labricoleuse: (safety)
I recently finished reading the excellent new book from fashion historian Alison Matthews Davis, Fashion Victims - The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, and my advice to the readership of this blog is, in short, get your hands on a copy. It's fantastic.

I'm not sure which came first, he book or the eponymous exhibit which ran at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto recently--the book is much more than an exhibit catalogue, though it does contain a substantial number of illustrations (129 full color ones!). So perhaps the book begat the exhibit? Regardless, it's an imminently readable volume, hardcover, full-color, a coffeetable book of sorts, well worth the $40 retail price. I'll defer to a quote from the press release for an excellent summary:

A boldly gory and thoroughly illustrated history of death by clothing, from blazing crinolines to mercury-laden fur.

As a major proponent of safe work practices and an instructor who incorporates OSHA/EHS compliance topics into my classes, i found this book at turns fascinating, heartbreaking, gruesome, inspiring, and at times downright disturbing. Yes, the example cases mentioned within are sometimes horrible on their own, but more horrifying are the bits where the author discusses having lab techs at her university run tests on modern-day products easily bought in stores in your own neighborhood--lead content in lipsticks, for example, or radioactive metal used to ornament imported studded belts.

The book is structured so that each chapter focuses on a different class of danger--there's a chapter devoted to the hazards of the hatting industry, then one on flammable tutu net and flannelette, etc. As a sometime-hatmaker, the hatting chapter was particularly sad--one illustration showed examples of hatters' legible signatures as young apprentices contrasted with the unreadable trembling scribbles they signed with after a decade in the trade.

I highly recommend the book in general, but it's a particularly significant read and reference volume for those working in costume archives and in vintage clothing houses, as well as those in academia with study collections or large stocks of antique/vintage clothing.
labricoleuse: (safety)
So, you may or may not have heard about OSHA's new labeling standards for products you stock in your workplace. This info is going to be of particular interest to those running a dye facility--especially if you stock dyes for synthetics and color-removal chemicals--and for anyone who runs a craft shop, paint shop, etc.

If you haven't heard about this new regulation, there's a great FAQ about it here.

Our Environmental Health & Safety department has been helpful in terms of getting us the required info and helping to establish procedures for the switch. If you haven't got a resource like that, you can find a lot of info on the OSHA website (like their printable Quick Cards for HazCom Pictograms and Labeling Standards).

I've created a labeling station in the dye shop to help our employees learn these new procedures and standards, located right inside the facility where any worker can access it:

How are you accommodating the new standards in your facility?
labricoleuse: (safety)
I've rhapsodized in the past about how thankful i am to work at a professional theatre in residence on the campus of a major university, particularly one that functions in part as a teaching lab for production graduate programs, because safety standards and training are so high. Despite having a CV approximately 10x longer than my arm, PlayMakers/UNC-CH is the first employer i've worked for which had a comprehensive respirator fit-testing program for costume craftspeople[1].

Many theatres and independent production shops and freelance artisans don't have any idea how to implement such a thing or have the resources to do so. We're lucky because the university already has an Environmental Health and Safety department set up to do this kind of training for folks over in the science labs, medical school, and various facilities maintenance areas which work with airborne toxins far more frequently than we do, so for me and my students to piggyback onto the school's existing training and testing setup is not a huge deal.

So, here's something pretty exciting for everyone who wants to learn about respirator fit testing and training but doesn't know how to begin: on November 29th at 1pm, Lab Safety Supply is hosting a free 45-minute webinar about it! They already have a handy online fact sheet, but this presentation will allow you to interact with and ask questions of LSS's safety experts as well.

Register for the webinar here.

Honestly, this is a resource i wish i had access to or had known about fifteen or twenty years ago, and if our theatre and department didn't have the respirator training in place which it currently does, i'd be requiring all my students to register for the webinar and we'd all watch it and participate on the 29th. Hence, passing on the info here. If your company doesn't have a training and fit testing program, or if you freelance and want to educate yourself in this realm, or if it's been a few years since you were trained/fit tested and you need a refresher, check it out!

[1] This is not to say that prior employers of mine were intentionally grossly negligent or anything, rather that the arts industries were largely ignored by OSHA up until perhaps the last decade or so, when they really began to sit up and notice thanks to the efforts of watchdog organizations like ACTS. Even theatres which had training programs for their scenic painters and carps and such, often did not include costume production folks out of an assumption that our work was limited to cut-and-sew processes. But, from dyestuffs to shoe sprays, we know this is not true.
labricoleuse: (safety)
In the interest of it being the beginning of the academic year and the regular theatre season for many folks (me included), it's the time when ideally your company or department is going through the yearly training processes--reviewing proper use of shop machinery, renewing respirator training certifications, etc.

On the USITT costumers email list, a colleague asked today about ergnomic shears and other tips and tricks for preventing and minimizing Repetitive Stress Injuries from sewing tasks like cutting. I'm posting my response here, and invite you all to share product reviews and links in the comments as well.

I have a similar Repetitive Stress Injury, which i first developed from overuse cutting with rotary cutters. I have worked with spring-loaded shears and electric rotary cutters since, and varied my working practices to accommodate flare-ups.

I have not had good luck with these Gingher spring shears--the springs keep breaking so i'm on my third repair of them:

So even though Fiskars are lower quality blades, for ergo scissors they last longer IME.

I have several pairs of these Fiskars:

And, my next big investment is going to be in these ambidextrous ergo industrial ones, though i haven't tried them yet:

So sorry you have developed this kind of strain injury. It's no fun for sure, and if you can go to a physical therapist and learn some strength exercises, they really help as well. I recommend checking out the OSHA document on safe sewing task practice for info and images of different tool options to help with this:
labricoleuse: (paraplooey)
I promise I'll get back to original content soon, but this is another ACTS FACTS reprint because it's been discussed in every industry event i've been to all year, from cocktail parties to conferences. Reprinted in full with permission from ACTS FACTS, the Arts Crafts and Theatre Safety Newsletter, August 2011, Vol. 25, No. 08.

In response to inquiries, I'm publishing the Spider-Man citations. They are found under "8 Legged Productions, LLC" on OSHA's web site. All three "serious" citations carry proposed fines of $4500, $4500, and $3500 respectively. The first is under the General Duty clause (1910.5(a)(1)). It read:

The employer did not furnish employment and a place of employment which were free of recognized hazards that were caused or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees in that employees were exposed to the hazards of falls or being struck during flying routines when employees fell from an elevated platform and/or struck the stage because of improperly adjusted or unsecured safety harnesses: Foxwoods Theatre a.)On or about September 25, 2001, an employee was injured while performing an aerial routine when he struck the ground in front of the landing platform which was not in correct position in regard to rigging position, b.)On October 19, 2010, an employee was injured while performing an aerial routine when he struck the ground in front of the landing platform, c.) On December 20, 2010, an employee was injured when the employee fell from an elevated scene due to fall restraint system not being anchored properly. Among other methods, feasible and acceptable abatement methods to correct the hazards are to: Comply with Aerial Performers Part 41 of Title 12 of the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules, and Regulations of the State of New York. Supplementing Part 41 of Title 12 by use of visual confirmation that the fall protection systems are properly attached and anchored and confirmation that the state props and platforms are set prior to allowing stage managers to give approval for the computerized controlled system to perform aerial acts. NOTE: NIN ADDITION TO ABATEMENT CERTIFICATION, THE EMPLOYER IS REQUIRED TO SUBMIT ABATEMENT DOCUMENTATION FOR THIS ITEM, FAILURE TO COMPLY WILL RESULT IN AN ADDITIONAL PENALTY OF $1,000.00 AS PER 29 1903.19.0.

