labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
This quick entry concerns the process of making an elaborate lace dress for the character of Sally Bowles. Costume designer Jen Caprio has worked with draper and second-year grad student Leah Pelz (under the guidance of Costume Director Judy Adamson of course) on exactly how this garment is to be made, and these three images illustrate the path so far from page to stage.

Read more... )
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.
Read more... )
labricoleuse: (frippery)
As I was putting together my packing list for Scotland, I began to consider the problem of hats. I am a diehard hat wearer, because as a milliner, I believe that the best way to bring hats back into style (in addition to, say, events like the royal wedding) is to wear them stylishly yourself. I wear a hat almost every day, and definitely to all parties and formal events. But, the problem of traveling with a stylish hat is age-old: many hats crush easily, and can take up quite a bit of room. What I need are cute hats that pack flat.

Of course, I do have the spiral-stitched travel cloche I posted about by Abigail Aldridge, but I'm not a one-hat type of gal. While looking over my travel wardrobe, I remembered a blog post by Barcelona milliner Cristina dePrada on making a cute 1952 hat pattern originally by Ruby Carnahan, the “Hat for Ship and Shore.” At the time, I loved the look and versatility of this style, a simple fabric machine-stitched hat which could be made reversible and, through the use of brooches and other pinned-on ornaments, either formal or casual.

In the blog post, Cristina had a link to the entire pattern scanned and posted on Flickr. I took a screen-grab of that pattern, scaled it up to the proper size in Photoshop, and printed it out. Read more... )
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
Today, i'm not the source, i'm just the conduit. Links on a variety of topics of potential interest to follow.

Topical Links for Decorative Arts Class

I'll have images of glove projects to share on Tuesday, but for now, illustrates for us in this post some answers to the question, "When is a glove more than a glove?"

And, because we can't get our respirator fit-testing dates scheduled until the end of the month, I'm postponing our shoe unit and we're moving on to parasols next. In that spirit, check out Elena Corchero's solar parasol, which turns into a chandelier after dark. I may have to experiment with this idea myself! Corchero also does a lovely folding fan/flashlight design in the same vein, and some cool reflective lace for trimming delicately frilly sportswear.

Speaking of shoes, here's a cool how-to on for bricolaging a power-generating shoe modification!

Health and Safety

Many of us who make a career out of costume production develop a repetitive stress injury (RSI) at some point. Vigilance and care of your muscles and joints is the key to maintaining a long, successful career without damaging your body beyond repair. I'm big on learning about a range of ways to minimize or avoid RSIs, from technological advances in ergonomics (simple example: spring-action scissors, compression gloves) to physical therapy exercises. On that tip, i was thrilled to run across's "Yoga for Crafters" series. So far they've got targeted posts aimed at jewelers, stitchers (they say "seamstresses," but in my industry, i've worked with my fair share of male stitchers, too), & interloopers ("knitters & crocheters", but i think the post applies to all yarn artists, including tatters, nalebinders, macrameurs--wow, i just got really pedantic, there, sorry).

Blogs of Note is a great wearable-art/couture/technology blog exploring the intersection of science, technology, fashion, and attire. I set up a LiveJournal feed for it at [ profile] fashioningtech, if you're an LJ blogger and want to follow it on your flist. Some of these links above (parasol, shoes) are swiped from there.

Fashion Creation Without Fabric Waste Creation is a patterning-centric blog written by Australian PhD candidate Timo Rissanen, whose passion is garment design utilizing patterns with zero fabric waste (with occasional birdwatching). He's got some great open-source info on his own pattern creations, such as this no-waste hoodie pattern and these no-waste codpieced leggings. I love this concept, not only for its ecological implications, but also because it holds the same appeal as creative writing within a rigid structure, like writing poetry in sonnets, villanelles, pantoums, etc. but in a clothing design paradigm. I also made him a feed on LJ, at [ profile] 0wastefashion.

