Is she really a corset snob?
Two nights ago I watched a movie called “Silk” set in the mid 19th century, while writing for the Canada Cups blog tour. For the first time ever, I looked closely at the costumes of the Victorian Era. And for the first time ever, I cared about what those ladies had under their skirts — bustles and corsets and crinolines. What better time to tell the story of Linda Sparks, owner of Farthingales, Craftsy instructor and historical (as opposed to hysterical) undergarment expert!
Watch this little video Linda has on her site, check out our interview transcript below, and then you tell me if she deserves to be called a corset snob.
ML: Let’s start with the past and work our way forward. We have to get some of the basic info out of the way: How long have you been sewing?
LS: 40 years this year, I hadn’t thought about it…oh my.
ML: How can that be?? Did you have a sewing machine in-utero?
ML: What did you start with? Kind of sewing machine? Lessons? Home Economics class?
LS: Neither my grandmothers nor my mother sewed but my mother had a sewing machine, a brown Elna with a knee press rather than a foot pedal. The summer I was 15…
ML: Oh! You only look like you’re in your 30’s then…
LS: [laughing] Not in real life!
… I bought my first pattern and made my first top — without having the patience to read a pattern instructions. I saw it as a puzzle and it did fit and I did wear it. Figuring out the puzzle was more fun than actual sewing!
ML: So you bought the pattern and didn’t use it? Do you still have it stashed somewhere?
LS: No, it’s long gone as are the few other memorable pieces I made before going off to study fashion at college.
ML: Thinking back, what would you say was the pivotal point that led you to corsetry?
LS: I was taught how to make corsets when I was working in the wardrobe department at the Stratford Festival but it wasn’t until after I started my business that I had the time and the motivation to really explore the art of corsetry. By then, I had developed arthritis in my hands and hand sewing was not possible so I dove into developing a method of corset making that required no hand sewing and created an efficient way to make corsets that would still be durable enough for theatrical needs.
ML: I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying you started your business before you explored the art and history of corsetry?
LS: Yes, I started the business first as an on-line source of costuming supplies back in 1998.
ML: Did you start out with corsets? Or something else?
LS: It evolved into a focus on corset supplies – they were always part of it but they became the primary focus.
ML: What is the biggest disaster you’ve ever had that, in retrospect, was really funny or a blessing in disguise?
ML: [Grinning] I guess I won’t get an answer to that one, huh?
LS: There really have been no disasters, everything can be fixed somehow.
ML: Alright, let’s move on to the present… What’s a typical workday for you?
LS: “Untypical”. For ten of the last 11 years I usually worked 6 days a week, but for the past year I’ve been reworking my schedule and I’m still figuring out a routine that allows me to get both the work and personal goals that I want to achieve …achieved, so right now there is no typical. I do try to get on Facebook every day to follow groups and answer questions – same goes with Craftsy.
ML: Outside of work, how to you spend your time? Do you do any other sewing? Any other craft or art?
LS: For years I had no time. I worked, and we’ve been working on renovating the house when we have the time and the energy. In another year that will be done, so my husband and I are planning on hiking and doing outdoor things. I have made the odd quilt and a few bags — mostly as gifts.
ML: That’s starting to sound like a balanced life… What are the culture and atmosphere like in Farthingales?
LS: Farthingales is not a retail store so we’ve made no effort to create a visual atmosphere the way you’d need to for retail. The business is housed in an old feedmill with hardwood floors, it’s a fairly large open space (we’ve got about 2,000 square feet) and the walls are lined with shelf units from floor to ceiling that hold bins upon bins of corset bones (6 different steel qualities in a vast array of sizes), busks, and coutil (25 different ones), as well as many other costume making supplies. It’s really a very functional space that’s in no way pretty.
There are only two of us so it’s very quiet. Cathy works in the main area processing the orders from start to finish and she usually has country music playing. I have a small office that also has floor to ceiling shelves holding all my corset teaching materials and samples… and all those bits you figure you may have a use for someday! So, lots and lots of uniform sized bins and boxes… sort of like a very large pantry!
ML: Oh great! Now you have me picturing Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. But it would seem you have no shortage of bones in your pantry.
LS: [Chuckling] Yes, that is a good image and no, no shortage of bones!
ML: [Wondering if corsetry might be the solution to … um, change of topic!]
Oh dear! Take 5 while I go rescue a little bird from my cat. I’ll be right back!
… The bird is alright, and recovering in a make-shift cage. Back to the
ML: From selling supplies, through designing and teaching, to wearing corsets, what part of the whole process appeals to you most?
LS: Definitely the developing of ideas and planning things out, no matter what part of the business it’s for; a new way to make a corset, a better way to handle materials, developing a new product to make a process easier (most recent is our bone-tipping tool for pliers that requires no strength and no fuss to cap the ends of corset bones).