The second citation is under 1910.23(c)(1), Guarding floor and wall openings and holes, which requires guarding of all floors or platforms 4 feet or more above the floor or ground with a standard rail or "the equivalent." The equivalent measures usually allow theatrical producers a lot of options, as long as they can support their belief that their choice of fall protection measures will be as effective as a guard rail. ACTS FACTS has covered a number of similar citations at other theatres and it should remind us that elevated stages must be included in written fall protection programs.

The third citation is for the general requirements for personal protective equipment. This general rule could be used to cover the non-traditional fall protection equipment used at Spider-Man
labricoleuse: (safety)
A quick safety update, because i believe it is important to stay on top of news in this area. Reprinted in full with permission from ACTS FACTS, the Arts Crafts and Theatre Safety Newsletter, August 2011, Vol. 25, No. 08.

OSHA is proposing to update the list of businesses that are partially exempt from reporting their accidents and illnesses. OSHA is also switching their classification system from the Standard Industry Classification (SIC) to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

The reporting regulation currently provides a list of industries that are partially exempt from maintaning records. They were excluded because OSHA assumed they had relatively low rates of occupational injury and illness. However, since the exempted industries haven't kept records, it is obviously impossible to prove that their rates are actually low. This is especially a problem for theatrical and entertainment industries which have had a surprising number of high profile accidents recently such as those at Spider-Man or Disney's Orlando theme park. Now OSHA has proposed to change the list. If the proposal becomes law, we will finally have some data on the following industries:

NAICS - NAICS Industry description (of those that would have to report)
7111.. Performing Arts Companies
711110 Theatre Companies and Dinner Theatres
711120 Dance Companies
711130 Musical Groups and Artist
711190 Other Performing Arts Companies

7113.. Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events
711320 Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events with Facilities (e.g. companies in fixed locations)
711320 Promoters of Performing Arts, Sports, and Similar Events without Facilities (e.g., road companies)

7121.. Museums, Historical Sites, and Similar Institutions
712110 Museums
712120 Historical Sites

7139.. Other amusement and Recreation Industries
713950 Bowling Centers
713990 All other Amusement and Recreation Industries

The proposed rule would also require covered employers to report to OSHA, within eight hours, all work-related fatalities and all work-related in-patient hospitalizations; and within 24 hours, all work-related amputations. The current regulation requires employers to report to OSHA, within eight hours, all work-related fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations of three or more employees.

Unfortunately, OSHA has seen fit to leave on the exempt list some industries ACTS feels should be keeping records including:

NAICS - NAICS Industry description
6112.. Junior Colleges
6113.. Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
6115.. Technical and Trade Schools
6116.. Other Schools and Instruction

Also exempt are all companies with fewer than 10 employees. For the full lists, see the Federal Register of June 22, 2011, pages 36414-36438. This is a "Proposed Rule" whose comment period is still open. It may not be approved.
labricoleuse: (dye vat)
On the USITT costumers' email list, one member recently asked some relevant questions about dye vats. She's got budget approval to buy one, and wondered whether anyone had strong feelings about wooden paddles (length, type of wood, etc), or had any experience with the Blodgett brand of steam-jacketed vats.

I decided to transcribe my response here, so it'd be Googleable for future researchers of the topic.

On wood paddles:

I have four $12 wood paddles that i use in my two steam-jacketed vats. One of them predates my tenure here so i have no idea how old it is--it has a thin crack running along the wide part of the paddle, which is why i purchased more, thinking it might break off soon. I've been here five years and counting and it hasn't broken yet. I wouldn't use it to paddle delicate fabric down into a bath, just in case it might snag something, but i do use it still on sturdier jobs.

That's the only reason i could think of to justify a costlier hardwood paddle, the lower likelihood of the wood cracking over time after repeated exposure to heat/chemicals, but it's not something on my dream list of equipment or anything. My cheapo paddles work fine, and when they do go, it's easier to find $12 to replace them than $100.

Lengthwise, all four of mine are 36" paddles, and they are fine in the 60-gal Groen.

On vats:

I can't help you on personal experience with the Blodgett brand, in that everywhere i've worked that had a functional vat had Groens or Hamiltons, or used soup tureens on giant heating elements. One shop i worked in had a Blodgett (IIRC) that someone had donated to the facility without investigating whether there was sufficient space/plumbing/ventilation, so it sat sadly in the basement because no one wanted to get rid of it, but no one knew how to find a way (physically or budgetarily) to install it either. I count this as a negative statement about the vat donor and facilities director in that case, rather than the Blodgett brand. :)

I'm going to repost this topic to my blog, since due to my posts on buying dye vats and vent hoods, sometimes it catches some relevant eyes that this email list doesn't--maybe some of the readership will chime in with Blodgett product reviews. In general, if you can find a restaurant surplus supply in your area, you might be able to get a second-hand vat in good condition from them for much less $$$ than brand-new.

Because, not only do you need to plan for the vat but also for ventilation! Which, you may have already investigated that so forgive me if i'm stating the obvious, but it is something that slips people's minds, as evidenced by my tale of the Blodgett in the basement--no plan had been made for plumbing it in/out, wiring a switchbox for it, or locating it somewhere that a vent hood could be installed. That said, you can be creative with this sort of thing, depending on where you are. I know of a shop in the Los Angeles area which has their dye vat outside under a carport roof--utilizing natural ventilation. Of course, i don't know how their neighbors might feel about that choice.

And, just in case you haven't come across them in your research, here are links to my two prior blog posts on this, which are sort of buyer guides for the theatrical dyer, to help with research and asking the right questions of vendors and facilities folks:

Dye vat sourcing:
Ventilation options:

Honestly, if you can't get both the size vat you want and a good vent system, paddles, goggles/gauntlets/etc out of your $10,000 budget, you might save a bundle but still really upgrade your dye facility by looking at 40gal or 60gal non-steam-jacketed tureens and an industrial-sized heating element. That's the route they chose at the LA Opera when they moved into a new costume facility the year before i worked there--tureen/element rather than steam-jacketed vat--and it's what they've got in the dyeshop at Parsons-Meares and at the American Repertory Theatre (or had when i worked there 2 and 6 years ago, respectively). If you want to consider that and price it out, research around about hot plates for drums and stock pots, like these:

The difference between the dyebath you get from a tureen and one you get with a steam-jacket is temperature gradation--the heat from the element makes the bath tend to be warmer the deeper it is, so your dyer just needs to be more vigilant and vigorous about stirring to circulate the bath and maintain a more uniform temperature. Which, you want to stir baths anyhow for more uniform color uptake, so that's not a huge deal, really.

I recommend, if you go that route, getting a tureen with a stopcock/spigot at the base, so you can drain it without lifting it.
labricoleuse: (safety)
Do you have difficulty deciphering the arcane documentation on MSDS (material safety data sheets)? Things are changing soon in that respect, hopefully for the better!

I opened up this month's edition of ACTS Facts, the newsletter of the Arts Crafts and Theatre Safety watchdog organization, and read this great news. I'm reprinting the article in its entirety with permission. It's an editorial by ACTS President and founder, Monona Rossol.

It was sad to start the New Year with a story of 152 people dead from the same disregard for fire safety we saw in the Rhode Island nightclub fire. This story was even more depressing to me because I inspected a New York nightclub last week that was full of flaking lead paint, asbestos, and fire hazards. For balance, I needed to cover something more positive. I found it in the changes proposed for material safety data sheets (MSDSs).

