labricoleuse: (mee)
You may recall that last year, i wrote up our first costume replica project for the Museum of Science Fiction, the flight attendant costume from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Today i've got the next project installment to share, the Neo costume from 1999's The Matrix.

This one came about because a donor gave the museum a pair of Airwalk buckle boots which were purportedly used in the making of the film, and they wanted to create an exhibit around those boots, a display of the full costume look for the character of Neo (played by Keanu Reeves). Here's what we did:

First up, I created a Pinterest board for research images for the project, and rising second year grad student Erin Torkelson began to add specific screencaps to it, on top of all the extant imagery i found for the costume. Erin also worked with the folks at the Museum to set up a conference call with the film's costume designer, Kym Barrett, who generously took the time to talk with us about the original costumes. She gave us a lot of wonderful information about her concept for Neo's clothing, and also told us some fun facts, like that there were over 20 versions of the iconic Neo coat, made up in many different types of materials so that they would behave differently in various conditions--linen ones, wool ones, screenprinted ones, coats designed to be shot underwater, etc.

So ironically, our conundrum was, how do you make a replica of a costume for which there is no single costume to copy, something for which there were numerous iterations, all both identical and yet very different, and for which the icon itself doesn't exist other than as an impression in the mind of the viewer? (Isn't that so perfect, given the film in question?) So as we determined in our conversation with Kym, we were making a representation of the icon, a costume which anyone who walked into a room with it would know from 50' away: "That's the Neo costume from The Matrix."

We worked with a friend of mine, Katie Straker, who is an employee of Mood Fabrics, to swatch wools for the coat, and our assistant costume director, Jenn Guadagno, drafted the pattern for it following traditional tailoring methods. She then supervised its construction with a team of our graduate and undergraduate students serving as her first-hands and stitchers:

Rising second year grad Michelle Bentley works on sewing the coat lining.

There's one close-up shot in the film where we thought we caught a glimpse of the digital drift imagery on the lining of the coat, and sure enough, when we asked Kym Barrett about it, she confirmed that that was true.

So using a still from the film, MFA '16 grad Erin Abbenante did the digital drift textile design you see here, which we had printed at Spoonflower.

Rising third year grad Emily Plonski adjusts the capelet at the shoulder seam before the sleeves go in.

Look how beautiful that turned out!

Local news WRAL did a feature on us! Here they're filming rising third-year Max Hilsabeck working on the gun holsters, which were patterned and overseen by rising second-year Erin Torkelson.

The donated boots were definitely not the ones worn by Keanu Reeves in the film--they were likely a stuntman or distance double or similar, because among other things they did not feature the iconic chainmail toecaps of Neo's boots, so famous from the giant closeup shot in the film. MOSF wanted theirs to have that aesthetic element though, so above you see a sheet of chainmail and the boot in question.

Here's the finished toes! I worked on these with rising third year grad Emily Plonski and rising second year Robin Ankerich.

UNC undergraduate Glennda Campbell sewing one of our custom printed MOSF labels into the completed coat

Obligatory mirror selfie with Neo in the PlayMakers Repertory Company fitting room. When the WRAL camera crew looked at him and said "It's like he looks MORE real than the one in the movie," I knew we'd succeeded.

You can see this costume debut on display at the upcoming MOSF extravaganza, Escape Velocity, coming to DC In July!
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
Some of my students presented completed footwear projects today, and i've got photos to share!

four pictures )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
I'm giving up on resuming upload capabilities any time soon--they've been disabled for ages now--and uploaded my shoe rubberizing tutorial to I like Filecrunch better, since they have no expiration on files uploaded and a nice tracking page for your files' downloads and such, so if they get back up i'll reupload it there. For now though, i'm sick of sitting on it, having mentioned it several days ago.

The tutorial is a three-page Word document and is structured kind of like a recipe, with a list of tools and supplies, followed by process information. It covers the rubberizing of footwear with leather, hard rubber, and plastic soles, and also how to rubberize shoes if you cannot use or do not have access to a respirator.

