Thursday, September 26, 2013

Those Crazy Days of Summer

Long time, no blog. I blame those crazy days of summer, which are anything but lazy around here. Summer is prime wedding season, and I do lots of wedding alterations with a few custom wedding, bridesmaid and flower girl dresses added to the mix to keep things interesting.

Lace is stylish everywhere right now, especially in bridal wear. This makes me happy, as I love lace. This summer I had the opportunity to make a custom lace wedding dress. The bride found a dress she loved on Pinterest and asked me to make one like it. 

She purchased off white re-embroidered lace in the NY Garment district. It was lovely to work with, albeit hard on my scissors. As usual, the most challenging part for me was the pattern making for the bodice. We did multiple muslin fittings, as perfect fit is not optional for a dress like this.

I also made a dress for the flower girl. Lace and tulle... What could be cuter?


When I wasn't sewing, I was gardening. We had a very good year.

Summer is over, my fall theater season has begun, and with any luck I will be blogging regularly again.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Anatomy of a Pirate Costume

You are staging Peter Pan or some other show featuring pirates. Captain Hook is a pirate, and everyone knows what he looks like.  But what about Smee, or other pirates with less name recognition? How does the audience know for sure that they are pirates, too? The obvious answer is that they look like pirates.  Here are some hints on how to make that happen, even if you are on a tight budget.

Most pirates- and their costumes- are a form of historical fiction. While there is some truth in this image, there is more that is the product of the imagination. If you do it well, your show should carry its audience off into the world you have created. Bad costumes are a distraction and an impediment to this.  Since most Americans think “Disney Captain Hook” or “Johnny Depp” when you say the word pirate, sticking to this sort of imagery works well.   Without buying cheaply made and expensively priced commercial costumes, how do you accomplish this?

Start by looking at pictures of pirates and visually dissect what they are wearing.  Some of the things I noted were blousy shirts, open at the throat, knee breeches or pants tucked into boots, heavy belts, sashes, vests, long coats, things that lace up, ragged edges, stripes, eye patches, bandanas, earrings, and hats.  I also used billowy skirts and corset style belts for some of the lady pirates.

Go thrift store shopping and start looking for these elements. Almost all of the guys wore something from the ladies rack, because in our culture, women generally wear more varied and interesting clothing than men do.  One day I went looking just for pants. I found stretch leggings with pleather on the front of the thighs, loose fitting heavy knit pants with faux diamond trim down the sides, and flared capris with eyelets and lacing on the outside of the leg. The leggings and blingy pants were worn with high boots or boot tops, and the pirate wearing the leggings also wore a coat that covered his thighs.  

The next time I hit pay dirt on belts- most of them heavy leather, studded with metal brads. Another day I went looking for vests.  I was amazed at what I found when I walked through the store thinking “pirate vest.”

 Bandanas can be cut, raw edged, out of suitable fabric.  I made a lot of hats (that is a blog entry unto itself) but I was also able to turn dollar store straw hats and a couple thrift store wool felt hats into pirate hats with minimal work. 

 Once you set your mind on the pirate channel you begin to see pirate in clothing items you might not have considered before.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Dancing Snake

More often than not, I design and make period and theatrical costumes as well as wedding and formal wear. In a departure from this, I recently made a snake dance costume modeled after one from the Chinese Ballet. It was a fun change of pace. It is worn by Miki Reaume, who dances the part of the snake in the Easter Production How Love Wins. If you live in the Corning, NY area and would like to see it, you will find dates and times here. Photos by Becky Enders.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Styling the 1930's

Yesterday I was called upon to create a last minute costume for a last minute understudy in a production of 42nd Street. The actress needed a red dress from the 1930’s.  I do this sort of makeover frequently, though I rarely start it at noon of the performance day.  

A red dress, several sizes too big with plenty of extra room in the skirt was purchased for $3 from a local thrift store.

While I awaited its arrival, I studied my condensed version of the Sears Catalog of the 1930’s.  

The dress was a size 16; the actress generally wears a 12. I started by removing the collar, facing, and sleeves. I put the dress on a properly sized dress form. Since there was no waist seam, I marked the waist, cutting the skirt off an inch below the waist, removing the stitching around the zipper so that it could still be used in the final product. After pressing the pleats out of the skirt fabric, I carefully squeezed the pattern pieces onto it. I used a pattern from my collection that had the proper shape.


