Friday, January 27, 2012

Lonely Heart - last night and pack out!

Oh my paws and whiskers! Pack out after the show tonight, in less than three hours I'll be in the dressing room, stuffing costumes into bags. Then it's home to launder, sort out hires from makes, and work out where in heaven to put everything, hopefully only until next time :)
It is the last afternoon I have had to curl Bryony's hair (Many Thanks to Claire for subbing in a few times too!) to give her that vintage look, although we both agree that we'll miss our 45 minutes of down time together, and may have to schedule a few extras just for the heck of it.
No more burnt fingers for this lass, not until next time I want to curl me own hair anyway :)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lonely heart - Some great photos

Here are a few of the fabulous and rather sinister publicity photos from the show. The photographer was everywhere getting really close to the action during the dressed rehearsal.
 Left to right, Emma Kinane as Janet Fay, the first victim. Nick Dunbar as Ray Fernandez, Bryony as Martha Beck.
 Bryony in the drabbest apron ever made! Still wearing her hat as it was the first time and she forgot to take it off! Tash MacAllister as Rainelle. Her wig should have had its own mention in the programme!
 One of my favourite costumes. Designed to give a subtle illusion of off the shoulderness during a fantasy dance where she thinks she is Scarlett O'Hara to Ray's Rhett Butler. Noone gets it but me, but that's OK :) I know!
Red velvet for Act two. Singing about being loved, and happy at last.
If I get a hold of more photos I will post them too :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lonely Heart - Polka dot revival part 2, sans rant.

Update: Sorry about the sideways photos, I've been using Picnik for editing and the rotate hasn't held.
This is the polka dot dress that is falling apart. It is quite lovely - the skirt has two inverted and sewn down pleats front and back, the bodice is lightly bloused into the waist band, there is a little gathering into the neckline. It's probably more late 30's than late 40's but it is so pastichey, we couldn't resist.
 Here's a close up of the back, the damage is hard to see but it's like stretch marks in the fabric, which is wearing through in a few places. It is not going to make it through five more performances.
 Here is the new fabric. I couldn't get a match on the scale of dot, but could only get smaller or much, much bigger. So the smaller won. I lay the dress on it, and marked around it with a generous seam allowance. 
After cutting it out, I thought about adding a peplum. Not quite right for the front of the dress, but it will hide the damage below the waist and help to protect it. Because the dress has a centre back zip, I made the peplum in two halves.

Here are the two assembled pieces, wrong side up. Darts in the bodice, the peplums bagged in, centre back pressed. I laid this over the back bodice, matching the waist seams, pinned all the way around tucking in the seam allowances, then tacked it on, then sewed it on the machine.
The finished back. It's not fabulous, but it is functional. The machine sewing won't show on such dark and busy fabric, and was necessary to withstand the dragging on the ground.
 I sure hope she survives the rest of the season!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lonely Heart - Polka dot revival, and old lady rant!

Week one and five shows (plus three costumed runs) later, I have a few repairs and revivals to get through.
One of the fab finds from a run to the local Musical Theatre's wardrobe was this polka dot dress and jacket:

