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New blog – Towards the Mountain


Hello hello!  Very quiet here, isn’t it?  Well, I’m now blogging over at Towards the Mountain.  Join me there for musings on writing and creativity, mouthing off about narrative and books I’ve read, and, hopefully, the charting of my journey from “someone who writes” to “someone who feels justified in calling herself a writer“.

I’d love to see you there!


As you can imagine, I was quite tired on Sunday, having gone to my room at 2am.  I managed to drag myself out of bed with some help from my friend Nikki who knocked for me to make sure I didn’t miss breakfast!

Which reminds me, I haven’t mentioned much about the fabulous service and staff at Jesus College.  The ladies and gents working there were so helpful and accommodating all weekend, serving up a full English breakfast with a smile every morning, cleaning up after us and providing endless cups of tea and coffee all day long.  Seriously, when I got home it felt weird to have to actually sort out my own food and drink!

Despite the fab food, I felt a bit ill all Sunday.  Not because of anything I ate (or drank the night before!), but because I was very nervous about my photo shoot that morning.  This was the first time I’d made a corset for anyone other than myself and there were no fittings – I had to make it purely from measurements, so I was doubtful it would fit.  I was also fairly convinced that it would simply fall apart as I tried to lace it up, which I know is illogical, but such is fear!  So, as you can imagine, I was getting a bit worked up.

Detail of the finished corset.

Detail of my finished corset.

Other than feeling nervous, the morning waiting for the shoot was spent adding further embellishment, chatting with my new friends and trying not to actually drool on the other amazing corsets they were working on.

As well as the photo shoots, Sunday brought us antique corsets from the Symington Collection, presided over by Sarah Nicol and her lovely assistant Hannah Wroe (a textile and corsetry teacher I already knew from Nottingham!).  Unfortunately, I missed Sarah’s talk as it was during my photo shoot, but I did get to go and check out the corsets after lunch and I am so glad I did!

This is the largest selection of corsets Symington have ever sent out for an event like this and it was a truly impressive array; even better, we were allowed to carefully touch and handle the corsets and take photos to our hearts’ content!  I won’t share them all, but this should give you an idea of how unique an experience this was:

Courtesy of the Symington Collection.  Many thanks!

Courtesy of the Symington Collection. Many thanks!

Courtesy of the Symington Collection.  With thanks!

Courtesy of the Symington Collection. With thanks!

So many corsets, so little time!

The absolutely stunning Bride of Dracula corset by Royal Black, brought along by Morgana (thank you!).

The absolutely stunning Bride of Dracula corset by Royal Black, brought along by Morgana (thank you!).

Alas, all good things must come to an end and the conference was no exception … 4pm came ticking around far sooner than any of us would have liked.  Looks were exchanged – the end was nigh.  And sure enough, Julia gave a short speech thanking everyone for their help, support and attendance, and announcing the end of the conference.  Had that really been a whole weekend?!  Was it over already?!

We dragged our feet and stitched a little longer, waiting for buses and trains, but there was no denying it – this was the end.  There were hugs, Facebook friend requests and even tears.  Somehow, this weekend of loving corsets didn’t just lead to that rather professional and perhaps impersonal idea of ‘networking’, it actually brought a lot of people very close very quickly and friendships were forged across the world, with many promises of coming again next year and looking each other up if we were ever in their neck of the woods.  Julia hadn’t even worked out whether there would be a next year at that point, but I don’t think we were giving her an option.

And luckily we didn’t have to – it has since been announced that the college has been booked again.  The Oxford Conference of Corsetry will happen again in 2014.

The journey home was a strange combination of subdued and excited – I was sad that such an amazing weekend was over, but I was also so inspired by everything I’d learnt and all the wonderful people I’d met.  There was much sketching of ideas, pondering of possibilities and pawing of finds from the swap and then I was home.

You want to know how good this year’s conference was in short?  Well, I’m already saving for next year.

Edited to add: If you’d like to see more of my corsetry, I’ve started a Facebook page, Magpie & Fox.

