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Jan. 20th, 2017


Book review - Make: Props and Costume Armor by Shawn Thorsson

Are you ever called upon to make stage armor? Perhaps you just have an interest in learning more about the subject, or perhaps you want to dress up like Iron Man at some point in the future. Regardless, get your hands on a copy of the new title from Maker Media, Make: Props and Costume Armor by Shawn Thorsson. It's a must-own reference manual on a whole host of materials, methods, and techniques for creating such things.

The book is written in an accessible, knowledgable way that demystifies a complex and often daunting area of costume production--the full color photographs are often helpful but occasionally hilarious (like the shot of an unfortunate housefly which got stuck in mold medium). Thorsson has aimed the book at primarily a cosplay readership, but the practical concerns of the cosplayer are the same as those of the theatrical costume artist: cost, time, quality, weight, mobility, etc. And, while i've purchased self-published books on these sorts of topics written by cosplay authors, the probably from a professional's perspective with a self-published text is the potential lack of vetting of the methods/media described within for accurate industrial health and safety practices. This book has clearly been edited by an IHS professional for proper practice and PPE recommendations.

Thorsson divides his book into five sections: Prototypes and One-Offs, Molding and Casting, Vacuum Forming, Painting and Weathering, and Bringing It All Together. He covers everything from the tools and materials you'll need for various processes, through several how-to sections, up to and including movement tips for wearers of costume armor. In fact, I have to give big ups to this book for actually tackling the question of how to assemble armor in such a way that the wearer can conveniently answer the call of nature. The topics and illustrative projects range from the very simple to the extremely complex, so whatever your skill level and experience coming to the book, there's something new to see.

I'm particularly gratified to note that the book contains sections on the application of digital technologies--from using Pepakura software to create faceted printable PDF patterns, to 3D printing and CNC carving of armor and prop shapes. This is an area of production which is only going to increase in importance--we've been 3D printing costume elements at PlayMakers Repertory Company for over two years at this point, and we had a show with ten Pepakura-style masks in it last season.

My one tiny quibble pertains to the section on straps, specifically leather strap construction methods to which Thorsson only makes passing reference. Due to my time spent working at a high-end custom leather shop, i'm a bit of a strap snob, as one might surmise by my tutorial post on the various means of making strong but beautiful leather strapwork. But this is such a minimal grouse about the book that it makes no impact on my wholehearted, unreserved recommendation of this title. At only $30 for a copy, it feels like a steal.

Jan. 17th, 2017


Tutorial: 1940s felt hat reproduction, part two

Continued from yesterday's post, today we'll look at the steps left to finish the reproduction of a stylish 1920s felt hat from our vintage stock at PlayMakers Repertory Company. A reader over on this blog's Facebook page made the excellent point that you could do this project with one of those floppy felt hats you see popping up these days at stores like Target for $10 or $15, which is a great suggestion for those without access to millinery suppliers, or time to mail-order them. Affordable, too, and it is frankly probably what the original artist did when making the one i've copied!

Recall from yesterday that we'd gotten the brim arc stitched into the crown and then disguised the stitching of that seam by tacking the narrow band over top of it. Here you see the next step, trimming the width of the brim down. Hat bodies are often irregular on the edge, so this not only brings the brim arc down to the desired width but also cleans that edge neatly. Mine is cut down to 4" here.

Above is a detail shot illustrating how to take a tuck in each side of the brim arc. I've pinned mine in place with quilt pins and at this stage, i adjusted those pleats in the mirror a few times til i got a good shape that I liked. Then i tacked each side down securely.

Top right: Pin the fan flange to the crown, into the gap between the pleated brim bits at the center back of the hat. You can see here some of my stitches tacking down that one edge of the hat. This is another case where trim is going to cover your stitches so security and sturdiness is key, rather than fine invisible handwork.

Top right: Cut a single strip into each side of that fan flange. You'll tack this over your stitches at the two ends of the brim arc, where the pleats are secured.

Bottom left: That strip pinned into place. In this case, i did take care to make my stitches securing it neat and invisib,le.

Bottom right: Cut the rest of the fan flange into a fringe as shown. My pieces are a fat 1/4" wide.

For the next step, you'll flip each strip over at the tip and tack it to the crown in a splayed fan arc. The tack should go a little bit toward center back, where this quilt pin is located, so that each strip can spring back a bit to create dimension, as you see with the strips close to the brimg there on the right.

On the original, this flange was not symmetrically arranged. I decided to do that same but you could choose to evenly split them left to right. You'll see what i mean in the next image.

Four views of the finished hat! See how there are only seven strips flipping to the left in that top right image? There are eleven flipping to the right on mine. That fan's shape is a matter of preference.

