February 28, 2015

YOHP: Where Danger & Hilarity Ensues

Writing about my portfolio the other day reminded me of the fun I had costuming the 2013 One Acts, directed by Missy Brewer, at the Penfield community theater through the Young Open & Honest Players.  It was a privilege to work with such talented people, especially our lovely director, and costume, all giggles and grins.  So, for today, past projects resumes with the periodesque piece, Actor's Nightmare:

Act I: Play Synopsis & Costume Plot

Throughout Actor's Nightmare, a disoriented George Spelvin, with no recollection of his identity or how he ended up at the theater, is told he must go on for one of the actors, who he supposedly understudied, injured in a car accident.  Cast into scenes from familiar plays,  George remains confused and unsure of his lines - the actors know him, but he clearly does not know them.  Danger and hilarity ensues.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer...

The disoriented actor, clothed in Shakespearean garb, is first cast into a scene from Private Lives.  Through the costume selection, I was hoping to add a sense of 1930s Hollywood glamour along with establishing the nightmarish color scheme -  black, white and red - representing blood and passion.

Next, George appears as Hamlet and is left to deliver a monologue where everything from Romeo & Juliet, to A Streetcar Named Desire, and to A Tale of Two Cities is quoted.  Hamlet, left, wears a purple striped doublet, symbolic of his princely status, while the loyal Horatio is on the right.

Both doublets were created from vests with ruffles, trim and velvet pieces added to make them look more Shakespearean.  Both velvet caps were made by me as well - just a large circles of velvet gathered and enclosed by a wide band. Curled plumes, a Chinese coin and beading were added for decoration.

Abruptly, the scene changes to Beckett Lighting as the still confused actor is told to climb into his trash can and count his blessings.  This costume was fun to pull together - especially the wig which I styled with a shower cap and curlers.

Finally, the play comes to an end in A Man for All Seasons.  And, well, you all know what happens...

A distraught Queen Gertrude.

Lady Alice from A Man for All Seasons.

The End.  Come again soon!

Act II:  A Closer Look at Two Costume Re-constructions

George Spelvin, the main character, needed Hamlet, Shakespearean attire.  He remains on stage for a majority of the play - therefore, I wanted to make his costume both attention-grabbing and stand out.  I paid careful attention to the construction and broke from the black/white/red color scheme - setting the disoriented, out-of-place actor further apart.

With limited time, I selected a dark purple vest to convert into a doublet.  I cut and hemmed a peplum and sleeve pieces from a length of black velvet.  Then, for the stripes, I cut and hemmed four strips of purple satin, which were sewn into tubes and pressed to lay flat.  In the center, I pieced strips of black beading (thrifted from another shirt) and called it finished. I also made a matching cap with the same beading for the actor.

The Tudor inspired dress - or the two-in-one dress - was created for the actress doubling as Queen Gertrude (Hamlet) and Lady Alice (A Man for All Seasons).  Just switching the accessories made the quick change a piece of cake!

Dress notes:   The first steps I took were to cut a square neckline, insert a new zipper ,and bind the raw edge with brown bias tape.  The neckline and sleeve trim was created from lace (from my stash) and sparkly orange trim (thrifted from another dress).  For Queen Gertrude, I stitched a hemmed length of the orange brocade onto more of the sparkly trim - instant new look!  The finished dress was worn over a crinoline for the performances.

Sleeve notes:  The undersleeve puffs were made from tubes of orange brocade with a gold, embroidered, floral print and gathered on both sides.  These were then hand stitched to the sleeve to stop at the elbow.  The oversleeves were made from heavy gold curtains with beaded trim - again, gathered and hand-tacked along the orange undersleeves.  To match the neckline, I used the orange trim and lace to conveniently cover the raw, gathered edges.

