labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
I do have several excellent how-to project posts in the works, but I'll have to finish the projects themselves before i can share them, so in the interim, I'm pleased to share a new interview!

Today's participant is Eric Abele, a guy who wears (and makes!) a whole lot of hats at the Lexington Children's Theatre of Kentucky. LCT is a professional company serving young audiences, founded in 1938; Eric is their Costume Director, a resident designer, costume shop manager, and builds quite a lot of their puppets! I've never actually met Eric in "real life," despite having a whole host of friends and colleagues in common, and sharing an alma mater (UT-Knoxville). Someday, we'll remedy that! But, thanks to the internet, we "know" each other and he graciously agreed to this interview.

Q. For a bit of background, would you describe the shop at the Lexington Children's Theatre--how many employees, what different positions there entail, etc?

A. I like to describe my shop as “The Little Shop that CAN” to anyone who asks. We don’t have the traditional roles that many professional shops have; we try and keep it pretty fluid. In addition to me as Resident Designer/Costume Director I have an Assistant Costumer, who takes on many leadership roles for me and with me. Rounding out the team, I have two full-time Resident Professional Interns, over-hire stitchers and guest designers. Together, we take care of all the costume aspects for a busy eleven-show professional season of plays. It’s a non-stop whirlwind of FUN! Seriously. I love this place so much. Usually I assign projects on each show, and later (for their resumes) we try and assign a title. If we’ve done our job right, then many of us can “claim” the same project, because we’ve all had a hand in it along the way.

Q. What are your responsibilities as Costume Director? Read more... )
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
One of the blogs i read religiously is Kathleen Fasanella's Fashion Incubator; she covers all kinds of fascinating topics from a sustainable fashion patternmaking perspective, from waste reduction to reviews of brands of cutting shears to "pattern puzzle" quizzes. It was from one of her posts that i learned about the 2010 SPESA Expo, held this past week in Atlanta, GA.

SPESA stands for Sewn Product Equipment and Suppliers of the Americas, and their conferences showcase everything related to the production of sewn products, from machinery and equipment to material goods to software systems to supply chain information. Anyone can pre-register to attend the Expo for free, provided you do so in advance online. Free registration plus downtime at work plus location in a neighboring state...I had to go check it out!

The Expo was held in the Georgia World Congress Center, an enormous convention center in downtown Atlanta. Despite the vast venue and huge number of attendees, i found the entire area around the center completely navigable and very easy to find affordable parking in. (Color me impressed.) Inside the Center, there were literally miles of exhibitors on the exposition floor. Glad i wore my walking shoes! I systematically went down every aisle, browsing every booth, and picking up literature from any that seemed potentially relevant to professional theatrical costume production, and from these, i'm passing the info on to y'all as my readership.

Much of the expo featured exhibitors that were fascinating in a larger sense but not applicable to costume production--the software and equipment priced in tens of thousands of dollars for companies who produce runs of 10,000 of a single garment style, for example, or the manufacturers of bulletproof body armor for military and police. Attending the conference was kind of like going to an antique mall with a shopping list--everything's worth looking at and probably cool, but only a few dozen are actually something you might pick up. Photography was prohibited on the expo floor, so i have no images of what it looked like or anything that i saw.

Because there was such a vast amount of stuff to look at and learn about, i'm going to have to break up my conference reporting into a series of posts covering specific topics. This first one is a focus on tools and equipment. There was so much to see in this area that i felt like a kid in a candy store! Almost all of it was applicable to costuming, too, since whether you are making one of a kind of 230948203948 of a style, you have to sew on an industrial machine. There were also vendors of shears and rotary cutters and various machine tables and measuring devices and you name it. Every vendor was offering conference discounts, too, so if i'd been in the market for new industrial machines, the Expo would have been a great opportunity to try out a bunch of different brands, get demos and price quotes from representatives of the companies, and walk away with a new machine at a reduced cost. Every major brand was represented--Juki, Consew, Bernina, SunStar, Durkopp, and dozens more.

So without further ado, here's what i collected in terms of literature on standout products that I'd love to see some day in my own shop.


Wolff had a small booth with all of their scissors and shears styles out for display, and were showing off how they cut through various materials and media. I know costumers are big Gingher advocates, but their high-leverage shears and bent-handle and ball-tip styles looked like tools i want to add to my arsenal of things-that-cut.

Storage Equipment

Vidir Machine Inc. had a cool display booth showing their fabric roll carousels, tall motorized storage towers on which heavy rolls can be stored, and are operated by a single operator pushing a button. The rolls rotate around on a track to be easily accessible. Currently in our shop we have a wall rack constructed from steel rods that holds six large rolls of staples like different weights of muslin, butcher paper, dotty paper, and so forth. It's always a PITA to access the rolls that are located at the top and bottom of the rack, and one of these would not only solve that problem but also would quadruple the number of rolls we could have accessible in that location. Unfortunately, no one was there to tell me a price quote, but it's clear that you can request one on their website. Something to put on the dream list for the future, perhaps.

Specialized Machines and Sewing Equipment

One of the main things i was looking for but was somewhat disappointed at the difficulty in finding, was a single-needle chain stitch hat-stitching machine. These machines have either a post bed or a long narrow arm and an extreme arch to the machine itself, so you can get inside a hat and stitch in a grosgrain, or sculpturally build a spiral-braid hat right on the machine with ease. You can find these secondhand (Singer made all the ones i've ever seen, but i'm sure other brands made them as well), but i was hoping to find someone vending modern ones. Here is a photo of an antique one, for reference:

picture )

The closest i came, i think, was Collier Equipment Parts who had a big display of several machines they carried by the Chinese brand SunStar, include the entire production line of cap-stitching machines, one of which was a post bed machine with a high arch billed as a sweatband-installer. Perfect! Except they didn't have one on the floor to look at in person, and there didn't seem to be anybody there who could tell me much about it beyond how it functioned in a cap production line. They took my name and info and are hopefully going to send me a price quote and spec sheet on the machine, but i sure wish someone had been on-hand that was able to give me a ballpark price or answer questions about it outside of the pitchbook for industrial cap assembly lines.