Not the best photo, and petticoat fail, but adorable anyway!
The trouble with it is, it is probably 30 years old, and made from cotton knit. And every night, Emma is dragged off stage by her feet while wearing it. This is causing its back to become unhappy in a fabricy way. Had it been made from a woven fabric it probably would be all right, but the "give" in the knit means it gets pulled out of shape more.
SO, I thought I'd better make her something else to wear instead. Had to be a polka dot and had to be navy. The black box which is Bats means that black costumes simply disappear on stage, and the polka dot thing matches Tash's Rainelle costume (the dots on that are really too small but there wasn't anyhting to choose from at the time).
Happily I skipped out this morning, and went to Global Fabrics. Nothing pokadotty there. Sadface. It being a Sunday this meant I had no choice but to try Spotight. How I loathe this shop. Not one single person I know enjoys going there, we grit our teeth and brave it, knowing this is a form of masochism that we would only practise for our art. Why? It's expensive, the service is lousy and the shop policies are beyond insanely, pointlessly ridiculous.
Anyway, they did have a fairly wide choice of options in navy with white or cream polka dots, but, did I mention expensive? As in, $20m for a poplin??? Sod off. So, I decided then and there that I wouldn't make a new costume, I would make an overlay back with a peplum for the existing dress, thus cutting down the amount of fabric required to 1m.
Oooh, then I remembered this crazy discount card they gave out - you get a stamp every time you buy and don't use their plastic bags. Five stamps then the 6th gets you a 20% discount. $16 bets $20, right?
Well, firstly I am told that because I don't have a shopping bag with me, I can't get a stamp. I had put the small piece in my handbag, but this didn't count. Excuse me??? Then someone else came over and told my server that I could have my stamp after all. Hallelujah. But then, it turns out that the 20% off applies at my next purchase, not this one. Really? Has any coffee or loyalty card on the planet, ever,  worked this way? You fill up the line and the special stamp whatsit is the one where you get the payoff. But not at Snotfight. You have to go in again, and only THEN can you get your discount. I think the staff have this wrong but then every other special deal thing they run is illogical, turns out not to be very special at all, and confuses their staff and customers. You gotta hand it to them, they treat their staff and customers with equal contempt, no favouritism there.
Would someone PLEASE open a sane shop on Sundays that sells stuff we need? PLEASE? Save us from this ridiculous shop once and for all.
Anyway I am off to get the overpriced polka dots out of the drier and work some juju on this dress. Photos may follow. No promises. I may throw it all out of the third story window and run off to join a monastery!

When it goes wrong, even when it is so right!

On Sunday night, 25 hours before dress rehearsal, the Director took me aside and told me, with some trepidation (I own BIG scissors after all) that one of the costumes doesn't work, and could I produce a new one please. Now that 25 hours comprised: 35 minutes of the only fabric shop in town still being open; seven usable hours left after that of my Sunday; sleep, my day job, and then dress rehearsal.
These things happen, and I always allow for at least one remake like this.
The interesting bit is why. I find this fascinating.
The original costume was a playsuit style outfit, a midriff top and long waisted shorts combo. The brief was, "something sassy and trendy, like the dancers wore in 42nd Street for rehearsals." This means 1930's-40's style short top and long shorts, basically. VERY cute! Perfect for the character too. So why did it not work?
 Isn't it gorgeous! Those of us who know a bit more than most about vintage fashion recognise this look. Tash's adorable black shorts combined with The Dreamstress's perfectly fitting top, fresh from playsuit heaven! Lesigh.
Isn't Natasha GORGEOUS. She is petite, blonde, beautiful and has a figure like Betty Boop. However, when on stage with the other two actresses in the scene, she looked her age of 19, or maybe younger, and I was told she looked like she'd walked off the beach! I guess I can blame overexposure to South Pacific for that. So, in spite of getting it VERY right, it was just not the "right" right.
So how to make her look trendy, sexy, attractive and OLDER? This is really hard for 1949!! You know how it was then - the fashion forward looks were all either Femme fatale evening looks or puffy sleeves and sweetheart necklines. In the former she would look ridiculous popping over to the neighbour's, in the latter she would look like Shirley Temple (a parody of whom she also does in the show, as it happens).
So, then I recalled seeing blogs about Butterick 5209, the halter with fitted midriff. The shop had it in the right size (miracle!), and it is fairly simple to execute. While I washed and dried the fabric, I googled it and looked at many makes, the maker's feedback and tossed up between View A and View B:
I can see why so many sewist head for this pattern, it is utterly charming!!
I settled in the end for the simpler and sexier A. It looks AMAZING on Tash:
 In its prehemmed glory. I love this length but she has to wear another dress over it so off came a few inches. Lovely back eh!
The cotton fabric caught my eye across the shop. I needed a blue or grey and something really vintage, and how much more vintage can you get but pineapples!
So, this turned out to be the right right. Three hours to put it together from when the fabric came out of the drier too. Admittedly not quite as well constructed as it could have been, but Butterick 5209 seems to cause a few more construction issues than it ought to so I may post about how I put it together one day. But wow, what a resource the sewing blogosphere is! Without reading up on the trials and tribulations of this dress, and seeing the makes, I'd have probably gone about it differently and wasted time in the process. Thank you everyone who blogs their makes!!
As I complete this post (started a week ago and waiting for photos) I have to make another new costume, as a borrowed one is falling apart. Thank goodness for long weekends!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

