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!


[livejournal.com 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.


[livejournal.com 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!]


[livejournal.com 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!


[livejournal.com 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.


[livejournal.com 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!]


[livejournal.com 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.


[livejournal.com 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!


[livejournal.com 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!


IMG_6335
Nearly complete! A process shot of American Ballet Theatre's
Sleeping Beauty, designed by Richard Hudson

IMG_6317
Not as complete...another process shot of American Ballet Theatre's
Sleeping Beauty, designed by Richard Hudson

IMG_6280
Leah called this "the Tutu Corral"--all the tutus waiting to ship out in one of Tricorne's fitting rooms!
labricoleuse: (design)
While in New York this summer, i also got a chance to check out the NYC Makers exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design, running through October 12, 2014. The exhibit spotlights 100 "Makers" throughout NYC's 5 boroughs, creators of all different types of art and creatively-designed products.

It spans two floors of the museum and extends also into the stairwells and elevator spaces, and really, you name it, and it's represented--art, fashion, food, hand tools, horticulture, nightclub design, even scratch-and-sniff wallpaper (no really). I'll admit it though, i went because among the featured makers were milliners and costume production artist Sally Ann Parsons, for whom i have worked in past summers.

Here are some pix from the exhibit of some of my favorite pieces.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (history)
One of my favorite perks of doing a short-term contract in NYC is getting to check out exhibits at the various museums and galleries in the city. Of course there's cool stuff going on at my stand-bys like the Museum at FIT and the Met, but i stumbled upon a small exhibition at a historic home which turned out to be fantastic.

I'm staying in a sublet up in Washington Heights, and when i moved in, i did a little looking into neighborhood attractions and came across the Morris-Jumel Mansion http://www.morrisjumel.org/, a home built in 1765 in which George Washington once slept. They've got an exhibit running by an artist/historian named Camilla Huey entitled "The Loves of Aaron Burr: Portraits in Corsetry and Binding."

Huey takes her inspiration from the lives of eight women whose lives entertwined with the statesman Burr--wives, daughters, wards, and lovers. She clearly did a great deal of research about the womens' lives, reading their correspondence and novels and memoirs and diaries, and the exhibit's two program booklets are fascinating peeks into the lives of an impressive range of women. Huey created art installation pieces within the context of the rooms of the mansion itself which incorporate corsetry and the written word, to evoke the lives of these women.

Upon entering the mansion, visitors encounter an enormous glowing resin coffin stuffed with onionskin, cotton fabric, and corset elements, representing the loss of Burr's daughter in a shipwreck. The spiraling open staircase is filled with a torrent of letters and documents, suspended from the bright red pannier-cage of Burr's last wife, Eliza Jumel, a woman born in a brothel who escaped prostitution, got an education, and became one of the wealthiest and most ruthless women in the late 18th century America.

Every installation in the exhibit is visually thought-provoking, and to see these pieces within the mansion itself in which Jumel and Burr once lived, 200 years ago, is incredibly moving. If you find yourself in NYC before the exhibit closes in September, it's only $5 admission. And, if you happen to go on a Sunday and wind up scooting in with a big tour bus group, it's only $2!

Here are a few images...
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labricoleuse: (dye vat)
For the past two weeks, i've been doing some freelance work as a pinch-hitter dyer for the NYC costume production house, Parsons-Meares. They produce costumes for theatre, film, opera, ice skating shows, and any number of other entertainment events for which costumes are required. Some years ago, i worked for them one summer on Shrek: The Musical, and have remained in touch with several of my coworkers from that time. So, when they found themselves needing extra help in their dye facility, a friend who works there suggested they bring me on short-term. I was happy to accept!

Many of the projects Parsons works on are protected by confidentiality agreements with corporations like Disney, so while i could tell you that they are currently working on costumes for a new Broadway musical of Aladdin, i can't share any images of those costumes. (You could go check out Costume Designer Gregg Barnes' Pinterest moodboard for the show and get an idea of them though!) I do have a few pictures though that might be of interest.
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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.

photo(34)
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: http://ericwinterlinginc.com.  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: (design)
Here's the second half of the pile of pictures from the hall of arms and armor at the Metropolitan.

The photo quality on some of these isn't the best--shooting with a hand-held camera through display glass with whatever light you've got in the room isn't ideal. A lot of these are meant as potential references for topics we discuss in armor class, though--photo examples of real suits of armor to illustrate various concepts like the padded leather fencing doublet you saw in the previous post, or examples of attachment methods in this one. This one is largely all partial or complete suits of various kinds of plate, for the most part.

