labricoleuse: (mee)
Wow, i can tell it's been a busy season and semester--no posts since October! But, the semester's winding down and i found some time to blog. Today, a survey of some of my students' footwear projects for the class i'm teaching this semester! (If you follow me on Instagram, you'll have gotten a realtime peek at some of these already...)

Button-boot spats by first year grad Michelle Bentley

Crossweave faille button boots by first year grad Robin Ankerich

Top left: velvet spats by undergraduate Natalie Carney
Bottom left: plaid wool spats by undergraduate Athene Wright
Right: wool spats by first year grad Robin Ankerich

Heels with appliqued leather/suede "wings" by undergraduate Athene Wright

Heels with 3D printed dinosaur skull toecaps and foot/claw heel ornaments by first year grad Erin Torkelson

3D printed platform sole prototype by first year grad Michelle Bentley
labricoleuse: (design)
This semester, i'm teaching my graduate level millinery class, and today my students presented their first round of projects--buckram forms!

Here are some of the highlights... (plus also a bonus pair of super-awesome Alexander McQueen-inspired platform shoes!)

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
Decorative Arts class had their final presentations today! I have only three images to share but they are pretty fantastic.

Also, i'd like to congratulate two of them on some awards/honors.

Undergraduate senior Lydia Hanchett received an acceptance of an abstract for presentation at the USITT national conference in Forth Worth, TX this spring. Lydia's work on invisible wefting of synthetic hair will be on display at the juried exhibition of the Costume Commission Poster Session. Congrats, Lydia!

And, third year graduate student Candy McClernan was awarded one of the university’s Impact Awards, a campus-wide honor for graduate-level research impacting the NC economy. Candy’s submission, which presented the work she conducted with digital textile designs used in Playmakers Repertory Company's production of Cabaret and its connection to the NC textile industry, won one of the $500 awards. Her submission illustrated how the visibility of her digital textile creations in online press and at regional and national conference presentations have driven costume production artists in the Southeast and nationwide to patronize digital fabric printing companies based in NC. Congratulations, Candy!

But shoes:

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
My Decorative Arts class is winding up and i have some intial shoe projects to share. They do two pairs of shoes, a "simple" and a "complex," and most of these are their simple projects. Some fun stuff in here!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
Here's a project Candy and i have been hard at work on for a few days: knee-high red velvet combat boots for the Emcee!

I'll walk you through how we made them.
Read more... )
labricoleuse: (Default)
Now that the theatre season and the academic year have ended, i've picked up a couple weeks of overhire work at the Carolina Ballet on their last production of their season, a double bill of Beauty and the Beast and Beethoven's 9th Symphony. I hadn't worked on ballet costumes since my stint at the Boston Ballet back in 1998, and it's been interesting to get back into that whole mindset and realm of costume concerns.

One of the primary crafts needs of a ballet company is coloration of footwear. Shoes are a concern in all types of dance performance, but the aesthetic tradition of ballet has a very specific set of variables to deal with. All the shoes must exactly match the dancers' tights, to help maintain the seamless visual line of the leg/foot in performance. Each dancer has a specific preference in footwear--style, material, brand--which must be tracked and adhered to across the spectrum of costume needs. Standard ballet slippers may be leather or various weaves and fiber contents of cloth, and then there are pointe shoes to consider. For a large professional dance company, shoe stock and their tracking and coloring alone can be a staff position in and of itself.

The Carolina Ballet is a sizable professional company, but their budgets and programming are not such that they can employ a full-time shoe specialist--they typically handle shoe needs in-house except on large new-build works like this Beethoven piece. So this is where i come in as an overhire craftsperson and dyer!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
My decorative arts class turned in their last round of projects yesterday, and i have some cool images to share! This class is seriously awesome.

The final project is a unit called "Reshaping the Actor," and it deals with projects in which the basic human form needs to be altered. On a traditional level, this can be a project like a fat pad or a pregnancy belly. On a more craftastic level, students have chosen in the past to do things like a dimensional spine/ribcage, extra arms (think Kali), etc. And, i also allow them to choose to do a half-scale pattern for a creature costume pod-body shape.

Check it out!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
Super busy right now with the end of the semester and the beginning of our repertory shows coming into the shop, but i cannot wait--i have to share these images of first-year graduate student Leah Pelz's complex footwear project from my decorative arts class, a shoe mod based on the Alexander McQueen lobster claw/armadillo shoes popularized by Lady Gaga!