You may download the tutorial document here. I'm releasing it under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License, so please feel free to distribute it with my permission to colleagues and cohorts (free of charge, properly attributed)!
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
In the spring, i oversaw an independent study course in theatrical footwear topics. My student, Grier Coleman, recently turned in all of her research and projects, and i thought i'd share with the readership her final project, which was to make a pair of "blue-footed booby feet."

This image was one of the primary research images Grier used, a booby doing the famous booby-dance. (This project is excellent on many levels, not the least of which is the chance to use phrases like "booby-dance" in a completely innocent context.)

We talked about how, were one making a complete booby costume, you'd have to take into account the shape of the bird and the gait of a performer--often big walkaround costumes like this that portray short-legged animals with a wide gait will have a "saddle" built into them so that the actor walks around in a sort of sumo crouch. A blue-footed booby costume would probably involve just such a saddle, and thus the width of the foot-splay could get a bit wider than it would if it were being worn by a person walking with a normal human gait.

Read more... )

Grier starts this week as an intern in the costume department and Juilliard in NYC. I'll miss her in classes and working with me on mainstage shows, but i can't wait to see where her career goes from here!
labricoleuse: (Default)
It is unusually hard to find good reading material in Southern Utah. Working at the Shakespearean Festival this season, all the local bookstores were heavily Mormon-centric [1], and the nearest chain bookstore was an hour away. A friend and fellow artist who supplements her papercrafting with bookstore clerkage sent me a wonderful gift: Cowboy Boots: The Art and Sole, by bootmaker and historian Jennifer June. The book also contains a thoughtfully-written foreword by country music star, Dwight Yoakam.

I'd first seen this book at my local Tandy Leather, sitting on the countertop as a "While U Wait" diversion. At the time, i was only able to briefly page through it--long enough to know that i badly wanted to own it! So, imagine my joy when my friend sent it to me out in Utah this summer.

June's thorough text covers cowboy boots from every angle--history, construction, their form, function, and fashions. She traces the rise of the style as a reaction to the notoriously poor US Cavalry boots of the early 19th century, and as an innovative development spawned by the invention of the four-piece Wellington boot, footwear which was at the time widely hailed as a stroke of cordwainer's genius.

June discusses each structural element of a cowboy boot--heel, shank, toebox, shaft, pulls--in both functional and stylistic terms. A bootmaker herself, she meticulously describes the steps of cowboy boot engineering and construction, and covers the full range of embellishment techniques, from inlay/overlay to leather tooling, painting and dyeing, stud and stonework, conchos and toecaps, "mule ears" (elongated boot pulls that hang down to the sole), and ornamental stitching. She also discusses a full range of popular customized cowboy boot imagery--the symbology of recurring design elements such as roses, eagles, longhorns, stars, skulls, butterflies, and many others.

As an artisan in a related field with a particular interest in artisanship history and construction methods, the text itself was of primary concern for me, but the lay reader would probably be even more drawn to the plethora of beautifully detailed full-color photographs by Marty Snortum, proprietor of the innovative custom shop Rocketbuster Boots. The boots depicted range from antique and vintage specimens to new custom boots created for celebrities (from politician John Kerry to rock frontman Lemmy of Motorhead), rodeo stars, and just regular folk. Some of the images show deconstructed or preconstructed boots, illustrating some of the techniques discussed (such as pegging soles and heels). Nevermind its instructive value; the book could serve as a coffeetable art-book on the strength of the photography alone.