Again, all photos are courtesy of Kaitlin Fara.

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labricoleuse: (Default)
While in NYC a couple weeks ago, one of our grad students and i hit up the Metropolitan Museum for their Costume Collection exhibit, American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity.

It was a pretty good exhibit, though a bit less immersive than i'm used to seeing at the Met--the rooms weren't decorated with any of the usual striking set-dressing that past exhibits like Anglo-Mania had, and the bizarre conceptual hair-don'ts on the mannquins were a jarring visual element that didn't work for me juxtaposed with how traditional the clothing and background design elements were. There were definitely highlights (an 18th-century shoe trunk, wonderful period fans), and it's worth seeing, but we couldn't photograph inside so if you want to see some examples, hit the gallery and the database on the exhibit link up there.

But, photography was allowed inside the permanent exhibits (no flash), so my student took a pile of photos in the armor hall! First up, helmets and sabatons and other pieces...


All photos are courtesy of Kaitlin Fara.


photos behind cut )
labricoleuse: (frippery)
A couple days ago, i had the opportunity to check out two relevant exhibits at a couple of favorite NYC museums, the Museum at FIT and the Forbes Galleries. Both museums have free admission and I have yet to see an exhibit at either that wasn't worth the walk-through time.


FIT's current offering is Eco-Fashion: Going Green, which is a fascinating look at ethical issues through the lens of fashion history. The exhibit covers the past three centuries of fashion, showing various garments which illustrate one or more of six thematic foci: recycling, fiber origin, dyeing/production, craftsmanship, labor issues, and humane animal products. Many of the garments from previous centuries exemplify transgressive practice, such as the shirtwaist representing the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, or the 1865 day dress dyed with toxic dye chemicals; not all, however.

Some of the antique pieces signified amazing repurposing ingenuity, like the Victorian men's dressing gown made from a crazy quilt, or the dresses which had been remade into newer styles several times over. A couple of the craftwork-specific highlights: a 19th-c. reticule made from an 18th-c. embroidered waistcoat (also representing repurposing), and an intricately laid-out 19th-c. feathered cape featuring dozens of types of feathers arranged to create a complex pattern (representing poor treatment of animals, unfortunately). Eco-Fashion is on display through November 13, 2010.


I primarily check out the Forbes for their Jewelry Gallery, which right now features an exhibit called The Vintage Woman: A Century of Costume Jewelry in America 1910-2010. This exhibit juxtaposes portrait photography of glamourous, successful women of all ages wearing stunning examples of fine-craft costume jewelry with displays of the jewelry itself. Much of the displays contain amazing parures featuring motifs from the utterly abstract to the natural and fantastical, from flowers to dragons and gargoyles. All of the pieces shown are truly excellent representations of jewelry artisanship, despite their glass stones in pot metal settings--nothing is what you'd peg as "cheap jewelry." A small exhibition but well worth the effort.

Some other fun exhibits at the Forbes include their massive collection of toy soldiers and model ships, the tiny hyper-realistic stone flowers, and highlights from their massive photography collection. Also, you can't miss the fun kinetic sculpture in the lobby. We watched it for about 30 minutes!
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
Now that Shrek: the Musical has opened on Broadway and images of many of the costumes are out there in stage shots in the press, i think--and especially since Threadbanger trucked through there with cameras recently--i can now share some of the "behind the scenes" photographs i took while working on it at Parsons-Meares, Ltd., in NYC this past summer! The costumes for Shrek were designed by Tim Hatley.

First, to get a look at several of the costumes onstage, check out this NY Times slide show, paying particular notice to Farquaad's soldiers, Humpty Dumpty, and the pigs!

lots of photos... )

Parsons-Meares also made Pinocchio, the gnome couple, Farquaad from the waist up, and a first round of all the "Dragonettes" (the dragon design i worked on, which was scrapped after the premiere run in Seattle and remade entirely differently after i left). I haven't seen the show, but it's still running, which is something to say in this economy. I'm excited to see whether it gets a Tony nomination for these costumes. Well, that answers that! Now that we've been nominated, i've got more of a reason than usual to watch the awards live...though my loyalties are split, since i have a lot of former colleagues who worked on the revival of Hair, too. :D

And, speaking of Tony Awards, congrats to the "early winners," including regional theatre winner Signature Theatre of Arlington, VA!
labricoleuse: (Default)
Just a quick link today, the shop i worked at last summer on Shrek: The Musical was featured on a recent episode of Threadbanger!

