Sunday, February 26, 2017

fitting and pattern alterations

One of the more challenging aspects of my job is drafting patterns to fit a variety of body shapes and fitting them to the individual.

Over the years you realize that almost no one is symmetrical, but some people are less symmetrical than others, sometimes from their occupation, sometimes from bad posture or habits (like carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder for years) some from injuries or occasionally a medical condition.

This week I fit a mock up suit on an actor/dancer who has scoliosis.

I had not measured him myself nor had I fit him before, so I drafted up a jacket and trousers to his basic measurements making no special pre-adjustments, figuring I would do that in the fitting.
Here is a photo of the my fitting adjustments.



I pinned out across his back as the left side is quite dropped, and on his right, I just cut the toile open over his blade.
(a good reason to make a muslin because you can cut it open rather than guess how much to add, and you can draw on it! )

Here is a look at it on a stand.

So, what to do?
First, I let it sit for a while, getting on with some other things which gave me a bit of time to think about it all. Then I made copies of the original pattern so I had individual pieces for his right and his left sides. Two back two side panels and two fronts.

I altered the left side of the pattern for a severely dropped shoulder/side. This entailed cutting from the mid back and mid front, angling down to the side back and front panel seam and closing out a good 1.5 cm there. the side panel piece was similarly reduced. (I will refit and see if this was enough of a modification.)

On the right side, I cut open the pattern down over the blade to the waist line. I cut horizontally at the waist line allowing the panel to spread apart the amount that I determined it needed in the fitting.
This opens up the back shoulder of course, and creates a large dart.

Now, this is going to be a striped suit. 
I laid the back patterns out on the fabric and had a look at what my options were.
The lower portion of backs need to be parallel, and could be, no problem. The CB at the neck needs to end up mid stripe or give that impression as well. I knew I might have to modify the dart placement to be as discreet as possible. 
I was not sure how this would look, but I chalked it out and pinned it up and I think it looks pretty good. At the neck, the left back ends up on a red stripe and the right back ends up with a full blue stripe! Win, win situation there! I did modify the dart placement slightly and I hope it becomes less noticeable once it is sewn
I am hoping that this does the trick, but I expect to have to tweak things a little bit more with some light padding here and there so I have my fingers crossed and onwards we go. The fronts need a bit of modification as well, but minor compared to the back so we will put the shell of this together and see what else needs to be done.




Monday, February 20, 2017

Catching up!

I feel as though I blinked and suddenly we have gone from December to mid February in a flash!

I hate to keep saying the same thing but it has been really busy in my world.
I took on a project that was late in starting, but I felt that we could pull it off.
I had people in place, the fabrics arrived just before the Christmas holiday started, I made some patterns then I came down with the flu.
I put everyone off for a few days, while I lay in bed feverish. Once my fever broke, I dragged myself to the studio to cut so we could be prepared for fittings the next week. What a hellish thing the flu is.

Well now that project is over, I have been back at my main job for a month now- and I waved goodbye to that project on Saturday.


One more project to be delivered - a ballet costume-  and I will be down to a single job and I can't tell you how good that feels.




Here is my Ballet coat.
I sent it in with a colleague for a fitting as I was otherwise unavailable on that day. Little did I know that the dancer I cut it for was injured and another dancer showed up to be fit. Luckily, they were quite similar in size!
There were a few changes that the designer (Colin Richmond)made, as you can see- shortening the hem, lengthening the sleeves, and he took it in quite a bit through the body- I had cut it with a lot more ease and had the skirts flared from a higher position on the body. The roll line was moved up and the collar reduced in proportions.
He added fur cuffs and a back belt.
Generally though, not too bad for a first fit in fabric.

Now it is boxed up ready to be delivered! I hope I get to go in and see the dress rehearsal, the show looks amazing from the sketches I have seen and the promo videos. The ballet wardrobe is one of my favourite wardrobes and everyone there deserves huge credit for their beautiful work!!



Next up in my world are productions of Guys and Dolls and HMS Pinafore! Two musicals that I have a great fondness for. I also have a 12th night that I will be working on so that should keep me busy!
Hopefully I will find more time to blog about them than I have recently.


Oh!
I also added something useful to the studio....
I have been on the lookout for a larger sized male judy, and found one last week on an online sales site. I didn't really need a full body judy, but he is a beauty! The price was well within my range and I just couldn't pass it up. It is a 42 young men's size which is great as the torso is longer- more proportional- to someone 6 feet tall, which is so much better than the standard 5'8" models.

Back to work tomorrow.






Sunday, December 18, 2016

padding up!

