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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
I honestly did not mean to take such a long break (a full year!) from blogging – where did 2015 go??
For the first few months of the year, I was finishing up the second half of the season at The Dallas Opera and the long commute across town eats about 3 hours each day. So, needless to say, blogging at the end of a day didn’t hold much appeal.
When the opera season wrapped up at the end of April, I unexpectedly found the motivation to do a bunch of sewing for myself – I was whipping up a lot of things I had been wanting to make myself and didn’t want to risk losing enthusiasm by stopping to blog. (I did Instagram most of it though so I have a few crummy selfies & construction shots.)
My husband and I were also slowly working our way through a home office makeover on the weekends from the middle of February to the end of May. So the computer wasn’t properly set up at times during the DIY mess.
And then the phone rang with a job offer and I was driving over to Louisiana on Memorial Day to work on a TV series filming in Baton Rouge.
I was promised a week of work. I packed for a month.
Television shooting schedules are a bit insane. I worked at least 12 hours a day and even worked one 18-hour day in the costume shop at the production office. (So glad I wasn’t working on set in the humid Louisiana summer heat!)
It was the middle of week 5 before I found myself driving home. I’ve worked in the film world long enough to know that once someone puts you to work and you don’t fail spectacularly, they will try to keep you as long as possible.
The day after I got home, a collarless pug showed up at my door. Luckily, I was able to track down the owner by the next afternoon thanks to DFW Pug Rescue. (If she had been chipped, it would have been easier – please have your pets micro-chipped!)
I think I spent about a week just staring at the wall after everything got back to normal.
And a couple weeks later, I found myself going back to Baton Rouge. Good thing I hadn’t bothered to unpack my sewing machine from the first trip!
I only let them have me 2 weeks, and then I came home again.
I had about a month before the new opera season started, so I tried to finish up a bedroom makeover I had started between Louisiana trips.
I recently made myself a new wool coat during daily breaks at the opera. And I even managed to get photos! I’ve been working on a blog post about the coat, but I decided to briefly put it aside because I found a TV promo of the show I worked on in Louisiana.
So here’s the first tiny (and I mean tiny) peek at a ball gown I miraculously cranked out in only 6 days, at about the 0:27 mark. You mostly just see the petticoat someone else made.
UPDATE 6/4/16: The original teaser I linked to disappeared, but I found a full length trailer instead. The ball gown is now at about the 1:48 mark:
Underground premieres March 9, 2016 on WGN for those of you who are interested in watching it.
Aside from a couple other projects that I’ll be able to talk more about in the coming months, that pretty much sums up my 2015.
I promise my next blog post will not be a year away!
Happy New Year, everyone!
Over the summer, I was part of a small team of costumers that helped build some walk-around character costumes for a Christmas parade at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.
It had been years since I had helped make true mascot type costumes, so it was a fun break from the norm and a good reminder of why I don’t want to do this kind of sewing all the time. Foam, fur, curved needles, and seriously wacky pattern pieces – give me real clothing any day!
We constructed 2 moose heads that perched high (as in 12 feet high!) atop giant Santa hats, 2 big candy canes, and 2 elves that looked like Christmas tree ornaments. All were based on the designer’s sketches and completed with hundreds of LEDs.
There was lots of stretch crushed velvet and glittery stretch velvet for me to create striped yardage from.
All those stripes are why I met Spray n Bond and we became good friends.
I stitched faces.
I made eyeballs.
And I shoved large amounts of foam fabric through a small domestic sewing machine. I was really wishing I had a long arm machine to use for this!
The moose ears made nice bunny ears too. I kind of want some!
It’s a little weird to have your work stare back at you while you hand-stitch its ear on.
I have tons more photos, but it’s more interesting to watch video because you can see all of the lights and get a better sense of the size. I was actually one of the test models for the elf costumes in order to help work out some of the awkwardness of wearing them – glad to see that no one was tripping and falling during the parade!
Happily, there were plenty of YouTube videos posted of the parade for me to choose from. (Ironically, the official Silver Dollar City one was not the best and was filmed on a night when not all the lights were working.) So I’ve chosen two of the best videos.
(See timestamps below each if you want to fast forward through them.)