It's fun to see my former coworkers talking about various shop processes, and see what's in the shop getting worked on. About halfway through the video, they talk to my two fellow first-hands that were on the Dragon team with me, Tiffany and Jo. Hi ladies! :D
labricoleuse: (milliner)
PhotobucketSaint Catherine is the unofficial patron saint of milliners, thanks to the trade's association with the Catherinettes.

The term catherinettes historically applied to unmarried women over the age of 25, who were essentially "queen for a day" on the Feast of St. Catherine. Part of the custom involved the making of an elaborate hat and wearing it all day long, hence the millinery association. Catherinettes' hats were traditionally done in shades of green and yellow, though in modern celebrations, it seems to be more of an "anything goes" kind of deal, the more elaborate the better. The Parisian fashion industry throws a huge millinery-centric fete des Catherinettes celebration every year in November, and the custom has been adopted elsewhere around the world by milliners and millinery enthusiasts. Attendees wear grandiose, fabulous hats and often march in procession.

I've gotten wind of a couple of hat-centric events coming up in celebration, so i'm passing on the details in case any of my readership want to go check them out. (If you do, please take pictures!)

Chicago and NYC event images/details )

Are you planning anything chapeau-centric for St. Catherine's Day? Or, want to paste a link to your local millinery collective or guild? I'd LOVE to hear about it!

Locals, want to meet up for an impromptu St Catherine's fete (sporting hats, of course) somewhere? If there's any interest, i'd be glad to coordinate something.


You know, it's a shame that there's not an overarching united collective of regional milliners' guilds, either for the US or North America, which might also serve those of us who are (for lack of a better term) satellite practitioners. In addition to NYC's Milliners Guild and Chicago's Millinery Arts Alliance, Chicago boasts a second milliners' guild, Chapeau, and the Millinery Artisan Guild serves west coast milliners from Seattle down to LA. For those of us who practice our art in an area where perhaps there aren't enough milliners to warrant the formation of a guild, it'd be nice to have the opportunity to be a part of a professional organization addressing millinery concerns anyhow.
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
One of the things i always try to impress upon those interested in a professional costume production career is the importance of management skills and an understanding of workflow. I talk to my students about this in classes, and to assistants about it in professional jobs (where appropriate, of course). I mention it whenever people ask me what kinds of skills they need to work on in addition to the obvious sewing, patterning, etc.--i always say, read up on management and workflow techniques, and learn a few basic words and phrases in Spanish. Seriously.

My current job provides a great example of why this is so important.

I'm on a team led by a single draper. (So, most of our MFA students major in draping; this is the position to which they someday aspire.) Under him are three full-time first-hands--myself and two other women--and a fourth part-time first-hand. Work responsibilities flow from the draper to the four of us and on down the line.

So what's down the line on our team?

First up, we have two operators. Operators are sometimes called "stitchers" as well--they operate the industrial machines. Operators typically only do machine sewing, and they are very, very fast. Generally, it takes the draper and at least one of the first hands devoting all their time to cutting and setting up work to keep those operators busy. If they are idle, you lose them to other teams, so it's a pretty breakneck race to make certain you always have work for your operators to do.

Next, we have four finishers. Finishers do hand work--attaching closures and labels, hand-sewing elements of the costume, pinning, basting, etc. Finishers work slower than operators, obviously, but they work a lot faster than you might think.

In addition, we have two floaters, who are people that do both machine and hand work. One of our floaters is in-house, and one is outsourced (meaning, we send boxes of work to her and she does it in her own shop). For the past four days, one person's entire day has been spent just generating work for the single outsourced floater.

On top of this, we have three interns--two highschool sophomores and a retiree--who work around 7 hours a day as volunteers. The interns are very diligent and enthusiastic, but they require a bit more consideration than the "pro" workers when assigning responsibilities. The two young women are just learning the skills they need for this job, and the older woman has some of the handicaps of age (poor vision, slower energy level, special physical accomodations such as work that can be done on a flat table while seated).

