labricoleuse: (CAD)
I've been doing some other 3D printing projects in tandem with the librarians at the Research Hub here on the UNC-CH campus, and today's entry is maybe my favorite of the results: a 3D printed mask!

 photo 100_4038.jpg
Back in 2012, then-grad-student Candy McClernan created this skull sculpture (left) to make a traditional leather mask (right).

She also did versions in Wonderflex (top) and papier mache (bottom). So when i embarked on this project, i thought it'd be cool to use the same sculpture for the 3D print experiment.

We worked with science librarians David Romito and Drew Robertson to 3D-scan the sculpture in the top photograph. The laser scanning process doesn't do well with reflective or shiny surfaces, and our sculpture had been painted with a glossy topcoat to more easily release the mache mask. Drew suggested that we paint it with a flat primer to help get a better capture.

Here's the matrix sculpture on arotating stand being scanned against a white backdrop. Those red lines are the laser beams moving across the surface and registering data points of its topography. It rotates in full 360 degrees throughout the scan, which took around 15 minutes.

Another perspective on the scanning processs.

We didn't get a good coverage of data points from the flat grey sculpture. Sadface. So Candy took it back to the workshop and sprayed it flat black instead, for even better contrast.

Black version being scanned. Looks pretty cool.

Much better capture this time! Drew then cleaned up the scan for us in MeshMixer, to plug any wayward holes in the surface and fix any flaws in the scan. Then i went to NYC for a month, and when i returned, David informed me that there was a new printer in the lab:

The Fusion3 fabricator! It's got a 12" x 12" x 12" print capacity, so the mask could print in one go.
With the smaller footprints of 3D-printers like Makerbots, i was going to have to cut it up into two or three pieces, then attach them all together. Which, fine, but fabricating in one piece is preferable!

David then took our scan with Drew's edits, hollowed it to a 2mm thickness, and fabricated it on the printer depicted above. The print, i'm told, took around 10 hours to produce.

Mask printed in PLA plastic on the Fusion3, at a thickness of 2mm. You can see some of the topographical ridges created by the toolpath of the print head, which could be smoothed out with epoxy putty if desired before painting. Or, could be a feature.

This would still need some cleaning up, filing off some rough spots or lining with foam/felt, just like with any traditionally-produced mask, and clearly we'd have to determine eyehole placement and any other openings (mouth? nose?). For a first try though, i'm really pleased with the result! We could print another one just like it with a 10 hour turnaround, or we could adjust the file--cut the eyeholes digitally, say, or scale it down 10% if it's too large, etc.

It produces a mask that feels much sturdier than a vacuformed plastic mask (though i have not done stress-tests to see how much force would break it), and with a higher melting point than Wonderflex. It's not as lightweight as papier mache or Fosshape, but not as heavy as cast neoprene. It's not flexible at all.

Point being, this method doesn't work for every application, but if you need a rigid mask to be worn, say, in direct Florida sun for an hour long parade? This would be great! If you need a flexible mask that can bend in half and pop back into shape? This is not it.

Regardless, it's exciting to have one more option for maskmaking, with a solid idea of the turnaround time required to produce it.

labricoleuse: (CAD)
I went ahead and splurged on the myPANTONE app, which seemed almost too good to be true: the entire Pantone color library accessible on my iPad, anywhere, any time? Think of what a fantastic resource that would be as a dyer!

But myPANTONE at $9.99 is fairly expensive for an least it seems that way until you start looking at the pricetags on the analog versions of Pantone colorguides, and you realize that a single basic Formula Guide printed on cardstock is going to run you upwards of $125, nevermind the combined cost of all the different libraries included in the app. Suddenly that ten-dollar price starts looking like a mega-deal. So i bought it.

I can't tell you how many shows i've worked on at theatres that didn't have a Pantone book for picking dye colors out of, where a designer had to find a scrap of fabric from a remnant pile ("Like this but more punchy!" Uh, what?), or an assistant had to run to the nearest hardware store for paint chips. Imagine though if a designer could whip out her iPhone and pick a Pantone swatch right then, and later a dyer could pull out his iPad and refer to it while processing the job? You see where i'm going in terms of this being a potentially excellent tool for the theatre, where maybe a shop manager just can't justify a $150 expenditure for the Pantone formula guide, but a $10 app could be the answer to everyone's frustrations about dye-swatching.

Not an iPhone user? The Android version is $2 cheaper at $7.99.

There are also a couple of related Pantone apps that look fairly useless for the purposes of a dyer/costumer--myPANTONE Wedding ($5, only 200 colors and geared toward product sales of wedding attire/accessories) and myPANTONE X-Ref ($2, converts Pantone color numbers across system libraries, but isn't searchable/browsable across the spectrum for any of them).