Queen Gertrude (Hamlet)

Lady Alice (A Man for All Seasons)

Also, as a surprise and early Christmas gift, thanks to JoAnn's 70th anniversary sale, I received my first, brand-spanking new singer dress form - named Beatrice, or sewing Bea for short!  I had wanted for a dress form for months, and could hardly contain my excitement at no longer having to use myself as a pincushion or my sister as a model.  So, the dress and doublet above were actually the first of many creations to be pictured on my dress form.

February 26, 2015

Happy News from the College Front

Hello, readers, long time no post!  I first and foremost want to thank you all for the kind wishes regarding my recent college road trip.  As you may know from my last blogpost, I spent the week of February break freezing visiting colleges in Pittsburgh, PA and handing out my portfolio for critique.  Well, I am settled back in Roch-cha-cha, as we call it, from Pittsburgh with happy news that I'd like to share, as well as a tour through the portfolio I complied. 

Celebratory Crepes :)

Road trip recap: Except for the occasional family reunion or day-trip, my family doesn't go on vacation.  So, to get away for several days and spend a few nights in an actual hotel was a big deal - it was a solid month of eager anticipation!  We left and returned in light snow, and the weather in the city stayed fair for the most part.  It was just bitterly cold with negative wind chills and the "heavy snow fall" of around two inches.  Having left over two feet of snow at home, we shared some great laughs over that.  

Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, we planned to poke around the cultural district and visit Carnegie Mellon.  I hadn't thought to schedule an appointment as I was not considering applying for their undergraduate program - their MFA programs for costume design and costume construction are just so prestigious.  However, good luck seemed to be on our side throughout the trip, as we arrived just in time to hop on the general campus tour, as well as the theater conservatory tour!  

We had a lovely guide, an acting major, for the conservatory tour, which focused on the acting, musical theater and dance interests of the group.  Afterwards, I approached her, asking about the costume program, and she smiled and told me that there is someone that could help.  We went to the third floor and into the costume shop to meet Mr. Chu, the costume shop manager!  He could not have been more generous with his time.  We discussed my interests and difficulties with trying to find a program, and he even looked over my portfolio (which I had thrown together and doubted was up to snuff with college requirements).  Mr. Chu, however, seemed very impressed.  I was so surprised!  He then listed a few other conservatory programs to look into and suggested Carnegie Mellon for graduate school.  Let's just say, I left with a feeling of elation - mission accomplished.  

Bonus points if you can name the location where I took this picture!

Point Park University

Tuesday the 17th was the reason for the trip: my admissions interview at Point Park.  I was ready and eager to please, and the nerves were for the most part gone, replaced with a sense of wanting for the future.  That morning, however, I woke with a terribly violent stomach bug that I couldn't seem shake for the next four days or so.  Despite that, I was determined to push through the day and just about collapsed when we returned to the hotel that afternoon.

The university itself consists of several buildings nestled among other towering skyscrapers and commercial businesses - a truly, right in the middle of the action, urban environment.  First, we and another family that we had actually met the day before on the Carnegie Mellon tour, went on the campus tour.  Then, we departed our separate ways and had the meeting with the admissions transfer counselor.  It turned out to be more of a question and answer session and a walk-through of the application process, rather than the the traditional admissions interview I had expected.

The last stop on our itinerary was a visit to the Pittsburgh Playhouse, which is where the conservatory programs take place and a hot spot for local and visiting theatre.  This is when things really got exciting...the initial question/answer meeting was with Prof. Bollinger, head of the construction programs, who was very friendly and personable.  We had a low-pressure conversation about the program and walk through my portfolio.  Then, he excused himself to talk with his fellow professor, the head of the design programs.  And, here was the biggest surprise...it turned into an interview opportunity.  THE artistic interview, which is the theater tech & design equivalent of an audition for the program!

