REVIEW: Cashmerette's Concord t-shirt from Sprout Patterns

If you haven’t heard about Spoonflower’s offshoot, Sprout Patterns, they’re a curated clearinghouse of sewing patterns by various independent patternmakers, through which you can purchase the patterns in cut-and-sew format printed directly onto fabrics utilizing the print designs of Spoonflower users.

As a theatre costume artist, I primarily use Spoonflower prints for specific theatrical projects (such as the pre-distressed prison stripes for Playmakers Repertory Company’s production of The Parchman Hour, or the twelve different stained-glass prints for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat). However, because one of my former graduate students had served as a beta-tester for the concept development before Sprout officially launched, I’d been anticipating this new realm of custom-printed fabric/sewing opportunities. As such, i’ve begun trying out some of the Sprout offerings and this post marks the first such review i’ll be sharing here.

I decided to start with the Concord t-shirt by patternmaker Cashmerette. Cashmerette is only one of many patternmakers in the Sprout collection, and they specialize in simple, flattering styles for a range of body shapes. As someone with a busty figure, one of my beefs with off-the-rack t-shirts is the fit issues that result because they’re cut for a smaller bust-to-waist ratio, so I was thrilled to see not only customizable elements for the Concord like jewel/scoop/vee necklines and short/bracelet/long sleeve lengths but ALSO busty/curvy fit choices.

I decided to make a short-sleeved scoop-neck tee in one of the print designs from my Epithets collection, DEGENERATE synonyms. I loved how i could preview all of the options right there on the Sprout site, adding several prints, seeing how different style choices would change the layout on the fabric, and so forth. The 2D and 3D preview options are great for making it easy to visualize what you’re getting:

Screencap of the 2D/3D modeling on the Sprout site when you assemble a custom pattern/print.

I guess i should note here that, should you just want the garment and you don’t want to sew it together, there’s an option to pay a “white glove fee” for Sprout employees to sew it together for you, but TBH if you don’t want to sew it together yourself, i’m not sure why you are reading this blog. Whatever though, not judging, eh?

Upon placing your order, you receive the directions to the pattern as a PDF via email so if, like me, you are the sort to read through such a thing in advance, you can do so. The directions for your purchased pattern are also accessible on the Sprout site once you sign into your account, so even if you lose the PDF in the time it takes for them to print/ship the order, you’re still set.

When my printed fabric arrived, I was so gratified to note that, in my choice of a busty-figure option, the pattern had in fact come printed with side seam and armscye markings that, as a patternmaker myself, i could see at a glance were going to be right for my figure! I can’t even tell you how exciting it was to begin this project with that in mind.

It took me about 30 minutes to cut my shirt out, doing so at home crawling around on the floor. I could have probably done it in half that if i’d been at work with the professional cutting table, but I did this while housebound by an ice storm so there you go. As such, that meant i also stitched it on a domestic machine without access to any of the fancypants machines at work for sewing stretch, like a coverstitch or a serger.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this pattern is how the instructions demystify sewing of stretch fabrics in a simple, accessible way, and describe how to do so with only straight and zigzag stitches. If you happen to have a machine that does a serpentine/stretch stitch, you can use that instead; but if not, no big!

My sole complaint (if you can even call it that) is that there were no notches printed on the pattern for center front and center back, though you need to know those places for installing the neckband. It’s no big deal to mark them yourself, even if you’ve already started sewing the garment by the time you realize you need the marks, but it seems like a glaring omission on an otherwise excellent cut-and-sew pattern.

Here it is actually fitting me without any pattern alterations, hot off the Bernina!
Detail of print at bottom.

All in all, the Concord shirt is a quick, easy, and fun project you can complete in a lazy afternoon. It took me two hours, start to finish, though admittedly i do make clothes for a living. Still, I would think even a fairly new stitcher or hobby sewist with no prior experience sewing stretch could make this shirt with minimal fuss in a day.


Museum of Science Fiction: the Dune Stillsuit, Part Two

It's been a LONG time coming but i'm finally getting around to writing about the costume replica of a stillsuit from the moving Dune, which we made for display at the Museum of Science Fiction in DC!

In the first post on this topic, i talked about the costume itself (both conceptually in the world of the movie, and practically speaking), and the nature of the costume we were being asked to create. We knew that our costume would go on display in various exhibits the museum would schedule between now and their opening, and that once they opened the permanent museum, would be on display there indefinitely. We knew that the original costumes in the film had incorporated a substantial amount of latex, custom created from body-casts of the actors, and that because latex breaks down over time and disintegrates, the original costumes were in no condition for display in the museum. We'd have to come up with a means to create our replica so that it would LOOK just like the originals, but would not deteriorate.

Devising the method of the surface treatment fell to me, and so i began a series of tests with the assistance of several of our graduate and undergraduate students at UNC-Chapel Hill. I knew that, unlike the original costumes, no actual person needed to, say, run across a desert wearing the costume we would make, so we weren't limited to surface treatments which would retain stretchiness.

Here's a film still to remind you of what these things look like.
We were asked to make the weathered suit on the left, worn by Max von Sydow.

We began making padded shapes with various kinds of foam, skinned over with various weights of spandex. Then we tried out all kinds of surface coatings. Here you see several different clearcoats applied to both flat and curved pad shapes, then roughed up to various degrees of age.

In the midst of this process. renowned Broadway fabric painter Margaret Peot came to lead our grad students in a surface design workshop, and she conducted a demonstration of the type of paint samples she would create, if this were a project being built by the shop which employs her.

Here's a closeup of the level of depth and variegation in Margaret's sample. Of course, our suit was to be viewed by exhibit attendees standing in very close proximity to the display, whereas Margaret's costumes are often made to go onstage in a several-thousand-person-capacity theatre. This was a great teaching example for the students in terms of how a surface design needs to differ according to the distance of the gaze of the viewer; ultimately the surface we went with for the MoSF folks was not this complex in layering.

Here's a sample where i did some dye variegation on the spandex before applying any shiny coatings.

Still more of the samples with various techniques employed. Note that each sample and technique variant is labeled for accurate record keeping. We probably made somewhere around two dozen of these before we hit on some good options to share with the museum's representative.

If you take a look at the research pinboard for this project, you'll notice in images like this one that the stillsuits have a "stripey" design element in sections, which we referred to in the shop as "filtration tubes." in addition to the samples we created for the pad structures, we also made various samples for these filtration sections using actual filtration mesh dyed, stitched and painted in various ways. This image shows one of those samples.

What Steve Dreyer, the museum representative, finally chose for the look of their suite was a pad skin created from a mottle-dyed brown spandex coated with a PVA clear-coat layer, and filtration tubes of a mottle-dyed mesh tubes stitched and painted back into with three colors of French Enamel Varnish. With this information settled upon, we could move on to constructing the suit itself.

I'm going to end this there, but i promise it won't be another half-a-year til i get around to the next installment!

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 because that's just how you roll. 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 consistently 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 problem 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.

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!


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!


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