Corset Pilgrimage (part 1): Symingtons, Sparklewren and InaGlo

Corset Pilgrimage (part 1): Symingtons, Sparklewren and InaGlo
September 15, 2014 Lowana

My two weeks in England were a bit of a whirlwind! I managed to fit in a lot of things and I’m so glad I made the effort to do so as the result has been some amazing experiences, new friends and much knowledge learnt. I had planned to write and publish blog posts about my trip whilst over in England but my itinerary proved to be very full, with little down time.

The lead up to my departure was certainly busy. There were bags to pack, corsets to finish (or at least get the machine stitching part done) and a million other bits and pieces that seemed to keep making their way onto my list. Somehow I got most of it done (with some help from interns Julianne and Amy) and of course my ever supportive husband and mum. I’d say Nomi helped, but that would just be fibbing. She was definitely a hindrance during the packing stage and I’m sure she knew something was up – cats seem to just know when something’s going on that will affect them. On the morning I left home, she was definitely in a right state – racing around the house like crazy and not letting me give her a goodbye cuddle. Cats always know. It was tough saying goodbye to Stu at the airport, as the two and a bit weeks I’d be away would be the longest time we’d ever spent apart. Honestly, talk about supportive and amazing <3

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Nomi keeping a close eye on things as I busily finished things off in the studio.
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Left: carry on luggage with some duty free goodies. Middle: My Australian passport. Right: I don’t look very excited here because I’d only had 2 hours sleep but I had butterflies in my tummy whilst waiting to board the plane 🙂

The flights (yes, plural) were long but uneventful and about 30 hours after leaving home, I arrived at London Heathrow where I was to meet my friend Lucy (Lucy’s YouTube channel) for the first time in person. It was sort of bizarre, but also completely normal meeting in person as we’ve been good friends online for about a year now and I guess it was just a natural progression of our friendship. We spent the day with my good friend Talie (who was letting me borrow her couch for the night) and she took us out to a local chocolate shop. We had Aztec Hot Chocolate (with chilli) as well as delicious treats and it was definitely a nice way to spend the (very jet lagged) day. I was determined to stay awake til a ‘normal’ sleeping hour but ended up falling asleep rather early in the evening so our dinner plans were inadvertently cancelled. Boo to jet lag!

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Left: waiting for Lucy to arrive at Heathrow airport. Right: Drinking delicious hot chocolate and feeling *very* jet lagged.
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My dear friend Talie let me lace her into my ‘Alecto’ underbust prototype. This sample is made in black small-weave herringbone coutil and came together beautifully! Unfortunately, the coutil ‘scuffs’ really badly so this fabric won’t be making the final cut (see what I did there…) but I’m really pleased with the pattern (no ripples).

On Wednesday Lucy and I set off on the first stage of our corset pilgrimage: a private viewing of the Symington Corset Collection! I had literally dreamt about viewing this collection so it was a dream come true to have the opportunity it see it. We set off from Kings Cross train station in London (yes, the Harry Potter fan in me geeked out a bit) and headed up to Sileby, where the collection is carefully stored when not on display.

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Selfie in Sileby!

Sarah Nicol (the lovely woman in charge of managing the collection) was an absolute dream and certainly knew how to impress Lucy and I. She kept opening more and more boxes of beautiful corsets and each one was more beautiful than the last! We were allowed to take (non-flash) photography and I took photos of everything we saw so I’ll be sharing those pictures in some separate blog posts (yes, plural as I took a lot of photos). The best bit was that we were able to touch the corsets and carefully handle them. Sarah was so full of knowledge about the corsets and the history of the Symington factory; she’s a real asset to the collection. She even let us take a look at some of the eighteenth century gowns in their collection. The following four photos are courtesy of the Symington Collection: Leicestershire County Council Museum Service.

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Left: beautiful corsets carefully preserved in boxes. Right: Racks of antique gowns *swoon*
From the Symington Collection: Leicestershire County Council Museum Service. From the Symington Collection: Leicestershire County Council Museum Service.
Left: Flossing samples. Right: a detachable spoon busk to make cleaning easier (how genius is that!)

Hours later it was time to say goodbye to Sarah and the amazing collection and catch a train to Birmingham, where we’d be spending a couple of nights. The trains are so fast in England. We were both still terribly jet lagged but buzzing with excitement from seeing all those wonderful corsets. We checked into our hotel and then went wandering to find somewhere to eat. We found a nice restaurant close by and treated ourselves to a lovely meal. I shouldn’t have had a drink as the single drink in combination with my jet lag had me falling asleep at the table! Poor Lucy…. how terribly rude of me!

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Drinks and dinner with Lucy.

