Log in


June 2015



RSS Atom
Powered by LiveJournal.com

Previous 10

Jun. 14th, 2015


Summer batik project, conclusion

Today we conclude the batik project i began covering in yesterday's post. (Though admittedly the observant reader will have spotted a bit of the finished product already in my #TonyCanYouHearMe post...)
I'd worked out the wax layers and the colors and gotten several hues onto the fabric, as well as waxing in substantial areas. Here are a few more photos of that and the conclusion:

no title
Here, we're well into the color applications, nearly all the dyes are layered in. But, you might ask, what's that circle in the middle of the lower figure's throat?

no title
Detail shot of said circle. It's a jar i placed under the fabric because i didn't like how the dye was running as the weight of the wax caused it to sag. I chose to put it in this place, because a circular motif is a recurring image that my uncle (an artist/illustrator) uses a lot in his work superimposed over the subject, creating a kind of lens or mandala effect incorporated into an overall composition. The jar acted as a resist the same as if i had waxed a circle, except it allowed me to later go back into that section with dye, which you can't do with a waxed-out section unless you start again after removing the wax.

no title
Last application of all dyes/wax. At this point, it was time to do the cracked effects. This (for me) is the scariest part of the process because you can totally overdo it and really screw up your piece, and then you've spent days and hours on something that's just a failure. But i totally wanted the cracks, because shattering and brokenness are motifs in the novel that inspired it, and particularly for the character represented by the lower figure--i wanted basically a web of fractures all over the piece, but concentrated in the lower right section.

So, i took it off the frame, crumpled it in a controlled fashion, and then did this:

no title
...black dye over the entire thing. See why i find this the scariest part?

But, then i rinsed off the extra, boiled/laundered out the wax, painted in some style lines with Jacquard Airbrush Color (applied with a brush), and headed to the art store for some stretcher bars.

I stretched the finished piece just like i would a canvas, and here's the finished work.

This iPad shot doesn't capture a lot of the subtle layers in the fire background (the novel begins and ends with a building burning down), or the texture the dye layering gives the hair of the upper figure. And you can only barely see that there are four pieces of piercing jewelry in the fabric itself on the faces of the characters (the book being set in 1998, everyone at the club in question had loads of body piercings).

The finished piece measures 24" x 32", and as you saw in my Tony post, hangs in my living room now. And i'm sure once the book sells and comes out, this won't be the last piece of art somebody creates inspired by its characters, but as the author, i'm pretty thrilled to have had such success with the first! (Well, second, but that test run didn't count.)
Tags: ,

Jun. 13th, 2015


Summer batik project, part one!

So, in addition to this high-profile day job i have as a professional costumer (ha), i am also a writer--not only of labricoleuse, but of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. (That's right, i even have a Goodreads Author Page to prove it!) This project i'll be writing up in two parts is kind of a crossover of sorts; bear with me.

Most of what i have published so far has been short-form work--essays, short stories, short memoir--in journals, magazines, and anthologies. The obvious exception to this, especially for readers of this blog, is my parasol textbook (which BTW remains on sale at 30% off throughout this month, in observance of the blog's anniversary).

Upon finishing my masters in creative writing, i began to pursue traditional publication of long-form work, specifically a novel. And, that's moving along--i'm represented by the excellent literary agent Jonathan Lyons of Curtis Brown, Ltd., and my novel, The Decadence Papers, is out on submission. Yay! And cross your fingers. And bear with me here, beause i swear this gets around to batik, and includes process pictures.

A writer spends a lot of time with the characters of a novel. I mean, a LOT. Honestly, when i was revising the manuscript of The Decadence Papers before seeking an agent, i spent at least two hours a day and sometimes up to eight or ten on weekends for a six-month stretch with the manuscript--rewrites, revisions, reading, talking to my fellow writers and friends and family about it (those who'd read it). The characters became like coworkers in a second job, which i guess they kind of are, except, you know, they're fictional constructs. But, point being, you spend 20-30 hours a week thinking about something, and if you operate within an artistic brain, you extrapolate from the written word to visual art concepts.

So, this batik project began with a Pinterest board, where i had begun to collect images that were somehow evocative of the mood of the novel (which--as is obvious if you click through--centers around an underground nightclub full of goths, drag queens, club kids, punks, artists, and other assorted flamboyant folk). It helped with getting into a mindset when revising since, though i did work in clubs just like the one in the novel back in the 90s, i don't now. ANYWAY.

On my Pinterest moodboard i had pinned (among 293874 other images) this one watercolor that i just loved, I Love You I Hate You by Alessandro Andreuccetti. And the more i looked at that piece, the more i wanted to do my own reinterpretation of it, not in watercolor (which is a medium i don't enjoy working in and am not terribly skilled at) but as a batik.

