This post will probably most appeal to other corsetmakers, wearers and lovers of history. I’m delighted to share this “corset geekery” journey with you and hope you enjoy the glimpse into this (extensive) process. Last year I visited the Symington Antique Corset Collection when I was on my first “corset pilgrimage” in England. One of the things I loved most about the precious antique corsets were the busks. Some of the busks had interesting shaped loops, some had monograms stamped into them and same had gorgeous laurel leaf designs. It was the latter which I loved the most (I adore little ornate details that are subtle and may not be apparent at first glance) but I also loved the idea of busk loops having ‘Vanyanis’ stamped subtly in them (no one would ever be able to ‘knock off’ a design with that as the defining feature!) But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Above photos of engraved busks used with permission of the Leicestershire County Council Museum Service: Symington Collection.
Back in the Victorian era when corsets were mass manufactured, busks with these details were pretty common. Different companies used little details to help their product stand out from the others. Unfortunately with the decline of the Victorian era of corsetry, these pretty busks disappeared (along with those companies) and stopped being manufactured. After I saw the antique busks I knew I had to have some of my own. I couldn’t find any online (aside from real antique busks, but that wouldn’t be a steady supply of busks to use in my corsetry) but I did find many forums and comments from people wishing they could get their hands on such pretty busks. I’m a rather determined person, so instead of waiting around and hoping that someday, someone would get them made, I decided to take charge and do it myself and be that someone! The below four images show examples of detailed busks from my visit to the Symington collection. Photos were taken by myself and are used with courtesy of the Leicestershire County Council Museum Service.
Laurel leaf design spoon busk in The Pretty Housemaid corset, 1890. In my opinion, it seems most likely that the design would have been ‘stamped’ into the loops pre-assembly of the busk.
Busk detail on the 1885 ‘Y and N Diagonal Seam’ corset. Based on the look of this busk I’d say the letters and raised edge were created by casting the loops in pre-made moulds.
Spoon busk detail on an 1885 corset. This busk is detachable to allow for laundering (how brilliant!). The loops don’t feature a fancy design, but rather raised edges which gives a lovely 3D effect.
Busk detail on the 1887 ‘half corset’ designed to commemorate the Queen Victoria’s jubilee. Based on the look of this busk I’d say the letters and raised edge were created by casting the loops in pre-made moulds.
Aren’t these examples marvelous?! Talk about inspiring 🙂 And so, determined, I started the process of finding a metal worker or jeweller who would have the tools, skills and enthusiasm to help me tackle this project. You see, I didn’t want to just make one or two, I wanted to find someone who’d work with me long-term. I spent a good few weeks just making phone calls and sending emails. I think I’ve spoken with everyone remotely linked to this sort of thing in my state, and a few from interstate as well! It was important to me to find someone local (if possible) as I knew the product development would be time-consuming and costly and it’s always easier to communicate in person rather than via long distance, and on top of that I wanted to support other local artisans. After lots of searching and research, I finally found an incredibly talented metal worker who met all my criteria. Not only was he local, but he was interested in what I was doing and he had some incredible machinery that would make my dream possible. I was excited, but tried not to get too excited as I’d already had my hopes dashed many times before.
He created some tests on a piece of steel to show me how detailed his work could be and I knew then that I’d found what I’d been looking for. Using his incredible machines (that he’d put together himself using specialist parts from all over the world) he was able to engrave into the steel using a colour annealing process that meant that any engraved design would not be able to come off. The only way an engraved design would come off is if you took to it with a chisel and hammer – there’s no wearing or rubbing off of my designs. Perfect! And even better than that, is that there are three engraved colour effect possible: silver, black and gold!
The next stage was to finalize the artwork. I sketched the design I wanted and got Denise (of Romantic Recollections) to transform my sketch into a brilliant piece of digital artwork. With the artwork sorted it was time to begin proper testing with my metal worker. He had to create several templates and tools in order to engrave each loop accurately which ended up being incredibly time-consuming. However, after much testing and tweaking of processes, the final result can be revealed and I am just ecstatic with the outcome! All up it’s taken six months to get to this stage. It’s been hard work, expensive, and completely worth it. Recreating history in this way fills me with so much joy and I’m so proud that I’ve brought back something that’s been lost for about 100 years. This represents a huge personal achievement for me and I’m so happy to share this. I *swooned* when I discovered Narrowed Visions Coloured Busks and am thrilled to be able to add another unique busk offering to the corset community. I feel that I’ve put my own spin on these busks and made them my own, rather than just copying history exactly. I love how crisp and delicate my design has turned out and how clean and sharp the engraving is.