(And since my last post on this, Marianne Faulkner, designer of Pop Antique and AKA Victoria Dagger (model and the other model at the conference, as well as workshop runner!  Phew, multi-talented, or what?!) has posted her thoughts on the conference, too.)

So, I left off my report on pre-conference Friday by saying how lovely the other conferenceers (I like it, makes us sound like we should have cool chapeaus and big boots) were …

It was with these delightful ladies I spent Saturday learning about draping corsets on a form (much less scary than I was expecting, thanks to Gerry Quinton, mastermind behind Morua Designs) and the fine art of fitting (with particular emphasis on that trickiest of spots – the bust, led by an expert in that region (!), Alison Campbell, creator of Crikey Aphrodite‘s yumminess).

Draping design with my crew - Niki and Beth.

There were goody bags with pressies from Janome and pretty corset postcards (yay!), as well as a huge fabric and embellishment swap.  Seriously.  I don’t think all that stuff even left the building.  It might even have formed its own gravitational pull at one point:

SONY DSC

This isn’t even the peak of the swap. Sari fabric, antique lace, pretty, pretty things!

We even had media coverage on the BBC News website ‘in pictures’, a local newspaper and BBC local radio (Julia speaks about the conference at 2:25:20)

There was stitching, coffee and chatter (the three staples of any corsetier, methinks) between classes in our hub, with much setting of eyelets and other fun.

I hate setting eyelets.  It’s the most stressful part of corsetry, I think!  So there I was setting eyelets on Saturday afternoon, getting more and more stressed.  You see, one of the (many) awesome parts of the conference was the opportunity to sign up for a short photo shoot with a professional model and photographer and as my City & Guilds deadline finished just before it was announced that one of those models would be the multi-talented and utterly gorgeous Morgana (AKA Threnody in Velvet, a make-up artist and photographer herself), I thought this would be a good idea … Hence the deadline that’s kept me off-blog for a few weeks.  It was a bit of a scary experience, drafting the corset purely from someone’s measurements without any fittings, but this was too good an opportunity to miss.  Here’s a little sneak peek:

Late night phone snap, sorry!

Late night phone snap, sorry!

The photo shoots were Sunday.  I hadn’t finished the eyelets or embellishment and it was Saturday.  Now you see my stress?  Also, I loved the look of the loomstate satin I used (from Sew Curvy earlier in the year), but it frayed like a complete bastard.  Seriously – I think it gave me splinters.  So, more stress.

But it’s OK, I soon had a distraction in the shape of Saturday night …

Saturday night was a real treat – Pimms O’clock (that’s the official name, right?) followed by a formal dinner in the Hall.  Oh yes, didn’t I tell you?  We ate all our meals beneath the watchful gaze of Queenie (founder of the college):

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

And Charles I and Lawrence of Arabia (bottom left):

SONY DSC

That’s just a taste of our imposing and impressive surroundings – it really made the weekend even more dream-like and fabulous, and the staff at Jesus were so friendly and helpful.  I couldn’t ask for more!

Due to rain, the Pimms drinks reception was held in a rather fancy room whose name escapes me, but which contained yet more Queenie:

oxoford queenie 2

And what’s more, she had a cherry earring!oxford Queenie detail

A CHERRY EARRING!

Yep, so she kept watchful gaze over our drinking (for some people the first time they’d tried Pimms) and admiration of everyone’s gladrags, then it was off to dinner and another highlight …

Our after dinner speaker was Ian Frazer Wallace, someone I admit I hadn’t heard of … and I wasn’t the only one – many of us went a-Googling and found precious little about this mysterious corseteer.  Then Julia posted this video of his work on famed burlesque dancer, Immodesty Blaise (mild bottom nudity towards end of video):

Polly Fey in more Ziad Ghanem, made in collaboration with Ian Frazer Wallace.   Image from Fashion PR.

Polly Fey in more Ziad Ghanem, made in collaboration with Ian Frazer Wallace.
Image from Fashion PR.

