labricoleuse: (ass head mask)

Mary McClung's new book, Foam Patterning and Construction Techniques, is a must-have for costume production artists with an interest in mascot making, theme park walkarounds, and other large-scale creature costumes.

McClung starts out with a section on types of foam, as well as tools, adhesives, and other media for use with foam in production. This section alone will be a godsend if you have some knowledge of working with foam but only know common vocabulary terms like "couch foam" as opposed to descriptors used by vendors like "urethane foam." She includes a thorough section on safety, both in terms of work practices and protective equipment to use when using the adhesives and paints which work on foam. I always love to see a new reference book in our field with current safety information--for too long our industry has gotten by without adequate education in this area, and many of the old "classic" reference texts are from a bygone age in which one might, say, shoot pictures of someone demonstrating a technique with a cigarette burning in an ashtray near an open container of solvent or similar.

She goes on to discuss concepts of design with respect to these kind of character costumes (or other foam-based elements of realizing shapes/structures), and techniques for patterning and construction with foam as a medium. She covers a wide range of techniques and media for "skinning" the forms, too--not only some great stuff on fur and fleece, but also latex/cheesecloth and other surfacing ideas. McClung even talks about elements of finishing like the painting of fur to create a more sophisticated look, which are hard to find documented at all.

The last section of the book documents the process from start to finish on six different foam-based projects, from cute cartoon character heads to sleek superhero armor. It's great to see an artist's procedure from start to finish on such drastically different designs, using the same basic range of techniques.

Full disclosure: this review is written in response to a digital review copy provided to me by the publisher, Focal Press, so that i might decide whether to adopt the book as a text for my graduate level maskmaking class. While i remain undecided as to whether i will adopt the book as a required text, i will definitely consider it a recommended book and I intend to obtain a physical copy for my studio's library of reference books. Unfortunately though, the e-reader i had to use to access the text didn't give me any concept of the size or quality of the photos in a print version of the book or how the text would be laid out, so i suppose i'll ahve to wait til i get my hands on a physical copy to form an opinion on those aspects of the book. The info contained within makes it well worth the purchase regardless, even if the whole thing were printed in Comic Sans.

I received the review copy toward the end of spring semester (when i was in the midst of teaching Masks & Armor, the course for which i would potentially use it) and one of my students elected to try one of the processes described in that final section of examples. The book was helpful, clear, and full of good suggestions for how to modify techniques or further explore media. In fact, i'd say the book would be a great reference not just for those of us working the business of costume production but also for those whose hobbies encompass cosplay and other types of character costuming for fun.

Two large foam thumbs up!
labricoleuse: (mee)

The First Book of Fashion (ed. Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward) encompasses two books, in fact: essentially 15th and 16th century "dress diaries" of a father and son, Matthaus and Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg. The two men hired a series of artists to draw miniature full-color portraits of their clothes, a project which encompassed forty years of the father's life and six years of the son's adolescence. The men were serious clothes-horses and major fashion mavens, with the books serving as amazing windows into the daily clothing choices made by men of their class at the time.

This full-color edition depicts the two volumes in their entireties, along with translations of the Schwarz's accompanying diary text, which is often both illuminating and endearing, describing the materials of the clothing and personal details. Some examples:

  • from Arras lined with Siberian squirrel fur...

  • The riding gown had 40 pleats.

  • This is when i began to be fat and round.

  • At this time i greatly enjoyed hunting.

In a lengthy section at the back of the book, a scholarly analysis of each plate is appended, in which every element of dress and adornment is discussed, as well as any socially-significant elements shown in the background. Two lengthy scholarly articles by the editors serve as Introductions I & II, which provide a historical background for these men's lives, the town/country in which they lived, the general state of clothing production/techniques/styles at the time, and the larger historical picture of the era.

At only $45 for this 410-page hardback  volume, this is an excellent and reasonably priced resource for costumers seeking primary research for this time period and location. It's also a fun glimpse into these guys' lives, and their witty, self-conscious comments feel as familiar as any fashion blog or social media feed.

Some examples:

In 1512. In my mind, i was a bad-ass, and very keen on horse riding, when my father sent me to Munich for his business. 15 years old.

On 28th November 1519, my father died and I mourned him...
labricoleuse: (design)
After my prior post on resources for working with esparterie [1], some helpful milliners and scholars commented or PM’d me with two other titles of books which feature chapters or sections on the material.


Madame Eva Ritcher's lovely author photo

The ABC of Millinery by Madame Eva Ritcher was published in 1950, and positions itself as an introductory handbook for “every woman” with an interest in learning millinery techniques. I absolutely adore the photography in this book—glamorous images of various hats created and modeled by the author, interspersed with detail shots of various techniques she describes in the book.

However, I’m not entirely convinced that Ritchie is using the word “sparterie” to describe the two-ply material composed of a layer of esparto and a layer of crinoline. Based on her description of it—a material sold in rolls, in both black and white—and the detail shots throughout the text, it appears that she’s using the term to refer to what I know as buckram: a single-ply woven material stiffened with starch. Nowhere does she mention the technique of skinned joins, nor does she discuss any precautions for avoiding damage to the esparto straw layer as in other references like the Denise Dreher book. And, in all of the detail shots, the material she’s using is clearly one-ply and looks to be standard buckram.

Ritcher's book has great illustrations and as a handbook for basic buckram structures, straw, and felt, it’s a solid resource with lovely period examples, but as an esparterie reference, it’s puzzling at best when taken alongside the other available information out there.

Hats on Heads: the Art of Creative Millinery by Mildred Anlezark was first published in 1965, but went through several reprinting in the 1990s. It’s clear that Anlezark is talking about a two-ply straw/cotton material in her book, because she gives an excellent descriptive definition of it in her “Materials” section, though she describes the straw layer as hemp instead of esparto, and cites it as coming from Hong Kong instead of Japan or Spain.

As the book contains no close-up photographs of the material Anzelark calls “willow,” I have no way to know whether the use of the word “hemp” is a misnomer (and thus what she’s talking about is similar to the vintage esparto-based willow I’ve acquired from the estate of Madame Sheeta), or if it’s a different esparterie substitute which is/was literally made from hemp instead of esparto grass.

Anlezark’s book has several sections which deal with using the material—Moulded Willow Brim, Willow Crown in Two Sections, Willow Breton, Willow Brims, Willow Pillbox, and Willow Whimsy. In none of them does she mention the skinned join technique, or any techniques which take advantage of the two-layer nature of the material such as the edge-wiring technique mentioned in the Denise Dreher text in which one cuts away some of the esparto layer but leaves the crinoline layer longer to encase the wire after attaching.

For the most part, Anlezark treats it like other one-ply foundation materials in terms of the methods described. The “Moulded Willow Brim” section is interesting for how it addresses creating a brim foundation with a rounded edge by folding the willow back on itself, but I’m not sold on her using the material in the most advantageous way to do this, because she doesn’t have you drop the wire inside the fold to obfuscate its presence when covering, and she doesn’t address techniques for grading the headsize opening when you’re working with four layers of material before you’ve even set your crown on.

