labricoleuse: (mee)
I've got another installment of the alumni interviews to share today, this time with Amy A. Page (MFA '10), Costume Director and Assistant Professor of Theatre at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

[ profile] labricoleuse: For a bit of background for the readers, tell us about the department in which you teach—how many shows, how many students (rough guess is fine), anything that communicates the nature of the academic and theatrical-performance context for your job.

AAP: University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Theatre currently has about 114 undergraduate majors and we are rapidly growing due in part to the addition of a BFA in Musical Theatre in fall of 2015. We do five fully-produced shows including one musical and the Festival of Ten Minute Plays which includes student- and staff-written work. We also have at least four touring shows each year, this year we have five.  These touring shows are booked for Friday performances throughout the academic year. Our recent seasons have included Proof, Clybourne Park, Urinetown, Twelfth Night, and Avenue Q.

[ profile] labricoleuse: Could you describe the costume facilities at your university--how many employees/student workers, what different positions there entail, specialty equipment the shop owns, etc?

AAP: UAB has a lovely Costume Studio that is full of windows We have four large cutting tables, a fitting area, ten Bernina domestic machines, one Pfaff industrial straight stitch machine, four Babylock airthreading overlock machines, two embroidery machines and one Juki industrial serger. Our Craft Room has one large dye vat, a kickpress, a hand press, and a small spray booth with a ventilation hood. We have two costume storage rooms; one is onsite, the other is in another building on campus about a block away.

Our Theatre UAB Costume area is made up of the Costume Director, costume shop manager, faculty designer, 6-8 costume stipend students, 5-8 practicum students who serve on wardrobe crews or work in the shop throughout the semester, and students completing lab hours for THR 125. We have student costume designers every year. These students are mentored by our faculty designer Kim Shnormeier, shop manager Sharon McCoy Morgan, and me.

For each production, costume construction and/or pattern development assignments are thoroughly thought out. We focus on student’s ability levels, their ultimate goals and portfolio development.

[ profile] labricoleuse: Tell us about the classes you teach—topics, enrollment size, etc. And if it changes each semester, what are you teaching right now?

I teach three sections of costume construction each academic year--the class is capped at ten and fills every semester.  Flat pattern drafting and costume crafts are offered every other year. The goals for these courses are gaining knowledge of industry standard terminology and techniques as well as portfolio development. I can teach fifteen in each class. So I am currently teaching two sections of costume construction and serving as Costume Director.  I typically drape on two or three of the productions, depending on the season. I mentor students during production work, portfolio development, employment document development, and conduct mock interviews in preparation for SETC job contact service. I enjoy seeing our students get jobs in the field and I love helping them through the process.

I have taught individual study courses in advanced pattern drafting and construction and couture tailoring techniques.

Theatre UAB also offers costume history and period styles, costume design and corset construction courses.

[ profile] labricoleuse: You recently received a huge donation of antique/vintage clothing. Give us the details on how that has impacted the UAB theatre department!

AAP: Our vintage collection is a study collection. I have used pieces in my costume craft class and for reference for department productions. I look forward to drafting patterns from the vintage garments for reference and research.  Kimberly Schnormeier, Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences and our faculty costume designer, uses the vintage pieces while teaching costume history and period styles. - this article has some great photos!

[ profile] labricoleuse: Can you talk about some of the projects you have worked on recently?

AAP: I am currently collaborating with the UAB Department of Computer and Information Sciences with 3D printing for costume crafts. I look forward to seeing this work come together.

[ profile] labricoleuse: What is your favorite must-have tool or piece of equipment for the workroom, and why?

AAP: I have to have a kick press and hand press.  The kick press with all necessary grommet dies and the hand press with bone cutting and tipping dyes. We make a great deal of corsets here at UAB. Our recent students have at least three corsets in their portfolios.

[ profile] labricoleuse: What is your background in the area of academia and costume production, and how did you come to teach at UAB?

AAP: I took my first costume class as a freshman in college. Soon I was working in Winthrop University’s costume shop as a teaching assistant and was offered a job after graduation. I worked there for a year while freelancing with professional theatres in Charlotte, NC.

I worked professionally in the area of costume construction with the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte, Carolina Ballet, and Santa Fe Opera, and Playmakers Repertory. I also worked on the The Lion King, Hot Feet, and The Phantom of the Opera with Parsons-Meares in New York. I have professional experience as a costume shop manager, draper, first hand, stitcher, and crafts artisan. I work with the St-Arts summer program as an instructor of stage make-up and technical theatre during the summer.

I was the costume shop manager for both Paramount’s Carowinds and the University of North Carolina Charlotte, and have taught theatrical and couture sewing techniques at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Oklahoma City University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Alabama at Birmingham.

I knew I wanted to teach costume production in a university when I was 18 and was lucky to have some talented mentors along the way: Janet Gray, Professor of Theatre at Winthrop University and Judy Adamson, Costume Director and Head of the Costume Production Program at the University of North Carolina.

I was interested in my current position because of the job description, the faculty, staff, the students and the student-centered approach to education in the UAB Theatre Department. The department has 15 full time faculty to mentor student development as an artist, writer, technologist or a writer.  In addition we have four full time professional production specialists.  I love my job.

I am fortunate to work in a student-centered department. We make our decisions based on what is best for our students. The faculty work well together and are all experienced professionals. We have a very strong professional staff. Our department is able to model theatre as a collaborative art due to their professional experience and talent as artists and technicians.

[ profile] labricoleuse: What advice would you give to readers who aspire to teach costume production at the university level?

AAP: Work professionally for several years prior to teaching because students deserve to learn from your professional experiences. Do your research and attend a strong graduate program.

Most of all, make sure you want to teach. Students learn from the professional behavior you model. You must be able to collaborate on projects with students that are learning the process from you. If you are frustrated when you work with an intern during summer stock, perhaps teaching is not for you.

[ profile] labricoleuse: Can you share a photo of a recent project?

I draped this wine and burgundy bonded bodice for In the Next Room,
designed by Kimberly Shnormeier.
Students patterned and constructed her
corset--Phoebe Miller--and bustle petticoat--Samantha Helms.

[ profile] labricoleuse: Thanks so much for talking with me, Amy, and sharing all of this great info with my readers! Best of luck for the coming season and academic year.
labricoleuse: (frippery)
Today i've got a great new interview to share, with milliner Maria Curcic of Le Chapeau Rouge.

Photographer: Judy Bandsmer
Model: Emily Mann
Hat, hair, and makeup: Maria Curcic

Q. How long have you been designing hats, and how did you get started?

A. I have been in the arts since the early 80’s, with fashion shows, producing my own shows and so on. My life circled around hats, design, fashion, and architecture. My mother was a seamstress and made a lot of our clothes--she taught me how to sew and the basics of sewing. She always had me in hats at a young age, and I wore them often in our outings in Paris. I really believe growing up in Paris influenced how I saw women accessorize.