You readers and others have made me an MSDS expert. For 25 years, I have offered to interpret and comment on MSDSs you send or attach to an email. So I've read thousands. And most stink.

MSDSs TODAY. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires 12 categories of information on MSDS, but many MSDSs don't cover all of them. Finding information is difficult because there is no set format in which the data must be presented. Confusing and contradictory statements, outright errors, and data that is years out of date are common on MSDSs.

Even worse, over the last decade I have seen more and more manufacturers reinterpreting OSHA's regulations to mean they only have to list ingredients as hazardous if they are one of the roughly 400 chemical for which OSHA has standards. Some manufacturers feel free to simply withhold from us the presence of any chemical for which there was no specific OSHA regulation or air quality standard. Usually they will even tell you they are doing this with statements such as "no regulated ingredients" or "no OSHA standards apply to any components."

Listing only 400 ingredients is outrageous when you realize that the US EPA estimates there are 100,000 chemicals in commerce, the European Union has registered 140,000 chemicals to be used in their products, and the Chemical Abstract Service recently registered its 50 millionth chemical.

MSDSs got to this sad state simply because no person or government agency checks MSDSs for accuracy or completeness. The information on an MSDS is only likely to be scrutinized after an accident, injury, or lawsuit. With no enforcement, there is little incentive to create good MSDSs.

CAVALRY COMING. A United Nations program spearheaded by the European Union has come up with the answer to the MSDS problem. In 2003, the United Nations (UN) adopted the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). The GHS classification system was worked out to promote common, harmonized criteria for the classification of chemicals and the aid in the development of a worldwide standard for compatible MSDSs. And in the process, they dropped the "MSDS" name and call the new GHS documents just "Safety Data Sheets."

The GHS is being adopted by more and more countries. Our manufacturers better get used to creating GHS compatible Safety Data Sheets if they want to sell products to the rest of the world.

OSHA already sees this coming. On September 30, 2009, OSHA published a proposed rule (74 FR 50279-50549) to update the Hazard Communication Standard to adopt the GHS classification of chemicals and the new Safety Data Sheets. These measures would enhance public health and reduce trade barriers by using universal hazard statements, pictograms, and signal words to communicate hazardous information on product labels and safety data sheets. These new Safety Data Sheets are infinitely more usable for workers, consumers, and non-technical people.

THE PURPLE BOOK. The rules for the new Safety Data Sheets are all found in a large publication available online from the United Nations in a big book with a purple cover. It's called the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, 3rd Revised Edition. Just googling "the GHS Purple Book" should score you a copy. It can be downloaded for free in English or any other major language.

In the Purple Book's Annex [appendix] 4, there is the following advice which sums up the misleading statements about untested chemicals we currently see here in the US and how these statements are no longer acceptable:

A4.3.11.4 General statements such as "Toxic" with no supporting data or "Safe if properly used" are not acceptable as they may be misleading and do not provide a description of health effects. Phrases such as "not applicable", "not relevant", or leaving blank spaces in the health effects section can lead to confusion and misunderstanding and should not be used. For health effects where information is not available, this should be clearly stated. ...

So the new Safety Data Sheets tell us what is not known, along with what is known. For example, our old MSDSs often tell us that a substance is not considered a carcinogen by various research and governmental agencies. You would be misled if you assumed this means the substance is not a carcinogen. Instead, it usually means there are no cancer studies for these agencies to evaluate!

While the new Globally Harmonized Safety Data Sheets can't change the fact that most of the chemicals we use have never been tested, they will tell us unequivocally which tests have been done and which have not. I hope that workers and consumers one day will be motivated to action when they see over and over again from their Safety Data Sheets that even many of the common chemicals they use have never been tested for cancer--or any other chronic hazard.

DEFINITION CHANGES. There is also a vital change in the definition of a health hazard. OSHA requires MSDSs to list ingredients present in amounts of 1.0 percent or more if they pose a "health hazard" to workers. OSHA defines a health hazard as "a chemical for which there is statistically significant evidence based on at least one study conducted in accordance with established scientific principles that acute or chronic health effects may occur in exposure employees."

You don't have to be a lawyer to see that chemicals for which there are no data whatever are, by OSHA's definition, not health hazards! But on the new Safety Data Sheets, a series of blanks for the various toxicity tests for untested chemicals will repeatedly contain the statement that there is "no data available." Finally people will be able to easily identify chemicals that are untested.

The new Safety Data Sheets reflect the European Union's influence in two aspects: 1.) the adoption of the new Precautionary Principle which does not assume untested chemicals are safe (as US regulation do currently), and 2.) the strategy of considering suspect, until proven otherwise, all chemicals that are closely related to a known toxic chemical. Common sense appears to be coming at last.

OSHA PROPOSED RULE. The OSHA's proposal to update the MSDSs closed its comment period on December 29. Soon, OSHA will publish some of these comments, the majority of which probably will be complaints about the changes from manufacturers. I worry that manufacturers will obtain the right to give US workers the old MSDSs and will only provide the GHS Safety Data Sheets to their foreign customers.

But while we can hear the cavalry blowing the call to "charge" in the distance, US workers and consumers will still have to contend with the crap that constitutes most US MSDSs today.

Leave it to Ms Rossol not to put too fine a point on it, or hem and haw about her clear opinions!Being the safety cheerleader and OSHA groupie that i am, I'm interested to see how all this plays out. One thing i'm not looking forward to, but which i will suck up and gladly deal with if it comes to fruition is, the replacement of my current 8"-thick costume shop MSDS file with all the new SDSs. Sounds like a job study! :D

Article (c) ACTS January, 2010, reprinted from:

Monona Rossol, Editor
181 Thompson St. #23
New York, NY 10010
(212) 777-0062
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: (safety)
One of the most frequently-broken OSHA regulations in professional costume shops is that of required proper occupational footwear. The full standards are online at, but essentially, if a workplaces has "a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole, and where such employee's feet are exposed to electrical hazards," it's the employer's responsibility to insure that the employees have on protective footwear in the workplace. Shears, needles, and pins can all pierce the sole of the foot if they fall onto the floor, and have you ever dropped an iron? Many costume facilities also have rolling elements, from dress forms to movable tables to sewing stations on casters. So yes, we qualify.

Many costume shop employees really hate this regulation, too, because we're all in a field which celebrates the unusual and stylish modes of dress and adornment throughout history; costumers are drawn to interesting footwear styles and some want to wear them to work, regardless of safety. Trouble is, that'll get an employer written up in a safety inspection, and if an injury happens due to improper footwear (such as, a stitcher drops a pair of shears and the blades puncture their foot, or a stock manager breaks some toes because s/he rolls a full rack of costumes over them), the workman's comp claim is a sure-fire way to gain OSHA's scrutiny.

Don't get me wrong; i love a cute shoe, an impractical shoe, a sexy shoe, a fancy shoe, you name, too! Honestly, i have in my time worn quite possibly some of the world's most impractical footwear. (I was all about the laughably-high platforms while nightclubbing in the 1990s.) And, there are definitely times and places in one's career as a professional costumer for the cute, impractical, fancy, sexy footwear. Opening night galas, for instance.

But here's my take on it:

As costumers, we're always grousing about how no one in other industries or other areas of our own field ever TRULY understands the nature of our work--how difficult it is, how much education and skill and experience is required, how we're overworked and underpaid and given the lowest budgets and expected to do miracles and yet somehow, people still think we're all just "picking out clothes." This line of talk comes up all the time--at professional conventions, symposia, workshops, conferences, academic society meetings, etc. etc. etc.

