Adventures in MA Costume Design

Costume Construction, RWCMD

ID photoI probably should have mentioned earlier, but this year I’m undertaking in MA in Theatre Design at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. I had my interview back in May, and while I had a great time talking about my work, I walked out thinking there was no way they’d take me. My lack of formal art training seemed to be a real sticking point at the time – I guess it didn’t bother them too much since I received an unconditional offer about a month later.

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1940s Toile

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Right, so now we’re going back a bit to the beginning of our 1940s project. I had already found a brilliant Liberty silk that I knew I wanted to use for this project, so I chose my design with the fabric in mind. Not to mention the fact that by this point I was exhausted and wanted something I knew I could achieve in a week, e.g. no sleeves, no collar, no darts, no boning. I’d also never made anything really drape-y and flow-y before, so I wanted to try something new while I had the luxury of Pauline’s expert guidance.

This is what I arrived at:

The first step was to draft a pattern for the skirt, and then make that up into a toile to drape on the stand. I adapted the pattern from a similar skirt that I got out of an original 1940s pattern drafting book:

Instead of putting the funny bulge at the side front seams, we moved them to the side seams to create a drape over the hip. There wasn’t loads of fabric going spare, so I made a mini-skirt version to start with:

It took some trial and error, but eventually we arrived at a pattern that would do the job:

After the skirt pattern was sorted I moved onto the bodice. I decided I want a cowl back and again adapted a pattern from the magic 1940s book:

Again it took some trial and error, but we cracked it in the end. The front was essentially a basic bodice block that we allowed to hang loosely rather than put any darts in, and with most of the neckline cut down to create a sweetheart shape.

Once the patterns were finished, it was time to make a proper toile in a fabric similar to the silk. I had to make two toiles of the skirt: one cut on the bias and one cut on the straight, to see which would drape better. Initially we thought on the bias would be best, but then the drapes turned out a bit too floppy and saggy, so we decided to cut it on the straight.

To be fair, the fact that I put the bias-cut toile on the form without a bum probably didn’t do it any favors (right). Even so, cutting it on the straight was best because the real silk was a lot drapier than the toile fabric.

Here’s me in the toile for the fitting:

You’ll have to forgive the Christmas colors; there wasn’t enough of any one fabric to make it all one color. That also explains why the back of the skirt is longer than the front.

There was still a bit of tweaking to do on the front neckline, but eventually I arrived at this:

And that’s where I was by the end of our first 1940s week.

Next post, I’ll have pictures up of the dress in the proper fabric. Stay tuned!

Getting There

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I don’t really know where to start. Maybe with my calico fitting?

half dressed

bodice

We could also call this episode, “In Which We Discover a 23-inch Waist Is Only Possible for Ten Minutes, After Which Fainting Becomes Increasingly Probable.”

True, breathing was difficult, but for the first few minutes I thought I was just about managing to get enough oxygen. Then I told Pauline that my hands were tingling and was that normal, and she said no, that’s normal, do you need to sit down? And I said no I’m fine, so she carried on pinning and prodding until finally I said actually we need to take all this mess off and loosen the corset before I collapse, thanks very much.

Fortunately, everything still fit after letting the corset out to 24-and-a-half inches at the waist. Everything, that is, except the petticoat, which suddenly as it turns out needs the waistband taking off and the front pleats letting out. Le sigh.

So that was a few Fridays ago, and then the following Sunday it was off to London for fabric shopping. Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush, with its dozen fabric shops all up and down two blocks, is like a microcosm of LA’s garment district. It’s funny how one place can seem so like another despite their being 6,000 miles apart – I’d never been to Goldhawk Road before, but it felt familiar. It was nice.

We got back from London late on the Tuesday night, so Wednesday was a leisurely catch-up day which, for me, meant one thing: BUTTONS.

the finished product

More on that later.