On a similar note, if you want a fascinating pattern-theory read (and really, who doesn't?), check out the Julian and Sophie School of Pattern Cutting site, which is the result of a residency at the Royal College of Art. It's mindbending, the way they completely freaktastically puree everything you know about pattern-drafting into these crazily draped garments. One caveat: the photographs of the garments produced are really poor and unilluminating. You can tell from the text that they probably produce visually-intriguing garments, but it's probably something that's going to require practical experimentation to visualize it from a "page to stage" perspective.

Aight, that's me, then. I'm going to wind this up so i can go run around in this lovely autumn sunshine a bit. Have a great weekend, folks!
labricoleuse: (history)
I've had this one art exhibit review on my list of things to write about for quite awhile, but i keep finding that it makes me so angry, i don't know that i can write an objective, considered post about it without sneaking up on it from the side. So, i think i'm going to make a related post this morning about a related topic, hopefully less contentious, because it's just some groundwork discussion rather than conjecture and artistic interpretation. And, if i can swing it right, it'll flow into a forthcoming sane response to the review, followed by more discussion of related issues in one or two future posts. (Ha, vague enough?)

Today, i want to talk about the levels of artistry in costume production, because it's one of the most misunderstood topics for those outside of the field, and even sometimes for those coming into the field. It's also a favored old saw for professional grousing, which, fine, airing frustrations is healthier than stifling them, but how can we expect people to know what we do on different levels unless we lay it out there and explain it? That's what i'm hoping to do with this post, with analogies and terminology that aren't industry-specific. I hope.

My students say this is the most common exchange when they tell someone they are in graduate school for costuming:

Friend/Family: What are you studying?
Student: Costume Production.
F/F: Is that like, design?
Student: No, it's production. Like making the costume from the design.
F/F: Why do you need an MFA to learn how to sew?

Somehow, with fiber art, it sure feels like people have a harder time than with other media making the leap from the concept of the skill to the art. I would love to know whether anyone has ever said something like, "Dang, Chihuly, why did you need an MFA to learn to blow glass?" (Who knows, they probably have.)

Here's what i wish i had a dollar for every time i've heard it said at a symposium, convention, or even in workplaces (usually after a particularly challenging production or design meeting):

They think we're just picking out clothes.

Which, we do a certain amount of "picking out clothes," so that statement is true in the same way that it is (reductive, but) true to say that a woodworker is "manufacturing sawdust," or an electrician is "flipping switches," or a muralist is "slapping paint on a wall." Even at the most elementary level, the clothes which are "picked out" still have to be steamed ("revived") and pressed and altered to fit the performers.

At a basic level of production, that's where most people start in this field: pulling costumes from a stock, or buying/renting them and making them fit the actors. That's what i like to think of as pret-a-porter costuming, and it's probably where almost all of us began. It's the type of costuming at which some companies and designers operate as a matter of course, particularly in the areas of community theatre, highschool and undergraduate drama productions, and small regional and summer theatres.

I'm borrowing the term pret-a-porter from the fashion industry, because it's something we all are familiar with in our own wardrobes. You go to the Gap (or Macy's, or the Diesel store, or wherever), you buy a pair of jeans, and you pick the pair that comes closest to fitting you--maybe they're a bit big in the waist, or maybe they're a tad too long in the leg, but if you fold up the cuff or cut them off at the hem or wear a belt they don't fall off your body or give you a killer wedge so they're "your size," they're the ones you pick. Maybe you even make the poor fit into a feature, strut around in them like you are just ROCKING those turned-up cuffs or baggy crotch seam or gaping waist that shows cute, carefully chosen pretty underpants. Most people on earth wear mass-produced clothes that were not originally made to fit their body--we all understand this kind of costuming because it IS how we clothe ourselves.

And, lest this seem like i'm stigmatizing it as something limited to "amateur" productions or bagging on the skills of pret-a-porter costumers, "find it out there somewhere and make it fit" costuming is also a big business in professional ballet and opera--the companies whose costume shops do custom-made fully-produced new operas are making a great investment, because they often generate revenue over the next decade-plus by renting the entire opera or ballet to other companies around the world. Often, big opera and ballet companies' costume shops will build that into the budget and the production calendar: devote the greater part of the materials and labor to spending six months making a whole new Rosenkavalier, while planning to use the Falstaff and Orphee costumes from eight seasons ago and renting Tosca from [Other Opera Company].

