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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!
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!
There was a little blood (on the white fur, of course! but easy to fix), a lot of sweat (heavy upholstery fabric is hard to wrangle!), but thankfully, no tears for this build!
I ended up having to sort through 415 photos for this post! Needless to say, I have reduced that number down a little bit. (Click photos to enlarge.)
Back at the end of September, I was hired to build dresses for two identical mannequins for a revamped outdoor Christmas display in Wichita Falls. The request was for something that resembled the red satin dresses with white fur trim seen at the end of the 1954 movie White Christmas.
One of the mannequins was brought to my house.
I called her Keira. She was about the same dress size as I am – but 6 feet tall! A GIANT Barbie.
Her old outfit was sad and her wig was scraggly. So I threw away her clothes and let her borrow some of mine after a bit of a spa day.
I ordered a swatch of the Sunbrella brand red outdoor upholstery velvet. It ended up being the perfect color and had a decent drape, so I ordered 16 yards (but it seems to be sold out at the moment – not sure if they will restock it, but I hope they do!).
I bought some rip-stop nylon for lining and some white acrylic fur with an olefin backing at my local Hancock Fabrics. I also purchased outdoor upholstery thread, acrylic rhinestones (JoAnn Fabrics), and fabric glitter glue (Hobby Lobby).
I ordered hoop skirt petticoats from Petticoat Junction and the client ordered ice skates for shoes. I bought some red “parade gloves” at a Halloween store (perfect timing of a project!).
My really good friend Marlene, who is a professional film & television makeup artist, was tasked with finding and styling some appropriate wigs that could stand up to the elements.
Wensley did not like Keira and hated it when I touched her or moved her around. I think she bothered him because she wouldn’t look at him, hehe. (My dress forms don’t have faces so he just ignores them.)
There was growling and barking for many days after she arrived. Just when he had gotten a little used to Keira visiting, the big roll of velvet fabric arrived and he greeted that with the same suspicious “intruder alert!” and I caught it on video:
My husband and our brother-in-law helped me rig a stand for her, and then I was able to start working on a mockup.
My starting point for both bodices was Vogue 2979 that looks like a reproduction of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress (pictured in this old post). But the sleeve caps as drafted were too short and caused all kinds of fit issues until I popped the seam open at the shoulder. (I tried the bodice on myself and had similar problems with the fit, so beware if you are trying to use this pattern straight from the envelope.) I also lowered the underarm curve a slightly like I usually need to do for myself.
Therefore, I drafted my own sleeve from scratch and made it a two-piece sleeve while I was at it. This allowed me to include better elbow ease for Keira’s perpetually bent arms. It also made it so much easier to dress her.
My friend used glossy red model paint to repaint Keira’s outdated ‘80s lips (check out that unbelievably sharp line!) and Keira got her lovely new hair. So much better!
The skirts were just basic full circles (but huge! because she’s so tall!) and I draped & drew the cape pattern on Keira. I was really surprised that the upholstery velvet cooperated and did what I wanted it to do for the most part.
I didn’t have enough fur (I bought all there was at the store) to double fold it like I wanted to on the capelet and skirts, so I lined it with some white polyester utility fabric and did a lot of picking to pull the fur out of the seams.
If you have questions or would like to know about specific details, ask me in the comments. =)
Overall, I probably spent about 3 weeks total on this project but the work was spread out over about 6 weeks. It was a huge build to complete on my own and I was so glad when it was finished! So was Wensley.
Merry Christmas to all, and my all your Christmases be white!
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?
Remember the Wonder Woman cape I had fun modeling? It looks so much better on AnnaMay, its intended wearer!
Jen posted some wonderful photos of AnnaMay wearing her Wonder Woman costume on EPBOT recently, and said I could share them on my blog as well. You can also see the boots I made to go with the cape in the pictures. =)
Here are two of my favorites (read Jen’s post to see a few more pictures including a group shot of superheroes!):
I got the best email from AnnaMay’s mom earlier this week:
We went to camp this weekend in the mountains. All of the families that go have at least one child with autism or sensory disorders like AnnaMay. We shared our cabin with another family who had 2 children. One of them was a 5 year old little girl. We were getting ready for the Halloween carnival and I was helping AnnaMay with her costume. We went to put the cape on and the girl came over with huge eyes and asked AnnaMay if she could fly. AnnaMay told her no. The girl leaned in and very earnestly said, “I bet you could with that cape if we got you up high enough.” I thought you might enjoy knowing you made a cape so awesome it made a 5 year old believe AnnaMay could fly…
And here’s a great shot taken by AnnaMay’s mom of the whole costume:
So the job I’ve been working for the past few of months for a holiday display has been postponed for a year. (Bummer – I have eleventy-million pictures I want to share!) This week, I’m helping finish some costumes at the University of Dallas for a friend who wasn’t able to complete the job due to health issues. And in a couple more weeks I’ll be helping in the Southern Methodist University costume shop for 2 weeks. So I’m keeping surprisingly busy this season!
The detailed posts on how I made the Wonder Woman cape & boots will be coming as soon as I have time to sit down and go through my photos.
And Happy Reformation Day!
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.
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.
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.
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)!