I guess, for my part, I figure that if i want people to treat me like a highly skilled professional, I should present myself as one. I should show up to work every day in my ANSI-compliant footwear. Every time a tour comes through that I'm supposed to speak to about, say, our fantastic dye facility with its industrial steam-jacketed dye kettles, perhaps i should also point out the vent hoods, and that i'm wearing occupational PPEs--proper gloves, splash-proof goggles, and proper shoes. In my 19 years of professional experience, closed-toe shoes have saved me from dropped blades and other hand tools, crushed toes, and chemical and temperature burns from splattered solvents and boiling dye splashes. So me, i embrace wearing the OSHA shoes, you bet!

But, you may ask, what kind of shoes are the "right" shoes to wear?

Currently, in the USA, occupational footwear must comply with the American National Standards Institute's standard Z41-1991/1999. Those standards change over time, so it's always good to check with OSHA as to what's the currently accepted standard. Unfortunately, you can't just look that ANSI# up on the internet and see what it says--you have to buy access to ANSI standards, and generally, corporations are the ones who do that.

But you're in luck. Basically, it's not your responsibility to locate that standard and interpret it. In terms of workplace policy, it's the responsibility of your company's safety officer or facilities director or sometimes technical director to interpret the standards and set company policy of what those standards mean. In some workplaces (like probably your scene shop) workers are required to wear steel-toe lace-up boots or shoes. In dye shops, that might mean closed-toe shoes with alkali-resistant soles. Generally, a closed-toe style is going to be the minimum protection you need.

In terms of shoe-shopping, work-wise, that's another case where the guesswork has been done for you--manufacturers often will cite on their products whether they are compliant with the current standard. It's usually molded into the sole in the arch area, in fact, something like "Complies with ANSI Z41.1991" so you know you're good wearing that shoe to work. If you're a clompy combat-boot fan (as many art-school/costumer/designery types are), you probably are already familiar with that notation from the soles of your shoes.

I'm always on the lookout for good occupational footwear that i actually like. I usually have at least 3 pairs of work-appropriate shoes or boots to rotate between (since your shoes last much longer if you don't wear them every day--gives them time to completely dry out from a day's worth of sweat/moisture). In the wintertime, that's usually two pairs of ANSI-compliant cowboy boots and one pair of something like engineer boots.

In the summer though, it's much harder for me to find good shoes i like wearing to work--it's too hot for boots. When i started working at Tumbling Colors a few weeks ago, i realized that i only had one pair of appropriate shoes: a pair of steel-toe Sanita clogs. (Clogs are a very popular style choice, i've noticed, among costumers who wear occupational footwear.) Point is, i needed me a new pair of shoes!

Boy, was i excited then to find Ariat's Safety Toe Clogs last week! Good, sturdy, safety-compliant, yet kind of cool-looking shoes for tromping through puddles of caustic dyebaths [1], and being a cowboy boot fan, i'm particularly fond of the toebug-esque stitching along the top. I've worn them a couple times already and am so pleased, i was inspired to spend this much time talking about feet! :D

Anybody else got a favorite pair of work shoes or boots? Like i said, i'm always on the lookout...

[1] I think i mentioned that i oh-so-smoothly accidentally dumped an entire 5gal dyebath all over the floor when the handle on my bucket broke a couple days into the gig. Lame. But, then again, happens to the best of us, and that's what the shoes are for.
labricoleuse: (safety)
It's a news story that many people might have missed, since it came out over Christmas--the catastrophic coal slurry impoundment breach which occurred December 22nd in Roane County, Tennessee. Despite the epic scale of the disaster--today's revised estimate by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) puts the spillage at 5.4 million cubic yards of slurry (that's around 1.09 billion gallons of soupy sludge)--it didn't make it into many national news sources until Christmas day. Some of this delay might be explained by reduced staff in news services from economic cutbacks and/or the Christmas holiday, or the lack of staggering numbers of human casualties or personal property destruction. No one died in the avalanche/flood, and because of the limited population density only a few houses were destroyed. The devastation is measured in ecological terms: forests and wildlife decimated, fish kills, lakes and streams choked with the muck or completely obliterated.

It's hard to conceive of the scale of this disaster. For comparison, the Exxon Valdez incident was 10.8 million gallons of crude oil spilled, so this is around 100 times as much material released into the Tennessee river system and deluging the countryside.

It is a departure from my topic to write about this in La Bricoleuse--ostensibly my topic being restricted to areas of professional costume craftwork for performance. On rare occasions though (such as this one), I do depart from the subject. I do have a personal concern for what's going on--I grew up in east Tennessee and my family has lived here for generations; I went to undergrad at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, literally just up the highway from the affected area, and had many classmates and friends from the Harriman/Roane County area. My grandparents live a couple counties over. This has happened to a place i call "home."

Really though, this *is* somewhat related to the general focus of La Bricoleuse, because what i want to use the disaster to explore is the idea of hazard information dissemination and evaluation of hazard info in terms of personal precaution and protection.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (safety)
A question came up recently on the USITT Costumers' e-group about sourcing, pricing, and installation of dye vat hoods and ventilation systems. I thought i'd cross-post my response here as an "Ask LaBricoleuse" entry. This is one of those questions like "Where do i buy a dye vat?" that comes up again and again, and one that's close to my shop-safety-advocating heart.

The two main types of vendors to check out are restaurant/kitchen supply places and lab supply places.

For restaurant/kitchen places, search for "range vent hoods," which come in several styles and are designed to suck away steam, fumes, smoke, grease, heat, etc. Here are some vendors of this type. (this one has prices on the splash page)

The good thing about the range hoods is, you can look them up on "Consumer Reports"-style sites and read feedback on various brands before you purchase them, find out what's the best bet for your buck and what's got reliability issues. Some of them even have cool features like temperature-sensitive intakes that suck away faster at higher temps, and flame sensitive sprinkler attachments and such.

Lab supply places, you're looking for "laboratory canopy hoods." They're like range hoods, but designed for industrial lab usage so they often have extra features like corrosive-resistant coatings.

When you are pricing out options, talk with your facilities folks and find out what sort of budget/process you need to allot for installation--a wall- or ceiling-mounted hood requires ductwork that vents to the outside, away from any A/C intakes or windows and doors. (There are ductless range hoods, which push your fumes through a charcoal filter and then recycle the air into your dyespace--probably better than nothing but won't filter contaminants not trapped by charcoal.)

When i've helped coordinate projects like this, the budget/cost got divvied up between departments--the installation costs got divided out to facilities/safety, while the cost of the hood itself went to the area in which it was being installed, so i can't be of much help on a total cost guesstimate. If your facilities folks are of no help, call up some kitchen remodeling businesses in your area and ask what they estimate to install a range hood and ask whether that includes additional ductwork supplies (the actual duct, vent screen or louvered cover, etc) and if not, add those in as well.

A third option if you don't have the budget, space, or construction ability to install the ductwork for a wall- or ceiling-mounted hood is a portable fume extractor like these:

(There are short videos on these pages showing how, er, much they suck...which in this case is a good thing!)

You could push them around and use them in other applications in addition to functioning as makeshift dye hoods--sucking away jewelry soldering fumes, solvent-based paint fumes (like during FEV application), hat sizing fumes, etc. They won't help with heat control the way a duct hood that vents to the outside can, but otherwise, they're a great option as long as you stay on top of filter replacement!

