Sunday, November 20, 2016

waistcoats on the bias

I am making some suits for a show and the designer has designed the waistcoats to be cut on the bias.
OK, I think- or rather I didn't really think about it much at first- no problem.

I know it isn't really an impossible task, but it is time consuming and it is always hard to judge how much more time consuming until you are in the midst of it.... So lets break it down.

The basics:
Firstly- the design is a 1930's double breasted waistcoat with a laid on collar/lapel.
The cloth is a windowpane check. White on black. The windowpanes are rectangles not square.

Challenge: Bias- it stretches, so it needs control.
Solution: fuse straight grain fusible interfacing onto bias fabric.

Challenge: the true bias on a pattern with rectangles gives no happy visual location for the CF line.
Solution: draw a line through the corners of the rectangles and use that as a CF line, so it is not on the true bias.

Challenge: a traditional vertical dart in front will not be a good choice as it will distort the look of the "bias"
Solution: close out the front dart and transfer it to the neckline where it will eventually be covered by the collar.

Challenge: which grain to cut the collar? With the neckline dart, the laid on collar will never be able to match the fabric of the body. It can only match up to the dart, the worry is that it will just look like a mistake.
Solution: cut the collar/lapel so it is a contrast grain so the windowpane contrasts with the body- make a detail out of it.

Challenge: applying the fusible to the wool, making sure the right and left fronts are mirror images. dealing with shrinkage that comes with fusing.
Solution: Use a fusible that is somewhat translucent so I can see the windowpanes through it.
Draw out the pattern pieces on the fusible giving a clear CF line.
Block out the fabric in a single layer at the ironing table using a metre stick and a square, so the windowpanes stay square and true.
Chalk the pattern pieces onto the wool. including a clear CF placement line.
Apply the fusible to the wool carefully maintaining the alignment of CFs and overall placement.
Fuse one front, re block wool, chalk other front, and repeat making sure the alignment of the other front is a mirror image of the first.

At this point, the pieces are rough cut and I have to take them back to the table and check and redraw the pattern, because fusing always shrinks slightly.

Do the same process for the lapel/collar pieces.

Repeat for the second vest which must match the first.

This is the idea, partially done and placed roughly in position. We are going to put the welt pockets on the straight grain to match the lapels.

I think it will look very striking once it is finished, but oh boy it took a lot of time to get them cut out!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Dear dear Desmond

I first met Desmond Heeley in 1986. I was a new stitcher, and I was in my third professional job contract, working at The National Ballet of Canada on his production of the Merry Widow.
I was gathering strips of different colour fabrics for the underskirts of the Can Can dancers. Miles of them, tying off the gathering thread on the door knob of the wardrobe workroom and standing at the other end of the long hallway, pulling, ruching.
Anyway, one evening after my cutter and I had worked some overtime, we exited the building at the same time as Desmond, and him, desiring some company, gathered the both of us up and took us to dinner next door at a very expensive restaurant. I sat there completely out of my element, enthralled and quite speechless at finding myself in this position.
I realized yesterday at his memorial that he was the age I am now when we first met -isn't that funny- and I had no idea at that time that he would have a great influence on my future development as a cutter and that I would have the very great fortune of knowing him just a little.

There have been so many people that he worked with in the early days and became his "family" and so many stories told by him, told about him, stories of the development of theatre in this country, the crazy things they did for the love of their craft and of each other. I wish, and not for the first time in my life, that I had been born a little earlier, to have been able to know some people a bit more fully.
He gathered people to him, and he treated you as if you were the most important person in the world to him, his letters were the most vividly described, his interest and emotion so genuine.

I discovered quite by accident his mentor, Oliver Messel, when I read an article in an architectural magazine about homes built on the island of Mustique by a man who had been a theatre designer- and the accompanying images made me think of Desmond. When I asked him about it he told me that Messel was indeed his mentor, and later sent me, in a letter, a photocopy of a design of a spray of roses by Rex Whistler for the ballet Spectre of the Roses (Sadlers Wells) - just before WWII- great hero of mine, killed on the last day. a postscript to check him out online and another notation * He, Tanya & Oliver Messel my idols.

