costuming


Random picture of an Alpaca getting naked:

But what I really wanted to say is, I feel great.  I feel like a naked alpaca with the breeze on my skin.  I spent six hours today in a really – intense, there is no other word – cutting session.  Having said that, I should mention for the sake of all the people who will now be misdirected by search engines that I mean cutting  fabric, not subcultural blood-letting.  Interesting as that may be, I’m only going to talk about costuming.  Sorry.

I am working on a dress for Jekyll & Hyde and it is somewhat complicated because that is the way I drew it on Saturday when I was doing sketches, and I got it all plotted out and all the pieces cut and rather a lot of assembly done, and I’ve had a lot of coffee and only a little sleep and it’s all going so amazingly well that I had to stop and dance on the front porch for a while to burn off energy.  It is good to feel this good.  It is good to remember that I can feel this good.

See, I’m shooting here for something that looks light and breezy, something that looks simple even though it isn’t remotely.  Also it would be nice if the actress can get into it quickly and be something like comfortable because she’s got to wear it for a couple of scenes.  All of this so far seems to be working.  I’m speculating whether I can accomplish anything more today before the “no sewing after midnight” rule kicks in.  It’s iffy, all the straightforward stuff is out of the way.

I’m still pretty wired though, and haven’t got much in the way of a functioning vocabulary.  So I’m just gonna leave you with another alpaca because tell me this picture isn’t simply awesome:

Yep.

I do. And, since about a year ago when a friend lent me a Collected Works of, I have had one poem stuck in my head. So I’m finally doing a project, my inspiration and my materials list being “a rag, a bone and a hank of hair”.

The rag in question used to be a large chunk of charcoal-grey corduroy. Did you know, if you wash a chunk of 100% cotton wide-wale cord a few times with a LOT of bleach, it has an effect very similar to tossing it into a cement mixer? It’s true. But I don’t have a cement mixer, so I had to go the other route. Then, I painted it in the rain. I’m very sorry, I don’t have pictures of any of this. I was out in the pouring rain with a can of paint, several baby chickens, a few curious (and damp) sheep, and six yards of distressed, nay downright frantic cord. I haven’t got enough arms to take a picture of that!

Other than that, I’ve been spinning with every free moment, and also working out the plans for a new wheel in my head. There IS going to be an Etsy shop. Right as soon as there can be. And in that shop I will offer for sale the fruits of those things that I do, whatever they are. Like yarn. And maybe some tools. I like tools. And I shall call myself “Old School Fibre” except probably I shall spell ‘Fibre’ wrong in American, so that other people can find the store. But that might bug me a lot, so I’ll keep you posted.

On what seems like completely another topic, but is connected in that I never seem to get anything done around here because I’m always doing something else… Stalkermom got a steam cleaner. Yesterday I was helping her clean her place and I got to use it. And then I got to borrow it, and so at least part of today will be spent prancing about shooting jets of hot steam at things that are dirty. Steam cleaners are Fun. I believe I will have an answer this year when my in-laws ask me what I want for Christmas.

That’s kind of funny in itself, I’m not sure if they’ll actually get me one or not. Every year they ask us what we want, and are never willing to accept answers like “world peace” or ‘higher standards of education’ or even ‘a wealthy patron’, so I ask for cookware. Which I guess kind of bugs them, because it’s supposed to be a bad idea to give a woman kitchen appliances or tools for housework or something. I understand why someone who was hoping for flowers might be irritated to the point of frenzy by receiving a broom and dustpan instead, but I like cookware. I like cooking and baking.

So they finally came to believe me, mostly I guess because why would l lie about something like that? but now I have a pretty good stash of cookware/bakeware and there’s nothing I’m really aching for, which leaves me at a loss for the “what do you want for christmas?” phone call. Unless there is a christmas sale on steamers. I think they’re kind of a hot item this year, so there might be.

I’m supposed to do the blog flog thing, because (too long ago) Lucy sent me this:

which is super neat, and it is my (neglected) duty to post five other blogs to pass it on to. I’ve been stalling, because I just did that ‘you make my day’ thing not too long ago, but let me see, where shall I send you this time?