In other news, here's a photo of some hurricane action around these parts, a radar image from earlier this morning:

here i am, rock me like a tropical storm! )
labricoleuse: (macropuppets!)
There's a buzz right now in the theatre blogosphere about "greening theatre," as evidenced by its gaining mention in the theatre pages of the Guardian. It's an interesting topic, vastly multifaceted, and one i often ponder myself.

Childrens Theatre of Madison's production manager Mike Lawler writes a blog dedicated to the topic called ecoTheater. (In order to more easily follow future posts, i set it up as an LJ syndication, [ profile] ecotheater, in fact.) He's got a pretty interesting debate started over the amount of air travel that design staff have to do in the current regional theatre paradigm, which crossed blogs into Scott Walters' TheatreIdeas and Praxis Theatre's blog posts as well.

The thing that came out of this that most got me thinking was the idea of a "generalist" theatre professional. (Incidentally, aren't we already generalists, in the tech side of things at least? How many TDs out there are able to step in as carps, welders, run crew, set designers, draftsmen, etc. as needed? How many costumers have built soft goods for props or run wardrobe or functioned as designers, managers, shoppers, dyers, etc.?)

That sort of suggested approach, the "multitalented theatre artisan," is workable for a certain kind of theatre company--it makes ultimate sense for smaller-budget or traveling companies. The problem i have with the concept of the theatre generalist is that it doesn't work for professional theatre companies in residence at a university, where company members have a responsibility not only to the resident theatre, but to the training program that exists alongside it.

To use myself as an example, my duty is first to create all the costume crafts for PlayMakers Repertory Company, but the singular condition of my employment is that i teach in the Costume Production graduate program--one of the best in the nation. In order to be qualified to teach my courses in the program, i need to be the best specialized artist and artisan i can be. What's more, after i've done all the craftwork for the company and taken care of my academic responsibilities, i have literally NO more time to devote to some other aspect of theatre. PRC is certainly not alone in its status as a LORT theatre in residence at a university with theatre staff doing "double-duty"--off the top of my head, it's in good company with the Huntington Theatre at Boston University, the Clarence Brown Theatre at the University of Tennesee-Knoxville, the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University, to name a few.

It has been my experience that, due to the collaborative nature of theatre, people are willing to work outside their area of primary responsibility as time and need and skill set allows (examples include a costumer dyeing fabric yardage for scene shop scrims, a propmaster casting ornaments for costume armor, a scenic carpenter creating decor for a fundraising event). I'm not so sure we need to write this into our hiring requirements though. As we've seen trying to fill our existing openings in staff this season, it's hard enough to find qualified applicants for positions as it stands--if we then demand that our actors also be drapers or carpenters, and our administrative staff be singers or painters or choreographers, i think the hiring pool only shrinks further til we're parched by professional drought.

Another issue to consider is that this "generalist" concept alienates those artists who are in production careers by discounting the degree of study and expertise they need to function at the top of their field. Certainly, actors pitching in to build flats or run wardrobe is necessary and valuable for theatres functioning in non-union paradigms, for example, and the theatre made can be transcendent and brilliant. Where though is the place in that for the scenic carp whose goal is to work for Cirque de Soleil building highly-engineered circus sets? What of the costumer who dreams of working on technically-challenging, huge-budget productions like new operas, Broadway, or Vegas shows? Because in many of the university programs, these are the students we are teaching in the tech departments.

I wonder if the generalist model isn't something that's emminently workable in the realm of the actor-director-administrator, but less workable when taking the technical fields into consideration. Within our company, many of our professional actors also direct, write, produce, carry full teaching loads, and/or work in other outreach and development capacities. If i were working as a dramaturg, i might welcome an actor as a research assistant. If i'm building a set piece, i don't think i want an actor who can swing a hammer over a career carpenter who can throw the whole thing together herself/himself without hand-holding. We already collaborate--i talk with the scenic production folks when i need something welded or some carpentry project done--but let's not stretch demands beyond the bounds of what's reasonable and safe.

In the course of browsing links in these blog discussions, i came across a couple other sites that spawned some mixed response on my behalf as well. Mo'olelo's Green Theatre Mission and Both of these sites advocate costume-related "greening" measures that strike me as limiting, short-sighted, or ignorant of costuming as a field. Specifically, here are some quotes, with my responses after:

From Mo'olelo:
  • Rent costumes from other theaters and actors, or purchase from thrift stores before purchasing new items
  • When possible, using thrift shops for costumes

  • Consider reusing costume pieces rather than building new ones.
  • In the laundry room, strive to do laundry as rarely as possible, perhaps giving actors the option to some items [sic] less frequently. Hang-dry, if possible, to reduce the huge amount of energy used by electric dryers.


Renting is certainly one means of costuming a show, but when a company invests its costume budget in the rental of a show, it receives exactly no return on that money--none of the costumes go into its own stock for potential reuse on future pulled shows, and all of the shop's labor goes into alterations, upkeep, alterations reversal (because anything you do to the rentals, you must undo), and cleaning of another company's property, as well as the expenditure of transportation costs--costumes are heavy, particularly period costumes, and incur high shipping and insurance charges, nevermind the fuel expenditure, whether shipping or driving to pick them up.

Often the companies renting them require them to be packed in particular ways for protection of their property, such that for some specialty items (like hats) it makes no sense to rent, since you could make the item on-site for much less time, money, and effort than the packing and shipping and dealing with red-tape of rental. (Or, i could, at least.) It seems to me that if an organization wants to avoid the transportation costs of flying in NYC or LA designers, they'd feel the same way about flying in their costumes.

In the long-term view, a company is better off investing in well-made costumes which they will retain in their stock after the performance, as the more costumes a company owns, the more they can pull from for future shows. It's been my experience that a well-made costume can typically be utilized in at least five productions at your typical regional LORT theatre before it needs major overhaul, or moves into a second life as a decon/reconstructed costume or distressed/beggar-class costume.

Here's a real-life example: we are not renting any of our costumes for Pericles, a huge show which has probably around 50 costumes in the version we're doing. We're making about 8 costumes, which will go into stock at the end of the run, and the rest are pulled from stock, altered, reconstructed, and/or dyed/painted or otherwise embellished. We could have rented the whole show and spent all our time and effort on doing reversible alterations on rental costumes; at the end, we'd have had to undo all the alterations and spend another few days after everything came back from the cleaners (since rental companies usually require confirmation of dry-cleaning of all items before returning them) packing them up and shipping them all. Instead, we make a few, alter the rest, and keep everything. I won't say NO labor is wasted--it's theatre, things will get cut--but far less labor goes toward something that has no longterm benefit to the company. After all, if you make it, even a costume that gets cut during tech still goes into stock.

Perhaps it's better to look at this rental issue from the other way around: might a company reap the benefit from establishing a means for conducting rentals of their own stock? Oregon Shakespeare Company is a great example of a company that's made this work very successfully--they are a primary rental source for theatre costumes and take in a certain amount of revenue from their rental department. Opera and ballet companies who build on-site also often operate with a rental component--they invest in making a whole opera or ballet, then reap the benefits of renting it as a batch to other companies staging the same show later on.

Thrifted costumes

Thrifted costumes can be the only option sometimes for student groups, church theatre, no-budget productions, and if you are making theatre on a shoestring, you make do with what you can. However, in terms of professional theatre, in my experience, 9 times out of 10 when a costume designer brings in some clothing s/he has purchased at a thrift store for costumes, the amount of labor that goes into alterations and making them stageworthy is comparable to that of having gone ahead and made the item from scratch.

