Wednesday, January 30, 2013

One Pattern, Many Looks: B4343

You know that old chestnut that if you want something done you should ask a busy person?  Well, it will come as no suprise that this has been a very busy month for me.  Which of course means that this is the first time I've ever managed to complete my entry for a contest.  

One Pattern, Many Looks

The first contest of the year is the One Pattern, Many Looks contest which challenges entrants to create multiple looks by making minor (non-structural) changes to a single pattern.  These alterations could include changes to the neckline or hem length as well as choices of fabric and trims. 

I used  view C of Butterick 4343, a close-fitting, princess-seamed, lined, tapered sheath dress.  I chose this pattern for two reasons: 1) I find that princess seams are nearly always a figure-flattering (read, slimming) option for the curvier figure and 2) I live in sheath dresses. My work wardrobe largely consists of solid color dresses, cardigans, and chunky jewelry worn in a variety of combinations so sewing additional sheaths was a practical decision. 

I began by altering the pattern for fit.  I cut standard 18 and then not only made a full bust alteration, but also made what I will call a "full derriere" alteration using the same slash and spread technique.  This provided a much better fit than I could have otherwise achieved.  While my actual numerical measurements would put me in a 22 according to the pattern envelope, my high bust measurement puts me in an 18 which leads to a much better fit through the shoulders and neckline.  Even then I usually have to reduce the width of the back by a significant margin as my figure is not particularly wide.  Lately I've been finding I have a similar issue on the bottom in that if I just grade the pattern up to the 22 the front will be too wide for my hips while the backside strains over my backside.  This is not only unflattering, but it means the seams don't fall straight and I also wind up with weird unfilled pockets of empty space on the hips making my hips look wider than they actually are. 

(As an aside, I find that sewing is an excellent way to not only become aware of your own bodies quirks but also to learn to accept them.  When I bought clothes off the rack I always assumed I had wide hips because clothing that otherwise fit always seemed awkwardly tight in that region.  Plus, women are always complaining about thier hips so obviously mine must be a "problem area." However I've realized that my hips are actually proportional, I just have six extra inches of junk in the trunk.  Nobody wants to be "pear shaped" but everyone likes some Beyonce booty!)

As you can see from the pictures below, my altreations changed the pattern fairly significantly.  These photo show the original pattern placed overtop my altered pattern which I cut out of brown butcher paper. 

The first dress I made with this altered pattern used not only the original neckline, but also the color scheme from the pattern envelope.  (And as always, please remember that I'm larger than the dress form so you hae to imagine the bust filled out a bit more...)

I then made a version in a ponte knit.  I used navy for the front and back and black on the side panels.  I also added tabs to the shoulders and waist which I accented with gold buttons for a bit of nautical flair.  In all honesty, I think this is my least favorite version, in large part because it's too big.  I used wider seam allowances thinking that would make up for the somewhat minimal stretch in the knit but it's still too large.  This dress is, however, super comfortable.  So while it may not have a tailored feel I prefer for work, it would be perfect with boots and a slouchy cardigan for running weekend errands. 

The third version of the dress is a purple wool crepe.  For this version I lengthened the hem to right at the knee and lowered the neckline. 

For the final version of my dress, I lowered the hem to just below the knee, about 8 inches longer than the pattern is drafted.  I kept the original high neck, but added low, deep pockets to the side panels.  I'm actually wearing this dress today!  This version is made from some sort of poly blend suiting that I picked up at Joanns ages ago with the intent to make trousers. 

So there you have it... several different looks from the same simple pattern!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Funny Girl Costumes: It's Crunch Time

After spending most of the weekend stitching, hot-glueing, and otherwise creating I am both exhausted and only too aware of how much is left to get done before our first dress rehearsal next Sunday. 
My weekend in pictures:

My attempts at Drynuary took a brief hiatus because I earned this glass of wine...

I am grateful that some of the items I ordered arrived... sadly I have not yet recieved the fabric I ordered to make the uniform coat/dresses to match these hats.  Get on the ball,!  (I am totally calling to complain today.)

Items that I have built and found are currently hung on every possible surface of my sewing room awaiting alterations, pressing, finishing, bedazzling, or other time-consuming labor.

On the other hand, I found some items that will be perfect as is and require no further work from me!  Thank goodness!

B5232 which will be matched to skirt B from B4954.  This suit is made of uphostery weight velvet and will be worn over an antique cream-colored lace blouse with a white fur hat and muff for "Don't Rain on my Parade."

I am not the only person at the theater hard at work!  Here is a backstage view of our set in progress. 

Saturday afternoon I managed to get most of the items I have pulled organized, labelled and ready for fittings this week.

The stairs from the stage downstairs to the costume shop and dressing room.  Hauling things up and down is tiring and awkward.  I am not a fan.

A view of our costume storage from above. 