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
My decorative arts class presented their simple footwear projects yesterday, and i have a few fun photos to share. These projects usually consist of either soft shoes, spats or gaiters, or recovering shoes.

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (safety)
I have been rubberizing tons of shoes for Big River, and i recalled a post that came up on the USITT costumers' email list; i thought it might be a good idea to post my answer here for Googlability's sake.

Basically, someone asked where to order "dance rubber," and what were some brands folks would recommend. Here's my response:

I stock the Vibram ProTania in black and natural, and the 3.5 grid soling in black, oak, and white (the white will take dye)..

The 3.5 grid sole is what folks have called "dance rubber" in many of the shops i've worked at, and the Vibram ProTania is the stuff that's got the word "Vibram" printed across the tread.

I use the Pro Tania on most of the shoes i rubberize (like Stacy Adams boots and other leather sole shoes) for performers who will not be dancing or doing fight choreography, and the 3.5 on shoes where the designer or actor specifically requests "dance rubber".

I've worked in shops where they stocked the Chevron and Herringbone sole rubbers Frankford sells on that same page and liked them, they're grippy with directional treads a bit beefier in texture than the 3.5 grid sole and the Pro Tania.

We also stock something that I hear called "fight rubber" which has SUPER grippy directional treads. It's a product called Maxi-Grip, and you can order it from National Shoe. I use this to rubberize shoes for actors who are doing something like swordfight choreography.

I don't care for the Topy, it doesn't seem to provide as good a gripping surface for the kind of activity actors typically require, and is harder/denser (thus seems slipperier) than the two linked up there.

Incidentally, here's a pro tip for rubberizing a LOT of shoes: learn some work songs with a good driving rhythm. Hammering with your mind not engaged gets boring really fast, but if you sing something like, say, Pete Seeger's "The Hammer Song," you can maintain a good rhythm hammering the soles efficiently, and it really does make it go faster.
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
Budget: it's the topic nobody likes to talk about in the realm of costume design.

When i was studying costume design in undergraduate and graduate classes, we learned a whole heckuva lot about color theory, fabric typology, rendering techniques, script analysis, costume plot creation, period research, garment construction, and surface design. Not once, ever, did we formally learn anything about how to track a budget, how to effectively direct spending in context of the show and the theatre, or how to view an overall design concept with respect to investment vs expenditure. For those of you among my readership who teach in or come from design programs, i'd love to hear whether my experience is the norm or the exception: what sort of guidance and education (if any) on budget does/did your coursework provide?

So, as i've been pushing the design of Shipwrecked! from concept to reality, i've been thinking a lot about the practicalities of budget and spending, and realized, hey, this might be a good topic for the blog.

These are some thoughts on guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules, and obviously can't always be implemented for every design in every theatre for every budget. I'm just riffing.

Any set of design renderings for a shop that has construction capabilities hits its first budgetary investment hurdle when you sit down with the costume director and decide, what can we make? Anything made-to-order is a garment that the company will retain after the show in their costume collection, will likely be a unique garment or set of garments, and is something for which you will be spending money on fabrics and trim for its creation. Those pieces are straightforward: you're going to get a custom-made singular garment for your show according to your design specs, the actor's going to get something created to fit them exactly, and the theatre's going to get a new costume for their stock. Great!

Often, the final decision as to the number of built pieces created by the on-site shop is made by folks other than the costume designer. You might have certain things in your design which you cannot purchase because of their unique nature or historical period, but the shop you are working for will also have only so many drapers and tailors and stitchers--there's a lot of conversation and compromise when it comes to dovetailing the construction requirements of the design and the construction capabilities of the shop.

And quite frankly, if you need more things made for your design than the shop you are working with can create, if it's that important to you, you can see about outsourcing: take bids from independent shops or contractors and see if you can have those other pieces made elsewhere and still come in on budget.

The total costume budget is not the total amount you spend on the made to order garments, not by any means--if you are smart about budget, at least. That show budget has to go a long way in a lot of other directions!

Look at how many pieces you're having made, compare that with the total number of costumes you have to provide, and come up with a ballpark of how much of your budget you can spend on those. For a baseline, i start out with a ballpark of 1/5 of the budget for made-to-measure costumes. I might reduce it to even less of a percentage if i were only making two costumes but needed to provide fifty more purchased/pulled looks. I might jack it up to 1/4 if my costume design budget did not also include wigs/makeup (some theatres have a separate budget line for that), or if it did not include dry cleaning (that's Wardrobe's budget in many places), and so forth.