I admittedly have a soft spot for cowboy boots, not only as a fan of the American West, but also as a crafts artisan--cowboy boots are my work boot of choice. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows i'm a big proponent of attention to workplace safety, and proper footwear in the workshop is a major concern of mine [2]. Since in in a single day's work i may find myself dyeing 20 yards of fabric in a 60-gal steam vat, carving shoe rubber with a hook-blade, drilling holes in a metal plate, spray-painting, leather-punching, hat-steaming, and delicately hand-stitching, all interspersed with attending staff meetings and teaching graduate classes...well, i really need some all-purpose footwear, something beyond even the sturdy-but-klunky work-boot. Cowboy boots provide me with the reinforced toe-protection of a heavy-duty boot, steel-shank arch support, and a tall boot shaft to protect my shins and ankles from dropped tools or spilled dyebaths, yet the shaped toe, vamp stitching (the "toebug"), and the Cuban heel make me feel a bit more presentably-dressed for both the work room and the conference room.

Now that i've read all about the making of a pair of custom cowboy boots, i'm definitely going to save up for a pair from one of the companies whose work caught my eye. I'm drawn to the rockabilly Sailor-Jerry-style work of Snortum's Rocketbuster, but some other creative bootmakers who caught my eye are Back at the Ranch, Duck Menzies of Temple, TX (no website), Liberty Boot Company, Lucchese Boot Company, Riff Raff Leatherworks, & Tres Outlaws.

The book also features an extensive glossary of bootmaking terms, suggestions for finding antique and vintage boots (particularly search suggestions for eBay), and museums that feature cowboy boot collections. Of the ones listed, i can personally vouch for the excellence of the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, CA, and the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Ontario. One i haven't been to that's now on my list of "some day": the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame!

Even if you don't like cowboy boots, rodeos, westerns, or any of that, the construction information alone is of interest to any shoe and boot enthusiast, and particularly anyone concerned with the construction, alteration, and repair of footwear. I highly recommend this book!

[1] Bookshops that cater to Mormon consumers make perfect sense in an area where the population skews so heavily toward that religious demographic. As a jobbed-in "gentile" with no personal interest in the faith, though, it was a reading-material wasteland for me.

[2] I still shudder to recall one otherwise-reputable shop i once freelanced for, where several crafts artisans frequently came to work in peep-toe mules. I wondered: who was legally at fault, should one of these workers drop a blade or anvil and lose a toe? The lead artisan or shop manager, who allowed workers to come in with this kind of footwear, or the worker who chose to wear such unsafe attire? Thankfully, the question remained hypothetical for the duration of my employment, but i determined that no workers in any shop i ran would run that risk.
labricoleuse: (Default)
The Utah Shakespeare Festival is said to be the only theatre company in the world that opens six plays in six days (technically, seven, if you count our Greenshow). We just hit our first round of dress rehearsals so things will be crazy for the next couple of weeks. In lieu of a project post or the usual fare, all i got here is some links and a movie review of a DVD i watched last night in prone exhaustion.

The folks at Steampunk Magazine requested to reprint my instructions for making a Lady Artisan's Apron in their most recent issue. The same issue features a how-to piece on turning a standard bicycle into a modified pennyfarthing ("pennyfakething") so those not into the steampunk subgenre of sci-fi or growing aesthetic still might find the publication of interest. Their site offers the magazine in print form for a small charge, or as a free .pdf download that you can then print out yourself.

Also, the Salt Lake Tribune has an article on the USF's upcoming world premiere of Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical, for which i am the crafts build leader. It's got a lot of info on how a world premiere musical comes about, and a fun photo of the actress portraying Maria Merelli looking like an angry drag queen.

...Which brings me to my movie review: Kinky Boots!

Kinky Boots is a film with a lot of themes--failing relationships, budding relationships, tolerance vs bigotry, loyalty vs greed, fine pairs of shoes, the dichotomy of strength and fragility, culture clash, and transvestites and drag queens. It is also a movie who basic premise is about the process and product of fine craftsmanship--in footwear, no less--which is why i mention it here.