There’s a lot of other information in this book on both structured and soft stitched hat styles in a range of materials, so it seems like a solid reference book in general, but IMO there are better references for working with esparterie/willow out there which cover a broader range of techniques specific to it as a medium.

Thank you so much to those who pointed me toward these and several prior-mentioned books: Dirk Seegmüller, Rachel Worboys, and [ profile] leebee7.

I would love to hear from anyone else who knows of books in any language which feature information on working with this material. I feel certain there have to be some French resources i’ve yet to locate, and probably Spanish and Japanese as well. My goal is to wind up with a series of posts which are easily findable via online search-engines, evaluating and comparing primary source material on the subject of esparterie techniques.

[1] A.k.a. willow, spartre, sparterie, spatra, esparto-cloth…how many names does this stuff have? Geez. :)
labricoleuse: (mee)
Esparteríe has long been a research interest of mine, pretty much ever since i heard about its existence in my very first millinery class (1992), but actively since I took the position of crafts artisan at PlayMakers Repertory Company and discovered the four sheets of it in the stock here. Now that our graduate program at UNC-Chapel Hill is the proud owner of 77 more, thanks to what i’ve begun to think of as the Madame Sheeta Legacy, I set about collecting the extant documentation i know of for working with it. That’s the subject of today’s post.

First, let’s take a look at written references, millinery manuals which address techniques for working with esparterie/willow/spartre/etc. You can find the term popping up in many glossaries of millinery materials, but if a reference only mentions its existence and features no additional information on working with it, i’ve put it aside. We know it was once a commonly used and beloved millinery material, but what about the HOW of its use?

The book i used as my guide back when i made the brim block from a portion of one of my sheets in 2010 was Denise Dreher’s From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking. This book is also the required textbook for the graduate level course i teach in theatrical millinery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—it’s worth owning for many other reasons beyond its sections on esparterie, which she refers to exclusively by the term “willow.”

It’s clear that esparterie was already scarce when Dreher wrote her textbook, because she starts out advising milliners not to use it as a flat-pattern foundation material or as a blocking material, but to conserve it to use exclusively as a material shaped in the hand, free-form. She goes on to talk about the material’s properties and specific techniques for working with it—how to activate the willow with moisture/steam without damaging it, how to patch a damaged area, how to create a skinned join, how to wire an edge.

Specific instructional sections follow: Shaping the Sideband in Willow, Shaping the Tip in Willow, Shaping Narrow Brims in Willow, Shaping Wide Brims in Willow. She goes on to discuss both sizing and Spartalac as stabilizing products, though the information about Spartalac only serves to help a modern milliner conjecture as to what might serve as a good substitute, since that’s not a product one might run out and buy anymore.

All this information fills about five pages of her book (pages which are 8.5” x 11” in size and printed with two columns) and includes a few black-and-white photographs. Unfortunately, because the book is printed on essentially card stock, the quality of the images is not great. Nevertheless, if you have a sheet or few of esparterie and want to read up on it before working with it, Dreher’s book is a great reference.

Eve Borrett’s How to Make Hats is the second book i’ll mention. It features a 17-page chapter called “Tackling Esparterie and Shape Making.” Borrett essentially covers much of the same ground Denise Dreher does (and not as clearly), but i mention her book because it has an excellent hand-drawn diagram of a skinned join, which makes the process for it much clearer than simply relying on the description and fuzzed-out photography in the Dreher text.

A Textbook of Model Millinery by Ethel Langridge was a pearl of a find. It includes a ten-page chapter entitled “Esparterie Work, including Shape-Making,” full of detailed hand-drawn illustrations concerning a process called “taking the print” of a hat or a block. This involves using the esparterie (or as Langridge tends to call it, the spartre) to make a topographical copy of an existing hat or block, in order to create replicas of it or commission a wood block copy. The book includes a black-and-white photo printed on good-quality glossy paper depicting examples of these esparterie hat-prints. Langridge has stitched them in contrasting thread, as i have done in past posts, to better illustrate the type/size of stitches used in reinforcement sections. This is a technique i’m very excited to practice using the esparterie we acquired from Madame Sheeta’s estate, and be sure i’ll document it fully here.

In Studio Secrets: Millinery by Estelle Ramousse and Fabienne Gambrelle, there’s no specific technique documentation of esparterie work, but there are some beautiful, high-quality, full-color photographs of the surviving esparterie blocks in the studio of Madame Galanter, a Parisian milliner who’s been in business for decades.

There are also some photos of esparterie shapes in Paula Reed's biography Philip Treacy, which features text in both English and Italian. You can also see some of Treacy's esparterie block maquettes in two earlier blog posts of mine: Photoessay Part 1 of 2 - Philip Treacy's Hat Blocks, and Photoessay Part 2 of 2.

And, in L'arte di fare i cappelli by Anna Maria Nicolini there’s a chapter on esparterie work also written in both English and Italian. There’s not any new material there, but the bilingual nature of the book and its full-color photography make it worth a mention in this post as well. Milliners more comfortable with Italian than English would find it to be a good starting place for the basics, perhaps?

At one point, an Australian company called Ascot School of Millinery was offering a DVD of a master class in hand-formed esparterie, but they seem to have gone out of business or otherwise disappeared from the internet. All that remains is this preview video which has some spliced together fast-motion examples of the artisan working. If anyone reading has information on how to contact the folks at ASM to obtain a copy of the DVD in question, or owns a copy who might speak to its contents, please do drop a comment on this post!

Should you know of a reference book in any language which features well-documented instruction on working with esparterie/willow/spartre/espatra/etc., please do leave me a comment with the title and author name! I’d also love to see links to any other resources—photos, videos, etc. If you're hosting an upcoming workshop in working with esparterie (such as the one at Millinery Meetup 2016 with Jane Stoddart, please do also drop a comment!

Thanks to Dirk Seegmüller of Les Incroyables for his invaluable input in tracking down some of these sources.

ETA: Many thanks to milliner Rachael Worboys, who has drawn my attention to the book Hats on Heads: The Art of Creative Millinery, by Mildred Anlezark, with several sections on esparterie. This book was published in New South Wales, Australia, and i've requested it through Interlibrary Loan, so as soon as I receive that, i'll report back here my thoughts on how its contents compare to what i've already mentioned above!
labricoleuse: (design)

Winterhalter's 1865 portrait of Empress Elizabeth of Austria
in a gown by Charles Worth and diamond star ornaments dressed into her hair

While book reviews are a fairly common feature in La Bricoleuse, i should preface this one with a bit of a caveat, because it’s highly irregular that the subject of such a review would be a novel. The book features have typically addressed nonfiction of a costume-related bent, such as Shoes: An Illustrate History by Rebecca Shawcross or The Spoonflower Handbook.

However, it is for entirely topical reasons that I draw your attention to Alexander Chee’s new release, Queen of the Night.