Ian made the green and white corsets in collaboration with designer Ziad Ghanem.  Wow, eh?  That soon cleared things up, so when the conference finally came around, we were all excited to hear Ian’s talk and he did not disappoint.  An interesting fellow and an enlightening speech, giving us a glimpse into the fashion world’s take on corsetry, with interjections from his muse, Polly Fey (also glimpsed in the video – second model to walk out on the finale, corsetted, shaved head, many tattoos, looks awesome).  It was something of a double act!

Could things get any better?  Turns out they could – these two weren’t a pair of snooty fashionistas, here for their talk, then off to something more important, despite what Hollywood films might lead us to expect.  No, they stayed all night, hit the bar with us, chatted, drank, giggled, entertained, hugged and were just generally delightful company, fun people and genuinely, well, nice.  They spoke to everyone, sharing advice, showing interest and giving encouragement.  (Ian wished me luck with my photo shoot when I said good night and teased me for sewing in the bar at midnight, since I still hadn’t finished my corset for the shoot and it turned out mine was in the morning!)

So it was that I ended up tottering to my room at 2am, tired, but inspired.

Thus endeth Saturday at the conference – just one day left!


It’s been rather quiet here this month, because I’ve been working on a corsetry deadline: last weekend I was lucky enough to go to the first Oxford Conference of Corsetry.

I’ll come right out and say this from the start: it was one of the best weekends ever.  Gorgeous corsets, stunning surroundings and most excellent company.  And it’s not just me who thinks it – Sara has already blogged her reflections on the weekend (spoiler – I think she liked it!).

I took the train on Friday afternoon feeling a bit apprehensive – who would be there?  What would they think of me, a little wannabe corsetier with just 3 (and a bit) corsets under my belt?  Would everyone be a million times more experienced than me?  Would they look down on me?  Would I learn something?  Would it be worth the investment?  So many worries and not a single one of them founded.

We stayed in Jesus College Oxford, which was an amazing setting for the fun to begin as we dragged (HEAVY!) cases up teeny staircases and bumped into people we recognised from the Facebook group for the event.

Oxford 2nd quad

One of my first memories of the conference was opening my bedroom door and thinking ‘Wow, that’s a wonky wardrobe … oh wait … no, it’s the room that’s wonky.  Okaaaaaaay.’

oxford room

oxford fabric

As you can imagine, there was much texting and Facebooking to organise everyone and find out who was where … Luckily corsetiers are a little easier to herd than cats.  So, we ventured to the delightful Darn It & Stitch, a teeny tiny haberdashery on a side street in Oxford, which still managed to contain treasure (and was kind enough to give us a 20% discount!).  Of course, I couldn’t resist temptation (When have I ever?!) and had to partake in some pretties (in the form of coral pink silk lining fabric for £5 a metre (what’s not to like about that?!) and some soft cotton tape in fun designs).

Unfortunately, I’m pretty rubbish at remembering to take photos of the everyday doings of things, but the group (of around 8 of us?) were quick to get talking to each other, immediately bonding over our mutual love of corsets, fabric and stitchery.

Those bonds were soon forged even stronger by dining at The Big Bang – the ultimate bangers and mash experience.  The conference organiser, Julia Bremble (of Sew Curvy fame), kindly booked a table for all 15 of us who had arrived early.

And then there were sausages.  Not just any old sausages, but every kind of sausage and all sorts of mash and your choice of gravy.  Oh yes.

Of course, there was still more chatting and bonding and general awesomeness, together with entertainment from the owner who was friendly, accommodating and … a bit bonkers?  (In a Good Way.)

At this point I’d met about half of the attendees, was already making friends and hadn’t yet met a single unpleasant person.  I’d have considered that a success in itself … and yet Saturday came, together with the rest of the corsetry crew who all turned out to be utterly lovely and delightful folk.  As you can probably guess by now, I met some wonderful people at the conference and really feel I’ve made some great friends across the world.

So, that was Friday, more coming up soon!


