labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
Here's part two of my Masks & Armor students' final projects! Some totally mindboggling stuff here.

Read more... )

Such an amazing group of students! Their work has been really outstanding to watch it all come together.
labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
So, i think i've mentioned before that my students do a simple and a complex armor project in the last part of the semester. These are sort of rough definitions, usually the simple projects are just smaller in scale or less complicated in materials used. I posted a while back about a few of the simple projects, and today i have a few more of those to share, as well as a couple images of complex projects (with more to come tomorrow as well!).

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (milliner)
Co-crafts artisan Candy McClernan and I have been hard at work on Cabaret--tech starts in a week! I've written quite a bit about all the cool projects she's been heading up, such as her screenprinted spandex map fabric and her digital textile prints of zeppelins and Deutschmarks, but I've not talked about any of my own projects.

When Candy and I looked at the crafts on this show and discussed how to divide up the workload, we had to take a lot of different factors into consideration: the time we had to produce things, where each of our strengths and interests lie, and how many things we knew would have to be made in-house. Because of the highly specific aesthetic nature of the designs, our made-to-order crafts list is pretty long on this one, and full of tons of really cool and exciting projects.

Whenever i share a crafts workload on equal footing with a graduate student (this happens when they are in their second or third year, and usually when they intend to pursue a crafts-centric career), I try as much as possible to give the student "first dibs." What areas and projects are they particularly drawn to? After all, part of this whole thing is to educate the students in a practical production environment, to give them opportunities to produce professional work that appears onstage in a regionally-staged production. And, besides, this is my job. I will always have more cool crafts to make, while they're in grad school for only three years.

Since Candy has a particular interest in the applications of digital technologies to the field of costume production, when i saw how many digital fabric prints and other related projects this show afforded us, I suspected she'd want to be in charge of those, and i was right! As you've seen from the prior posts, she's been doing a great job, too.

And, i'll own up to the fact that the project i'm going to talk about today, i was really wanting to do, so i'm glad we didn't have to jump into Thunderdome over it--that's the leatherwork! I love working with leather in applications like these, and really, i think if i had to pick an area of crafts to specialize in, it would be a hard decision but leatherwork would be one of the top contenders.

I first really learned a lot about leatherwork when i was living in Boston and working at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard. My contract was one of those "swiss cheese contracts," where you wind up on for a month, off for a month, and it can be hard to pick up gainful employment sometimes in and around that sort of gig. I freelanced all over the place and had a couple of other jobs, but my absolute favorite was doing patternmaking and production work at a custom retail leather shop. Most of the shop's clients were of the "leather daddy"/fetish variety, and much of what we made consisted of custom-fit leather pants, chaps, vests, and a variety of things made of straps. We also got commissions for things like leather corsets, hats, and even adding cavalier-bells to the tops of boots. (This was before Disney made pirates popular enough for those things to exist off-the-rack.)

I learned four methods for making straps from leather, each suited to a different aesthetic or functional application, and i learned invaluable skills like laying out patterns on hides, estimating square footage of leather by hide or by project, and how sewing with leather differs from fabric. It remains the absolute best non-theatre job i've had in my life, and i try to pass on at least some of the knowledge i gained there to my students. The place is defunct, long out of business at this point, or else i'd give them a link here.

Anyway, when i saw the leather elements Cabaret's costumes would require, i did a little dance, because i could not wait to get my hands on some beautiful hides and start work!

The major project of this sort is a part of the look for the Emcee and the Kit Kat Girls for the "Money" number, in which the costumes are a sort of fetishy-burlesque take-off on dirndls and lederhosen. Recall from the post about making our Deutschmark fabric, that designer Jen Caprio's renderings looked thus:
Read more... )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
Imaginary Invalid closed on Sunday, so the show's run managed to beat me to the finish of this tail-making saga. Nevertheless, here's the final conclusion, or as i like to say, the tail end!

If you need a refresher on what's happened so far, the whole thing began with a two-part post on the silicone/spandex process by which third-year graduate student Adrienne Corral created a set of lizard skin samples, an effect which was ultimately not used, as the designer elected to go with actual leather instead. Those are here and here.

Next, we looked at how the tail skeleton went together with aluminum conduit and hose clamps.