Q. You work with a wide range of materials--felt, feathers, fabrics, straw, etc. Do you have a favorite and why?

A. My favorite materials are silks, satins and felt mostly, but really, my work is about wearable art. My pieces tend to reflect my knowledge of materials to create wearable forms. My work is multi-dimensional, so [I appreciate] materials that can be applied to these methods of millinery.

Q. Who are your influences in hat design?

A. I really loved the work of Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy and Louis Mariette to name a few. I love their whimsical styles and their dedicated life passion.

Q. Tell me about your store in Calgary, Le Chapeau Rouge, and how you shifted to wholesale.

A. I opened in 1994, knowing there was nothing like it at all in Calgary, or much in Canada [at all] for that matter. I was designing hats for a friend’s store in 1990, and she encouraged me to open my own store. I really wanted to push fashion-forward hats to women who wanted something that was not run-of-the-mill or mass-produced. Most of my clients wanted me to create something I would wear.

My store stocked many European designers such as Louise MacDonald and many others…I also carried a great line of men’s hats from Germany. Around that time, men were not even seen in hats other than baseball caps; the same went for women.

I had some great lines of my own which I produced for various retailers across Canada while running a store full time--thus began the wholesale aspect of my business.

Currently, I still sell wholesale (more of my unique art pieces) to boutiques as well as retail on eBay:

I create custom designs with clients around the world. With easy access to the internet, these days it’s easy to sell abroad.

Q. Do you design seasonal style collections, or strictly one-of-a-kind pieces?

A. I design both seasonal and one-of-a-kind works.

Q. When it comes to designing, do you construct your hats based on concepts and drawings, or do you work sculpturally, letting the media determine the form?

A. A bit of both. I sometimes love to manipulate the materials, then I sketch out the idea and move forward with the concept. Sometimes it’s the other way around--I draw the hat, then look for the materials. Either way, both processes are rewarding!

Q. What's your favorite tool or piece of equipment in your millinery workroom?

A. My vintage blocks.

Q. What advice would you give readers considering a career in contemporary millinery?

A. Learn the basics of sewing, materials and how they work together. If you are serious about this trade, take a credited course in fashion/millinery design. Taking a few workshops here and there, that does not make you a milliner. Millinery takes time, creativity, and patience to master.

I studied Interior Design and majored in drawing in art school prior to millinery, so I am very familiar with various fibres, drafting, color theory and so on.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me about your work, Maria! You can keep up with Maria's millinery on her Facebook page and website, and she's also shared a link to a video as well:
labricoleuse: (mee)
Hooray, another alumni interview! Recently I e-spoke with Adrienne Corral, MFA '14, about her gig working as a crafts artisan for Feld Entertainment. Feld produces costumes, props, and scenic elements for a whole range of different touring shows, from Disney on Ice and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Q. First up, what is your official title?

A. Costume Specialist : Crafts

Q. For a bit of background for the readers, would you describe the costume facilities at Feld--how many employees, what different positions there entail, specialty equipment the shop owns, etc?

A. The facilities here at Feld are pretty spectacular.  We have seperate paints and dye rooms for crafts, as well as a draping station in the main room. The main room consists of 8 potential draping / first hand stations with a 4 × 8 table,  an industrial and domestic machine. There are multiple cover stitch machines and sergers on a middle table.  We've a tailor, two drapers and two first hands in the sewing room,  though our manager often does show work as well.

We have two kind of special jobs here, a Disney Specialist and a Wardrobe Liason. The Disney S  pecialist works on the of all the Disney characters (meaning Mickey and crew, not princesses). She works closely with Disney shops to ensure consistency with the parks. Our wardrobe liason is in charge of talking with and taking care of the needs of our 19 touring shows. He helps schedule refurbs, orders show laundry (think Equity underwear), and any other similar issue. There are often show visits involved, which means traveling out to wherever the show is, be that Chicago or Dubai or London.

Q. What is your background in the area of costume production, and how did you land the job at Feld?

I started sewing at a very young age, costumes in particular in high school.  I attended FSU for theater and realized quickly that I had no great skill with or affinity for design. I worked at Utah Shakespeare Festival my first summer of graduate school with Ruth George,  our Disney person. She was orginally hired to do my job as well as care of the Disney things. The summer after I finished my courses at UNC the job was split in two and she called me about it.

Q. What advice would you give to readers who aspire to work for a company like Feld?

A. Feld is very much a company that hires from the inside. Many of our office staff were performers or stage hands who moved to a sit-down job. We are constantly hiring for our tours (I think a total of 19 or 20 different shows) and at least one of our managers in the shop came off of a circus wardrobe head position.

Q. Can you talk about some of the projects you have worked on recently?

A lot of the projects I work on are refurbishing jobs. So I often am putting unitards on dress forms and trying to recreate the painting effects orginally put on there by Parsons-Meares or [Eric] Winterling's, or whomever made the garment. If not that its stripping and repainting latex prosthetic masks. I also have a very tight Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) on my contract that makes it so I can't talk specifically about my work on Disney shows. But for the circus, I can. I do a TON of dye work during circus time. Lots of flesh tones and crazy rich colors.  Our shop builds the clowns, so it can be hard to look at some of the yardage. I also play milliner for the clowns and make new hats for those clowns who require them. Circus is my favorite part of the year, even if we're working the craziest of hours.

Q. What is your favorite must-have tool or piece of equipment for the work you do, and why?

A. My airbrush. It's the best way to paint the majority of the masks and unitards I have to work on. It's a midrange Iwata, and though they can be a pain to maintain, they are what I use to paint with 90% of the time. Then I would have to say as an extension of that, our 90 gal stand-up air compressor really makes the job easy.

Q. Does Feld have any internship opportunities for those still in school and if so, can you talk a bit about what it involves and how readers might apply?

A. We're starting internships, though I believe they are limited to the University of South Florida - Manatee campus. We don't currently have any costume interns, but I hope that changes soon.

Q. I like to include one image, a stage or workroom shot of something recent or your favorite costume or whatever...

A. The image below is a shot over the top of our third rail of our three-level-tall stock (two stories). It's about the size of an indoor football field. I was on the sccissor lift, restocking.


Thanks, Adrienne! It's always exciting to hear about what our graduates are doing, and to learn about all the different careers out there for professional costume artists. To read more of these kinds of posts, check out the "Interviews" tag.
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
Super thrilled to return to my (very sporadic) interview series with this fantastic email-chat I recently conducted with costumer Leah Pelz.

In addition to being a recent alumna of the UNC-Chapel Hill Costume Production MFA program (in which i teach) and the inaugural winner of the Barbara Matera Award for Costume Making, Leah is now based in NYC where she works as a first hand for the renowned production house Tricorne LLC, as well as working as a wardrobe swing for the long-running Broadway show, The Lion King.

[FYI: Barbara Matera was a legendary costumiere who ran her NYC shop, Barbara Matera Ltd., for many years, making clothes for theatre, ballet, opera, film, and more. USITT's award in her name was founded by her friend, assistant, and colleague, Judy Adamson, as a tribute to Matera, who passed away in 2001.]