Southeast Sewing had an enormous Consew booth, showing all their models of pretty much everything, and they also had a single needle post bed machine that would work for hat stitching. It was advertised as intended for construction of structured bras, corsetry, and shoe vamps, but it's not much of a stretch between the fiddly shapes of those to the geometry of millinery structures. I couldn't find the salesman who'd helped me earlier to get a quote on it, but i suspect the machine falls in the $2000 range based on the others they were selling.

Which brings me to their Consew brand industrial patcher machine. My god, y'all, i wish i could have taken a picture of myself kissing it. A patcher is a crafts artisan's savior when it comes to theatrical footwear projects--I've posted about mine, an antique Singer that is literally 100 years old and still going. My shoe-focus grad student, Samantha Coles, also owns an ancient one. In fact, every shop i've worked in that had a patcher, it was one of these old black enamel antique jobs. The crafts shop at the Utah Shakespearean Festival has an old patcher like these, which only two of us in the shop could ever really get to work; the crafts supervisor at the time had a challenge trying to locate a vendor for a new patcher and the machine they ended up with, made by the brand Artisan, has a shorter, thicker arm and no oscillating shuttle. (I haven't been back to that shop since so it is possible they replaced or exchanged it for something more effective in the interim.)

These Southeast Sewing folks had a brand new Consew patcher machine on display and gave me the whole pitch on what's new in the realm of patchers: 12" and 18" arm length options (the 18" being for knee-high boots), and the option for a large bobbin! If you have ever used one of the old patchers with the miniature bobbin sizes, you know how exciting that is, the potential to sew longer without changing bobbins. The mini-size bobbin allows for a narrower bed at the end of the arm, which enables you to get into smaller spaces, but boy, is it frustrating to run out of bobbin so fast.

The salesman who helped me quoted prices on these of $1900 for the 12" arm and $2200 for the 18" arm, with a $300 discount plus no shipping costs for orders placed at the conference. That's not official or guaranteed, me quoting that here, i'm just citing it so you have an idea of what they cost--so, if you want to add a patcher to your shop, that's the ballpark you want to budget for, and if you are located close enough that it makes sense to wait and buy at a future SPESA Expo, it's well worth it for the conference discount and the shipping savings.

Not so much an equipment vendor, per se, but another really impressive machine-related booth was a fully operational and staffed TSS (Toyota Sewing System) unit. This is a way of setting up a shop and cross-training your employees so that garments can be produced faster. Machines are arranged in a U shape and set up to do each task in assembly, so if you are making a pair of jeans in this system, there is a machine for each step in the process, with the right weight needles and threads for the given seam and denim thicknesses, free arm machine bed to go up a pant leg if it's the hemming station, and so forth.

Operators stand at their station, do their task and hand the garment off to the next person right beside them around the U, so the jeans are a pile of pieces at one end of the U and become a fully assembled garment when the come out the other end. All operators know how to use all machines and do all steps, too, so if someone is sick they can all swap out doing that missing person's step, and the whole thing is choreographed so that if one person has a time consuming station, other people cover two steps each so that person with the longer task doesn't get swamped and clog the assembly line.

The most interesting element of it, from a costume shop perspective, is the standing machine convention. In crafts shops, many times we have a stand-up set-up--rivet setters and grommet presses are stand-to-use equipment, and our millinery and shoe sewing machines are often on standing-use tables. I actually prefer sewing standing up after years of having my machines on that height of tables, and it adds to my efficiency since i just walk up and start using them instead of sitting and getting situated just for a quick few sewing steps. It was exciting to watch these TSS operators move through their sewing pod and bang out trousers in record time. Something to consider...

Well, that's it for this topic. I have a big pile of literature yet to cover on software systems and notions suppliers, but that'll have to wait for another day. Maybe tomorrow!
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
One thing i'm doing this summer is working part-time down in Raleigh at Tumbling Colors, a custom dyeing and surface-design facility that caters largely to the couture industry. They specialize in quick-turnaround small-batch customized dye effects, color matching, and textural design (think stonewashing).

The business is owned and operated by Chuck Stewart, a second-generation dyer--his father was a superintendent of dyeing at Cannon Mills--who brings 25 years of industry experience to his company, itself now in its tenth year of operation. He and his wife Donna (a chemical engineer) keep the colors literally tumbling through the labs, machines, and out into the market, along with a small staff of professional dyers and color chemists and interns from the NCSU College of Textiles.

TC aren't the people dyeing thousands upon thousands of garments for pret a porter retail lines--they focus on samples and small batches for...well, for a bunch of famous names i can't mention because of industry confidentiality. (Believe me, you know them.) They've got a spectrometer for color analysis from Pantones or provided swatches and scraps, and if his press is to be believed, Chuck's the best color-matcher in the business. That there's got my respect, given how hard i find color-matching, myself. Luckily, that's not what i'm doing for them!

He's also probably one of the most pleasant, laid-back guys i've met; he didn't freak out in the least when, last Thursday, i went to lift a 5-gal bucket of dye and the handle broke, spilling the entire bucket of dye all over the floor of the lab i was in! (That's also a pretty good testimonial for the import of wearing protective gear in a dye facility--never know when an accident like that is going to happen.) Boy, did i feel like a first-class tool though, regardless that it was a case of equipment failure and not operator idiocy. :)

TC is definitely the largest company i've worked for yet, in terms of facility size--they're housed in an 18,000-sq-ft warehouse full of enormous laundry machines, industrial dye equipment, lab stations, aging and breakdown machinery, you name it. Staff-wise, no way; there were probably 8-9 times as many employees at the LA Opera when i was there in 2005, or at Parsons-Meares last summer.