I thought there was an extra week in November and I was really disappointed to find out I was wrong!
I have been very busy and the phone has been ringing off the hook, in fact I turned down a project because I just couldn't add one more thing to the list. Anyway, I am trying to keep up with blogging.

So,  I recently made a toile for an opera costume and fit it. It is quite a challenge to fit disproportionately larger body types for a number of reasons. One is that people do not get larger with any kind of controlled change. Each person gets larger in their own unique way.
I have to rely less on standards and more on modifying my basic drafting to interpreting the person's
shape from photos that are provided. One other challenge is the pattern shapes change in ways that you may not be used to: the pattern no longer looks proportional. I often find too, that men's wear gets a bit more challenging because there are fewer accepted style lines and darts than in women's wear.

This project reminded me of something I made earlier this year: a body padding for Falstaff.
It is never easy to make a body padding nor to wear one.
The actor and designer had a definite take on the shape they were after, and what they didn't want, and it was my job to create something. (in much too short a time, I may add)

They wanted a more realistic take on what had been done here in the past.
Right.

What has been done in the past? Well, everything from layers of batting hand stitched layer upon layer to an inner base, which could be as simple as a t-shirt with a small "belly" added, to a full unitard with combinations of rigilene frameworks and small crescent shaped bags of Lycra filled with styrene or plastic beads.

They wanted the padding to act like real flesh, compressible to an extent and be more realistic looking.
OK.

I decided to try to work with memory foam. I had never worked with it before and we had a difficult time sourcing what we needed in a short time frame.
I wish I had taken photos of the whole process, but it was so busy and this show had a very "organic" approach to it, that I barely had time to think at all. Sigh.

I started with a base of fine power net/Lycra.I knew I was going to have to build up the arms and legs, so I made a pattern for a close fitting bodice and a shorts. This way I had a waist seam where I could adjust the fit if needed.  I fit the base on the actor first. In the fitting the designer and I drew on it indicating key areas that I could reference once I was back at my table. I took quite a few measurements as well, and we tried to establish a final chest and waist size to aim for.

I returned to my room and then adjusted a stand to be more like his natural shape so that we had a reference point from which to build on. This was so important because we couldn't be making major changes in the actual fittings with the actor.

I began with my own sketch of a body shape, and figured out what attributes of that shape I could try to reproduce. I have to say that this is where my early training in life drawing painting and sculpture comes in handy.
I started with the belly, using some air conditioner foam to build up a bit of solid understrucure.
I then built up and created rolls of fleshy areas with memory foam. We punched holes in the foam wherever possible to allow a bit of air flow through to his body.  These areas of foam often consisted of two or three layers or blocks of foam that had a larger piece laid over top and wrapped to create three dimensions. We glued the under blocks in place as well as the wrapped edges with plain old white glue which seemed to do the best job of the many glues we tried.
Those foam shapes were then were covered in another lightweight power net/Lycra which gave  us the means to attach the rolls to the base layer or to another roll. The pieces were kept separate to simulate how I thought real flesh would behave. So, there is an overhang/apron of foam in the abdomen and another at the waist. this allowed the actor to wear his trousers waist up under the belly roll if he wanted.  The chest padding was separate as was the shoulder blade area. The arms and legs and seat were also padded up.
It took a lot of time to figure out and make, as I was also busy with the rest of the show and finishing up the previous shows. We proceeded in stages, I would figure out a shape, hand it off to Karen to glue and cover. Sometimes the shape is not quite right and we had to modify the chest by adding in a piece of foam covered separately, as we didn't have time to re cut and recover that section.

Once the padding was finished, we could then start on the clothes.
I confess that I just draped the clothes right on the stand rather than try to draft and work it out as a flat pattern. Draping just seemed more immediate and time was of the essence by then.
I found out in a fitting after it was finished that they wanted him to appear in a set of long underwear over this padding and I just about fainted! I mean the foam we were able to get was green and pale blue, and what was that going to look like? would it show through? Could we get long underwear on short notice that covered the padding properly? Of course we ended up making a set of long johns and Henley.  At that point the actor wanted some "anatomy" made for realism's sake, which needed to be removed at one point (they gave him tight jeans to wear at one point and there wasn't enough room) so we made him a "package" using the Lycra and styrene beads, and it was a complicated bit of business figuring out how to make that work.
Oh our work is never dull, I tell you!



Sunday, November 20, 2016

waistcoats on the bias

I am making some suits for a show and the designer has designed the waistcoats to be cut on the bias.
OK, I think- or rather I didn't really think about it much at first- no problem.

I know it isn't really an impossible task, but it is time consuming and it is always hard to judge how much more time consuming until you are in the midst of it.... So lets break it down.