The basic premise is thus: Charlie Price inherits the family shoe factory, which has for generations made top quality sensible brown brogues for men; he shortly discovers that the business is in big trouble financially and flounders for how to save it and the jobs of his 50 or so workers. When he intercedes in what he believes is three men assaulting a woman in an alley whose heel has broken off her shoe and discovers that the woman is in fact a drag queen named Lola, he believes he's found a way to save the factory: change the product. He and his workers re-engineer the structural components of women's footwear to accomodate men's weight and physique. There are, of course, a lot of interpersonal hijinx, ridiculous leather boots, nigh-unbelievable plot twists, and deep vibrato renditions of Nancy Sinatra, as you might imagine. There are also a number of brilliant montages within the shoe factory illustrating the mass-manufacture of finely-crafted men's, women's, and men-who-impersonate-divas' shoes!

Ultimately, it's a movie whose core premise is that of my own career: solving a sartorial engineering problem with ingenuity and craftsmanship. I figured i'd mention it here because it's rare you see elements of my profession and related fields in film at all (or, only on the DVD making-of extras)--if you haven't seen it, you might want to check it out. Besides, if you've ever been to a drag cabaret and seen the costumes that drag queens make for themselves, you know that they are often masters of the art of bricolage!
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
The Utah Shakespearean Festival is world-premiering Lend Me a Tenor: The Musical this summer. If you are familiar with the play, you know that a large percentage of the farcical jokes stem from three characters all wearing the same Otello costume. (And, if you aren't familiar with the play, I just told you.)

The costume designer, Bill Black, planned on purchasing three pairs of black bucket boots from SCA Boots. However, our lead actor wound up being a man with a very wide foot (EEE), short shins and wide calves--the SCA boots didn't fit! So my task was to build him some boots identical to the two purchased pairs.

Here's how I did it... )
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
In the course of making a hat, helmet, glove, boot, breastplate, what-have-you, the making of a mockup is an essential step in the process. A mockup allows you to see a three-dimensional shape of the piece and fit it to an actor; it gives you a "canvas" onto which the designer can manipulate scale of aesthetic elements. I try to make mockups from something as close in nature to the final material--vinyl or heavy felt mockups for leather items, poly jersey for knit caps, thin craft foam for Fosshape thermoformable felt pieces.

If a piece is likely to be needed in rehearsal, it's helpful to make the mockup in such a fashion that it can be finished off and used as such.

Here are some images of mockups: armor, hats, boots, and more! )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
See, normally, i teach four classes on rotation in crafts artisanship topics--dyeing/painting, millinery, masks/SFX, and bricolage (essentially an "everything else" class that covers jewelry, parasols, gloves, body padding, macropuppets, etc)--which our MFA students take during their first two years of study.

This semester though, in addition to the normal millinery class, i am teaching two students a specialized seminar, an advanced graduate level course in shoe and boot construction. We are covering a range of shoe-related topics--repairs, alterations, building from scratch, and "fantasy"/SFX footwear. Our first shoe project (simple leather shoes) should be finished soon so photos and methods on that will be forthcoming; I did poulaines (pointy-toed shoes) for my example and my students did Irish Ghillies and a 19th c. men's boots. First though, i thought i'd post about what books we are using for the class.

Our required text is How to Make Your Own Shoes by Mary Wales Loomis. Loomis is a self-taught shoemaker whose self-published book is a great, thorough, introductory resource and a good reference for methods on making a custom last from a foot cast, and various pump-style ladies shoes from a wide range of materials. Loomis' website has a fair amount of information even without the book itself.

In addition, we are also using and studying the following resources:

Foxfire 6 (1980). Contains an article on shoemaking, which is more of a historical perspective article, 'how they did it in the old days'-type of thing, but useful to know, particularly since most shops have limited cordwaining machinery.

The Mode in Footwear by R. Turner Wilcox. Back in the 1940s, Wilcox did a whole series of "The Mode In [...]" reference books, all of which are out of print now. You'll find them in libraries though and xeroxes from them pop up all the time in costume designers' research. The footwear title presents dozens of styles by time period and country of origin, and often includes little details about materials used in construction and the like.