One professor was finishing class, and the other was beginning class.  So, in the meantime, we went on a Playhouse tour with a charming and funny guide, stage management major, who made sure our questions were answered and my costume interests were addressed.  What a welcoming and inviting environment!  Then, it was time for the interview...Prof. Mayer-Staley was just lovely and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say.  I felt sick and nervous, but just talked through my portfolio, dreams and aspirations like it was just a casual, yet formal, conversation.  After that, she reassuringly smiled and said that she was all set.  A little paperwork later - mission, way above and beyond, accomplished!

I will still need to be accepted into the university academically; however, artistically, the part I was truly concerned about, I believe I am set.  They also mentioned a costume shop apprenticeship.  I'm speechless!  There are just so many emotions - elation, disbelief, excitement, anticipation - running through my mind at the moment.  You can believe that I immediately completed my application, sent in the FASFA and sent out many thank yous the first chance when I got home.  I am so looking forward to where the future takes me next...

A Look into my Portfolio

And, finally, if you're still with me, the fun part - less talk, more pictures!

What I took with me: patchwork pocket with sewing accessories for tangible examples of my hand-sewing & my portfolio, which is housed in an old, cardboard scrapbook.  The book itself has 13 plastic pages, and I made use of every single space!

Page 1: Copies of the resume I quickly put together before the trip.  (I'm so glad I did as it was the first requirement for the PPU interview.)  Our printer was having issues, so please pretend that those lines go across the page.  

Pages 2-3:  I tried to lay the book out in spreads of categories.  The first spread, of course, was on the Sophia Project, which served as a major talking point.  I really believe that my internship has been the key to unlock all of these opportunities; and, I owe so much to my mentor and the costuming ladies for taking me on as their intern!

Pages 4-8:  Then, I included a few pages of my historical sewing from this year:

Pages 9-15:  Next was theater and I selected four works to showcase.  The first, Stage's Doctor Dolittle, was my major highlight, where I was given the chance to design and construct all of the lead female's costumes.  The young actor who played Emma, the female lead, was a doll, and it was so sweet of her to pose for photos for me.    

In my presentation, I concentrated on this show as I felt it clearly represented my thought process when it comes to costuming - moving from a spark of inspiration, to a visible idea and sometimes rendering, to creation, and finally onto an actor onstage.  

Emma's Act I cranberry dress rendering in ink & colored pencil.

Finished cranberry dress.

Cranberry dress & headpiece on Miss Jessica (Emma).

Other theater selections featured two YOHP shows I costumed, including Christmas Carol High School and Actor's Nightmare.  (My winter pompom muff wanted to join in the fun too.)

Pages 16-17:  Some theatrical millinery followed suit:

Pages 18-25:  In the second to last section, I added several spreads of renderings to appeal to the design aspects - including: several watercolors from my independent study during senior year and pages from my sketchbooks.  I had wanted to demonstrate my design process from pencil, to ink, and then colored pencil or watercolor, which I was introduced to at the end of my independent art study.  I sure hope in college they let me play around with watercolors again, they're so much fun!

1810s Sheer Dress.  Medium: ink, watercolor & colored pencil.

1840s Dress.  Medium: ink, watercolor & colored pencil.

Sketchbook pages: pencil outline & my first experiment with watercolor. 

Page 26:  Last but not least, I included the final draft of a me-scaled paper pattern for an 1830s cap - thanks Rhonda - which served as my hand sewing project for the trip!

And that, my friends, is the Pittsburgh trip in full!  Mission accomplished.  I have to say, it is quite a burden off my shoulders to know that what I have compiled in my portfolio already is enough.  Thus, I am free of the dread of having to start a college-worthy portfolio from scratch and will be free to sew as I please and continue to add to that portfolio.  And, who knows, maybe, a year from now at this time, I will be blogging from Pittsburgh, PA.  Thanks for reading!

February 14, 2015

The Trimming of a Wrapper

"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.  They must be felt with the heart."  ~Helen Keller  

Happy Valentine's Day, readers!  