If you've been keeping count, yes, that's a total of sixteen people on the team, with eleven of them looking to the other five for their workflow. Each of us on the "steering committee" level is responsible for keeping two people busy for 100% of their workday. When you recall my statements about how it takes one person per operator just to keep them working, you realize that it shakes down even more disparately than that, so that some days, two of our first hands wind up supervising the other nine workers on their own.

Of course this is a very particular case--not every draping team has sixteen members, and we're doing this at the top level of Broadway production. Most places, certainly, you have a much more sanely manageable team--one or two first hands, a stitcher or two (or a stitching pool that serves all drapers sometimes). Still the point holds: brush up on your managerial skills!

Here are some basic things i always keep in mind when i have a team to work with, whether it be a single assistant or a team of six or more:

1.) Hand stuff off like it's going out of style. By this i don't mean, be lazy and pass stuff off on poor sods reporting to you. I mean, try your best never to do anything yourself that could be done by someone less skilled than you are. If you are a draper or first hand, don't spend your time, say, stitching in a label unless it's the last day of work on a project. There's plenty of stuff no one can do but you--correcting patterns from fittings, cutting out particularly fiddly stuff, etc. Always ask yourself when you pick up a job, "Can anyone else on my team reliably do this, or be taught quickly to do this?" If the answer is "yes," consider handing it off.

2.) Show an interest in those working for you. This one is what i think of as the grease that makes the team machine run. Talk to your teammates. Make small-talk, ask about their lives, not to excess but enough that shows them you see them as a person with a life outside of work. If they speak English as a second language, ask them a few basic phrases in their language (Spanish being the most common [1], but at my current work, Russian and Greek are close seconds.), such as "good morning" and "thank you." If you connect with your team on a human level, even in just the most basic of ways, they will appreciate it and feel happier about working with and for you. What's more, you can find out conversationally about their skills and be more informed about how to best hand off work. For example, if you ask about someone's hobbies and they say they like making wire jewelry, then if you later have to make a wire bustle cage, you might consider getting them to help with that since they have a background of working with wire already. If you find out someone used to work in an alterations shop, you can consider handing off a pant hem to them later without setting it up and explaining every step. By asking about their lives, you get to know their skill set and can better direct the workflow.

3.) Respect their knowledge. You may be generating work for the team, but always acknowledge their experience and don't be too proud or "big" to defer to them at times. For example, i always ask my operators their opinion on the amount of seam allowance needed when cutting--they sew all day every day; they know what's going to be too much or not enough. I ask finishers for their input on how they think something should be best hand-sewn for a couture finish; it's their job, they know! Everyone's got something to contribute, and when appropriate, i do ask others for input.

4.) Always stay flexible. I start my day with a basic outline, planning out a short task list for all the people reporting to me. I don't enforce it like a drill sargeant though; things come up, things go faster or slower than you think they will, unforeseen setbacks happen and crazy productivity cranks into overdrive; at any point, i'm prepared to completely rethink my plan for the day, for myself or for my part of the team. I'm willing to bargain, trade off workloads, swap jobs, whatever it takes to get what needs to be done done in as efficient a manner possible. By starting with a plan though, i always have a list to look at if i need to come up with a job for someone quickly. Without a plan, things are hectic and scattershot. So, i always make a plan, but remain prepared to deviate from it!

5.) Never let them see you sweat. By this i mean, don't flip out publicly. Don't bitch to those reporting to you about how screwed the team is, or how huge the workload is, and if you are concerned about anything regarding the job at hand, pass that up the ladder, not down. Talk to your draper or shop manager, don't whine to your stitcher or complain to your intern. They look to you as the bellwether--if you seem okay, they feel okay. Okay feeling workers work more efficiently and screw up less.

That's it, my overview of the staff demographic of your average Parsons-Meares draping team creating a whole messload of showgirls in crazy trick costumes. And i didn't freak out once about the fact that Shrek ships out Tuesday! GO TEAM DRAGONETTES!


[1] I have a whole forthcoming post on this in fact.
labricoleuse: (hats!)
Today i took a lunch-break jaunt to the renowned Beckenstein's Mens Fabric, aka Fabric Czar, the premier purveyor of fine menswear fabrics. What an excellent place! If you are into tailoring and fine menswear, it's a must-visit location in the NYC Garment District.

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

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

If you need to clothe a sharp-dressed man, Fabric Czar is the place to go!
labricoleuse: (hats!)
One of the things i wanted to do this summer was visit the Hat Shop, an independent boutique in Soho featuring the work of over 30 local milliners. Last Sunday, I went and checked it out!