I was perhaps predisposed to pick up this novel—it is set in a place and time (Paris during the Second Empire/Third Republic) which are among my pet research topics and follows the tumultuous career of an operatic soprano. As I’ve worked as a costumer for companies like the LA Opera, i’m intrigued by opera history and familiar with its canon, and i do love the soaring drama of those storylines. And, well do i know that historically, the lives of opera singers often might well be the plot lines of operas themselves—the tragic death of La Malibran, for example, or the dramatic onstage shattering of Cornélie Falcon’s voice.

But whether you have any familiarity with opera or not, if you enjoy the focus of this blog, you ought to grab a copy of this book and check it out, and here’s why: costume and couture of the period is a significant thematic element. From the Parisian ateliers of Worth and Félix [1] to the subterranean storehouse of Empress Eugénie’s fur collection, there’s so much to love for the costume academic or enthusiast.

For example, when was the last time you read a contemporary historical novel in which an author acknowledged the fact that women dressed wiglets and switches into their hair when creating elaborate hairstyles? Given the general flimsiness of women’s silk slippers for society parties, you’ll appreciate Chee’s tip of the hat to special pairs of cancan boots—wooden heeled, leather uppers—transgressively structured footwear made for stamping and kicking all night. And when you hit the section in which a courtesan advises her protegée on the conversion of various types of jewelry into ready money, if you’re of my nitpicky mindset, you’ll love to see that type of information codified on the page.

In fact, clothing is often a sticking point for me in terms of the enjoyment of historical fiction—even moreso than the snark the ladies of Frock Flicks dish on with respect to film/TV—because in fiction, you have no limitations on budget and shooting schedule, nor must you contend with petulant A-list talent who insist on choosing their own jankity clothes, history be damned. There is quite literally NO REASON why an author of a novel should get the details of fashion so deeply wrong, but (speaking as someone who once put down a book in disgust when the protagonist pulled a corset off over her head like a tee-shirt) it happens. Often.

So i felt like metaphorically high-fiving Chee from the moment his narrator began to describe a custom dressform in the Worth atelier as essential to the sartorial panache of an arriviste. I loved the way at one point Chee detailed the embroidery techniques designed to hide structural seamlines on the bodice of a gown, and i wished i had a colleague reading along with me to share my thumbs-ups when he mentioned in passing the stitching of weights into the hems of voluminous skirts to influence their motion in performance. In fact, with that in mind, this would be a fantastic discussion book for a group of costumers, and an excellent audiobook to listen to while, say, tatting, pad-stitching, or tambour-beading.

And yet, i don't wish to imply that the story is merely an excuse for pornagraphically-intricate fashion descriptions--these sorts of details are seamlessly incorporated into the writing, the same as any other bit of scene-setting. It all exists in there to serve the plot, which brings me to...well, the plot in all its glorious sprawl.

I’ve read some criticism of the implausibility of the characters’ lives in a few traditional book-review marketplaces. I would argue that they are perhaps implausible to those with no familiarity with the memoirs of mid-19th-century demimondaines, courtesans, and opera singers; but scholars of those women’s lives, however, will discern the inspiration of real people and events throughout Queen of the Night. I don’t just mean the obvious ones—Napoleon III and his appetite for mistresses or Pauline Viardot-García and her “two husbands”—but the cameos of or tributes to lesser-known filles de joie like Cora Pearl, La Païva, and Mogador, too.

Should you feel the need to read a more traditional review before taking on a novel just for the clothing descriptions, take a pass through Ilana Masad's review on Electric Literature. It provides a good overview of the epic, circuitous story. You don’t need to be a fan of opera to follow along (Chee often synopsizes the storylines of the operas which feature in the soprano’s career) but if you are, you will recognize that the novel itself follows operatic tropes of melodrama and tragedy.

Like many operas, it’s long—over 500 pages—and it does shift around in time and place, so if you prefer your novels to have linear plots in which A leads to B which is followed by C, you’ll struggle. Me, i love a complex puzzle box of a book, and Alexander Chee’s Queen of the Night is one i’ll return to again, much like a favorite libretto or score.

[1] If you're a fan of Worth but Maison Félix doesn't ring a bell, check out this great feature on the FIDM blog with loads of droolworthy images!
labricoleuse: (safety)
I recently finished reading the excellent new book from fashion historian Alison Matthews Davis, Fashion Victims - The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, and my advice to the readership of this blog is, in short, get your hands on a copy. It's fantastic.

I'm not sure which came first, he book or the eponymous exhibit which ran at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto recently--the book is much more than an exhibit catalogue, though it does contain a substantial number of illustrations (129 full color ones!). So perhaps the book begat the exhibit? Regardless, it's an imminently readable volume, hardcover, full-color, a coffeetable book of sorts, well worth the $40 retail price. I'll defer to a quote from the press release for an excellent summary:

A boldly gory and thoroughly illustrated history of death by clothing, from blazing crinolines to mercury-laden fur.

As a major proponent of safe work practices and an instructor who incorporates OSHA/EHS compliance topics into my classes, i found this book at turns fascinating, heartbreaking, gruesome, inspiring, and at times downright disturbing. Yes, the example cases mentioned within are sometimes horrible on their own, but more horrifying are the bits where the author discusses having lab techs at her university run tests on modern-day products easily bought in stores in your own neighborhood--lead content in lipsticks, for example, or radioactive metal used to ornament imported studded belts.

The book is structured so that each chapter focuses on a different class of danger--there's a chapter devoted to the hazards of the hatting industry, then one on flammable tutu net and flannelette, etc. As a sometime-hatmaker, the hatting chapter was particularly sad--one illustration showed examples of hatters' legible signatures as young apprentices contrasted with the unreadable trembling scribbles they signed with after a decade in the trade.

I highly recommend the book in general, but it's a particularly significant read and reference volume for those working in costume archives and in vintage clothing houses, as well as those in academia with study collections or large stocks of antique/vintage clothing.
labricoleuse: (mee)
Last week, i had the good fortune to attend the book release party for The Spoonflower Handbook: A DIY Guide to Designing Fabric, Wallpaper, and Gift Wrap, by Stephen Fraser, Judi Ketteler, and Becka Rain.

A sitting area in the Spoonflower facility, love the upholstery!

I bought the book (as one does at such things) and have since been poring over it with the intent to write about it here, and i suppose that i should begin with a few disclosures, as i am hardly an impartial reviewer.

Spoonflower is a local company with offices literally just up the street from my house. I count more than one friend (and one alumna of our graduate program) among their employees, and have been a customer and designer of theirs for years.That said, i don't have any affiliation with this book and its authors beyond being a fan of the text.

So, what's the book like?

One could argue that it is a book-length infomercial for Spoonflower, which i suppose is technically true, in that there's a lot of information about how specifically one can use the company to produce textile designs, wallpaper, and gift wrap (the three products they print). But on a general level, there's an enormous amount of useful information about the basics of print designs--everything from how to use both analog and digital tools to create your designs, to how one might create a seamless repeat in a range of different configurations. The book does touch on some of the more "pro" programs for digital design, but also illustrates techiques and methods that are decidedly low-tech and non-intimdating for those who have no proficiency with, say, Photoshop.