The basics:
Firstly- the design is a 1930's double breasted waistcoat with a laid on collar/lapel.
The cloth is a windowpane check. White on black. The windowpanes are rectangles not square.

Challenge: Bias- it stretches, so it needs control.
Solution: fuse straight grain fusible interfacing onto bias fabric.

Challenge: the true bias on a pattern with rectangles gives no happy visual location for the CF line.
Solution: draw a line through the corners of the rectangles and use that as a CF line, so it is not on the true bias.

Challenge: a traditional vertical dart in front will not be a good choice as it will distort the look of the "bias"
Solution: close out the front dart and transfer it to the neckline where it will eventually be covered by the collar.

Challenge: which grain to cut the collar? With the neckline dart, the laid on collar will never be able to match the fabric of the body. It can only match up to the dart, the worry is that it will just look like a mistake.
Solution: cut the collar/lapel so it is a contrast grain so the windowpane contrasts with the body- make a detail out of it.

Challenge: applying the fusible to the wool, making sure the right and left fronts are mirror images. dealing with shrinkage that comes with fusing.
Solution: Use a fusible that is somewhat translucent so I can see the windowpanes through it.
Draw out the pattern pieces on the fusible giving a clear CF line.
Block out the fabric in a single layer at the ironing table using a metre stick and a square, so the windowpanes stay square and true.
Chalk the pattern pieces onto the wool. including a clear CF placement line.
Apply the fusible to the wool carefully maintaining the alignment of CFs and overall placement.
Fuse one front, re block wool, chalk other front, and repeat making sure the alignment of the other front is a mirror image of the first.

At this point, the pieces are rough cut and I have to take them back to the table and check and redraw the pattern, because fusing always shrinks slightly.

Do the same process for the lapel/collar pieces.

Repeat for the second vest which must match the first.



This is the idea, partially done and placed roughly in position. We are going to put the welt pockets on the straight grain to match the lapels.

I think it will look very striking once it is finished, but oh boy it took a lot of time to get them cut out!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Dear dear Desmond

I first met Desmond Heeley in 1986. I was a new stitcher, and I was in my third professional job contract, working at The National Ballet of Canada on his production of the Merry Widow.
I was gathering strips of different colour fabrics for the underskirts of the Can Can dancers. Miles of them, tying off the gathering thread on the door knob of the wardrobe workroom and standing at the other end of the long hallway, pulling, ruching.
Anyway, one evening after my cutter and I had worked some overtime, we exited the building at the same time as Desmond, and him, desiring some company, gathered the both of us up and took us to dinner next door at a very expensive restaurant. I sat there completely out of my element, enthralled and quite speechless at finding myself in this position.
I realized yesterday at his memorial that he was the age I am now when we first met -isn't that funny- and I had no idea at that time that he would have a great influence on my future development as a cutter and that I would have the very great fortune of knowing him just a little.

There have been so many people that he worked with in the early days and became his "family" and so many stories told by him, told about him, stories of the development of theatre in this country, the crazy things they did for the love of their craft and of each other. I wish, and not for the first time in my life, that I had been born a little earlier, to have been able to know some people a bit more fully.
He gathered people to him, and he treated you as if you were the most important person in the world to him, his letters were the most vividly described, his interest and emotion so genuine.

I discovered quite by accident his mentor, Oliver Messel, when I read an article in an architectural magazine about homes built on the island of Mustique by a man who had been a theatre designer- and the accompanying images made me think of Desmond. When I asked him about it he told me that Messel was indeed his mentor, and later sent me, in a letter, a photocopy of a design of a spray of roses by Rex Whistler for the ballet Spectre of the Roses (Sadlers Wells) - just before WWII- great hero of mine, killed on the last day. a postscript to check him out online and another notation * He, Tanya & Oliver Messel my idols.

We shared a a love of Gilbert and Sullivan and Desmond sent me a few things over the years- a little book he found, a postcard, but by far the most amazing and generous was a sketch he made of the Fairy Queen in Iolanthe for the G&S society in New York and I am going to transcribe the exuberant handwritten note that came with it.

p.s. Am not quite sure that this is the sort of sketch one hangs  BUT I thought it might make you smile- (and help G&S along) -
In the '60's I designed Iolanthe for Sadlers Wells opera- the first production away from the copyright (much concern from the diehards!) and a few sniffy folks at the Opera who thought that G&S was beneath them.
it was a huge success---this costume for the Fairy Queen was for a lady- named Heather Beggs- almost  six feet tall--glorious voice & great style--at the end of the piece, "Up in the air sky high--" we actually flew her in a chariot made of Giant roses & pulled by two vast butterflies!---- two baby paniers spangled crin overskirt, (silver & gold brocade under!)-- the "ermine" was swansdown with black coque feathers----and the centre panel "chunky" leaves, roses, with a gauze layer on top!----
 This sketch is a recreation done for the G&S Society here in NY

signed with a heart with an arrow through it,
 Des



Thursday, November 3, 2016

mid 1950's references

I posted photos of the mid 1950's jackets that I recently made, and I thought it might be interesting to show some of the references I used to make my patterns.