Let me be clear here: I didn't want to make a copy of the original--if i wanted that, i could have bought a print of it from the artist for much less time and effort and i would have, because i believe that artists deserve to be paid for their work by people who want to own it, and he sells prints of that piece. I realize that i am preaching to the choir about that among regular readers here, but still, it bears saying. Art doesn't come easy and we shouldn't feel that it comes free.

But point being, i'm giving credit where it's due here--to the inspiration--but i am writing about making my batik, which in its finished form is very different from the watercolor which inspired it.

What i loved most about the Andreuccetti piece was the positioning/framing of the subjects and the way he allowed the paint to form its own blended colors in a way that appears serendipitous--but i wanted my batik to be of the faces of two of my novel's characters as i imagined them, and to explore the medium of batik in ways that batik works best. I wanted to layer dyes over one another to get unexpected colors, to wax out areas and dye back into the cracked wax, etc.

The first thing i did, i didn't photograph (because it was ugly, and because i forgot) and that was a sample batik to scale using the dyes we had left over from my dye class. This is all done with fiber reactive dyes on Kona cotton, and those things have a shelf life once mixed into solution. I figured, i always screw stuff up the first time i do something and so i might as well use those up on a test run, just to decide things like in what order i wanted to apply the wax to different sections, what colors i would use where, etc., because i did want to work with primaries--reds/yellows/blues--and let those create the secondaries. I learned a lot from that first test-run, used up my old dyes, made a truly ugly version of this, and hid it in a drawer. So what i'm about to show you is the second version. Just know that i did it once already, and that my best advice on this kind of thing is to plan to do it at least twice before you get something you're pleased with.

For that first one, i had drawn out my layout map with a sharpie on white paper and traced it into a square yard of cotton with a 6B pencil (because a 6B will launder out in the wash), so for the second one, i took that same template drawing and traced it onto a new piece of cotton. I don't have a photo of this--i assume you have traced something before. Then i stretched the fabric onto a wooden frame.

It looked like this, basically 3' square. Trust me, there's a pencil outline of my figures on there. At the top left, you can also see a strip of the cotton i prepped (laundered) along with the stretched stuff to do dye samples, because for the real one, i wanted to pick my own colors and not just use the rando dyes left over from my dye class students.

Dye tests: complete! I used this as a key to decide which colors to use where. I worked with skintones and primaries, mostly, as you can see here. So remember when you see the end result, all secondaries are created in the dye process with layering. This piece had also been stretched on a little frame when i did the tests BTW, and i'm not going to write up the process for mixing fiber reactive dyes since those are easily found on the websites of places that sell them, like Prochemical and Dharma.

Here's what you see: white streaks in the hair of the bottom figure have been painted with liquid soy wax. You always start with the lightest value in batik and work toward the darkest, so anything that stays white get waxed first, Then once that wax cooled, the entire surface was saturated with a soda ash solution ("chemical water" in some parlance). Then i used some of my dyes to paint in the lightest skintone values. The upper figure is darker-complected, but because those two faces don't touch or overlap, i was able to do both at once, knowing that there would be a lot more overdyeing there in the space between the faces. So, this is with one pass of wax, one pass of dyes in a couple different saturations/shades, painted kind of like watercolor, but not.

This shows the scale of this piece on my work table. Those jars in the back are my dye solutions, and you'll note that the frame is up on canister supports, because if it just sat right on the table, the fabric would sag down and touch it and the dyes would bleed around against the surface. Which could be cool in some cases (as we'll see in the second part of this series) but not this one. And, at this stage of the game, you can see that there ahve been a few more applications of wax, darker browns, and yellows.

It's sorta-kinda starting to look like something now. Here we have even more wax and dye layers, the addition of the first blue. I'll stop here with pix and come back to them in the second part.
Batik is a real zen exercise, in that i often waited for an application of dye to completely dry before moving on to the next wax application and the next dye. This means i would spend maybe 15-20 minutes applying wax, then some dye, and then have to come back to it the next day. If i were doing it for a show with a tighter deadline, i could have put a fan on it to dry each layer a bit faster, perhaps doing three or four a day, but still, it's a SLOW process with a lot of downtime. I think i wound up with something like 15 separate applications of dye/wax? And, you kind of have to trust the universe that it won't suck, because you don't see the true colors of how the dyes will turn out until after you remove the wax and wash the thing at the very end.