Left: A silver busk engraved with a black laurel. Right: A silver busk engraved with a gold laurel. These two effects (the black and the gold) are my favourites. The black stands out while not being too overpowering and the gold is gorgeous and subtle. The silver effect is even softer than the gold and would be perfect for someone who wants just a hint of detail.
Left: A spoon busk engraved with a black laurel – I just adore how this turned out. Read on to see how it looks inserted into a corset. Right: A trio of silver busks engraved with silver, black and gold laurels. These three busks were surprise ‘upgrades’ for my students in my last Intermediate Corsetry Course. They were quite delighted with the surprise 😉
Above: A ‘silver’ German steel busk engraved with silver laurels. This effect is the most delicate and subtle out of all the colours and is perfect if you just want a hint of detail… it really depends on the light as to how visible they are. So lovely and detailed.
Above: A gold plated flexible (German) steel busk with black engraved laurels *swoon*. I have several designs in progress using these gold busks. You could say that I’m slightly obsessed with black and gold. The next big ‘showpiece’ is being made to take to the Oxford Conference of Corsetry later this year. These gold plated busks are exclusive to Vanyanis and my clients <3
Around the same time that the busks were in their last stages of testing, I had a corset and final toile (mockup) to sew, each in need of a spoon busk. I put forth the idea of an engraved busk to my client and naturally got a rather excited response of “Yes!!!” to the upgrade for her design. I thought it’d be a perfect opportunity to try out some design ideas of my own so set to constructing the toile just as carefully as I’d construct the final corset. I chose a pale dove grey herringbone coutil for the toile and inserted a black engraved laurel spoon busk. The following pictures are of the corset sample (pre embellishment) and they show off the inserted busk magnificently. I have plans to add French lace to the corset and perhaps even some flossing… the idea is to create a fusion of old-meets-new. 🙂
Since sharing a few of these pictures on various social media sites I’ve had so many comments and messages asking where/when/how you can get your hands on some of these busks. Well, I’m not so cruel that I would go through all these months and months of work and expense to just keep them all to myself and limited clientele. There’s only so many corsets that I can sew in a year and based on the reaction I’ve seen, there’s more people who’d love one than I can personally cater for. So, I’m going to be making these available to purchase to any individual or corsetiere who’d like one (or several!). These Engraved Busks are not available anywhere else in the world – they are unique to Vanyanis. You are the first to be let in on this new gorgeous accessory – doesn’t it feel great to be part of something new and exciting?! 🙂
‘Emmeline’ underbust corset in progress: French lace over satin coutil. This sample corset will feature a gold busk with black engraved laurels!
The next stage of this project is rather exciting. The first busks that will be made available will be the ‘regular width’ (12mm wide per side) German steel busk in two lengths, suitable for an underbust and an overbust design (the size options will increase with time as at the moment I’m limited to ordering in some rather large ‘minimums’). These silver busks will be available with the engraved Laurel design in black, gold or silver. The excellent thing about the high quality steel busks I’ve sourced is that they can be shortened (if necessary) to suit your corset pattern. So whilst lengths will be (initially) limited to two sizes, they are versatile and easily adjusted (click here for a look at one way to shorten a busk). For my treasured bespoke corsetry clients other style busks (such as wide busks, gold plated busks and spoon busks) are also available to them for any corsetry commission. At this stage I will be keeping the gold busks exclusive to Vanyanis (but possibly opening up the other styles later on to everyone). I have to keep some things unique for my amazing clientele!
So now I need your help! If you could please vote in the poll below for your preferred underbust and overbust busk lengths that would be of tremendous help to this project. For the first ‘batch’ of busks I want to be sure I’m ordering in what the majority of you want so it’s very important that you let me know what that is. The poll is set to accept two answers so please choose one length for underbust and one for overbust.
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I also have one final bit of news (for now at least 😉 ) that may be of interest to the corsetmakers amongst you. Should you desire something different to the Laurel leaf design, I will be opening up a custom busk service for those that want their very own, unique engraved busks. What this means for you is that you can dream up your own busk design and get it made exclusively for your label without having to spend lots of time and money trying to figure it out! How fabulous will it be to add that finishing detail to your corsetry using a busk that is available only to you (and your clients)?! Oh the possibilities… I can’t wait to see what you all dream up!
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So what do you think? Can you picture one of these engraved busks in your next corset? If you could have any corset (your only limit being your imagination) with one of these busks, what would it look like? Let me know in the comments below. And of course, for all my treasured clients these busks are available as upgrades to your bespoke corsets. For those that have already joined the mailing list an email will be going out soon to let you know when and how you can get your Vanyanis Engraved Busks.
As ever, thank you so much for reading – I hope you’ve enjoyed all the corset geekery!