(Incidentally, opera and ballet almost always rent as a complete package; when you have a big-framed actor in a theatre production and it's a pret-a-porter costume process, don't expect to get his stuff from an opera company "since they have a lot of larger performers" because they don't split shows.)

The pret-a-porter school of costuming operates as a component of productions up the ladder of regional theatre and performance--you might have a large show at a LORT theatre where the supporting roles are all rented or pulled and altered costumes, but the main characters are newly-made. From a production standpoint, alterations of rented or pulled costumes are going to be an ongoing component of most professional costumers' workflow. You can, with luck and connections and a stylist's eye, assemble creatively complex, cohesively-conceptualized shows' costumes from bought, borrowed, and rented stock, and sometimes that might be the most effective use of available budget and labor.

However, it's not the sole mode of operation. I mentioned that many companies will choose to custom-make the lead roles' costumes, and this is where the differentiation comes in that can be hard to explain and hard to grasp, and from what i gather, the same holds true in the fashion industry as well: the difference between a garment which has been made-to-measure and a garment which is couture/bespoke. (Again, i'm yanking the jargon from the fashion folk. Even within the costume industry people will say made-to-measure for both of these processes. So, i might be pushing an envelope with adopting bespoke, but so be it.)

So, a costumer is working for a theatre company where they want to make the main characters' clothes in a production of Romeo and Juliet. The designer draws a sketch of Juliet's costume, picks out some fabric and trim, and gives it to the costume shop folks. Makes sense so far, from what most people know about sewing, right?

In a shop that operates within a made-to-measure paradigm, the costumer then goes to the pattern files and looks for a commercial pattern that is as close as possible to the style lines in the Juliet sketch. It might be a McCall's "medieval lady" Halloween pattern, or a Folkwear historical-garment reproduction pattern, or a pattern from one of the many companies who cater to historical and fantasy costumers. The made-to-measure costumer consults the measurements of the actress playing Juliet and chooses which pattern size is best for her. Perhaps the costumer even does some Frankensteining--the bodice of this pattern with the sleeve of that one, with a few adjustments and changing up the shape of the neckline will work great! Or, in order to fit a particularly petite but busty actress, she'll need to cut the bodice as a size 14, the sleeves and skirt as a size 10, and shorten the skirt six inches...

Someone who works in this way will quickly develop an excellent mental reference chart for her/his pattern library--this company's patterns tend to be very longwaisted, while that one always cuts their sleeves a bit short. S/he will also be (ideally) very adept at pattern alteration, and will know where to raise a shoulderseam to add some pads to pump up sloping shoulders, or how to draft in a gusset so Juliet can vigorously stab herself without tearing her sleeve out of the armscye every night. The key here is, in this kind of production process, the patterns largely already exist, or are adaptations of extant patterns.

Made-to-measure costumers find the Great Pattern Review (a feedback archive, often with photos of finished garments, for all commercial pattern companies that offer historical styles, hosted by the Greater Bay Area Costumer's Guild) to be an invaluable reference. They are also often active subscribers to the Vintage Pattern Lending Library and/or the Commercial Pattern Archive. In most cases, made-to-measure shops aren't just "sewing together clothes from patterns," but rather *are* doing quite a bit of pattern adjustment and fitting as well. They can be highly skilled artists who produce lovely costumes which fit their stars beautifully. Cool, yes? I think so. It's a great and effective way to work.

It's not how our shop or program operates though. Bespoke costuming is what we do, and is what they do in shops that produce costumes for Broadway and Cirque de Soleil and Disney on Ice and big-big-budget regional theatre/opera/ballet. Bespoke costuming is what we teach in our graduate program at UNC. Bespoke differs from made-to-measure in that there is no pattern for a costume until the production artist creates it by drafting or draping. The draper or tailor or craftsperson has the costume design sketch and a sheet of measurements, the knowledge in her or his head and a library of historical and modern reference sources, and generates the pattern (and, the costume) by drawing upon that knowledge and set of measurements to interpret the designer's vision and turn the sketch into reality. The costume created is specific to that design for that production for that actor's body, much in the way that genuine haute couture (in the original Charles Worth sense of the phrase) is a unique design made expressly for a single customer, exact to her or his measurements.