This most recent post addresses how the embossed alligator hide got turned into the skin for the skeleton.

Now, finally, let's get to the finishing work!

Recall that this entire process, we had been working on the structure based on the information that it needed to be capable of being altered to fit multiple performers, that this person would be crossing the stage and possibly running or climbing, and the tail's movement needed to be as realistic as possible.

As a crafts artisan, you have to be very flexible with new script development, and be able to roll with the changes as deftly as possible. I think by the time we opened, we had been asked whether the tail could go on three different actors, and at one point it was even potentialy going to be cut altogether.

Operating with the understanding that the wearer was running and possibly climbing in it, and that the skin had to be this leather hide, we had engineered the skeleton to be as lightweight as possible, and created it in segments so that the movement could remain as sinuous as possible (think about those hinged wooden snake toys).

In tech, the exploration of the performance turned out such that the wearer now needed to recline on the ground, wrap the tail around his leg, and run offstage. Our efforts to minimize the weight and maintain the sinuous movement however meant that the structure was not engineered to support this new movement--the tail segments collapsed and looked stupid when the actor lay down or bent the tail manually himself.

In a longer production period, or in a world where we have time travel, given these kinds of new movements, ideally re-engineering the entire tail concept would be in order. When this type of situation arises during Saturday of tech weekend, that's when you really have to get creative! We didn't have the budget or time to make a new skeleton or any different configuration of the leather "skin," so I decided we really just needed to find a way to stuff the tail as quickly as possible, with as lightweight but sturdy material as possible, with a minimum of deconstruction.

First, we skinned the tail back to its pointy tip. I had a couple of assistants begin cubing scrap couch foam for the stuffing--couch foam (or urethane foam) is a good combination of lightweight and sturdy, and best of all it was free.

Next I patterned a large "tube sock" from green spandex that would drop down around the skeleton and contain the stuffing. We secured the tube sock to the bottom-most hose-clamp, and began working upward, segment by segment: stuff the sock from clamp to clamp, whipstitch it down to the next set of "ribs," then reattach the leather over top. Repeat. At this point, the tail production was a free-for-all pile-up--every person in the entire shop had their hands on it at one point or another in order to get it done.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
The next (but not final!) installment in the lizard tail adventure: a photoessay of sorts! When last we left the process, there had been a skeleton constructed and a vinyl "skin" pattern cut out.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (Default)
Recall the saga of the lizard skin samples, from two prior posts here and here...but what happened after that?

Those samples were the preliminary experiments on the creation of a man-sized reptile tail for a new translation of Moliere's Imaginary Invalid at PlayMakers Repertory Company of Chapel Hill, NC.

For the first round of fittings with our designer, Sonya Berlovitz, third year graduate Adrienne Corral had created an initial tail mockup for scale and shape, and for skin choices we had all our spandex samples as well as some samples of croc and gator embossed vinyls and leathers.

At this point in the process, what we knew about the tail was that someone would be wearing it during a hallucination scene in which one character goes to hell (though exactly whom was as yet undecided), that this person would be crossing the stage and possibly running or climbing, and the tail's movement needed to be as realistic as possible.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (Default)
Here are the rest of my Masks and Armor class final presentations. Some amazing stuff in here, such a great group.

deep sea divers, Klingons, and warrior women )
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
My students present their final armor projects tomorrow, but two of them were floating around the shop today, ready to go, so i photographed them early. There will be more coming tomorrow, but for now, check these out:

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (frippery)
We're heading into finals in the academic end of things, and i have a couple of teaser photos to share before things really get cranking.

Judy Adamson's beginning draping class has a couple of super sweet half drapes out in the hallway that i just had to take a photo of. And, my masks and armor folks have had their final presentations pushed back to May 1st, but one student is completely done and her work is SO FAB (hi samurai helmet) that i can't keep it under wraps.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
My Masks and Armor class presented simple armor projects today, and i have a few images to share.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
My students presented their complex mask projects today, and i just LOVE them all! Check these out!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
I've been photographing elements of the armor we've got in the building right now, to discuss the pros and cons of various construction choices made. As i said yesterday, sometimes it's great to see how other artisans have made things, to see how they've already stood up to theatrical performance, and to think about what works when and why.