The first section is a sort of overview of textiles and design--discussions of everything from types of fabrics one can print on (knits/wovens, fiber contents) to the definition of digital design terms like raster and vector based image files, hex codes, dpi, and so forth.

The structure of the second half of the book is project-based, with specific how-to craft projects, each of which addresses a different technique or medium. So, an example of a simple project for working with a digital photograph is the Doppelganger Dog Pillow (which involves printing a photo of your pet and making a pillow out of it), whereas a project addressing working with text involves creating a repeat for the Typographic Wrapping Paper.

Overall, it's an excellent book for demystifying digitally-printed textiles (and papers), which will appeal to hobby crafters, fashion designers, costumers, prop artisans, interior decorators, scrapbookers, and sewing enthusiasts. In terms of its specific appeal to theatre professionals, it's a good book to have in your arsenal, though it covers little new ground not already addressed by Kimberly Kight's Field Guide to Fabric Design.
labricoleuse: (silk painting)
Remember my recent review of Stencil Craft - Techniques for Fashion, Art, & Home by Margaret Peot?

Margaret has generously offered to partner up with me to run a giveaway! If you'd like to win a copy of this excellent new resource book for stencil techniques, comment with a link to either a stencil project you really like (hint: check Pinterest!) or a pic of one that you yourself have made.

You have until 5pm EST one week from today--September 2nd--to enter! Then, we'll choose a random winner and Margaret will send you your very own copy of the book.

Good luck!

labricoleuse: (mee)
So, first up, a caveat: the author of this book is a colleague and a personal friend. However, I don't do shill reviews for friends' books. If i don't think someone's book is worth touting to my readers, i just don't mention it. However, Margaret Peot's Stencil Craft is well worth a mention.


This book is a great new resource for stencil techniques and processes, particularly for textile artists and costumers. Margaret is not only a painter, illustrator, and artist, but she is also a costume painter for the Broadway production house Parsons-Meares, Ltd. Her work is onstage in productions such as Aladdin, Lion King, Wicked, and more. Some of the stencil techniques and samples she depicts in this book, she uses in the creation of those costume fabrics! So, a good resource, particularly if you have never had the opportunity to take one of her workshops at a costume conference.

The book is large format, full color, 127 pages, and mixes information about techniques and media with specific suggested project ideas shown from start to finish. The language is clear and concise, and chapters address four different areas of stencil use: fashion (clothing/accessories), home decor (linens/furniture), paper goods, and artwork.

The reason [ profile] labricoleuse readers will definitely want to take a look at this book is the range of types of material covered. She shows examples of stencil effects on silk chiffon, china silk, 4-ply silk charmeuse, cotton jersey, canvas, and so much more. There are some great images of paint sample tests, and throughout the book are little boxed highlights which address safe work practices. She even covers stencil effects on dark fabrics with discharge paste!

So, the upshot: highly recommended, a good addition to your library of surface design books for painters/dyers or anyone with an interest in exploring sophisticated-looking stencil techniques on textiles, paper, wood, and more.
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
Wow, i've not posted since June. Embarassing! But, i left the state to work a contract job for the month of July, so that's my excuse.

I received a couple of review copies of books that i'd like to mention today, not strictly within the focus of this blog but close enough that i feel the readers would want to know they exist. I've got some more in-depth reviews coming of other titles, but this is more of a PSA, i guess.

no title
Dress, Fashon, and Technology: From Prehistory to the Present by Phyllis G. Tortora
This book is a fairly slim volume, given the vast range of time addressed--240 pages. But, it presumes the reader has a basic understanding of fashion history over time, and specifically addresses the ways in which technology influences, informs, and expands the world of dress and adornment. If you dig that kind of thing, it's a good subway book--easy to pick up and put down, always some fascinating info.

no title
Indian Fashion: Tradition, Innovation, Style by Arti Sandhu

Another fairly slim volume, this one clocking in at 190 pages, and another one that would (for me) make a good commute book. The book begins with a very brief overview of Indian fashion in general and its history, but the majority of the text deals with modern fashion topics within an Indian context, and the interplay between Indian and Western fashion.

Now that the theatre season and academic year are gearing back up for me, i've got several more posts coming on a lot of interesting developments which have come about during the past couple months. Watch this space!
labricoleuse: (mee)
June is here, which means it's officially the 10th Anniverary Month for the blog!

I'm still running the Best of La Bricoleuse flashbacks over on Facebook, featuring a daily repost of some of the highlights of the past decade, but I also want to recognize that one of the great things which came about in tandem with writing this blog was the publication of my textbook, Sticks in Petticoats: Parasol Manufacture for the Modern Costumer.

I wrote the book because in my professional experience as a costume crafts artisan (though in some theatres this winds up being the responsibiity of the props artisan), i was asked to recover and repair numerous parasols, both antique and modern, according to the specifications of costume designers, but could find NO written information on how others might have done so in the past. I decided that, when i was finished, i would begin work on documenting the various things i'd learned, and Sticks in Petticoats became the result.

It remains to my knowledge the only extant book on the subject.

So, for the entire month of June, I've put Sticks in Petticoats on sale for 30% off, as one more thank-you for reading and supporting this blog! If you've been on the fence about whether you wanted to buy the book or not, maybe this is the month to do it.

Download the eBook for $9.99 (formerly $14.99)
(This is actually 33% off because i like easy numbers, and Lulu doesn't precalculate discounts on digital downloads.)

Purchase a print copy in full color for $24.19 (formerly $34.56)

Purchase a print copy in black-and-white for $18.43 (formerly $26.33)

I promise i have some exciting new posts coming up soon, including ones about a batik project, more 3D printing adventures, and making costume display replicas for the Museum of Science Fiction!

And again, thank you ALL for reading this blog. :D
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
One of the advantages of blogging about such a narrow focus as costume from a professional and academic perspective? The very, very rare occasion when something happens like this: Bloomsbury sent me a review copy of the new book Shoes: An Illustrated History, by Rebecca Shawcross.

And it's exciting, yes, to get such a fantastic free book in the mail, but i'll tell you this: i'd have bought it anyway. If all you want is a soundbite of a review, there it is. The book's great, buy it. If you like shoes, if you love shoes, if you dig costume history, if you enjoy footwear in terms of fashion, buy it. And i'm not just saying that because i got a free copy, i'm saying it because it's a great book, but i'm getting to why, and that takes more time (and words) than a soundbite.

Above: new Fluevogs!
Below: new shoe book!

First up, let me say that i'm well versed in what's out there in the way of books about shoes. Historical surveys, coffee-table photo books, little gift books with tons of pictures but barely any info. I either own them, owned but deaccessioned them, or check them out of the library each time i teach my shoe unit in Decorative Arts seminar. My usual beef with most shoe survey books produced in the late 20th century is that they pretty much have all the same shoes in them--you can expect to see the same exact images licensed from the same popular sources. So, if you're a shoe-book connoisseur, you could practically play bingo with a card of shoe pix from the Met and the Bata.