In addition to a bespoke costumer's general knowledge of textiles and surface design and garment construction methods, s/he also draws from a background of study in art history, psychology and sociology of dress, design and technical collaboration, historical clothing construction systems (example: Menswear students learn 19th-century tailoring systems), and couture technique. This is (IMO) what makes our program a Master of Fine Arts, that kind of focus within a structured academic course of study, layered in with high-quality skilled output and aesthetically artistic costume interpretation.

So, lest that sound priggish and snobby in the textual toneless mode of text-on-the-net, i'm not saying that these kinds of things don't also inform the decisions and production processes of made-to-measure costumers, or costumers who don't have production-concentration MFAs, nor am i saying that there aren't folks who swing between the two methods, sometimes working from extant patterns and other times drafting or draping their own. I'm saying, there is a difference between the two modes of production, and bespoke is what we teach in our program, in addition to practical production topics.

Incidentally, PlayMakers is fairly unusual for its level of regional theatre, that we operate on basically a bespoke paradigm. (Obviously for a show as big as, say, Nicholas Nickleby, we'll have bespoke costumes produced in-house up on stage next to pret-a-porter ones we've begged/borrowed/bought, simply because five drapers, a tailor, three first hands, and two crafts artisans cannot produce over 600 bespoke costume pieces in two months.) We're not a "big" LORT theatre but because of our grad program and its alliance with PRC, we CAN make unusual and stylized things in-house at a high level of interpretive accuracy; designers are often thrilled to find that they have the kind of creative freedom and constructive collaboration that bespoke production processes allow.

The head of our program has spoken on numerous occasions about the terminological handicaps she feels that American professional costumers work under--i'm paraphrasing, but she doesn't care for "costume technology" or "costume production" as descriptors, because those terms in the common parlance aren't allied with practitioners of fine art. She prefers the British tradition of describing the field as "costume interpretation;" i can certainly appreciate that differentiation, and i don't think it's something to be dismissed as pedantry or splitting semantic hairs. Sometimes to engender understanding, you have to choose the right words, and perhaps we as costumers need to adopt and utilize more evocative terms when discussing what we do.

Pret-a-porter costumers aren't "just picking out outfits and doing alterations," they're interpreting dramatic themes. They're illustrating the characters with the costume equivalent of a big set of colored pencils. You can do inspired and beautiful work that way.

Made-to-measure costumers aren't "just sewing clothes," they're creating actualized designs utilizing a broad skill set. If the pret-a-porter folks have colored pencils, the made-to-measure folks are using watercolors and acrylics and blending several tubes together to get just the right colors.

And, to push my analogy to extremes, bespoke costumers often choose to go to grad school to learn things like which boars have the best bristles for making your own brushes, how to find and harvest and grind your own pigments to mix with which types of oils, ways to look at color and light and anatomy and composition so that, by the time you graduate, you'll know what you need if you want to paint like Vermeer. It's not everybody's bag, bespoke costuming, and that's cool. There's room for everybody. But no, nobody goes to grad school so they can "learn how to sew."

Aight, that's it for me today. I've got a bus to catch and then about a dozen rented Nickleby hats to drop linings into. Seriously, it is off the hook how many places don't finish the interiors of hats. And i get that sometimes there's not enough time--i've sent a hat onstage with no lining because it HAD to go on RIGHT THEN...but i digress. Let's just say that, our Nickleby rentals, since they come on and off onstage in a millinery shop, NEED nice linings, so they will be going back to their owners in far better condition than they arrived! So rent to us, i'll line all your hats! :D

On that topic, i've heard that this week is going to be Costume Designer week over at [ profile] nicknickleby, which will hopefully feature some of the beautiful renderings we've been perusing and planning from...

