Creative Spotlight: Flora Sharp on sewing handmade corsets
Beautiful handmade pieces to fulfil all your Bridgerton dreams
When the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, Flora Sharp, a History of Art student at Christ’s, started teaching herself to sew. After a few months with her mum’s sewing machine, and a lot of trial and error, Flora began designing, making and selling her own corsets, donating the profits to bail funds in the US in support of the Black Lives Matter protests.
The Tab Cambridge spoke to Flora about her beautiful handmade corsets, her experiences with creativity and fashion, and how she hopes to make people feel when they wear a corset she’s made.
‘I have always felt like I’m a creative person’
Flora says she has “always felt like [she’s] a creative person” and has fond memories of sharing that love for art with her family throughout her life: “My family is quite artistic – I remember growing up going to art galleries with my mum particularly.”
Flora speaks fondly of her memories of art while she was growing up, when Flora and her mum spent a lot of time “lino printing”, and it’s clear that her mum has had a big influence on Flora’s love of creativity: “I think that she’s been a big part of why I like art so much and why I go to galleries so much.”
‘I borrowed my mum’s sewing machine for about three weeks and just sewed and sewed and sewed’
Flora had always been a little intimidated by sewing because “it just looked so difficult!”, but decided she “may as well try!”, especially because she needed “something to fill [her] time” amidst “boredom in lockdown.”
She started out by following “general tutorials” online: “I borrowed my mum’s sewing machine for about three weeks and just sewed and sewed and sewed. From there, the more I tried, the more I thought actually this is something I could do.”
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing: “The first few I did were awful! They didn’t last at all and I didn’t know how to do things like sew lines in a really straight and neat way. I was just kind of going for it.”
She said this attitude of just having a go was key for her in learning to sew : “With something that seems so daunting like sewing, you kind of have to just go for it and accept that there will be lots of mistakes, which I found difficult at first. But that’s why I actually decided to do it, rather than just wanting to, but never doing it.”
‘I was genuinely really shocked as to how beautiful they looked’
After developing her sewing over lockdown, Flora now takes some clothing commissions too. She talks about one of her favourite commissions she’s made: “My favourite piece was one that I did for a girl who wanted [something with] Galliano-inspired big puff sleeves all in silk dupion fabric.
Flora was initially nervous about it but it turned out amazingly: “That was my first thing that I was really impressed with myself for and felt so proud of.”
She also has her personal favourites from pieces she’s made for herself: “My favourite things that I make are reversible fabrics with William Morris patterns and a matching or complementary velvet on the other side.”
William Morris has always been a favourite artist of Flora’s, as well as a huge stylistic influence on her work: “I’ve always been quite familiar with his textiles – they’re all in my Granny’s house, all the curtains are William Morris.”
Morris’ textiles have a real personal, sentimental significance for Flora too: “When I started sewing, [my Granny] gave me some curtains to make corsets out of […] so I feel like that holds quite a lot of sentimental value for me.”
‘I quite like feeling I can wear jeans with it and still feel comfortable and cool’
Flora started off by making corsets for her friends: “I made one for my friend’s birthday, and I made one for myself, and then I made one that my other friend Sophie painted, as part of a collaborative project between us. So initially, it was just thinking of that person’s style and trying to match it to the style.”
She also tries to think about how her corsets “can be matched to other parts of outfits”: “I quite like the idea of corsets not just as a statement piece on their own but maybe with a dress or with tights and a shirt underneath.”
Making something wearable is an important consideration for Flora when she’s coming up with a corset design: “I don’t want to make them too covered in frills and pearls and beads and things like that because I think that kind of conforms it to just one styling that you can wear it as – it looks quite formal and it’s a statement in and of itself.
“I quite like just feeling like I can wear jeans with it and still feel comfortable and cool. I can enjoy wearing it in that context, but I could also wear it if I wanted to look like I’m from Bridgerton and have a big white flouncy dress!”
‘Anyone who wants to get a corset can get one’
Flora is passionate about catering for all body shapes when making her corsets, and prioritising inclusivity and comfort.
For example, she has adapted the design of a traditional, historical corset to make them more comfortable, in that she doesn’t “fully bone them”: “It’s not like an uncomfortable binding structure. It’s more just like a crop top or a T-shirt. […] It’s more like a going-out top feeling than ‘you are wearing something that will restrict you like underwear’ like how they would historically be worn.”
Historically, corsets have been used to create a smaller figure, but when Flora makes her corsets, that is not her aim at all: “Corsets in general have a reputation of ‘you get one to look smaller’ or to enhance the curves of a woman’s body, but I wanted to make sure this reputation was just completely not even a factor with the intent behind my corsets.”
Flora emphasises that “anyone who wants to get a corset can get one”: “I’ve made ones for guy friends, I’ve made ones for any shape and size. I really emphasise, ‘just send me your measurements’ and that’s what I make it from, rather than even your size in terms of numbers, like an 8 or a 10 or a 16 or whatever, I think that just adds to the stigma around corsets. If you want a corset, I can make one for you!”
‘To see that other people get so excited by the idea of having a corset has been lovely’
We spoke about what Flora has learnt throughout making her corsets: “What’s been a really nice thing that I’ve learnt is how interested in historical fashion other people are. I have so many people now talking to me about how lovely corsets look and how they really want one, how everyone’s so glad that corsets are coming into fashion.”
She’s loved sharing her love of fashion and art with others: “As a student of Art History and someone who is really interested in the history of fashion and what fashion can do for self-expression and identity, it’s been so nice to share that with other people and to see that other people get so excited by the idea of having a corset has been lovely.”
‘Even though I know the ins and outs of every corset I make, I still feel so special when I wear one’
Flora spoke to The Tab about how she hopes people feel when they wear a corset she’s made: “Even though I know the ins and outs of every corset I make, I still feel so special when I wear one because it’s just not like any other item of clothing that you would have. I think I just want other people to feel that as well.”
She talks about the excitement of being able to have a piece that’s completely unique to you: “Corsets are being sold more and more in fast fashion and normal retail shops, but when it’s handmade, it does feel more special. It feels more unique, especially if it’s made to your measurements and you can choose the fabrics that you like.”
She’s hoping to start sharing her ideas for styling corsets as part of her business: “I want to start posting more pictures on my Instagram of different ways you can style them, because I think it can be difficult for people to style them if they haven’t had a corset before.”
Flora is hoping to continue to reach a wide range of people to design corsets for: “I think they look amazing on everyone, I really love the look of them.”
She wants to continue sharing everything she loves about art, fashion and design with others: “I’m just hoping that other people are as excited as I am.”
Well I know I’m excited. It seems we can all live out our Bridgerton dreams after all.
You can see more of Flora’s work on Instagram (@floramaeart).
If you’re a creative from the University of Cambridge and you would like to be featured in the Creative Spotlight column, please email The Tab Cambridge at [email protected].
Featured image credit: Flora Sharp and Mary Holmes