I'm hoping before the summer's out, I'll get permission to take a few interior photos of some of their set-up--the color-mixing lab and the distressing mannekin are what i'd really like to have images of--but it's dicey. I haven't even asked yet, partly because i've been busy working on the project i've got, but mostly because so much discretion is required in a field as competitive and trend-based as fashion.

I can't even tell y'all what i'm working on there [1], beyond to say that i'm doing the R&D and sampling for a whole new set of services they're hoping to add to their roster soon. I'm sure that once the stuff i'm working on is up and running and actually available for designers to contract, i'll be able to at least talk about it a bit; for now though, i figured i'd mention the existence of the company, in case it's a useful resource for designers in the readership seeking a higher level of custom color control beyond "what's already out there."

[1] I feel like in a blogging context, you can't even get away with that old saw about "I could tell you, but then i'd have to kill you," y'know?
labricoleuse: (manga avatar)
There are a couple of companies I've recently ordered from that I'd like to mention in here--Micro-Mark and We've Labels.

Micro-Mark is known as "the small tool specialists," and they cater to industries like miniature and model builders, dollhouse carpenters, jewelrymakers, as well as film/tv/theatre artisan shops. They sell a huge range of tools that are small-scale--everything from miniature tabletop drill presses to needle-files. I recently got a hand bender from them for a very reasonable price ($65).

We've Labels is, i believe, a cottage industry that i stumbled across in a websearch. I had been looking for somewhere to do some basic woven labels for me to put into the hat collection i'm doing this year--i wanted something around an inch wide, basic old-fashioned script font, that said "La Bricoleuse." They got them to me in a prompt fashion for a good price.

Want to see? )
labricoleuse: (Default)
Ever since i got back home from NYC, I've been wanting to do a post about Cha Cha's House of Ill Repute, the made-to-order millinery studio i worked for this summer; the USITT symposium sucked up all my time for the past few days though so i'm only just getting around to it.

Cha Cha's is a couture millinery studio which does made-to-order hand-blocked original designs for modern hat-wearers. Their hats show up frequently in fashion magazines and on the red carpet in Hollywood. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to work with them and observe the production differences (and similarities) between high-end hats for retail manufacture versus high-quality stagewear. (I hope it's not my ego talking, but i like to think my stage hats are well-made!)

I also appreciated working in a shop where nearly 100% of their output is blocked hats, as opposed to the pieced-construction and wire-frame hats that dominate in much of theatrical millinery. Of the shops i've worked in over the course of my entire career, only a couple have had a decent range of hatblock shape options--most theatres consider themselves lucky to have even a few standard dome-crown blocks in their crafts facility.

My responsibilities in the job were all over the map--one day i'd be putting in grosgrains by machine using Cha Cha's antique chain-stitch industrial, another day i'd be cutting fedora hatbands from vintage necktie silk...i even spent some time fixing her airbrush rig! I took some photographs of her studio--i can't share anything revealing the Fall 2008 line until she unveils it on the website (though if you happen to be a retailer who carries hats in your shop and want to check it out, you can email her for a print copy so you can order fall styles now), but i can show you some of the cool equipment and blocks!

pictures! )
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
Today was the second day of the symposium; while we waited for our output from yesterday's classes to cure/dry/etc., we toured three companies and organizations in the Carolina piedmont whose work is of related interest to costume professionals.

The first stop of the day was a non-profit development and consultancy company called [TC]2. They do a huge range of research and development of technology for the apparel and textile industries. One of their ongoing projects is body-scanners and related software. They market it in a variety of areas (the ImageTwin website being one example, and the online resource archive Tech Exchange), and they are apparently taking a body-scanner to SIGGRAPH this year as well. They also have developed a lot of new products and equipment for the digital textile printing industry and are the folks who conducted the landmark SizeUSA study of anthropometric measurements across a range of USA demographics.

The second stop was at the offices of the non-profit advocacy and development group, Cotton Incorporated, a resource and research organization that furthers the development of the international cotton industry, and the third stop was the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University.

Photographs and more info... )
labricoleuse: (history)
Tinsel Trading Company is one of the jewels in the Garment District's crown. I gather that the world at large knows them thanks to the enthusiastic patronage of Martha Stewart; costumers know them for their stellar reputation and history of dealing in rare, vintage, antique, and no-longer-produced trimmings, including metal-thread trims for military braid. They do solicit mail-orders off their website for many of their items, but of course some of the rare and limited-quantity stuff can only be found browsing the store.

Tinsel has been having a month-long moving sale, as they are relocating to a new facility at 1 West 37th Street; this week is the last week before they close to move, and the deals in there are unspeakably great.

no seriously, check this out... )
labricoleuse: (opening night gala)
I have been a fan of Mokuba brand ribbon for years and years, ever since i first came across it in the Pearl Art and Craft in Boston, MA. If you aren't familiar with Mokuba, they are a Japanese company which produces extremely high quality ribbons and trims of unusual, creative design. Yesterday, i took a lunch-break trip to their NY design center, featuring nearly 45,000 Mokuba trims.

My intent was to purchase a range of ribbons to be used on a very small collection of couture hats i'm going to produce for Spring 2009; Mokuba's products are expensive, but i'd only need a few yards to do the half-dozen hats in the collection, and i wanted top-quality. The sales help in the design center greeted me and my companion (a fellow first-hand at Parsons on Shrek) immediately upon entering and asked our business. I mentioned my millinery collection, that i was looking for small quantities for one-of-a-kind hats; we were ushered to a special back room.

