Friday, February 27, 2009

sleeves and gussets

More about sleeves.
Have you ever noticed that a poor guy wearing his suit cannot lift his arm up without the sleeve cutting into his upper arm and then dragging the whole jacket up too?
Well maybe it's not one of your everyday things to notice, but take a look sometime at how restricting a modern jacket is.

The armholes are cut really low for one thing and the sleeves have a very high depth of crown.
This combination conspires to constrict.

The worst time we have is when commercial jackets are purchased- especially for a dance show - and then we get the lovely job of trying to do something about the restrictive fitting of the sleeves.Yuck! We usually end up cutting a separate gusset and then opening up the underarm to sew it in. Tedious work to be sure. (It usually entails cutting up a spare jacket too!)
When we need to have movement in a suit sleeve we are more likely to construct a "grown-on" gusset sleeve like the pattern in the picture above. Along with a higher cut armhole, this allows for raising your arm, yet for the most part when the arm is at rest in a natural position you don't notice it. The gusset starts on the top sleeve just about where the arm naturally meets the body, and continues on the undersleeve, eventually joining in along the original undersleeve line.
It looks strange but it works.

hurry up and wait

Well, it's hurry up and wait now. Everything for this show that I can cut out has been cut and I need fittings. I did some research and started working on some 1960's suits but since they are still in the making the pattern stage, I thought a picture of this doublet that is basted together and ready to fit would be nice to see.
The velveteen has a stitched pattern in the fabric which gives it a bit of textural interest. I'm sure that it will get trim, so it's a shell for now, until those decisions are made.
The sleeves will have buttons and buttonholes all up the forearm seam. The collar looks a little wonky right now, but there's a lot of seam allowance and stuff that will get trimmed away once we fit it.

This Wednesday, we did a web cast taping that included this velveteen doublet. I thought it would be up now but maybe they are still editing?
It's always interesting doing the web cast taping- it's like being in the hot seat. You never know what you will be asked!
At least it's not live.

A postscript: if you didn't get a chance to see the film of the production of Caesar and Cleopatra at a Cineplex this week, I believe that it will be airing on Bravo on April 4. It's worth seeing.
I think we did a good job with Mr.P's costumes- how we got it done was quite a journey and a story for later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Here's a work in progress.
One of the casaques we are making. The fabric was very wobbly, so it took a bit of careful handling to get it to behave. We used a nice solid wool to face back the button and buttonhole areas.
A casaque is a cape like garment that has "sleeve-like" sections that can be unbuttoned from the body proper and then buttoned to themselves to form sleeves as needed.
We've cheated a bit because we can, and this one wouldn't be able to form sleeves. The front sleeve section will always stay open and the back will remain closed.
All we need to do is have a final fitting and finish the hem, then it will go to breakdown for a bit of
graceful aging.
p.s. 97 buttons.

Monday, February 23, 2009

all over the map (or the years)

Every season is different regarding what I will get to work on, so I am lucky that my work days are always different and challenging.
Last season, I started with costumes for Taming of the Shrew set around 1600, Hamlet circa 1880 ish, Romeo and Juliet c.1500, then moved onto All's Well circa 1880 and finished up with Caesar and Cleopatra c.50 BC. That's quite a spread of time. We made plunderhose and doublets, trunkhose and doublets, suits, doublet and tights and capes, then uniforms and suits, and ended with leather britches, tunics and armour.

This season is shaping up to look like a bit of 1640 to 1660 (Charles I) musketeer inspired looks, the 1890's, and the 1960's. We may get a bit of 1740 (George II) if things progress as thought and then a bit of mystery something at the end in July and August. So far we've made doublets and breeches and capes and a couple of casaques as well as a couple of coats. Onward tomorrow to the 1890's and see how far I get. I have morning and frock coats, as well as trousers and waistcoats and a sack coat or two. Then I can switch gears to the 1960's when we get more info from our designer.
Never a dull moment!

photos from Stratford's All's Well, Taming of the Shrew, Caesar and Cleopatra, and All's Well

Friday, February 20, 2009


Sleeves are the bane of some people's existence, or maybe it's armholes.....
I find them fascinating-they can be many different shapes and they can be challenging or simple.
I have a number of drafting techniques I use for sleeves depending on the garment. These will be the sleeves for the doublet in the previous posts. I decided not to do a "period sleeve" per se, but adapt a general sleeve technique for my purpose. I started with drafting a one piece sleeve block, and I use the Natalie Bray basic technique for women's sleeves to do this.
(I generally tend to adapt patterning techniques to suit my purposes and generally, women's sleeve pattern basics and manipulations are what is required for many men's period sleeve shapes.)