Hope you've enjoyed this tutorial, and if you make one, please share photos!

Jan. 16th, 2017


Tutorial: 1940s felt hat reproduction, part one

It's about time for a tutorial, so how about an easy soft structure felt hat from the 1940s?

If you follow me on Instagram, you may recall this fantastic vintage hat from our stock:

Zelda wears it well, no?

The original is made from a 100% wool hatbody, and was sewn entirely by hand. There is no maker's mark or label inside, and it appears to have been a DIY project, perhaps from a ladies' magazine tutorial in the first place.
Look at that great detail of the fan shape!

I decided i wanted my own version of this hat, so i spent some time analyzing its construction and figured out how to make my own. Follow these steps and you can, too!

Top left: For mine, i started with a vintage fur felt capeline i had been saving for a project just like this one. You can do it with any felt cartwheel you like, though.

Top right: Step one is to cut the crown away from the brim, leaving the brim as a complete donut.

Bottom left: Cut a segment out of the brim as shown, at just under a quarter of the shape. It's hard to give any exact measurements on these because the shape of hatbodies varies, so i'd advise "eyeballing" it based on these images. Henceforth i'll call this little segment the fan flange, because that's what it becomes, and the other piece we'll call the brim arc.

Bottom right: Trim away a fat 5/8" from the brim arc, but NOT from the fan flange. Henceforth i'll call this strip the band.

Stitch the brim arc into the crown with about a 1/2" overlap. Don't worry about your stitches being visible as long as they are straight and located about 1/4" in from the crown edge, because the band will cover this section.

The top shows you what it should look like when the brim arc is fully sewn to the crown. You may need to trim some more of that piece down to get the right size gap at the back, because that open section should be just a bit narrower than the measurement of the fan flange.

The bottom detail shows the band pinned in place over that seam. I tacked the band down on either side at the rear, and once at center front.

I'll post the remainder of the process tomorrow in the second part of this project!

Jan. 14th, 2017


yet more millinery class projects

Even though fall semester is now long done, I’ve got one last post of student projects to share.

Read more...Collapse )

Dec. 21st, 2016


millinery finals, part two: further explorations in esparterie

Many of you have contacted me with great feedback/interest/enthusiasm (here or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram) about the research and exploration my students and I have been conducting with respect to the esparterie acquisition our graduate program and resident theatre lucked into. I'm so thrilled to report that three of my students this past semester elected to take the techniques learned in the esparterie workshop and produce a completed hat with a willow foundation for their final projects!

This lovely hat is by second year grad Michelle Bentley. The overbrim is the exposed esparto grass side of the esparterie, and the underbrim is covered in a coral and cream brocade. The ornaments are hand-shaped sinamay in a natural color to match the esparterie.

This image shows a few process shots: The block covered in foil (top left), the esparterie roped onto it (top right), the esparterie removed from the block before trimming (bottom left), and a closeup of the trimmed edge (bottom right). Note that when an edge is cut down, the milliner cuts the esparto layer on the edge line, but leaves a seam allowance of about 1/2" on the crinoline layer. Here's why...
Then that crinoline can function as French elastic in covering the wired edge! Strong, smooth, and delicate all at once!

Four views of an esparterie hat by first year grad Danielle Soldat. The crown was blocked on a vintage block, and the brim free-formed in the hand. The hat is covered in a slubby peach gauze on the underbrim and crown, and a pleated organza for the overbrim. Three little vintage velvet flowers finish it off.

This is the sharpened-crayon-shaped crown block Danielle used for her hat.

These are several views of the free-form esparterie hat by Playmakers Repertory Company wardrobe supervisor Ana Walton. The cover fabrics are a copper/black velvet on the top and a black lurex piled fabric on the underside. The hat is trimmed with a pheasant feather and a shaped crow feather

This was the hat back when it was just a piece of willow shaped in the hand, pinned out on a block and supported with curling rods.

Back view of same.

Fantastic work! Still more to come from our final projects though... :D

Dec. 20th, 2016


millinery finals, part one: 1930s/40s inspired felt trim techniques

It's going to take me several posts to get through the final projects of this semester's millinery students. Today I'm just going to feature images from that of Kim Fraser, a local milliner and continuing education student who will be an artist in residence at Penland School of Craft in January where she will be working on a collection of hat designs.

For most students who are learning theatrical millinery, the final project is intended to be a capstone of the semester, in which they might further explore a technique or medium, or tackle something more challenging than prior projects. A particular period shape might be the inspiration, or something fantastical they've seen in a research archive or on Pinterest.