  1. Prairiedogs of I-10 a pair of Texan sisters offering lots of wit, snark and knitting.
  2. Domesticrafts, life in downtown Boston, still more knitting and some really fabulous photography
  3. Carrie is a friend of mine from the Chatham knit night, and not only does she give you fibre and book recommendations, but there’s gonna be a baby soon too!
  4. Speaking of babies, Geckogrrl has a great mind, an interesting life, and is now chronicling the changes involved in starting a family, and moving ever further from Venice Beach.
  5. Jessie is off the hook, because she already got nominated and posted her list the other day, but I’m sticking her in here anyway because she’s fabulous, her blog is fabulous, her homestead is fabulous, and my only regret when reading her is that I can’t just run over there for spinning and coffee, ‘cos she lives in Vermont and I don’t.

It has taken me way too long to post this next section, and the section itself is long. So I’m dividing it up in the interests of getting the information here, where it is useful, rather than sitting on my computer being half-written, where it is not. I will also be putting the whole thing together on its own page, as soon as I figure out how I can do that without messing up people’s links. That way anyone who is interested should be able to get RSS updates on that page alone. Forwarding links will be provided!

PART TWO – how many pieces? Measurements, and Building the Back.

The first step to building a pattern off your measurements is, of course, having some measurements to work from. If the person wearing the dress will be corseted, make sure the measurements are taken while the corset is being worn! The basic measurements that you will want to have are:
bust (around the body at the widest point on the chest
waist (around the body at the narrowest point)
note: again as a result of modern fashions, a surprising number of people have no idea where their waist actually is. The waist is the narrowest, and also the most compress-able point on the torso. It is usually much higher than people believe it to be. If you or the person taking measurements have any cause to doubt the exact position of the waist, have your ‘measuree’ stand with their hands on their hips and bend sideways – their body will bend at the natural waist, and the flesh will wrinkle there. Measure that point.
back across shoulders – for me this is usually exactly what it sounds like – across the back at the level of the shoulder blades, stopping at the shoulder joint and before the arm. I’ve had people interpret it other ways – ‘armpit to armpit’, for example. That really doesn’t matter, you can use either one. What is important is that you, the person who needs the measurement, know what it represents.
back length – this is from the base of the neck to the point on the back at which you took the waist measurement. Where there will be variance here, if someone else is measuring, is whether they used the base of the neck, or higher – some people include the length of the neck in this measurement. Again, as long as you know, you can adjust.
bust point – the bust measurement marks the widest point on the chest on the horizontal plane, the bust point measures from the shoulder to the highest point on the bust. (Basically, picture shoulder to nipple). This measurement will give you an angle, and tell you rather a lot about the shape of the body you’re about to cover.
arm length (elbow slightly bent) not essential, but it’s a nice one to have, and saves the guesswork.

Other measurements you may want, depending on style, period, and how paranoid you are (I like to get as many measurements as possible, because it’s always good to be able to cross check yourself as you go)
waist to floor
neck circumference
wrist
upper arm circumference
hip (usually almost completely irrelevant, but might be useful if you’re doing one of those clingier, longer-torsoed late period gowns

The reasons for measuring in the corset are obvious. You will also want to know what the corset looks like, what style it is. There were three distinct phases of corset shape even in the basic overbust corset during this period. To that you can add the underbust styles, and the “spoon busk”, which adds an outward curve over the belly. Spoon busks won’t make a huge difference in your measurement, but an underbust will – the bustline will be lower, while a “straight front” will make the bustline higher, and add more curve to the back seam but less to the lower front. The only measurement that will change significantly is that bust point one, so you won’t be able to tell just from the measurements what your proportions are, to get everything sitting just right, you’ll want to be able to picture the undergarments in your head as you work.
(NB: corsets do not actually alter the natural waist measurement very much. The purpose of a corset in period is to emphasize the waist and mold the figure, not to warp it unrealistically. (There were tight-lacing fetishists, as there are now, but that’s a whole other discussion!) Generally, a corset will reduce your waist by 2-4 inches, but the corset itself adds two inches to the body’s girth, so by the time you’ve added petticoats, skirt waistbands, and a structured bodice, the waist will be back up to the natural measurement or higher. What a corset does is smooth and mold the lines of the body, and alter the posture, and the position of the breasts. So, if you don’t know what kind of corset will be worn, the measurements you take will be accurate, but they may be in the wrong place.)

