bra would have from molding the cups to the body. This becomes particularly challenging when a corset uses a busk, as the busk width means the cups are forced further apart from one another than is ideal. By creating this cut out, it meant I could interrupt the busk lower down on the body, allowing the cups to meet at the centre front and close with a hook and eye.

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska

I took a slightly different approach in the pattern cutting of this corset: I focused more on integrating a corset into the cups, rather than cups into a corset. The cups are lightly padded with foam for structure, and the wire is placed onto the cups rather than the corset cradle. This was also my first experiment with integrating one of my signature adjustable bra underbands into the cups: extending out from the side seam, this allows the wearer to adjust the band to fit their body and to place enough tension on the cups to spring the bra wire open.

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska

The main corset body is multi-panelled, with lightweight twill tape as internal bone casings. This corset has approximately 10 panels per side, with lightweight 5mm spiral steel bones supporting the structure. The curves of this corset are significant but not particularly extreme: I wanted them to emphasise my existing shape rather than significantly changing it. The busk is one of my favourite parts of this corset: it is an antique, and features slightly squarer shaped loops and a soft ‘spoon’ shaped curve. It’s nowhere near as extreme as traditional spoon busks but has a much softer effect: I’m a bit heartbroken that this is type of busk is no longer manufactured!

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, antique busk detail
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, antique busk detail

Initially this corset was an experiment with patterning and techniques, so I didn’t have a concrete plan on how I wanted to embellish the piece. Originally I had thought of delicate French lace appliqué in bold black and white, in a mix of symmetrical and assymetrical placement. I cut an outer of scalloped lace for the cups on the assumption that this would be the corset’s final aesthetic, before my plans went dramatically awry…

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, cup detail
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, cup detail

The act of painting a garment, particularly one with so many hours in its construction, always strikes me as one of risk. You have to give up a certain amount of control that has otherwise driven the process of creation and there’s no way of telling the direction that the final garment will go…

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska - hip detail
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska – hip detail

I’ve always adored working with ink. When it comes to painting, I am incapable of being precise and precious, so I choose to embrace the total opposite approach: chaos. The process of painting this corset was immeasurably fun. Dripping ink, splashing it, dunking the corset in water and letting it bleed… I particularly adore the effect it’s had on the lace, with the layering of texture and tone between the chantilly threads and the solid foam  below.

Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Jenni Hampshire
Ink corset by Karolina Laskowska, photography by Jenni Hampshire

I suppose one of the main reasons that I’m so pleased with this piece is the rawness that the ink has brought to it. So often, lingerie is completely focused on precision and perfection. Although this corset still carries those elements (after all, this many seams need 1mm accuracy in stitching), the act of painting and ‘ruining’ the original garment was a welcome break from the traditional prettiness of underwear and corsetry.  This is definitely an aesthetic that I wish to explore more in future: deliberate acts of vandalism towards garments that have already eaten so many hours of precise construction.

What do you think of painting garments? Would you ever take this risk with something you were making?

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5 thoughts on “Up close: Ink Cupped Corset

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