Oh! And, whichever-few of you reader-folk were lusting after that bustle ensemble in our CoStar archive that's depicted in the icon on this post, you'll be thrilled to know that one of our 3rd year grads has chosen it for the historical repro thesis segment, so there will be an analysis, pattern, and repro images for that one at some point in the soon-ish (i.e., year or so) future.

One last note--if i get to the rest of this discussion soon, great, but i'll be blogging the USITT Southeast Conference this weekend. Our program director and i and several of our students will be attending, so if you're going, see you there! I'm entering some millinery in the Design/Tech Expo, and hopefully checking out a couple of the master classes, so i'll be reporting on that. If you've never been to a regional USITT conference, it'll give you an idea of what they're like, and why you might choose to attending regional in addition to or instead of national.
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
More Blogs

I always get excited to find other people blogging about topics related to my field, and I've got three to share today which are super.

First Pullover is a footwear design and industry blog(!), written by Richard Kuchinsky, a footwear industry professional and shoe designer. His work is largely athletic shoes, but much of his content is of interest to footwear creators (or enthusiasts) in general, and wow, what a great niche blog. Here are some highlight posts:

Garment industry guru Kathleen Fasanella writes the blog Fashion Incubator (LJ feed: [ profile] fashionincub8r), which is jam-packed with excellent information on garment production from an industrial factory-line perspective. She's got a TON of great tutorials on a wide range of subjects, from putting in zippers to an excellent crotch-seam-fit-discussion series entitled "Anatomy of a Camel Toe" (seriously). Of interest to historians is her series of vintage pattern reproduction posts in which she reinvents a Vionnet pattern. LJ feed for this: [ profile] fashionincub8r

The Art and Business of Costume Designing (LJ feed: [ profile] costumedesignbl) is a blog written by Costume Designer Jessica Risser-Milne about...well, the title pretty much says it all. She's got a lot of great posts, but here are some i bookmarked to share, because they offer a great alternate perspective from a designer's POV on several of the topics i've covered in my series of FAQ posts:

Upcoming Conferences

September 3-5, 2009, the USITT Southeastern Regional Conference will be held in Greensboro, NC. In addition to the Design/Tech Expo competition, there will be Master Classes on a range of relevant topics, including PatternMaker software and puppetry.

October 8-10, 2009, the UNCSA Southeastern Regional Entertainment Technology Conference, presented by Cirque du Soleil Resident Shows Division, will be held in Winston-Salem, NC. This conference has tracks for all tech disciplines (sound, lights/projections, automation, sets/rigging, production and stage management, and costumes/wigs/makeup), and will feature behind-the-scenes education on how Cirque's regional and touring shows are run. The conference is limited to 175 participants, and the registration deadline is September 30th.
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
In this blog, I've often mentioned the CoStar collection, an archive of antique and vintage clothing housed here at UNC-Chapel Hill (hosted by our graduate program, curated by program head Judy Adamson, and jointly utilized as a research tool by the Department of Dramatic Art and PlayMakers). CoStar has a continually-expanding online presence in the form of a searchable web archive of the collection of largely 19th and 20th century women's couture, which can be accessed by anyone with a browser. If you've used the site in the past, you'll notice that CoStar has undergone a design overhaul, to a more user-friendly browsable structure than its previous layout.

Each garment in the collection depicted online is accompanied by specific information about its construction, history and provenance if known, and some even have scalable patterns, images of graduate thesis reproductions, and attached research papers, such as this striped silk taffeta bodice worn by Mrs. Edgar Grout for her wedding on June 30, 1897, featuring a scaled pattern and analysis by Emily VanDervort (MFA '08), or this bodice also in striped silk taffeta from the same era (of unknown providence) which includes an analysis and photos of a reproduction by Jade Bettin (MFA '06). The online archive will only continue to grow as present and future research assistants slowly make their way through the documentation process--what's currently shown is perhaps 10-15% of the entire collection, which itself is continually expanding through the generosity of donors.

But, the real point of this post is not to focus on CoStar, which is probably a familiar topic to long-time readers. It's to announce something exciting and new!