Note for the following – I draw my patterns on scrap fabric – old bedsheets, or whatever, and add my seam allowances when I cut. Remember to make sure you add seam allowances, because I’m not including them in the measurements I discuss below!

Here’s a rough sketch (very rough, I just got a new draw pad and I’m still learning!) of what your back piece should look like:

pattern-sketch.jpg

If you can’t read my handwriting, which wouldn’t be surprising, your back length is that top shaped bit. You can cut it on the fold, but notice that there will be a back seam anyway – the fold will be at the edge of that jutting out piece that starts at the waist. Even if your bodice doesn’t have a long skirt attached, as this one obviously does, it will likely have some kind of skirt/ruffle/peplum hanging out over the bustle – this is to give a smooth line over the bustle and prevent the waist of the skirt from showing. That jutting out piece will be pleated into the waist, and all that extra fabric will spread out over the bustle of the dress.

Notice how the shoulder seam drops down. The width of that little dip for the neck is not wide at all – you only want about four inches maximum there (two inches either side) and all the rest is shoulder. Finding the length of that line is easy – from the centre back to the edge of the armscy is one half your back width, so once you’ve got your little neck scoop, the shoulder is an angled line from the neck to wherever the edge of your armscy should be. It should drop enough to hit just below the ball joint of the shoulder (if you poke yourself there, it hurts) but this doesn’t have to be exact, there’s no need to go poking the person you’re sewing for, just eyeball it.

The skinniest part of this piece, at the waist, is only a couple of inches. It can be as narrow as ONE inch! Don’t be shy – the narrower it is, the more bias is included in that sweet curvy seam, which means the more your fabric will be willing to shape to match the body inside it!

The curve of the armscy on this piece is actually quite short as well, again only a couple of inches. My sketching got a little over-enthusiastic there, it should probably be a bit shorter and less dramatically curvy. Wherever you end it, you are now going to draw that lovely curve up from the waist and out to the edge of the armscy. Don’t curve out too soon, but do keep it a nice sweep. Modern princess curves are almost square; just up and then out. You want something more graceful. If you draw an imaginary line straight between the waist and armscy, and then imagine another line joining them with a right angle (lines in red):

pattern-sketch2.jpg

see how the line curves up, cutting the resulting triangle in half? (Cut a triangle in half? That sounds like math. I don’t do math, but hopefully you can see what I mean!)

Now, that back piece has a history. In some early to mid nineteenth century dresses, it even does have a straight line instead of a curve – that’s when you’re working with a crinoline rather than a bustle and the bodice lines aren’t quite as snug. But long before that, the backs of doublets worn by men and women were sometimes cut that way, and the front piece was just one enormous curved section that wrapped all the way around. That’s not desperately important, but I mention it because it works REALLY WELL and I still use a memory of that shape when cutting bodice fronts.

Before we get to the bodice front, however, you’ll be wanting the rest of the back. As you can plainly see, you have quite a bit of skirt there with nothing above it! This shape is easy in principle, and quite small – all it is doing is filling in that gap. I like to cut it next, and cut it a bit larger than I’ll need, because it’s the easiest piece to trim bits off of. Once you know that back seam is sitting nicely, you can cut your front to fit, and any excess can be trimmed out of the side seam, so you’ll never have to worry about messing up the more complicated back or front sections while making size adjustments.

Here’s the shape:

side_back.jpg

Again translating my horrible scribble: The long curved side matches to the back curve. In fact, it needs to be slightly LONGER, so that the cut of the armscy will line up, because it’s descending pretty abruptly here. Remember, even if you’re scrimping on fabric, it is less wasteful to cut something a bit larger than you think you’ll need, and have to trim it down, than to cut too small and have to throw away the whole piece. That’s true of this piece especially, because it’s got the most room for adjustment, and also if it IS wasted, there is nothing else in the bodice that you can use it for. Too short for facings, to small and off-straight for trimmings, too narrow and close to straight for bindings. Play it safe on this one!

