Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
Category Archives: Costumes
January 21, 2013Posted by on
I have a vintage bowler hat that actually fits me (I think it might be a kids’ hat), and I had the perfect excuse to wear it on Sunday night!
The inside crown label says it was made by Dunn & Co. in Great Britain. There are other things like “Lightweight” and “Piccadilly Circus – London” stamped on the leather band around the inside edge.
My church has a wonderful Fine Arts/Concert Series organized by our Organist & Director of Worship Benjamin Kolodziej (ko-LO-jee). Sunday night’s concert was a special treat – a silent movie with live pipe organ accompaniment! (Yes, my little church has a real pipe organ!)
The film shown was The General from 1926 starring Buster Keaton accompanied with an original score by Mr. Kolodziej. It is a fantastic comedy with crazy stunt work and a huge number of extras. It was quite impressive from a moviemaking point-of-view. What made it magic was that there was no “magic” trickery like there is in modern movies; they set up a camera, performed amazingly dangerous stunts involving stream-powered locomotives, and coordinated hoards of people & horses to play Civil War soldiers – all often in single takes!
It was so much fun to see the film in such an authentic style with live music and to hear the children in the audience laughing just as much as the adults! It’s a great piece of cinematic history – I highly recommend renting it from Netflix if you have an account.
Benjamin never misses a chance to wear a fun hat, so I knew I’d have a chance to get a photo of us both wearing our bowlers afterwards.
Bad lighting + cell phone camera = not so great picture. However, it’s infinitely better when you can use fun photo editing effects like “Aged Newspaper”.
But my favorite version of the picture is the cropped and oval framed version of Benjamin by himself:
In May, there’s going to be a concert titled “Titanic at 101: Music of the Edwardian Age” – perhaps I should plan on a Downton Abbey inspired outfit…
December 18, 2012Posted by on
Remember that mechanical bull job I mentioned a while back? The one I was called to sew a pleather cover for, because they wanted it too look like a blinged out Chanel purse? Well, the promos for “Big Rich Texas” Season 3 have aired now, so now I can safely post a photo. =)
It was a simple job – I just made a cover that fit the bull and covered the brown & white fur on its head & body. The only complicated part was the fact that it was made of pleather and I didn’t have a Teflon presser foot at the time, so I had to use strips of tissue paper between the fabric and the presser foot. (The tissue paper keeps pleather or vinyl from sticking to the foot as you sew and can be easily ripped away from the stitching afterwards.)
I found a video featuring the bull (he even has a twitter handle!). I’m pretty sure this show would drive me crazy if I watched it – it just perpetuates the stereotype that all the women in Texas have big hair, are over-the-top, and love money & bling. *gag*
Anyway, the little promo isn’t too awful to watch even with sound on, and if you like cat-fights & reality TV, you might enjoy the show.
And I finally remembered to buy a Teflon presser foot right after this job (I’ve been meaning to buy one for years), so I’m ready for my next bizarre sewing project!
December 12, 2012Posted by on
It’s interesting to look back at the path I took on my way to becoming a professional seamstress & costumer. I suppose the signs of what I would be where always there, but I still find it surprising how I got to where I am now.
As a child, I was always looking for something to do – and by “do”, I mean “make”. When I was first introduced to crayons and paper, I tried to draw circles. And (as the story goes) when my circles weren’t perfect, I would get frustrated.
I think my creative side was a bit baffling to my non-artistic mom. (Over the years, I’ve learned that a lot of my childhood quirks were actually quite normal for creative types.) I’m sure she got tired of hearing “What can I draw? What can I make? I’m BORED!!”
By the time I was 7, my mom decided to introduce me to hand-sewing. I remember hand-stitching tiny pillows for all my dolls until I got bored with pillows. At some point, I even crafted a tiny doll, complete with a bed and small tea-table with chairs.
It wasn’t long until I was begging to learn to use my mom’s sewing machine so I could make more advanced things. I guess I finally convinced her I was skilled enough not to sew my fingers and she relented & allowed me to try using a motorized needle. (I probably ended up putting more mileage on her old sewing machine than she had or will.)
In 3rd grade, I was part of my school’s Odyssey of the Mind (aka OM) team. Our Long-Term problem was Theatrics, and we chose to write our own version of the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin without Rumpelstiltskin.