The room was full of discontinued ribbon styles, for which they had only single or partial spools remaining. They gave me a basket, told me to fill it, and claimed they would then price the basket at a rate i would not refuse to pay. I did exactly that, and they held up their end of the bargain. I was able to get a large quantity of couture ribbon i otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford to splurge on. (Mokuba's ribbons can be $50/yard or more--i had planned on buying single-yard cuts for my hat collection. Instead i wound up with spools of each style instead of a couple yards worth.) I couldn't have come up with a better scenario more suited to my purposes!

a picture of some of my spoils... )
labricoleuse: (hats!)
Yesterday i took a trip to the Floral District in search of straw cloth for the impending fall millinery class.

In our unit on straw hat construction, we of course discuss traditional blocked straw hat methods, but we also talk about ways of creating hats using buckram style pieced-crown constructions and straw cloth or braid spiraled or woven into shape. I was on the hunt for rolls of woven abaca and sinamay.

Abaca fiber is from banana and related plants, and is a sturdy but flexible fiber woven with fairly thickish "straws"--sinamay is also from the same variety of plants but the fibers are much thinner and can be more fragile. If it helps to think of it this way, abaca is what you might see a sensible sun-hat made from, and sinamay is what you might see a light, airy fancy "church hat" made from. Both can be purchased in hoods and cartwheels for traditional hat-blocking, but also in rolls like cloth--usually the rolls are around 25"-36" wide, and several yards long.

So, i did a quick search online for places in NYC with rolls of abaca and sinamay and found the website of Jamali Garden, which featured rolls of both types of straw for around $15 apiece. Sweet! Jamali also opens at 6:30am, which was convenient (well, in a sense) because i could go before heading into work at 8:30.

Boy, i wish i could begin every day with a stroll through the Floral District! Barrels and paper cones of beautiful flowers filling the streets, which are blockaded with delivery trucks so there's no traffic. The evaporating mist of the flung-wide florist shops makes the dawn air cool, and the place smells amazing, like loam and a thousand-thousand blossoms. I did go directly to Jamali, but i passed several other shops of similar ilk along the way who probably had much the same stock. The thing is though, i wanted to go somewhere i could shop the store, then later shop online for reorders, so Jamali it was.

What a great place! Very small, with long aisles stacked to the ceiling, but a very helpful sales crew and wow, what inspiring stuff! Not only did i get my rolls of straw, but a number of other things for class--feather picks for hat garnitures, tiny sprays of faceted crystals, sinamay ribbon in a couple of colors and styles, and some shells with holes for stitching through. I didn't shop their ribbon too heavily, but they did have a lot of nice velvets and satins in huge rolls for wholesale prices.

I've still got a week's worth of work left on Shrek, but i'm also getting excited about fall--millinery and the upcoming shows back at PlayMakers! Gotta stock up on millinery supplies... :)
labricoleuse: (hats!)
Today i took a lunch-break jaunt to the renowned Beckenstein's Mens Fabric, aka Fabric Czar, the premier purveyor of fine menswear fabrics. What an excellent place! If you are into tailoring and fine menswear, it's a must-visit location in the NYC Garment District.

I went looking for unusual necktie silk yardage (which i found--over a hundred options, all beautiful quality woven stripes and patterns). They have a wall full of fine shirtings in wonderful stripes and solids, and a large back room filled with top-of-the-line suit-weight wools, as well as a wide array of summer suit fabrics such as linens and seersuckers. The shop is like a small museum of menswear ephemera as well, with several large reproductions of period suit catalogue illustrations and antique wooden torso forms from bygone suit and uniform manufacturers. The sales help was very accommodating about swatching some fabric for me (a coworker had asked me to pick her up some tie silk samples as well), very friendly and helpful.

Behind the register, they have displayed a number of interesting photos and letters--signed headshots from famous suit-wearers (from David Letterman to Sean Combs) as well as thank-you letters from costumiers and couturiers.

If you need to clothe a sharp-dressed man, Fabric Czar is the place to go!
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
I want to point out the award-winning drama, War Horse, a really amazing collaborative production between the reknowned Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa and London's National Theatre. The 3-person horse puppets really have to be seen--they're just brilliantly made. Click through these reviews for some photographs, as well as the National Theatre's site for a gallery:
labricoleuse: (paraplooey)
My class next semester is going to be sort of random--a catch-all course on all the crafts-related topics not covered in Dyeing/Distressing, Millinery, and Masks/Armor. We're going to study glovemaking, shoe construction and repair, jewelry, parasol manufacture, body padding, and basic engineering of kinetic costume elements (macropuppetry, incorporated electrics, etc). I've been, as usual, looking at a range of books for potential texts and i thought i'd share some titles and publishers here.

If you are unfamiliar with Quite Specific Media, check out their website and page through their catalogue, particularly the Costume & Fashion Press section! I guarantee you will find some titles you want for your personal library.

QSM's Visual Encyclopedia of Costume Accessories, by Valerie Cumming will likely figure into my course as a reference manual, but what i'd had high hopes for was their Patterns for Costume Accessories. I've made up a couple of the patterns from it and they've gone together nicely enough (they scale up a lot better than most patterns of the sort) but there's not attendant info on tips and tricks of drafting/draping your own accessory patterns. If you hate patternmaking and aren't very intuitive about putting things together, it'd be a great resource, but it's a bit too simplistic for my course. Even so, the newsboy cap pattern in there makes up adorably. :)

Unrelated to my class, another title of theirs that's pretty exciting is Making Latex Clothes by Sian-Kate Mooney.

Another publisher of note is Fairchild Books, a niche press serving the fashion and interior design fields. Their Fashion titles are very definitely slanted toward industry and mass-production, designing enormous product lines that will sell, studying demographics, catering to and creating trends, etc., but that doesn't preclude their usefulness for the entertainment/art costumer as well.