The shorter side should be about the length of the armpit to the waist (usually about half of the back length). Period dresses had very very small armholes, much tighter and less comfortable than we’re used to. I’m not recommending this, you’ll want to widen it out a bit later. I AM recommending that you cut it this high to begin with, though. Though I’m boring you to tears, I will repeat again that this is where most of your playing around will happen, and some very strange things can occur with an armscy when you adjust the side seam. You want to have that extra inch or two, just in case.

Now, the diagram above is really a sort of general idea of the shape of this piece, because it can actually vary quite a lot from person to person. The bottom of it should have a very slight curve – more noticable the wider the piece is – because it is wrapping around the body to the side. The measurement I was just discussing, what will be the side seam, will probably angle out a bit, but it depends on how narrow your back waist is, and how wide and full the bust is. What you want is for the two pieces together to cover the whole back, to right under the arm. So if the waist is 28 inches, then one half the centre back at the waist plus one of these side back pieces at the waist should add up to seven inches. (plus seam allowances) If the total bust is 36 inches, then at the point under the arm, the two together should measure to 9 inches (plus seam allowances)

7_9.jpg

If the person the dress is for has a small cup size, you probably won’t be altering this piece very much. If they are larger busted, or have a straight-front corset, you’ll wind up trimming the top of that section smaller, because their chest measurement won’t be evenly divided, they’ll have more up front. The waist, on the other hand, because of the corset, will be more symmetrical. That is the reason I cut the pieces in this order, too – it allows me to play with the layout of the front as I go, because knowing what I have in the back tells me what I have left to work with from my measurements, how much I have to take in and where it looks best to do so.

Which is what I’ll be getting to next time. Also to come are linings, underlinings, and boning! Feel free to nag if it doesn’t happen soon enough! Also, if I’m unclear (which wouldn’t surprise me) or have missed something, or if you just have a question about stuff I might have an opinion on, you are welcome to email me. Seriously. I will cheerfully babble about costuming with people at the drop of a well-trimmed bonnet!

Today’s gratuitous lamb picture:

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The naked old people are going well. They actually make up very quickly, the greater part of the time involved is me, consulting the shape of imaginary naked old people in my head (all of the old people I know tend to wear clothes; they get cold easily) and figuring out how to cut those shapes. Despite what I said last time, I even have pictures, because one of them is also supposed to be fat, and so there is so much stuffing in the costume that it looks like something even without a person in it.

Note – if you or someone you love is, in fact, a naked old person, please don’t be offended, I’m just doing my job. Although yes, I am obviously enjoying an utterly juvenile delight in saying “naked old people” as often as possible.

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There’s another chubby and also hairy-arsed one (a guy), and two skinny ones, and the other two are just kind of podgy and droopy. As appropriate. These are (did I mention before?) for LYSISTRATA, which hopefully explains everything.

Speaking of old people I know, I bought a vacuum cleaner. Yes, of course I can bring that together, would you really still be reading this blog if it didn’t come with the challenge of figuring out how the heck a) turns into b) or even f) in my mind? I didn’t think so. Here then, is my wandering and pointless story:

Like most people at one time or another, I had two grandmothers. Both were tiny and quite pretty, both were willing to let me stay at their house for at least a week every summer from quite a young age, and both ate food to stay alive and breathed oxygen. After that we pretty much run out of similarities, except that they both loved me a lot but also both ‘got along’ better with my brother once he came along. This was never actually spoken, but I had the impression that he was easier to deal with because he wasn’t weird. (This is not true. My beloved brother is really VERY strange, but is also really good at faking normalcy.)