Read on to find out what Leah has to share about these two super-cool jobs of hers!

[ profile] labricoleuse: For a bit of background for the readers, would you describe the Tricorne shop or studio space--how many employees, what different positions there entail, specialty equipment the shop owns, etc?

LP: There are about 40 employees at Tricorne.  Each of the 4-5 drapers, including the owner, Kathy Marshall, have up to three first hands, and the operators, tailors, hand finishers, and beaders are frequently shared amongst the drapers.  We have one craft artisan, a shopper, and a few managerial positions.

As for specialty equipment, we have a small dye space, heat press, and ample beading frames.

[ profile] labricoleuse: What is your background in the area of costume production, and how did you land the job at Tricorne?

LP: I minored in Theatre Arts at Illinois Wesleyan University and went on to work as an overhire stitcher at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.  One of the drapers there inspired me to pursue my MFA in Costume Production from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which I completed in 2014.

I moved to New York City and interviewed at Tricorne and several other shops right away.  Shortly thereafter, Tricorne contacted me about an opening in their shop.  The dressmaking skills I acquired at UNC are the same as those used at Tricorne, and my mentor, Judy Adamson, knows Kathy [Marshall] well from the years they worked together in New York at Barbara Matera's.

[Ed. note: Also, in undergrad, Leah majored in...uh, something to do with political science and Slavic languages. All i'm certain of is that she can curse in Hungarian!]

[ profile] labricoleuse: What advice would you give to readers who aspire to work in Broadway costume production?

LP: A good work ethic and an eagerness to learn can go a long way.  Learn to speak confidently about your work and present yourself professionally not only while interviewing, but also in your day to day operations.  And expect to juggle many projects at once!

[ profile] labricoleuse: Can you talk about some of the projects you have worked on recently with Tricorne?

LP: Tricorne's primary niche is dressmaking for leading ladies and chorus women.  Lately the entire shop has been working on a seemingly endless number of Romantic tutus and ballet bodices for Sleeping Beauty at the American Ballet Theatre.  We've also been very busy with On the Twentieth Century, a Las Vegas show called Showstoppers, the London production of Beautiful, and Aladdin Tokyo.

Some of our biggest recurring projects include Glinda and many of the Emerald City ensemble costumes for Wicked, and a variety of pieces for Matilda, Mamma Mia, Motown, and Kinky Boots.

[ profile] labricoleuse: What is your favorite must-have tool in your work kit and why?

LP: For practical reasons, my must-have tool would be a good chalky piece of white tracing paper and my shears.  My favorite tool, however, is a beautiful wooden handled seam ripper given to me by a friend and educator from graduate school because it gets the job done in style! [Full disclosure: I gave Leah that seam ripper. And she's right, it's really sweet!]

[ profile] labricoleuse: Does Tricorne have any internship opportunities for those still in school and if so, can you talk a bit about what it involves and how readers might apply?

LP: Tricorne does not have any such program in place.

[ profile] labricoleuse: You also work as a wardrobe swing for The Lion King. Can you describe what that means for our readers?

LP: I'm one of a handful of substitute dressers, or swings, that the wardrobe head calls upon if one of the regular dressers is unable to work.  The staff dressers have their designated track, or list of cues, that they complete for every performance.  Some of the tracks are assigned primarily to dressing or tracking items for male or female ensemble members, while others work mostly with principal characters.  As a swing, I have gone through training to learn six of the 16 tracks, and am contacted fairly regularly to fill in for any of them as needed, which sometimes is weeks in advance and sometimes with no time to spare!

[ profile] labricoleuse: Thanks to you and the folks at Tricorne for sharing all of this great info, and also these sweet behind-the-scenes shots of those Sleeping Beauty tutus! Thanks, Leah, and best of luck moving forward with all your amazing projects!

Nearly complete! A process shot of American Ballet Theatre's
Sleeping Beauty, designed by Richard Hudson

Not as complete...another process shot of American Ballet Theatre's
Sleeping Beauty, designed by Richard Hudson

Leah called this "the Tutu Corral"--all the tutus waiting to ship out in one of Tricorne's fitting rooms!
labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
Recently i was contacted by Rachel Herrick, a senior in Theatre Design at James Madison University, asking whether she might interview me as part of a capstone project on costume craftwork. I was happy to oblige, and asked her permission to share the responses here, as i thought some of the answers might be of interest to the readership, and perhaps spark interesting discussions with others in the field who have had similar or different experiences than i.

Here's the interview:

Herrick: Do costume shop directors/managers hire individuals that are specialized in crafting? Do they prefer to hire persons who have sewing AND crafting skills?

[ profile] labricoleuse: I think that depends on the size of the shop and the nature of the workroom. When I was just starting out, there were a lot more stitching jobs than crafts assistant jobs, and I found that shop managers were pleased that I was willing and able to go work in crafts if needed, but I also knew they were hiring me primarily for stitching work, that their staff craftspeople would be doing the majority of the craftwork.

Once I began getting work as a crafts assistant or a lead crafts artisan, no, I never stitched in the main workroom. I do see dual-responsibility positions come up on Artsearch for stitcher/crafts, but I myself have never held one or worked at a theatre/shop where that was expected.

Herrick: Where is the best place to look for shops/theatres looking for craft artisans?

[ profile] labricoleuse: Do you mean where are the jobs listed, or geographically where are they concentrated?

The jobs get posted on industry boards like Artsearch and, and sometimes on the USITT costumers-info Yahoo group. Geographically speaking, of course there are more craftwork jobs in the entertainment-industry hubs of NYC and LA, but there are also genre-specific concentrations, too.

Shakespeare companies tend to have larger crafts teams due to the high incidence of crafts demands in the Shakespearean canon. The same can be said for children's theatre, and for opera companies. Regional/LORT theaters do tend to have a craftsperson on staff, or at least the bigger ones, but those are generally very stable jobs and people land them and stick with them; [...] those jobs exist but they can be hard to land because they don't turn over very fast.

Herrick: How did you discover you were talented at crafting? How did you break into the biz?

[ profile] labricoleuse: It was a process of progressive narrowing. I grew up with parents who were big theatre buffs, who took me to plays a lot as a child, and I felt very drawn to theatre, not just as an audience member like my parents, but as a participant. So I started acting, because that's I think the most obvious way to participate in theatre, but I quickly realized that I didn't enjoy acting.

In college, I took some intro theatre classes and that's where I really learned about all the backstage jobs that were possible and I found those more interesting and compelling than acting. So, I narrowed it down to costumes—sewing had been a hobby through my teen years and I liked fashion and making things and all that. Because our dramatic academia seems to focus on design as an "end goal career" for theatre practitioners in the technical arts, I pursued a degree in costume design. And in the course of it came to understand that I didn't care for many of the aspects of the designer's job either. But, that was okay, because once I entered the workforce most of the jobs I could actually get that would pay me, were not design jobs.