This first one is nice for closeups:
And this video is a view of the parade from a little farther back, giving you a better look at the whole 12-foot moose on Santa hats costumes:
This year has been full of Christmas projects for me! And I still have one more to post about next time!
Happy New Year, everyone!
I have so many things to share! This is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge post.
Some of you may already know from talking to me directly or seeing it on Twitter, I no longer work part-time at Fabrique Fabrics. It was fun for the year and a half it lasted and I’ll miss my coworkers, but since it was never really my “career” I’m not really upset about it. (I think everyone who knows the details is more upset about it than I am.) The short explanation is my boss decided to reduce my hours to “none” to save some money, so I’m moving on to other things instead of waiting around.
On to more exciting things (and LOTS of links)…
And here’s a teaser video of this year’s show, in which you can see some of the costumes in motion:
Hopefully, I will have more photos of both the opera and the parade to share later. (I’m crossing my fingers that someone will post a video of the parade on YouTube at some point!) Update: Post about the parade.
Recent freelancing has suddenly gone from “absolutely nothing” to “I’m booked into the beginning of next year!” Such is my career.
And just because I’ve been looking for a place to share a couple of great costuming videos, I’m going to include them here.
I found the first video because of the second one. It is a really nice overview of what it’s like in any professional costume shop – whether it’s opera, theatre, dance, or film – when there are costumes to construct and fit. “Recreating a Tutu” at the New York City Ballet:
And if you have the time to watch (it’s over 26 minutes long), the following is a truly fascinating video on how a ballet pointe shoe is made (teaser-not-quite-spoiler: inside out!). If you don’t have time to watch it now, come back and watch it later when you do! I promise you will enjoy it.
They use some cool sewing machines and do an amazing amount of the work by hand. And to think that all shoes used to be made this well! “What’s in a Ballet Shoe”:
** What my husband/editor read at first glance: “An elaborate collection of life-size Vulcan gizmos filled with charred costumed characters made famous by the beloved Christmas carrots” ??
I am a “costumer” according to my resume, but not a “designer”. I seem to be explaining this to someone at least once a week right now. (Granted, I have done a couple of shows in the past as the designer, but I do not like designing.)
The confusion probably stems from the fact that “costume designers” get top billing in the credits in film and theatre, and people who are not in the business don’t realize there are so many different classifications of costumers within the “costume department”.
Let’s face it, “designer” simply sounds more impressive to outsiders.
Allow me to clarify (and introduce you to) some of the lesser known titles within the costume world (there are a lot of parallels within the fashion world but I am less familiar with the specifics in that industry).
A costume designer is the “idea” person. Most designers work closely with the director and actors to create costumes that coincide with the director’s artistic vision for the look of a production.
Just as a director usually gets overall credit for a movie or theatre production, despite having a crew of behind-the-scenes artisans, a costume designer is often assumed to be capable of doing everything from sketching the ideas to actually constructing a physical garment to match.
While some designers work their way up through the costume construction ranks, many do not.
Simply put, some designers are artists who can draw and paint beautifully, making it easy for the other costumers under them to understand what they want to create. Others are very good with verbally explaining their ideas either to a hired sketch artist or the costumers who actually build (or shop for) the costumes.
Some designers don’t know how to sew a single stitch. Others know the basics (but may not be very good at construction) and are able to communicate well with those who are hired to sew. Occasionally, a designer will have started out constructing for other designers (but this is rare, as most of us who love to build enjoy the actual building process too much to give it up). Designers deal more with concepts, meetings, and paperwork (including budgets).
A good designer is opinionated enough to decide what every individual character should wear and the general look of the costumes in a production. This is the main reason I do not consider myself a designer – I don’t care enough about what everyone is wearing. But I do care that they are wearing their clothing well. I have a need to tweak and adjust costumes on actors but I do not feel compelled to tell them what they should be wearing. I tend to focus more on the details.
The term costumer is a very broad title. It can include everyone from the person who sews to the person who does the laundry for a show. It’s often used because those who work in a costume department/shop frequently do more than one thing, depending on skills and how the team is organized to work together. (Part of the fun is the variety!)
Some productions have as few as two people doing all of the costume work, while others employ multiple costumers who divide the work into very specific tasks.
And not all costumers can sew.