My one grandmother was kind of dotty, but very very creative. She was (at least by the time I knew her) kind of overwhelmed by the whole ‘housekeeping’ thing – she would do laundry, and run a vacuum around at least the main room of the house now and then, and I might even have seen her dust a few times, although I wouldn’t put money on it. What she liked to do was sew, and draw, and make little dolls, and make clothes for the little dolls, and cut paper, and tat lace, and paint tiny pictures on rocks, and crochet, and… you get the idea. Also she kept budgies, and taught them to talk. And she fed the birds outside, and I’m pretty sure she talked to them too, although they never answered (that I know of).

My other grandmother was SuperHouswife. June Cleaver was eating her dust. She vacuumed all the rooms every day and also dusted, and hosed down the outside of the house, and trimmed her hedges and cleaned the patio (possibly with a vacuum) and swept the porch… and that was just the stuff she did before she started whatever she was planning to do that day. I am not kidding.

Guess who I resemble more? If you picked June, you have not been paying attention!!!

I like having a clean house. Really, I swear I do! It makes me happy! And it makes me happy to be the one cleaning it, because I get kind of creeped out by the whole ‘other person coming in to clean up my mess’ thing. I would be the one who would clean up for the cleaning lady. Or, conversely, I would not clean up for the cleaning lady, and she would shriek and run away and never be seen in this town again. Either way, I lose. Because although I do really and truly like it when my house is clean, I would on the whole rather be sewing, or making lace, or knitting, or spinning, or talking to chickens or hugging sheep. And so most of the time, those are the things I actually do, and otherwise I just kind of run a vacuum around in the places people will see, and try to convince Raven to dust. Which even works, sometimes.

And then the vacuum cleaner broke.

Now, we tend to aquire things when other people are done with them, and as a result when things break it is rarely a question of replacing a belt or tightening a nut. Things around here when they break explode, or melt, or shatter, or burst into flame, that kind of thing. Sometimes a combination of two or more of those things at once. And it’s often not the ones you would expect, either. We had one TV melt, and another melt and blow up, I had a hand-held sander that seemed to be melting while bursting into flame. The vacuum – which until this point had been a pretty decent upright – shattered, and then burst into flame. Entertaining, really.

But I live in the country, and there are animals inside and out, and frankly it was getting kind of thick in here. Something had to be done, and since the vacuum cleaner had actually decided to burst into flame while Raven was trying to see what he could do about fixing the ‘shattered’ part, it wasn’t really going to be part of the game plan. So yesterday (because I would have no idea how to make one, and also I had a gift certificate) I went out and bought a brand new, briefly shiny shopvac. It is my first new vacuum ever, and I’m very excited. I cleaned lots and lots of the house with it yesterday, and when I get done writing this I’m going to go clean more. I’ve never had a vacuum that had both reach and suction at the same time before! I may even be able to get some of the cobwebs off the three-inch stucco that some lunatic put on the eighteen-foot-high ceilings in my back room! (Someday, oh someday I will have nothing better to do, and some scaffolding, and a hammer…!)

I’m quite sure the thrill will wear off, probably very soon. But in the meantime, I’m actually getting some spring cleaning done!

I’ve finally got my internet back. This is good news. Now I have to catch up on all the stuff I missed on the group I’m supposed to be a moderator of, plus all the other things that I haven’t bothered to keep up with in the past week, and reply to so many emails that they actually have weight. This is not so good news.

I’m making naked old people costumes for Lysistrata, which frankly I don’t really want to do very much. Also, I might have a cold – or my body might just be complaining about the naked old people. It does that sometimes, pretends I’m getting ill when really I’m just procrastinating.

So with all those reasons to feel grumpy, I was so happy when the post came, and I saw the postman put a big ol’ box into my mailbox. What might it have been?

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A box chock full of red alpaca from Bev! It is soooo soft, I just want to roll around in it! (I haven’t. Nor have I spun any of it, because I’m not allowed until the naked old people are finished. I have, however, buried my face in it a couple of times, and made Raven feel it twice. And smell it once.)

So now I have incentive to finish my naked old people. Because you know, simply having an important deadline is never enough! Actually it is, I’m good about deadlines, honest. I’m just happier if I get to give myself a present at the end! So a big happy alpaca-scented “Thank you” to Bev!

I haven’t dug out any pictures of my (funny-looking, I warn you) house yet, so here are some more deck-sheep. The babies are getting so big!