Thrift store clothing is already secondhand--it's already been worn in someone's everyday life, laundered, sometimes damaged. Thrift store clothing is also most often mass-manufactured clothing and has not been constructed with alterations in mind--picking apart a seam sewn with a five-thread overlock machine is maddening, and there's nothing in its seam allowance to let out if the garment is too small. When thrifted costumes go into your stock after the run of a show (provided they survive it), you can count on them to hold up through perhaps 1-3 more shows, as opposed to the 5-8 shows you can expect with a new item. Depending on the state of the item when purchased, thrifted costume pieces make more long-term sense than rentals do, in that you do wind up with a certain number of costumes that go into your stock afterward, but often what you save in materials costs you spend and then some in labor.

Reusing costumes

Now here's one i can get a degree. I mean, actually, to a great degree, because pulled shows mean crafts-heavy labor, which means yay, work for me! But, that's something to figure into your evaluation when you decide to costume a show largely or entirely by pulling from stock.

Stock consists of all the costumes in still-wearable condition, from all the shows a company has ever done and then some (i.e., including donations). These things are every imaginable shape, size, and color...but the trouble is, sometimes the thing that fits or can be made to fit is not the right style or color so something has to be done to accommodate that. Whenever a show is designed from stock, a large part of what makes it a visually-cohesive show falls to the crafts artisan--costumes get dyed to conform to the show's palette, accessories are constructed to "pull together" the look of a chorus or collection of characters, distressing or toning or other paint effects are the "glue" the holds the show together design-wise. It's not just crafts--stitchers and first hands add trim and appliques, refurbish or decon/reconstruct things and deploy other tricks to make these disparate costumes from a dozen previous unrelated, unconnected shows hang together as a whole--but the point is, a pulled show still requires labor and expenditure of resources, often more than people think. There's a lot you need to do beyond pulling your reused costumes in order to mount a professional show with them.

Or, you don't do any of that and it looks like you rag-picked your show from a dumpster and a dress-up box. Which is maybe what you are going for, but 9 times out of 10, it doesn't stop with a pulled costume as-is. I'm just saying, with reuse comes a whole new set of costuming issues, and particularly if you are thinking about conservation, dyeing is a big one to weigh, in the scheme of things.

Laundry minimizing and hanging-dry

With all due respect to whomever wrote this, it's not even a valid suggestion. Actors Equity won't allow wardrobe to just "skip" laundering costumes--if you aren't operating an Equity house, okay, ask your actors if they are willing to wear sweaty, dirty, rank costumes for several shows running. Good luck with that. The rest of us are required to do laundry of launderable items after every performance. As for hanging dry, if you have a sunny day and a clothesline and the time to sit and watch over the costumes to make sure someone doesn't run off with the lead actor's pants, okay, give it a shot. As a general rule though, Equity houses have to do lots and lots of laundry, and that laundry is done in washing machines and dryers. Use responsible laundry soaps and softeners, buy energy efficient and low-water appliances, but don't tell me NOT to do laundry in my wardrobe department; it's naive at best and downright absurd.

I don't mean to suggest that i am against making the theatre industry more ecologically responsible--i'm saying that there are no simple solutions and that more consideration and weighing of impact is necessary than simply making a list of brainstormed ideas and implementing them without further investigation.

You can't pull shows if you don't also invest in adding valuable items to your stock.

You can't run a union house without laundry appliances.

You can't rent entire shows and feel proud of how ecologically-sound that decision was, nevermind what it does in terms of pissing away your budget.

You can invest in quality, well-made costumes that can be used again and again.

You can run a dyeshop with a mind to water and energy conservation.

You can impress upon your designers the impact of their decisions (for example, "Every time you purchase a fabric to be custom-dyed, that utilizes up to 200 gallons of water in the process," or "If you spend your entire budget on rentals, we will not be investing our costume budget back into our own stock.").

I think the most ecologically sound theatre is street Butoh in trash-picked attire. Theatre done in the actors' own clothes on grassy clearings in public parks is the next rung up, and then there's what we call "sweatsuits in a black-box by ghostlight". If we're going to do theatre with any kind of advanced production values though, we've got to compromise and make sensible, well-thought-out long-term choices, and we've got to include everyone in the conversation. It's clear to me that these costume-related suggestions listed by these organizations are either aimed at theatres who do not aspire to high technical production values, or were dreamed up by people who didn't run them by an actual costumer first.

And honestly, the first nail in the coffin of any regional theatre company is a lack of communication and mutual respect among departments. Which is weird, because talking's free, and so is demonstrating respect for one another's art and artisanship.
labricoleuse: (safety)
Something i am frequently asked is, "How can i educate myself about respirators?"

This year, UNC-CH has put their respirator training seminar online at:

...and the good news is, ANYONE can go through the training screens and essentially "take the seminar"! You aren't asked for a UNC ID# until the very end of the training, for the portion where you take the actual test to be certified for respirator fit-testing and use in campus facilities. So, all-y'all could go through the seminar portion and educate yourselves if you so choose.

The information in the training series is dense at times and full of terms that may be unfamiliar--the best resource to have by your side as you go through it is a copy of Monona Rossol's Health & Safety Guide for Film, TV, and Theatre. She covers all the technical acronyms and terms and explains them in layman's language.

The UNC respirator training program is a general-purpose training series that covers all of the areas of employment at UNC-CH where respirators might be used, including science labs, research facilities, and social service jobs like firefighting. Some of the sections won't apply at all to theatrical and other arts studio facilities but many do.

Some things to pay attention to:

  • Watch for sections that apply to chemicals and products you use--keywords to look for are things like mists (spray paints and airbrush-applied paints), vapors (these come off heated dyebaths and discharge pastes), smoke (burn-tests of fabrics for fiber content determination release smoke), and solvents (alcohol, acetone, turpentine, etc. as well as any substance you clean up or thin with those like alcohol-based paints, shellac, etc.)

  • Filter changing: specifically, don't wait til it smells! If you can smell the fumes of a substance inside your respirator, your filter has ceased working and you are unprotected. It's preferable to throw out the cartridge BEFORE it's exhausted. The training session talks about how to determine this sort of thing, but my general rule of thumb is, i use the cartridge for 8 hours of exposure, then i chuck it. They just don't cost that much, whereas, say, cancer treatment totally would.

  • Medical profiling section--it's a strain on your heart and lungs to wear a respirator so make sure you CAN. Several conditions are listed in the training as possible exemptions from respirator use. It's best to ask your doctor if you have any respiratory or circulatory ailments. The training doesn't mention this, but i tell my students that even if you are healthy and approved for respirator use, you should never use one for more than an hour without a "lung break"--ten minutes out of the respirator for every hour spent working in one.

  • How to properly put on, take off, and care for a respirator! Many people don't know the procedure for correctly donning and doffing a respirator. This section illustrates it.

  • Description of what a fit-test is like--it's described, in case you have ever wondered.

I am SO thrilled they put this online this year, because not only does it make it easier for all of us to go through it on our own time, but it benefits the larger community as well. I'm very excited that it's structured in such a way that i can share the info with my readership.
labricoleuse: (safety)
The other day i stocked up on some protective gear at the drugstore, and thought i'd make a post about it--not the sort of things you automatically think of as requisite in a costume craftsperson's work (like particle masks, rubber gloves, waterproof aprons, heat-resistent gloves, a respirator, etc), but occasionally necessary nonetheless.

Read more... )

And, i also have some useful links to pass on!