The next morning Lucy and I walked over to the Jewellery Quarter to visit Sparklewren‘s ‘corset paradise’ and to meet Jenni Hampshire, the inspiring woman behind the label. It was a nice walk over and I loved all the old buildings we passed. I just adore all the small details in most of British architecture and all the lovely panes of glass. I think I have a thing for small details; small bricks, small panes of glass…I just love it all.

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Obligatory tourist photos out the front of St. Pauls Church, Birmingham

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A building I spotted on the walk to the Jewellery Quarter. Even though it’s falling into disrepair, I just love the windows and the overall abandoned feel of the place.

I was a little nervous to meet Jenni in person as I’ve been an admirer of her work for some time and she’s one of my biggest idols. Not that I had any reason to think otherwise, but it turns out that she’s the loveliest, cheerful person and so friendly that she put me at ease straight away. We immediately got chatting about corsets and her amazing showroom (which is available to hire as a photography space). As beautiful as the photo’s of Jenni’s work are, her work really needs to be seen to be believed – there’s so much detail and her embellishments are just mesmerizing. It was a dream come true to be able to (metaphorically) drool over her gorgeous pieces and even try one on (which I ended up purchasing as a birthday gift to myself!). I’ve followed Jenni for a while via her subscription blog where she gives insight into the goings on of a corset maker and behind-the-scenes. I really enjoy reading her blog as it’s a wonderful way to connect with another maker as I work primarily alone. Since it’s such a niche industry many of us are scattered all around the world but it’s wonderful that the internet brings us together. I think the best bit about my corset pilgrimage is being able to meet and connect in person with other corsetières.

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All made up after my photo session and trying on a little Sparklewren underbust (which I ended up purchasing)

A friend of Jenni’s, photographer Glo Mason of InaGlo Photography had contacted me several months before my trip wanting to collaborate for a photo shoot. Glo does the majority of Jenni’s photography and I’ve always admired her soft, dreamy lighting that still manages to display all the detail in the garments. Anyway, we’d managed to organize the shoot at the corset paradise and Glo had arranged for Leah Axl to model and for Sam Gardner to do hair and makeup! Talk about a dream team! The shoot was so much fun and I was thrilled with how it all came together. I even got ‘made up’ and jumped in front of the camera for a bit, modelling a black underbust corset that will soon be available to order in standard sizes. Lucy also modelled a couple of Sparklewren corsets and looked absolutely phenomenal in them! You can see the first finished picture of Lucy on her Facebook page.

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Leah Axl posing up a storm in my Serena bridal corset with Glo working hard to capture the perfect shot.
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Taking photos of people taking photos! Doesn’t Lucy look amazing!

Marianne Faulkner (of Pop Antique) and her fiancé also joined us in the studio and we all indulged in some last-minute sewing in preparation for the Oxford Conference of Corsetry. It was nice not being the only one with work to complete before the conference. As with all creative pursuits, there’s always more ideas than time. Marianne blogged about our fun day over at The Lingerie Addict if you’d like to read about it from her perspective. We ended up staying late at Jenni’s studio and finished the day with some English ‘fish and chips’ and much corset related banter. Jenni and Marianne decided to do an impromptu photo shoot of Jenni’s Jesus (college) inspired corset.

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Jenni photographing the beautiful Victoria Dagger in Corset Paradise.
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Peeping out the back window and spying lots of other work spaces. Oh how I wish one were mine!
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Lucy and I in the car headed towards Oxford 😀

Friday dawned and it was time to pack our things and head over to Jenni’s studio as she’d kindly offered Lucy and I a lift to Oxford. We packed the car with many suitcases, corsets and lovely mannequins and then we were off. You could sense the excitement in the air as we all piled into the car and set off. It took nearly two hours to get to Oxford but it was over in a blink as we were busy chatting away. Driving into Oxford was like driving into the set of Harry Potter. The more buildings we passed, the more beautiful they became. I knew instantly that the weekend was going to be better than I had hoped and I was itching to explore the city. To be continued….

Thanks for following my journey so far, the next installment won’t be far away. Make sure you’re subscribed to my VIP list to be kept up to date about new posts!


Comments (5)

  1. Mina LaFleur 10 years ago

    Lovely blog, I could really feel the excitement of your experience! Looking forward to reading more about your adventures abroad. 🙂

  2. June Parsons 10 years ago

    Great blog. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures.

  3. Jenni Hampshire 10 years ago

    Thank you for the very kind mention Lowana. ‘Twas a pleasure to have you here, naturally, am very sad we won’t see you for another year!

  4. Emmelie 10 years ago

    So happy to have this blog post to read and so quickly, inspires so much excitement! Excited to ready about travel, excited to be able to order my own Alecto underbust soon, excited for more instalments!! 😀

  5. Cathy Hay 10 years ago

    Lovely to hear the whole story of your trip, Lowana!

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