My first professional job outside of undergrad was as a stitcher at the Boston Ballet and I was able to observe on the job exactly what was required of all the different positions in a  big professional costume shop—stitchers and first-hands and drapers and tailors and shop management and crafts. And as soon as I saw what a craftsperson did, I knew I wanted to do that some day. But I also knew that I couldn't land those jobs exclusively, so I began to work towards that as an eventual goal.

Because I lived in Boston at the time and they have several professional theatre companies and universities with large theatre programs, I was able to get a string of freelance jobs--stitching, running wardrobe, shopping fabrics, first-handing—and I always let the manager know that I would gladly do craftwork as needed. They began to hire me as a crafts assistant, millinery assistant, etc.

I couldn't pay the bills on just these jobs though, so I did take second jobs to help pay the bills, many of which were helpful in the long run—I worked as an interior effects painter for a home decorator, and as a product assembly worker at a leathercraft shop. Eventually, I happened to be assisting the crafts artisan at the American Repertory Theatre when he turned in his resignation, and I was in the right place at the right time, and they offered me the promotion. So, it was a combination of dedication and luck.

Herrick: What skills do you feel are absolutely necessary in order to be taken seriously as an artisan?

[ profile] labricoleuse: I'm going to answer this assuming you mean specific to crafts, since I think there are a lot of skills that apply to costumers across the boards in terms of being taken seriously, like good time management, accurate and respectful communication, successful collaboration, and the ability to meet deadlines.

A commitment to the safety of the performer is paramount. Crafts items are often unusual pieces which directly impact an actor's performance and physicality—masks or weird footwear or armor pieces. If the actor cannot work with the item, the director will cut the costume piece, not recast the role, so a smart craftsperson makes sure the actor can do what s/he needs in the costume.

A commitment to the quality of the work I think is also something that makes colleagues take you and your work seriously. I cannot stand the old saw about "If it looks good from 20 feet away, it's fine," because often people use that as an excuse for making slapped-together crap. I feel that if you don't take your work seriously enough to make it look nice for the actor wearing it, how can you expect that actor or the wardrobe crew to treat the hat/mask/breastplate with respect and care? Yes, as long as a plastic-rhinestone necklace reads like diamonds from 20 feet away, it's fine, but if a hat is covered with smears of hot glue and stapled-on trim, that's unprofessional work fit for Halloween, not quality costume craftwork.

You absolutely have to be able to think about the work abstractly and flexibly—a craftsperson is working with a much more diverse set of skills than, say, a tailor, and often has to come up with solutions to design demands which require actual invention of method. A tailor can consult a reference book or seek advice from a more experienced colleague on how to do, say, an M-notch lapel on a jacket. But a craftsperson can't always consult a reference or colleague for how to create something like "a peg-leg appliance for a 300-lb. actor who needs to be able to dance a can-can in it." (Actual problem we had once.) So you have to be able to draw upon all the knowledge you have, to seek out knowledge you don't, and to think analytically about what is the best way to proceed, but you also have to be willing to completely abandon something if it is not working, and figure out something new.

A good crafts artisan has an unending desire to learn new skills and work with new equipment, and a dedication to safe work practice is essential—many of the tools and substances crafts artisans work with can be dangerous if not used properly, and because we are often teaching ourselves on the fly how to use them, a keen mind for our own safety is a must.

And I think a good crafts artisan is someone whose instinctive response to truly bizarre design challenges is "I'll figure something out" instead of "That's not possible."

Herrick: How would you recommend acquiring those skills?

[ profile] labricoleuse: I think one can acquire a commitment to the quality of the work by seeking out good mentors. Assisting a really talented milliner for a show or a season will be an eye-opener in how a really good hat should be formed and finished, for example. And those ppl might not always be in the theatre. I consider myself a really exacting leatherworker in the quality of my output, and I lay that at the feet of the retail leatherworker that I did product assembly for one summer—I learned an enormous amount from him about working in that medium, tips and tricks and methods I never would have learned on my own and which I have never seen in any leatherworking book.

In terms of learning about safe work practices (so that one might be committed to that), the best book out there is Monona Rossol's Health and Safety Guide for Film, TV, and Theatre. It's an eye-opener and can give you a good ground for thinking analytically about safe work practices. How do you decide if you need to wear gloves when you work with a new paint or dye? Or a respirator? Or safety goggles? That book will help point you in the right direction. And of course, once you learn these things, you also have to put them into practice. Use the respirator, wear the gloves, turn on the ventilation, etc.

Abstract thinking, I don't know how someone acquires that skill, but I do think the more random things you learn, the more tools you have in your mental toolbox. To be honest, I have done things like audited a basic physics class and an intro to engineering workshop, and I have taken a Polymer Chemistry course to improve my ability as a fabric dyer. But doing those things hasn't made me able to solve some of the weird problems this job has laid at my doorstep. It has only made me trust myself that I will come up with something that works. And when that happens, an answer to a craft problem, it's often completely off the wall.

For example, a couple seasons ago we were doing a production of Henry IV and we'd rented some banded leather armor for Hotspur, but it was a bit too big in the waist and the designer wanted me to take it in 1". But, because it was rented and due to the way it was constructed, I couldn't move the closures or shorten the bands. I had no idea how I would make this happen but I took down the note and just thought, well, something will occur to me. And two nights later I dreamed about a fat armadillo that lost weight, and when I woke up it was clear to me that even if I couldn't alter the bands themselves, I could reshape the look of the armor for a thinner physique by taking in the canvas understructure that supported the bands. You can't learn that, the armadillo-dream revelation, but you can learn to trust your subconscious to supply some ideas. Which might sound flaky, but it's what I think. :)
labricoleuse: (CAD)
Recently, i interviewed Eric Abele, the Director of Design and Production at the Lexington Children's Theatre, about an inspired digital printing process that their costume shop pursued for a new play, The Paper Bag Princess.

The play calls for a dress made out of paper bags, for which they had fabric printed at Spoonflower to mimic the look of grocery bags. What i found most fascinating about the process was that they didn't make up a fake grocery store logo for their paper bag dress--instead, they reached out to the grocery chain, Whole Foods, to become a corporate sponsor.

Here's our conversation on how that process worked out well for all involved.
Read more... )
labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
Another installment in the interview series, this time with Claire Fleming, a 2012 graduate of our program and cutter at the NYC-based costume production house, Eric Winterling Inc. It's funny, this series has become sort of a survey of our graduates, but they all have gone on to such cool jobs in the field, i hope it's not only useful for people who might be researching our graduate program but in general for those wanting to know about all the different jobs there are out there in the field of professional costume production.

My questions are in italics, and Claire's answers follow. Plus, bonus closeup of one of the finale costumes from the recently opened Broadway musical Kinky Boots, designed by Gregg Barnes!