We shared a a love of Gilbert and Sullivan and Desmond sent me a few things over the years- a little book he found, a postcard, but by far the most amazing and generous was a sketch he made of the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe for the G&S society in New York and I am going to transcribe the exuberant handwritten note that came with it.

p.s. Am not quite sure that this is the sort of sketch one hangs  BUT I thought it might make you smile- (and help G&S along) -
In the '60's I designed Iolanthe for Sadlers Wells opera- the first production away from the copyright (much concern from the diehards!) and a few sniffy folks at the Opera who thought that G&S was beneath them.
it was a huge success---this costume for the Fairy Queen was for a lady- named Heather Beggs- almost  six feet tall--glorious voice & great style--at the end of the piece, "Up in the air sky high--" we actually flew her in a chariot made of Giant roses & pulled by two vast butterflies!---- two baby paniers spangled crin overskirt, (silver & gold brocade under!)-- the "ermine" was swansdown with black coque feathers----and the centre panel "chunky" leaves, roses, with a gauze layer on top!----
 This sketch is a recreation done for the G&S Society here in NY

signed with a heart with an arrow through it,

Thursday, November 3, 2016

mid 1950's references

I posted photos of the mid 1950's jackets that I recently made, and I thought it might be interesting to show some of the references I used to make my patterns.

There were the sketches and visual reference provided by the designer, but I like to research a bit more in order to make the patterns. I like to look at various drafts of the period I am trying to recreate but I don't actually use them because I don't have time to find out if they do or don't work on someone else's dime. I use my basic drafting set up and modify from there for fit and style.

I have a small collection of reference materials to use, and here are a few things that helped me.
I have had some opportunity to make 1950's  suits before but I think I really was not successful in getting the silhouette right. I was determined to do better this time.

One thing I found was a chart showing proportionate back widths for jackets- you can see they offered three distinct widths for each chest size, depending on the style of jacket the customer wanted-
1. regular
2. modified drape or wide shouldered young men's
3. drape coats or lounge coats

You can see that for a size 38 the back width could be between 8 1/8 inches  and 8 3/4 inches

Compare that to the standard proportion of  approx 7 1/2 inches for a size 38 across back.

We wanted a more extremely young men's shape for these jackets and in looking at some of the period photos of these musicians, and other people of the period, the jackets were quite roomy, boxy and slightly oversized, and long. The waist shaping was minimal, the visual waistline was lower than the natural waist and the hip was quite slim. The shoulders were wide and quite square, buttoning point was lower, hence longer lapels, and pocket placement was lower as well.

These pages give an indication of the body silhouette, shoulder width, waist shaping, and overall jacket length.

These jackets were for young men so you can see that the studio style is longer, has lower set pockets and less waist shaping.

The length for someone 5'10" is 32".

Suit drafting uses a formula to determine length and a basic jacket length calculation is half height minus something- minus 4 inches or 1/2 h minus 1/16 of height.
If the actor is 5'10" (70") /2 = 35 minus 4= 31 inches
in metric which I prefer to use
178cm/2 = 89 minus 11.125cm = 78cm (30 3/4")

So these jackets are longer than that.
for 5'10" 70/2 = 35 inches so 35 -3 would give us a 32" length.
for 6'2"   74/2 =37 inches so 37-3 = 34 length

I started then with this information in hand, set up my drafting as I usually do, and made modifications until I though I had a good idea of where I was going.
I then cut out a half jacket in some cotton I had and put it on my stand. I photographed that and sent it to the designer for his input.
Once that was done, I took an idea from my colleague Evan and I drafted in half scale to show the changes and modifications to my basic draft. This is what I then referenced in making the subsequent drafts for the other jackets.
That half scale draft is now tucked away in my files for future reference.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

losses and carrying on

Six months since I last posted.,
2016 has turned out to be so very trying, in so many ways and I am hoping it will come around and settle down a bit. This I wrote a few of months ago, and it still hasn't settled down. Now I am looking for the end of the year to close this chapter.

I/We have lost so many people, friends, colleagues, mentors, individuals who have connected the past of our profession to the present and future that it seems overwhelming.
I started to list them and I had to stop.

Carrying on is what we have to do and in that spirit we continue on.

The studio is up and functioning, and I am hoping that the scent of scented candles will eventually go away in time. (this sentence brought to you from the department of redundancy department)
I am putting my hopes in time and Febreze unscented. It has been an enjoyable space to work in so far. The cats from the other space have been brought over and they are doing their job, keeping those pesky mice at bay. Jay's kiln is wired in and he is producing his beautiful work again. Andy and Rob are still organizing the wood and machinery and before getting back into the swing of things making cutting boards and such, they are building some very nice feral cat winter shelters.