Finally, “wardrobe” is used interchangeably with “costume” – wardrobe department is the same as costume department on productions. You may hear one director calling for “wardrobe” while another calls for “costumes”. (I answer to either.)
The costume supervisor ranks below the costume designer on a film crew. Duties include scheduling & being there for fittings, dealing with producers and actors directly, and generally overseeing anything that may come up during the shoot when the designer is not present. Supervisors tend to bounce back and forth between set and basecamp during filming. They also help with paperwork.
A set costumer goes to the film set when there are actors filming and keeps an eye on costume continuity during the shoot. The Key Set Costumer usually works with the leading actors and manages any other set costumers that might be there to help during the larger scenes.
In stage theatre, the term dresser is used for costumers who help actors backstage with costume changes during a live performance.
I’ve only ever seen this title on a call sheet (the daily shoot schedule & times that crew is called in to work), but the costumer who is working on the wardrobe trailer at basecamp makes sure that actors’ wardrobe is laid out in their dressing rooms/trailers throughout the day. When they’re not doing this, they may do some laundry and prep for the next day of shooting by pulling & steaming/ironing anything scheduled to be worn.
The entire costume department reports to the wardrobe trailer and may take turns working there during the day, but one designated costumer is usually assigned to work there full time. They generally keep the wardrobe trailer organized as well.
A costume shop supervisor or manager is similar to costume supervisor but oversees a costume shop, whether it is for film or theatre. A costume shop is usually set up during pre-production and may shut down once a show has reached the filming or performance stage. A costume shop manager makes phone calls, does paperwork, and supervises the work being done in the shop.
The cutter/draper is the costume shop patternmaker and the highest level of actual construction. They usually use a combination of flat-patterning and draping to create the patterns to match the designer’s sketches. A cutter/draper frequently builds the muslin mockups to test their patterns before using the fancy fabrics. They often calculate the amount of materials needed and cut the fabric.
After the pieces have been patterned and cut, the cutter/draper explains the methods and order of construction to the stitchers working under them. The cutter/draper does the actual fitting on the actor and makes any necessary corrections to the patterns.
A cutter/draper will often help sew when everything for a production has been patterned and cut.
A first hand is the cutter/draper’s assistant. They help with cutting and may do some of the patterning and sewing. Not all costume shops have a designated first hand.
Stitchers (aka seamstresses and sometimes “costume technicians”) are the builders in the costume shop.
They take the pile of pieces from the cutter/draper and assemble them according to the cutter/draper’s direction. Construction is usually completed to a point for a fitting with the actor and then finished after the fitting.
A stitcher is not the same as a tailor although there is some overlap.
A craftsperson may be a milliner or someone who paints or dyes fabric. Often the duties of a craftsperson overlap with those of a props person in that they create the accessories that go with an actor’s costume.
Glue & paint are used more often than a needle & thread by a craftsperson.
A shopper is the person who buys whatever supplies or clothing can be purchased for a production. They are also responsible for receipt paperwork and returning unused items to the store from which they were bought.
A costume intern (or PA in film) is usually someone still in school or just recently graduated who helps in a costume shop or production office with anything from paperwork to overnight laundry.
So that’s the basic breakdown – the bigger the costume department/shop, the more specific titles and positions there are beyond those I’ve listed.
Even though I’ve done various amounts of all the above positions, I consider myself to be mostly a Costumer and a Stitcher. I’m happiest as a builder because it’s my favorite part of the costuming process. I just wish I could do it full time.
For those of you who love to sew, which costuming position sounds the most appealing to you? Do you consider yourself more of a stitcher like I do?
I’ve had a couple of freelance costuming jobs this year that I haven’t really blogged about – partly because there wasn’t much to make a complete post and partly because I just never sat down to go through some of the photos I had already shared elsewhere on the internet. Y’know, lint balls of life.
Back in March and April, I spent time working at The Dallas Opera. (You may remember me mentioning my job at the opera because it was during this time I made my Easter dress.)
They did a production of The Aspern Papers, which was a complete costume build. (Yay! A period costume build!) Usually, they either rent the majority of a show’s costumes or pull them from storage, and then just build just a few key pieces for the leads.
There was lots of menswear and tailoring. But I did get to help with the construction of one dress:
Then I did some work at home (read: not personal projects) like pattern testing Disparate Discipline’s Avocado Hoodie.
