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Apr. 9th, 2013

dye vat

Dye book review: Dyes & Paints by Elin Noble

Recall my post a few weeks back about the out-of-print status of my old dye-class standby text, Deborah Dryden's Fabric Painting and Dyeing for the Theatre, and my sub.

Today, i'm reviewing the second of four contenders: Elin Noble's Dyes & Paints: A Hands-On Guide to Coloring Fabric. This book was recommended to me by a colleague in academic and professional theatre, who also teaches a dye course and uses it as one of several textbooks for that class.

Noble is a textile artist who for years managed the dye laboratory at PRO Chemical & Dye, Inc., and as such this book uses PRO Chemical's product names exclusively, and it focuses almost entirely on fiber-reactive dyes. I'll admit, that's part of why i've never really looked into it before now--PRO Chemical is fantastic about product transparency and education, and their website contains dozens of PDFs of instructions on how to use their products for a range of different techniques and processes. TBH, I thought, Why buy a book full of information that's free on the internet? And, there's no lack of information about how to use fiber-reactives in any number of other reference texts, so I just hadn't prioritized checking it out.

However, I'm so glad i finally did because this book is great! It's got excellent information about safe work practices including how to recognize an allergic reaction in a fellow dyer, and how to separate your dye facility from food service areas and how to modify your processes for safely working with children and youths (which, since many theatres do youth conservatory programs or summer camps as part of their outreach, can be helpful to consider). She discusses a few really useful topics for dyers in terms of the entertainment industries, such as how to set up a dye space outdoors or with limited access to water--if you find yourself dyeing something on a film set location, these could be strictures within which you find yourself working.

I like the large format of the book (8.5x11) and the full color printing with many excellent examples of techniques, from basic shibori to marbling. The margins feature "Helpful Hints" every so often, tidbits of random useful info such as cleaning your dedicated-dyeing washing machine or straining undissolved dyestuff through a nylon stocking. She features makeshift mixing boxes in many of her "equipment setup" photos, which is nice to see.

The appendices in it are great as well--a glossary, many useful conversion charts, a list of auxiliaries and their uses, a worldwide list of suppliers divided by country/region, and a comprehensive index (that's another beef i have with many art-dye books: no index). I particularly appreciate the bibliography, suggested further reading list, and list of magazines and journals that cover dyeing and surface design.

I wish Noble had also written chapters on working with the other classes of dye which PRO Chemical carries--they sell disperse dyes, acid dyes, and vat dyes, and as manager of their dye lab, Noble must have worked with them. I'd be totally sold on this book had she addressed working with those as well.

I also realized something which marks a major structural difference between textile art books on dyeing and the science texts i own from my dye chem classes: a spiral binding. I have maybe two spiral-bound texts aimed at the artist, while all the books i own from the science realm are spiral bound, the better to sit open conveniently while conducting processes in a lab or studio. I've tried to take my art-realm texts to the campus bookstore to have their bindings cut off and drilled and spiral-bound, but inevitably the interior design aesthetic of art-book print layouts are such that their margins are too narrow and the bookstore can't do it without losing some of the text/images.

So, in terms of a new primary text for my class, this also isn't it, but it's definitely another great secondary text we'll look at and a new addition to my library!

Mar. 10th, 2013

dye vat

Book giveaway winner, a dye book review, and congrats

Two orders of business today: giving away that copy of the Resurrection Engines anthology, and the first in a series of reviews of books on the subject of dyeing: Dyeing and Screenprinting on Textiles, by Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor.

I used the Random Number Generator to select the winner (assigning all the comments here a number by the order of receipt, then appending all the comments on Facebook in the same fashion), and it chose

Lee Strickler

Congrats, Lee! Hope you enjoy the book! I'll contact you privately for mailing instructions.

Now, recall my post a few weeks back about the out-of-print status of my old dye-class standby text, Deborah Dryden's Fabric Painting and Dyeing for the Theatre.