Today, I finished putting together my college portfolio.  Tuesday, I will be interviewing at Point Park University, which offers a fantastic B.F.A program for theater production!  Nervous?  Yes.  Excited?  An even stronger YES.  I just know that costume construction & design is my calling and, every day, my eagerness to jump right into the field and into my future becomes greater.  I am just so, so wanting to make the designs of my imagination and daydreams real, tangible and wearable.  Yes, yes, yes.  Good thing we leave for Pittsburgh tomorrow morning, wish me luck!

Which brings me to the subject of tonight's post...I think an update on The Sophia Project is overdue!  She is, after all, the highlight of my portfolio and graces the entire first two pages!

When I left off last, right before the new year (here), I wrote about how the 1870s wrapper itself was finished and in need of trimming...well, a month and a half later, Sophia's well on her way to competition.  Keeping in mind that I only spend two days in the shop working on the project (on and off as I've been placed in charge of a new, exciting project - which is a secret for the time being), I am surprised at how far I've come & how much I have truly learned. 

My cherished, 9th grade English teacher bestowed on us the secret to life: "break big things into little things."  And that is the wisdom I am following with the Sophia Project.  The first thing I tackled was the wrapper's bows:

The original wrapper's bows.
Step one:  Cut bias strips for all of those bows!  (150+ inches of printed cotton, 150+ inches of polished cotton to use for backing, and 300+ inches of black silk)

Step two: Prepare those 300+ inches of black silk (and don't forget to burn your fingers multiple times with a hot iron - wear your battle scars proudly :) to bind the edge of each bow with 1/8" bias tape.  

First, baste the printed and polished cotton together; then, hand-stitch the bias tape to the edge and finish with a whip stitch.   

Step three: Ask your mentor to figure out how to construct said bows as all of your attempts have only succeed in further confusion.  (Bevin always will know how to figure it out; she is such a wealth of knowledge!)  Fold in, out and over the appropriate amount of times, secure with three gathering stitches.  Then, fold tail over and around again.  Tada, you have a bow!

Step four: Make another bow, and then another.  Make all of the bows!

Step five: Step back and take a moment to celebrate (maybe even cupcake break if you're lucky).  Build a tower of bows and take some more pictures for fun.  

An original bow next to its reproduction.

Then, move on to conquer the next challenge...trimming Sophia’s sleeves!  Easy peasy as all I had to do was follow the original sleeve.  After carefully measuring, I fiddled with the silk bias strips to get them to lie properly and securely tacked both sides.  Then, I stitched the two smallest bows on top to cover the unfinished edge.

Finally, time to trim the body of the wrapper!  When Sophia became my project, her silk trim was shattered and cut off at the bottom of the fronts; however, as indicated by the discoloration above her hem facing, the silk trim originally went all the way around.  For the reproduction, I asked if the trim should go all the way around...yep.  Then, I asked if I should stitch the trim by hand or machine like the original...by hand, as machine stitching will stand out unfavorably.  Oh boy, that's 325+ inches of silk bias trim, double that number for the stitching!

The whole shebang!

Step one: Measure carefully and then cut 325+ inches of silk bias strips.  Stitch ends together for one, long, continuous strip.  

Step two: Pin and iron a 1/4" turned under edge on both sides of the strip.  (Burn your fingers again to add more battle scars to match the ones from the bows ;)

Step three:  Stitch two rows & overcast the top of the watteau pleat to make sure it's secure before adding the silk trim over top.  Then, measure and constantly remeasure and rearrange the silk as you pin all of the 325+ inches of trim in place.  
Step four: Stitch.  Rip.  Stitch.  Redo.  Stitch.  Repeat.  Stitch.  Stitch away until the job is done!  Which, surprisingly, only took two straight days thanks to all of the practice and some brand new #8 sharps. 

Step five: SMILE & take pictures!

And that, my friends, is how Sophia came to be trimmed!  Stay tuned for next and last installment of the Sophia Project which will feature the completed 1870s wrapper reproduction!  Thanks for reading :)

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