On opening nights and the miracle of friendship...

We did it! Lonely heart 'went up' last night! It all went as smoothly as it could, and it was very well received. And it got a fantastic review from Wellington's toughest theatre critic!
Just waiting on photos before posting a lot more.
In the meantime I want to say a few things about friends. If EVER a woman was blessed with amazing friends, it is I.
Leimomi, The Dreamstress, contributed not only her time and skill in making the most beautiful 1940's wedding dress out of polyester damask tablecoth fabric of all things, but also her wisdom and knowledge of 1940's fashion and finishes. Without her counsel to bounce things off I would have felt very alone. AND her copy of Everyday Fashions of the 1940's was invaluable!
Madame Ornata, who made aprons, came over and sewed, unpicked, made me cups of tea and made me laugh. What a woman!
Emma Kinane, who is in this show, but also found lots of time to sit and sew with me, and regale me with fascinating tales of her life. What a woman!
Eileen, The Duchess of Texas, brought me dinner from my favourite Italian restaurant, and even coffee, kept me company and threaded pearls. How cool is that! I thought I was going to get a sandwich!
My sister Jo, My mum Jenny the Embroidenator, and my stepdaughter Amelia all gave up some of their holiday to sew costumey bits, make encouraging noises and put up with me!
Claire from The Vanity Case, whose skill with vintage looks, absolute humour and patience with our cast and recalcitrant wigs alike has put a big cherry on the top of the whole look we would never have achieved without her.
And of course, MrC, David. What a guy! He is SO patient -he has learnt about bias binding, zips and all manner of haberdashery he was sent out to source for me with very little guidance, and always with success. He has fed me, looked after me and put up with me, and supported me in this as in everything in our life.
I am truly Blessed!! Thank you all, and all of the wonderful people in my life, for being who you are.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lonely Heart - Martha's Hats

No 1949-1950 setting is complete without hats. Wearing hats, for both men and women, is one of the things that distinguishes the earlier 20th C from the last few decades. If we leave them out of this show then most people would not notice, but they may have a sense of it being "not quite put together" and unfinished.
Ray has a grey fedora that he is rarely going to wear as most shots are interior, but having one in his hands is an important anchor. I just hope that Nick has been rehearsing with it.
Martha has two hats, both made my moi, partly because it is really hard to find hats that old, but also because I love making hats and they don't take all that long to do.

Hat 1: Navy heart shaped hat. This shape was really popular around the time of our play. Whether the brim was heart shaped or round, the effect of a halo rising behind the head was very popular. The crown is made from a commercial hat shape given to me, the brim out of buckram. Whole thing covered in cotton jersey knit (so easy to shape and its dull, thickish texture is reminiscent of felt) and the method an adaptation of my wide brim hat tutorial. The bow is from a scrap of shower curtain nylon I bought at the opshop for 20 cents, as I have no blue in my stash! Trimmed with ivory satin and navy cotton commercial bias bindings.