ML: I saw you demonstrate that tool in your Craftsy class. It looks so ridiculously easy.
LS: It is.
ML: Speaking of Craftsy, can you tell us how you became one of their teachers?
LS: I submitted a proposal a few years ago and never heard back, then I heard about the corset class by Alison [Smith] and thought that was the end of it, but then I got a call from one of the Craftsy people and we talked about options and came up with this class. I spent about 80 hours before taping planning and developing the script and the samples and working with one of their staff each week for about 8 weeks.
ML: What was the experience like? Any behind the scenes beans you want to spill?
LS: The team I worked with was incredibly supportive and encouraged me to see the studio as my own – but that was hard when it was all so new… and it’s dark … and you’re looking into a camera lens and smiling at no one you can see. That part was really hard to get used to, so the first day was rough, the second day was much better. The process as a whole is wonderfully controlled and the team covers all the bases – I never felt that anything had been overlooked or that I was solely responsible for the outcome. It was a stressful couple of days despite everyone’s efforts because I’m not used to teaching a camera lens and there are no human faces or reactions to respond to – which you have in an “in person” class. There is also the challenge of working with a machine I’d never worked with before.
ML: What about that cute story you told me off the record? Want to go on record with it? I bet lots of people would like to know what happens when two worlds collide on-camera.
LS: They told me several weeks prior to the taping what machines they had and I chose one to be mine on set. I borrowed the same model from my local dealer for a couple of weekends to be sure I knew how it operated. When I got on set the machine worked fine, then part way through day one it started skipping stitches. We spent about an hour trying everything to get it to work and the delay was adding to my stress levels. They opted to bring in another machine…it was like looking at an airplane cockpit and I couldn’t figure out how it worked – everything had to be programmed. I ended up taking the manual back to my hotel and things went better the second day…so ignore my ineptitude when wearing the green shirt! Any other time, I’d have loved the chance to play on a $12,000 machine.
I have to interject here that it’s a good thing Linda chose to tell the story, because I’d be veeeeery tempted to tell it myself — my way! (And nobody wants that!)
ML: So, what’s your sewing/costuming nickname? I’m sure you have one by now.
LS: Not that I know of.
ML: [Giving serious thought to “Corset Snob”] Alright, we’ll work on that. Let’s get back to the future…
ML: Do you think you might film another Craftsy class, now that you have one under your belt, so to speak?
LS: Corset making is an art you can really delve into – there is so much more than many people think, and I have ideas for other classes but we’ll see how well this one goes. It’s not of mass interest the way many other needle crafts are, so it may not be as big a seller as it needs to be. I’ll give it a few months and then send in another proposal… but who knows maybe it will be about bustle building.
ML: Some of us could do without adding more bustle behind us. Either that or lay off the biscuits and booze—either way…
LS: Well, cage crinolines hide all that, so maybe cage crinolines will be next.
ML: Crinkle chips? Did I hear crinkle… Oh crinolines! Nevermind…
ML: I understand you’re starting to get into bag-making. Where do you see this going?
LS: That will just be a hobby. As my time has started to free up a bit, I’m doing different things and bags will be something I do for me. I love the idea of creating bags for specific purposes, developing the patterns to get pockets where I want them, and for what I need them for.
ML: There are tons of patterns out there that you can easily “hack” to get them just the way you want. But I suspect you would love the whole concept development and testing part. And it would be very silly of me not to mention the amazing Craftsy class, Design Your Own Handbag, by Brett Bara. Have you taken that one yet?
LS: I don’t think I have that one yet but I have taken two and I love that, like corsets, they can look daunting but as you break them down into puzzle pieces, you can see how they all fit.
ML: Totally! It’s nothing more than taking just the right modules and putting them together in the right order. It’s all as simple as following a biscuit recipe. [So says the woman who can’t follow a biscuit recipe to save her life.]
ML: I think I’ve been enough of a pest. Just one more thing I would like to know… What are your plans for the next few months? Anything exciting we should be watching out for?
LS: The soonest thing will be the posting on my website of the pattern I used in the Craftsy class for the maroon waist cincher. I’m hoping to finish the instructions this week and figure out how to get the pattern onto the website so it can be downloaded.
In October I’ll be in Vancouver as a vendor at the ASDP (Association of Sewing and Design Professionals) conference. I’m also attending an event called Ruffle Con in the US, just to see what it’s like. In November I’m teaching corset making classes in both Montreal and Stratford and both are now sold out. I used to do the Creativ Festival in Toronto but it conflicted with the Vancouver date and it was time to meet a new audience, so I won’t be there this year. In March, I’ll be in St. Louis teaching a corset making class at the USITT (United States Institute for Theatre Technology) convention and then in April I think I’ll be at Anime North in Toronto.