In the weeks that followed, two heartening things happened. First, a staff member at Heinemann Drama responded to my email, saying they were looking into the possibility of releasing the Dryden text as an e-book. Then a short time later, I received an email from Dryden herself--someone had forwarded her my post. She expressed dismay at the high prices used copies of her text  were listing at on services like Alibris.com, and said Heinemann had returned to her all rights to her work. She mentioned the possibility of releasing it herself with a POD/ebook company, and potentially in an updated new edition.

Which, all this is wonderful news for the long-term, and perhaps the book will once again be available the next time i teach my dye class (which will be Spring 2015), but I'm moving forward as if that won't be the case. What text or texts might I use to replace the Dryden book?

See, yes, the Dryden text is twenty years old and sure, it could stand to be updated. However, the main reason that I have stuck with it as my text is that it is fairly comprehensive and frames dyeing and surface design within a theatrical context so very well.

In terms of dye recipes and products/auxilliaries/etc., we talk in my class about doing your own legwork, how any book's "recipes" are only starting places unless they are formulations you yourself record with the intent to replicate later (such as in long-running shows where you know you will need to dye new fabric for new cast members over the course of the run, or even in short runs if for any reason a process needs repeating). We talk about classes of dyestuffs and where the starter recipes can be found for various types--for example, companies like PRO Chemical and Aljo Dye make all their dye recipes available on the web. We talk about the math of scaling your recipes in ratios, and the chemistry of why different types of dye need different types of auxiliaries. None of this figured into why I used the Dryden text.

I used the Dryden text because she includes information about things to consider when setting up or overhauling a theatrical costume shop's dye facility, because she talks about distressing and aging of garments, because she places surface design within the context of a functioning costume shop and as a part of the process of realizing a costume designer's vision. Even at twenty years old, the level of safety information in Dryden's book is vastly superior to most other dye books out there. The fact that she addresses the use of basic and disperse dye classes is great, and she includes information about stuff like mixing your own French Enamel Varnish (FEV), stuff my students need, i feel, all collected in one place.

But, until/unless it's rereleased, I need to decide what will replace it as my text(s) next time around, so i'm auditioning books. I solicited opinions from other professional and theatrical dyers and professors of similar classes as mine on the USITT costumers email group, and I pulled some potential titles from the recommendations of my colleagues. I also took a gander at Dr. Paula Burch's book reviews--Burch is a scientist with a particular interest in dyestuffs and maintains one of the most useful clearinghouse reference sites on the web for dye information.

Today, i'm reviewing the first of four contenders: Joanna Kinnersly-Taylor's Dyeing and Screenprinting on Textiles. This book was recommended to me by a scientist friend in the dyeing field, whom i know from my time spent taking dyeing and finishing classes over at the NCSU College of Textiles.

Kinnersly-Taylor is a textile artist based in Glasgow, Scotland, which unfortunately makes her book potentially confusing as a primary class text, since all the measures are metric and most of the brands of dyes and auxiliaries are UK specific. There are conversion charts, sure, but when students are learning an unfamiliar and complex subject and some may have no experience beyond Rit in a washing machine, i don't want to ask them to work from a book where I have to keep reframing things for them ("It says Metapex but that means Synthrapol for the US.")

However, this book is fantastic and I plan to get it for my personal library regardless. It's got excellent information about safe work practices and some great images of and info about industrial dye equipment one might consider if setting up a high-volume standalone dye studio catering to the entertainment industry such as A Dyeing Art: steamers, heat presses, winch dyers/beck dyers, and more. She also coveres all the classes of dyes the Dryden text does. This is an issue i have with many art-oriented dye books; they often only address fiber reactives and/or acid dyes in any depth.