When i teach this technique, students who have their hearts set on exact color control find it maddening because yeah, you can spend a week working on something only to find out it came out totally different than you planned. I prefer to think of it as an opportunity for happy accidents, and after those initial dye test swatches and the design trace-out, abandon all expectation of control. Dye will always migrate or splash, wax will penetrate in ways you didn't expect, color will saturate or process oddly, and if you are lucky, you'll still get something awesome at the end.

Which i did, and we'll look at the rest of the stages in the next post, including a totally awesome happy accident that occured, which has turned into a technique i want to experiment with in future batiks.
Tags: ,

Jun. 7th, 2015



The Tony Awards are tonight, but i won’t be watching. I often do and enjoy them, but this year, i just can’t.

In general, yeah, awards shows are political constructs, small cadres of people within a given industry congratulating one another on doing their jobs. But they are also tied to the visibility of an industry, a discipline, an art. They are a space in which the breadth of a collaborative art is acknowledged, even publicized. Oh yeah, someone designed all those cool costumes, someone planned out those dramatic lighting effects, etc.

In my nearly 25 years of working as a theatre artist—specifically a costumer maker—i have worked for five of the companies who have won a regional theatre Tony Award.

I have worked on the production team of three Costume Design Tony Winning shows and two nominees.

I do not say this to brag, but rather to illustrate how collaborative an art theatre is, and how when one person or one show or one company wins a Tony, actually there are dozens (sometimes hundreds) of us high-fiving each other all over the country, because we had a part in making it.

And yet, we are unseen. We don’t do it for the recognition, but without us, the show does not go on. And when the committee eliminates an entire technical discipline (sound) from their consideration? We all feel it. The furor's been in the news, but if you want to read up on it, Victoria Deiorio wrote a good piece for HowlRound on what it means to sound professionals. And if you want to engage in some armchair agitation about it, there's a petition to sign, and you can hop onto the Collaborator Party/USITT-driven hashtags #TonyCanYouHearMe and #Collaborator on social media.

But ultimately the live broadcast’s tonight. Of course, the show won't feature any of the creative arts awards being bestowed.

And try watching it with the sound off, and see how much you enjoy the show.

Jun. 1st, 2015


Happy anniversary! Parasol textbooks 30% off all month!

June is here, which means it's officially the 10th Anniverary Month for the blog!

I'm still running the Best of La Bricoleuse flashbacks over on Facebook, featuring a daily repost of some of the highlights of the past decade, but I also want to recognize that one of the great things which came about in tandem with writing this blog was the publication of my textbook, Sticks in Petticoats: Parasol Manufacture for the Modern Costumer.

I wrote the book because in my professional experience as a costume crafts artisan (though in some theatres this winds up being the responsibiity of the props artisan), i was asked to recover and repair numerous parasols, both antique and modern, according to the specifications of costume designers, but could find NO written information on how others might have done so in the past. I decided that, when i was finished, i would begin work on documenting the various things i'd learned, and Sticks in Petticoats became the result.

It remains to my knowledge the only extant book on the subject.

So, for the entire month of June, I've put Sticks in Petticoats on sale for 30% off, as one more thank-you for reading and supporting this blog! If you've been on the fence about whether you wanted to buy the book or not, maybe this is the month to do it.

Download the eBook for $9.99 (formerly $14.99)
(This is actually 33% off because i like easy numbers, and Lulu doesn't precalculate discounts on digital downloads.)

Purchase a print copy in full color for $24.19 (formerly $34.56)

Purchase a print copy in black-and-white for $18.43 (formerly $26.33)

I promise i have some exciting new posts coming up soon, including ones about a batik project, more 3D printing adventures, and making costume display replicas for the Museum of Science Fiction!

And again, thank you ALL for reading this blog. :D

May. 7th, 2015


Ombre dyed 3D printed folding fan

So, in my ongoing experiments with 3D printing applications in our field, here's a fun new project!

I came across the freeware file for this Chinese folding fan on Thingiverse, which prints all in one--no assembly required. Cool! So i had the folks at the Makerspace here on the UNC campus 3D-print me a copy so i could test it as a fan prototype, figuring that if the file was sound and the mechanism functional, it would serve as a potential template for any number of other folding fan designs. (BTW, you can follow me on Thingiverse here if you have an account!)

Since i did my dye tests last week in PLA, i decided to do this project in ABS, another type of plastic which our 3D printers can process. I went by the makerspace this morning to pick up the finished fan, and here's what i found waiting for me:

no title
The fan fresh out of the printer, folded. You can see it's about 7.5" long and frankly, that the staves are fairly thick for a folding fan. Most fans of this length carved in sandalwood would be half as thick. So there's that.