And sometimes, sure, that's because the shoes are iconic. It'd be strange to have a history of shoes with no images of the famous Ferragamo styles, or the Vivier comma heels, or a pair of wooden pattens or a Chinese lotus shoe. And this book, Shoes, does have those included. But, it has SO much more--so many other pairs of footwear that you just don't see in the majority of other books of this sort out there. Presumably this is partly because most of those books are drawing primarily on North American collections for the majority of their images, while this book's author, Rebecca Shawcross, is attached to the Northampton Museum's footwear collection from which she can draw for even more images outside the most commonly circulated images/pairs.

This book is beautifully put together and enormously readable/browsable--a great balance of full color images, historical illustrations & engravings, and meaningful yet not dense text. It could be a reference book in your workroom's library (as it will be for me), but it could just as easily be a coffee table book in your home. You could read it cover to cover and learn about shoes from 3500 BCE to the present, or you could dip in and out of it by era or subject. Shawcross gives equal weight to the progression of the history of footwear itself (construction, materials, innovations, styles) as she does to recurring iconic styles and innovations/innovators. She even approaches some footwear topics from a sociological perspective, like the phenomenon of concealed shoes within the walls of architecture from prior centuries.

I find the chapter sections on footwear trends and designers of the 1990s and 2000s to be of particular note, because most other books of this ilk were published IN those years, so they stop with 1980s footwear trends. This book actually addresses topics like the influence of the Spice Girls on the return of the platform, and the influence of sports celebrity branding on the athletic shoe industry (i.e., Air Jordans). The main beef i have with the book, really, is that the author makes no mention of some of the most innovative and influential brands and designers from that period--no John Fluevog, no Luichiny, no Irregular Choice. But, that's a small quibble in the scheme of things.

Ultimately, this is an exciting new book on a subject I adore, and i highly recommend it.
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
This is a topic which comes up over and over on the email lists and discussion groups frequented by professional costumers--what single textbook could replace the out-of-print "industry bible" of Deborah Dryden's Painting and Dyeing for the Theatre?

And, yes, there are a lot of dye books out there to consider--comprehensive ones that cover a lot of different aspects of surface design, working with various classes of dye, etc. That might even be part of the problem: the fact that there are a LOT of good books to consider. This book is better in terms of surface design technique overviews, that book is better for specifically fiber reactive dye use. Book A's fantastic for covering different classes of dyes but Book B is better when it comes to safe work practices. Et cetera.

For someone like me that does run a dye facility (with an attendant library of numerous reference books), who also teaches a course specifically tailored to, well, how dyeing and surface design must be tailored to theatrical production demands, I've yet to find a single book I like as well as hers. Sure, i provide a lot of supplementary material from other texts, but when i consider what's the one book i'd like my graduate students to take with them into the workplace, the core beginning of their own future theatrical dye shop's library? Dryden's is the one. And, judging by the number of times this comes up, i'm not alone.

But, Dryden's book is long out-of-print and her former publisher, Heinemann, has no plans to bring the book back even as a digital release, nor to produce a new, updated edition despite the clear demand for such a thing. The market would indicate that this is true as well, the demand for the text--used copies of the Dryden book are listed on Amazon and Alibris for several hundred dollars. As such, no college bookstores can source any used copies for a theatrical dye class these days. But, there's one other option...

At my school, we do have a print shop arm of the campus bookstore, and they WILL create an educational reprint of an out-of-print book, provided the rights-holder grants permission. Here's what that looks like:

Top: Actual copy of the Dryden text
Bottom: Educational reprint test copy of same

As you can see, the volume our print shop produced is in the interior an exact copy of the original--largely black and white with the full-color photographic insert in the middle of the volume. The reprint copy is a perfect-bound standard sized ("workbook sized") textbook, with the Dryden pages centered in the larger format same as you see with the cover art. In fact, i actually like this size better than the original for a textbook, since it gives my students wider margins all around in which to make notes. After seeing this test copy, i think I'd also like future volumes to be spiral-bound, so that students can open it to the relevant pages and lay it flat on the table while working on dye labs.

I asked the bookstore about exactly how other professors and students might take advantage of this resource. The print specialist i've been working with advised that, if other teachers wish to use the Dryden text, that it's probably easiest and most expeditious to consult the bookstores at their own specific universities, rather than attempting to mail-order copies like mine from the UNC-CH print shop. She did say that our store could easily provide the book to others within the NC state university system, so if you happen to be a student or teacher at one of the many other North Carolina universities, i've already done all the legwork on setting up the reprint capabilities with our bookstore so you can piggyback onto this deal by having your bookstore call ours. (Or, drop by the UNC student stores if you're in the Chapel Hill area.)

So, it's not a new book tailored to the specifics of theatrical dyework, but it's an option to pursue if, like me, you really just want to keep using the Dryden text as the foundation for your class.
labricoleuse: (design)

I recently received my copy of 18th Century Hair & Wig Styling: History & Step-by-Step Techniques by Kendra Van Cleave, and i seriously can't say enough good things about this fantastic new resource volume. It's a full-color, 298-page, 8"x10" book, very professionally produced and packed full of fantastic information about a range of 18th century hairstyles, including those intimidatingly-large "Marie Antoinette" styles.

Ms. Van Cleave is a costumer, yes, but she is also a fashion historian and academic librarian, and the depth of her research and knowledge really shines through in the first section of the book, on the history of the styles in question. It's clear that she's not only done exhaustive research on hair of the period, but also tracked down and reproduced a wealth of visual research from portraits and other paintings, fashion plates, and illustrations of 18th century primary sources.

The second section of the book is called Techniques, and focuses on the practical terms, tools, products, and so forth needed to create these styles. If you have little or no experience styling hair and/or wigs, this section will get you up to speed on not just the basics, but also topics like making your own wefts, adding hair into wigs, creating structures/foundations/rats, and so forth. It also includes info on powdering hair and wigs, and a lot of great photographs documenting the styling methods discussed.

The third section, Finished Styles, is the most exciting step-by-step how-to overview of exactly how to do 22 different ladies' styles and three men's. If you've done much historical research on hairstyles of the 18th century, you'll recognize some of the most iconic ones (giant ship atop giant hair, anyone?). These are shown in a tutorial layout--instructions and photographs illustrating each step of the way, from an initial photo showing the model's actual unstyled hair and/or the unstyled wig beforehand, through to the finished look.

There's an extensive bibliography, a list of sources for wigs as well as style/product names for those used in the projects depicted, and even a tutorial on making a wig bag for men's styles that need one.