ML: Oh sorry, I stopped listening after you said “Montreal” and “”sold out” in the same sentence. I’ll need a minute to cry, but I’ll be back on my knees to beg you to let me assist you. I can hand out thread and guard the water glasses, tighten cords — anything!! Pleeeeease?
LS: The Montreal class sold out within about 4 days of posting it! I don’t host it and the space is tight so there truly is not room for another body. It’s being held at École du Couture Celine Ross. Are you familiar with the place? We will likely do a class next year.
[Insert ocular waterworks. I don’t take rejection well. And here I was starting to think I was special.]
ML: Never heard of them, but you better believe I’m about to go stalk them. Next year, Linda, Next year…
So, let’s be honest, Linda was so careful and subdued during this interview that I had all but convinced myself that she was going to be a total stick-in-the mud for this tour. As it turned out, I can happily say that I was wrong. After she relaxed with us a bit, she started to show that she has the ability to be as silly as the rest of us. Maybe not quite as extraverted and naughty as some of us, but she is far from being dull.
As the interviewer, I’m taking responsibility for not drawing out her goofy side. Maybe next year, I’ll have her singing on camera. That would be fun! Almost as much fun as mentally deconstructing Keira Knightly’s costumes.
See you after the movie! 😉
P.S. So, what do you think? Can we come up with a good nickname for Linda?
P.P.S. Be sure to enter the awesome giveaway by our sponsor Craftsy. And come back tomorrow for the tour wrap-up hosted by the Corset Snob herself.
Click the image above now for a chance to win a bundle of 3 Craftsy classes (your choice):
Stay with us to the end of the tour for a chance to win additional prizes from these generous sponsors:
- complete kits to make your own bra,
- bra- and swimsuit-making classes,
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Thank you to these amazing sponsors who are helping make this tour a success:
Complete Tour Itinerary
Come along on the magical tour to see what we all have under our clothes
- Beverly, our Fairy Bra Mother, launched the tour with her airy fairy introduction
- Valérie reviewed “Sewing Lingerie: Essential Techniques”, by Alison Smith, même en français
- Michelle S. reviewed the same class
- Lisa brought us a feature on Linda at Uplift Custom Bras
- Rachel got Emerald Erin sharing her story
- Lisa fit right in as a new Pin-Up Girl using Beverly Johnson’s class, “Sewing Bras: Construction and Fit”
- Shelaine also made her first bra from the same class
- Rachelle got up close and personal with Carrie from With Love Lingerie
- Valérie went totally casual with Miss Maika Fabrics
- Rachelle wrote a review of “Sewing Bras: Foam, Lace & Beyond”, by Beverly Johnson
- Michelle N. shared her thoughts on the same Craftsy class
- Jessica from Gracious Threads got the scoop on our Fairy Bra Mother
- Deb of Sprouting Jubejube chatted with Emilie from Jalie
- Karin and her daughter got chaotic (twice!) with their corsets at “Sewing Corsets: Essential Techniques”, by Alison Smith & “Custom Corsets: Bones, Casing & Busks”, by Linda Sparks
- Marsha flew by the seams of her pants into the same corsetry air space
- Shelaine had a lovely chat with Melissa from Ann’s Fabric Shop
- Michelle got Karin of Mrs. Weaver’s to talk about her Finest Unmentionables
- Rachel tried her hands at designing her own assets
- Jessica did the same with her Craftsy class, “Sewing Bras: Designer Techniques”, by Beverly Johnson
- Valérie came back again for an interview with Blackbird Fabrics
- Michelle N. took us to her favourite local sewing spot
Today’s posts ———>> Saturday, September 17 <<——— We are here
- Michelle S. returns to talk to Wendy about her bespoke bras. Be what??
- Marsha gets a taste of what’s behind Farthingales’ corsets
- Deb goes bottoms up
- And so does Michelle in her new panties
Sunday, September 18
Whoohoo! It’s giveaway day today!
- Linda brings up the rear with her wrap-up post on Farthingales
Monday, September 19
Have you entered the giveaways yet? Today’s your last chance.
Tuesday, September 20
Giveaway winners announced on all the blogs:
Life of a Fairy Bra Mother, Little Heart Threads, Glitter in my Coffee, Michelle’s Creations, Mrs. Weaver’s Finest Unmentionables, Braphoria, Gracious Threads, Élégantine!, Shelaine’s Designs, That’s so Venice, Sprouting Jubejube, Flying by the Seam of my Pants, The Wild Stitch, Farthingales Corset Blog
After September 20
- Come back to visit all the blogs for followup posts. It’s always fun!
- Craftsy class discounts expire at midnight Sept. 30