In addition to screenprinting, Kinnersly-Taylor covers many more surface design techniques like resists, transfer printing, and digital printing, and offers good explanations of topics like flocking, foiling, and discharge printing. She's got a helpful section on the different types of print repeats and how to manipulate your art to achieve them. She lays out the processes and the science in an accessible but not dumbed-down way, and doesn't pad the text with "Make Your Own Shibori Scarf!"-style projects as some otherwise useful arts-n-crafts dye books do.

The appendices in it are great as well--glossary, a list of auxiliaries and their uses, a worldwide list of suppliers divided by country/region, and a decent index though not comprehensive (that's another beef i have with many art-dye books: no index).

The section that i find most dear to my heart, though is the step-by-step instructions for making what Kinnersly-Taylor calls a Dustbin Steamer--essentially, how to make your own pipe steamer from a trash can and a coffee samovar! Bricolage at its finest. Given that a new pipe steamer runs around $1100, I love that she's written up a means for making one from stuff you can get at a thrift store--even the most budget-strapped dyer could make one of these. (Of course, Dharma Trading has instructions online for making one from galvanized stove pipe as well, so this alone is not why folks should check out the book.)

So, in terms of a new primary text for my class, this isn't it, but a secondary text we'll look at and a new addition to my library, most definitely!

And lastly, i must congratulate and brag on a trio of my grad students who attended the Southeastern Theatre Conference this past weekend.

Second year Kelly Renko and first year Colleen Dobson were both finalists for the prestigious Marian A. Smith Scholarship for the pursuit of graduate study in the field of costuming--they only choose three finalists out of all their applicants so that in and of itself is a great achievement. And at the banquet it was announce that Colleen was awarded the scholarship!

In addition, second year Leah Pelz won first prize in the Costume Craft Competition for her exhibition of five examples of her millinery work, all of which you've seen in the back posts of this blog.

Congratulations to all three for these wonderful distinctions! I couldn't be more proud.

Oct. 7th, 2012


Review: myPANTONE app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch (and Android)

I went ahead and splurged on the myPANTONE app, which seemed almost too good to be true: the entire Pantone color library accessible on my iPad, anywhere, any time? Think of what a fantastic resource that would be as a dyer!

But myPANTONE at $9.99 is fairly expensive for an app...at least it seems that way until you start looking at the pricetags on the analog versions of Pantone colorguides, and you realize that a single basic Formula Guide printed on cardstock is going to run you upwards of $125, nevermind the combined cost of all the different libraries included in the app. Suddenly that ten-dollar price starts looking like a mega-deal. So i bought it.

I can't tell you how many shows i've worked on at theatres that didn't have a Pantone book for picking dye colors out of, where a designer had to find a scrap of fabric from a remnant pile ("Like this but more punchy!" Uh, what?), or an assistant had to run to the nearest hardware store for paint chips. Imagine though if a designer could whip out her iPhone and pick a Pantone swatch right then, and later a dyer could pull out his iPad and refer to it while processing the job? You see where i'm going in terms of this being a potentially excellent tool for the theatre, where maybe a shop manager just can't justify a $150 expenditure for the Pantone formula guide, but a $10 app could be the answer to everyone's frustrations about dye-swatching.

Not an iPhone user? The Android version is $2 cheaper at $7.99.

There are also a couple of related Pantone apps that look fairly useless for the purposes of a dyer/costumer--myPANTONE Wedding ($5, only 200 colors and geared toward product sales of wedding attire/accessories) and myPANTONE X-Ref ($2, converts Pantone color numbers across system libraries, but isn't searchable/browsable across the spectrum for any of them).

So, from the perspective of a costumer, what can i tell you about myPANTONE? Overall, i find it pretty exciting.

You can fan through a deck of color swatches easily and swiftly, then maximize visibility on a specific 5-value color card or individual color chip (each of which is labeled with the Pantone number).

You can search on a swatch number and call up that chip easily. If an out-of-town designer with the app were to email me and say "Hey, dye those t-shirts Pantone 339C," i could search on the number and immediately see the swatch for the color s/he wanted the shirts dyed.