The bodice in progres for Fanny to wear in her dinner scene with Nick.  I used the bodice of Simplicity 4055 and then added a fitted midriff.  The skirt will also be from B4954 with a lace overlay that extends just past the horizontal seamline near the knee.  I am hoping to finish this dress today.  Really I just need to attach the skirt, add a zipper and finish the neckline.  It shouldn't take more than half an hour but I sort of ran out of steam on this one.
This is called Jenny experiments with a glue gun before starting to make the white headresses that are actually needed in the show.  I don't know whether this will appear in the show at any point but the hot-glue related blisters on my fingertips certainly hope so.

More of the Zeigfeld bride costumes hanging.  My idea is that each one will be different.  I may have to see what they look like before making a final decision. 

After a long hard weekend of work, my assistant decides to take a cat-nap on a pile of bridal satin.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Project Runway Season 11, Episode 1: Teams

About a week ago I was commenting to my gentleman friend that I think my perennial favorite television show, Project Runway, may have jumped the shark...  Between Miss "I can't sew" from Trinidad/Tobago winning season 9 to the relatively boring looks and personalities of season 10, I suspected for some time that the show may not run too much longer.  When I heard that Michael Kors had left the show and that season 11 would consist of nothing but team challenges?  It sounded like a death knell to me...

Now I think I was wrong.

While the idea of an "all team challenges" season seems cooked up merely to instigate drama, after actually seeing the first episode I think it may be just the boost the show needs.  The 16 designers arrived with no idea about the "twist" that was awaiting them but were quickly divided into two teams who amply demonstrated the best and worst of teamwork.  The "Dream Team" and team "Keeping it Real" (seriously guys?) were given views of NYC as inspiration and tasked with designing ensembles which demonstrated their personal style while utilizing the advice of their team members.

Despite their ridiculous name, "Keeping it Real" did a fantastic job of working together.  You could sense a real camaraderie between the designers who gave each other useful and valuable criticism and assisted each other with drafting and construction.  When the two collections walked out on the runway they were the clear and obvious winners.  In contrast, the "Dream Team" decided to work under more of an "every man for himself" model.  While there were some strong looks, they also allowed each other to flounder and the end products suffered for it. 

I loved all of the top three designers.  I will admit to having initial doubts about mustachioed Daniel Esquivel and Patricia "Water Lilly" Michaels due to their personal style but they ended up being the clear standouts with a sleek black suit with an exaggerated peplum and an artistic cutout leather dress, respectively.  I'll be especially interested in watching Patricia.  In each season they always seem to cast one "offbeat" designer who marks with spit instead of chalk, uses themselves as a dress form, or dresses like something out of a cartoon.  Usually this designer is eliminated fairly early on for creating peculiar designs that are either a bit too "out-there" or bit too "home-made."  I initially had Patricia in this category, especially when she started hand-painting her textile, but she clearly has a great eye as she created a chic and original look out of something that could have been very "craft show" in less skilled hands.

Patricia Michaels Episode 1 Look Daniel Esquivel Episode 1 Look

I can't say I was sad to see Emily go.  She annoyed me from the get go with her talk of being young and inexperienced but just so talented that everyone else should pack their bags.  Girl may have a vision but she bit off way more than she could chew and frankly I don't believe that she spends every evening after work sewing.  Someone who spends every evening sewing would not have created the hot-glued organza mess.  Honestly she would have been better off sending her muslin down the runway and claiming it was a homage to the garment district or something...

Emily Pollard Episode 1 Look

As for the changes to the structure of the show, I think I like that Tim Gunn's critique is more workshop style with the entire team chiming in with ideas.  As for Zac Posen... I like the man's designs but I am so far unimpressed with his judging.  I miss Kors's clever (bitchy?) quips.  When it comes to being a TV personality, you, Zac Posen? Are NO Michael Kors.

Of course you could prove me wrong.  It's happened before.

Funny Girl Costumes - Step 3: Pulling from Stock

What I am about to tell you is likely to come as a major shock but here goes...

Community theater in Parma Heights, Ohio?  Is NOT BROADWAY.

Suprising, right?  I know that I was astonished by this news!  However, in being NOT BROADWAY, our shows have a very NOT BROADWAY budget.  Our shows in fact have a very limited budget.  (Also a very limited costume staff, namely myself.)  What this means is that the funds and labor I do have at my disposal have to be allocated intelligently.  Now if I had unlimited time, money, and man-power I would take a month to sketch detailed designs for every character in the show and have a staff of dilligent pattern drafters and stitchers who turned those designs into actual garments under the supervision of my watchful eye over the course of months.  In reality I have to depend on three weeks, a few hundred dollars, and my own ingenuity and lack of sleep.  So while I may want to custom design and build every item in the show I instead have to dig through the piles of costumes that the theater has obtained through the years and make alterations as necessary.  Now this may not seem like a particularly daunting task until you discover what our costume and fabric storage looks like:

Once this show closes, re-organizing is a major priority that I imagine will take up several weekends of my life.  However, the show must go on and the actors must be clothed before opening night TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY! (I think the aforementioned lack of sleep is starting to show itself though my overuse of caps lock in this post.)