For a bit of background for the readers, would you describe the shop or studio space at Eric Winterling's--how many employees, what different positions there entail, specialty equipment the shop owns, etc?

Personnel-wise, we have three draping teams and a tailoring team.  Each draping team has one or two cutters/first hands and at least three stitchers.  The Tailoring team has one cutter and then specific people who make coats, pants, shirts, and vests.  There are several stitchers in the shop who float between the dressmaking teams and the tailoring team.  We have one hand finisher who does the majority of our hand work.  We also have one cutter who does all of our beading work.  The workroom supervisor is in charge of managing the workflow through the different teams and moving the stitchers around if needed.  We also having a shopping department of two people, a dyer, and a business manager.  Depending on the week, we have somewhere between 30 and 40 people in the shop.

Eric Winterling's has twp offices that designers can rent.  We have a small and a large fitting room, and a dye room.  The work room is set up so that each draper and their cutters/first hands have their own work table.  There are also two tables available for the stitchers to work at and a hand-sewing table for the hand finisher.  There are three separate ironing stations plus a specific "press and roll" ironing table.  Every stitcher has their own industrial machine and there is a bank of four Bernina domestic machines set up all the time.  There are a few Bernina machines that are the machines sent down when doing a large delivery.  We have two industrial sergers, a pearl edge industrial machine, an industrial buttonholer, and a picot machine.  We have two heat presses and at least three hot plates for all of the hot-fixing that we do.
What is your background in the area of costume production?

I knew how to sew before I became involved in costume production but it was on a very basic level.  My undergraduate program at Furman University was a general Theatre Arts degree, which means that we had to study all aspects of theater.  After I took the Intro to Costume Technology class, I worked in the costume shop and asked for costume-related show assignments whenever possible.  During the summer I went and worked in costume shops so that I could learn more about that specific field.  After I graduated I worked in different shops and learned more advanced techniques.  I really wanted to learn patterning, but it was something that was hard to learn on the job because there never seemed to be time for someone to teach me.  That is when I decided to go to graduate school.  I attended UNC-Chapel Hill and now I work in NYC!

I find sometimes there's confusion about the job titles of first hand vs cutter--sometimes they are used interchangeably, sometimes there is a stark differentiation. What are your thoughts on this?

I have found that the title depends on where you work and even who you work for within that company.  At Eric Winterling's the two terms are interchangeable.  In my opinion the difference is this: a first hand is a draper's assistant and a cutter is strictly someone who is handed the patterns and cuts out the fabrics.  A first hand may be asked to make small pattern alterations, to be in fittings, to run the team while the draper is gone, and to know how the garments are going to be constructed.  A cutter is not given those responsibilities.  I feel that a true use of a cutter is more of a factory-style shop.  Although there are some drapers who do not want a first hand, they just want a cutter, this does not seem to be the norm within the costume shops in New York.

Can you talk about one of the projects you have worked on recently that was particularly memorable/exciting/challenging?

One of the first projects I worked on was Kinky Boots.  The show just opened on Broadway but we did the costumes several months ago because it had a run in Chicago first.  The costumes we made were for the drag queens in the show so it was a challenge in the sense of making women's clothes for men.  And of course none of the costumes were straightforward in any way.  Every one of them had an interesting feature that was a problem to solve.  The costume I did the most work on is in the finale of the show.  It is a corset with the British flag on it and a giant cockade on the back.  The fabrics were all stretch fabrics that we didn't want to stretch, so we had to fuse all of the fabrics to prevent them from stretching.  The designer, Gregg Barnes, really liked the colors and the sheen of the fabrics.  I got to see the show during previews in New York and it was exciting to see something I had worked really hard on get so much applause. Kinky Boots is one of a few shows where the costumes get applause.

Rear view of finale costume described above.
What advice would you give to readers who aspire to work as a cutter in a NYC costume shop (special skills to focus on, what to expect, etc)?

Speed and accuracy.  I had all of the skills to do the job when I showed up but I was slow at first.  The deadlines can change, particularly when working on a film, and you need to be flexible and able to quickly get something cut so that it can get under the machine.  It was also a change for me to think of things in terms of what I can do that creates work for other people as opposed to the order it made sense for me to cut things.  For example:  I like to cut everything from one fabric before I move onto the next but the needs of the workroom may require me to cut everything for the bodice before I can cut the skirt.  This means having to lay out fabric multiple times but it keeps your stitchers busy.

Does Winterling's have any internship or overhire opportunities and if so, can you talk a bit about what it involves and how readers might apply?

I know that there have been interns previously at Eric Winterling's and we do call in overhire from time to time.  The best way to find out about the needs of the shop and what opportunities there are at the moment is to contact them through email.  The contact info is on the website:  Eric is willing to work with someone on tailoring an internship to their needs.  You will be more successful if you have a clear idea of what you want to learn while there.  Do you want to shop, cut, stitch, tailor, or learn some of the business side of things?  Are you particularly interested in how a bid is set up, what sources we use locally vs. mail order?  Having an idea of what you want to do will help you make a case for being an intern.

What is your favorite tool or piece of equipment that you use in your job?

I'm not sure if this counts, but I love the resources available to us in the city.  We needed 6600 3/4" circles cut and we were able to send it to a place that does covered buttons for us.  It saved us a lot of time and hassle.  I also really want to learn how to use the industrial buttonholer.

Thank you, Claire, for sharing this great interview with the readership!

labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
It's about time for another post in my series of interviews with costume professionals and those in craft-related fields like millinery. In this one, I spoke with Kaitlin Fara, a stitcher in the costume shop of the New York City Ballet. If her name sounds familiar, it's because she's a graduate of our MFA program, so you've seen her class projects in the back-posts of this blog! My questions are in italics below.

Would you describe the shop or studio space at the NYC Ballet--how many employees, what different positions there entail, specialty equipment the shop owns, etc.?

The NYC Ballet costume shop consists of a large workroom, a fitting room that divides into two fitting rooms, a fabric storage area that also contains trims and notions, another smaller room with overlock machines, a zigzag machine, and a coverstitch machine (all industrial), a dye room, and a kitchen. There are also areas that I have not yet seen as a stitcher. I know there is an additional storage room for fabrics and trims that are used less frequently, a costume storage area, and a place that wardrobe works out of.

The shop employs 14 stitchers, one cutter, two cutter/drapers, one dye person, one shopper, one costume shop manager, and one costume director. There is some fluctuation with these positions. Before I was hired they employed drapers separate from first hands but there has been some shifting and merging of positions since I arrived.

There are enough industrial sewing machines for each stitcher to have her own. There is also a free-arm walking-foot machine which is apparently fairly new and is invaluable when it comes to sewing inside of tutus. Things like stitching bodices to the tutus used to be done by hand since they wouldn't fit under a regular machine, but that can now be done by machine with the free-arm. There are four overlock machines that are regularly used. Two are usually set up with wooly nylon for stretch fabrics and the other two set up with polyester thread for non-stretch fabrics. There is an industrial zigzag machine and an industrial coverstitch machine. We have four industrial irons and a home iron that is brought out when tacking tutus. The home iron is lighter and many in the shop prefer it when steaming layer after layer of stiff net. I spend little time in the dye room, so I'm not sure what equipment she has.