The issue of rape and bomb threats made over Twitter has been in the British news recently. Essentially, a woman campaigned to get Jane Austen on bank notes, so some men threatened to come and rape her and/or bomb her. A proportionate response, obviously. </sarcasm>

If you think this is an infringement of ‘freedom of speech’ or if you’re wondering why this matters, why people have been arrested over this, why she shouldn’t ‘just get over it’ or why thousands of people will be boycotting Twitter on Sunday 4th of August, here’s an article to explain.

Just a few of the rape and death threats made to Caoline Criado-Perez, the woman who campaigned for a Jane Austen bank note.

Just a few of the rape and death threats made to Caoline Criado-Perez, the woman who campaigned for a Jane Austen bank note.

Threat made to Independent journalist via Twitter.

Threat made to Independent journalist Grace Dent via Twitter.


Much as I love books, there is one genre that is sure to get me running for the hills.  Two little words with a hyphen between … I’ll whisper them …

Self-help.

how_to_lose_friends_and_alienate_people_ver5Maybe I’m being unfair – I mean the idea of helping yourself is definitely, in my metaphorical book, A Good Thing, but there’s something inherently grotesque (in that same book of mine) about a genre that contains a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People (or, as I’d call it, How to be a Manipulative Douchebag).

Another ‘winner’ in the self-help world was ‘recommended’ to me by a librarian in senior school.  I think I was about 12 or 13 and already known in the school library as a more advanced reader and, it would seem, as unpopular with guys, so of course(?!) she pulled this monstrosity off the shelf and suggested I have a read: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.  Really?  Yeah, really.

Apologies to any fans of John Gray, but I can’t tolerate any book that can say “Men are motivated when they feel needed while women are motivated when they feel cherished” and makes these weird generalisations about men and caves and women and waves, and, as if that wasn’t vomit-worthy enough, then says “we are unique individuals with unique experiences.”  Well, first off, for the latter, you get the No Shit Sherlock Award.  And, more importantly, which is it?  Are we individuals or these generalisations that John Gray pedals throughout this self-help schlock?

Breathe, Clare, breathe.  Sorry, as I was saying, me and self-help books aren’t on the best of terms and I’ve firmly avoided them since the Men are from Mars debacle.

Until now.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt the need for a new book now, so I hit up my local Waterstones, which is alarmingly close to my flat.  (Seriously, if I were considerably more agile, like those parkour-types, I could probably walk, run and jump across rooftops to get there.  Instead, I tend to walk down the road.)  The writing section is stocked fairly well, but most of the books of any interest were ones I already have.  I saw Coach Yourself to Writing Success nestling between some other how to write books and instantly dismissed it as one of those.  A self-help book.

But somehow I still bought it. Coach Yourself to Writing Success

The other day, I posted about my own experiences of spending far too much of my life not writing and instead worrying about writing or avoiding it altogether.  And perhaps thinking about all that opened the doors for me to consider Coach Yourself…, because ‘life coaching’ is a phrase guaranteed to raise deep and immediate distrust in most Brits.  And, gasp, Bekki Hill, the writer of Coach Yourself… is a life coach.  Truly, the planets must have been aligned and Venus in retrograde, with the Halls of Hell blanketed in snow (or something) for me to buy that book, but I did.

And I’m glad I did.

Hill’s book is kind of a careers advisor, best friend and therapist all rolled into one.  She asks some tough questions and speaks honestly, without any rubbish about cleansing auras, loving yourself or how anyone is like a cave.  Her writing style is down to earth and I think that’s a large part of what encouraged me to actually do most of the activities in the book, rather than dismiss them as unhelpful mumbo-jumbo.

That’s all very well and good, I can hear you saying, but we want results, what were the results?!  Well, I’m more productive with my writing than I’ve been since I was a child, before The Fear slithered in.  I’m more positive about the whole process of writing.  I’m procrastinating less.  I’m writing every day.  I’m much more mindful of my thoughts and attitudes towards writing in general and my writing in particular, as well as my wider writing goals.