This link to is ostensibly an advice column about the ethics of antique and vintage fur. Personal politics aside, theatre costume stocks are often packed with a rack or more of donated vintage fur coats, wraps, and other items. If not properly stored and cared for though, fur will rot and disintegrate. It's easy to cull most of your stock if you have the time and inclination to host a costume sale or donate a bunch of excess garments to charity, but furs are far more difficult to "get rid of." The end of that article though lists several organizations that will accept old furs, some taking even unwearable ones.

The same advice column has a pretty interesting article on footwear, specifically the comparison of ecological damage done by the leather shoe industry vs. the vinyl shoe industry.

And, speaking of shoes, there's a cool article in the Seattle Times on custom cordwainers Melinda and Louis Whisler, of the bespoke shoemaker boutique Rubaiyat, located in downtown Seattle. Some excellent shoe photos accompany the article.
labricoleuse: (safety)
A recent query about MSDS records from a colleague inspired this post--i figured, perhaps i should share my response with my readership! I know these posts aren't as fun to read as parasols and masks and hats, but i feel they are just as important a part of this blog. And you never know when some bit of safety info might just save your life, or your fingers from amputation, or that of a colleague.

Here's her questions:

I am in the process of updating our MSDS sheets so that our new craftsperson can be certified for her respirator. I am tracking down sheets for all the products that we use in the shop and putting them into a binder. My question is about how to organize them. Are there classifications that appear on the sheets that I could group them by? Or is it acceptable to have everything in one binder and alphabetized. Also these products are in about four different locations/rooms within our shop. Do I need to have a separate MSDS binder for all these locations, with only the relevant sheets inside them?

Also one last question, if, for example I have the sheet for Bounce, but what I actually have is the Wal Mart brand is that acceptable, or should I track down the one from Wal Mart.

When you are assembling or overhauling an MSDS file, you can organize it several different ways. The idea is that it is organized in the most intuitive way possible for looking something up. Mine is completely by alphabetical order by the name of the product. I have seen them organized in categories (glues, paints, solvents) and then alphabetically within each category, but I think that is more confusing. Sometimes you wind up having to look up an MSDS in a high-stress time-sensitive situation (like if a coworker has gotten a product in a cut or eye or something), so usability is of the utmost import. I highlight the name of the product on each sheet as well, so that it is easy to quick-reference, and if an MSDS is several pages, they are stapled together before they are put into the binder, so that i can flip through them easily.

Our MSDS collection is so extensive it actually takes up two binders (A-K, L-Z). I have been debating whether to put ours instead into a file of folders, but i think there are pros and cons to binders and file folders both. Up to you! We have one MSDS collection for the costume department, which is kept in the dry crafts room bookshelf. Scenic has a separate MSDS file of their own. If your facility is spread out, you can post signs in other costume areas that say "The MSDS for the costume facility is kept in the dye room," and that’s sufficient notice. I believe though if you are extremely spread out (like, the wardrobe area is off-site in another building, or if you have multiple workshops on different floors of a building) you would want to put a copy in each general physical location, by floor or whatever.

You do have to have an MSDS for every single product in your facility, so if you have the Wal Mart dryer sheets and Bounce dryer sheets and Snuggle dryer sheets, OSHA requires you to have the MSDS for each brand. This is why our MSDS file is so large. Our costume and scene shops have the biggest MSDS files our OSHA inspector has seen, according to him, but he also commended us on how well ours was put together (alphabetized, highlighted, prominently displayed in my dry room), so I guess we have done it correctly!

Good luck with it! It can be a tedious project, but IIRC our Safety Officer’s assistant got ours completely put together in a week or two, then once it’s done, maintenance is easy. Every time you get a new product, you file the MSDS. Every time you throw out the last of a product, you chuck the MSDS in the recycle, easy-peasy.

A good reference to have in any shop for questions like these is The Health and Safety Guide for Film, TV, and Theatre, by Monona Rossol. Ms. Rossol is head of the watchdog organization ACTS (Arts, Crafts, and Theatre Safety), which answers specific safety questions via their various hotline contacts.
labricoleuse: (safety)
I'll do a comprehensive overview of The Little Prince craftwork soon, once i get the photos back (covering hats, masks, "wig" effects, the Fox macropuppet, and the trick parasols), but i wanted to do a quick post about a couple of notable safety issues.

First, in the most recent edition of ACTS Facts is an article of note for everyone in a workplace where personal protective equipment (such as goggles, gloves, respirators, and protective attire) is required:

BNA-OSHR, 37(45), 11/15/07, P.1007 & 72 FR64341-64430, 11/15/07

Eight years after it was first proposed, a standard that requires employers to pay for employee personal protective equipment (PPE) has been published in the Federal Register. The standard does not require employers to provide PPE where none has been required before. Instead it stipulates that the employer must pay for the PPE required by current regulation, except for the following:

  • Non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear, including steel-toe shoes or boots, and non-specialty prescription safety eyewear if the employer permits such items to be worn off the job site.
  • If the employer provides metatarsal guards but allows employee to use shoes or boots with built-in metatarsal protection, the employer is not required to reimburse employees for the shoes or boots.
  • Logging boots.
  • Everyday or ordinary clothing, such as long sleeve shirts, long pants, stret shoes, and normal work boots, or skin creams and other items used solely for protection from the weather such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, and hats.
  • Lost or intentionally damaged PPE does not have to be replaced at the employer's expense.

According to OSHA, with the exception of footwear, employers for "nearly all industries" already pay for more than 90 percent of their employees' PPE. But now, it is the law. The law becomes effective February 13, 2008. After that, employers have until May15, 2008 to be in compliance.

[Reprinted from ACTS Facts, Monona Rossol, Editor, 181 Thompson St. #23, New York, NY, 10012-2586. Email:]

The other issue i'd like to mention is repetitive strain injury, a risk that's gotten a lot of attention with respect to office workers typing on a computer all day, but which is also a threat to those of us who work with our hands on fine motor tasks.

Any time you are doing something that requires you to repeat the same motion for literally hours on end, you run the risk of this kind of injury. I first developed it working as a freelance cutter for a costume shop in Los Angeles, for which i cut out dozens of pattern pieces a day without taking regular breaks; one of my students developed it from doing ages of threadmarking.

It can be painful and debilitating, but you can educate yourself in its prevention and treatment to minimize its effect on you. I have a range of wrist braces and compression gloves (like the ones on this page) that i wear as soon as i begin to feel its effects, and the most important part of treating mine is wearing a splinted brace on the affected arm/hand/wrist as i sleep.

I found myself in the position of having to cut out twelve parasol canopies (eight pieces per canopy) in a single afternoon, and this caused my RSI to recur. A few days of working with a compression glove and wrist splint, plus sleeping in a brace, has rectified the situation. Until i developed RSI though, i never gave it much thought, so i wanted to be certain to mention it here.
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
As we approach our own November production tech week here at PlayMakers/UNC, i want to pause and mark the untimely passing of one of Yale's MFA tech production graduates, Pierre-Andre Selim.

Mr. Selim was killed this past weekend in a load-in accident preparing for Yale Repertory's forthcoming production of Tartuffe. Because Mr. Selim was working as a student and not an employee of the company, OSHA is not investigating the accident, and according to the local news station WTNH, Selim was wearing a hardhat at the time of the accident. More details are available at the Yale Daily News.

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Pierre-Andre Selim
image courtesy of

So often i hear people talk about theatre production as "fun" (which it certainly is) and refer to the work that we do as "play" (which it frankly is not). Though we create wonder, entertainment, and artwork, we also practice sophisticated artisanship and craft, employ tradesman's skills and put in hard labor. Danger is always present--one can fall from the lighting grid, be scalded by a toxic dye process bath, or as in the case of poor Mr. Selim, be crushed by set material shifting in a truck.