Shoes and Pattens by Francis Grew, et al. This is an incredible resource on medieval footwear, put out by the Museum of London. Detailed information about the 2000+ medieval shoes discovered on the bank of the Thames.

Shoes, by June Swann. This is one of any number of good books and day-planners and photo calendars and the like out there on the market that are full of inspirational images of creative footwear, both antique and modern.

Page-a-Day Shoes Gallery Calendar. Another resource we're using largely for inspiration and research imagery.

The Pattern-Cutter's Handbook by Michael H. Sharp. This book is a drafting resource for how to make various upper shapes.

Vass, Laszlo & Magda Molnar, Handmade Shoes for Men. This book is an amazingly thorough resource on all aspects of the cordwainer and cobbler trades, full of many excellent visual resources, from photographs to pattern diagrams to historical engravings and artwork. Includes an overview of nine workshops around the world and a useful glossary of terms.

The Woodstock Craftsman's Manual, Vol. 2. Contains a chapter on handmade sandals. This is clearly an old self-published small print run book from the early 1970s. I found it in a used bookshop, no idea how difficult it would be to track down.

The Forgotten Arts, by John Seymour. Contains a chapter on carving/sculpting wooden shoe soles.

Websites of interest, pertaining to professional shoemaking:

Shoe Trades Publications site:
The Honorable Cordwainers Company:

And, the following websites are indispensable for information about building illusion footwear--claws, hooves, paws, etc--but may not be work-safe, as they are all written and maintained by fetishists:

Great resource for construction options for paws/claws; very detailed and helpful:

Great overview of construction options for paws/claws:

Detailed instructions for making hoof-shoes and boots:

Step-by-step tutorial for making hoof-shoes and boots:

Hopefully some of this is useful, and if you find any of these OOP books for cheap, snap them up! Additionally, if you are looking for someone to custom-make you a pair of shoes, check out El Diablo Shoes in Holyoke, MA, or any of the shoemakers mentioned in this article:
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
I have just received delivery of hands-down the best new-to-me piece of equipment i could ask for: an industrial patcher machine, aka a shoe and boot repair machine.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
So, the show finally closed and everything's come back from wardrobe to be restocked and i can give you guys the followup on how 1812 industrial adhesive performed as a substitute for Barge.

The verdict is: a cautious hooray!

I wound up sending two pairs onstage with soles rubberized using 1812, and one pair with the ol' toxic standby, Barge. During the course of a month's run, one of the Barged pair dropped its rubber under the ball of the foot and had to be reglued. This is pretty much par for the course, IME, particularly with very active performers--there's always one shoe that the bond somehow didn't set right on that has to get redone at some point in the run. Both pairs rubberized using 1812 did have peelage in the instep of the arch, but that was easily fixed by reapplying the glue and clamping it good overnight. I think also some of the peeling might be chalked up to my learning curve on working with the medium. I just rubberized another pair of shoes and sent them into rehearsal for a new show, so we'll see if those peel as well, or if the bond is better now that i'm getting into the swing of using the adhesive. All told though, it seems really promising as a good quality Barge replacement!

In other shoe news, anyone who's used those rubber-foam-soled gladiator sandals that International Male sells knows, those bastards always split right through the middle of the sole. Seriously, all the way through, every pair it seems! What a design flaw. They usually can handle maybe a 3-week run of a show, but then they're worthless, the sole all flapping like granny's jaw. I need some for my event that's coming this Saturday though for an ancient Greek character, and we've got a pair but of course the sole's split.