One of the most exciting hats to see in the shop was the initially unassuming-looking water hyacinth straw sun hat by Australian milliner Maya Neumann. The saleswoman showed my friend and i how, with a spritzing of water from a nearby spray bottle, the hat could be reshaped into a variety of different styles by simply folding a fedora-like pinch into the crown or dimpling a divot, or bending a pleat or three into the brim--the hat easily and instantly reshaped, but then another healthy misting and it was easily remolded into its initial dome-crown flat-brim shape. She told us that the Hat Shop's owner, Linda Pagan, had worn a water hyacinth hat across Thailand, crushing it into her bag and freshening it with water whenever she wanted to wear it. She also would apparently submerge it in a river when hiking in remote areas, then put it on, whereupon it served to quickly cool her off as the water evaporated from the hat. Pretty exciting material!

I spent a lot of time agonizing over whether to buy a cloche by Egg Cup Designs, and eventually purchased a brilliantly-designed hat made by Abigail Aldridge, a NYC milliner who apparently doesn't exist on Google(!).

photos and discussion of construction )
labricoleuse: (hats!)
Well, though i can't talk about exactly what i'm doing for Shrek or show photographs, it's probably okay for me to speak in vague terms. (For example, I'll say that i'm on the Dragon team, but not how the Dragon is created.)

One of the things i've been doing the past couple days has been generating large-scale stencils for the cutting of pattern pieces. One piece needs to be cut 720 times--it is more efficient to figure out the most advantageous layout once (i.e., that maintains any requisite pattern or grain orientation while conserving the most fabric), make a large stencil the width of the fabric, then trace it off as needed, than to mark and cut 720 pieces individually. In this way, too, anyone can trace and cut the pieces quickly and easily if need be. Using simple algebraic equations, you can gauge by the length of the stencil how much fabric it takes to cut, say, one gross.

For example, my stencil cuts 36 pieces in one layout and is 47" long. So, it takes four repetitions of the stencil to generate 144 pieces, and 4 * 47 = 188", or just under 5 and a quarter yards.

Practical math application, that's key. I swear, if i could go back to my 9th grade math class and every time some kid said something like, "When are we ever going to need to know how to do these stupid word problems?" about one of those tests where you have to figure out how many apples Jane can buy for $3 or whatever, i'd tell them examples like this. Screw apples, how many random dragon parts can you make with 21 yards? (Four gross and a few extras, right?)

Geometry is also important for a project like this--I used a basic understanding of tessellations to figure out my stencil layout. If you know what shapes tessellate (page through this DIY tutorial if you are unsure about what shapes will do it), you can figure out which one your piece(s) vaguely resemble. My 36-piece stencil is based on a rhombus, and i did two more today based on triangles.

Another exciting thing--today after work i swung by Manny's Millinery Supply and picked up a puzzle block! I had been wanting to check out what blocks they had available, and i particularly hoped to find a puzzle block in a shape i could use for my class this fall. I think i've found a woodworking artisan who is going to make me a couple of blocks in shapes that don't need puzzle cuts, but explaining a puzzle block to anyone who hasn't seen one, much less worked with one, is next to impossible.

Want to see photographs? )
labricoleuse: (history)
In keeping with yesterday's theme of going to museums that were former residences, after the Neuegalerie, i went to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, which is the former Carnegie mansion. The mansion itself is something to see, even more opulent than the Neuegalerie, with lots of interesting secret passageway doors to spy and beautiful fireplaces and light fixtures in every room. There's a spacious, shady private garden with tables for eating lunch, and it was clear that museum members often come just to hang out in the garden and relax with a book and a glass of wine or something.

There are three exhibits running right now, "Campana Brothers Select: Works from the Permanent Collection," "Rococo: The Continuing Curve, 1730-2008," and "Multiple Choice: From Sample Book to Product." The websites have a LOT of images of the works displayed, if you are in a surfing mood.