In addition to the CoStar resource (which is primarily Western women's clothing of the past couple centuries), an entirely new archive site has gone live, NowesArk, an online catalogue of our non-Western clothing collection! NowesArk is curated by Professor Bobbi Owen, whose collection forms the bulk of its pieces.

The site is super-brand-new (to the point where the "about" section isn't up yet, and the splash page has a couple of typos), but already features 74 items to look through--primarily Japanese and Chinese garments and accessories, though also a few Vietnamese, Tibetan, and Middle Eastern pieces. Graduate research assistant Amanda Phillips (MFA '09) spent her final semester of graduate school supervising a team of several undergrad work-study students on this project, all of whom devoted many hours to documenting these pieces and getting this web resource up and running. Bravo, y'all!

With both of these archives, in the course of researching you can assemble a collection of "favorites" in a scrollable sidebar window (titled "My Stars"), by clicking on the little star/plus graphic next to a garment's title on its description page. So, suppose you are looking at the CoStar collection for bodices in the 1895-1900 window--you could add the two bodices linked above to your My Stars section, keep looking for more bodices that fit your specs and then later go back to read through the particulars or print out the extra info for all the bodices you find. If you are perusing the NowesArk collection for furisode examples, again, the star/plus graphic allows you to quickly weed through the garments and collect up specific furisode links to easily navigate between later. "My Stars" spans both archives, so if you add a bustle dress from CoStar and a haori from NowesArk, you'll see both no matter which archive you are perusing.

You can read detailed info on browsing and searching the collections here, and learn more about the consolidated archive project in general here.

Because we are clearly totally committed to creatively-relevant acronymous naming conventions, both of these archives are collectively known as the Cloaks Archives, accessible by a central clearinghouse page linking to both archives' sites. I'm looking forward to seeing how these collections continue to grow and develop in the future! (For example, i cannot wait til the archivists get to this one box i've seen in the storage area marked "1920 beaded gowns.")

Happy researching!

BTW, please do drop a comment and let us know how the sites are useful to your research or could be improved, and definitely share your experience should you use one of the scalable patterns to make your own reproduction, or as a starting place for your own "take" on one of our pieces!

ETA: I'd love to see someone make up this 1893 day dress, or this 1886 riding habit, or this intricate 1902 velvet bolero from the provided patterns. Also, i'm feeling a little bit of regret i didn't title or subtitle this post "ZOMG FREE PRD PATTERNS BBQ," since i know a common complaint is that there are really only so many period patterns out there commercially available or scalable in references like Janet Arnold's books.

If your university or institute has its own online archive of a similar or related collection, please comment with a link. And, if you have pieces you wish to donate to either collection, email me at < costume -at- unc -dot- edu > and i'll put you in touch with our Acquisitions Coordinator.
labricoleuse: (Default)
It's another week at the helm of [ profile] nicknickleby for me, so check out my piece on the Victorian dual-trade of milliner-prostitute. (I'm glad those skills are no longer linked to one another!)

I've spent the day working on an article i'm co-authoring for the USITT newsletter Sightlines on the recent symposium, and i thought it'd be a good time to mention some of the other resources sponsored by the USITT Costume Commission, in addition to the annual symposium. Some of these resources are open to anyone, and some are restricted to USITT members only.

The USITT Costume Locator Service is a Yahoo!Group with a costume rental focus. Subscribers can post about particular costumes they are seeking ("Does anyone have the Chrysler Building dress from The Producers for a show going up this spring?"), or promote their rental services. It's maintained and moderated by Kevin McClusky of Mary Washington College, and is for USITT members only.

Dickenson College Costume Storage Solutions Database is a visual archive of storage facilities all over the world. (Link goes to a previous post on the subject, in which i discuss how to navigate the database.) It's recently received funding from the Costume Commission, but can be viewed by anyone with a web browser. And, anyone with a costume storage facility is encouraged to photograph areas of it and submit them! It is maintained by Sherry Harper McCombs.