So, today's post is a collection of those photos with some thoughts on each. Read more... )
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
I've mentioned the HUGE number of armor pieces we've rented for our repertory shows, Henry IV and V by Shakespeare. They're plays about war, and armor abounds--much of my job has been fitting and repair, and reversible alterations like the one i described in an earlier post.

Today's post though is about a case where it was actually quicker and easier for me to just make a new item than to try to make a rented one work: in this case, a pair of bracers (forearm guards) for the character of Nym. We had rented a huge lot of bracers, something like 17 pairs, sight unseen, and most of them were in fine condition to use. However, one pair was in, well, a truly sorry state. Read more... )
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
On deck at work, we are currently well into production on a pair of repertory shows, Shakespeare's Henry IV and V. The designs for this show are one of those non-era-eras that i like to describe as "postmodern collage"--a mixture of modern and historical styles all blended together to create intriguings looks not tied to any specific time, leather jerkins with jeans and workboots and that type of thing.

I like working on shows done in that way for contemporary audiences because it allows for all the super-cool craft stuff that Shakespeare histories pretty much need (like armor!), but it also makes those things accessible to the modern eye in an empathetic way that true period pieces from about the 17th century back don't. It is very hard, in the 21st century visual milieu, to look like an indomitable, ruthless soldier in, say, pumpkin hose and tights.

Our designer, Jen Caprio, is renting and purchasing the armor [1], because there is just SO much of it needed. If we were doing one of these plays, I could have built some, but both in repertory with the bulk of the rehearsal period happening over our winter vacation, that meant too little time and not enough staff to plan the making of any of the big pieces [2]. Instead, one of the biggest responsibilities i have is to make the armor we've rented fit the actors we've cast, without altering it in any permanent way, yet maintain the standard of quality that I expect.

One of the things i stress in my classes is that there is the best way to do something, and everything else is a concession you ought to choose to make. In a classroom context, i teach what i believe to be the best way of doing things, since it is easier to make informed concessions required by things like a lack of time/money/labor than it is to break bad habits of shoddy workmanship. It is exciting to see all these pieces of armor from all different sources and makers, and look at the choices they have made in construction (some of which are helpful and others leave me scratching my head). Today i am going to write about how we reversibly altered a piece of leather armor for our productions in such a way as to maintain its level of quality inside and out.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (ass head mask)
My masks and armor class presented their first round of armor projects today and i have some photos to share.

I'd hoped to finish writing up my USITT notes, but then i got sucked into doing some guest lectures at work that took up a LOT more time to prep than i'd expected. Hopefully i'll get around to posting about that soon, but in the meantime, please enjoy these three armor project images!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
One of the two shows we're currently producing is Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, in which the character of Laura has a leg brace, frequently referred to in the script, the construction of which is one of my responsibilities. The show is set in 1937, and orthopedic devices of the time had a very particular, almost fetishistic look, with their shiny metal hinged rods strapped and buckled to the wearer's limbs.

The first issue was, where do you get the hardware for such a thing? Read more... )
labricoleuse: (opening night gala)
Wow, are we super-busy gearing up for the season opener, Romeo and Juliet. I haven't had time to post anything much, and what i AM working on can't be posted until the show's up because it would be "spoilers" for some of the play. (I don't mean that one can spoil a Shakespeare play to which everyone knows the ending, i mean that many of the crafts projects are really striking visuals which i don't want to spoil for viewers.) Once the play's up and running, I promise i'll post about all the fun hats and jewelry and crazy fabric treatments i've been working on!

Which brings me to an exciting announcement: La Bricoleuse is now linked from the PlayMakers Repertory Company official page, in a new section called "Behind the Scenes"--welcome, PRC patrons, to my readership!

If you are a new reader surfing here from that link, i should explain that you'll find only La Bricoleuse posts with the "playmakers" tag. If you want to read more posts on non-PRC topics (reviews of costuming texts and products, posts from my summer at the Utah Shakespearean Festival, images of projects by the students in my graduate seminars on costume crafts artisanship, etc.), you can click on other subject tags down the sidebar or click on the masthead and read all the recent posts in reverse-chronological order. Again, welcome, and see you on Opening Night!