In any case, a large portion of the past week has been dedicated to digging through the above-pictured mess to find clothing that is: 1) the correct size, 2) the correct time period, 3) not disintegrating due to age, and 4) appropriate for the character in question.  And yes, these are the order of my priorities. 

Pulling costumes from our existing stock is a challenge for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, much of our stock originates from donations.  We are of course grateful for these donations as without them our cast would be nude and this is a family show.  However, it seems that much of what people donate is a) falling to peices, b) ugly, and/or c) from the 1980s (b and c are usually related).  Now I think the most obvious solution is to start doing more shows that take place among homeless people in 1985 but thus far I have been unable to convince the board to take this eminently sensible suggestion.  So instead I am tasked with turning 1980s bridesmaids into 1920s glamour girls (this usually involves removing the shoulder pads).

The second challenge often has to do with size.  As many news organizations have noted, our nation's citizens have grown remarkably larger over the past few decades.  This means that when we do recieve donations of beautiful vintage garments they are usually absurdly small.  Like 27 inch busts small.  I am not joking about this.  I often look at these garments and then die a little inside when I realize that my bust measurement is almost two feet larger in diameter and I usually don't consider myself to be grossly obese.  Now for this particular production I have lucked out in this aspect as much of the cast is relatively petite, however this remains an ongoing challenge.

So after a week of digging, I've managed to pull a variety of garments and start some preliminary fittings.  I plan to do full fittings early next week so as to give myself a full week to do alterations.

Meanwhile, I've also finished shopping and started building some specific items which will be the subject of my next post... stay tuned!


Monday, January 21, 2013

Funny Girl Costumes: Plans and Sketches (Step Two, Ongoing, and Many)

After gathering images to inspire my "vision" for the production, the next step I take is sketching out some designs in order to translate what is happening in my head into a medium that others can see and appreciate.

 My sketchbook for this show is a combination of rough sketches and finished sketches, a difference which is largely dependent on how concrete my thoughts are at any given time. I've been carrying my sketch pad with me at all times so that I can jot something down any time I am struck with inspiration. Some of these rough sketches later get fleshed out, particularly for items that I will be drafting patterns and building.

My first sketch for the dancers in "Rat-a-tat-tat"
My final "Rat-a-tat-tat" sketch, from which I've now I have sourced materials such as fabric, hats, and buttons.
Many of my most complete sketches are for the character of Fanny Brice.  While Funny Girl is a large scale production with a numerous cast, it is also very much a star vehicle, so most of my efforts and very limited time is focused on giving my star a very specific visual journey.


My thoughts for "Don't Rain on my Parade" are clearly a little less concrete than my thoughts for some of the other garments in the show...
I have also spent a good amount of time working on ideas for the various Ziegfeld Girl costumes, although as these will largely be sourced and constructed from existing stock costumes I have focused less on specifics and more on concepts.  For example, I really want to move forward with the classic arm drape and managed to find some beautiful mosquito netting for $2.00 per yard which has the perfect drape.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Funny Girl Costumes - Step One: Inspiration

The Cassidy Theatre in Parma Heights is putting on a production of Funny Girl and I have been retained to design and build the costumes. Now if you clicked on that link, you'll have noticed that the show opens February 8.  A February 8 opening means a dress rehearsal on February 3 which means I have approximately 3 weeks to costume this production.  Now if you are not familiar with Funny Girl (either the stage show or the movie starring Barbara Streisand) you may not know what a massive undertaking I have just... undertook.

This is not a small show.  There are 20 actors in the cast, most of whom play multiple roles.  The narrative spans nearly 20 years from Fanny Brice's humble beginnings in show business in 1908 to the collapse of her marriage to Nick Arnstein in 1927.  Finally, most of the show takes place in and around the Zeigfeld Follies so these are not just period costumes but period SHOWGIRL costumes.  I have a sneaky suspicion that my bedazzler is going to get quite a workout!

In any case, my first step in costuming a show is to conduct research.  I not only research the source material (in this case I read a good deal about the actual Fanny Brice as well as carefully reading and notating the script and re-watching the film) but gather visual research and inpirational images.  In the past I have created paper collages from images I sourced online.  This time however I am joining modern day and utilizing Pinterest.  I've created a Pinterest board where I've "pinned" a large number of pictures that I find relevent to this project.

In creating this board I've pulled a large number of images including photos of Fanny Brice,

photos of Barbara Streisand as Fanny Brice,

images of well dressed "gangster" types,

pictures of dresses from the 1910's,

and 1920's,

images showing the uniforms of WWI,

and (of course) photographs of those beautiful Zeigfeld girls!

Meanwhile I've also taken the measurements of most of my cast, started sketching design ideas, and begun pulling garments from the available stock so I can assess what I will need to build, borrow, or buy.