Emma Maclean, corset-maker

I started sewing when I was four years old, inspired by my mother Sheila. She is a talented woman, who studied fashion design in the 1950s at the prestigious art school Saint Martin’s in London. She came top of her class and went on to work on Savile Row and then for classic British designer Jean Muir.

She came back to Scotland and got married and had children but she continued to make things for my sister and me.

When I was about four years old, my mum made me a blue velvet party dress and I asked her if I could make something for my dolly from the leftover bits and pieces of material.

There was velvet everywhere, but my mum was very patient.

When I was a teenager, I was very petite and could never get clothes to fit me. So I made them myself – coats, trousers, you name it, I made it. And when I got married, I wanted something strapless with a bit of structure – but I searched everywhere and found nothing. I even went down to London but drew a blank. So I designed and made my own dress.

One of my big hobbies at the time was period costume – I’d watch dramas like Pride and Prejudice not for the story, but for the clothes.

I was trying to recreate a Victorian dress when I had my lightbulb moment – what it really needed was a corset.

I studied Victorian corsets at the V&A in London and looked at examples in the Glasgow museums collections but I realised there was little point in copying the styles – women have changed shape enormously since then. We are fuller in the bust, generally bigger – we have even changed shape since the 1950s.

So I designed my own corset, drafted my own patterns to suit the women of today and it all took off from there.

I stopped for a while, just after my first daughter was born – although I could never say no, and still took on commissions. I always felt so honoured to be asked.

Now that my second daughter is at school, I’ve decided to relaunch the business. I got support from Business Gateway Scotland, who run a social media course; and they put me in touch with a fantastic business adviser who has been really helpful.

I don’t make clothes for my daughters – I find children’s clothes very finicky and time-consuming. Does that sound odd from someone who makes corsets?

The corset-related questions I am most asked are: do you still use whaleboning. To which the answer is, of course, no and (when I say that instead, today’s corsets are made of steel) is it not terribly uncomfortable to wear a corset? The answer to that is also no. The boning is extremely flexible and after all, most bras have a steel underwire in them.

Corsets look beautiful, but they also perform a function – they give you a fantastic shape, and hold you up. They are so versatile too – you can wear them with long skirts or jeans, as part of a wedding dress or under an evening dress.

But most of my clients want them as underwear (as originally intended). They work brilliantly under wedding dresses, particularly if you need something to hold you up. A corset holds you from underneath and doesn't need straps. Many girls have told me the corset is the only thing that has worked. We've made strapless corsets up to a 38GG...

Unfortunately, years and years of sewing have left me with a painful shoulder so I can no longer sit at the machine and I have taken on my first apprentice. It’s great to be back running the business, designing again, meeting new clients.

It feels like a long time ago that I sat punching the eyelet holes in the back of the corsets by hand. Now we have a machine to do it, thank goodness. But my passion for making corsets remains the same.