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Delusions of Glamour

When I mention that I’m a professional costumer, people often get wide-eyed and respond with an awed “ooohhh…” While costuming has it’s moments of “wow, I love my job!”, in reality, most of what I do is simply just work – and by work, I mean the dirty physical-labor kind.

(Why I’m not a designer explained in this post.)

Being a costumer is more than sewing. There are those costumers who do spend a lot of their time in a costume shop (and I admit that is my favorite place to be!), but even working in a shop involves more than just putting together pretty period garments for film or theatre.

There are tasks like making repairs to old (sometimes stinky!) costumes, polishing shoes, and rigging a costume so that it can be put on or taken off quickly. There is also the distressing of clothing & shoes to make something look old or worn, and there is dyeing fabric – both of which are messy and require true artistic skills that I have not completely mastered.

If an article of clothing has a brand logo, I might get the assignment of “greeking it out” – film slang for blurring or obscuring an emblem so it’s not visible or recognizable on camera. Sharpies in various colors come in handy for that, and when I watch a TV show (especially Reality TV), I can often tell when something has been intentionally greeked out. (As a last minute on-set fix, there’s always creative use of gaff tape for greeking.)

This was a pair of name-brand shoes that I meticulously greeked out (per the costume designer) for an episode of Barney & Friends when a script called for “fancy dancing shoes”.
They are Nike brand – can you tell?

Then there is basic stuff like laundry. It’s never-ending! I may be able to look inside a designer labeled outfit and touch amazing custom garments, but I also have to collect sweaty socks at the end of a day. Sometimes laundry has to come home with me and go back clean the next morning (and that’s after a 12+ hour workday!).

During the last few days, I was hired to do some stitching for a Nike commercial that was filming in Dallas. (You can view it in this post.)  I hemmed some pants, took in some t-shirts, and tailored a few suits. But I also helped unpack shipments of clothes that arrived by mail. I did a lot of clothes hanging, and I folded & sorted something like 600 t-shirts!

Ahhh the glamour! I was a folding machine!

During the actual shoot days, I spent most of one morning steaming a couple racks of clothes, a few hours heat-setting some logos on basketball uniforms (that was fun because I got to use an industrial press), dressed some extras, collected dirty clothes, and helped pack everything back on the truck. (Wardrobe always involves a lot of heavy-lifting of clothes and shoes.)

It was grueling, but the costume designer & wardrobe crew I was working with were really great people and I’m glad I was able to meet them. I’m sure I will cross paths with them again at some point – it always amazes me how small Hollywood is (instead of 6 degrees of separation, it’s more like 1 or 2)!

On some of the bigger shows where I’ve been hired on as part of wardrobe department, we have a full-sized semi-trailer for all the costumes.

This was the Chase wardrobe trailer.
It even had pull out drawers in the compartments below!

On filming days, a crew shows up (usually before the sun rises) and finds Basecamp set up in some random parking lot near the shooting location. Half the time, it is easy to forget where you are because the trailers are usually set up in the same basic configuration.

A view of Basecamp from the bottom of the Wardrobe Trailer stairs.

Inside a wardrobe trailer, there is often a stacked washer/dryer, a small sink, and a few cabinets and counters in the nose. All the way down the sides are locking clothes racks, and a ramp on a lift at the back end.

A view facing the back end (L)
and a view looking toward the nose of the trailer (R).

Aside from lugging costumes and pushing racks of clothing all over the place, I’ve met and talked to countless interesting people, seen the other side of many “do not enter” doors (I often joke that I don’t know how to enter a building through the public front door), learned how “boring” action scenes & how “funny” horror scenes can be while filming them, worked some 19 hour days (the standard minimum day is 12 hours on most jobs), and been a part of some truly amazing teams.

My job as a costumer involves so much more than sewing (and I didn’t even mention the on-set work!) that it’s hard to summarize when someone asks what I do. Costuming (and any film or theatre job for that matter) is a calling – one that sounds glamorous and usually isn’t.

It can be miserable and completely exhausting at times, but despite all the hard work involved, I would never trade what I do for a normal desk job!

Are You Ironing Backwards?

I used to iron backwards… at least according to history.

I once came across a TV documentary partly about British butlers (I think it was on PBS and unfortunately, I don’t know the title). During the little bit I watched, the butlers were talking about pressing the laundry. They claimed that everyone who has not attended butler academy uses their ironing board incorrectly – the tapered end should be on the right, and most ironing should be done on the other, square end. I witnessed a demonstration on how to properly set up and use an ironing board in the traditional way that a butler does, which they said makes it easier to iron (especially when ironing a man’s button-down shirt).

The idea of turning my ironing board around intrigued me – had I gotten stuck in a modern paradigm when there was an old-fashioned, easier way? I decided to find out for myself by experimenting with my own ironing board.

My ironing corner with the ironing board reversed.

I fully expected to hate my board being turning around. It just looked wrong. The tapered end had always been on my left! How could my perfectionist father have shown me the improper way to set up the board?? (Kidding! Dad, thanks for teaching me to iron so well otherwise!)

After a few ironing sessions, I discovered that I agreed with the butling way! There are many advantages to predominately using the square end of an ironing board:

Man's shirt on the square end of the ironing board.