You can even take a picture of something and pick out a swatch from the image. To test this, i took a photograph of one of the costumes on the rack at work, a set of blue medical scrubs, then touched the sleeve of the shirt in the photo, and the app popped up a Pantone swatch matched to that scrub color!

There is, however, a pretty big caveat, and that is that the colors that show up on your mobile device screen DO NOT exactly match the colors of the printed Pantone colorbooks. I haven't tested it across platforms so i don't know if the colors on my iPad exactly match the ones on the Android version of the app, or the iPhone version. I have to wait i guess until someone else i know buys it to see.

The colors *are* close enough that you could probably run with a dye request from the app in most cases, since a textile's weave structure has just as much influence over how a color appears to the eye as a difference in handheld displays. Think about how different the same exact color of dress looks if the dress is acetate velvet, or silk satin, or cotton broadcloth. So while this caveat is an issue, i don't think it is nearly the same significant problem for dyers and costume designers in theatre as it is for, say, graphic designers.

In short, i'm glad i bought the app, and I'm hoping it becomes something that's fairly standard in theatrical production, in terms of a resource that designers and dyers can have easily and inexpensively for color communication.

Do you have myPANTONE? What do you think of it?

Jul. 1st, 2012


West African textiles, Manchester, UK

I'm abroad in the UK for the next month for research, scholarship, and fun, and I'm taking the opportunity to check out lots of museums and galleries while I'm at it. Anything relevant I'll share here, and more general travel journaling is happening in my travel blog.

Last week I visited some friends in Manchester, where I also got to see some of We Face Forward, a citywide exhibition of West African art, culture, and and artifacts spanning the collections and spaces of museums, galleries, libraries, and music venues across the city. I didn't have nearly the time to see it all, but did get to the textile art shown at the Whitworth Art Gallery.

I found the most compelling work to be in the first hall, in which were hung historical and contemporary fabrics and garments of West African origin. Though they were displayed in no discernable sequence, the pieces themselves were fascinating in their artisanship from a design perspective. 

Egregiously, though, the attached text barely addressed how the pieces had been made and by whom or placed them in any West African cultural context. Instead, the blurbs focused largely on who had donated them to the museum. Instead of telling viewers about the culture from which the piece came, how and why it was made and used and worn, we learned about a bunch of imperial/colonial white dudes and their families. The blurb would perhaps then say something about the work being indigo dyed with wax resist, with no explanation of what indigo dyeing entailed or what a wax resist process is--my friend who attended the exhibit with me and who is not familiar with textile artistry techniques found the descriptions useless, and we both found them culturally offensive.

Read more...Collapse )

Mar. 5th, 2012


Margaret Peot book review and a contest!

Recall that we hosted a series of master classes last week by Broadway fabric painter and author Margaret Peot, in tandem with the release of her newest book, The Successful Artist's Career Guide: Finding Your Way in the Business of Art. I've recently finished reading it--this post is not only to share my review but also to give away a signed copy!

I'm going to follow in the footsteps of the esteemed author and blogger Joshilyn Jackson, who is a dab hand at these book giveaway deals, and basically rip off how she does hers. Leave a comment on this entry, one comment per reader, between now and Friday March 9th at noon EST, at which time I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner who will receive a copy of the book! I'll notify the winner that afternoon and contact you for your mailing address to ship you the book.

But first, my review!

Understand that i am coming to this book as a reader from the perspective of someone who decided twenty years ago to pursue a career as an artist, so I recognize that the first two chapters are not aimed at me. Rather, they are aimed at the woman i was at 18 or 20, wondering whether I really wanted to major in theatre instead of something like advertising or accounting or electrical engineering. I think, had I access to a book like this at the time, I would have felt more confident about my choices, less terrified that i'd end up a starving junkie or something, and it would have taken me a lot less time to get where I got. The first two chapters are devoted to a sort of pep talk, confidence-building inspiration, anecdotal advice, things to help assuage the fears of one's family and friends who might be less than thrilled about the prospect of one's artistic career.