The book was clearly a labor of love--produced with help from a Kickstarter campaign, self-published, and as best i can tell, only available directly from the author at the book's website. At the $50 price point, i'm sure there'll be some grumbling at not being able to take advantage of bookstore gift certificates to purchase it, but I can assure you, it's well worth the money. I'm just thrilled that it came out in time for me to use it in my upcoming millinery and wig seminar!
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
So, my super-fantabulous, brilliant colleague and fellow writer Margaret Peot tagged me in the Writing Process Blog Tour. Margaret is a supremely talented artist, illustrator, costume painter, and author, and one of my favorite people in all of New York City. Y'all will recognize her name because I’m always pimping her most recent book, The Successful Artist’s Career Guide, every time she does a giveaway, because I seriously wish that I’d read the thing when I was like, 20. Except she hadn’t written it yet then.

The blog tour concept is a pay-it-forward sort of interview-esque thing, in which I answer four questions about my writing process, and at the end, “tag” two fellow writers who themselves will participate and answer the questions in their own blogs. It seemed like a fun idea, and a way to kind of share a little bit of crossover exposure between the respective audiences of the blogs of the writers involved. This is actually a cross-post from my more general author website,, since it applies not just to my writing about costume production topics, but all areas of my writing in general. (BTW, I have a Facebook page for my writing now, should you wish to like it. You can also like La Bricoleuse there as well.)

So, here are my answers to the interview questions:

1) What are you currently working on?

I guess technically you could say I’m currently working on getting a literary agent. Except I’m in the “waiting to hear back from sending queries” stage, so to keep myself from climbing the walls and forking my eyeballs, I’ve got a few things in process.

I have a trio of short stories that I’m working on—one’s in its first-draft stage and two more are in revisions. The first-draft one is about a college professor who hooks up with the blue-collar father of her least-favorite student, and drama ensues. In revisions, one is a sort of urban fairytale about a boy with sea-urchin hair who knits a dress for a drag queen and falls in love with her, and the other is an open-road story whose protagonist is a retired stripper.

And, I’m also co-writing a piece on a comprehensive survey of mask-making materials with a former student of mine, Candy McClernan. Candy did a poster-session exhibit about it at the USITT conference this past spring, and someone from Theatre Design & Technology asked if she’d write it up for publication. She wondered if i’d be interested in co-authoring, and there you go.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This question presumes that I have a genre, which I definitely don’t. I think my fiction and creative nonfiction are informed by a fabulist lifestyle and having grown up in the American South. I don’t know exactly why, but formative years spent in the South are like germinating in a hothouse for cultivation of some rich fruit, if you’ve got a bent for wordsmithy.

And I’d love for a whole pile of blogs to spring up about theatrical costume production, that were like La Bricoleuse but written by, you know, OTHER PEOPLE, but so far I have only run across blogging costume designers. Which is great, but my tent’s pitched in the Maker camp. If you know of any, please post a link in the comments! I'd love to sidebar them.

3) Why do you write what you write?

I write fiction because the demons keep me up at night if I don’t. I write essays to try and figure out where the demons come from. And I write my technical stuff for costuming because I make my living dressing those damn demons, too. (Kidding! I’ve only ever dated two actors. Oh, wait, three. Well, fine, four.)

But seriously, I believe in open-source costuming—theatre’s a collaborative art, and trade secrets are for businesspeople. If I can document something that’s been heretofore undocumented (like how to cover/restore/repair parasols, or how to rubberize shoes properly), someone out there has an easier time of it when they’re asked to do that task.

4) How does your individual writing/illustrating process work?

On the creative front, it started as, “Drink copiously, then rage into a .doc file.”

In graduate school, it consisted of writing critiques every night for a couple hours before bed, and spending 14+ hours on a Saturday drafting or revising.

Now that I’m not in grad school, it involves one of two things. Either I’m at my standing desk, sucking down coffee and working on something long-form in Scrivener (usually first thing in the morning, either for an hour if I have to go to work that day, or as long as I feel the drive, if I don’t), or I’m lying on my couch with my laptop (which is how this post is happening) writing short-form in Word. I guess I also sometimes blog here in [ profile] labricoleuse from my office on campus.

I’m a write-in-silence gal—I don’t listen to music, though I do listen to it for creating a mood before writing something. I also tend to work ekphrastically, making moodboards for novels on Pinterest and scrolling through them before or while writing.

For long-form work, I like making structure diagrams and flowcharts on huge pieces of butcher paper tacked to my studio door, too, to get my head around how the book will actually function.

And if I hit a wall on where a piece of writing needs to go next, I go for a walk. There’s a network of trails through the woods by my house, and there are three routes I like to take—a 30-minute one, a 45-minute one, and an hour-long one. Usually I have figured out what’s next by the end of the 30-minute one, but if not, I keep going. So far, nothing’s been able to remain creatively-stuck past the hour-long trail walk.

And, for costume production writing, it's a bit more workmanlike: sit down, write what's required, submit.

Now, it’s my turn to tag two writers.

In my very first craft workshop in graduate school (Speculative Fiction with Jim Grimsley), Bryan L. Camp and I got assigned to work as a team in creating a television pilot pitch for a series adaptation of the Chinese legend, Monkey: Journey to the West. We had a fantastic time of it, and he’s become one of my go-to friends for writer feedback on drafts of work in progress. Bryan writes freaky noir-ish speculative fiction weirdness, often centered around his beloved home of New Orleans. I think of his work as the literary equivalent of getting plastered at a juke joint and then jumping into a second-line with Tim Powers and Neil Gaiman.

Sara Crawford is another grad-school pal—she and I took several playwriting workshops together, and also a really fantastic and creatively inspiring “acting for writers” seminar, where we worked with playwrights running scenes from their works in progress, or improvising scenes with their characters. In addition to plays, Sarah writes supernatural YA novels and meta-writing e-books, and the occasional piece for websites like HelloGiggles.
labricoleuse: (paraplooey)
I'm doing my first-ever book giveaway over on Goodreads, three copies of Sticks in Petticoats: Parasol Manufacture for the Modern Costumer! The giveaway is open for entries from now through midnight on Wednesday, July 9, and is open to Goodreads members who are US residents.

I wrote the book in 2007, because when i developed the graduate level course i teach in costume accessory production at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, i knew i wanted to include a parasol project, but there literally was no published text that addressed the methods for doing such a thing. I decided to fill that niche myself, and POD publishing was just getting off the ground so i was able to bring it to the (admittedly limited) readership with help from a friend and textbook editor, David Zubkoff. The excellent Ryan A. S. Jones of Rytography provided some lovely illustrations as well.

I've mentioned on here before that in addition to the "day job" of theatrical costuming, i also write fiction, essay, memoir, and poetry, and received my MFA in creative writing in 2013. I find myself in the position of wanting to expand the writerly part of my career beyond the scope of [ profile] labricoleuse and industry-related technical writing, so i've been pursuing a range of related projects of late. I recently launched my professional author website for the wider range of my work, and i have actually published enough things for Goodreads to grant me an Author Page. If you're on there, let's connect! And, don't forget to enter the giveaway, too. :D

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Sticks in Petticoats by Rachel E. Pollock

Sticks in Petticoats

by Rachel E. Pollock

Giveaway ends July 09, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Crafts assistant and MFA alum '14 Candy McClernan adjusts the lining on an antique parasol frame for Playmakers Repertory Company's 2010 production of The Importance of Being Earnest
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
Have you ever thought to yourself, "man, i wish i knew more about the science of dyeing, but science textbooks are all so dense and complicated, i just don't have the basic knowledge to get much out of them..."?