Hat 2: Red leaf hat. This cloche style hat hugs the back of the head and I love it. I made the base from buckram - cutting a big leaf shape, snipping the long edges and stitching little overlaps all the way around to give it shape. I then covered the outer side with thin cotton quilting batting to soften the shaping lines, then shaped the ruched, bias cut fabric over it. Sew around the edge, trim and sew bias around it to finish it off. The three loops are straight cut fabric with stiff net inside so as to keep their shape.
Small error - the ruching should fan upwards, not downward, but I realised I liked the loops better along the topline not the bottom so it is actually upside down. Such is millinery experimentation.
Thankyou Madame Ornata for modelling. Madame O has been such a great help with this show - coming over for hours to unpick, resew, make me laugh, try things on, make cups of tea, you name it!
Update: it's dress rehearsal this evening which is why it's taken me a few days to get this post completed. And the things I have to tell you about...I don't have time to tell you about! I will very soon, however... :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lonely Heart - Why stage costumes aren't as well made as they could be...

I reckon one of the reasons that theatre costumes aren't as carefully constructed as other kinds is this - you know you have an event in two months so you make a gorgeous polonaise or an open robe. It's a push to get it done, right? But you do it because you are committed, and it will be fabulous :)
In theatre - you have an opening night in six weeks and you have to make or find 27 costumes. It's just math. Pure and simple - had we been able to start 6 months ago it would be different, but noone knew then the show was happening. One rarely does, or if so, who is wearing what so noone to fit.
Now, if we get a second run at this one (which I am hopeful bordering on confident about) some may get replaced, others a second go at finishing properly. But on the whole, admitting this is like, I hope, giving a game away that noone in the audience would recognise. There is nothing on the outside of these costumes that is really 'wrong', no machine stitching where there ought to be hand stitching etc. No serging/overlocking anywhere visible.
So hopefully, all will be well. I am down to the last bits and bobs - the do have a habit of taking longer than we think but I guess if all else fails I can pop down to a costume hire place and source a few wigs, a priest's dickie and any other last minute things I forgot!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lonely Heart Costumes continued -Martha's Suit

This is the real Martha Beck during her trial in 1949. We wanted her to wear a replica of this in the show as she is wearing it in several of the photos that come up in searches and in books about them.
So, in order to make a garment from a photo, it requires some research. And a bit of imagination!
What are the sparkly things? What Is that squiggly thing around the neck? Is it really a dress? What colour is it?
We answered number 3 by careful study of this image. Can you see a hemline cutting across the right hand corner of the photo? It is there. Evidence that this Dress is really a Suit! Score one!
The rest of the answers arrived via the Dreamstress on 27 December when she came up to camp to sew with me in the little dining room of fun. She bore patterns and books, including this one:

Sears, where would we be without you?! What real people wore, no Hollywood interventions.
So, imagine the squeals when we found these two images:

Love the poses! Both from the 1949 catalogue, one Woman's, one Teen's. Now Martha would be a Gracious Lady according to the twisted euphemisms of the time i.e. fat with a big bust, so the exact suit would be in a different section. Given that we are only looking at snippets of these catalogues, I reckon we'd find the actual suit in the full version. And this was enough to confirm my suspicions about the style of the suit.
The other exciting thing about this is that it also confirms my suspicions about Martha - who would have been just the kind of person to order something from Sears, and choose the only one with a touch of bling!
It answered the questions: sparkly things are nailheads on the Woman's and  sequins on the Teen's. The Woman's comes in black with silver, moss green with gold and grey with silver. No intel on the squiggly thing but that's OK as it won't 'read' on stage anyway.
So, here's my 'take' on it, close up.

Nailheads replaced with an attainable solution - square silver sequins secured with a silver bead (Thank you to the Embroidenator for sewing them on! xo) Squiggle is enlarged and done in silver soutache/russian braid, with assistance from my 12 year old stepdaughter Amelia, who patiently sat and sewed all the points down for me! She is amazing! The suit is of a credible viscose crepe in very dark, navy blue, in keeping with my ban on black.

And here is Bryony again in the almost completed suit. The skirt is slightly A line, the peplum is a quarter circle that tapers so a point at the back. All credible elements based on the catalogue.