I finished a project for a client that I felt was a bit of an experiment, making a suit long distance and doing the fitting over Skype. I am happy to say that it worked out quite well which is a relief for me. Here is the jacket in process. Silvia did a fabulous job with it, and I made the trousers and waistcoat.

The first studio project though was something sparkly, four jackets for Million Dollar Quartet. I usually do projects that allow for me to fit the actors but this time it was long distance and we did it with measurements and photos and a couple of cross your fingers and hope it all works out. Which they did, so a win win for all of us. Design: Cory Sincennes for the Citadel Theatre, Edmonton Alberta

Poor Elvis, I don't think I got a finished shot of that jacket. :(

I have a few more projects coming up and some pictures of some work that happened over the past six months. I also want to give some thought and discussion about training new tailor/cutters which is a topic that will be very pertinent in the near future.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

checking things off the list

Today I got to check one big thing off my list!

The studio has been moved. Ten adults, two kids, two truckloads and 4 and a half hours later, done. Thanks to all my friends who helped.  Terry for providing a truck and Jeff who fixed the hydraulic lift switch at the new place, so unloading was a breeze. The kids had what is likely a fairly rare opportunity to ride up and down on a very old freight elevator- the ones with the pull down wooden gates and the kind where the operator (me) has to manually stop so the floor levels are even.

Of course the new space is not set up, and we need to do some work on it first, so everything is stacked and under wraps for now.
But one thing is off the list.
Now we can pack up the car with our daughter's belongings and move her tomorrow. I am missing a day of work but there are only so many things you can do on one week end.

I had a tech dress yesterday until 7pm and thankfully they got through a very technically demanding show. That is one more thing to check off my list as well.

I don't often list my workload here in full, but all of this list making makes me think I should let you in on how much work we have produced since mid January. This is me pattern making and with four tailors plus one extra set of hands for three weeks.
so here goes
Show 1: 1940's plus fantasy costumes- (all this built from scratch)
9 jackets
6 waistcoats
5 trousers
1 pair pleated shorts
5 long sleeved shirts
3 unitards
2 medieval gowns
2 velvet capes
2 fur capelets
1 wolf in fake fur including a tail and all supports structure
2 centaur costumes
1 bodice for a tree
1 pair of trousers for a tree (stilt walker)
1 lion cape
1 lion cowl
2 sets of leather spats with fake fur trim
2 sets of protective gear for wearing a prop
1 cowl and hood
a variety of stock costumes including 3 trousers made into shorts, 4 wraiths, a witch's footman, shirts collars, and more that I cannot think of right now.

Show 2: 1940's (all this built from scratch)
2 three piece suits
2 shirts
1 two piece suit
2 pair trousers
altering a variety of stock jeans t shirts and puchased clothing

We are already behind for the next show, so I am not sure how much spare time I will have in the next little while to post but we will see.

How often do you get to make a tree? A theatrical tailor's life is quite varied for sure!
Kudos to Heather in props who really made him into a tree. Great work!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

a man in wolf's clothing?

It has been quite hectic here with all that is going on. I think I say this a lot don't I?
I mentioned in a reply to a comment that everything is happening April 30th!
We need to assist our daughter to move out of her university digs and into a sublet in the city she is in, and I have a tech dress rehearsal on the 30th too. I guess my studio is moving on May 1st, and therefore my dear husband is on his own for the big city/daughter move. Whew!

I believe that I have been able to secure a new spot for my studio -knock on wood- but I am waiting for confirmation and a few more small details to be worked out. It is a relief, and just in time because I have more than enough stress with work and life in general.
I still need to hire a truck and finish packing up in preparation. I will also need to do some painting and flooring work before I can set things up, so I don't think I will be set up and functioning right away. Oh well, at least there is a light on the horizon.

So I actually have two shows going into tech in three weeks, one on the 28th and the other on the 30th. Then I have a small window to get a show together for the mid May period. The pace is not going to get slower for a while yet.

Here's one of two costumes that I fit yesterday, which I am quite happy with. This is an example of what I term "there is no formula" for doing the work we do. Trial and error  experience and adaptation. Or flying by the seat of your pants way of working!

This is the wolf.
This has been in limbo for a few weeks while we were backed up with other priorities. The tail was ready though! There was a lot of pattern making to do for this costume.

The base layer to this costume is a stretch legging and a long sleeved stretch top that zips up the front.
I think it should have been a unitard and it may still get joined together but for now it is two pieces.
Pattern number one and two- actually, I had to redo the patterns as I was given a fabric to use that had a different stretch factor, but there wasn't enough of it in the end to make the whole costume. So ditch those patterns, get new fabric, recalculate the stretch and make new patterns!

