Review by Lindsay Rendall
On receiving this book to review I have to admit I was quite curious. Having never considered corsets to be anything other than functional and fashionable garments designed to either shape the wearer to the desired look and please the eye with silk, velvet and lace or to provide a more surgical support for those that needed it, the concept of corsetry as art pieces intrigued me. This book explores the world of art corsetry, looking at both wearable garments and those produced purely as an artistic expression designed to convey the artists message.
The author Val Holmes is a renowned teacher, embroiderer, textile artist and author of a number of textile art publications including ‘Creative Recycling in Embroidery’ and ‘Collage, Stitch, Print’. She first began experimenting with sculptural corsets a number of years ago, initially intending the pieces to be as feminist statements about women’s confinement or conversely about their liberty, however as she continued to work with them she discovered that it was much more to do with her personal relationship with her own body, especially since having back troubles she found the use of support corset to counter these pains necessary. This in turn lead to her working on items such as taking a plain support corset that she wore and turning into a colourful garment festooned with appliqued flowers and machine embroidery which much better reflected her personality than the dour surgical style.
The book explores such notions as ‘we are what we wear’, how clothing can represent both who we are and who we want to be seen as. The relationship of women to their bodies and how they can be restrained within society. One garment the ‘Slave to Chocolate Corset’ for example has been fabricated by layering chocolate wrappers round the outside of the corset and appliqueing them down with machine stitched text exploring facts about chocolate and it’s production. It explores our obsessional relationship with chocolate and balancing it’s temptation with our desire to be slim.
As well as showing her own work, Val introduces the reader to the work of a number of other textile artists working in a similar field. The artists introduce their own work and describe how it is made, how they envisage the work and talk us through the creative process. Each artist has a different take on the subject and brings their own style to the medium. The corsets included are in turn thoughtful, beautiful and sometimes disturbing in their subject matter and inspiration.
The book is split into a number of sections including: purely sculptural pieces made purely as a statement of art and by their nature either too delicate or uncomfortable to be worn, wearable art corsets sturdy enough at least for the occasional usage and also textile art made from other intimate garments such as bras, nightgowns and knickers (the knicker bunting by Julia Triston made me smile) and finally two dimensional art inspired by undergarments. Whilst this is not an instructional craft book in the sense of having projects with detailed patterns to follow, Val does take the reader through a number of techniques used for the garments and references commercially available corset patterns that would be suitable for them to use as a basis of the garments (particularly for the wearable ones).
All in all I found this a fascinating read which introduced me to some beautiful and interesting art work – I don’t think I’ll ever look at a bra in the same way again!
Published by Batsford