Thursday, July 17, 2014

Creating Armour

  My working life is never boring due to the fact that I may be called upon to make almost anything in any given season, and the only common denominator is menswear. Usually that means tailoring which I love to do, but at other times it could be spandex bodysuits or togas, or what I was doing last week, which was armour.
We needed Roman style armour to go with the togas and chitons required in one of the shows I have been assigned. We had some in stock but all in big sizes and not in great shape, or the right colour of leather for the designer.
So I took a look at what we had and drafted up a set of armour in a smaller size.
I started with a general fit using a very heavy denim fused with canvas, tweaked that a bit and moved onto a set in 5mm thick industrial felt, fit that and then tweaked the pattern a bit more before it was cut in leather.

This is the armour in water buffalo hide, in an unfinished state.
The fronts are quick changed in advance so that you can adjust the fit slightly with the straps but the strap mechanism then snaps over so the buckles do not have to be undone to get in and out of it.
The shoulder pieces still need to be riveted down to the body and we need to attach a d-ring on the shoulders for the capes to attach. The designer was contemplating adding a removable apron front, so that may still need to be worked out.

There is a lot of hardware involved- close to 220 rivets per set, 8 sets of buckles, 20 D-rings, 8 sets of snaps, its a lot of hammering.
The backs are adjustable by lacing tighter or looser, so these should fit  quite a few of our guys.

This was a fun project to do, and something that comes along only once in a while, but it certainly keeps things interesting.

They will also be a welcome addition to our stock for future use.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Something old....

I have to tell you that the availability and affordability of trim for period garments seems to be getting worse with every passing year.
We still have a lot of trim in stock but it is old stock, purchased by the 50 m and 100 m rolls many years ago.

Within this cache is a stash of really old trim. I think it must have been a donation many moons ago. Probably 1920's vintage, and we have scads of it in both silver and gold. We have it in widths from 1/4" to over 2" wide, and it is so pretty with its label and the black paper that separates the layers.

I have always loved this trim, as have many designers over the years.

Sadly, the silver trim is a little less stable and we no longer use it on costumes as it doesn't withstand the wear and tear and cleaning, but the gold has been pulled out to be used on a costume we are making. 

It is a bit finicky to put on and doesn't bend around corners very well, but I think Susy has done a fabulous job with it.
Oh in case you were wondering- this is a view of the back hip area of an eighteenth century coat we are making.
Here's the coat in progress. I still have to do some alterations and correct the sleeves, and the collar is just a basted idea at this stage, but it is coming along.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Layers and things that are hardly seen

I was looking through some of the work photos I have taken this year, and it struck me that some things which we make just kind of get lost in the final look. I know they are there, but overall they seem a bit lost to an audience. I like to think they would be missed if they weren't there. :)
Actually I know that is true!

so here are a few shots to illustrate....

Here's the final look, but what is under that big square cut robe and chain of office?

A silk sash, with a nice fringe and trim detail.

The blue velvet sleeveless gown and belt under the sash.

The doublet and ruff worn under the blue velvet.

There is also a pair of suede breeches, which didn't make it into my camera, but are indeed worn under the blue velvet gown.

Many layers indeed, and quite a task to wear and perform in under the hot stage lights in the middle of summer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

prom dress wrap up

To wrap up the prom dress saga, here's a rundown of the finishing process.
Once I had the skirt attached to the bodice, I turned the CB allowance on the bodice to the inside and cross stitched it down.
I sewed a hook and loop at the top and basted a zipper in place. I then pick stitched the zipper in.

Then I made a belt out of the bias lame that I had fused with wool fuse. I didn't want it to lose its shape so I sewed in a piece of grosgrain. I stitched it by machine on one side and cross stitched the other side down and finished the inside with a piece of ribbon to cover the gap. It had two hooks and loops sewn on the ends to close it, and it was tacked to the dress waist by hand at the back and sides. I tacked it at the CF too but not quite in the right place as I noticed it pulled a little when she had it on. Oh well....

I stitched the bias straps in place by hand, picking through about an 1/8th of an inch from the bodice edge.

Last but not least I made a bow tie. How could I refuse at this point?

Why blue? Two dresses. I made two dresses for two different proms. Can't believe I did that!