We had to make or find all the sets, props, & costumes on our own with only adult supervision. I drew the set backdrops and my classmates helped paint them. (I still have the two castle setting backdrops rolled up in my closet.) I also decided to make my own costume (I was a palace page in the play), and it’s the first costume I have memories of making.
Here I am soon after the OM competition playing dress up in my costume with my little sister – it’s hard to see, but I made her a small crown that I’m holding over her head:
I made the hat (without a pattern I think) using a circle of fabric and a strip of mylar-covered cardboard stapled to the fabric. I sewed the pumpkin-style pants from a basic elastic-waist pants pattern and chopped them off at the knee.
The most amusing part of the story is that my childhood laziness is what convinced an OM judge that I actually made my costume and not my mom.
You see, I was a skinny little thing (still am, but at least I am more adult-sized now). I hated feeding elastic through a casing as a kid. And the smaller the diameter of the finished elastic loop, the more I dreaded it. So I put in my inch-wide waistband elastic, but I could not even bring myself to try making the smaller elastic casings for my 9-year-old toothpick legs.
My lazy solution to the leg elastic was big rubber bands (probably from my parents’ desk drawer). I put on the cut-off pants, pulled the rubber bands over the bottom edge of each leg, and pushed the raw edges up with the rubber bands, creating the balloon look I wanted. (I remember the green satin fabric fraying badly on the unfinished legs, but I didn’t care because you couldn’t see it once I pushed them up with the rubber bands.)
When the OM judges were questioning us after we performed, I recall one lady skeptically asking “Did you make your costume?” and I just pulled one leg down to show her the rubber band. That immediately convinced her I had, and I remember thinking to myself “How would I have proven it to her if I hadn’t been lazy??” because I knew I totally could have made them the right way if I had wanted. (And by “right” way, I mean the one way I knew to sew with elastic at the time.)
So who would have guessed that the overall OM experience was such a foreshadowing of my life to come? Fast forward about 10 years, and I was in college studying to get a degree in Theatre.
My school had a rather small theatre department (about 25 majors in a good semester), and all the majors were required to audition for every play, even if we only wanted to do the technical backstage stuff.
The first play of my freshman year was Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and I was given the role of one of the “attendants” in the forest. One night during rehearsal, the professor directing the production was lamenting the fact there was such a disproportionate number of girls to boys in the cast, so I offered to dress as a boy. He quickly approved the idea and asked another of the theatre girls to do the same – the difference was that I ultimately fooled some of the audience but she did not.
I was pretty much thrown into the university’s costume shop as soon as it was known I could sew. The student costume designer for As You Like It only knew the basics of operating a sewing machine, so, like in third grade, I was making stuff up in order to match her sketches. (I had been advised more than once in high school that I should be an engineer, and I guess I sort of am when it comes to building with fabric.)
I took the fabric I was given for my costume home to sew it up over the Thanksgiving break.
And it gets weirder…
The fabric was green. And there was a hat pattern (to go with the tunic) in the same beret style I had made myself as a kid. Want some proof? – here’s a photo from my college scrapbook:
After graduating college, I got my first job as an intern in the costume shop at the Dallas Theater Center. The resident cutter/draper at the time was an interesting lady who preferred couture techniques and more hand sewing than machine sewing. Many people had difficulty working with her, but she loved my hand-stitching, so I managed to stay on her good side.
As the intern, I was originally stuck with the least favorite domestic machine in the shop because no one else wanted to use it (it was computerized & temperamental) and all the interns in the years preceding me could barely sew. When it became clear that I knew what I was doing, they bought me a brand new industrial to use. =)
Once again, I had managed to convince someone to let me use a better machine.
Sometimes, I feel my life goes in circles. Repeating – but never quite perfect – circles.
June 5, 2012Posted by on
This past weekend my first niece celebrated her 4th birthday with a fairy princess themed party.
Recognize the tutu? I can’t believe how much mileage she is getting from that thing! She is wearing it over the skirt of her store-brought fairy dress.
My sister went all out, making decorations and planning fun crafts & games for 6 little girls. (She even ordered fairy wings for all of them!) And I had promised to bake and decorate the cake.
The night before the party, I made the cake. It was an orange-flavored cake with vanilla buttercream frosting.