One of the most interesting objects that I have found in the costume shop is the velvet ironing board, an entire ironing board in which the surface is a velvet board. The shop also has a smaller portable velvet board like I've seen other places but it is nifty to be able to have an entire surface of it where you can press velvet without constantly having to make sure that little rectangle is in place.

The shop is also one of those lucky few costume shops with windows! One entire wall looks out towards the Hudson River from the 8th floor of one of the buildings at Lincoln Center.

What is your background in the area of ballet costume production?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a ballerina. From the time I was four, I trained in ballet including studying at the North Carolina School of the Arts for three years in their after-school program and three additional years as a full-time student.

At 16, I turned toward theatre. I spent the last two years of high school working in technical theatre for our high school's productions. I attended East Carolina University as a theatre major with a concentration in stage management. Course requirements included an introductory costume class where I learned to sew.  As a child I had learned some basic hand sewing and needlepoint and I had enough knowledge to sew elastics and ribbons on my shoes as a dancer, but I had never learned how to sew on a machine until college. After taking the introductory class in costuming, i sought further knowledge because I found sewing fun and relaxing. I volunteered in the costume shop for a while and eventually added a second concentration to my major. I graduated from ECU in 2008 with a B.F.A in Theatre Arts with a double concentration in Stage Management and Costume Construction.

From ECU I went on to work as the Costume Shop Supervisor Intern at Auburn University. I cut and stitched for their productions as well as oversaw the undergraduate students during their lab hours.

I was accepted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's MFA Costume Production program for the Fall of 2009. During the three years that I was there I worked as a draper/first hand/stitcher for PlayMakers Repertory Company and studied draping and patterning, couture sewing methods, costume history, costume crafts, and millinery. I also had the opportunity to teach undergraduate students in an introductory costume course for two years. I graduated with my MFA in May 2012.

Summers while in grad school were spent working in theatre. I worked as a first hand at Parsons-Meares Ltd in NYC the summer after my first year, a first hand at Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, MN after my second year, and a first hand at Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, UT after graduation.

From Utah, I moved to NYC to seek employment. I worked a short while at John Kristiansen NY Inc, a costume shop for Broadway, circus, ice skating, and other productions. I then applied for and was hired at the NYC Ballet where I have been since September 2012. Working for the ballet is like a dream come true, in a very roundabout sort of way!

Can you talk about one of the projects you have worked on recently that was particularly memorable/exciting/
Recently, I have been working on a redesign of the ballet "Who Cares." The new costumes are designed by Santo Loquasto. So far, making the costumes for the soloists and the corps de ballet has basically been my project. I have worked on some on the principals' costumes but mainly have been focused on the five soloists and ten corps members. The costumes were draped by our women's draper/cutter, Kellie Sheehan. Figuring out how to put them together has been me so far. This project has been in our shop for months now alongside other new ballets with new costume designs, as well as remakes and repairs of costumes for all of the other ballets in this season's repertory. This means that I work on the costumes for a few days or a couple of weeks and then have to set them aside to work on something with an earlier deadline. Sometimes when other things need to be done but we still need to move forward on "Who Cares" I may be the only person working on these costumes.

I have made samples and experimented with various ways to go about the construction process in order to find the most efficient yet beautiful methods. While all of the leotards and their shorts have been been put together so that first fittings can be done, only one soloist and two corps costumes have been taken to near completion. This way Santo can see how the process is going and make design choices and changes without us having to take apart everything to make a change. We can work out all or most of the kinks on these few "samples" and then put the rest together more quickly.

I have felt privileged to be trusted enough to run with this project. Many of the stitchers in the shop have been at this a lot longer than I have, but Kellie and Marc Happel, our Costume Director, have allowed me to take the lead on how these costumes should be put together. It's been fun to get to figure out this puzzle!

Your shop often remakes costumes for ballets originally conceived by legendary designers, such as Karinska. How do you go about producing a costume where your designer has passed away? In what ways do you approach that to insure the integrity of the original design is respected? Like, who makes design decisions in her absence, etc.?

Let me first say that getting to work on costumes that were designed by Karinska is amazing. She was absolutely brilliant.

It's actually easier than one might think to remake costumes when the designer is dead. For many designs, there are records of the original fabrics and trims used, though the record keeping has definitely improved over the years. There are also photos of the costumes in the shop and onstage. Also, the old worn-out garments are usually brought into the shop while the new ones are being made so that the drapers and stitchers can get inside the garments to see how they were originally constructed.

Sometimes, the construction process is altered from the original for the sake of speed and efficiency. Many of the older costumes have a lot of hand sewing that can be done by machine and so we machine-sew it to speed up the process. However, every attempt is made to keep the design as close to the original as possible. When fabrics and trims are no longer available, the Costume Director Marc Happel makes design choices on what to use instead. Once the new costume is constructed, the records are updated to reflect the fabrics and trims used and where they were obtained from and new pictures are taken.

Remade Sugarplum Fairy from Karinska's costume design for The Nutcracker

What advice would you give to readers who aspire to work for a ballet company costume shop (special skills to focus on, etc)?

For those aspiring to work on costumes for ballet, I would suggest gaining experience and comfort with stretch fabrics. Dance uses a lot of stretch fabrics and they can be a challenge to work with. I have actually been surprised by how often we use a straight stitch in stretch construction and if the fabric isn't stretched enough while stitching, the threads break when the dancer is getting dressed. Also, because so much of what we work with is stretch, we use the cover stitch machine a lot. Often seams that are up and down the body are straight-stitched but seams and other stitching that goes around the body, in the direction that the fabric needs to stretch the most, we use the coverstitch machine. This machine is also how we encase elastic at the legs, neck, and armseyes. It's not a difficult machine to use, but it isn't a machine that people frequently use when not working with stretch. Working with stretch fabric isn't a part of the sewing test that the Ballet issues to all applicants at their interview, but it is a skill that I have found myself using quite a bit.

Mostly what one needs is a good foundation in machine and hand sewing. The things that apply specifically to the ballet can be taught!

Does the NYC Ballet have any internship or overhire opportunities and if so, can you talk a bit about what it involves and how readers might apply?

Since I've been at the ballet, there haven't been any interns. I have heard people in the shop talk of the possibility of bringing in interns but it seems to be mostly a discussion of an idea that hasn't yet become reality.

We have brought in overhires on occasion. So far, they have been former employees. I think that this is because their names are on file and their skill level is already known. I would suggest that anyone who wanted to become an overhire contact Jason Hadley, the costume shop manager. Stitchers applying for a job, if asked to come for an interview, are given a sewing test when they arrive.