For me, the place where this book really takes off and becomes universally important and useful to even mid-career artists like myself is the third chapter, in which the author breaks down exactly how to put a price on your artwork and bid on various kinds of contract jobs--what sorts of variables to consider, how to weigh different contingency factors, and explains contractual terms like a kill fee (what you get paid if they decide they no longer want the piece but you've already begun making it). I'm actually planning to use it as a textbook in one of my graduate classes for a project we do on developing bids, that is how thrilled i was to see this information collected and presented.


Subsequent chapters deal with other practical matters--doing your taxes, securing health insurance, setting up retirement plans, promotion of your work, time management, even how to decide what sort of studio space you might need or want. I wish i could go back in time and hand this book to my 20-year-old self, because I guess i might still have made some of the same mistakes and underbid myself or gone years without insurance, but i wouldn't have had ignorance to blame.

Peppered throughout the book are interviews with working artists in all kinds of disciplines--graphic art, printmaking, decorative ironwork, art therapy, illustration, etc. These are nice little interludes and a fascinating glimpse into the lives of various successful-but-unfamous artists that serve to underscore how one does not need to be the next Pablo Picasso or Prince or Meryl Streep or William Styron in order to make a successful, fulfilling artistic life for oneself. These interviews are--like the first two chapters--perhaps more eye-opening and useful to the early-career artist (particularly a young student who needs to convince her/his parents that majoring in lithography is not an expensive ticket to the garret and starvation), but are nonetheless an interesting read no matter where you are in your own career.

Lest you think my review is nothing more than a cheerleading shill for the book, I do have one primary criticism: I think the publisher did the book a disservice in overdesigning its interior, and in choosing the size of the book. At first glance, i was really drawn to the unique size (8" square), the full-color interior, and the quality of the paper and cover. The more i read through the book though, the more some of the graphic design choices jarred me: images and text randomly oriented at skewed angles, or printed on faux-finish "textured" backgrounds which occasionally obfuscate a word here and there.

The most frustrating element of this is the way in which the numerous worksheets and exercises are treated graphically, printed at odd angles on what is meant to look like a torn-off sheet of spiral-bound paper superimposed on a background. Given that i can honestly imagine this book serving as an invaluable text in art classes, schools, and universities, this layout for the worksheets and the choice to make the book a size difficult to nicely photocopy for educational use shows poor forethought on behalf of the publisher. In places it's as if the book design was meant for a new-age self-help text, not the book which Peot wrote.

Luckily, this criticism in no way diminishes the value of the book itself for the sheer usefulness of information contained within. Graphical grousing aside, i still plan to recommend it to all my colleagues, and starting in the fall use it as a textbook in my series of four graduate courses. Perhaps the book will be so wildly successful that there will eventually be a second edition in which the worksheets are presented more functionally and less flakily. Take my advice, buy this book!

Don't forget to drop a comment on this entry for a chance at my giveaway of a signed copy! You can also Like the book on Facebook to learn about other giveaways and workshops attached to it, and if you do the Goodreads thing you can add it to a shelf over there.

Aug. 6th, 2011

top hats!

Book reviews: the British hatting industry

While traveling in the UK last month, I had the opportunity to visit the Hat Museum of Stockport, England, which i wrote up in a blog post, here. In their gift shop, i purchased two books of possible interest to the labricoleuse readership: Penny McKnight's Stockport Hatting and Denton and the Archaeology of the Felt Hatting Industry By Michael Newell et al.

McKnight's book is reminiscent of a course pack: spiral-bound with a vinyl cover, possibly published in batches from a copy shop. The Newell text is a trade paperback, though it's only about 20 pages longer than McKnight's. Both feature a number of useful and interesting illustrations--everything from period advertisements for hatters to photos of hat factory facilities; those in the McKnight book are not the best quality (think photocopies) and entirely black and white, while those in the Newell book are better reproductions and some are in full color. The Newell text is unfortunately full of quite a few typographical errors and could have used another pass-through by a good copy editor before going to press to eliminate these.