    • It’s faster to iron most button-down shirts because each half of the front fits neatly on the square end (just like they demonstrated in the documentary!).
    • Yardage of uncut fabric (and bed sheets) can be ironed easier and the taper will not leave strange diagonal wrinkles in the middle of a large piece of fabric.
    • Fewer things fall off the board as you are ironing. (You just have to be a little more careful when putting down your iron on the smaller, tapered end.)
    • You add to the size of your ironing board by increasing the surface area of your ironing space. (That pointy end of the board really cuts out a lot of surface!)

My various ironing tools

Many costume shops I have worked in have custom built ironing “tables” with a tapered board off in a corner as a secondary place to iron.  I realized that I never really used the tapered end of an ironing board because I have other more useful ironing tools like a tailor’s ham, sleeve board, seam roll, clapper/point presser, and various items from the hardware store.  So now I prefer to iron with my board pointing to the right because I have found it to be faster and easier.

I was curious about how the modern standard of the square end being on the right came to be. After all, most “deluxe” modern ironing boards have the fancy iron rest attached to the square end of the board – meaning that the right-handed person would place the wider end to their right. (Not to mention wall-mounted fold-down boards!)

Typical "deluxe" modern board with iron rest attached

My curiosity led me to the aptly named website, which is about the “history of housekeeping, household antiques, and domestic objects”. According to the website’s “History of Ironing Boards”, the early versions of ironing boards were just that – boards covered in fabric and often balanced on the backs of chairs.

Apparently, a tapered ironing board was historically called a “skirt board” and made it easier to press the skirt of a dress since a full skirt naturally narrows at the waist while the hem is wider. But for most everything else besides a skirt, the square end of the board was favored. And it seems that even as late as 1940, women were still using their ironing boards in the traditional way – with the square end to the left!

Woman Ironing in North Dakota, 1940, photographed by John Vachon

So sometime in the last 70 years, I guess some manufacturer decided it was a good idea to add an iron rest to the square end of an ironing board, call it “deluxe”, and charge extra for the iron rack addition. But then you lose the usefulness of the square end of the board while increasing the price!

I did find this folding ironing board (labeled as a “home ironing table”) with a removable square end and iron rest:

I’m not exactly sure how the square end-attachment works, but you can save yourself the money (it’s over $250!) and just turn your tapered board around!

So give it a try and turn your ironing board around. You might find you like it better. 🙂

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Out, Dang Spot! – Two of the Simplest Stain Removal Tricks Ever!

Today’s post isn’t exactly about sewing or fashion or what I’ve been up to, but about the related topic of laundry – something we all have to do and usually hate doing.

There are two very simple laundry tips I’ve shared with people over and over and over. You can take care of either oil/grease or blood stains almost anywhere you happen to be without rushing home to do laundry as soon as you can. And you won’t need to carry any stain-fighting chemicals in your purse just for emergencies.

First let’s talk about oil and grease stains.

I don’t remember when I first tried this trick, but I remember dripping some Italian dressing onto my pants once. (Somehow drips and spills always seem to miss the napkin that’s on the lap!) After I finished my meal, I reached for the dish soap from my kitchen sink and rubbed some onto the spot.

Since dish soap (the kind like Ivory or Dawn that don’t contain bleach) is scientifically formulated to cut grease and oil, I reasoned it should work just fine on clothing too. After I washed my pants, they were perfectly spot-free. Yay! Who says you can only use laundry products on laundry?

I have also used dish soap on many of the grease stains on my husband’s clothes when he has been working with tools. He also goes to the dish soap at the office if he gets something on his clothes at work. It is a great pretreatment for laundry. And it has occasionally saved me when the moving parts of my serger or sewing machine leave a little machine oil on a project.

You don’t have to wash the clothing (or even pre-treat) immediately – just rub some dish soap into the stain when you can, and it should come out in the wash later. Really horrible spots may take a couple treatments and washes – just remember not to put anything in the dryer that still has a stain! Air-dry and try again.

Onto removing blood stains. (Those of you with weak constitutions, brace yourselves and read on.)

Anyone who sews has probably bled a little on a project at one time or another – it’s just a hazard of working with pins & needles. Nosebleeds and knee scrapes will soil most kids’ clothes at some point. Or you might cut yourself shaving and leave a smear on your colored (therefore un-bleachable) towel when you dry off.

At some point in some costume shop, I learned that blood stains are surprisingly the easiest stains in the world to remove – without any chemicals! (And you don’t even need soap & water!) The only thing you need to know about blood stains is whose blood it is, because the incredible natural blood stain remover is saliva! That’s right – spit. Gross, I know, but it works amazingly even on old stains. Just pre-treat with spit & toss in the washer. It’s almost like magic!

I don’t know the exact science behind it, but apparently, your saliva has enzymes in it that can break down your own blood, essentially dissolving a blood stain. So if you bleed on something, spit on it – because you will be the only person who can easily remove the stain.

Simple dish soap and spit will save you hours of frustration when fighting tough stains compared to commercially marketed chemical stain removers!

If you have any simple & easy stain removal tips, please share in the comments!

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