Want to make your own Corset? Emma Capponi will show you how
By Andrew Cottrill . March 8, 2016
Ever considered making your own corset? Master corset maker Emma Capponi is running a corset-making workshop in Friedrichshain between 21st March – 13th April. If you’re interested, hurry up – there are only a few spots left.
At a time where everyone’s telling you to get your beach body ready for summer, we say hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Corsets are making a come-back and, in a city like Berlin, you’re never short of opportunities to show off what you’ve got in one of these gravity-defying costume pieces.
We caught up with Emma for a chat about the whats, wheres and whys of wearing a corset, and her upcoming workshop.
What do you think inspires a woman to wear a corset? How does it make them feel?
The best way I can describe this is through the story of my Mum’s first corset. I had been making corsets for dancers for about a year when my mum had a belly dance recital coming up and the theme of one of the dances was burlesque. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass, so I made her a corset. Now, I have seen my mum in many different roles, but she was always ‘mum’, the one who made me lunch, went to work, picked me up from school – but when I laced her in to that corset, suddenly something changed. The way she looked at herself in the mirror, the way she stood, the expression on her face as she was laced in, smoothed out, lifted and flattened – she wasn’t just mum any more; she was this spectacular embodiment of ‘woman’. That’s how corsets make you feel, luxurious, glamorous and sexy. You aren’t just you any more; you are this embodiment of woman. It is this transformative power that draws people to corsetry.
Why do you think this piece of clothing continues to be popular into the 21st century?
I was lucky enough to hear Mr Pearl speak last year, and he said that corsets don’t really fit into a category. They aren’t an accessory, they aren’t quite lingerie, they aren’t quite evening wear, they aren’t quite fashion, they are something else.
I think corsetry appeals to people who also don’t quite fit into a category. People who want something a bit glamorous, a bit out of the ordinary, something that refuses to be contained by style or genre. Corsets sit somewhere between the hidden and the revealed, they constrain and restrict, but at the same time give a sense of rebellious freedom, they are a combination of exact, precise architecture and wild creativity. I think there will be people who love this dichotomy in any era.
Where can corsets be worn? And where do you wear yours?
Anywhere and everywhere! Especially in a city like Berlin, you really can wear your corset wherever you like. It can add a bit of glamour to a daytime outfit, it can be your sexy secret underneath your work clothes, it can be a costume piece that transforms you from your day-to-day self into a creature of the night – corsets can be anything!
What is your background in corset making? How did you first find this?
I made my first corset when I was 17, and I was pretty much hooked from there. I have always been interested in clothing and underwear, and how we use it to shape our self-perception and identity, so it made sense to start making corsets. At the time there wasn’t as much information out there as there is today, so I mainly taught myself through trial and error. From there I became interested in the Melbourne Cabaret and Burlesque scene, and I started getting commissions. Those commissions eventually grew into a business, and I have run Emma’s Corsets for the past three years. Now I’m lucky enough to be able to start sharing the knowledge I’ve amassed over the years, and start people off on their own corset-making journeys.
Have you made corsets for many people in the Cabaret/Burlesque scene? If so, who?
My clients have mainly been Australians, but from the European scene I’ve worked with Reuben Kaye and Raven Boylesque – I’ve also got a very exciting collaboration coming up with Immodesty Blaize! I’ve been very lucky to have some great burlesque and cabaret performers commission costumes from me, they certainly know how to keep you thinking outside the box!
Can you describe your favourite corset that you’ve ever made?
This is always such a hard question for me. I have a few actually! My Pearls Corset will always hold a place in my heart, and the weirdest one I’ve ever made (weird in a good way) was the Muscles Corset.
But, the one that stands out for me was a peach cupped corset I made for a bride last year. It was complicated because it was a cupped corset for a plus sized bust and the engineering alone cost me more sleepless nights than any corset before! Luckily, I had a client who believed in me, and let me do pretty much what I wanted with the design. After many fittings, the end result was completely worth it. My client looked and felt like the glorious curvy star that she is, and I truly believe that corsetry should be for everyone regardless of size or shape.
So today I sent off the most challenging and rewarding corset I have ever made. This longline cupped corset with garters has cost me more sleep than I'd willingly admit, but wow was the end result worth it! Big thanks to my lovely client who trusted me and was patient through the extensive fitting process, and for giving me relatively free rein with the design. I would also like to say that plus size lingerie definitely has its challenges, but they are not insurmountable, and every body deserves beautiful lingerie! Many lingerie designer hide behind 'it's too hard', or worse 'it's not possible' please know that while it can be expensive (there is a lot of engineering involved) it is definitely do able. Never think that your cup size should preclude you from feeling sexy! Time for champagne! 🎉🍸🍷
Who’re your normal clientele? Is there a ‘type’ that attend your workshops?
I don’t think I have ‘normal’ clientele! There is such a wide range of people with a wide range of backgrounds interested in corsetry.
I think corsetry is definitely a new challenge for people who are interested in dressmaking. Corsetry really is the foundation of both couture level high fashion, and of costuming. It is the basis of costumes in many disciplines – ballet, the theatre, historical re-enactments, drag or burlesque.
It is both a technical challenge, and a creative outlet.
How long does it take you to make one of your corsets?
That definitely depends on the corset. To draft and make a basic underbust corset takes between 15 and 20 hours. Of course once you’ve made a pattern it is much faster. Having said that, I have spent hundreds of hours on a corset before – it really all depends of the complexity and embellishment.
What are corsets typically made of? What’s used instead of whalebone?
Whalebone has not been used in corsetry since the industrial revolution, yet the idea does seem to stick in peoples heads – I once had a well meaning but misguided animal rights activist in my shop in Melbourne who was very concerned about it!
We use a very strong fabric called coutil as the base, and then we reinforce it with steel. There is a very strong, quite rigid centre front clip called the busk, then we use a combination of spiral and flat steels to give it structure. Spiral steels are great as they are very flexible. This gives you a very comfortable, supportive corset that will last you forever.
You say people taking part in your workshop can go on to make their own at home. How much does the material for a corset cost?
That depends on where you get your materials, and what materials you want to use. If you use high-quality materials, fabrics like silk, and embellishments the cost goes up, but you could make a simple version using relatively cheap materials.
Do people need any existing skills to take part in this course?
To participate in this course you need to know how to sew. If you can sew in a straight line and are pretty familiar with using a sewing machine, pressing and taking measurements, then you’ll be fine. We break it all down in to easy to follow steps, so you don’t need experience with pattern drafting or corsetry.
MAKE YOUR OWN CORSETS
with Emma Capponi
21st March – 13th April
every Monday and Wednesday
7:30pm – 9:30pm
(excluding Monday 28th March – 7 x sessions in total)
Sign up to Emma’s Classic Corsetry workshop here.