So, from the perspective of a costumer, what can i tell you about myPANTONE? Overall, i find it pretty exciting.

You can fan through a deck of color swatches easily and swiftly, then maximize visibility on a specific 5-value color card or individual color chip (each of which is labeled with the Pantone number).

You can search on a swatch number and call up that chip easily. If an out-of-town designer with the app were to email me and say "Hey, dye those t-shirts Pantone 339C," i could search on the number and immediately see the swatch for the color s/he wanted the shirts dyed.

You can even take a picture of something and pick out a swatch from the image. To test this, i took a photograph of one of the costumes on the rack at work, a set of blue medical scrubs, then touched the sleeve of the shirt in the photo, and the app popped up a Pantone swatch matched to that scrub color!

There is, however, a pretty big caveat, and that is that the colors that show up on your mobile device screen DO NOT exactly match the colors of the printed Pantone colorbooks. I haven't tested it across platforms so i don't know if the colors on my iPad exactly match the ones on the Android version of the app, or the iPhone version. I have to wait i guess until someone else i know buys it to see.

The colors *are* close enough that you could probably run with a dye request from the app in most cases, since a textile's weave structure has just as much influence over how a color appears to the eye as a difference in handheld displays. Think about how different the same exact color of dress looks if the dress is acetate velvet, or silk satin, or cotton broadcloth. So while this caveat is an issue, i don't think it is nearly the same significant problem for dyers and costume designers in theatre as it is for, say, graphic designers.

In short, i'm glad i bought the app, and I'm hoping it becomes something that's fairly standard in theatrical production, in terms of a resource that designers and dyers can have easily and inexpensively for color communication.

Do you have myPANTONE? What do you think of it?
labricoleuse: (CAD)
Some time ago, i had the incredible good fortune to obtain that most coveted of custom hatter's tools, a conformateur. Mine is handmade of ebony and brass with mother-of-pearl carved fittings; it's a very early model, the Allie Aine invented in France in 1844 (mine has a date stamp of 1846). This conformateur is in amazing condition, with only minimal repairs required.

If you are unfamiliar with exactly what a conformateur is, does, and looks like, check out this great post by Tricia Roush of House of Nines Design about her recent conformateur acquisition, an Argentinian model by a maker named Vega.

But this post is not about the conformateur itself, rather it's about a recent minor repair which definitely makes me feel like i'm living in the future.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (CAD)
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for theatrical milliners in terms of creating a wide array of historical shapes is, well, literally the blocks! If you want to do a blocked felt or straw hat, you must have something on which to block the material, so you're limited by the blocks you own or can readily make or rig.

In the past i've posted about a range of options for addressing this issue, from conscripting everyday objects to serve as makeshift blocks, to hand-carving a block in stacked foam, to experiments with the rare blockmaking medium esparterie.

All of these methods are problematic, though. Blocking on a rigid object like a clay pot or ceramic vase is difficult because you can't pin into the base and there's no grooves for ropes to hold the felt in place. Hand-carving a foam block is extremely time-consuming, messy, and sculpturally challenging, not to mention that it means being in a particulate respirator for as long as it takes. And esparterie, well, if you find any for sale, you have lucked out at any price, and if--like me--you own a precious few sheets, you don't just use them up willy-nilly.

Because i'm always on the hunt for new approaches to traditional craftwork, I've begun a journey of experimentation with a new (or new to me, at least) way of creating block shapes using 3D CAD/CAM technology. CAD stands for Computer-Aided Design, and CAM stands for Computer-Aided Machining, so when you see that abbreviation of CAD/CAM, that really just means using computers to help you design and make something cool!

It first occurred to me that CAD/CAM hatblock production was possible back when i took some CAD classes through the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University--we were manipulating 2D pattern shapes for apparel, and 3D renderings of designs, and i found myself thinking about the possibilities for millinery in these technologies, the programs and the robots used to produce the patterns.

I'd begun talking about these possibilities with one of my professors there, but we needed funding for research and both of us had 203948 other responsibilities and besides the machines and software we would need to use were also in use by 34985 students in legitimate classes, and then the economy imploded and a lot of the kind of grants we would have wanted disappeared... My 3D CAD hat blocks went back into the realm of the someday, when i could get my hands on the right technology to begin to work on it.