Now of course this is a perfect example of how stage and reality/accuracy are strange bedfellows. The lines, cut, drape and external finishing of the suit are all in keeping with the time. The elements are enlarged so as to read on stage, but they are executed carefully and are still in keeping with the time. Sequins and soutache are perfectly acceptable 1949 elements. I COULD have gone hunting for the exact suit, and if anyone has a link to it, I'd love to see it, but I had enough to work with. I wonder how Sears felt about their garment being so widely published on the most notorious murderer of the century so far...
Now onto the next challenges :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

First batch of costumes almost done!

Well guess what I've been up to! Costumes all the way. Ably and gratefully helped by Madame Ornata and The Dreamstress who are as talented a duo as a girl could ever hope to know :)
Publicity photos done. Cringeworthy lack of styling in them and many pins were involved as nothing has a zip in it, but here we go!
Surreal photo of daughter and mother, Rainelle and Delphine (Natasha McAllister and Emma Kinane). Petticoat malfunction! Gorgeous navy spotted suit borrowed from a local theatre company, hideous and fabulous Shirley Temple dress by moi. Needs a navy sash, not a fab but wrong improv belt!

Posing as if mid their tap routine. Are they cutesy enough? that was the idea! :)

Bryony Skillington who plays Martha the lead and Michael Nicholas Williams, the genius behind the show (and the piano!) Martha's suit is going to get its own post next, it is very exciting!
The hat will also get its own post soon. But I don't think she'll be wearing it. She is just so gosh darn cute in it, which is not what we want! So it will end up with the spotty number Emma is wearing and I'm making her a plainer one. Bryony is a dream to sew for, everything looks amazing on her, which is kind of tricky when I'm meant to be making her look frumpy. Hrmph! The sign is for Bats Theatre, which I used to practically live in nearly 30 years ago. (Really? Yup!) It is famous right now for having been bought by Peter Jackson to ensure it has a future. Will he come see it? Will he fall for my costumes and offer me his next movie? Will Frodo marry me and have my children?! hehehe.

Ensemble shot. From left Nick Purdie (improv waiter outfit) Natasha, Bryony in another costume, Emma and Nick Dunbar in the right suit and the wrong shirt and tie. Michael looking perfect (Lucky Emma; she's  married to him!)
The lovely couple. In the background just above them is Eleanor the Producer and the beshorted gentleman is Jeff Kingsford-Brown the Director. There's plenty more coming but not together yet. I am so excited!!!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Apron giveaway - and the winner is...

I entered the number of posts, let it select a number, then went back and counted down to the fifth post, and it was...
Sew 18th Century!!
Email me your postal address, poppet, and I'll get it in the post. I may have to add a picture of that quilt with your repro fabric in it from the V&A too! :) maryannec(at)xtra(dot)co(dot)nz
I will have to do this again soon, once the pressure to make another apron mounts up to action point. But that will be after my Lonely Heart project is done and dusted....

How sewists go camping

Every year my extended family gathers at a camping place that allows us to tent, caravan or live in actual buildings according to each nuclear family's wont. I'm an actual building person, for the record.
Among those present every summer are my mother and sister, devoted sewists like myself, and early on we twigged to a simple idea - we love to sew, so let's sew while camping! And so we take over a corner of the mostly unused communal dining room, and do just that.
 The dining room. 1960's charm all round!
 A long shot of the interior for context. The new chairs are really comfortable. Good solid formica tables keep the machines steady too. And lots and lots of room to cut things out!
A close up of our corner. Stupidly, I only thought to take the photo AFTER I packed my machine away but my sister's is under that rather racy black and white cloth.  We are in the far corner by the servery only because there is a power point there, the light is good and the sun doesn't beat on us through the windows.
On the afternoon of NYE when it rained the dining room was humming with people - jigsaws, knitting, having a good old chat, or in a few cases bent over laptops working, playing or surfing.
We have often been teased for bringing all of this kit to camp with us (it takes two trips from home to get everythign there but it is only an hour each way) but as often as not the teaser when teased back, confesses to piles of recreational equipment from golf clubs, fishing stuff, even a waterski once! So what the heck is the difference, we have to ask ourselves!