Cake-making is sort of my hobby, but I’ve never really taken the time to learn the fine art of decorating them bakery-style or sculpting something amazing. I suppose that most of my cakes are simply pretty yet obviously homemade. And most are a bit of an experiment using trial and error as I go. But they always TASTE great even if they are ugly and a bit of a cakewreck.
I think this birthday cake was closer to “wreck” than most of my previous creations (partly because I was lazy and it was late at night, so I didn’t want to pull out all the fancy piping tools I have). And it’s kind of hard not to make a toadstool look suggestive when you don’t use fondant.
Niece 1 is still young enough to appreciate anything colorful and sweet, so she loved it. =)
The invitation I received said “Have your little girls put on their “fairy” best and help us celebrate her 4th birthday with cake and ice cream, crafts, and games. Fairy wings will be provided.”
I may not be a little girl anymore, but I am a costumer and I couldn’t resist the chance to dress up! So while the cake was cooling the night before the party, I went digging through my random costume pieces for a fun outfit to wear.
I pulled out a lime green skirt I had purchased from a wardrobe sale at the end of a film shoot I worked on, and paired it will a fluffy white petticoat (to which my husband said “ohh, nooo.” with a groan).
I even had a matching lime green t-shirt! And a scrap of matching sparkly lime green tulle! – which I used to tie bows to my shoes and to my ponytail. Not bad for a last minute costume!
I didn’t have any wings but Niece 1 had an extra pair left from an old Halloween costume that she let me borrow for the party. (She told me I looked like Tinkerbell.)
Here’s a close-up of my shoes:
Once the guests arrived, they got their wings and flower crowns,
They made a craft (toadstool houses!),
Played a couple of games,
And of course, opened presents and ate cake & ice cream. It was a fun party.
Later that night, my sister called to tell me that Niece 1 had proclaimed that “Aunt Brooke is the coolest aunt EVER!” after everyone had gone home. So in the eyes of a 4-year-old, at least, I’m not a big goober. =)
Maybe I’m just the coolest goober…
September 12, 2011Posted by on
Well, it’s been 9 months, and my niece is still enjoying her tutu. (In case you missed it, here’s the previous post about it.) Her newest penchant is ballet on the trampoline, as she demonstrated for me last time I visited:
I am really shocked at how well the tutu has faired a 3-year-old’s abuse – it’s still holding itself straight out! I’m so glad I used the elastic waistband because she has no problem putting it on by herself. Now that she has a leotard and ballet shoes, it’s her favorite outfit.
I think she puts it on every time someone comes to visit.
August 6, 2011Posted by on
Since today is Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday, here’s a project I had 4 or 5 years ago. I had a client ask for an I Love Lucy costume and she brought me this picture of the Franklin Mint Lucille Ball Vinyl Portrait Doll:
I had a lot of fun building this dress & apron and it is always extra satisfying when a costume ends up looking just like the inspiration picture.
The secret to any well executed period look is all about the proper underwear giving the costume the correct silhouette! Like with Camille’s wedding dress, I again used the ’50s style petticoat from Petticoat Junction – it really completes the authentic fifties look by making the skirt truly A-line.
UPDATE 1/21/12: I have recently found one of my photographs being used (without my permission) on a retail site as their own merchandise. I do not work for any retail company and have never made any samples of this dress, so I can not promise that you will receive the same quality dress if you order from another company using my picture.
I have replaced the above pictures with watermarked copies (something I had forgotten to do when I originally wrote this post). This blog post is the original source of this custom-made dress and it was made by me. If you use my photos elsewhere on the internet, please link back to the source. Thanks. ~ Brooke
January 10, 2011Posted by on
I am going to share a personal project about what I gave my 2½ year-old niece for Christmas – a tutu! It was one of the cutest little things I think I have ever made! In order to make it easy for her to put on by herself, I decided to gather the ruffles onto an elastic waistband. And (because I simply can’t do anything the easy way, gosh darn it!) I made it the way tutus are made for professional ballerinas - which means it was a pain in the neck to do, but it stood straight out to the sides – with no drooping! =)
It was adorable on my baby dressform:
That’s 15 yards of tulle ruffle on an 18 inch waistband!
Here it is in front of a darker wall were the light pink underlayers show up a little better:
And here she is a few days after Christmas wearing her tutu:
I think she likes it. =)
Update: See Part 2 of the toddler tutu.