Then, along came TechShop RDU. The short version is, they're kind of like a think-tank super-tech workshop-studio and inventors' social club, that you buy a membership to the way you do a gym. You can then have access to an enormous quantity of equipment and tools and software (provided you go through the proper Safety and Basic Use (SBU) class for each thing), and also plug into an incredibly creative and skilled group of fellow members. They've got everything from sets of standard screwdrivers and tape measures up to welding stations, woodworking powertools, screenprinting stations, a blacksmith forge, and a full computer lab with 3D software like Autodesk Inventor. They even have a sewing shop with industrial machines and computerized embroidery capabilities. I've posted about it before, and this December i finally had the chance (meaning, the time) to activate my membership and begin taking some classes specific to this hatblocking project.

One of the incredible benefits of membership at a TechShop is that you can take up to 12 hours of Autodesk Inventor software classes completely for free, no extra charge. (Many of the SBU classes have nominal tuition charges, presumably to pay the instructors and cover the materials used.) So, the first thing i did with my membership was to take 9 hours worth of those classes--enough to grasp the basics of 3D part drafting in Inventor. I have some long-term plans to do a series of block designs by this means, probably over the first 6 months of 2012.

But, you may be wondering, how do you go from a 3D design for a hat block, to the block itself?

That's where the ShopBot comes in. Basically, a ShopBot is like a robot assistant in the wood shop--if you can tell it what you want cut and carved, it'll do it. TechShop offers an 8-hour class which combines some CAD/CAM software instruction and guided drafting help with the standard ShopBot SBU certification.

ShopBot uses a kind of software called PartWorks, though you can import files from other drafting programs like Inventor, AutoCAD, Inkscape, Illustrator, etc. If you have any kind of familiarity with vector-based drawing programs, you can probably pick up PartWorks quickly. It was clear to me when i began fiddling with it, i could be prototyping very simple block shapes by the end of the night.

I decided to start as basic as basic can be: band blocks and maybe a brim or two. I went down to the scrap pile in the wood shop and found a likely-looking piece of 1.5"-thick medium-density fiberboard (MDF)--since this was to be my very first try at such a thing, i wasn't about to try using a more traditional blockmaker's wood like poplar, that i'd be heartbroken (and broke) if i messed up. Looking at the MDF in the scrap pile, i figured it was a great thickness for a band block if my attempt worked, and could be shellacked and covered in foil to stand up to the steam of a test blocking run. I don't know, longterm, whether MDF makes much sense for non-prototype blocks, since it's basically like some super dense cardboard; it would probably warp and lose its structural integrity with the steam and pressure involved in heavy hatblock use.

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labricoleuse: (CAD)
Yesterday's writeup focus was equipment; today's is technology. I have one more post planned on suppliers, and that'll cover my SPESA Expo experience.

Technology--holy wow, y'all. I wish i could have taken photos in the technology exhibit, where they had displays of all kinds of crazy things like garments made out of black fabric that doesn't absorb heat from the sun, and an inflatable lifesaving vest that was SO COOL LOOKING that no teenage summer camper would refuse to wear it because it looked dorky.

But mostly what i intend to address in this post is computer software and related products, and there was no lack of that. The "big dogs" were there in force, of course--both Gerber and Lectra had enormous booths on the expo floor. Lectra had a stage in theirs where they were running lectures and introductory classes on the use of their products, demos, and so forth. Both of them had literally dozens of show staff on hand to answer questions and offer advice and demonstrate the products. I've posted before about Gerber and Lectra software and how it is WAY outside the price range of any theatre company or university costume production shop. By the time you get to the end of this post though, you might have come across software options that sound like exactly what you need for whatever application you envision, at a more affordable price point... I'll go through them company by company, the ones whose literature i picked up and whose booths i checked out.


Browzwear is a software company based in Israel who specialize in virtual garment design and 3D-visualization fit modeling software intended to facilitate worldwide collaboration in the development of "fast fashion" lines for international corporations. Their three main products are cMe (a communication and presentation tool), vStyler (perhaps described as "21st Century Tomy Fashion Plates(TM)), and vStitcher (a virtual samplemaking tool). A quick perusal of their overview video will give you a good idea of what their software does. Their products look amazing for the production of ready-to-wear garments designed for a modern consumer, and frankly, a lot of fun. I don't believe they are likely to be useful in the theatrical costuming industry, even for most designers, since we work largely on a bespoke, one-of-a-kind or limited-number production level, often in period silhouettes and utilizing a high level of ornamentation. Cool stuff! Just not for me, professionally speaking.


Audaces is a Brazilian company that caters to a variety of industries, not only fashion but also furniture and upholstery, and metal/glass construction. They sell innovative plotters (including the world's first vertically oriented plotter) and software suites. Their Audaces Apparel is a suite similar to the Gerber products, focusing on patterning, grading, and marker making. Audaces Idea is a suite of design software, similar to the products Browzwear offers--conceptualization and communication tools.