 The bodice was taken in at the back darts and the new skirt attached. All of the dress fabric- sleeves included- was required to make a properly shaped skirt.  Fortunately in the 1930’s it was trendy to use a second fabric for the sleeves and trimmings.

. I chose a red and white polka dot fabric from my stash for this.

The actress came out for a fitting before I put in the sleeves, so I was able to tweak the fit first.  It took me about 3 ½ hours to convert a well-used garment from the 1980’s into a stylish dress of the 1930’s. It was challenging and fun, and is a great way to save both time and production costs.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Take time to play.
In a society teeming with entertainment options, this might sound like a strange thing to say. The entertainment junkies aren't the only ones out there, though. We workaholics need to remember to give ourselves permission to play guilt free once in a while.

I recently gave myself permission to play in my sewing room for a couple days, and it was one of the smartest things I have done in a long time. Why? It was relaxing. Playing promotes creativity. And it made me remember that I really do love to make things with fabric. I did not push myself to make something useful, sale able, or creative. I just did what seemed like fun at the time. I played with a couple unusual patterns- boot style moccasins being one of them. I made myself a warm velour cowl neck that fits perfectly. I made my husband a shirt. I made some cats toys for the grandcats. And I made a dragon.


Making the dragon was the best part. It was not difficult, and it was fun to personalize. It has a rice bag in the central part of the body, and it wraps around the neck nicely.

The dragon first appeared in the customer gallery of my favorite embroidery website, Urban Threads. It was such a popular item that she put up a pattern and tutorial (you might want to make one, too!).

I feel refreshed. Alterations and zipper replacements are often dull, but I won't mind them today. After that it's bridesmaid dresses. But it's all good- I've had my annual dose of fun.  

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Making it Real

On stage and screen, actors transform into characters from another time and place. Take, for example, a show like Downton Abbey, or a movie like Les Miserables or the Hobbit, in which the fantasy seems so real - it makes you feel as though you've stepped into another place or time. How do they do that?

It's all in the details.
I am a costumer, so that is my focus, but the principle applies across the board. Colors, velvet vs. fabric ribbon, buttons made out of bone or covered buttons, fabric types, and the style of lace are just a few examples of things that can make a much bigger difference than you might think. There is no substitute for research. Use online resources, books, museums, and films that are known to be accurate representations of the time period. The more you know, the easier it will be to pick fabrics, trims, accessories, and even thrift store garments that fit the time period. I choose pictures- photos of people and museum pieces and fashion plates- for each character and use them throughout the process as reference points. Sometimes when a costume doesn't look quite right I go back to the pictures and analyze them bit by bit until I figure out what detail is missing, or what modern detail I have inadvertently included that I need to remove. I just completed Four Tickets to Christmas, set in 1905. Here are a few examples of what I do.

Underwear matters.
The S corset and related underthings all help to create the female silhouette of the time period. We built corsets (on a very tight budget, that is a blog of it's own), corset covers, bustle and bust pads to shape the ladies.

Authentic patterns are great when you can get them. I used authentic patterns from 59 Authentic Turn of the Century Patterns and The Edwardian Modiste for the boy's suit and the ladies dresses. I also used the cover of a theater goers magazine from 1905 as a model for the dark green dress and hat. The photo is from the show; the pictures below it provided guidance and inspiration. It wasn't enough to make the garments- trimming them appropriately changed them immensely- especially the boy's suit.

Use existing pieces whenever you can- especially for the men. Suits and coats are labor intensive. The drawing on the left from Men's Fashion Illustrations from the Turn of the Century portrays the dapper urban gentleman of December 1905 we were trying to create. I made the white vest, tall collar and tie, but everything else was put together from vintage parts.

Sometimes only a little thing is required to transform a garment. The jacket with the lace collar is from The Voice of Fashion. I drafted just the collar pattern and added it to a simple cape. I picked up a straw hat at a thrift store and covered it with fabric before embellishing it.

Look to museum pieces for colors. The actress really liked this museum piece, so I did my best to replicate it. We made the jacket, had the blouse, and I tweaked a skirt we already had.

This costume was made entirely from existing parts.

Last but not least, we used vintage choreography to go along with the costumes.

If you would like to see more photos, click here.