There were the sketches and visual reference provided by the designer, but I like to research a bit more in order to make the patterns. I like to look at various drafts of the period I am trying to recreate but I don't actually use them because I don't have time to find out if they do or don't work on someone else's dime. I use my basic drafting set up and modify from there for fit and style.

I have a small collection of reference materials to use, and here are a few things that helped me.
I have had some opportunity to make 1950's  suits before but I think I really was not successful in getting the silhouette right. I was determined to do better this time.

One thing I found was a chart showing proportionate back widths for jackets- you can see they offered three distinct widths for each chest size, depending on the style of jacket the customer wanted-
1. regular
2. modified drape or wide shouldered young men's
3. drape coats or lounge coats


You can see that for a size 38 the back width could be between 8 1/8 inches  and 8 3/4 inches

Compare that to the standard proportion of  approx 7 1/2 inches for a size 38 across back.

























We wanted a more extremely young men's shape for these jackets and in looking at some of the period photos of these musicians, and other people of the period, the jackets were quite roomy, boxy and slightly oversized, and long. The waist shaping was minimal, the visual waistline was lower than the natural waist and the hip was quite slim. The shoulders were wide and quite square, buttoning point was lower, hence longer lapels, and pocket placement was lower as well.





These pages give an indication of the body silhouette, shoulder width, waist shaping, and overall jacket length.

These jackets were for young men so you can see that the studio style is longer, has lower set pockets and less waist shaping.

The length for someone 5'10" is 32".

Suit drafting uses a formula to determine length and a basic jacket length calculation is half height minus something- minus 4 inches or 1/2 h minus 1/16 of height.
If the actor is 5'10" (70") /2 = 35 minus 4= 31 inches
in metric which I prefer to use
178cm/2 = 89 minus 11.125cm = 78cm (30 3/4")

So these jackets are longer than that.
for 5'10" 70/2 = 35 inches so 35 -3 would give us a 32" length.
for 6'2"   74/2 =37 inches so 37-3 = 34 length



I started then with this information in hand, set up my drafting as I usually do, and made modifications until I though I had a good idea of where I was going.
I then cut out a half jacket in some cotton I had and put it on my stand. I photographed that and sent it to the designer for his input.
Once that was done, I took an idea from my colleague Evan and I drafted in half scale to show the changes and modifications to my basic draft. This is what I then referenced in making the subsequent drafts for the other jackets.
That half scale draft is now tucked away in my files for future reference.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

losses and carrying on

Six months since I last posted.,
2016 has turned out to be so very trying, in so many ways and I am hoping it will come around and settle down a bit. This I wrote a few of months ago, and it still hasn't settled down. Now I am looking for the end of the year to close this chapter.

I/We have lost so many people, friends, colleagues, mentors, individuals who have connected the past of our profession to the present and future that it seems overwhelming.
I started to list them and I had to stop.

Carrying on is what we have to do and in that spirit we continue on.

The studio is up and functioning, and I am hoping that the scent of scented candles will eventually go away in time. (this sentence brought to you from the department of redundancy department)
I am putting my hopes in time and Febreze unscented. It has been an enjoyable space to work in so far. The cats from the other space have been brought over and they are doing their job, keeping those pesky mice at bay. Jay's kiln is wired in and he is producing his beautiful work again. Andy and Rob are still organizing the wood and machinery and before getting back into the swing of things making cutting boards and such, they are building some very nice feral cat winter shelters.

I finished a project for a client that I felt was a bit of an experiment, making a suit long distance and doing the fitting over Skype. I am happy to say that it worked out quite well which is a relief for me. Here is the jacket in process. Silvia did a fabulous job with it, and I made the trousers and waistcoat.


The first studio project though was something sparkly, four jackets for Million Dollar Quartet. I usually do projects that allow for me to fit the actors but this time it was long distance and we did it with measurements and photos and a couple of cross your fingers and hope it all works out. Which they did, so a win win for all of us. Design: Cory Sincennes for the Citadel Theatre, Edmonton Alberta



Poor Elvis, I don't think I got a finished shot of that jacket. :(

I have a few more projects coming up and some pictures of some work that happened over the past six months. I also want to give some thought and discussion about training new tailor/cutters which is a topic that will be very pertinent in the near future.