For a concrete example on the show i'm designing right now, we decided to make a period men's vest for the star of the show, a duplicate set of men's Victorian bathing attire, a collection of three matching feathered headdresses, a newsboy cap for a man with an unusually large headsize, and Queen Victoria's costume. (This doesn't include crafts projects like masks or the batik i mentioned in an earlier post, as i'm talking strictly about garments here.)

The logic on these choices breaks down like this:

  • Vest: This piece is for the star of the show. He's the guy people are spending the whole play looking at, and he's got to look good. Sure, you can buy 19th-century style vests out there from retail companies like Gentleman's Emporium or wholesalers like Scully/Wahmaker. However, I wanted something singular and unique, and a good period vest goes a long way not only toward creating a unique look for a character, but also as being a useful piece in a costume collection that will get a lot of subsequent reuse.

  • Bathing costume: There's really only one style out there that you can buy, and i didn't feel it worked for my design.

  • Three headdresses and the newsboy cap: Almost goes without saying. We need three headdresses that comprise a set, that fit our specific actors, and a newsboy cap in a size you can't find for purchase. Making them is the obvious solution.

  • Queen Victoria: This character and look is so specific, and this role is played cross-cast. You can't buy or rent a Queen Victoria costume for a man who shops at the Big and Tall. I knew from the moment i read the script we'd have to make this one.

So, that's how we parceled out the made-to-order clothes on this, and i agreed to purchase, pull, or rent every other clothing piece in the show.

In most theatres with construction shops, you're still going to have a bunch of costumes which are either purchased, pulled from existing stock, or rented/borrowed. Those are the costume pieces that (i feel) need careful consideration in terms of budget. How do you decide what to buy, what to rent, and what to pull from stock?

Obviously, some things are limited by availability. You probably aren't going to be able to buy ready-to-wear clothing from many historical periods (though obviously thanks to reenactment groups some periods will have some purchase options out there). In terms of pulling from stock, the stock the theatre has is the resource at your disposal. If you're doing a show in a period they do frequently (say, doing a Shakespeare play at a Shakespearean festival), you may have a lot of options from which to pull; what they've got is what you've got, so to speak. Rental is going to be a big part of pulling together a period show if you can't make everything in house and the theatre doesn't own many options in their stock.

In terms of the theatre you're working for, though, purchase is far preferable to rental whenever possible--when you spend your budget on buying something, they retain it in their collection, whereas when you spend it on renting, you are essentially investing that theatre's budget and labor in other companies. Your show's budget is going into the shipping, rental fees, and cleaning costs for someone else's costume collection, and your shop's alteration, repair, and restoration labor is going toward upkeep on some other theatre's costumes. Which, there's nothing wrong with that--it's great to support other theatres and i always take pride in returning a rental costume in better condition than i received it if at all possible. However, with respect to the theatre for whom you're designing, obviously it's better for them in the long run if you appreciably add to the resource of their costume collection and expend their labor and budget to their own benefit.

A digression: in sustainable theatre discussions, i have seen quite a bit of lip-service paid to making "sustainability advances" by mandating the choice to rent or pull from stock for costumes, rather than make to measure, as if this is somehow "ecologically more responsible." To my mind, this completely ignores the question of where does this pulled-from stock come from, if we are not investing in making new costume pieces? All costumes eventually wear out, and how do you replace damaged and destroyed items if all you are allowed to do is rent or pull pieces? If you don't renew your resource of stock costumes, you'll soon be up a creek. Sustainability in the costume shop has to come from some other place than a moratorium on new costume pieces--energy efficient equipment and facilities, conservation-minded designers and technicians and creative teams, etc. But as i said, i digress.

Some years back, I attended a symposium on costume design and production sponsored by the Tony-winning designer William Ivey Long. In one of the sessions on practicalities of design at the high-budget Broadway/Hollywood scale, he made a statement which i have admittedly held near and dear to my creative philosophy ever since, and that was this: "I always put aside a third of my budget for shoes."

In the session, people laughed, thinking he was making some high-flown statement about a taste for expensive footwear, but he quickly explained that, no, he was being just as practical about it as he was expressing a design sensibility. Simply put, if an actor or dancer has good shoes--shoes that are comfortable, safe to do their choreography in, and aesthetically appropriate to their character--they're going to be a long way down the road toward being happy with their costume. In regional theatre, I may not ever be in a budgetary position to commission a custom pair of shoes the way Long does for his Broadway stars, but i can still take something useful away from that statement: buy new shoes whenever possible.