The title they carry that i'm going to be using is the rather Mickey-Mousily named Know Your Fashion Accessories, by Celia Stall-Meadows. There's a great deal of useful historical and sociological information on all sorts of accessory items, as well as some form/function fashion theory on the hows and whys of wearing/using/carrying various items.

Dakota Prairie Treasures is a historical reprint house which carries low-end (think spiral-bound a la the copy shop) reprints of vintage and antique instruction manuals. They carry a glovemaking book i'm going to use (How to Make Gloves by Eunice Close), as well as titles on diverse and hard-to-find topics like Victorian hair-work and tatting. Many of their offerings are available in CD format as well, if you prefer e-books.

My own parasol textbook is oh-so-nearly complete--i expect to have news of its availability by December-ish. (I'll mention it here when it's done for certain!)

In other media, looking for something to listen to? How about some links to podcasts!

The Victoria & Albert Museum has three podcasts up on their site to accompany their "Golden Age of Couture" exhibit. Featured topics are Balenciaga suits, Lady Alexandra, and New Look suits.

And, the LJ community [ profile] frockflicks features ongoing monthly podcast commentary on costume-dramas, hosted by members of the Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild.
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
Friday afternoon, costume staff and students were granted the opportunity to observe the dressing process of the dancers of the Khmer Arts Academy's production of Pamina Devi: A Cambodian Magic Flute, currently touring the US. The performance appeared courtesy of the Carolina Performing Arts series. Theatre empresario Peter Sellers sponsored the production, choreographed and directed by Cambodian classical dancer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, as part of a Vienna Mozart festival. Now the KAA have taken it on tour.

If you are unfamiliar with what traditional Cambodian dance is like (i certainly was), check out some of the articles written about the academy and the tour:

New York Times article
Daily Tarheel (UNC college paper) article
Responses to the premiere last month at the University of Florida.

Shapiro told us a lot of interesting information about classical dance conventions in the Cambodian tradition. For example, all the roles are performed by women, but there are four character archetypes: men, women, giants (who apparently also double as gods or demons), and monkeys. The men are signified in costume by the wearing of peaked epaulets. Characters also wear masks, such as the Garuda, a bird-creature.

Shapiro also talked about the genesis of this particular production, in which she played upon Mozart's opera's themes of "enlightenment and change," a phrase adopted and perverted by the genocidal Khmer Rouge in the Cambodia of Shapiro's youth.

We were allowed (after removing our shoes) to come backstage and observe the dressing process of the 31-member dance troupe. These dancers begin the dressing process 4.5 hours before the performance begins--they are stitched into their shirts and undertrousers, and the other pieces are all held on with a combination ties and artful folding processes. Everyone was very friendly and happy to answer our questions, show us details of their methods and traditions, and allow us to take photos. All the pictures in this post are courtesy of photographer Amanda Phillips.

Click to see pictures! )
labricoleuse: (Default)
On my cross-country trek to and from Utah, i stopped over as a halfway-point with an old friend and costuming colleague, Yosa Addiss. Yosa is the principal designer and proprietress of the wedding and fantasy gown atelier, Silks & Velvets, based in Lawrence, KS.

In addition to her couture gown and corsetry business, Yosa is a long-term performer and participant in the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. Costuming performers for a renaissance faire presents a whole host of unique problems--the costumes must stand up to extreme weather exposure, and be worn all day long in all kinds of climatic change. Yosa graciously allowed me to document some of her tricks for constructing an ornate standing ruff of gold guipere lace, which she wore for the duration of the 2004 season, portraying Anna Maria, the Queen of Spain.

pictures! )
labricoleuse: (history)
For my birthday (back in June), some of my coworkers and i drove up to Salt Lake City, where we were treated to a backstage tour of the Utah Opera Production Studios by their resident costume crafts artisan, Carmen Killam.

The Utah Opera, in addition to mounting a full season of opera and operettas each year, has one of the largest costume and set rental facilities in the country. Their costume division features rental options for 59 different productions. I took a lot of photos; enjoy the pictorial tour!

tons of photographs )
labricoleuse: (Default)
I've just finished up a cross-country drive from North Carolina to Utah!

The PlayMakers Repertory Company season has come to a close (reopening in the fall) and we professional production artisans on staff at traditional seasonal theatres often travel to work at one of the many summer theatre or opera companies during the break.

Last year, i worked as a crafts artisan in the costume department of the Utah Shakespearean Festival, and really enjoyed the experience. If you haven't been reading this blog since August of 2006, you can read all about the company (with some cool pictures, too!) here, in a post i made last year, and by clicking the "utah" tag in the sidebar to the left, find several posts pertaining to last season. That post linked in the previous sentence shows some of the facilities as well, including a few images of the crafts building (though i'm planning on doing a "Virtual Tour" of the whole crafts facility in an upcoming post).

This year, i've returned with a bit of an "upgrade"--I'm now the assistant manager of the Costume Crafts department, and also Lead Crafts Artisan for the world premiere of the new musical Lend Me a Tenor (based on the stage play by Ken Ludwig). My posts for the next couple months will focus on topics pertaining to the production of the shows this season, from a crafts perspective--we've got lots of armor, hats, crowns, and leather goods so it should be some fun stuff.

In addition, I hope at least a few of my fellow staff will agree to help me launch a new feature i've been tossing around for a while: artisan interviews! We've got a very talented milliner from the St. Louis Repertory on staff, a visiting artist who was the road manager for a Cirque du Soleil production, an amazing moldmaker/caster who's a propmaster at Milwaukee Repertory as our Crafts manager, and a whole crew of great artisans (including two of my graduate students from UNC-Chapel Hill). Hopefully a couple of them will agree to interviews about their careers and fields of specialty, because i'd love to have this blog feature more than "ME ME ME" and my projects and my students' projects and my opinions on shows and craftwork (because, while i do like myself quite a bit and am proud of my work, the egocentric nature of blogging is something that makes me vaguely uncomfortable on some level).

