The Making of the Tree of Life

The theme for the Foundations Revealed corsetry contest this year is Renewal, with a focus on mythology and sustainability. My design was inspired by the Tree of Life, a concept found in the mythology of so many cultures across the world. It is a concept that speaks to me deeply, embodying the cycle of life, energy and the seasons.

To evoke this cyclic concept, I wanted my design to also grow, changing through the seasons like a real tree, but bedecked with a variety of types of leaves and flowers to represent the different Trees of Life across the world. I wanted the colours to be in vivid metallic and sparkling crystals to enhance the sense of magic and mythology. To also bring in an element of sustainability, I used many materials from previous projects to construct this outfit. The leather is leftovers from my 2019 contest entry, the fabrics from previous commissions, and the thermoplastic from my large bag of scraps. The only materials bought for this outfit were more magnets, as I didn’t have enough.

I chose a long line corset dress to allow the length of the tree trunk, patterning the corset to fit my model. We had a toile fitting, and made fit adjustments to the pattern before constructing the corset. It is a single layer coutil corset, with a fashion layer of interfaced black silk dupion and a cotton floating lining. It has 13 panels, 7 solid steel bones and 18 spiral steel bones, as well as a boned suspended modesty panel.

The corset was constructed by roll pinning the fashion layer to the coutil before sewing together the panels. The tree trunk and roots are metallic gold leather, appliqued once the panels are assembled. Internal coutil boning channels were then basted and sewn from the right side, stopping and restarting wherever the stitching crossed the leather applique. The threads were pulled to the back and hand knotted, and the channels hand sewn where loose.

The corset was then boned, the floating cotton lining attached, and the edges bound with hand finished black silk. The grommets are gold two part Prym grommets.

The tree branches were constructed of an armature of wire, wrapped with aluminium foil and coated in thermoplastic, to make them as light and sturdy as possible.  The leaves and flowers were all hand drawn, cut and sculpted out of scraps of thermoplastic, painted with metallic paints, and magnets were glued to the backs. The flowers had crystal beads glued in their centers. Magnets were also glued to the branches, so the flowers and leaves could be attached and removed from the branches at will, to create the effect of changing through the seasons. The branches are removable from the corset, slotting into sockets at the upper edge of the corset. Nearly 600 flowers, buds and leaves were made, with 140 on the branches at any one time.

I was very happy with the fit of my finished corset when my model Miss Twisted tried it on. We photographed it with Sol Santana Photography, and attempted our first ever stop motion video to demonstrate the changing seasons.

Here are the beautiful final images.

The video was not quite finished, as after 6 hours the model was too tired to keep going, so we finished at autumn. The leaves were planned to fall, and we would finish with the bare branches of winter, so it could be a looping video but now we know just how long it takes we will try again with more time and preparation next time!!! I am still very happy with the result, edited by Lisa Paech, and with music by Matthew Pablo