Experience bears this out. In fact, just last month in a fitting with Charlie Robinson, who starred as Troy Maxson in the PRC production of Fences that just closed, he tried on a pair of shoes we'd purchased for him. He commented on their comfort, and the designer loved how they looked but wanted me as crafts artisan to distress them so they looked older and broken in. I made some joke along the lines of, "Sorry we're going to take your nice new shoes and beat them up, but at least they'll still feel the same inside." Mr. Robinson laughed and said, "I don't care how they wind up looking. I don't really care about every other thing, dress me however you like as long as i have good comfortable shoes." I can't tell you how many times an actor has made nearly that exact statement.

So, that's the ultimate design-budget theory that i always hew to: spend a decent chunk of change on your shoes. Get good durable shoes for your actors, and not only will they love you for it, but so will the stock manager for the theatre you're working for. Shoes don't make it through as many subsequent shows as garments do--i think of a costume as sticking around in stock for as many as nine shows: up to three where it passes for newish, up to three where it looks well-worn, and up to three where it's turning into rags. Then it's trash. Shoes, with good care and upkeep, maybe make it through six. (IME.) This is because not only do they take the beating of the performance calendar worth of wear and tear, but usually also some portion of the rehearsal period, too, since actors often request to work in their shoes.

Inevitably when designers buy cheap shoes or pull old shoes from stock, half the time they don't make it through the run of the show and new ones have to be bought anyhow, so i figure, I'll just spend that money up front and it's something i don't have to worry about. Every actor in Shipwrecked! is working with new shoes.

That's my buck-and-change about how you spend money for a show at a regional theatre level. If you design costumes, do you have any similar guidelines for how you budget out your expenditures?
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
So, first order of business: [ profile] labricoleuse will ostensibly be on hiatus for the month of July. I'm spending July in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and though there might be a couple things topical that come up, i don't expect to have a lot of time or fodder for the type of things i typically post here. I might have a link or two to share, so don't forget to like La Bricoleuse on Facebook. If you like, you can follow my sporadic travelogue on Blogspot, and i'll catch you all in August!

At some point, i'll write up the exhibit properly, but for now, here are some photos from the exhibit American High Style at the Brooklyn Museum.

shoes, hats, a parasol )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
One of my graduate students, Samantha Coles (a rising 2nd-year), has a very specific area of focus: custom cordwaining.

She's taking the usual courseload for an MFA in Costume Production in terms of classwork in draping, tailoring, millinery, and so forth, but her longterm goal is one of shoemaker, and whenever we get shoe projects for mainstage shows, I kick them to her (ha ha, bad pun), for her portfolio and work experience. So, for example, in the recent Importance of Being Earnest, she did a shoe modification for Ray Dooley as "Lady Bracknell," turning a pair of what was essentially a men's-sized character shoe into a period court shoe with an ornamental vamp.

Now that summer's here, she and i devised plans for some independent projects we hadn't time for during the mainstage season and school year. One of these was to explore the last-casting method devised by Mary Wales Loomis in her book, Make Your Own Shoes.

A shoe last is kind of like a cross between a dress form and a hat block, but for feet. It is the matrix upon which a shoe is constructed. As with hat blocks, you need a last for every permutation of a style, so if you are going to do a single shoe design for retail, you need a right and left last for every size you are going to release. Custom couture shoemakers like Louboutin will cast the feet of their bespoke clients and make lasts specifically for a single patron.

Loomis outlines a method in her book for casting shoe lasts in plaster from existing damaged shoes you love. You have to be willing to sacrifice a pair of shoes to this project, but on the upside, if you succeed, you have lasts from them on which you can build lots of future pairs just like them or similar in fit/feel.

In addition to your pair of sacrificial shoes, this method requires the following supplies: tape, plaster, water, utility knife, crappy funnel, petroleum jelly or other mold release, and finishing tools like sandpaper, rasps, and chisels. It also requires a willingness to get messy, and i thought that some points we were helped by having two pairs of hands, so if you can partner with a pal or colleague, that's probably best.

We figured that a pair of lasts takes about four cups of plaster and two cups of water, and that mixing batches any larger than that was not practical--it just sets up too fast. And, if you try this, be sure to clean up your mixing bowl between batches, or the catalyzing happens so fast you can't get the stuff mixed and poured.

photos of the process! )
labricoleuse: (shoes!)
Just the quickest of breaks in end-of-semester hecticness to post but i couldn't keep them to myself! Decorative Arts class presented all their final projects yesterday afternoon, and i have some fun images of some of the projects.