So, that's where i'm at and what's coming up here on La Bricoleuse. Upcoming posts will definitely involve some Elizabethan stuff and some fin de siecle stuff, among other, well, stuff!

And, they're totally off-topic, but here are some photos from the road I'd like to share:

six pictures )
labricoleuse: (history)
Some time ago i made a post inquiring about cage crinolines; the reason for this being that our designs for the mainstage show The Illusion featured two such petticoats, and as is so often the case, historical construction is the best starting place for research and development of materials and techniques.

[ profile] koshka_the_cat was a wonderful help in pointing me toward the resource of Wooded Hamlet Designs' Cage Crinoline Kit, including links to images and video of her own experience building with the kit (including process shots here), which comes with an instructional DVD and all the requisite supplies. The Wooded Hamlet site also has a page of comparison research photos, illustrating components of an original cage crinoline circa 1850 and corresponding components on their own repro kit.

By a stroke of fortuitous luck, we also received a donation of impeccably-preserved historical garments from Ms. Helen Tibbo (the subject of this post here) that included a bustle cage constructed in the same fashion.

Lots of cool photos and more! )
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
One of the most important first steps in developing historical costumes for stage is to answer the question, How was it originally done?

By doing initial research into historical construction techniques, you can often eliminate many hours of troubleshooting and anticipate engineering issues. If you are lucky enough to have access to an archive of antique and vintage clothing, inspecting primary garments is ideal. Online resources which feature interior shots and structural analysis, such as the CoStar Vintage Clothing Archive, can be a fair substitute. Another means of seeing inside clothes of a past period are primary sources--books, pamphlets, and articles written at the time about sewing, tailoring, millinery, etc.

Luckily, we live in a time when the distribution of knowledge is easier than ever before. People can publish books in small runs with home equipment, or make books with a small circle of interest available through Print On Demand publishers with little or no initial investment. Anyone who can get themselves to a public library can publish a blog just like this one. If you can read and write, you can make your words available to the world.

Before the advent of internet publishing, blogs, POD printers and the like, the primary source of reprinted period sources for costumers was Dover Publications, and they are still a valuable, wonderful source for many indispensable research titles. Dover's publications are affordably-priced, printed in trade-paperback format with glossy cardstock covers. Here are a couple of examples of their titles:

Mary Thomas' Book of Knitting Patterns. This reference, first published in the 1930s, is a compendium of knitting patterns--not projects themselves, per se, but instructions on creating different effects such as cable-knit. Thomas illustrates how to do dozens and dozens of effects by which an intuitive knitter might create her or his own garment patterns.

Old-Fashioned Ribbon Art: Ideas and Designs for Accessories and Decorations. This is a reprint of what might be considered the 1920s equivalent of a fashion zine for DIY-ers. It's short, only 32 pages (under $5 from Dover so it's no huge investment of cash), but contains amazing illustrations and instructions for creating cockades, ribbon flowers, ornaments, and accessories. Not only is it useful for 1920s period embellishments, but also for previous periods in which cockades were frequently used in mens millinery (think Napoleonic France, for example).

In fact, i attribute my own early interest in costuming to the resources of Dover Publications. Each year, my parents would receive their mail-order catalogue, and i was encouraged from a young age to pore over it with a highlighter, picking out books that i might want for Christmas. As a girl, i particularly loved their intricately-illustrated coloring books on fascinating subjects like Greek myths, or the history of the locomotive, and their paperdolls of ancient royalty and foreign cultures. Later on as a poor college student, i loved Dover for their Thrift Editions, simple paperbacks of classic novels and plays which they sell for $1 or $2.

Peruse their website--i guarantee you'll find tons of great books!

I also want to mention a couple of less widely-known publishers of vintage reprints, the first of whom is R. L. Shep Publications. R. L. Shep is hardly a new publisher, having been around since 1962; the internet just makes his books easier to find and purchase. Some highlight titles from this publisher:

The Blue Book of Men's Tailoring by Frederick Croonborg, 1907. You'll find well-worn editions of this book passed down through tailoring families, often rebound several times over. In fact, one of our recent graduate program applicants brought her father's copy to share with us in her portfolio presentation, which she'd used as a source text to create several tailored jackets. Now you can get a new copy from R. L. Shep for $30.

Late Victorian Women's Tailoring: The Direct System of Ladies' Cutting by T. H. Holding, 1897. In addition to Holding's tailoring system, the book includes instructional sections on manufacturing trimwork, undergarments, and accessories. $20.

Ladies Self-Instructor in Millinery and Mantua Making, Embroidery and Applique, 1853. A sort of overview of period embellishment arts and parlor-business accessory construction. Contains an extra section of illustrations from Godey's Lady's Book. $16.

And, R. L. Shep is the primary republisher of Mme. Anna Ben-Yusuf's 1909 book, Edwardian Hats: The Art of Millinery, which can be purchased for $25. [1]

In addition to their own titles, R. L. Shep Publications also produces a small-circulation catalogue of rare, out-of-print books that they acquire, called Books on Cloth, distributed and maintained by Fred Struthers. A single copy is only $2.50, and you never know what gems you might find listed in its pages!

Another company from whom i recently purchased a couple of titles is Iva Rose Vintage Reproductions. They produce mainly knitting, crocheting, and tatting pattern books, many of which were originally printed by yarn, thread, and pattern companies like Bucilla, Butterick, Paton's, etc. They also produce millinery and toymaking publications. I was so pleased with the service and quality of their product, i had to share it here on La Bricoleuse

The company is named for the founder's grandmother, who sounds like she was an inspiring woman of the early 20th century with an interest both in handwork arts and in education. You can read about her life and tragic untimely death from breast cancer, as well as view an array of wonderful photographs of Iva Rose here. As such, it seems that her granddaughter's mission in founding the company was to preserve techniques and resources pertaining to ladies period handwork, and foster a spirit of self-education in continuation of her grandmother's legacy.

