In which I interview Nicole Ewing of Dark Knits Boutique

VampireNomad
It is very exciting for me to get to introduce you readers to another one of my super creative friends via an interview. Today I'm chatting with Nicole Ewing (also known as Screamstress in the derby world) of Dark Knits Boutique. Guess what? She makes corsets, among other gorgeous things. What all do you make, actually, Nikki?

Nicole
Oh boy, I make heaps of things - whatever strikes my fancy really. Mostly corsets, but I also do latex wear, hats, and all manners of accessories. Im currently working on a monster rug for my house too.

VampireNomad
Um, I have seen photos of the monster rug in progress. It is going to be epic.

Nicole
I can’t seem to finish that one fast enough.

VampireNomad
Agreed. :)
I have one of your top hats. And also an entire White Witch of Narnia costume that you made from scratch. People, it is unbelievable. Here is a photo that does not begin to do it justice:

Jadis, the White Witch of Narnia as inspired by the film's battle sequence costume - made head to toe by Nikki of Dark Knits Boutique

You make everything by hand, custom, to order. Right? So no part is factory made and shipped in, correct?
I mean except the fabric... obviously.

Nicole
Yes, everything is made by hand by yours truly in my studio from the bits and bobs I have shipped in from all over the world. Fabrics often come in from Europe unless I can find them locally, boning from India, eyelets and reinforcements from the US.
The buckles on your Narnia corset came from Japan. :)

VampireNomad
Really?

Nicole
Yep, it’s a heck of a process tracking down all that stuff but it’s worth it when the quality is second to none - and having the best parts go into each piece is the only way I can offer a lifetime guarantee.

VampireNomad
I have actually already taken advantage of that lifetime guarantee after stepping through the skirt of my costume at Calgary Expo.
And having spent about eight to ten hours a day in two separate corsets you hand-made very recently, I can also attest to them being very comfortable!
What is the difference between a store-bought off-the-shelf corset and a custom made one, then? What makes them so comfortable?

Nicole
Store bought/off the rack corsets are often single layered, which isn’t enough to take a person’s waist in without crinkling and generally looking like hell. They are usually plastic boned; which on anyone who isn’t really tiny, plastic bones will kink, sometimes even break and dig in. On top of all that, like anything off a rack, they make them in sizes small, medium and large based on what ever they deem is 'average'. In the years I’ve been sewing I still cant tell you what 'average' is, because no two people are even remotely close in size and shape. The reason my corsets are so comfortable is because they are made to fit their wearer, with steel bones and proper, multiple layered reinforcement. I usually require at least one fitting where I can make alterations if I’m not happy with the fit or comfort levels of the piece, and no two pieces are ever the same.
It’s a long process, usually taking 5-8 weeks by the time I’m all done, but you end up with an heirloom piece.

VampireNomad
And they are gorgeous and feel incredibly structured but, again, weirdly comfortable. Nothing pokes or digs.

Nicole
If it’s fitted properly to you that’s just how it should be.

VampireNomad
Amen! People moan about the price sometimes so let's talk about that. What would you most like people to know about both the monetary cost of making an heirloom custom piece and the time cost?
I mean, you're not getting rich off this by any stretch...

Nicole
Well first off, I know it seems expensive (a lot of people get sticker shock over the costs and walk off) and I get that not everyone can afford this sort of thing so I offer payment plans and I try to work within a reasonable budget as much as possible. That said, the amount of time, skill and even material cost that goes into these things is beyond most people’s understanding. Let’s take that dragon PVC corset I just finished for the Carnival line as an example. Its outer layer is ten yards of PVC at $15 per yard which is $150. The inner layers are composed of about 3 yards of coutil at $20 per yard for a total of $60, and about $15 worth of interfacing and waist tape reinforcement. Add to that $15 worth of eyelets and $40 in boning - just the materials to build that thing total up to $280. Then it took me 32 hours to build it from start to completion (pattern all the way to finished product). Based on average pricing of my competitors and my own other pieces, I would venture to price it at $425; yes, I get that is a huge chunk of money, but when you take away the $280 of materials you are left with $145 for my time. $145 over 32 hours works out to $4.53 per hour and I don’t know anyone getting rich off that kind of money.

Detail of PVC corset for Carnival line

Usually after explaining that to people they ask if I’m right in the head to keep doing it. Probably not in all honesty. :) But it's a labour of love and I can’t just give it up. It’s my art and I love it.

The finished dragon PVC corset. 

VampireNomad
See, I think it's important to show what artists truly put into their work to foster a greater understanding of their commitment and what talent requires in terms of finance and time. It may sound like a lot of money at first blush but that is covering a lot of ground in terms of materials and labour.