The Rococo exhibit is the largest, taking up two floors of the museum. There's a ton of actual Rococo stuff from the 18th century, everything from furniture to housewares to fabric, jewelry, personal effects, all beautifully preserved and intact. Wandering through that segment of it, i was reminded how hit-or-miss i find Rococo, in terms of my own personal taste. (For example, I really don't like ormolu furnishings, or the easter-eggy porcelain holloware, but i love the brocades and the little personal items like matchsafes and snuffboxes.) Some highlights of this section were the folding fans, automata, chatelaines, shoe buckles, and bejeweled hair ornaments with "tremblants" (what modern folk often call "dangly bits"). I have to say, there was a triptych vanity mirror whose tain was almost wholly intact, and i freaked myself out a little looking into it and thinking about how many women must have done the same over the past 300+ years, wondering what they were like, what happened to them in their lives, and the high probability that at least a couple of them were beheaded in the French Revolution.

Upstairs were the rooms full of post-rococo work that drew inspiration and aesthetic elements from rococo style, particularly Art Nouveau. I was thrilled to discover rooms full of Lalique jewelry, Mucha ornaments and printed velvet, Gaudi and Horta and Guimard pieces--furniture and embroidery and glassware. There were even more modern pieces, a Chihuly lamp of glass squiggles, a Prada shoe design. It was very literally overwhelming.

The Campara Brothers exhibit was contained in a single room, and the theme of it was basically, "stuff they like." Quirky, unusual, striking pieces, displayed at random. My favorite things in there were some kata-gami stencils for printing yukata fabric, some cochineal-dyed horsehair jewelry (and other undyed hairwork jewelry) from 1830, and a piece of 17th-century Flemish embroidery that was so thickly worked it featured a three-dimensional tree whose knotwork branches actually came out of the ground like a frieze sculpture.

The basement level, that was my favorite--the sample book exhibit.

Man, where do i even begin? There were 18th-century button sample books with handwritten notations of style and cost, embroidered waistcoat-pocket-flap samples, ribbon books, china plates divided into pie-slices showing different glazes and patterns. There was a 19th-century Japanese shibori sample book, a dye recipe book with swatches from 1879, 1950s glove leather samples cut into tiny glove shapes, and even a sample book of textile designs from the Wiener Werkstaette (crazy coincidence!). There was a book of swatches of "chocolates," dark-colored calicos considered appropriate for half-mourning fashions. There was an intact copy of Alexander Paul's 1888 reference text, The Practical Ostrich Feather Dyer, and running on a loop was a video of each book flipped through from start to finish. I watched the entirety of a book of millinery straw and a collection of 1930s percales. I could have sat there all day and watched every one, in fact. Some of the videos (as well as many of the pieces exhibited) are on the website though, so i can watch them at my leisure. And, if you are so inclined, you can too.

In the bookstore, i purchased a couple of cool books, too. Keith Hagan's Complete Pattern Library with accompanying CD-ROM looked like it could be a great tool for doing custom fabric print designs--i figure it may come in handy for some of my students, too, when they do the printmaking project in dye/paint class. Supersurfaces by Sophia Vyzoviti was another one i just couldn't leave on the shelf--it's full of cutting and folding diagrams and photographs for how to turn flat surfaces into three-dimensional objects, mostly wearable. You can use the methods on any number of base materials, too: leather, vinyl, felt, foam, plastic, tyvek, paper, etc. It seemed like a good resource to have, for situations where you have a vague costume rendering and a range of research and your job is basically, "make something cool that's kind of like these forms..."

I took a lot of photos of the grounds, and a few more random neighborhood ones as well.

photography )
labricoleuse: (history)
Today i did some museum wandering, figuring that it might be the last time in a good while i'd have both the free time and the energy (since for the next few weeks, i'll be working at least 6 days a week).

I actually went to two museums--the Neuegalerie Museum for German and Austrian Art and the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum--but i'll split it up and write about each separately. The first one i went to was the Neuegalerie, so i'll cover it first.

They've got an absolutely mindblowing pair of exhibits running right now which complement one another incredibly well--an in-depth exhibition of works by Gustav Klimt, and a display of custom jewelryworks by the Wiener Werkstaette (Vienna Workshops).

The first exhibit is the Werkstaette stuff, in a salon at the top of a sweeping marble staircase. I should note that the Neuegalerie building used to be a private residence, at one point the uptown home of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, in fact. The opulent interior is largely intact--marble floors, richly paneled and carved wall decor, ornate architectural details, and so forth.