The coolest thing that Audaces makes is Digiflash, software that allows you to take a photograph of paper patterns using a normal digital camera, and it will digitize them instantly into vector-based CAD files so they can be manipulated and graded by computer. So, let's say that someone wanted to try setting up a CAD-based production facility for long-running Broadway shows, and wanted to digitize drapers' patterns for future CAD-graded and drafted rebuilds and new cast members. All you have to do to digitize, say, the gown for "Emerald City chorus person #5 in Wicked," is pin it up on a special board and take a picture. Mind you, that level of production is the only time in which it probably makes financial sense to utilize this kind of technology, where you know it is likely a show will run for years with many cast changes, run concurrently in London and Tokyo, and go on international tours, so a single costume design is likely to be executed dozens of times for dozens of cast members.


OptiTex apparently does it all, and in a Windows platform. They have 2D and 3D visualization and "virtual runway" design software, communication facilitation, pattern making, grading, marker making, and cater to the commercial apparel, furniture, and transportation markets, as well as having an educational division. Their stuff is used by Parsons School of Design, but also by the Seattle Community College, so it's possible it's quite affordable or that costs are scaled in some way. Given the diversity of markets outside of apparel, i imagine that it's a case where several departments within an institution are served--not just fashion design but also interior design and automotive design perhaps.

The website and the product literature i got at SPESA are kind of obfuscative about exactly what their educational products are and what services and support they offer--lots of "we're awesome, see who says we're awesome!" but no specs to speak of--and i unfortunately didn't get a chance to speak to any of their reps while i was there. I've requested more specific info though so hopefully i'll have some analysis soon on whether their products are potentially useful and affordable for regional and university theatre facilities. I suspect that we're too small a niche for them, unless we came bundled with some other departments within a university or production house. Perhaps they would be good for schools with cross-departmental software applicability, or production houses that offer costume/prop/set dressing capabilities? I don't yet know enough to gauge.


Wow, this company is super cool! Most of what they do is irrelvant for theatrical costume production, but I have to write them up anyhow. (Besides, one area might be applicable, but i don't want to get ahead of myself.) Much of what they do is consulting and facilitation--aiding fashion industry startups and extant corporations in transitioning to digital technologies and processes. The super-cool part of their business though is AlvaForm, the division that produces specific-purpose dress forms in a range of different size standards, but also which produces custom forms utilizing body scanning technology for your fit model. I've been scanned in a body scanner at the local company that developed them, [TC]2. It takes literally like 1 minute, and the computer generates a 3D map of the surface of your body and takes hundreds of measurements instantly. Alvanon uses that data to create an exact replica of whatever body you scan!

The exciting thing about that in terms of theatrical costume production is how it applies to repertory companies and commercial shops that work for specific clients who have unusual or challenging-to-fit body types. For example, i once worked for a regional theatre with a resident company of actors (still do, as that's what we have at PRC as well, but this was not here), in which one company member was an extremely large, portly man whom i'll call Mr. Jones (obv not his real name). We had a set of padding which zipped onto a dress form in the shop that instantly turned it into "Mr. Jones." Since we had to fit costumes on Mr. Jones several times a season, had it been an option then, we might have invested in an AlvaForm made exactly to Mr. Jones' measurements; body scanning technology hadn't been developed yet, though, and custom traditional forms for larger body types aren't always the right proportion. The zip-on padding was the best we could do.

Certainly i can imagine, say, an opera company purchasing these for their star divas and tenors, or the draper who makes Dolly Parton's stagewear working on an AlvaForm version of Ms. Parton rather than padding out the bust as much as would be required on a standard form.

Their forms are the familiar "hard form" that most costume shops use--the fiberglass interior skinned with knit layers and a linen cover, pinnable, with options like collapsible shoulders and such. Unfortunately, i have no idea what they cost. You bet if i had a really hard-to-fit company member or client though, i'd get a quote.


I have saved what seemed to me to be the best for last: TukaTech.

This company literally serves every market in fashion, technologically speaking. They have 2D and 3D visualization and "virtual runway" design software; pattern making, grading, and marker making software; fabric and print design software; and a web tech division. They offer the custom dress forms from body scanning like AlvaForm does, sell plotters and digitizers, and provide efficiency and fit consultation services. Their forms are pinnable and chalkable, but are made from a squishable self-healing medium with a rigid "skeleton" support inside, so you can actually corset them or fit various brassiere styles or tight jeans on them realistically. (Possibly creepy, really, but also cool.) In light of that, perhaps the TukaForm is a better choice for Dolly Parton, after all. :D

The coolest thing about TukaTech is their educational software division. They really cater to the educational market, by making their products accessible and affordable. Students can rent their CAD software (which is compatible with Gerber and Lectra systems) for $25/month! They offer rent-to-own programs for both students and start-ups or companies and schools wishing to switch over to their system. It seems like they may be the choice to go with for costume production professionals and educators wanting to incorporate CAD effectively and affordably. I've requested more info from them as well, so we'll see if my suspicions are correct!