I did, for years, until i took some distance-education classes in textile science, dyeing and finishing from the NCSU College of Textiles. It remains the best thing i've ever done for my career, in terms of gaining truly practical, applicable knowledge to help me do my job better, knowledge i use literally every single day. I realize though that many theatrical dyers don't have the option to do the same--my tuition was waived as one of my benefits, and my superiors at work were hugely supportive of my study. Money, time, and colleague support are sometimes not as easy to come by. And besides, it can be intimidating to someone with an artistic self-image to enroll in a polymer chemistry class. Sometimes we can be our own biggest hurdles.

Most of us who dye for costuming purposes come from art-dyeing backgrounds, where the chemistry is glossed over. I mean, sure, back when i was getting my degree in costuming, i took a graduate level class in dyeing for theatre, but it was offered through the department of dramatic art, not chemistry or textiles, and it was taught by a professor of costume design. Even our graduate level courses often deal more with processes like batik and screenprinting than with the basic science of why dyes do what they do on a molecular level.

And yet, each class of dyes does something very different to the fibers it affects, and IME the majority of theatrical dyework does not involve the fun, artsy projects like shibori or batik or silk painting. Sure, those come along once in a while, but at least 80% of the work i do in my dyeshop is completely straightforward. Dye this to match that. Can we dye this that color? Why won't this take dye? Can we strip the color out of this? All the beautiful shibori scarves in the world won't answer these questions, but a basic grasp of the science will.

But how? You don't have time or money or the inclination to take textile science classes. You just want to read a book about it. Well, i've just read the book you need.

Linda Knutson's Synthetic Dyes for Natural Fibers was first published in 1982, but it's far, far from outdated or irrelevant to the 21st-century dyer. She doesn't dumb down the science, but she does explain it in accessible terms with simple, easily parsed diagrams and illustrations. She explains the chemical differences between classes of dyes, structurally why each one works (or doesn't work) on particular fibers.

Knutson also covers a wide range of related topics, from color theory and how it applies to color-mixing of dyestuffs, to fiber structure and how it relates to shrinkage/felting/weave strength. She discusses ways in which one might choose to incorporate equipment from a science lab into a dye studio (such as graduated cylinders and pipettes). The book has an excellent index and glossary as well. The age of the book makes the list of suppliers in the back largely obsolete, but finding suppliers of dyes and auxilliaries in the age of the Google search is not a daunting prospect.
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
Recall my post a few weeks back about the out-of-print status of my old dye-class standby text, Deborah Dryden's Fabric Painting and Dyeing for the Theatre, and my sub.

Today, i'm reviewing the second of four contenders: Elin Noble's Dyes & Paints: A Hands-On Guide to Coloring Fabric. This book was recommended to me by a colleague in academic and professional theatre, who also teaches a dye course and uses it as one of several textbooks for that class.

Noble is a textile artist who for years managed the dye laboratory at PRO Chemical & Dye, Inc., and as such this book uses PRO Chemical's product names exclusively, and it focuses almost entirely on fiber-reactive dyes. I'll admit, that's part of why i've never really looked into it before now--PRO Chemical is fantastic about product transparency and education, and their website contains dozens of PDFs of instructions on how to use their products for a range of different techniques and processes. TBH, I thought, Why buy a book full of information that's free on the internet? And, there's no lack of information about how to use fiber-reactives in any number of other reference texts, so I just hadn't prioritized checking it out.

However, I'm so glad i finally did because this book is great! It's got excellent information about safe work practices including how to recognize an allergic reaction in a fellow dyer, and how to separate your dye facility from food service areas and how to modify your processes for safely working with children and youths (which, since many theatres do youth conservatory programs or summer camps as part of their outreach, can be helpful to consider). She discusses a few really useful topics for dyers in terms of the entertainment industries, such as how to set up a dye space outdoors or with limited access to water--if you find yourself dyeing something on a film set location, these could be strictures within which you find yourself working.

I like the large format of the book (8.5x11) and the full color printing with many excellent examples of techniques, from basic shibori to marbling. The margins feature "Helpful Hints" every so often, tidbits of random useful info such as cleaning your dedicated-dyeing washing machine or straining undissolved dyestuff through a nylon stocking. She features makeshift mixing boxes in many of her "equipment setup" photos, which is nice to see.

The appendices in it are great as well--a glossary, many useful conversion charts, a list of auxiliaries and their uses, a worldwide list of suppliers divided by country/region, and a comprehensive index (that's another beef i have with many art-dye books: no index). I particularly appreciate the bibliography, suggested further reading list, and list of magazines and journals that cover dyeing and surface design.

I wish Noble had also written chapters on working with the other classes of dye which PRO Chemical carries--they sell disperse dyes, acid dyes, and vat dyes, and as manager of their dye lab, Noble must have worked with them. I'd be totally sold on this book had she addressed working with those as well.

I also realized something which marks a major structural difference between textile art books on dyeing and the science texts i own from my dye chem classes: a spiral binding. I have maybe two spiral-bound texts aimed at the artist, while all the books i own from the science realm are spiral bound, the better to sit open conveniently while conducting processes in a lab or studio. I've tried to take my art-realm texts to the campus bookstore to have their bindings cut off and drilled and spiral-bound, but inevitably the interior design aesthetic of art-book print layouts are such that their margins are too narrow and the bookstore can't do it without losing some of the text/images.

So, in terms of a new primary text for my class, this also isn't it, but it's definitely another great secondary text we'll look at and a new addition to my library!
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
Two orders of business today: giving away that copy of the Resurrection Engines anthology, and the first in a series of reviews of books on the subject of dyeing: Dyeing and Screenprinting on Textiles, by Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor.

I used the Random Number Generator to select the winner (assigning all the comments here a number by the order of receipt, then appending all the comments on Facebook in the same fashion), and it chose

Lee Strickler

Congrats, Lee! Hope you enjoy the book! I'll contact you privately for mailing instructions.

Now, recall my post a few weeks back about the out-of-print status of my old dye-class standby text, Deborah Dryden's Fabric Painting and Dyeing for the Theatre.

In the weeks that followed, two heartening things happened. First, a staff member at Heinemann Drama responded to my email, saying they were looking into the possibility of releasing the Dryden text as an e-book. Then a short time later, I received an email from Dryden herself--someone had forwarded her my post. She expressed dismay at the high prices used copies of her text  were listing at on services like, and said Heinemann had returned to her all rights to her work. She mentioned the possibility of releasing it herself with a POD/ebook company, and potentially in an updated new edition.