So, while Romeo and Juliet craftwork posts will have to wait one more week, here are a few topical links:

[ profile] pinkveneer pointed me toward the excellent shibori blog, Shibori Girl, featuring beautiful photographs of the artist's work.

Jill's World of Research, Reaction, and Millinery is another great blog written by a Texas milliner and librarian. Her writing is fun and chatty, and her millinery images and links are great!

Mystery-Braid leather instructions show how to do those "magically" braided bracelets and belts and other straps with the triple-sliced single strap.

And, if you don't know about Craft Magazine, you should check it out. Some of the projects are dorky, but there are often a handful of great ones as well--this month features a piece on how to make a Carmen Miranda-style fruit-topped showgirl headdress!
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
More notices of resources, today they're for dyers!

Discussion E-list

The DyersLIST is an Internet mailing list intended for discussion of technical questions, problems and information related to immersion dyeing and to the surface application of synthetic dyes, textile pigments and related chemicals to fabric and fiber. Subscribers should restrict postings to these topics and avoid commercial postings of any sort. Subscription information is available here.

Company Newsletters

Most all of the big dye distribution companies also publish quarterly e-newsletters. These always announce new products, discontinued products, sales, etc., but most also offer tips on safety &/or techniques. If you order from them, you get on the lists automatically, but you can also request to be added.

Dye Pro Services in Calgary are the North American distributors of Dylon products. Their newsletter comes out quarterly and is largely product information and safety updates, with a "folksy" friendly tone. There's no link on their site to subscribe, but i'm sure emailing customer service with a request would get you added.

Dharma Trading Company does have a subscription form on their site, and their list is a bit more informal, issued sporadically. During the academic year, i got one every couple of months, but now it's been a while since they've sent anything out. Their newsletter is written in the same conversational Cali-speak tone as their catalogue, and not only features specials and product info, but has a recurring "designer spotlight," where they feature artists and artisans who work with their products and examples of their work.

PRO Chemical & Dye don't to my knowledge run an email newsletter, but on their splash page, you can click a link at the bottom to be added to their postal mailing list, which will apprise you of their upcoming workshop schedule. PRO Chemical conducts a variety of professional workshops on a number of dyeing techniques using their range of products.

Oil and alcohol based dye ban in CA and CT?

Yesterday i was at my local Tandy Leather Factory doing some restock shopping, and the proprietor informed me that they were phasing out all oil- and alcohol-based leather dyes on a national level (this means Fiebings and other familiar industrial brands sold in quarts and gallons).

Reportedly, the reason for this is that California had banned these dyes--Tandy's corporate headquarters had forbidden them to ship any orders for them to CA addresses--and that Connecticut was moving toward banning them as well. He expressed a concern that, for environmental-protection purposes, this seemed to be a growing trend, which was why as a company Tandy is apparently phasing out all oil- and solvent-based dyes and switching to a line of water-based products released under the brand, "Eco-Flo: Earth-Friendly, Low VOC Products for Leather."

I'm a regular customer there and do a lot of business with them, so he gave me some samples to try out on upcoming products. I'll post a full report when i am finished trying them out, but i thought i'd mention it here and now, in case you live in one of the ban states and are wondering why you are having trouble finding Fiebings dyes or something.
labricoleuse: (Default)
The key to making vacuform armor look good onstage and not like "OMG plastik kostoom arm0r LOL" is covering it before painting it.

For less detailed pieces (plain breastplates, smooth greves, etc) you can use felt--industrial felt if you want it thick, or craft felt or oak-tanned leather if you need it thinner. With detailed pieces, such as our lion-head-relief shoulder-guards, we're using pigsuede--it's stretchier and easy to manipulate into curves and crevices.

Here's some photos of how that works. )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
Here's the second part of my four-part studio setup series, but first i should give you guys a heads-up on a couple of very exciting things i've got coming up.

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

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

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

Lastly, unrelated to upcoming posts here or setting up a studio, I recommend checking out Entwinements, the blog of the shibori studio of Karren K. Brito in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She's got a ton of really informative in-depth posts about her shibori artwear creations. Fascinating, creative, inspiring stuff!

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