That's it for my technology report. For another perspective on SPESA, Kathleen Fasanella is retroactively blogging her SPESA experience over on Fashion-Incubator as well. She just posted Part One with more on the way. She'll probably have a lot more info of interest to folks into pattern making and garment construction techniques--for example, that first post mentions an interaction with a demonstrator of a welt pocket machine, and features a link to her photos including a cool 16-needle pintucking machine.

Next up: suppliers! But not today. Have a great weekend!
labricoleuse: (Default)
If you also follow A Sketch a Day, you know that i've gotten on a rendering kick lately, both digital and analog. Last summer, when i took the CAD class at NCSU, i wrote up a book review on Sandra Burke's text on fashion rendering by computer, Fashion Rendering: Design Techniques and CAD; this post addresses a second text on the topic, From Pencil to Pen Tool by Armstrong, Armstrong, and Ivas.

Burke's text was a good one in that it gave a broad base introduction to drawing with vector-based software like Illustrator and CorelDRAW, for only $30 (cheap for a textbook). This text is more expensive--$50 used or $88 new--but also covers raster-based imagework in Photoshop and comes with a tutorial CD-ROM. A good portion of the first few chapters addresses general fashion design topics like an overview of design rendering styles and artists throughout couture history, how to draw a fashion croquis (don't get me started on how disturbing the 9-head and 12-head figures are in practical terms for stage design...that's a-whole-nother post in and of itself), visual reference sketches for garment design elements (like how a gathered ruffle is drawn differently than a circle-cut ruffle). Good stuff, but not any new information.

But! The useful part of this book is the middle few chapters on specifically dealing with Photoshop and Illustrator in a clothing-related context. The overview on various applicable Photoshop tools and how they might specifically apply to relevant issues like creating a collage [1] or a textile print design is a good one to check out. The ones on Illustrator, i felt like they were neither superior nor inferior to the Burke text--having dealt with it a lot last summer, those chapters were a good review. The CD-ROM contains some practice files as .psd and .ai documents for manipulation and experimentation (both guided exercises in the text and whatever else you might want to do with them)--croquis, garment flats, fabric patterns--and some movie files showing exactly how to do some of the techniques described. If you are someone who learns computer skills better watching someone do something on a screen, then trying it yourself, those movies will be real eye-openers.

I think if you are someone who has grown up messing around with Photoshop, this book is going to be fairly Mickey Mouse to you, but i know tons of designers who lacked exposure to any kind of image-manipulation software until they got well into their careers, with no idea how to begin learning. General courses don't address costume-specific issues, while specific courses are slanted toward, say, graphic art and poster layout or something. To those folks, this would be a great book to check out as an introduction to those programs, focusing in an area that is easily adaptable to costume design conceptually speaking (i.e., fashion).

Of course, the book suffers the challenge that all published texts on software suffer: instant obsolescence. It came out in 2006 and talks about Photoshop CS...well, now in 2010 we're looking at the release of CS5. Then again, in theatre especially, many of us are working with software a few versions shy of the most cutting-edge release--i've got CS2 on my work computer and CS3 on my laptop--so it's probably still a useful text for someone seeking introductory guidelines.

I borrowed the book through interlibrary loan, so if you have access to a good library, you can check it out that way before investing. The copy i got had the CD-ROM taped into the back, so i felt like i really got a good grasp on what the book was teaching. I probably won't pay brand-new cost for it, but if i find it used for a decent price, i'll pick it up as a reference text.

And, if you've seen on the news the horrifying flooding that has submerged huge areas of Tennessee and want to do something to help, you can contribute to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, who are directly involved in disaster relief in the area, or text 'REDCROSS' to 90999 to donate $10 to disaster relief. Topically, one Nashville resident and vintage sewing enthusiast is auctioning lots of vintage sewing patterns to raise money--her auctions feature womens, infants/children, and maternity patterns. So many friends and colleagues have lost their homes and businesses to this flooding, i can't even imagine how awful they're feeling (I grew up in Tennessee). So, spread the word about the charity and the pattern auctions, please!