Here's the fan open on the table. Note that you do need to run the stabilizer thread through each stave of the monture in order to control its range when open--otherwise it's just a bunch of disconnected staves on a pivot post. There are three holes in each stave for this purpose so it's a matter of about 10 minutes spent lockstitching them together. It's pretty cool! But also fairly plain...

...so i did a round of dye tests on the ABS filament using Rit dyes again, with reasonably positive results.

no title
So, i ombre dyed the fan like this! I used Violet and Royal Blue, no auxiliaries, simmering baths.

The bottom-most stave of the fan that was touching the bottom of the dye pot deformed a bit, but i was actually able to iron it back straight again using an industrial iron with steam and a presscloth.

Apr. 30th, 2015

dye vat

PLA filament for 3D printing: dyeable!

Lately I've been considering all the implications of 3D printing technology for costume craftwork, and have begun working with the Makerspace here on the UNC campus which is attached to our library system.

If you're not familiar with the process of 3D printing and some of the ways in which it's beginning to be incorporated in professional costume production, check out this excellent blog post by Joe Kucharski of Tyrrany of Style, which is essentially a postification of a panel he chaired at the USITT national conference this year. It's a great overview of how the process works, the materials one might use to 3D-print objects, and culminates with several different types of applications currently in use (like 3D-printed "filigree" masks worn by Disney parade performers) or in development (like scanning and reproducing renaissance lace using a 3D printer).

So, here's only a small contribution to the information one might take into consideration when evaluating the possibilities of 3D printing in creating props and costumes for theatre: dyeability. The filaments one can use to 3D print do come in colors, but those colors are fairly limited at present and (if i may make an aesthetic value judgement) somewhat unsophisticated in range. The printed objects can be painted as well, but in the spirit of experimentation, i did wonder about the dyeability of the completed object. Could a printed piece be dyed faster than it could be painted, for example, since time is often a factor in our field? Paint needs time to dry, but if you could dye an object, you could just rinse and dry it off and hand it back to an actor within the hour.

In looking at the composition of the various kinds of plastic filament that one can feed through a 3D printer, i noticed that PLA plastic's composition seemed to indicate a fairly high proportion of cellulose-derived elements. That would make it potentially dyeable, would it not?

So, i requested some sample filament in both clear and white from our Makerspace librarian and conducted some preliminary tests using Rit dye. I chose Rit for several reasons. It's the most common dyestuff in theatre dye facilities, and easily purchased in most grocery stores, even. It's easily used in solution by even a novice dyer. And it's a union dye, which means it has components which dye both cellulose-based and protein-based fibers, so if the PLA plastic is of a blended composition, it would potentially affect more of its components than a fiber-specific dyestuff like an acid dye or a direct dye.

Check out my findings!

The top two pieces are the undyed filament,
and subsequent ones show uptake of different colors of the Rit range.
More of the filament is in reels at the bottom of the image.

The only one of the tests which i'm not pleased with the result is the Dark Green sample, which came out more of a taupe brown. The rest took the colors quite nicely, and the translucent PLA retained its translucency. This could be fantastic for a prop item that is supposed to be made of a translucent material like an "amber" pendant or a "cobalt glass" finial or similar, especially if the prop or costume needed not to break like actual glass or amber might.

Apr. 22nd, 2015


period pattern class projects

They're almost done. This group of projects had such cool little details that i've got more closeups than full-length shots!

Closeup of faux embroidery on a coat by third-year grad Denise Chukhina.

Close-up of machine-embroidered plastron on a gown by third-year grad Corinne Hodges.

Rear view of pocket and vent on a jacket by second-year grad Erin Abbenante.

Plastron and sleeve/cuff detail on a bodice by second-year grad Katie Keener.

Mariner's cuff and pocket flap detail on a women's jacket by third-year grad Colleen Dobson.

Broader detail view of the women's jacket by third-year grad Colleen Dobson.

Left rear: pocket-hoops and gown by third-year grad Corinne Hodges.
Left foreground: fichu, bodice, skirt by second-year grad Katie Keener.
Right foreground: women's riding ensemble by third-year grad Colleen Dobson.

Left: jacket, waistcoat, breeches by third-year grad Denise Chukhina.
Center: jacket, waistcoat, breeches by second-year grad Erin Abbenante.
Right: pocket-hoops and gown by third-year grad Corinne Hodges.

Apr. 17th, 2015


Interview: Maria Curcic of Le Chapeau Rouge!

Today i've got a great new interview to share, with milliner Maria Curcic of Le Chapeau Rouge.