The books can be addressed on one level as a pair, since they both cover quite a bit of the same ground: the heyday of the British hatting industry in the area around Stockport, a small town on the periphery of Manchester. McKnight's book predates the Newell text by seven years (published in 2000 and 2007 respectively), and in places, the Newell text comes close to plagiarizing McKnight's, with whole sections reproduced nearly verbatim. They are both quite useful for gaining a grasp of the development of the felt hat blocking process as developed in the Stockport/Denton area in the 19th century, and for establishing a knowledge of how the terms differ between the US and UK hatblocking communities (for example, what American hatters call sizing a hat, UK hatters call proofing it).

In terms of a book I'll get mileage out of in my millinery class as a supplementary text, McKnight's Stockport Hatting and its chapter on production methodology is going to be the most useful. I may assign it as reading in future classes when we do our blocking projects, because it's a great overview of the process from a mass production perspective.

The Newell book is interesting in terms of millinery history scholarship (which is a research interest of mine), but not something I'll use in classes. I might recommend it to fellow milliners with a similar interest in the history of the industry, or students with a particular focus in millinery. I particularly appreciated the verbatim quotations of the personal recollections of the industry from aging Denton hatters, which reminded me of Debbie Henderson's book Hat Talk: Conversations with Hat Makers About Their Hats--the Fedora, Homburg, Straw, and Cap (previously reviewed in this post). Another fascinating/horrifying feature was an account of a proofing-house explosion which killed many workers, complete with a photograph of the destruction it caused to the factory in which it occurred.

Other Publication Notes

On the book review tip, if you can get your hands on the most recent issue (Summer 2011) of Theatre Design & Technology, you can read my reviews of two new books by Frances Grimble, released through Lavolta Press, Bustle Fashions 1885-1887 and Directoire Revival Fashions 1888-1889. Or, you could wait until the digital version of the issue shows up on the website, which seems to be running two seasons behind the quarterly publication schedule (Winter is up now, though Spring and Summer have since come out in paper editions).

And, in case you have ever bemoaned the dearth of fiction featuring fabric store clerks as protagonists, I have a short story, "Shake Sugaree," in the current edition of the literary journal Mason's Road that fits that bill. Check it out!

Unrelated, but I realize it's been a while since i've mentioned it: you can also follow labricoleuse on Facebook or on Twitter for notifications on when the blog has been updated. Pass it on!

Feb. 14th, 2011


hollywood and costuming: some recommendations

Wow, i only posted four times in January, and not at all this month so far. (Things have been really, really busy.)

I haven't been too busy to read, though, and i wanted to mention a book i came across serendipitously, which may be of interest to La Bricoleuse readers: Kristen M. Burke's Going Hollywood, which is basically a handbook on how to move to LA and make it in the film and television industry. Burke has designed costumes for over forty motion pictures, and really knows her stuff.

First, let me say that i found the book by way of Frocktalk.com, Kristin's blog about costume design for film. I slowly surfed my way back through the archive of it, through the myriad excellent posts on specific films she's worked on, interviews with other costume designers, behind-the-scenes info on exhibits and galas and LA-based fashion boutiques, all great stuff! Check it out!

I moved to LA to freelance for a year in 2004, the year this book came out, so unfortunately i could not have benefited from the advice therein without a time machine. However, man, do i wish i had had this book when i did so. There's so much great advice and info about working in the film and television industries, the logistics of LA and the movie biz, contacts for resources, and much of it stuff that you can't find in more "textbooky" cinematic costuming resources, such as Richard Lamotte's Costume Design 101, or Kristin's other book, Costuming for Film, co-authored with Holly Cole. (Both of which are also excellent books--Lamotte's saved my butt when i designed the costumes for Long Distance, a feature film starring Monica Keena.)