Alright, i've done my posting for the day. (I'd set myself a goal of posting something new by midweek; go me.) Tomorrow, i've got some plans to do some half-scale dress form, shoe last, and hatblock casting with a couple of my students, so there's the documentation of that to look forward to in a future post!

[1] In the fashion industry, they call thematic collages that capture the visual inspiration and essence of a collection "mood boards," which is what the applicable chapter is on and the CD-ROM video. But, we make them in costume design as well (i always hear designers refer to them in other terms though, like "inspiration collage" or "array of influences") so the chapter is a good read.
labricoleuse: (CAD)
This weekend, four students and two of my fellow faculty/staff and i all have traveled to the USITT Southeast Regional Conference, hosted by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

If the Commission Symposia are microcosm conferences divided into disciplines (like the creature-costume event i covered last month, sponsored by the Costume Commission), the regional conferences are similar-sized events divided by geographical location--we've got attendees from all areas of production and design, from professional and academic theatres around the southeastern US. They feature workshops and demonstrations, lectures and facilities tours, networking and social events, and a design/tech expo in which entrants can present projects and compete for prizes (such as "free admission fees to USITT National"). And, of course there are the usual convention swag tables where you can load up on free stuff from sponsors--product samples, literature, coupons, promotional logo merchandise, etc.

I have some photos and a few synopses of what we've done this weekend, to provide an idea what sort of event a regional conference of this sort is! I attended a shadow puppetry workshop, an overview of PatternMaker software, and a seminar on casting with a new expandable "green" foam (both ecologically and literally speaking). I also took a facilities tour of some of the UNC-G costume production spaces, and participated in the Design/Tech Expo.

Read more... )

I'll wind this up by congratulating ALL THREE of our excellent students--Randy Handley, Amy A. Page, and Shanna Parks--each of whom received an award and all three of whom will be going to nationals on a free ride! Well, fees-wise anyway. Way to go!

We faculty folk don't get quite as good a deal--our division winners get a portion of the national fees waived (entry in the "Cover the Walls" exhibit)--but i'm not griping. Not to blow my own horn or anything, but i was one of the three winners, so hey, way to go, me, too!

To sum up, check out your own regional division conference if you get the chance, and see you at the 2010 USITT 50th Annual Conference and Stage Expo, March 31-April 3 in Kansas City, MO!
labricoleuse: (CAD)
Looking over the past few posts, i seem to be on a real kick of "crazycraft" interspersed with "computers and costuming"! After all those symposium creature posts, here's another computer-related one.

Remember that i spent part of my summer taking a CAD class at the NCSU College of Textiles? I discussed a bit about some of the topics covered in a previous post on vector-based drawing software like Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW.

In this post, I have a few screencaps of some of the other programs that we used in the class, including the pattern- and marker-making software produced by Gerber Technology, which i'd like to share and discuss!

Click for computer screencaps and photos of the cutter robot! )
labricoleuse: (CAD)
It's fascinating when a subject comes up in synchronicity, among several areas of media in a field.

Remember my recent post on technical flats and digital aids for costume design? I just got my most recent issue of Theatre Design and Technology, which contains a fascinating article on exactly that topic by Catherine Bradley of McGill University in Canada.

Bradley's article discusses in-depth the Digital Costume Project, for which her university was awarded a development grant. Bradley and her colleagues have come up with a range of systematic uses for incorporating computer graphic manipulation and generation techniques into the costume design and production process, and have made many of their templates and instructions available in open-source format on that linked website.

She makes a particularly good case for her methods affording greater communication--not only between a designer and the shop production staff, but in terms of aesthetic decisions that affect other areas of production as well. The renderings her process produces are more visually accurate in terms of communicating the final stage picture of a particular design on a particular performer. For example, take a look at this image, illustrating how a garment based on a period physical ideal translates onto a specific actress' body. (The image on the right has actually been superimposed onto a photograph of the performer for whom the costume was being made and scaled to her measurements.)

Bradley also has some good points identifying specific ways in which her processes save time and money, particularly for designers working in a company context from a stable of recurring performers (such as in Equity repertory companies, or academic departments casting from a finite pool of student actors).