Photographer: Judy Bandsmer
Model: Emily Mann
Hat, hair, and makeup: Maria Curcic

Q. How long have you been designing hats, and how did you get started?

A. I have been in the arts since the early 80’s, with fashion shows, producing my own shows and so on. My life circled around hats, design, fashion, and architecture. My mother was a seamstress and made a lot of our clothes--she taught me how to sew and the basics of sewing. She always had me in hats at a young age, and I wore them often in our outings in Paris. I really believe growing up in Paris influenced how I saw women accessorize.

Q. You work with a wide range of materials--felt, feathers, fabrics, straw, etc. Do you have a favorite and why?

A. My favorite materials are silks, satins and felt mostly, but really, my work is about wearable art. My pieces tend to reflect my knowledge of materials to create wearable forms. My work is multi-dimensional, so [I appreciate] materials that can be applied to these methods of millinery.

Q. Who are your influences in hat design?

A. I really loved the work of Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy and Louis Mariette to name a few. I love their whimsical styles and their dedicated life passion.

Q. Tell me about your store in Calgary, Le Chapeau Rouge, and how you shifted to wholesale.

A. I opened in 1994, knowing there was nothing like it at all in Calgary, or much in Canada [at all] for that matter. I was designing hats for a friend’s store in 1990, and she encouraged me to open my own store. I really wanted to push fashion-forward hats to women who wanted something that was not run-of-the-mill or mass-produced. Most of my clients wanted me to create something I would wear.

My store stocked many European designers such as Louise MacDonald and many others…I also carried a great line of men’s hats from Germany. Around that time, men were not even seen in hats other than baseball caps; the same went for women.

I had some great lines of my own which I produced for various retailers across Canada while running a store full time--thus began the wholesale aspect of my business.

Currently, I still sell wholesale (more of my unique art pieces) to boutiques as well as retail on eBay:

I create custom designs with clients around the world. With easy access to the internet, these days it’s easy to sell abroad.

Q. Do you design seasonal style collections, or strictly one-of-a-kind pieces?

A. I design both seasonal and one-of-a-kind works.

Q. When it comes to designing, do you construct your hats based on concepts and drawings, or do you work sculpturally, letting the media determine the form?

A. A bit of both. I sometimes love to manipulate the materials, then I sketch out the idea and move forward with the concept. Sometimes it’s the other way around--I draw the hat, then look for the materials. Either way, both processes are rewarding!

Q. What's your favorite tool or piece of equipment in your millinery workroom?

A. My vintage blocks.

Q. What advice would you give readers considering a career in contemporary millinery?

A. Learn the basics of sewing, materials and how they work together. If you are serious about this trade, take a credited course in fashion/millinery design. Taking a few workshops here and there, that does not make you a milliner. Millinery takes time, creativity, and patience to master.

I studied Interior Design and majored in drawing in art school prior to millinery, so I am very familiar with various fibres, drafting, color theory and so on.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me about your work, Maria! You can keep up with Maria's millinery on her Facebook page and website, and she's also shared a link to a video as well:


Apr. 15th, 2015


period pattern class projects

Moving ever closer to the end of the 18th century, period pattern class presented their post-cavalier yet pre-revolution era projects recently. There will only be one more of these this semester!

Left: women's look by second year grad Katie Keener
Center left: women's look by third year grad Corinne Hodges
Center right: men's look by third year grad Denise Chukhina
Right: men's look by second year grad Erin Abbenante

A better view of Erin's guy with research image.

Riding habit by third year grad Colleen Dobson

Apr. 14th, 2015


Dye class: Repetition

My dye class presented some of their projects today for the most recent unit, repetition techniques. This segment of the class covers a wide range of methods for creating surface designs on textiles involving repeat images, from screenprinting to blockprinting, stenciling to digital fabric printing. Check these out!

no title
First year grad Max Hilsabeck converted a mosaic design into a stencil in order to create multicolor border print on a purchased tee-shirt.

no title
Second year grad Erin Abbenante screenprinted this "Treadle to the Metal" motif on...well, just about everything. (Pictured, tee and test print.)

Second year grad Katie Keener owned this antique woodblock and wanted to somehow incorporate it into her project--note the pattern loss in the stamped samples here, due to severe damage to the block itself. She cleaned up the impression of the stamped image and digitized it...

no title
...then she worked with Sallye Coyle of Good Harbor Bay Studios to carve a new block using a ShopBot CNC router. Pictured is the new block and two prints using it.

Then, she talked to the folks at the UNC Makerspace here on campus about 3D printing the block! At left is the actual block they printed (with residual ink from use) and at right are two test prints which were flawed experiments.

A comparison of test prints using the two blocks. Still some issues to work out with accurate registration on the 3D printed block, at right, but they both sure do make some great repetition-patterned fabrics, don't they?

Previous 10