Today i'm trying a new idea for fixing those, and if it works, i'll let you know how it goes. I've repaired the crack with Gorilla Glue, and "clamped" it back together using a staplegun, shooting the staples down into the cracks of the tread so that in theory, i can just leave the staples IN the sole (they are short enough not to come close to penetrating the footbed of the shoe, of course, for actor safety). If it works, i might have just found a way to make those damn shoes wear longer, which would be great, since they are indispensable for shows set in that period.
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
Here's the second part of my four-part studio setup series, but first i should give you guys a heads-up on a couple of very exciting things i've got coming up.

First up will be an in-depth report on the exhibit, What We Wore in North Carolina, a huge exhibit at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh, the first installment (of a planned two) of which just opened and runs through February 19, 2007. The exhibit covers over 200 years of fashion and reputedly has an excellent collection of antique pieces. I'll let you know all about it!

And second, admittedly exponentially cooler: I've swung backstage access to the wardrobe department of The Lion King. Reportage will be most assuredly forthcoming late next week. I'm so excited i might as well be doing the pee-dance. I did work on the rebuild of Julie Taymor's King Stag that the American Repertory Theatre did a few years back, and at that time i had the singular opportunities of being able to observe milliner Denise Wallace rebuilding those hats with the then-new thermoformable felt Fosshape, and myself refurbishing masks Taymor herself built originally around twenty years ago. Being able to see inside Taymor's TLK designs, particularly the ones that came out of the Michael Curry Design I can't wait!

Now, to return to my series about setting up a crafts studio, today's focus is on shoe repair, leatherworking, and costume distressing supplies. Read more... )

Lastly, unrelated to upcoming posts here or setting up a studio, I recommend checking out Entwinements, the blog of the shibori studio of Karren K. Brito in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She's got a ton of really informative in-depth posts about her shibori artwear creations. Fascinating, creative, inspiring stuff!
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
So, i don't feel like i can call this a tutorial, because this adhesive is fairly new to the theatre industry and definitely new to me. It was first recommended in the ACTS FACTS newsletter back in 2003 as a safer substitute for the carcinogenic solvent-based shoe-rubbering adhesive, Barge, by safety expert Monona Rossol. Ms. Rossol is reknowned for her work in furthering safety education among artists and craftspeople and is the author of many reference books on the subject, including The Health & Safety Guide For Film, TV, & Theater. Our company has recently acquired 5 gallons of the 1812, and i decided to test it out and see how it works!

1812 looks like a white glue--water-based, runny--but as it dries it goes through several phases, one of which is kind of slimy and weird like the floaty egg bits in egg drop soup, and finally ends up as firm rubber. I don't know where to tell you to purchase it easily--i know that we got it wholesale straight from the manufacturer, which is UPACO, a division of Worthen Industries. I predict that this will be one of those products that, like Foss Manufacturing's group of thermoformable plastics and felts, quickly becomes purchasable from retail businesses that cater to the entertainment industry, like Manhattan Wardrobe Supply and Backstage Hardware & Theatre Supply.

So, here's my "guinea pig" pair of boots:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

ten more pictures illustrating what i discovered... )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
Rubberizing the soles of boots and shoes for stage productions is one of those recurring tasks that fall to the crafts department. A theatre company can save literally hundreds of dollars by rubberizing in-house rather than sending shoes out to cobblers for this service, provided there's a craftsperson on staff who can do it properly.

In this photographic tutorial, I will describe one process for rubberizing using the industrial solvent-based contact adhesive, Barge. Barge has been widely used in the shoemaking industry for years, but is a known carcinogen, so extreme safety precautions are required in its use. Theatrical safety experts have recently been urging the use of an adhesive known as Synthetic Latex 1812 as a less-toxic substitute for applications in which one would otherwise use Barge. I have just obtained some 1812 and will be conducting some future experiments on its usefulness in rubberizing--look for a forthcoming post soon!

For now though, 1812 is far from a universally-used substance in this application, and many shops do still use Barge for rubberizing. Thus, I'll write up the Barge process here first!

How to rubberize boots with Barge in 11 helpful photographs... )

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