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The Universe, as is its wont, has been trying to punish me for procrastination. Because I took so freakin’ long on the embroidery, and so was pushing for a last-minute finish, this week the Universe (which has right on its side, I do admit) has attempted to thwart me with:

  • A limping and still pregnant sheep who has so far failed to respond to all attempts to make her stop limping. It is genuinely possible that she has sprained her ankle.
  • A seasonal but deeply unpleasant cold snap that is causing my fingers to feel like wooden sausages. Yes, that is what I meant to say.
  • Winds gusting to 80km per hour, which blew the roof off our house. No, alas, I am not exaggerating. Big ol’ chunks of our lovely steel roof are lying on the ground. We are unamused.
  • A broken washing machine.

Despite all that, and despite the fact that I snapped yesterday and decided that even if it meant not finishing, I couldn’t stand to not do the embroidery on the back:

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The TIF challenge is finished. Actually I’m lying to you, it still needs eyelets. Which I might even manage to do tonight, pending further disaster, but I wanted to get it posted hurry-up-quick, because it’s already tomorrow for some people in this challenge! But not for me – I’m in Canada and I’ve still got almost eight hours, darn it!

I got one-maybe-two things out of this project.  Number one, those corded channels are cool and I want to do more with that.  I’ve done wadding for a gambeson, but that’s just padding – these cords are not only providing structure they are also shaping the garment, which I think is super-nifty.  Number maybe-two thing is:  About that embroidery.  That was just ridiculous, and I am faced with a decision.  Do I (again) try to accept the fact that I just don’t like doing it much, and avoid it until the next time I stupidly decide something requires it, or do I force myself to embroider more regularly until I get over it?  Frankly, I’m leaning towards option two.  I hate letting myself get away with avoiding stuff like that, because it does come up.  I can happily accept that I am never going to be An Embroiderer, but I’m not sure I should allow myself to dodge it completely, either.  I’ve been dodging crochet for years (no, no idea why – you would think I’d like it) and you know, if I let the hands get away with too much of that sort of thing, they’ll be spoiled and willful.  More so.

Ok, gotta go post on Flickr, or it won’t count!  Oh!  But!  Also gotta say a great big thank you to Emily for tagging me for the “make my day” thing.  I shall post my own such list right as soon as my brain stops running around shouting “wa wa wa” and I get my links in order!

Hmm… this could slow down the eyelet-making:

inspection.jpg

Sunday I went to buy some hay.  This was wonderful, I’m sorry I couldn’t bring you.  I have to go back, and I’ll bring my camera that time, I promise, and I’ll take pictures as long as Nice Farmer Guy doesn’t chase me off the property.  It was awesome.  They had sheep, and deer (deer!) and guinea fowl, and emu, and cows, and hay hens (Jen!  They looked just like yours, and they exploded startlingly out of the hay barn!) and just shy of a million cats.  I got to feed and pet the deer, and I got completely ignored by the sheep, but I’ll show them – this guy doesn’t sell their fleeces either, he *cluches chest* burns them (I just can’t get used to that) so I’ve sucked up and left my phone number, and now I have someone else to hassle for fleeces that nobody wants but me.

Then we loaded up the truck with hay, and I drove home reeeeaaaallly sllloooowww on back roads, while Stalkermom made comments about how many gears the truck actually has, and whether or not we would see our homes again before nightfall.  It was fun.

I had a whole rant I was working on here about wool and my attitude towards craft in general (which is that I obviously have a very weak grasp of the concept of “hobby”) but it was getting awfully disconnected and  – well, ranty – so we’ll give that a miss for today and instead I’ll tell you that there  are pictures of the purple bodice on the project page.  The reason it only has one button is she only sent one for sizing, so you have to imagine it with six.

More knitting coming soon – we’re still spending any and all dry daylight hours making things be nice for sheep.  Who, incidentally, still don’t care if they’ve got a lovely dry shelter with food  in it.  They’ve found the perfect spot to sleep, right by the house so nothing can creep up on them, and they can see if we come out either door.

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