Contacting Jason might also be the approach for someone wanting and willing to do an unpaid internship. You never know when expressing an interest in such a thing might get the position created.

Thank you so much for participating in our interview series, Kaitlin.

Thanks for asking me to do this! I really like working for the Ballet and am happy to share my experience with others.

Want to know even more and see behind the scenes of the shop? Check out this video on remaking a Karinsak tutu from an older costume for Tchaikovsky's Theme and Variations, featuring Costume Director Marc Happel:

labricoleuse: (frippery)
I'm so pleased to have a new installment of the Interviews series, this time with milliner Jan Wutkowski. Jan is not only a working milliner but also maintains a busy teaching schedule of millinery classes all over the country and internationally, and owns and operates her own boutique, aMuse: artisanal finery. Here's what she had to say about the art and the craft of millinery.

Q. How long have you been designing hats, and how did you get started?

I was very fortunate to live in Australia in 1995. For the first 6 months I lived in Brisbane, Queensland, and was actively looking for something to study and immerse myself in--some artistic skill to bring back to the US and try to make a living at. Living there seemed like such a fairy tale anyway, I mean, who gets to go live in Australia for a year and have nothing to do but have a great time and learn as much as you can? I looked into taking classes in the old craft of applying gold leaf to frames, statues, chairs, and other objets d'art, but it just didn't seem right for me.

I then moved to Melbourne, Victoria, for the remaining 6 months, and was lucky enough to live just a couple of blocks from an amazing working craft gallery. Lots of artists showing how they created their work--spinners, printmakers, blacksmiths, glass blowers, and milliners, all under one roof. Every week I'd go to the gallery and watch the milliners blocking straws and felts, covering buckram, and many other millinery skills. The next week I'd go back and see the finished product waiting for someone to purchase it. I was amazed! But I contacted the millinery school because I found out they could teach me to make handmade felt, not to learn to make hats. I'd never even heard of handmade felt until I moved Australia, but quickly fell in love with the whole process.

After I took the feltmaking class I enrolled in the millinery classes. I had been a collector of vintage hats for years and loved to wear them, but it had never occurred to me at all as to how they were made; I just knew I loved these little works of art, little sculptures you put on your head. I'm also one of those souls who have tried every art and craft around but I'd always lose interest after the first year or so. Millinery? It stuck and I've never looked back.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (design)
Today brings the second half of my interview with Randy Handley, head of wardrobe for the Cirque du Soleil production Zarkana, currently running in Madrid, Spain. Zarkana travels to Moscow, Russia, in February, then returns to the US for a NY run in the summer of 2012.

Randy is a 2010 graduate of our Costume Production MFA program at UNC-Chapel Hill, and took time out of his busy schedule to respond to my questions. And without further ado, here's part two!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (Default)
Super excited to share a new installment of the interview series, this time with Randy Handley, head of wardrobe for the Cirque du Soleil production Zarkana, currently running in Madrid, Spain. Zarkana travels to Moscow, Russia, in February, then returns to the US for a NY run in the summer of 2012.

Randy is a 2010 graduate of our Costume Production MFA program at UNC-Chapel Hill, and took time out of his busy schedule to respond to my questions. He also sent SO many excellent pictures of his shop and the show that I'm splitting the interview into two installments. Here's part one!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
I'm super excited to have another new interview to share, this time with Jeanette Hawley, the costume shop manager at the American Repertory Theatre, the LORT theatre in residence at Harvard University. In the interest of full disclosure, Jeanette was my manager for the four years i worked as the staff crafts artisan at the ART, and before that as an overhire draper when she managed the shop at Emerson College. I'm so pleased she was able to take time out of her busy schedule to share all this great info with [ profile] labricoleuse!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
The final installment of the blocked hat multiples is in the works, but while i'm finishing it up, i'd like to share another interview, this time with one of our MFA graduates, B. Daniel Weger, who currently works as the head tailor at the renowned NYC costume house, Eric Winterling Inc. Daniel received his MFA in Costume Production from our program here at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009.

Prior to his current position, Daniel has worked in various production positions for companies such as Santa Fe Opera, Shakespeare Theatre of DC, Washington National Opera, and Signature Theatre, creating garments for designers such as Tom Ford, Martin Pakledinaz, and Anita Yavitch. I'm so pleased he agreed to participate in the interview series, and it gives me the idea that perhaps i should start a tag to aggregate alumni interviews, since we have a lot of alums doing super-cool interesting work in the field, whose expertise would be excellent to share here.

Before i get into the questions and answers, i want to use this opportunity to spotlight a crowdfunding project of interest: Men of the Cloth, a documentary about the master tailors of Italy by Vicki Vasilopolous. There are nine days left to their fundraising campaign, so please consider donating to help complete this film and preserve the knowledge of these menswear artisans and artists. Here's a video clip about the film:

MEN OF THE CLOTH IndieGoGo Video from Vicki Vasilopoulos on Vimeo.

And, on that note, on to my interview with Daniel.

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

Our shop is a full floor of a building in the Flatiron District. The number of employees fluctuates, especially over the summer when the the Broadway season slows down. Like many shops, there are drapers, tailors, stitchers, and cutters. Eric is of course the business owner, but is also the head draper and patternmaker. The other drapers work closely with Eric to make sure that everyone is following his interpretation/ vision of the designer's wishes.

Q. What are your responsibilities as head tailor?

Depending on the time, there are four or five coat makers, a pant drafter, and a pant maker. I make and grade patterns for men's coats and vests primarily. I work with Eric and the floor manager to make sure that the work is distributed evenly and that deadlines can be met while still adhering to the highest level of quality. In a sense, the position is middle management. It is my job to make sure that the needs and desired techniques are followed through.

Q. Can you talk about some of the projects you have worked on recently?

We work on a number of Broadway musicals. During the season we may construct many new costumes for new musicals, such as Book Of Mormon. Another source of revenue are costume reorders. Long running musicals such as Wicked or Phantom of the Opera regularly need newly constructed looks, and we then pull the original patterns and grade them or make new ones based on previous images and renderings. For the most part, all details need to be considered to remain true to the original garments.

Aside from Broadway, we do contracts for Disney Ice shows, Sea World, popular music artists on tour, and film and television. New York overhead is steep, and the shops will often take on many diverse projects at once. Until a show is in production or on screen, we really don't talk too much or promote any images in order to protect the customer's work. A recent film we worked on was the upcoming Brothers Grimm Snow White, designed by Eiko.

Q. What are some of the specific considerations you have to take into account when creating tailored garments for the stage and screen? Do you have any tips and tricks to share for speeding up parts of the process while retaining quality level?