In addition to the above Amazon link, you can also get the book direct from its publisher, iUniverse, in print or download format.

Aug. 30th, 2010


Millinery in the News!

Sorry for the radio silence--i've got a lot of irons in the fire right now, but am not sanctioned to write about any of them...yet! I promise i'll have some cool process posts soon. But academia, that's always fair game to write about. Millinery class is underway and i have a few short notes of interest on that subject.

First up, Parisian milliners Estelle Ramousse and Fabienne Gambrelle have a new book out, called Studio Secrets: Millinery. This is admittedly not the best book at first glance. It's a project book, with step-by-step instructions on how to make different styles of hats, and the hats themselves are not particularly jawdropping.

However! I'm glad i bought it for our library, if only because Ramousse does a blocked cloche project with toile gomme, a millinery material that you can't find in the US (to my knowledge...i'd love to be proven wrong by someone with a link to a stateside source). Toile gomme is like a cross between buckram and burlap--it's loosely woven from jute yarns, impregnated with a starchy adhesive. I loved seeing how she works with it, and her methodology on that project is quality stuff. The book's only $20, so that's money well spent, IMO.

I've collected a few interesting links on the hat topic as well. Enjoy!

We're doing buckram projects in my class right now--the students are working away on fascinators and pillboxes while learning to use the material--so hopefully there will be some great project photos to share soon!

May. 24th, 2010


Two books on men's hat styles

I know i owe one more post on SPESA, on the suppliers who were there, but first i'd like to mention two books of interest to the milliners, hatters, and scholars of historical fashion.

The first is Hatless Jack: The President, the Fedora, and the History of an American Style, by Neil Steinberg. I originally read this book as part of the research I did on the supply chain of the Stetson fedora for a textile industry business class i took at NC State's College of Textiles.

As the title implies, it's a history of the fedora and a cultural analysis of the decline of hat-wearing in the 20th century--which is far more complex than simply "Jack Kennedy didn't wear one at his inauguration and bam, the next day all men throughout the Western world threw their fedoras in the trash." It's also broader in scope than that, addressing the development, rise, and fall of the top hat style and the homburg, as well as straw styles like the boater and the Panama. The book is full of fascinating pieces of history, like the Straw Hat Riots in NYC in the 1920s, where gangs of roving crazies would snatch men's straw hats off their heads and smash them in the streets, purportedly in outrage at their flaunting straw headwear past September 15th, the recognized "felt hat day," after which men were supposed to switch back to felt fedoras and homburgs. All in all an informative, interesting, and accessible read.

Via the bibliography for the above book, i also picked up Fred Miller Robinson's The Man in the Bowler Hat: His History and Iconography, which is exactly what you'd suppose: a book about the invention and adaptation of the bowler hat style throughout history. This one is a much more dense, despite being over 100 pages shorter and full of photos and artwork, and is clearly aimed at a much more academic readership. Robinson has ferreted out every possible reference to the bowler in cultural consciousness from the films of Chaplin to the paintings of Magritte to the drama of Beckett. Sometimes i'm in the mood for all that hyper-analytical signs-and-semiotics writing (see also: almost went the route of the dramaturg), so I enjoyed it, but it's no popcorn beach book.

I'm hoping to have time to write up the last SPESA entry tomorrow, but if not, it's because i'm off to NYC for a week with one of my students on Wednesday morning. I may be totally off the grid for the duration, but even if so, i'll have that writeup plus a whole mess of fashion and costume exhibit reviews upon my return, plus hopefully the continuation of some projects like the commedia mask collection and the hat block casting...

May. 4th, 2010


Book review, vintage pattern auction for Nashville flood relief

If you also follow A Sketch a Day, you know that i've gotten on a rendering kick lately, both digital and analog. Last summer, when i took the CAD class at NCSU, i wrote up a book review on Sandra Burke's text on fashion rendering by computer, Fashion Rendering: Design Techniques and CAD; this post addresses a second text on the topic, From Pencil to Pen Tool by Armstrong, Armstrong, and Ivas.