We also needed a pattern for the basque that supports the tail. That pattern I developed from a skirt draft. ( I am not actually following a specific draft, merely the concept of it here).

The next set of pattern making involved the fur layer.
The fur does not stretch. We have a few hanging stands in the wardrobe, but the one with a good size for the torso has legs only to above the knee, and the stands with full legs have short stocky bodies.  I decided to trust my flat pattern making skills to figure it out rather than draping something on a stand.

I then needed to draft for the fur layer and figure out how it could be manipulated to fit closely in the body and allow the actor full movement. He demonstrated some of the fight choreography (full lunges in armour) in the first fitting, so that informed my subsequent thinking.

The fur on the wolf's tail was applied in sections to allow movement, and I applied the same principle to the leg area.
I drafted up a trouser pattern outline, and then modified it to be closer fitting, then I figured out the areas of overlap.

My actual pattern is so marked up with thinking lines that I drew a little diagram of what I did.

I didn't need to cover the areas of the body that are covered with armour, such as the lower legs which have greaves, and a knee piece - what are they called?   Poleyns, I believe.

The thigh area fur is cut in four pieces. It is seamed up the back of the leg and shaped to follow the contours of the thigh and buttocks. It has an inseam and outseam, and a seam up the front of the leg where I left adjustment room- extra seam allowance.

The over layer is like a pair of short shorts.
I reduced the girth a bit as I am working off a trouser draft, which is too roomy in general. I also darted out from the CF and CB lines to the hem of the shorts in order to get a closer fit there.

The basque was made of duck and corseting and is heavily boned with spiral steels in order to support the escutcheon for the tail.
We found out that we need to shorten the spring inside the tail as you can see! Move the escutcheon piece upwards as well.
The escutcheon piece has holes drilled in it so it can be sewn on. It needs to have some kind of keeper as well, because the tail is very bouncy and popped out of the holder. Well that is what the fittings are for- figuring stuff out- what works and what doesn't.
We will then cover the basque with fur.

In the course of talking this through with Susy- who put it all together, we found that we could sew an elastic to the edge of the fur, and use that elastic as a means to attach the fur to the leggings. That means the thigh piece can be a little bigger than the thigh measurement, we can ease the fur to the elastic, and when it is attached there is still some give for muscle expansion.

The same principle with the shorts- the lowered waist can be eased onto elastic then attached to the stretch legging. This leaves the fur shorts free to move independently from the fur on the thigh. and also still be a pull on garment.
I had a lucky guess in how nicely the pieces worked together. The fur is bulky so the over layer needs to be bigger than you might think, and all our layers worked well together. you couldn't tell they were actually two pieces.

We did a similar process with the chest and armhole and sleeves. The fur elbow to upper bicep in one piece, the fur upper sleeve attached to the fur armhole facings/chest area, but left loose over the upper arm piece.
We will leave the armholes and sleeve of the stretch and fur separate so the fur pieces just float over the stretch. That should allow the most freedom of movement-  I hope it does anyway. Seemed good on the day anyway.

The other fitting was for a suit- which I guess i will talk about later as this post has gone on and taken me most of the day to get together.


Goodbye to our friend, Paul "eggs" Benedict, sound engineer extraordinaire, and all around lovely person.
2016 has been difficult- losing so many people we have had in our lives.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Carry on!

I thought that I should follow up on the thoughts about structure. This won't be that post as I am finding myself with no spare time these days.

I have been trying to get photos of this dress and all its underpinnings, and I keep missing the time when it is on the dress form in its most basic form, but I will get them!

My colleague Carol, is making three dresses in this style- talk about needing underpinnings to support a shape- I think it is one of the most extreme shapes of women's fashion don't you?
Here's a link to the V&A museum which describes a dress of this type they have in their collection.

For my part, last week, among other things, I made a pair of trousers for a tree.
Yes. I am still working out the structure to support the form, and the actor, designer, and choreographers and coaches are working out whether the stilts will be set at a maximum of 48 inches from the ground or whether that is too tall!
It made me a bit nervous at the fitting watching the actor work at 28 inches up so I cannot imagine walking around four feet off the ground. We will see.

I have not had any luck so far finding another studio space but I am trying to be hopeful but also to plan for the possibility of putting my equipment in storage for a time.
There just are not enough hours in the day or week to work 40 hours, eat sleep and track down landlords and property owners and set up times to view locations.

Anyway, carry on! as they say.