CoPA, the Commercial Pattern Archive contains over 50,000 scanned images (garments & pattern schematics) from 42,000 commercially produced patterns, dating from 1868 to 1979 and is growing daily. You can purchase the database as a CD set or subscribe to it online. CoPA is housed at the University of Rhode Island and maintained by Project Director Joy Emery; researchers can visit the collection in person, as well (you do not have to be a member of USITT to conduct in-person research, or to subscribe).

The Survey of Costume Design and Technology Programs is a database compiled and maintained by our own Costume Director at UNC-CH, Judy Adamson. I've mentioned it quite a bit on here before, particularly in my FAQ posts about applying to graduate school, but it bears mention again. It contains information on all university programs offering undergraduate and graduate education in costume design and/or technology, sorted by geographical region and alphabetically. Currently, there isn't an option for searching on other variables, such as a particular professor's name, or a particular area of focus, but you could do a restricted google search to look site-specifically, by typing in something like " tailoring" to find all the programs that specifically mention tailoring as a topic they teach. Another caveat: the Survey is updated in the fall (i.e., an update is coming soon), so all the information in there right now is accurate only as of Fall 2008. Anyone may use the Survey site, not just USITT members.

The Costume Plot Database is another free-to-the-public resource sponsored in part by the Costume Commission. Users can search for existing costume plots on there, or add new ones for the benefit of future costumers. It is maintained by Kristina Tollefson of the University of Central Florida.

Kristina also moderates the Costume Info Listserv, a general-discussion Yahoo!Group for USITT members. It's an all-purpose forum for anything related to costuming for performance--technique questions, academic questions, safety queries, job postings. The only taboo topic is rental requests or ads, which should be directed to the USITT Costume Locator Service group.

The International Organization of Scenographers, Architects and Technicians (OISTAT) maintains a website for their Costume Working Group, which features a number of international resources available to USITT members. Anyone may look at the site with a standard web browser.

It's not a Costume Commission sponsored site, but another useful database is Inside Leg, a subscription database of actors' measurements. Any shop manager or designer may subscribe, though the database is only as useful as its participants make it, which is why we ask for a release form from any actor that is cast in our shows and contribute her/his measurements, if they are not already available on there!
labricoleuse: (CAD)
Looking over the past few posts, i seem to be on a real kick of "crazycraft" interspersed with "computers and costuming"! After all those symposium creature posts, here's another computer-related one.

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

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

Click for computer screencaps and photos of the cutter robot! )
labricoleuse: (CAD)
Wow, two weeks since i last updated! I think that's a record for the amount of time this blog has lain fallow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

click for images )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We're moving into pattern development software so i plan to post about that experience soon, too, and we'll also be covering textile print design and digital portfolio creation, so that's on the horizon as well. And, i do have a millinery post or two brewing, hopefully coming in the next coupla weeks, about this exciting trio of hats i'm making on a bid job for the Williamstown Theatre Festival!
labricoleuse: (manga avatar)
Probably the most popular (in terms of hits/comments) post of all time on this blog was my overview of what i called the Lady Artisan Apron, a work apron with a fitted bodice-bib section. Since posting about it over a year ago, dozens of people have emailed, commented, PM'd or otherwise contacted me about it, often sending pictures of their own renditions, asking questions, adding features or modifications. Some have been used for crafts artisans and dyers like myself, but people have also made them for countless other purposes--bakers and chefs, artists, housecleaners, costumers, role-players, photographers, child-care professionals, you name it! It's been awesome to see how everyone's made it their own.

And, here i am over a year later, having finally finished one of the two i had planned to make way back when i bought some denim for my dream-style work aprons and put together that first mockup ("beta" version)! It's funny how little time you have to sew for yourself when you spend all your days making stuff for a living, but that's okay; i've had the mockup to wear in the interim... Not that it was nearly as nice as this new one is.

mirror photo on the fly )

I've got two hats in progress that hopefully i'll be finishing and writing up soon (two that y'all voted on, in fact), but in the interim, speaking of hats...i have links to a couple of hat contests! sponsors the Hatty Awards, for which one either nominates onesself or is nominated by colleagues. Know anyone you really admire in their contributions to the field of hatmaking? Nominate away, and may the maddest hatters win! Nominations close September 30th.