My one criticism of the article and the project itself is that Bradley and her colleagues have yet to address vector-based drawing software as another invaluable tool--thusfar they have only investigated scanning of analog drawings, the use of graphics tablets, and manipulation of images and photos in raster-based software like Adobe Photoshop. If a designer or design student is already going to shell out the money for a current copy of Photoshop--currently listed as $299 on Adobe's educational price list--s/he might as well go ahead and purchase the entire creative suite ($449 on Adobe's educational price list), which includes their vector-based drawing program Adobe Illustrator as well as a host of other software such as Dreamweaver and InDesign. In a short time of using Illustrator professionally, s/he'd have generated an invaluable library of vector-based design elements, such as period sleeve shapes, collars, skirt silhouettes, and custom tools like notions templates (for quickly adding buttons and zippers to a rendering). This would greatly cut down the amount of time spent sketching

One argument i can imagine against these kinds of tools is the theoretical loss of a designer's signature style. However, a designer with a truly novel personal drawing style will deploy his or her visual signature within a digital paradigm just as uniquely as with paper and paint. The rendering is such a small part of the overall design process--streamlining the generation of design renderings provides her or him with that much more time to devote to other things like shopping/sourcing, research, or even other shows' responsibilities.

As a production professional, i'm fascinated with Bradley's whole theory of CAD application and can't wait to--hopefully, some day, perhaps inevitably--work with a designer who practices it.
labricoleuse: (CAD)
Wow, two weeks since i last updated! I think that's a record for the amount of time this blog has lain fallow.

Part of that's due to the fact that one of my current freelance jobs is not something i'm cleared to write about at all for industry confidentiality reasons. (Wow, doesn't that sound mysterious? It's not something on the level of, "I could tell you, but then i'd have to kill you," i swear! It's just not something i can post about online in public fora.)

But, part of it also is due to a course i'm taking right now, a CAD course aimed at fashion and textiles industry folk over at NC State's Textiles college. NC State's College of Textiles is one of the best in the world--they teach it all, from design to manufacture, and their facilities have a range of state-of-the-art equipment and brand-new technology. This summer, they're offering their introductory CAD for Apparel class, which you normally have to take on-site during a regular semester. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take it, but it's like "CAD on steroids" or something--we're doing 14 weeks of learning in only 5 weeks, so to say that it takes up a lot of my time would be an understatment. However, what i'm learning is invaluable and excellent, and today, i'd like to talk about it a bit!

When many folks talk about "CAD," they actually mean the program AutoCAD, which is heavily used in many industries for a variety of applications (for example, it's pretty much replaced hand-drafting of plans and blueprints in architecture). I've posted in the past about a few options for commercial CAD software aimed at garment-makers, in fact.

The term CAD though is an overall acronym which stands for Computer-Aided Design, and in this course, we're addressing a whole range of programs applicable to different steps in the design process, from compilation of initial research, to rendering of garment designs, to patterning the garments themselves, to establishing efficient cutting layouts. The info is of course all presented in a fashion-industry context, but I'm looking at it all with an eye to how we could utilize elements of their technology for our own purposes in costume production.

I've always suspected that Adobe Illustrator would be of great use to costume designers, particularly in a case where you need to crank out a huge number of design, oh, say, for [ profile] nicknickleby? Sure enough, from the work i've done recently learning to use it for apparel applications, my suspicions are confirmed. If i were a designer, i'd definitely start building a library of digital croquis files and garment shapes, because the sketch-up of initial renderings would be such a breeze, and would create images that could be emailed to directors and design teams and shop staffs in a trice, without worrying about whether a scanner would pick up all the nuances of some jacked-up pencil scribbles or whatev.

We've been focusing on using Illustrator to create apparel flats, which are basically those little images on the backs of sewing patterns which detail the front and back of the garment, showing all the seamlines and major design details.

I started out doing the simple garment styles in a series of textbook projects, like these flats of a tank and long-sleeved knit top:

click for images )

In the course of converting these files to small enough JPGs to make sense on a webpage, some of the clarity of line detail was lost, but i think you can still get a good idea of what they are. I initially had converted them to PDFs, which retained all the detail and would be great to email to a design team, in that they could be printed out if need be and distributed to drapers and would be exactly the clarity desired.

That textbook i mentioned is Fashion Computing: Design Techniques and CAD, by Sandra Burke, from

It's a really good introductory text for learning about garment rendering techniques and covers a range of different programs--not only Illustrator, but also the same techniques in CorelDRAW and Freehand, as well as a bunch of info on using other programs for garment design and construction processes. It walks you through methods for creating a whole range of garment illustrations for women, men, and children, and gives you tips for how to create different style and fabrication looks (like how to render drapey folds, or insert a pattern or print).

So! If you are an utter beginner and want to start using a vector-based drawing program like Illustrator, CorelDRAW, or Freehand to help with rendering, it's a great book to pick up, and the price point is low for a textbook (about $30), which, given that purchasing the program itself will set you back a couple hundred, is a boon.