As a comtemporary fashion milliner, Kim pitched me the idea that she would use the final project to focus on the concept of wool and fur felt scrap as a high-end trim medium. She conducted a lot of visual research in both print and digital archives, and also spent a couple days going through our historical hat collection on-site at the department of dramatic art.

Below, please enjoy a whole host of photos of Kim's decor experiments!

All of these are pinned in place on a beautiful black velour vintage Adolfo hat from our collection.

Which is your favorite?
I love the possibilities of the felt loops of "coiffure" trim hanging down from the headsize opening on the bottom left!

I switched to a grey melousine felt Breton style for these darker ornaments.

Those top two are a huge two-layer felt "feather" with a wire shaft.
The bottom right is a felt "ribbon candy" strip skewered on a dyed and stripped shaft of an ostrich plume

This little hat is made of freeform industrial felt and some wool fiber spheres Kim felted. Cute!

Dec. 19th, 2016


Hair problems with millinery solutions

I really fell behind in terms of sharing the projects presented by my graduate level millinery students here in the MFA program at UNC. However, now that the semester has ended, i have time to catch up!

This set of projects i'm focusing on today is the fourth project of the semester, which falls after we've covered a whole range of different media and methods for the making of millinery (yes, that's some major alliteration, i know). Basically, in theatre, milliners are occasionally asked to create headdresses or hats which mimic the hairstyles of a given period. Sometimes these creations are very natural looking with actual hair involved, but sometimes they are extremely stylized and conceptual. This is the task i set to my students for this project: to create an interpretation of a hairstyle using millinery techniques. Take a look at what they came up with!

Metallic wig-hats were an actual fad in the 1920s! Second year grad Robin Ankerich created this stylish silvertone number with various metallic fabrics/fibers, tubular horsehair braid, and a bandeau of antique sequinned fabric!

Continuing education milliner Kim Fraser used wire frames and a hemp braid of the type one normally uses in a stitched-spiral hat structure to create this fun beenhive!

Second year grad Michelle Bentley created this old-school judge's wig from Jumbo Braid, tubular horsehair, and a nylon mesh.

Continuing education milliner Athene Wright created this interpretation of a traditional Qing Dynasty headdress using buckram, wire, felt, Jumbo Braid, acrylic, and various decor.

Second year grad Erin Torkelson created both of these fun drag wigs from lime-green neoprene foam.

First year grad Danielle Soldat created this flame-goddess-inspired updo from metallic floral ribbon and wire.

Playmakers Repertory Company Wardrobe Supervisor Ana Walton created this fantastic style with, no lie, craft felt and tissue paper. And a feather.

Back view

Such great work, no? Yet to come: final projects....

Dec. 9th, 2016


10 Gift Ideas for Costumers

Worth Stars.jpg

Wondering what to get for the costume shop gift exchange? Or, do you wish you had a handy list to share with friends and family when they ask what you want for Christmas, or Hanukkah, or your birthday, or graduation, or...etc.? Here are ten great items for the costume maker!

  1. Bias tape makers - This gift set features three of these indispensable tools to make bias tape in 1", 1/2", and 1/4". Comes in a decorative tin, under $15!

  2. Tube-turners - A set of six tube-turners isn't cheap (just over $50) but if you've ever struggled with turning a spaghetti strap without one, this will change your LIFE. Not just a time-saver, but a sanity-saver, too.

  3. Hemp hand cream from the Body Shop - I swear by this stuff. Garment construction does a number on your skin, but my beef with most lotions is that they leave your hands greasy. This restores your pin-ravaged fingertips and chapped hands, while leaving your skin unsticky for immediate resumption of fabric-touching. $20

  4. Lasting pliers - ...Or, as we call them in my shop, Plammers. A cross between pliers and a hammer, this shoemaking tool is one of my faves, especially when blocking hats on wood blocks. This is a great price (under $20) as they are usually over $50, too.

  5. One of these costume/hair/makeup titles from Routledge - A whole list of great reference and history books for the professional costumer, cosplayer, reenactor, or fashion history enthusiast!

  6. Sailor's palm - Like a thimble for your hand, you can use one of these to stitch through even the thickest, craziest stuff! Under $20! Make sure you get the right type for your recipient, right or left handed.

  7. Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee - I have gone on at length about how much i adored this novel. I've talked it up in every professional context and watched while costumer friends whipped out their phones to buy it on the spot. Seriously, if you want to give a book that even the most historically anal costumer will adore, this is that book. No rolling your eyes when an ingenue pulls her corset off like a tee shirt--instead, swoon over the historically accurate description of Empress Eugenie's fur collection and its storage facility.