Thursday that week was spent cutting out all the fabric, which was only a small nightmare when it came to the striped taffeta for my apron and bustle drape. I made the mistake of marking up my bodice fabric, because I had completely forgotten that we’re flat-lining all of it which meant I had marked up cotton. Oh well – I’m hoping once it’s all together you won’t notice the faint blue marks showing through. As we had staggered cutting out times and my slot had been Thursday, I had Friday off. I had taken home my combinations and breeches to finish off, so now those are done too! Huzzah!

And then Monday came (again, far more difficult after having two days in a row to sleep in), and it was time to make up the skirt. I thought it’d be an easy task since I didn’t have to make a new skirt – I just had to do the hem and put a placket on the calico skirt I wore for my fitting. Calico is fine, you see, because there’s a separate pleated panel going over it in the proper dress fabric – and there’s the rub.

Reasons Why Making a Pleated Over-Skirt Sucks
1. Having to handle ten meters of fabric at a time: five of the lining, five of the proper fabric
2. Having to flat-tack, by hand, five meters of fabric
3. Having to mark pleat lines down all five meters
4. Having to hem five meters
5. Having to pleat up five meters
6. Having to pin pleated panel accordingly and watch as all the pleats fall out

I’d say of all of those, #5 is the worst. I couldn’t press the pleats on the ironing board because the weight of the fabric just kept pulling the pleats flat. In the end, I moved the ironing board next to my side of the table, got an extension cord for the iron, and was on my hands and knees on the table top pressing my pleats. Sadly there are no photographs of the process, but here is the result:

Two days, right there.

Which the next day became this:

now we’re getting somewhere

Which the next day became this:

striped apron

And finally, this!

apron and bustle drape

I’m especially pleased with how symmetrical I managed to get the bustle-y bit at the back:

ahh, symmetry

Excuse me while I pat myself on the back.

Next week, the bodice. Bring it.

…And coming soon: My Own Mr. Darcy, Part 2!

Bustle, Bodice, & Buttons

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There’s nothing more debilitating than having a few days off. Going back to York on Monday, I had the same groggy feeling I get when I wake up exhausted after finally getting the sleep I thought I needed. I spent the whole day in a dozy fog that I couldn’t seem to snap out of. Fortunately it was a day spent drafting patterns for my bustle dress, so it wasn’t too demanding and I managed to not fall behind. Good start.

So, that was Monday. I spent all day Tuesday cutting out and making up the skirt and drape, and all day today draping the bodice. Here are the fruits of my labor:

foundation skirt

bustle apron back view

bustle apron front view

bustle apron and drape

draping on the stand

finalized bodice drape

So after I got to that stage at about 4.30 this afternoon, it was a mad rush to get the proper toile pieces all cut and sewn together. The goal was to be finished by 6; I left at 7.20. I think I made damn good time considering I am generally quite pernickity and slow when it comes to sewing, and these are all awkward curved seams.

Tomorrow it’s sleeves and decoration samples (in my case, a whole lot of box-pleating), and then it’s fittings on Friday!

And oh yes, I chose some buttons for my menswear! …Which, as it turns out, I only photographed with my phone and not my actual camera which means you’ll all see them later. But trust me, they are nice. We’re staying late tomorrow night so those of us who need to (i.e. me) can catch up on our buttons. Finally, I might be getting somewhere!

Jacket

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Today was all about the jacket.

I had my pattern drafted by lunchtime and got it all cut out in calico not long after that. Surprisingly, the sewing was pretty quick too. Here’s where I got to by the end of the day:

side view

front view

back view

For tomorrow’s fitting I’ll need to sew the shoulder seams, make up and tack on one sleeve, and make up and tack the collar. Oh, and thread-mark all the finish lines. And put the collar on that damn shirt. I’m pretty confident I’ll have enough time to do it all since the fitting isn’t until 5.30, but I might go in early just in case.

Did I mention that Ben Hull is my model? Conveniently for me, he is 5’10” with a 40″ chest and a 34″ waist – exactly the sizes that the basic patterns fit, which means I haven’t had to mess about making adjustments. Hooray! I mean sure, it would be good to learn how to adjust a pattern for size, but there’s plenty of time to do that later with garments for my petite frame.

This time tomorrow I’ll be sharing photos of Ben in breeches. Be excited.