You know, I was really struck in the course of this section of the class by the fact that, in the costume design and production process, we sometimes don't even have the apparel-flat step, going instead from the stylized rendering directly into the mockup or "sample garment." Maybe a draper will talk about seamlines and construction details in an initial conversation with a designer about renderings, or ask for a more detailed sketch of an element of a garment. Maybe a designer will provide those details in her/his initial rendering even, or send some research pictures noting seamline placements. But, in general, it's a missing step in our process, and how much miscommunication and waste of time and muslin could be avoided were we to begin to incorporate it?

Whether it be that a designer or design assistant sits down with the stylized renderings and bangs out apparel flats in Illustrator before turning in the designs to the shop, or that a draper evaluates a stack of assigned renderings and generates a few quick flats for the purposes of style-line and seam-placement discussion BEFORE going into mockup fabric, it seems like this technology could be of such help to our industry. Because, seriously, once you grasp the way the program works and how to draw flats with it, you can just crank them out in a few minutes! Okay, more than a few for a more complex garment, sure, but still, much faster than sketching by hand, scanning, and tweaking the sketch in Photoshop, and definitely much faster than draping or drafting a mockup and stitching it up in muslin.

I think it's one of those cases like safety regulations--chalk it up to ignorance on behalf of the average theatre practitioner, not willful negligence. The fashion industry and professional costume production have largely diverged, and because of our lower budgets, much smaller production quantities, and lack of access to new fashion technology trends, we're at an innovational disadvantage. But you know, that's one reason i really wanted to take this course: more of us need to cross over there, pick and choose from what they've developed and try to pull some of it into our industry, too.

We're moving into pattern development software so i plan to post about that experience soon, too, and we'll also be covering textile print design and digital portfolio creation, so that's on the horizon as well. And, i do have a millinery post or two brewing, hopefully coming in the next coupla weeks, about this exciting trio of hats i'm making on a bid job for the Williamstown Theatre Festival!
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: (CAD)
Our program director returned from the recent USITT Conference with a whole pile of great information, including a lot of literature on various computer programs. I thought i'd write up some brief overviews of them here for y'all.

The Costume Bible

The Costume Bible is a software package that contains a suite of cross-linked databases and form-generators designed to streamline the work of costume shop management. It's a FilemakerPro program that was developed by the folks at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. Barter runs year-round, producing an average of 20 shows a year, several of which run in repertory.

I'm no manager, but i did download the demo and poke around through it to see what i thought. It looked like it might be a bit hard to initially get your head around, but that once you had used it for a show or two, it'd be a great tool, particularly for managing multiple shows across the scope of a season or repertory run. I particularly liked the one-click budget reports and work lists and such, all consolidated within the same program.

TCB (ha!) isn't cheap at $300 for the software package, but it seems like if you are adept with computers, the time it'd save you once you get the hang of it might be well worth the investment.


PatternMaker is one of those software companies i've heard about for years. It's a 2D CAD program designed to generate flat-pattern sewing patterns. It operates off of the Scandinavian fitting system, and you can read all about the measurements required here. You have to purchase the initial software, then suites of basic pattern shapes depending on what kinds of garments you want to make. This page shows some garments for a production of Twelfth Night made from patterns generated by PatternMaker software.

They offer a free 30-day trial version of the software that you can use to make a pair of pants and a bodice, to try it out and see how it works for you. After the 30 days are up, you have several options, depending on how much you want to spend for added features and new pattern sets. The minimum cost involved then is $99, the cost of the basic Deluxe Editor version.

Wild Ginger Software

Wild Ginger produces a number of programs that generate custom-sized patterns based on entered measurements. They're probably best-known for their garment software, Cameo and PatternMaster, and their digital range of basic patterns, Click-n-Sew.

Because it's targeted to my field, I downloaded their free "Wild Things!" accessories program and found it to be easy to use, quite intuitive in its setup for adjusting scale of various elements of the patterns. It generates what look to be CAD-drafted patterns for basic hat, bag, wrap, and simple shoe shapes. I'm not going to be doing any elaborate fancy millinery with it, but the next time i need to bang out a fast newsboy cap, this program's going to make my pattern for me, just to see how it goes!

They offer a more complex version with a wider range of vintage/20th century styles of hats/gloves/etc called Wild Things Vintage for only $40. I might invest in it, just as a speedy way to crank out custom glove and cloth-cloche patterns and the like.

Another of their programs that might be of use in a costume shop (and certainly for home-sewers) is Stitch-n-Stash, a database set up for inventorying and cataloguing your fabric stash, patterns, sewing-related publications, notions, etc. You can scan swatches of the fabrics and notions, and print out suites of project information from the database. Stitch-n-Stash is only $30 for the download.

Got any other recommendations? Favorite computer software you like to use? Do you use one of these and love/hate it? Tell me about it! I'd love to hear your feedback.

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