The way the semester worked out, we wound up doing the footwear project last due to respirator training scheduling with our Safety folks; because of the danger of the solvent-based chemicals we use in footwear applications, i won't teach that unit til all students have gone through respirator training and fit-testing and have their proper PPEs. They have to do two different footwear projects--a simple project and a complex project. Simple projects are often something like spats/gaiters, a soft shoe, or a basic shoe modification. Complex projects are all over the map, everything from animal feet for human performers, to transformation of a modern shoe into a period style.

click for footwear fabulosity )

Aren't they lovely, fun, zany, and just excellent? I am so proud of all their work.

Here's some nice news: I decided to cross-post a lot of my "grad school application FAQ" posts over on (a networking community for the theatre profession), and my "Should I go to U/RTA?" post was profiled as a highlight in their weekly news update. Cool!

And, a book link: one of my students brought in a book she used in a research paper, and it's really fascinating, X-Rediography of Textiles, Dress, and Related Objects, by Sonia O'Connor and Mary M. Brooks. The old footwear is truly amazing--with all the nails and shanks and in one case, even TOE BONES down inside them. There are some really disturbing-looking x-rayed old dolls, too. If that interests you, definitely check it out!

I swear, i just have to finish getting these evals written and grades turned in, and i will write that entry on the bloody lipsewing appliance.

That will be my Christmas gift to you all, perhaps. Ha!
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: (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!)
This fall, the graduate course i teach is called "Decorative Arts," which basically indicates that it covers crafts-related topics which don't neatly fall into the other three course topics of Millinery/Wigs, Masks/Armor, and Dyeing/Surface Design. We start out with gloves, then progress to shoes. We cover jewelry, then parasols, and lastly discuss body padding and other projects in a unit called "reshaping the actor."

And, the students also do a hypothetical project in which they propose and solve a crafts-related engineering project (usually something involving macropuppetry, like a four-person elephant, but sometimes something like "inflatable Lysistrata phalluses" or "the growing bird tail in Seussical"). For this project, once their general concept is proposed and accepted, i give them a venue size and budget range, and they do all the research and development--materials sourcing, drafting construction plans, creating a half-scale model or a miniature mechanism, and labor projections. Basically, they get to the point where they'd start making the real deal, but due to time and budget restraints, we don't actually build them.

One of the things i totally love about the cycle of teaching these courses is, it allows me to regularly revisit specific crafts-related topics on a biennial basis, even if it's something that hasn't come up in a stage context in the interim. Before i began teaching, my work was tied to the programming of the company for which i worked (i.e., if we weren't doing any shows with masks in them, i wasn't making them). Each time a course topic comes around, i have the opportunity to comb the library stacks for related books. It keeps me on my game, as it were.

There are a couple of "general overview" books i've not mentioned in this blog before which i'm going to be using as potential project references for students, Fashion Accessories since 1500 by Geoffrey Warren, and the eponymous Fashion Accessories: The Complete 20th Century Sourcebook by John Peacock. Warren's book, published in 1987, is very similar to the hand-illustrated The Mode in... historical references produced by R. Turner Wilcox. (We use her book, The Mode in Footwear, as another class resource this semester.) He divides it into chapters by century beginning with the 16th, each one a general sort of collage of detailed drawings of shoes, gloves, hats, handbags, canes, and so forth, interspersed with little blurbs of text. It's not thorough or comprehensive, but it's a decent enough resource for a very broad overview. Peacock's volume, published in 2000, is much the same, except its drawings are rendered in color, and its blurbs are less detailed--Peacock's text would feature a drawing with a caption that said simply "Lace jabot," while Warren's might say something like, "collarette of lace, net, and silk ribbon."

I mentioned a few glove books in this prior post, but another resource i picked up for potential project images is Valerie Cummings' Gloves, part of the costume accessories series edited by Dr Aileen Ribeiro. These are slim volumes (under 100 pages usually) on specific fashion accessories, discussing history, trends, applicable vocabulary terms, and full of both color and B&W photographs of several examples both period and modern.

Another great book in that series is Jeremy Farrell's Umbrellas and Parasols. Since the course is about making these things, i require my students to buy my parasol construction text, but it doesn't have a lot of historical research images on which to base their projects, so Farrell's text is a good supplement.