Unlike many regional theatres I have worked in, New York shops use a lot of fusible interfacing such as tricot. Some fabrics take dye better than others, so it is not out of the question to make suitings out of stabilized spandex. We also use a lot of custom printed polyester. The tailors here use premade canvasses that they beef up with a little extra canvas or felt. With the high volume of suits we make and the often tight turn-around, it is most cost-effective to have these one hand ready to go. As a patternmaker, I come from a theatrical background so I was trained in the theatre. I am accustomed to making suits that include large seam allowances, etc., in order to improve the versatility of the garment. A majority of the tailors who work with me are from the commercial industry, so they bring the techniques of manufactured garments with them. The quality level is very high, the main difference is that the clothes are completed to be used for a single actor, and not to be returned to costume stock to be used and altered over the years.

Q. What advice would you give to readers who aspire to a career in costume tailoring?

I would advise anyone interested in tailoring to jump headlong into studying. American tailoring is virtually non-existent, so the best bet is to work in the theatre. Find tailors with a strong reputation, and be discriminating. There are many more people who consider themselves tailors than have the training to back up their claims. A number of references are available through the Library of Congress online, as well as Google docs. Since most reference materials are fairly vague and include a lot of unedited material, the best way to learn is going to be through trial and error, and making good connections. A great place to start is by tearing apart suits from stock, Goodwill, etc., and see what is going on inside.

Q. What skills do you appreciate in tailor's assistants?

Attention to the steps is crucial in a garment. If a step is left out, there may be little or nothing that can be done to correct a mistake. In some cases this can be incredibly expensive. No one is above overlooking steps either, I have made some very costly mistakes even recently. Thinking ahead is definitely the key. Overall, it seems like people who are good workers do well with a good attitude and a love and respect for the art form.

Q. What is your favorite tailoring tool or piece of equipment?

Good shears seem to be the obvious answer, although good shears only stay good for so long with the materials we in the theatre are required to work with. I think the divisional square probably saves me the time and heartache of having to actually learn to do math.

And, that's the interview! Thanks, Daniel!
labricoleuse: (design)
The second part of the blocked hat multiples series is coming soon, but first, on to the next installment of my interview series, with Hallie Dufresne, who runs the crafts department of the Los Angeles Opera.

I worked for Hallie when I lived in LA (back in 2005-06), when i had the good fortune to be hired as a member of her crafts team for a several-opera stint which included a spectacular new design of Der Rosenkavalier by the artist Gottfried Helnwein. Opera gives you the opportunity to do some incredible craftwork, often on a fabulous scale so it will register in the large proscenium spaces in which opera plays, on performers moving around on usually quite epic-scale sets. Opera companies also often spare little expense when producing new work, not only because the expectation of quality is high from their patronage, but because it's a smart investment in the continuation of opera itself--because of the more limited "canon, many costume-building opera companies can loan a production's costumes as a package to other opera houses who subsequently present the work. The clothes and crafts need to be made to stand up to years and years of performances.

I feel so fortunate that I had the opportunity to work on Hallie's team. The LA Opera shop is a wonderful facility and the crafts we did while I was there were incredible. We have stayed in touch and I'm pleased she agreed to be interviewed for this series in the blog!

Here is our interview: Read more... )
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: (Default)
In the same vein as the interview series i've recently begun here on La Bricoleuse, i'd like to point to the resource of the vast library of videos assembled by the American Theatre Wing, of interviews and panel discussions with some of the world's leading theatre artists. There are literally hundreds of videos stretching back over a decade, so i'll link only to the most relevant to this blog's focus, though i encourage you to do some surfing for yourself through the archive as well!

Theatrical Milliner Lynne Mackey (7 min)

Shoe Designer Phil LaDuca (7 min)

Textile Artisan Gene Mignola (7 min)

Puppet Designer Emily DeCola (7 min)

Theatrical Wig Maker Paul Huntley (7 min)

Costume Shop Manager at the Alliance Carol Hammond (7 min)

Costume Designer Carrie Robbins at Parsons Meares (5 min)
labricoleuse: (design)
I'm really excited about the new interview component of the blog, and the broadening scope it brings to the content here. I'm hoping to use the interviews to focus on professionals in costume production and related fields (like millinery!), and hopefully to bring visibility and insight into the range of careers and types of employers out there. And, i think it'll be a great way to expand the voice of [ profile] labricoleuse to include other perspectives--this blog serves as a fairly comprehensive document of my own opinions and methods, and the interviews will be one means by which I can widen that focus.

Today's interview subject is Kyle Schillinger, who works as a cutter/draper at the Clarence Brown Theatre, a LORT-D regional theatre in residence on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. In addition to his work as a production staff member at the CBT, Kyle is also an accomplished freelance costume designer. Kyle and I first met one summer several years ago when we were both hired as crafts artisans at the Utah Shakespearean Festival. We've stayed in touch, and Kyle has even done some overhire work for PlayMakers shows (such as the two pairs of houndstooth trousers for the Duke in Big River. and when I decided to pursue this interview series, he immediately came to mind as a possible participant.

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

A. The Clarence Brown Theatre’s Costume Shop is staffed with a Shop Supervisor, a full time Cutter/Draper (me), and two full time staff Stitchers – one of which doubles as the Wardrobe Supervisor. We don’t have a First Hand, but one of my Stitchers is a great cutter and helps out a lot on large shows that have a good lead-time. Melissa Caldwell-Weddig, our shop manager, spends much of the day in meetings and communicating with us and the rest of the CBT organization – she also helps me by ordering supplies that I request, coordinating fittings and making sure that our facilities and equipment are in proper condition. Together, she and I are responsible for shop workflow and making sure that each show successfully fulfills the design within the budget and timeframe.

Q. What are your responsibilities as lead draper?

A. Much of my day is spent in pattern drafting/draping, cutting, and fittings. I also spend a good deal of time talking with the designer to get into their head – I try to ask the minimum of questions during our first meeting so I don’t overload myself or limit myself with information – I ask more questions as I’m draping and during fittings. I have shifted into doing more flat drafting than draping on a form – for some reason we’ve been doing much more tailoring at the CBT lately. Then I’m in charge of cutting mock-ups, or talking my Stitcher/First Hand Amber through how I want them cut – she does quite a bit of mock-up cutting so I can keep patterning – it really helps.

Communicating with my Stitchers is a huge part of my job. If you are unable to express to others how to put a garment together than you’ll have a very hard time as a draper. I try to plan a construction method as I pattern and notch things to help me remember. Often, my Stitchers will help me figure out the method or come up with a far better way of doing something. Remember, listening is part of communicating!

Fittings are one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. I love working with the actors and designers to really achieve the costume.

We’ve started something new this year to help us all communicate more effectively in the CBT Costume Shop. On Monday mornings at 9:30 we’ve started to hold a shop meeting – Melissa lets us know what’s going on on her end, I talk through the work of the week and then we open the floor to questions. It has helped us all really think through the week and set goals.
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labricoleuse: (milliner)
One of the greatest benefits of the Stephen Jones Millinery Contest is that it serves as an international forum for milliners to see one another's work and network. I have wanted to start an artisan/artist/designer interview series for quite some time, and this contest kickstarted me into gear on that goal.

So today, our first interview with California-based milliner Sarah Padgham!

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