But here's a crazy story... I took the blue fabric scrap to work so I could fuse some interfacing on it. I did it at lunch. Every one had left the room and I had just finished pressing 3 metres of muslin for a toile. I got the fabric and interfacing ready on the ironing table and walked away for a minute to check something else, and when I returned I took the iron and put it on the fabric and it melted right through the interfacing and poly stain. I mean melted it leaving an iron shaped hole in the fabric and a melted crust of blue polyester satin in an iron shape on the iron table cover. I have never experienced this before. The iron thermostat had gone haywire and overheated. I took some hot iron cleaner and tried to clean the sole plate and it boiled.
Good thing it wasn't the dress!!!!
Luckily I had another scrap of fabric.

Finally, two dresses, one happy girl, one exhausted mother (awake til she got home, hello 3am).

I really meant to be more diligent with documenting the process, but you know, I think I would still be stitching them if I had.

Now somebody has to get out and cut the weeds grass in the yard! The things that get neglected while sewing after work.

Now back to the usual fare here. I have some 18th century and Roman costumes to do!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Prom dress update- almost done

Well, like many projects, I had the best intentions of documenting the complete process, and then reality took over as I was sewing after work and at home and before I knew it, I realized I hadn't taken as many pictures of the process as I had envisioned. At least the dresses were finished on time!
Here's a little summary:

The chiffon over skirt was pleated up and I hand basted the pleats first then I ran a line of machine stitching on that line as well as a half an inch both above and below before trimming away some of the excess fabric. I figured that I wouldn't be lucky enough to not have to adjust the length so these lines of stitching kept everything together when the time came to adjust the length. I basted the chiffon skirt to the underlayer at the waist and pinned it to the bodice on a dress stand to check the hem, and sure enough, I needed to make a little adjustment on the sides, so I unpicked the basting bit by bit and repinned until everything looked good and then I rebasted the waist of the skirts.
You can see the amount I adjusted at the sides in this picture.
The bodice is two layers of polyester white satin. Certainly not the most forgiving fabric. That being said this is a dress that likely will be worn once, so no point in bemoaning the fact that it is what it is.
I marked out each piece separately for both the under and overlayer.
I used the seam allowances of the underlayer to create bone channels for the plastic boning. The only seam allowance that gave me trouble was the front panel over the bust. This fabric doesn't take well to being eased and as the edge of the 1/2" wide  seam allowance is slightly longer than the seam it is a part of, it rippled a bit when making the bone casing. It wouldn't press out well either, so if I did it again, (which I did in the second dress) I would make a separate bone casing for that particular bone and then the seam allowance can be trimmed down and made to behave.

I also made sure to machine stitch the top edge and waist line of each of the pieces for the inner layer. This shows me the pattern line, but more importantly, stays the areas of the bodice that are a bit on the bias, such as the side front panel at the top edge. I checked the measurements of the pieces against the pattern after this. That side front panel had stretched out ever so slightly so I used that stay stitch to ease the edge back to its correct size.

I then sewed the top layer of satin just on the outer edge of my pattern lines to allow a smidgen of ease.
Place the bodice right sides together and bagged out the upper edge, pressed, under stitched and trimmed the seam allowance down. Then I basted along the upper edge to hold the fabrics as one and smoothed everything in place before basting the layers together at the waist, and then serging the raw edge of the waist and CB seam allowances.

Once the bodice was prepared, I worked on the pleated overlayer. I used a bias strip rather than the shaped piece in my original plan (thanks again to colleagues!). The bias can mold around the body and a bonus was that the tension on the bias piece made the front area stand up vertically and the rest of the strap laid flat! I also could make length/tension adjustments easily!
I fused the lame with a piece of wool fuse which is a soft spongy fusible I had on hand.
 I had this prepared and prefit from an earlier fitting,
so I stitched the top edge of the pleated net to the lame and then arranged the pleating at the waist. Baste the layers together at the waist,  then baste the skirts on and fit to check.

Everything seemed fine! so I finally machined bodice to skirt, and trimmed the excess seam allowances down.