Burke's text was a good one in that it gave a broad base introduction to drawing with vector-based software like Illustrator and CorelDRAW, for only $30 (cheap for a textbook). This text is more expensive--$50 used or $88 new--but also covers raster-based imagework in Photoshop and comes with a tutorial CD-ROM. A good portion of the first few chapters addresses general fashion design topics like an overview of design rendering styles and artists throughout couture history, how to draw a fashion croquis (don't get me started on how disturbing the 9-head and 12-head figures are in practical terms for stage design...that's a-whole-nother post in and of itself), visual reference sketches for garment design elements (like how a gathered ruffle is drawn differently than a circle-cut ruffle). Good stuff, but not any new information.

But! The useful part of this book is the middle few chapters on specifically dealing with Photoshop and Illustrator in a clothing-related context. The overview on various applicable Photoshop tools and how they might specifically apply to relevant issues like creating a collage [1] or a textile print design is a good one to check out. The ones on Illustrator, i felt like they were neither superior nor inferior to the Burke text--having dealt with it a lot last summer, those chapters were a good review. The CD-ROM contains some practice files as .psd and .ai documents for manipulation and experimentation (both guided exercises in the text and whatever else you might want to do with them)--croquis, garment flats, fabric patterns--and some movie files showing exactly how to do some of the techniques described. If you are someone who learns computer skills better watching someone do something on a screen, then trying it yourself, those movies will be real eye-openers.

I think if you are someone who has grown up messing around with Photoshop, this book is going to be fairly Mickey Mouse to you, but i know tons of designers who lacked exposure to any kind of image-manipulation software until they got well into their careers, with no idea how to begin learning. General courses don't address costume-specific issues, while specific courses are slanted toward, say, graphic art and poster layout or something. To those folks, this would be a great book to check out as an introduction to those programs, focusing in an area that is easily adaptable to costume design conceptually speaking (i.e., fashion).

Of course, the book suffers the challenge that all published texts on software suffer: instant obsolescence. It came out in 2006 and talks about Photoshop CS...well, now in 2010 we're looking at the release of CS5. Then again, in theatre especially, many of us are working with software a few versions shy of the most cutting-edge release--i've got CS2 on my work computer and CS3 on my laptop--so it's probably still a useful text for someone seeking introductory guidelines.

I borrowed the book through interlibrary loan, so if you have access to a good library, you can check it out that way before investing. The copy i got had the CD-ROM taped into the back, so i felt like i really got a good grasp on what the book was teaching. I probably won't pay brand-new cost for it, but if i find it used for a decent price, i'll pick it up as a reference text.

And, if you've seen on the news the horrifying flooding that has submerged huge areas of Tennessee and want to do something to help, you can contribute to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, who are directly involved in disaster relief in the area, or text 'REDCROSS' to 90999 to donate $10 to disaster relief. Topically, one Nashville resident and vintage sewing enthusiast is auctioning lots of vintage sewing patterns to raise money--her auctions feature womens, infants/children, and maternity patterns. So many friends and colleagues have lost their homes and businesses to this flooding, i can't even imagine how awful they're feeling (I grew up in Tennessee). So, spread the word about the charity and the pattern auctions, please!

Alright, i've done my posting for the day. (I'd set myself a goal of posting something new by midweek; go me.) Tomorrow, i've got some plans to do some half-scale dress form, shoe last, and hatblock casting with a couple of my students, so there's the documentation of that to look forward to in a future post!

[1] In the fashion industry, they call thematic collages that capture the visual inspiration and essence of a collection "mood boards," which is what the applicable chapter is on and the CD-ROM video. But, we make them in costume design as well (i always hear designers refer to them in other terms though, like "inspiration collage" or "array of influences") so the chapter is a good read.

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