Coach Yourself… gets you thinking about and identifying your true writing dreams and ambitions – it acknowledges that ultimately, some of us might be clinging on to writing when it’s someone else’s expectation or dream for us or perhaps it was a childhood dream that isn’t something we actually want anymore.  And that’s OK.  What’s the point in chasing a dream you no longer want?  This books helps you work that out and work through it, if it turns out writing isn’t really your ambition anymore.

 

Horizon: It's an experiment, honest!

Horizon: It’s an experiment, honest!

If it is still what you really, really want (Spice Girls quote not intended), Hill helps you map out how to achieve your writing goals.  Part of getting there is working out what’s stopping you, which Hill helps you do before talking you through how to get past that blockage.  In particular, she has some great techniques for increasing your positive thinking, which in a strange act of synchronicity was also the subject of the episode of Horizon shown around the time I was reading Coach Yourself…: The Truth About Personality.

 

It turns out, as both Hill and Horizon tell you, that while you might be a pessimist, more prone to negative thoughts than positive, and this is actually visible in the way your brain works (really, watch this episode of Horizon, if you can), you can still teach your brain to be more positivePositivity can be taught.  That’s something of a revelation for me – I probably tend to see a lot of negatives out there and in myself, and not always to my benefit (and both sources acknowledge that negativity is vital in protecting us from certain situations), but I figured that was just my way of thinking and always would be and that was that.  I didn’t know how to change it; I didn’t know it could be changed.

Turns out it can.  And that, my friends, is perhaps the greatest idea I’ve encountered in a long, long time.

Hill’s book gives you some great techniques for how to do this and also addresses other specific issues she’s encountered in her years of coaching writers, such as Boosting Motivation (chapter 8), Increasing Creativity (chapter 9), Beating Procrastination (chapter 10, probably a chapter many writers could do with looking at, if my Twitter feed is anything to go by!), Finding Time to Write (chapter 11), When the Words Don’t Flow (chapter 12), Dealing More Effectively with Rejection (chapter 13) and Letting Go (Chapter 14).  Because of that experience with real-world writers, the book is packed with real life examples of writerly struggles and how they overcame them.

So what I’m trying to say is if you’re looking for a book that doesn’t tell you about the technicalities of ‘how to write’, but rather teaches you the survival techniques of ‘how to get writing’, then get your hands on Bekki Hill’s Coach Yourself to Writing Success.

On Sleep – New Hypothesis on Memory


I’ve posted about sleep before – perhaps because I’ve struggled with it for much of my life – so I thought I’d share another interesting blog post I found today: scientists have long worked around the idea that sleep aids memory (I don’t know about you, but this would explain some pretty strange dreams I’ve had!), but this new theory looks at how sleep helps us process memories.

I’m a firm believer in the importance of a good night’s sleep – not too much and not too little – but it sometimes seems undervalued in the buzz of modern life.  People who drift off as soon as their head hits the pillow take it for granted (and are eternally envied by me!), while for busy types, it can fall far down the list of priorities.  Then there are people like me, for whom it doesn’t come easily – you lie there, eyes closed, trying to sleep … first it’s 30 minutes … nothing … then it’s an hour … then another hour goes by and you’re cursing yourself and the fact you’ve got to get up in five hours’ time.  But what if we’re seriously damaging our physical and mental health by not sleeping well?  And, if sleep plays an important part in memory, that must have implications for knowledge and education.

So, have a read of the article, it’s an interesting and slightly controversial theory, and make sure you guard your sleep time well.

Lady Sleeping, Franciszek Zmurko

Lady Sleeping, Franciszek Zmurko – NOT how I look sleeping!

As for my own sleep patterns, it’s not all bad: childhood insomnia is what made me such an avid reader from a young age.  My poor parents, I drove them mad, being unable to sleep and waking them up every night.  Then I learned to read and instead of bothering Mum and Dad, I’d consume book after book, re-reading them again and again when my supply of stories couldn’t keep up with demand.  Alas, these days I have more demands on my time and can sleep better, so I read considerably less than I used to, but, still, the pattern for reading was set at a young age, thanks to insomnia, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain.

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