The company's website allows you to search by decade, which is a nice feature for historian-research purposes. The two books i purchased were the 1903 publication, Paton's Collection of Knitting and Crochet Receipts #3 by M. Elliot Scrivenor, and Scientific Hat Finishing and Renovating, by Henry L. Ermatinger.

The 1903 knitting book (which was originally published by Paton's and sold for a shilling) is full of excellent patterns for a range of period knitwear for men, women, and children. I'm particularly interested in the knitted waistcoats, petticoats, ladies' stockings, gloves/mittens/muffatees [2], and hoods/caps/fascinators. There's a garment section called the hug-me-tight, which is something like a surplice bolero vest, and for which there's a pattern in the modern book i recently bought, Lion Brand Yarn Vintage Styles for Today. I plan on knitting the Lion version and the Paton's period version both, so once i'm finished with that (probably in like 2 years' time!) i'll make a comparative post. Unrelated to content, this book has a beautifully-rendered full-color cover image of two ladies and a girl knitting and crocheting, depicted in the Art Nouveau style.

The Ermatinger book is a 1919 reference on men's hats, a subject upon which you can rarely find any information. The production and refurbishment of men's hats was historically--much like men's tailoring--a largely oral historical tradition, passed on mostly through the trade tradition of apprenticeship. Books are hard to come by. If you click on the title up there though, there are on the Iva Rose site a number of reproduced illustrations from the book, by which you can see its indispensable usefulness for a theatrical crafts artisan such as myself, or indeed anyone who might often have to repair, alter, clean, and build men's headwear. And for a mere $20? Who can resist? Not I.

Incidentally, Iva Rose produces their own reprints of the Ben-Yusuf text and the 1926 Georgina Kerr Kaye book, Millinery for Every Woman. Iva Rose's edition of the Ben Yusuf text is $5 cheaper than the R. L. Shep edition and retains the original Nouveau cover image of roses, but the Shep edition contains an insert of catalogue pages from the 1908-09 fashion publication Correct Dress.

Given the choice, i would purchase an instructional book from Iva Rose over a book from other repro publishers, because i prefer their use of a spiral-spine binding. With instructional trade books, the spiral binding means the book will lay open flat of its own accord on a work table; when one has both hands involved in stitching or knitting or similar, that's a great convenience. The books are produced in a high-quality workbook format, with a sturdy opaque black plastic back cover and a clear plastic overlay to protect the full-color front cover. I suppose you could argue that this sort of format results in a book that looks like it was run off at the copy department of an Office Max or whatever, but for my money, the information contained within is just as valuable whether it's hardbound, paperbound, or ringbound, and for my purposes, ringbound is the most handy. My favorite edition of the milliner's standby reference, From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking, is a ringbound version produced in the 1990s--hatmaking is a two-handed craft and i like that the book stays open of its own accord.

So, anyone else want to add some sources here? Got a favorite reproduction publisher, or do you publish your own reproduction resource texts? Favorite old titles? Or, if you've had a bad experience ordering and want to warn others, please comment! As always, i welcome your input. One of my favorite aspects of the blog format is that it fosters discussion, and allows all readers an equal voice--it's not just me pontificating on a street corner, as it were.

[1] Incidentally, for those interested in the ongoing saga of my research into her life, my speculations have been cleared up by historian, archivist, and the Ben-Yusufs' (forthcoming) biographer, Frank Goodyear of the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian. He confirmed that Mme. Anna was in fact the mother of Zaida Ben-Yusuf, and that both women were successful milliners who wrote extensively on the craft (in addition to any number of other pursuits). His interest and study on the two women stems from Zaida's photographic portraiture career rather than her contributions to the millinery arts, but it was exciting to talk with someone who could answer my biographical questions about these two amazing artists and artisans. Mr. Goodyear confirmed that a retrospective exhibit of Zaida Ben-Yusuf's portraiture and other photography will be mounted at the NPG in early 2008, and will coincide with the publication of his own biographical work on the lives of the Ben-Yusuf women. I'll be metaphorically first in line, both to see the exhibit and read Mr. Goodyear's book!

[2] Vocab: muffatees--knit tubes of fabric for the wrists, recently repopularized by teen girls and 20-something women under the name "armwarmers." Me, i like "muffatees" better than "armwarmers"!
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
One of my graduate students went to Chicago for the weekend and brought me a gallery card for an exhibit of the mask artwork of Semmerling and Schaefer, "Mask In Style," at the Inside Out Art Studio (2005 W. Montrose). The show, which runs from September 13-October 28, 1006, will have an opening party from 6-9pm on the 13th.

Paging through the catalogue and gallery sections of the site is a good overview of the types of masks they produce--seems the base structure is most often either molded leather or neoprene, and the creations range from a fairly standard line of Commedia dell'Arte character half-masks to crazy enormous full-head feathered birds and raffia-maned Mardi Gras madness masks. They've got a wide variety of past clients, from the Goodman Theatre to Disney/MGM.

Those in and around the Chicagoland area (or, willing to travel) can take workshops and classes in various styles of maskmaking from the folks who run the studio, as well.
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
This summer, i've been working in the Costume Crafts department at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, UT. My contract is quickly coming to an end, and as such, I thought i'd write up a little overview of the company, some facts and some of my own opinions on how it is to work here as a costumer.

