Corset Pattern Cutting by Georgia S. and Freya

Georgia S. [January 2016]

On Monday the 9th of November and the following Monday (the 16th) Level 2 and Level 3 Costume students were extremely lucky to take part in a workshop with the tailor Annika Caswell who currently works for Timothy Everest, having trained on Savile Row. She also gave a similar workshop to our Costume teacher, Susannah Pal, when she was our age so it was great to be taught by one of the people who inspired our teacher into her profession. In her introduction, we learnt more about her 18 years experience making dresses for the red carpet, having her own brand of corsetry and training to be, and eventually working as a tailor as well as side careers and hobbies such as acting and modelling. Her overall message to us was ‘Don’t limit yourself to Plan A or Plan B, do it all!’. This was the most important lesson that resonated with me and other students as it relates to our future whether we want to do costume or not.

After we had discussed how she began and what inspired her (which was re-creating historically accurate clothing initially and she still has a passion for vintage suits), we spoke about her current career, working for Timothy Everest. Tailoring is a specialist and time-consuming trade and requires years of training. I was surprised to learn that tailors often only specialise in one garment, Annika specialises in jackets. A tailor may train for years and by the end of it only know how to make jackets; this links to the fact that on Savile Row everything is done by different people - one person designs, one person makes the pattern, another cuts the fabric and then a final person sews the whole thing together, which is what Annika does. As a specific example, she made a suit jacket for Tilda Swinton and the pieces were handed to her to sew without seeing the design or anything done previously. Elaborate suits like this one can take more than 10 days solid work.

A lot of students had questions regarding her corset business as I know some of my peers are interested in making their own brand like she has. Her brand related to the passion she had from a young age of studying and creating historically accurate clothing, all her corsets were made as the would’ve been (with the same fabrics, boning and often by hand)Each corset takes 50-100+ hours to make depending on the complexity.  What was very interesting was her knowledge of the history of corsets. Corsets used to be laced solely from the back until Victorian corsets, where they were made with busks (two pieces of boning with hooks down the middle) at the front so you could dress yourself. Annika pointed out, that although odd to us now, this was a positive step for women’s liberation as they now had control in dressing themselves, and therefore, their own bodies.

For the second hour, we began measuring each other in order to draw up a Body Block which could be used to make clothes that fit us exactly. To begin with, we tied a piece of string around the smallest part of our waist which worked as a guideline for other measurements. Then, we measured the bust (the widest point), the waist (where we had placed the string), the high hip (measurement around the body from the top of the hip bone) and the position of this (the distance between string at our waists and the top of the high bone).

Following this, Annika taught us how to take a series of complicated measurements. Concentration was key because if we measurements were wrong then our resulting corset would not fit. The armhole depth was the most difficult measurement to take as it required wrapping the tape measure around our peer’s neck and across their back and recording the distance from that point to their nape. Other measurements we took include the width of the back and front and our heights.

Other than the skills I learnt, the most valuable lesson I took from the first day is that she only got where is through passion and hard-work. She was extremely driven to get better and try new things. A great example of this was the dress she created for her final piece when studying at Wimbledon School of Art. She created an elaborate costume as an exact replica of a Katherine Parr’s (King Henry VIII’s 6th and last wife) exquisite dress.  Annika is a perfectionist and all the prints, lace and details were made from scratch and by hand. The elaborate attire took Annika 4 months in total to make. She worked 12 hours a day for 6 days a week and it cost her £2,000. When she was struggling to make a profit from her corsets due to how accurate they were, she found an apprenticeship at Timothy Everest and learnt new skill as a jacket tailor. Annika Caswell is forever developing herself and her ability and that's why she is such an inspiration to anyone, but particularly those who want to work in fashion or costume.-- 


Freya W. [Janurary 2016]

Movies such as the Devil Wears Prada depict the brutality of the fashion industry, but until recently I thought this was simply a myth.  I regarded the demanding nature of Miranda Priestly as a character written for humorous entertainment purposes only.

In a Corset Body Block workshop I recently attended, the renowned Savile Row trained tailor Annika told the L2 and L3 costume students about her own personal journey;  working her way up, in a male dominated industry.  

Though the fashion industry today is far less patriarchal than in the recent past, Annika was one of the first women to be trained in Savile Row  as she quoted “I was amongst the first, all those jacket makers older than myself were male.” This (sexist) male dominated world may seem alien to us as the younger generation, yet sadly amongst many cultures today the world of fashion is strictly male dominated.

Yet set aside the ways of the past, Anika's tailoring skills were exemplary, an array of beauty and sophistication. I was honoured to witness the corsets she had hand sewn, the attention given to each stitch was beyond words.  It was said, that a standard ( Savile Row) corset takes (three) up to five solid days to complete, but the time put in, is reflected in the simple grace of their corsets

Once finished her speech, Annika set us the task of obtaining various obscure measurements such as armpit depth. We were careful when taking these measurements to guarantee a well fitting corset, each measurement must be precise.   
Once collected, we started to create a Body Block (a visual representation of our body.)  Creating a body block is hugely mathematical process and so many complicated calculations have to be taken into consideration.  As someone who struggles with Maths, I found this very challenging, though after two hours of hard work, we had all created a successful Body Block!

We in the UTC are beyond fortunate to have such prestigious connections with multiple industries and their professionals. Workshops such as these are rare to most and maximising these opportunities is imperative. This recent course has opened my eyes to new areas of design and fashion, such as tailoring, corsetry and millinery all of which I had yet to consider, before this workshop.