The room in which the jewelry is exhibited is paneled in dark carved wood, and the huge 12' windows are covered with opaque shades, the better to focus attention on the bright pieces displayed against black velvet in several cases throughout the room. Silkscreened onto the windowshades are huge reproductions of period photographs featuring women (mostly Klimt's mistress and sister-in-law, Emilie Floege) wearing the jewelry exhibited, along with Dress Reform Movement fashions. Each installation features not only a piece of jewelry itself, but any ephemera relating to it extant--portraits of the jewelry's owner, design sketches in color pencil of the piece, even invoices with price notations! Brooches, bracelets, pendants, belt buckles, and diadems are displayed, and even some original boxes and a display case from a boutique. In addition to these displays, the gallery also contains a couple of period mirrors designed by the Werkstaette, and a large photograph of the workshop's interior and several artisans at work.

From the Werkstaette gallery, you move into a larger, more well-lit gallery of Klimt paintings, including the famous Adele Bloch-Bauer I. In this room, there were also pieces of decor from the period, including a really excellent 1903 time clock for a tailor's shop adorned with blue glass. The exhibit continued through other rooms and up to the second floor, featuring not only more of Klimt's work--drawings and paintings and studies and quick sketches--but also a vast variety of Klimt ephemera--photographs, postcards, handwritten notes, tickets to exhibitions, posters for art shows, periodicals, you name it. The show includes some of Klimt's "taboo" subjects--erotica drawings, pregnant nudes, lesbian tableaux--and an exact reproduction of the anteroom to his atelier/studio, complete with the actual furniture even and the painting Hope displayed in a corner. I think my two favorite parts were the room devoted to Klimt's artist smocks (indigo dyed ankle-length robes, probably custom-made by the Schwestern Floege Salon) and the recreation of the Beethoven Frieze with preliminary sketches, the frieze itself, and a sound system quietly playing "Ode to Joy." Some of his preliminary sketches even had the color plotting scribbled on them, areas denoted as "blau" (blue), "gelb" (yellow), "schwartz" (black), etc.! Cool.

Both exhibits taken as a whole are an amazing look into Viennese art and design of the time. You can see how the artisans of the Werkstaette were an influence on Klimt and vice versa, how the "dress reform" fashions of the Schwestern Floege Salon show up in Klimt's paintings, and if you are familiar with other artists of the Vienna Secession and the Kunsthalle, you can see how they all aesthetically tie together and play off of one another, all these disciplines from jewelry and fashion design movements to innovations in aesthetic style of painters and lithographers and such. Truly excellent.



New York photography, as per usual )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
First, some context which may seem self-centered, but is also relevant:

I've got a couple of really exciting gigs starting up in the next few days! I'll be working Saturdays doing millinery assistance at the Brooklyn studio of Cha-Cha's House of Ill Repute, helping produce their fall line of hats. I'll also be working at Parsons-Meares, one of the big Broadway shops, on costumes for DreamWorks' Shrek: The Musical, which will premiere in Seattle before moving to Broadway in the fall.

I'm predicting that i won't be allowed to post anything about the Shrek costumes because of confidentiality clauses relating to an as-yet-unpremiered show, but I might be able to do a post or two on what we're doing at Cha-Cha's, maybe an interview with the lead designer or a preview of the line or something.

Today's post though is about The Lion King, which i saw last Saturday at the Minskoff Theatre in Times Square.

Not only is it a tour de force of innovative, fantastic costume and production design, but The Lion King is also commendable for how "open source" a lot of its costuming actually is. Julie Taymor's book, The Lion King: Pride Rock on Broadway contains a wealth of information on how the costumes and macropuppet elements were constructed--not only her design renderings, but drafts and diagrams created by the artisans who built them, materials and technique descriptions, photos of mockups, you name it. After poring over the pages on the construction of the articulated mask mechanism for Scar while developing our Fox in The Little Prince, it was exciting to see the real thing in action. Even more exciting was the lobby display of Scar's costume (among others), which patrons were allowed to photograph!

pictures and discussion )
labricoleuse: (history)
By a virtual accident (i.e., i was in the neighborhood and needed to kill some time), i found myself recently wandering through the halls of the New York Historical Society.

I initially went in to check out the current exhibit, Woven Splendor, a display of textiles and carpets and other items "from Timbuktu to Tibet"--essentially, a lot of Ottoman Empire/Southern Asian woven goods. The gallery itself and the pieces featured were lovely and facinating (particularly some really cool capes, bags, and saddle cloths), but my enjoyment of it was almost negated by the crass security staff they had in that area--one woman was talking to another guard in a normal tone of voice the entire time about mundane conversational stuff ("When i get home i'm gonna put on my shorts and flip-flops and i'm gonna pour me a beer and..." etc.), and the two male guards in the room were chewing gum and candies so vigorously it was distracting. I don't get that--i go to museums to view the exhibits, and if i'm commenting on them to someone, i do it sotto voce out of respect for the other viewers. For the guards to be so loud, ugh, irritating. Still, the textiles are quite impressive, if you dig that kind of thing.