Nicole
It really is.

VampireNomad
And yes, you're crazy to work for $4.53 an hour. Haha! But at the same time if it's something you love then how can you not do it?

Nicole
Exactly. If I could ever work out a way to make a living at it I would be the happiest person ever!

VampireNomad
Do you have a favourite piece so far?

Nicole
Hah, asking if I have a favourite piece is like asking if I have a favourite child. Some of them annoy me more than others in the construction phases, but each one is different and it gives me a huge sense of accomplishment and pride being able to pull off so many unique and hugely different pieces.

VampireNomad
Oh that's so diplomatic. And also now none of your creations will go to bed sobbing about being unloved. ;)

Nicole
I am called a great many things, not often is diplomatic in that category though.

VampireNomad
Ha!
If somebody wanted to commission a work by you - let's say somebody had an idea about a costume they want to wear to an event - how would they go about it?

Nicole
Well they can shoot me an email or fill out the Contact Us section of www.darkknits.ca and I will get back to them, usually with a heap of questions. I will get a good understanding of what it is they are after, maybe draft up some sketches if needed and get their approval. At that point I require a payment to buy materials and a contract signed so everyone is committed and I will also grab their measurements. Fabrics are ordered, or printed if a custom print is needed, I put it all together and then they’d come in for a fitting and if anything isn’t perfect I will pin and mark to make alterations as needed.

VampireNomad
It really is quite easy, actually. And you can make pretty much anything.

Nicole
Pretty much anything. I haven’t come across anyone wanting anything so crazy that I haven’t been able to put it together for them.

VampireNomad
So you mentioned Carnival. That's a new line and is one that people can come see live! So exciting! When? Where?

Nicole
Yes, if the new line can be best described in one word it would be 'Carnival'. I kind of went bananas and let all my dark, twisted love of things Burton-esque mesh with steampunk and carnival tones. 
The Carnival line is set to launch for the first time at the Taboo sex show on November 15-17 at Northlands Expo Center [in Edmonton]. 
We have the stage at 7pm Friday and Saturday, and 2pm Sunday. The ladies will also be at the Dark Knits booth, with the new line on display.
We will also be accepting custom orders at the show, and pieces from the new collection will be available to order.

VampireNomad
Necessary clarification to avoid pearl-clutching amongst readers: Taboo is a sex show but Carnival is debuting in a fashion show AT the sex show. Correct?

Nicole
Exactly, Taboo is a mild sex show for those concerned.

VampireNomad
Though honestly if you've read this far into VampireNomad you've clutched your pearls so hard they're busted now and you're good to go. So just let your inner diva shine, buy a ticket, and come watch Carnival's debut! Then visit the Dark Knits booth to meet Nikki and see the pieces up close so you can place an order. Basically. Right?

Nicole
That sums it up!

VampireNomad
Um, I am required by Alan Decker Law to ask about 'Doctor Who'. Do you do Who pieces?

Nicole
Hah! I do make Whovian pieces, I have a set of corsets including a Whovian toile underbust and a Tardis overbust. As well as all manners of Whovian top hats and accessories. I adore the 'Doctor Who' fans, their reaction upon seeing those pieces is awesome every time.

'Doctor Who' Tardis overbust corset.

'Doctor Who' toile underbust corset. 

VampireNomad
Oh man, and for the male Who fans? You can outfit them too, right?
"Bowties are cool." That's like the only line I can quote. Because you make bowties.

Nicole
I can make bowties, including 'don’t blink' bow ties. I make both mens and ladies hats and corsets. Yes men can wear a corset and be no less manly while doing so, with the added benefit of good posture! I also do trench coats, vests and jackets on occasion - really whatever tickles your fancy.

VampireNomad
Nikki, you are a marvel.
I can not stress enough how quality, how beautiful, and how comfortable your pieces are, too.

Nicole
Thank you!

VampireNomad
One last question for you: an open-ended one. What do you most want to say to people about your work?

Nicole
I would say that it is of a good quality and worth the investment. I rely on word of mouth for 90% of my advertising, so that positive word of mouth goes a long way

VampireNomad
I will shout it to the heavens. Artists who produce unique, quality work need our support.
Thank you so much for chatting with me!

Nicole
Thank you so much for listening to the ramblings of a crazy seamstress! :)

VampireNomad
Oh man, my favourite kind of ramblings for sure!

 

Here is the flyer for the Carnival launch at Taboo:

Thank you to Nikki for chatting with me and for sharing photos of her work.  All images are copyright Dark Knits Boutique.  White Witch photo copyright VampireNomad.

Nicole Ewing can be found at the Dark Knits Boutique online or on Etsy

- Corinne Simpson