And, it's that time of year again for the Hats & Hearts millinery contest, sponsored by the NC Women's Health Center and the UNC Oncology department. Hats entered will be given to cancer patients in the treatment program, so make sure if you enter that you don't enter a hat you want returned. Two of my students and i entered last year and one of them won in the men's division! The prizes are some pretty good gift certificates to restaurants and businesses, and it's a great cause. Registration deadline is August 29th, with all hats received by September 3rd.
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
Today was the second day of the symposium; while we waited for our output from yesterday's classes to cure/dry/etc., we toured three companies and organizations in the Carolina piedmont whose work is of related interest to costume professionals.

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

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

Photographs and more info... )
labricoleuse: (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: (Default)
It's the time of year when we have a lot of prospective graduate students visiting our program; i have a number of resources for them on this blog. There's the sidebar tags for posts relating to the specific courses I teach in the program (such as millinery, dyeing, etc), and i have a series of related "meta" posts on topics like MFA programs, interviews, portfolios, etc. Here's a collection of links to those posts:

Preparing for a Costume Production MFA
Costume MFA Programs: Design vs. Production foci
Advice on Getting Into an MFA Program
Assembling a Portfolio
Presenting Your Portfolio

I'm the only instructor in our program who writes a blog, so thought i can't speak for the other professors in terms of the particulars of their classes, i did want to share some images of student projects for one of the other series of courses: period patterning.

We have several multi-course "batteries" of classes. The grad students in our program go through my series of four required crafts courses (millinery, dyeing/painting/distressing, masks/armor, and decorative arts). They also do a series of period patterning courses covering various periods in history. Those who focus in shop management do four management-specific courses as well. The period patterning courses are taught by Judy Adamson; behind the cut are some images of some of the projects they do in those courses.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (opening night gala)
Even before my Lady Artisan's Apron was featured in Steampunk Magazine (but moreso since that came out!), i've been getting a lot of great feedback from folks making their own version of this project.

[ profile] jadecat9 has a wonderful writeup on her own process, here. She made the apron in a heavy pinstriped denim and wore it at the Westercon convention as part of a costume. The post features lots of pictures, so check it out!

ETA: Complete dress diary here--

[ profile] trystbat also has a dress-diary of her own costume version of the apron here, done up in a heavy burgundy twill!

I know a few other readers are making versions of this, so if you are one of them, please post pictures, or put a link in the comments if you're writing a dress-diary on it or similar! I love to see what others have done with these things!
labricoleuse: (Default)
I've been completely submerged in finishing up our final show of the season, Tony Kushner's revamp of Corneille's The Illusion, which opens Saturday. This past weekend was tech, but I actually had some downtime (though i had to stay at work and be on-call) for a few hours yesterday afternoon and finished a mockup for my super-fantastic custom-designed Lady Artisan's Apron.

Any female who's worked in a lab, workshop, or kitchen can probably go on at length about how much standard-issue bib aprons for any purpose simply don't function for the female form. They are never designed to actually accommodate a bust curve so they either don't adequately protect your chest area from splashback, or you look like the broad side of a barn. Or both. While i'm not the sort of woman who feels like a fugly waste of space if i don't have a full face of makeup on and cute shoes, wearing utility aprons has always been--for reasons of their design/construction--a necessary evil. But i asked myself: why? Why not instead create a flattering apron, where form follows function follows form? Why not make myself an apron i would be happy to wear all day long, day in and day out?

So, i decided to create my ideal work-apron: a bib style with a full 5-gore skirt modeled on the Edwardian walking skirt, of which the bib is actually both princess-seamed and bust-darted so it curves AROUND the boobal area.

instructions and photos )
labricoleuse: (CAD)
Our program director returned from the recent USITT Conference with a whole pile of great information, including a lot of literature on various computer programs. I thought i'd write up some brief overviews of them here for y'all.

The Costume Bible

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

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

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


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

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

Wild Ginger Software

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

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

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

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

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

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