At this time when so many of us in America are approaching a holiday season of family, sharing, and gratitude, it is especially tragic to see a loss of one of our own in the theatrical production community. (Mr. Selim was from Indonesia and completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Singapore before coming to the US for graduate study at Yale. Perhaps his family doesn't even celebrate winter holidays, i don't know.)

My heart goes out to Selim's loved ones in their loss, and on behalf of my own theatre family and graduate program, our thoughts are with those at Yale mourning the loss of their colleague.
labricoleuse: (hats!)
[ profile] naeelah asks:

I'm hoping to start teaching myself more about shibori (and other resist dying techniques) as well as silk painting. It's easy enough to find resources on the dye techniques, but I'm feeling a bit clueless about the actual dyes, so I just wondered if you can recommend any particular dye brands or if you have any tips for setting up a home dye shop. (I think I'll mostly be working with smaller pieces of fabric and narrow pieces that are a few meters long.)

I'll be using mostly silk and cotton. One of the only big dye stores I'm aware of is Dharma Trading (.com), so I'm looking at their catalog, but if you know of any others, I'd be happy to hear them. Their catalog is nicely split up by dye techniques, and they have a lot of information on their dyes, but that can only tell me so much.

I hesitate to go into specific dye brands because i'm holding out for a sponsorship contract like basketball stars get with shoes, or rockstars get with guitar manufacturers.

Ok, i'm BS-ing, but i do feel like i can't necessarily recommend one brand over another, as i've not tried every brand out there. What i can do is tell you what i typically use, though, and maybe that'll be a good starting point for dipping into home-dyeing.

For shibori techniques in your home, i would suggest using fiber reactive cold-process dyes. They're fairly straightforward in processing, and you can do them in crappy buckets in a basement or backyard and don't have to deal with them in a kitchen situation, which is essential for home dyeing. (It freaks me right out when people dye in the same space they cook food in.)

I always use Pro Chemical's Fiber-Reactive MX dyes, and usually buy them straight from the manufacturer: ProChem's website is really excellent to surf through--they have great instructional write-ups on how to use all their dyes that are structured like a recipe, and all the Material Safety Data Sheets for their products are accessible online. The MX dyes in particle form are harmful to breathe, so if you go this route make sure you mix them in a ventilated space with particulate respiratory protection. Read through the instructions fully before you order stuff, because depending on what fiber you are dyeing you will need to order and add different chemical additives (soda ash, urea, etc).

Dharma carries the ProChem MX dyes, and can be a good place to order from if you want to also order other brands/supplies/chemicals, blank garments, equipment, etc. I like Dharma--i've been ordering from them since 1993, and they are always really helpful about recommending products, good service, and great about rectifying any problems (lost packages, wrong product, etc).

For silk painting--something i'm doing literally right now (it's hanging to dry) and will write up in a future post once our next show opens--i use Presist water-soluble resist and Dye-Na-Flow silk paints. I use these products because they are easy to use, fast, and clean up quick, all of which is of primary concern in theatre. There are other methods and products out there that are similar (Jacquard silk paints, water-based gutta) that i've used too and work well, and others that are more time-consuming and difficult to deal with. The more you get into it and the more time and effort and artistic detail you might want to put in, maybe you'd want to branch out. For a beginner, the flowable silk paints and water-based resists are probably easiest to try.

The only other company i order from is Aljo, who have a crappy website and i use them only for super-toxic scary synthetic dyes (not something you'd be doing in the home anyhow).

Regarding dyeing in the home, again, i think the cold-process dyes are a good choice because you can do them outdoors or somewhere that's NOT your kitchen. I think if you want to do hot-process dyes at home where you need to boil a bath or something, you are better off taking a dedicated dye-pot and a tabletop stove-eye and plugging it in out in the garage than you are dyeing on the same stove you cook dinner on. You will probably want to invest in some tarps for the floor, some gloves and a rubber/pvc apron, maybe some splashproof goggles. You will want a clothesline or folding clothes dryer to hang things on, some dedicated measuring spoons and cups, some tongs and a big spoon--none of which should come from the kitchen. You'll also want some bleach, so you can run an empty "bleach load" through your washer after you use it to rinse your dyed fabrics; this'll keep your subsequent actual laundry from getting speckled or weirdly dingey or whatever from residual dye. Most of this can be found at the Dollar General or similar so it's not a big $$ outlay to do it up safely.

You didn't ask about resources for technique, but i do want to plug the book Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada. It's an AWESOME resource full of great instructive photos (albeit black and white ones) for all kinds of techniques. It's IMO the best book out there on the subject.

On LJ, you might want to check out the communities [ profile] dyeingfiber and [ profile] fiber_dyeing, the former of which focuses on dyeing raw fiber for spinning and the latter on dyeing in general. They can be good communities for posing questions to folks of all degrees of expertise, but always research safety questions yourself through the MSDS for products--i find that the degree of laxity when it comes to safety, particularly with home crafting, is alarming online. Folks think that because something is marked "non-toxic" they can eat it, or because it makes them feel "funny" when they inhale vapors that is somehow cool and not inviting brain tumors and lung cancer or similar.

Hopefully this answers your questions!
labricoleuse: (safety)
I have some cool mask-related stuff coming up (hopefully by week's end), but we've got our costume designer in-house right now, which means my time is somewhat at a premium. I did recently write up a post in response to a question posed to the DyersLIST email group, in which the querant asked:

...where would I get to read the actual medical literature about risks of MX as a lung irritant?

Essentially, she wondered how one goes about sifting through word-of-mouth warnings about products and finding documentable hazard assessments of products--in this case, ProChemical's fiber-reactive MX dye, but what i'm talking about could apply to any product you might use in costume production, whether it be paints, dyes, adhesives, solvents, laundry supplies, what-have-you. Here's my response:

As I understand it, essentially, many commercial dyestuffs have not been specifically tested brand by brand, so you have to do your own legwork to find out what if any information is out there on their hazards.

The first thing i tell my students to do is to find the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for the product--every vendor is required by law to give you a copy of the MSDS for a product upon request, and most of them are downloadable from the product's websites. ProChemical is great about this, and has all their MSDS on their website. For MX, the MSDSs are broken down by color. Here's the one for Winter White 010:

I have them read the whole thing, looking for clues to where they'd find more info (MSDS don't always have all the info out there on them)--on this MSDS, there's mention made in Section 4 that MX dyes are reactive dyes. So, the next thing we do is look at what OSHA has to say about dyestuffs, particularly reactive dyes:

Down in the Dyes section, OSHA provides this link to a study on the dyes:

So, from there you have some info to do further research if you want to, or to choose what you feel is adequate protection for usage of the product.

I encourage my students to do this sort of investigating into every product they use--you never know what might be harmful or harmless, and if a little research leads you to adopt a safety practice like wearing gloves or particulate filters that then saves you some hospital stays later in life, excellent. Usually a scan through the MSDS and some further poking around on the OSHA site will get you the info you want.

* * [fin] * *

I can't recommend enough Monona Rossol's book, The Health and Safety Guide for Film, TV, and Theater--industry is far outstripping the arts when it comes to educating practitioners on health and safety. Particularly since many artists work as solo freelancers (and thus aren't subject to OSHA regulations or protected by them), the onus is on the individual to do the legwork, do the research, find out the hazards, and protect herself or himself against them.

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