  8. Curved needles - You can never have too many of these, seriously. This assorted pack is under $10.

  9. Needle board - This is a big-ticket one, $140, but for ironing velvet, velour and other fabrics with a pile, it's a must-have!

  10. Spoonflower gift certificate - Who doesn't want free fabric? You can upload your own design or choose from loads and loads of offerings! Or wallpaper, or gift wrap! A designer can use it toward test swatches or color charts, too.

Stay warm, happy holidays, and keep on making things. The world needs all the art, beauty, magic, and creativity we can generate.

Nov. 29th, 2016


wire-frame projects from millinery class!

I've fallen a bit behind on sharing my students' projects from this semester, but i'm slowly getting back on track! Here are some pix of their wire-frame projects, presented a while ago.

Velvet wire-frame fascinator strung with peacock-colored silk floss
by PlayMakers Repertory Company wardrobe supervisor Ana Walton
Tulle, vintage lace, and feather headdress by continuing education student Kim Fraser

1920s beaded lace and net headpiece by first year grad Danielle Soldat

Drawn bonnet after a design by Madame Sheeta, by second year grad Erin Torkelson

"Barbed wire" crown inspired by a sculptural piece found on Pinterest, by second year grad Michelle Bentley

Lace, tulle, and floral beaded headdress by first year grad Sam Reckford

Oct. 28th, 2016


Esparterie Workshop: freeform sculpting "in the hand"!

Recall, if you will, the incredible acquisition of a large quantity of vintage esparterie by our department, in what i refer to as the Madame Sheeta Legacy.

Yesterday, I conducted the first workshop with Sheeta's esparterie, with our seven costume production graduate students, two continuing-education students enrolled in my millinery class, and two costume staff members of PlayMakers Repertory Company. I'll be writing up several posts concerning the topics we covered, but i'd like to start with a few photographs from the section of the workshop in which we explored techniques of forming esparterie in the hand.

Esparterie, for those unfamiliar with the word, is a generic term for a two-ply millinery material comprised of one layer of straw and one layer of lightweight fine-weave cotton, starched together. The esparterie we acquired from the estate of Madame Sheeta is vintage stock, produced in Europe in the early to mid-20th century, probably some time around 1940. In this esparterie, the straw layer is made from esparto, a grass which grows primarily in southern Spain and northern Africa. To my knowledge, this esparterie is no longer manufactured.

Esparterie is returning to the marketplace of millinery materials, largely driven by the Australian industry. Several Aussie vendors sell what is often called "nouveau esparterie," which is of Japanese manufacture. Japan has long produced a variety of esparterie in a tradition going back to the early 20th century, with the straw layer comprised of toyo straw (strands of twisted paper, woven into a cloth). I have three sheets of the mid-century vintage Japanese esparterie, and for the purposes of this workshop, i purchased a meter of the new stuff coming out of Australia as well, so that we might compare all three.

The burning question on my mind, prior to my acquisition of the esparto-composite stock from Madame Sheeta's atelier, was this:

How does/did European esparterie differ from Japanese esparterie?

After all, the surviving resources which mention the material were all written during or just after WW2, and I always wondered whether British milliners' disdain for the Japanese product was due to bigotry against the Japanese, as opposed to any appreciable difference in the product itself. Now, i know the answer! The toyo straw behaves differently than the esparto when forming the material. The toyo is a bit more "wiggly" and more inclined to droop, while the esparto retains more of a uniform surface topography across complex curves.

I hesitate to make a value judgement about it--i would not consider one type superior to the other. The case is simply that they behave slightly differently when worked with, and both types have their pros and cons and fiddly qualities. Here's a visual:

willow comparison.jpeg
Left: European esparterie, esparto layer facing up
Right: Japanese esparterie, toyo layer facing up
In one section of the workshop, we experimented with the processes of forming esparterie in the hand. This is kind of like free-form blocking of felt or sinamay, in that you activate the material (in this case by misting the straw side of the esparterie with water) and then just...fiddling around with it on a block.

Check out some of the structures the students produced!

This little fascinatory thing was made by PlayMakers costume stock supervisor Alex Ruba. The discoloration on the top edges is from the age of the esparto.

Fun bandeau-bow shape by second year grad student Robin Ankerich

Sweet little perch shape by continuing education student Kim Fraser

This creation is by PlayMakers wardrobe supervisor Ana Walton.
Those are foam curling rods for wig/hair styling supporting the flutes of the shape while it dries.

Side view of Ana's piece which shows the curlers better.

Back view, and more curler details.

Pretty excited about the way this first workshop went! Seems like everyone learned a lot, including me. I'll be posting more soon about the other parts of the workshop and what else we covered in terms of the use of this material.

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