Then I make a two piece sleeve from that. This gives me a front seam that is quite forward unlike a tailored suit sleeve which has the front seam lower or more under the arm.
This will be the sleeve base.

This is the "puff" and the lower forearm pattern that will go on top of the sleeve base. The upper section will gather or pleat into the lower close fitting section. This sleeve will be able to be buttoned closed from top to bottom along the front seam. In the sketch, the forearm section is closed and the puff is open to display the shirt underneath. Except that there is no shirt proper-I've been asked to fake the shirt underneath. OK. That just complicates things, but ok. There will also be a lace decorative cuff that will look as though it is a shirt cuff that turns up over the hem of the doublet sleeve.

The complications I can see are:
I think that I need the sleeve base to control the extra length that is gained in making the puff sleeve.
The forearm section is quite fitted, and will have to unbutton a bit for the actor to put his hand in and out
The decorative cuff doesn't open at the same place as the doublet sleeve.
The sleeve base also needs to undo for putting the garment on and off. I don't want it to fasten at the front because then there will be closures on top of closures.

The inner sleeve base could open at the back seam, and the decorative cuff could attach to it. Maybe.

I think we'll make it up in the real fabric leave lots of seam allowances in case of designer changes and see what transpires. I don't know if I've made it big enough, or if I've allowed enough extra length in the puff along the front seam either....
We'll see.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

First things first

First things first.
The sketch provided by the designer, along with some swatches of the fabrics chosen-I have made notes on the photocopy of the sketch that I keep in the show binder.

The next thing is to draft a pattern on brown paper. I realize that this is difficult to see well, but it gives a basic idea of what it looks like.

I am going to be cutting right into the fashion fabric as requested, so I will take my preliminary pattern, cut it out of muslin and pin baste it together to check the fit as well as design elements such as seam placements and proportion.
I have quickly added a bit of padding to the stand to more accurately reflect the person's body shape.
I change my seam lines if required, add the side skirt piece, keeping in mind the fullness of the breeches underneath, add a quick collar and have a look. Sometimes I like to draw in the trim and buttons very roughly just to see what it might look like and then I go back to the table with the muslin and change my pattern to reflect the changes I made on the dummy.
Next step:sleeves.

sketch/design:Santo Loquasto

Sunday, February 1, 2009

tailoring details

Well, I ran across a discussion thread regarding Mr. Obama's choice of clothing for his inauguration and the opinions of those who follow style and style etiquette. It's an interesting discussion and reflects the kind of details that we who create for the stage ponder all the time.

Menswear is rife with small details, width and shape of lapel, width of trouser leg, cuffs or plain bottoms, pleats or flat fronted trousers, the break of the trouser on the shoe, waistcoat or cummerbund, length and shape of the tails on a tail coat. White tie and a tuxedo jacket? Sorry Mr. Obama. I bet they have an advisor around the White House somewhere!
Our current formal wear has evolved over the past two hundred years, more or less, and it seems that its etiquette has settled into a set pattern-with occasional variations- by the early to mid 20th century. It's a beautiful look when done correctly, and I think that it is epitomised by stars like Cary Grant and Fred Astaire among others.

I doubt that most people ever think about things like this anymore, and just buy what is available and never even notice the style of, or the etiquette of, wearing certain garments. It's too bad, because then we are dependent on the whims of modern manufacturing styling (and bad fabric) Styling that comes from an attempt to save money instead of improving or exploring a design.
I don't know if you've seen the horrible tailcoat styling that has princess seams and no waist seam....ugly. That's all I can say.
Don't fix it if it's not broken