In May and June, I once again worked for Shakespeare Festival of Dallas. This year’s summer shows were A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Pericles with costume design by Lyle Huchton.
I had way too much fun sewing Lyle’s designs with the amazing fabrics he bought! You may have realized this from all the photos I posted on Instagram. Here are some of my favorites:
At the end of June (actually the day after I finished Shakespeare), I met fellow costumer Deborah Lynn Dixon, of Colorado. She stumbled across my blog earlier in the year during a bit of random web surfing. We met for lunch while she was passing through the Dallas Area on business.
She has developed an amazing product and technique for embossing fabric with glitter and paint that can look like intricate beadwork.
You can read more about the embossing process here and here. I can’t wait until she starts marketing her embossing supplies and instructions – I want to try it! (psst! Deborah, you need a blog!)
And just before I started sewing for Shakespeare this year, I applied and was hired to work a part-time job at a local fabric store called Fabrique. It’s a nice little apparel fabric store and the owner is willing to work around my unpredictable freelancing schedule. =)
Fabrique has a website but not everything in inventory is listed for online ordering – you just have to ask (phone or email) if you don’t see something you’re looking for on the site. (Right now, there is Free Shipping on orders of $50 or more until August 14!)
So far, I have been pretty good about not bringing all the fabric home with me. I’ve only bought a couple things. One being some of this outer space print chiffon:
I have 3 sewing projects for others in process right now, and I start another long-term freelance costuming job this coming Monday. I’ll share the details of that job and the undisclosed projects as I can in future posts.
Well, enough lint balls. Let’s talk about that giveaway mentioned in the title of this post!
Since I now work part-time at a fabric store, I finally remembered to buy myself some silk organza to use as a press cloth. It’s my favorite type of press cloth because I can actually see what I’m ironing underneath it.
And I bought myself enough so that I could share!
I have 3 small and 1 slightly larger press cloth to give away to 4 lucky winners! (The small size is 18.5in x 13.5in. The large one is 18.5in x 18in.)
To enter to win:
Giveaway is open to all locations. Winners will be chosen at random for the smaller cloths. The large cloth will go to the submitter of the comment that…um…entertains me the most!
Deadline for entry is closed
11:59pm on Friday, August 16, 2013 United States Central Time (GMT -6). I’ll announce the winners in a post on Saturday August 17. See who won in this post.
Press cloths are neatly serged & standing by to be put in envelopes and mailed to new homes!
And one last thing that a lot of you might be interested in: the sale of vintage sewing patterns at Vintage Martini is being discontinued. They just uploaded a ton of new listings and they are marked down to almost nothing! Go check out the great patterns (after you comment of course)!
So I was in the middle of (and making decent progress on) lots of my own projects last weekend when the phone rang. And suddenly my schedule is completely different! That’s the life of a freelancer.
I was offered a job helping the costume designer for Shakespeare Dallas’s fall show – it’s a modern dress version of “that Scottish play” (aka Macbeth for those of you unfamiliar with theatre superstition). It opens in just three weeks and between the two of us, we have to come up with around 75 costumes. Ahh, the joys of low budget theatre!
Luckily, we have some costumer friends at The Dallas Theater Center and the University of Dallas who let us pull what we could use from their costume storage places. So we have spent the week digging through piles of clothes & shoes and then lugging it all back to our space.
Shakespeare Dallas also has some stock of its own; unfortunately, it’s in an old warehouse with no electricity or water. Ahh. The joys. Of low budget… theatre…
I was rather shocked that there was so much in SD’s storage! And sadly, it’s not exactly ideal conditions for costume storage. It was a bit depressing to see so many items (including bolts of fabric!) exposed to the elements knowing that they would eventually become unusable.
(I would like to apologize for the following crummy cell phone photos – no electricity and bad lighting make cell pics look even worse than normal and I cleaned them up as much as I could.)
So we walked into SD’s storage warehouse and it was a bit of a scavenger hunt:
I started pulling shoes and the designer went sifting through the racks of costumes in the far back corner:
My biggest goal was to find matching pairs of shoes – they weren’t all attached in pairs and it was dark. I pulled a bunch of shoe bins out of the dark area and closer to the door and began pairing them.