Though i'd known of it since undergrad (one of my former professors has designed here since the late 1980s), i didn't know til this summer that the Utah Shakespearean Festival has been in operation since 1962. It employs a total of around 350 folks each summer and fall, though only 28 people work here on a year-round basis. The company won the prestigious regional theatre Tony Award in 2000, which is no mean feat--one theatre per year gets it, and it's for recognized continuing excellence in regional theatre. No upstarts there, a theatre has to have been kicking ass and taking names for a good while in the eyes of the Tony voters to receive the award.

Summer isn't the only time theatre happens here in Cedar City; the USF also features a short three-show fall season, though for the purposes of my review, i'm only addressing the six-show summer portion (that being my experience here).

The festival has two main performance spaces, the Adams Theatre (an outdoor space built in the same fashion as typical 16th-century Tudor stages, with 888 seats) and the Randall Theatre (a modern indoor house that seats 769 people). In addition to the five plays and one musical offered in a typical summer season, the festival also hosts a free nightly "Greenshow," which consists of English and Irish folk dances, songs, and short humor skits poking fun at whatever shows are on the season's roster. Of the five plays in a summer season, three are Shakespeare productions performed in the Adams.

Something i find particularly interesting and exciting about the USF is its enormous import to its community--not only do 96% of its patrons come from the Southwest (60% are resident Utahns), but ticket sales actually provide around 80% of its operating budget. Its shows typically sell out nearly all performances. You'd be hard-pressed to find a local who's not familiar with the Festival, and who'd never gone to see anything they presented.

The typical design-fare of the USF shows is largely traditional--no "Tempest in spacesuits set in 2050" or "I'm seeing as Velvet Goldmine meets Richard II" wacky reinterpretations. This can be exciting from a craftsperson's perspective, particularly in terms of historic/traditional armor and millinery possibilities. Budgets for crafts items here seem to be sufficient enough to not have to scrimp and cut corners in quality of output--hides of leather, yardage of Fosshape, gold leafing, all of these have been readily available as-needed, no "making-do" with cheap pleather, craft felt and white glue, metallic acrylics. Working in the craft shop here definitely yields at least a few good portfolio-quality pieces.

I mentioned the 350-person employee-roster; here's how that breaks down for a costumer at USF for a typical summer season. In crafts alone we have a 10-person team: a supervisor, assistant supervisor, 7 lead crafts artisans, and one "floater"/intern. Dyeing/painting is an entirely different department, though typically only has 1-2 staffing that shop. The main costume shop itself is two stories, broken into five work rooms with 2-6 tables each (I'm guesstimating around 35 shop staff, counting drapers, first hands, stitchers, and supervisors?), four large fitting rooms, break room, and storage. The dye shop is also housed in the basement of that building. Crafts is off in a separate house, as is Hair/Makeup (staffed by around 8-10 wig technicians--this is a brilliant place to work if you want to learn to make lace-front wigs and hand-tied hairpieces!).

In the Crafts house, the space is divided into four workrooms, with two crafters' tables in each. The two supervisors each have a sort of "office foyer" on opposite ends of the house. Supply and tool storage is divided among the workrooms, with a different focus in each room--one for leatherworking tools and supplies, one for armor/casting, one for millinery/sewing, and one for jewelry. In terms of equipment, the crafts house includes an industrial walking-foot machine and an industrial patcher/bootstitcher, three domestic Berninas, an overlock machine, a gravity-feed ironing station, and industrial grommet/rivet setter, two industrial steamers, and a wide range of wood hatblocks, as well as a full array of hand-tools, casting materials, paints, solvents, adhesives, etc. Craftspersons are expected to bring their own portable kits (shears, craft scissors, thimbles, blades, etc), smocks, closed-toe footwear, and respirators.

The craft department schedule is standardized and regimented--the Monday-through-Friday shift starts promptly at 8:30am and ends exactly at 6pm, with two 20-minute breaks (one at 10:30am, one at 4pm) and an hour's lunch (12:30-1pm). Saturday is typically a half-day, 8:30am-1pm with a single break mid-shift. The shop allows conversation while working and the use of mp3 and CD players.

Hiring seems to have a healthy dose of what i call "legacy" involved--those who've worked here before to their supervisors' satisfaction are asked back the following season, with open slots in the shop going first to "newbies" with a professional reference from current staff, and assumedly, any other open slots after that filled by those without direct connections. I gather it is fairly hard to get in the hiring-door without knowing someone who works here or has worked here, and sometimes it can be tedious when those who've been here multiple seasons start dropping metaphorical trou with oneupmanshippy "This is my eighth season, donchaknow" conversations.

The Festival provides its employees with housing in furnished apartments (including full kitchens and baths), in addition to paying a modest but by no means paltry salary. Honestly, the apartments are no great shakes (ha!), but they aren't the skankiest place I've ever laid my head at night--i wouldn't sign a lease on the place I'm in now, but to live in for 2 months worth of my life, it's certainly more than acceptable. I have my own bathroom and the kitchen's got a dishwasher. I might have made more cash by staying home and working, say, as a night-shift grocery store stocker for $13/hour all summer, but i wouldn't have gotten any portfolio or resume fodder out of that, and it certainly wouldn't have been creatively stimulating or challenging. Plus, dude, night shift blows.

If I had it to do over again, i'd find some way to drive my car out here--you can definitely get by just fine in Cedar City without a car, but it's just that: getting by. I can walk to work, to the grocery store, to all the little shops and restaurants down main street, but on the days off, it's no fun to be smack in the middle of the Great Wide Open of southern Utah, with all the amazing National Parks within a couple hours' drive, and be dependent upon the whims of any of your coworkers who did have the foresight to drive vehicles out here for the summer. With a car, a weekend in Vegas or Salt Lake City or hiking around Bryce Canyon would be mine for the choosing.

All in all, i have had a good experience working here, and would certainly seriously consider returning next season.

The Randall Theatre.
The statue is of Juliet.

more photographs of the USF facilities )

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