Which, all this is wonderful news for the long-term, and perhaps the book will once again be available the next time i teach my dye class (which will be Spring 2015), but I'm moving forward as if that won't be the case. What text or texts might I use to replace the Dryden book?

See, yes, the Dryden text is twenty years old and sure, it could stand to be updated. However, the main reason that I have stuck with it as my text is that it is fairly comprehensive and frames dyeing and surface design within a theatrical context so very well.

In terms of dye recipes and products/auxilliaries/etc., we talk in my class about doing your own legwork, how any book's "recipes" are only starting places unless they are formulations you yourself record with the intent to replicate later (such as in long-running shows where you know you will need to dye new fabric for new cast members over the course of the run, or even in short runs if for any reason a process needs repeating). We talk about classes of dyestuffs and where the starter recipes can be found for various types--for example, companies like PRO Chemical and Aljo Dye make all their dye recipes available on the web. We talk about the math of scaling your recipes in ratios, and the chemistry of why different types of dye need different types of auxiliaries. None of this figured into why I used the Dryden text.

I used the Dryden text because she includes information about things to consider when setting up or overhauling a theatrical costume shop's dye facility, because she talks about distressing and aging of garments, because she places surface design within the context of a functioning costume shop and as a part of the process of realizing a costume designer's vision. Even at twenty years old, the level of safety information in Dryden's book is vastly superior to most other dye books out there. The fact that she addresses the use of basic and disperse dye classes is great, and she includes information about stuff like mixing your own French Enamel Varnish (FEV), stuff my students need, i feel, all collected in one place.

But, until/unless it's rereleased, I need to decide what will replace it as my text(s) next time around, so i'm auditioning books. I solicited opinions from other professional and theatrical dyers and professors of similar classes as mine on the USITT costumers email group, and I pulled some potential titles from the recommendations of my colleagues. I also took a gander at Dr. Paula Burch's book reviews--Burch is a scientist with a particular interest in dyestuffs and maintains one of the most useful clearinghouse reference sites on the web for dye information.

Today, i'm reviewing the first of four contenders: Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor's Dyeing and Screenprinting on Textiles. This book was recommended to me by a scientist friend in the dyeing field, whom i know from my time spent taking dyeing and finishing classes over at the NCSU College of Textiles.

Kinnersly-Taylor is a textile artist based in Glasgow, Scotland, which unfortunately makes her book potentially confusing as a primary class text, since all the measures are metric and most of the brands of dyes and auxiliaries are UK specific. There are conversion charts, sure, but when students are learning an unfamiliar and complex subject and some may have no experience beyond Rit in a washing machine, i don't want to ask them to work from a book where I have to keep reframing things for them ("It says Metapex but that means Synthrapol for the US.")

However, this book is fantastic and I plan to get it for my personal library regardless. It's got excellent information about safe work practices and some great images of and info about industrial dye equipment one might consider if setting up a high-volume standalone dye studio catering to the entertainment industry such as A Dyeing Art: steamers, heat presses, winch dyers/beck dyers, and more. She also coveres all the classes of dyes the Dryden text does. This is an issue i have with many art-oriented dye books; they often only address fiber reactives and/or acid dyes in any depth.

In addition to screenprinting, Kinnersly-Taylor covers many more surface design techniques like resists, transfer printing, and digital printing, and offers good explanations of topics like flocking, foiling, and discharge printing. She's got a helpful section on the different types of print repeats and how to manipulate your art to achieve them. She lays out the processes and the science in an accessible but not dumbed-down way, and doesn't pad the text with "Make Your Own Shibori Scarf!"-style projects as some otherwise useful arts-n-crafts dye books do.

The appendices in it are great as well--glossary, a list of auxiliaries and their uses, a worldwide list of suppliers divided by country/region, and a decent index though not comprehensive (that's another beef i have with many art-dye books: no index).

The section that i find most dear to my heart, though is the step-by-step instructions for making what Kinnersly-Taylor calls a Dustbin Steamer--essentially, how to make your own pipe steamer from a trash can and a coffee samovar! Bricolage at its finest. Given that a new pipe steamer runs around $1100, I love that she's written up a means for making one from stuff you can get at a thrift store--even the most budget-strapped dyer could make one of these. (Of course, Dharma Trading has instructions online for making one from galvanized stove pipe as well, so this alone is not why folks should check out the book.)

So, in terms of a new primary text for my class, this isn't it, but a secondary text we'll look at and a new addition to my library, most definitely!

And lastly, i must congratulate and brag on a trio of my grad students who attended the Southeastern Theatre Conference this past weekend.

Second year Kelly Renko and first year Colleen Dobson were both finalists for the prestigious Marian A. Smith Scholarship for the pursuit of graduate study in the field of costuming--they only choose three finalists out of all their applicants so that in and of itself is a great achievement. And at the banquet it was announce that Colleen was awarded the scholarship!

In addition, second year Leah Pelz won first prize in the Costume Craft Competition for her exhibition of five examples of her millinery work, all of which you've seen in the back posts of this blog.

Congratulations to all three for these wonderful distinctions! I couldn't be more proud.
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
So, this might seem completely off-topic, but in fact it is not. Bear with me here!

It's perhaps a little-known fact that in addition to writing this blog, I also write loads of other stuff--fiction, essays, poetry, first and foremost for my own amusement but also for publication. I've had essays in journals and literary magazines, poetry and short stories in anthologies, and so forth. To this date i think my most widely circulated short story was a piece featured in the Tachyon Press anthology Steampunk, entitled "Reflected Light."

Thanks to that story, in fact, an editor named Scott Harrison contacted me to ask whether i'd be interested in writing a piece for a new anthology he was assembling, in which authors would take classic 19th century literature and fairytales as a jumping-off point for their stories, which would reinterpret or extrapolate upon or "reload" the original into a steampunk/anachrotechnological universe. The anthology was to be called Resurrection Engines, and would be released by the UK publisher Snowbooks.

I chose Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island as my inspiration work (I love pirates!), and sat down to reread the original, looking for inspiration. You may not recall--I didn't--that the fearsome pirate Long John Silver was married to a nameless woman of color. She's mentioned only twice in Stevenson's book, in passing, but i couldn't stop thinking about her. Who was she?

My piece tells her story, or an alternate-universe version of her story. Celie works as a hatmaker out of a shop on the shores of St. Clement, crafting top-quality hats for the seafaring men whose ships make berth there, including a young master's mate, John Argent. Pirates, sea monsters, and a diabolical conformateur converge to push Celie and John toward a destiny doomed by the sinister Black Spot.

(See, i told you this was relevant! Hatmaking! A conformateur!)

Snowbooks released the anthology at the first of the year, and I've got a copy to give away! If this sort of fiction sounds like it is up your alley, or if you are just intrigued by the prospect of a story with pirates and hatmakers in it, leave a comment here or on the La Bricoleuse Facebook page. A week from today, I'll draw a winner at random and send you the book.


Cover image courtesy of Snowbooks

December 2016

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