The laces of many pairs had been knotted together on the ends – one of my biggest pet peeves! This meant that they tangle around other pairs in the same bin and are impossible to pull out without grabbing a giant clump of shoes all at once.
After I pulled a bunch of shoes, I joined in the search through the racks for clothing:
I’m glad we only spent about 2 hours in the hot warehouse before we stuffed everything into the car and took it back to the theatre space. Ahh, the joys of… yeah.
I will be making a few simple things, and fittings are coming up next week – I hope most of the costumes we pulled will fit the actors!
And to make up a little for the not so great photos, here’s one of Wensley when he went to work with my husband earlier this week:
Apparently, this wasn’t a one-time thing and he likes to migrate from lap to desk.
Hooray, it’s my first real rant post!
As a costumer, I’ve been trained to have a critical eye when it comes to costumes & clothing on stage & camera. The more time you spend in a costume shop or on a film crew, the more details you start to notice (in all aspects of a production) and taking note becomes second-nature.
It’s a habit that can be annoying and hard to turn off – just ask my poor husband.
Husband (pushing pause): What.
Me: The actor’s tie-knot keeps changing position from shot to shot – it’s distracting.
Husband: Have you even heard the characters’ conversation?
Me: Umm… sort of… no, not really. Could you… rewind it a little?
Yeah, it’s not always easy to just let entertainment be exactly that – entertainment. Work-mode is always running just below the surface. (Eep, I’ve become a costume drone!)
I really dislike black fabrics or anything dark without texture. On camera, the shadows disappear and you just see a dark blob. Because they look so striking on camera, deep blacks are usually reserved for well-lit funeral scenes. And if black clothing is used, it’s in limited amounts and is usually a soft black.
Meanwhile, gleaming white is usually too bright (or hot) on camera, and it seems to glow and pull the focus to the white object. This is why I am usually compelled to dim the white a little with a slight brown or grey over-dye – like the tea-dyed lace for my 1912 Princess Slip. (In the business, this is known as “tech”-ing it.)
Large high-contrast prints (especially black & white ones) can look like home décor and usually overwhelm the wearer.
Small high-contrast prints (like bright pinstripes) can look like they are vibrating, especially in HD. Would somebody please advise the evening news anchors about this?
I cringe when I see groups of matchy-matchy outfits (think family Christmas photos of everyone in the same silly sweater & jeans). Coordinating is good, but it’s best to keep everyone different enough to share focus (or make one person stand out to force focus, if that is the point of a scene).
I could go on for days with the little do’s and don’ts for dressing someone for camera, but I’ll just say that there are times that my costuming skills can also help when planning for photos. Since photography is just non-motion film, a lot of the same conventions still apply. (I like to think that my aversion to white-white also helped Camille’s wedding dress photograph so well for her nighttime wedding.)
This brings me to another side effect of being a film costumer (theatre costuming is similar but there are subtle differences): my professional training bleeds over into my view of everyday fashion as well. My closet is full of outfits that reflect my costuming preferences, and I dress for “the part” depending on circumstances & events.
I’m currently working on a personal sewing project with the goal of redoing my blog banner and possibly my avatar. I’ve had the general concept in mind for over a year, but I’m still working out all the details.
I had an orange fabric with white polka dots picked out for a retro dress, but I decided to do a screen test with it and another orange fabric with smaller dots. (My costuming instincts were raising red flags about my first choice, so I had to make sure.)
I took a few photos of both fabrics draped over a chair in the setting I plan to use for my photo shoot, and then I could compare them on the computer screen more objectively.
After seeing the fabrics on screen, I changed my mind about my fabric – I liked the smaller polka dot better in the setting. The orange disappears on my original choice and doesn’t stand out from my bright blue fridge and chartreuse walls, especially as a smaller photo. I want my dress – not my fridge – to be the focus of my banner (even though the icebox is really cool and eye-catching).
Conclusion from my screen test: the fabric I ended up liking better was one I thought was a little too bright in person but it looks amazing on camera and from a distance.
Now if I could just decide if I need to fuss with toning down the overall brightness of the fabric just a little, I could cut out my 50’s style dress and start building… There’s that dang costumer-mode trying to take over again!