I led an independent study in footwear alteration and construction some years back, and at that time posted an extensive list of shoe book reviews. I've got three more to add this time around, as well.

If you have perused a lot of shoe books, you do wind up seeing the same historical examples depicted in them, volume to volume. Lucy Pratt and Linda Woolley's Shoes does contain a fair number of color photos, but many of the shoes are familiar from the Shoe a Day calendar and Mary Trasko's Heavenly Soles. Unlike the calendar and Trasko's book (which is essentially a coffeetable flip-book), it's got a lot of well-researched text augmenting the images, historical info and trend analysis of previous eras and construction commentary.

Joy of joys, am i glad to have found Norma Shephard's In Step with Fashion: 200 Years of Shoe Styles! This book is to shoes what Susan Langley's Vintage Hats and Bonnets is to hats--not only is it full of nicely color-photographed period and vintage shoes (and not ones you've seen in five other books on the topic), but the footwear photos are augmented by period advertisements, daguerreotype portraits with prominently featured footwear, images and info on related topics like hosiery, socks, and even shoeboxes! This book only just came out in 2008, so it's fairly new.

Stepping Out: Three Centuries of Shoes is a full size glossy 95-page exhibit catalogue that was published to accompany the exhibit of the same name at Australia's Powerhouse Museum. Much like the Shephard book, it also contains reproductions of period advertisements, photos, and paintings related to the shoes (which are also shown in full color photos), and is peppered with great historical information. This is another 2008 publication as well. Guess it was a good year for shoe books!

To peruse some past projects for this class and read book reviews from previous posts on related topics, you can check out the "class: decorative arts" tag in the sidebar. And, i've got a full class of six students (with a potential overenrollment of a seventh, depending on paperwork coming through for her) so there will be lots of cool projects to look forward to this time around! I'm wondering whether anyone will rise to the pattern-matching challenge of [ profile] handyhatter's parasol... :D
labricoleuse: (milliner)
I think probably every person on the planet knows that Michael Jackson, who was indisputably a man of both many talents and many flaws, passed away yesterday at 50 from a heart attack.

Of interest to me though & perhaps unbenownst to most, Jackson--a prodigy, popstar, recluse, an extraordinary dancer and indubitably damaged crazy-person--was also a patent-holder on an innovative stage/shoe-interface design, which he developed with co-inventors Michael L. Bush and Dennis Tompkins. The invention allowed him and his dance troupe to perform the gravity-defying leaning-stance dance moves featured around 7:19 in the "Smooth Criminal" video.

Apertures in the shoes' heels interfaced with pegs in the stage floor, which raised into position for the leaning move and dropped back again afterward to restore a seamless floor surface. You can peruse the entire patent, complete with illustrative diagrams on its construction and use, here on Google. I cropped some of the diagrams though behind this cut:

illustrations )

I mean, i'm not saying MJ was out in the shop machining parts for these or soling footwear or anything, but nevertheless, his contribution to the conception and execution was essential, and thus, whatever else you might have to say about his oddities and transgressions of the past decade-plus, i salute him for his many talents across a range of arts disciplines, including my own. Great idea executed to great effect.

Requiescat, Jacko.
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: (macropuppets!)
I think i've mentioned the creative draping portion of our students' graduate thesis, but i haven't featured photographs and a description before. This year, i'm hoping to showcase some of our graduates' work, to give an overview of exactly what the projects entail. MFA 2009 Amanda Phillips presented hers yesterday and i was able to take my own photos, so i'll start with her!

Essentially, the students propose a project to our program director in their 3rd year of study; the nature of the project can be fluidly defined, depending on a student's particular area of focus. For example, in a previous class, a graduate who was interested in a career as a crafts artisan chose a design for a stiltwalker costumed as a flamingo, so she could make stilts, an animal headdress, and address some structural challenges like the "bird tail" support; another graduate chose an Erte ballet design, to incorporate historical research and practical dancewear considerations.

Amanda's focus was in draping, and she has typically been drawn to unusual creative structural challenges and couture-style design elements in her project choices throughout her study. She came to the program with a diverse background ranging from theme-park walkaround maintenance and children's theatre to professional opera and ballet. While in graduate school, she spent her summers working at Tricorne in NYC on shows such as Wicked, Young Frankenstein, and The Little Mermaid.

For her creative draping thesis project, she chose an origami-inspired design from John Galliano's Fall 2007 collection for Dior.

Read more... )

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