The worst was over!

next up will be all the finishing details.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The finished cape

I don't want to neglect the fact that I have had other work to do- its not all prom dresses here. I confess though to making my daughter two dresses! There I said it. Call me crazy, but the deal was the second dress had to use some of the original fabric and the same bodice fabric and shape..
Anyway....more on that later.

Earlier, I had posted about the very large red velveteen cape here but I haven't followed up yet with how it turned out.

So first, the finished item front and back.

The designer had the crowns embroidered onto the off cuts of the velveteen. Once they came back from the embroidery place, they had a fusible backing applied to them. In the best of all worlds with no budgetary constraints we would have liked to sew them on by hand, but in reality, we couldn't do that, so our decorating department did a test using a paper backed fusible- and it worked, so they were fused and then they were individually cut out and trimmed to shape.

We had a fitting with the full costume and the cape to determine the hem length (the front length is important to get right) - we don't want to trip up our actors! The actor did a bit of movement in it, at which point we decided that it needed to have a harness inside to stay put. We took it back to the table, removed the lining which had been basted in for the fitting, made a neckline correction, and then prepared to hem the beast. 
I knew the cape had to have a closed lining, which means hand sewing the lining hem to the velveteen, but hemming the velveteen by hand seemed like both a daunting task and perhaps not a strong enough technique. We have a semi industrial Bernina that does a blind hem stitch, so the velvet hem allowance was trimmed to one inch and hand basted in place to prep for the blind hemming. It worked like a dream and was pretty much invisible. That process alone trimmed hours off the time. 

Once the hem was done, off it went to the designer, who, with her assistant, laid it out first on the floor to place the crowns, then put it on a stand and tweaked the placement until she was happy with it. 

The next stage went to the decorating department, and they carefully fused each crown using a velvet press cloth to minimize any chance of crushing the surrounding velveteen.

Then it came back to us. 
It was laid out again on a big table for the lining to be basted back in. Each step needs to be checked, so back it went onto the stand to make sure the lining wasn't pulling anywhere, then back to the table to be hand sewn along the front edges, neckline and hem.

Not quite done yet! 
The last stages were to make a harness, and cover the harness in the same fabric as the doublet. The harness was then hand stitched to the cape  from the back neck to just in front of the shoulders. 
Last but not least, the front corners of the cape needed to attach to the doublet and look like it just sits there magically. A couple of hooks and snaps took care of that and then we were finished.

All done and happy with it. 
Now do I keep the pattern for it, or not? Maybe the half muslin would be easier to store.....hmmm.....

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The fabric I fear....

Well, I am a tailor for a reason.
I like like wool. I like fabrics with some body that don't slide off the table if you look sideways at them. So I was a bit apprehensive about sewing the chiffon of the prom dress.
So what happens often with the thing you fear the most is that it turns out to be not a problem at all, and so it went with the chiffon.
OK, the seams were straight grain which helps.

First thing I did was pull a thread to determine the vertical cut I was going to make. Then I measured the amount I needed plus an allowance for french seams, pulled another thread and cut.
Then I had to unpick some of the flowers so I had a clear area to seam the skirt.
I did a french seam.

Once that was done, I marked a hem line on the underskirt as well as the chiffon layer and basted it in preparation for a bridal hem. (the chiffon was done on the straight grain so I didn't baste, just marked and pinned)

I am not sure whether this is a common technique anymore now that sergers are in widespread use. My colleagues offered two options of the same finish. One uses a narrow zig and the other a straight stitch. I chose the straight stitch version.

The technique in a nutshell: you turn up the hem allowance so the fold is about 1/8" below the hemline you want, then either zig or straight stitch through two layers on your basted line. Carefully trim away the excess hem allowance, right close to the stitch line you just did.
Now turn that folded edge up and stitch through the layers again, encasing the raw edge beside your first line of stitching.
It looks like this when it is done.
No lengthening after this so be sure that it is the hem length desired.

Oh, you need small sharp scissors (not like the ones in the photo) to trim close to your first line of stitching, and always go slowly and carefully when trimming!

Did I mention that the chiffon wasn't a problem?
I decided to pleat the waist rather than gather it, and up to this point it was all fine and dandy. I was feeling great until I started to pleat. It was like trying to corral a herd of cats.
That took some time (much longer than I planned as I did it twice), and a bit of cursing and required wine afterwards.