The Allure of the East exhibit was also fascinating, my favorite parts being a couple of Moroccan-influenced Tiffany lamps and a whole mess of photographs of Victorian parlor decor and people in ball costumes that were stylistically part of the "orientalism" craze of the period. There was a picture of a woman in a bustle-gown "Cleopatra" costume that really has to be seen to be believed. Truly facinating! (I always like seeing "costumes" from other eras, how they blend their own silhouette and ideal with the character's.)

The most exciting part of the museum, though, was the 4th floor, the Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture. (Security up there was awesome--quiet but present, helpful but unobtrusive.) If you recall my review of the Steamship Arabia Museum and how it was such an exciting slice of period mundania, this is like that but even more diverse in its range of artifacts. The collection is set up in what they call a "visible storage installation," which means they are in climate-controlled cases with glass walls so you can see not only what's laid out for display, but what's stored in the compartments beyond and behind the exhibition. So, say you are looking at their HUGE collection of Tiffany glass--you see the selection of lamps in the up-close cases, but you also see bunches more behind the cases in other storage areas! Really cool, especially if you are interested in artifact preservation, because you can see how things are stored, in what kinds of compartments and the like.

Some highlights in the Luce Center were the personal effects section--antique canes, eyeglasses and lorgnettes, jewelry, hairdressing tools and supplies, jewelry, corset busks, sewing tools, smoking ephemera, makeup cases, all kinds of cool stuff! There's a section of firefighting history stuff that was fairly emotionally affecting, particularly because it culminated in 9/11 artifacts like a K9 police dog's ID tag, a pair of shoes, a melted clock face, a battered helmet. Here these things were displayed in a case right next to a millstone from the year 1628 and a draft lottery wheel from the Civil War draft. There's a couch there to sit on, in front of that part, presumably because a lot of people are, like i was, taken aback at their response and need to sit and collect themselves.

There's a painting gallery in the Luce Center as well, which right now also houses an exhibit on the Cholera epidemic of 1832. The gallery features a lot of interesting portraiture from the 1700s to the present (always of interest to costume historians), as well as some cool street-scene landscapes. One painting of a street scene revealed a possible ancestor in its depicted signage: "Pollock's Fur Hat Manufactory" at 7 1/2 Bowery, 3rd floor--some distant relative perhaps who was making hats in the Bowery in 1838!

All in all, a cool museum to check out if you are a history buff, particularly NYC history, though maybe bring an iPod so you can drown out the jawing-and-chawing of the security guards if need be. It was $10 to get in, but through August you can show your admission receipt and get in free to the Museum of the City of New York! They have an exhibit on the history of theatre in NYC, so i'll definitely be taking advantage of that deal soon.
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
Hmm, I've always stuck to the vague restriction in this blog to keep each post concise and topical within its given subject, for the most part. There might be a digression or two, but the posts follow a given structure--a project post, a show overview, a tutorial, a discussion of meta-issues relating to costuming. I try not to make it a journally sort of thing, and definitely not a diary sort of thing. The trouble is, i've got way more to write about than there is time to write, and i'm tempted to "catch up" with a giant meandery catch-all post about a bunch of unrelated stuff. Maybe a series of clickable cut-tags will solve the problem?

First off, i went to see Hamlet last night, and lord-lord, was it something to think about. Honestly, i've seen a lot of Hamlets--most people who work in the theatre have, as have most people who are avid theatregoers. This one, though, was like none i'd ever seen before. I am going to put my comments behind a cut, because seriously, if you plan to see this production, i would encourage you NOT to spoil it by reading my responses. Click the next cut tag on the list that interests you and don't read the spoilers, even if you don't think there can be spoilers for Hamlet because you know it's a tragedy and everybody dies and you've seen it a hundred times. If, however, you will not make it to NYC to see any Shakespeare in the Park, read on, Macduff! (Wrong play, i know.) )

Ingenious costume storage methods. )

what's next and obligatory random NYC photographs )

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