May the 4th Be with Your Sewing Projects

May the 4th Be with Your Sewing Projects

Not every holiday has to be one that leaves the shelves of stores stocked with accessories and baking supplies that are that-holiday-themed. Some of them can pass by with a lot less glitz and glamour, with only those people who are interested and aware of said holiday embracing it on their own terms. National Talk Like a Pirate Day, anyone?

Pirate talk included, one of my absolute favorite holidays of that category is one that embraces a very real part of my nerdy heart: Star Wars Day.

That’s right. May the 4th is a good day for me! In fact, for this Star Wars Day, I’m planning on trying to introduce my youngest niece to the first movie of the original trilogy. Here’s hoping she loves Chewbacca as much as her Aunt Connie does!

There are a number of options for this kind of product, but one that really stuck out to me was this Death Star quilt.

There are a number of options for this kind of product, but one that really stuck out to me was this Death Star quilt.

And there are plenty of sewing projects that are fitting for the day. Of course, it’s a little late in the game to make these for this Star Wars Day, but they’re ideas to keep in your head for 2018!

For instance, you could make a Star Wars blanket or quilt. There are a number of options for this kind of product, but one that really stuck out to me was this Death Star quilt. I absolutely love the collage element that makes up the Death Star in this project, and the galaxy-esque material it’s on is a perfect fit for the theme. It’s dark and looming, just like the Death Star should be! I, personally, would be proud to be the maker of such an interesting take on the empire’s weapon!

For a person — like me — who adores baking, making a character-inspired apron like this one feels like a wonderful option!

For a person — like me — who adores baking, making a character-inspired apron like this one feels like a wonderful option!

But if you’re feeling a little more Jedi/Rebel Alliance-inclined, maybe you’d rather embrace a concept from their side of things — like R2-D2. For a person — like me — who adores baking, making a character-inspired apron like this one feels like a wonderful option! Since I may or may not have a series of Star Wars kitchen supplies on an Amazon wish list, this would be a wonderful addition to the mix. I could totally see myself wearing an R2-D2 apron and oven mitts while my R2-D2 oven timer buzzes…

Oh, & remember how I said I loved Chewbacca? Imagine your little one decked out in this Chewbacca costume!

Oh, & remember how I said I loved Chewbacca? Imagine your little one decked out in this Chewbacca costume!

Oh, and remember how I said I loved Chewbacca? Imagine your little one decked out in this Chewbacca costume! This one could double as a Star Wars Day project and a Halloween one since this would make an adorable costume for trick-or-treating time! It would include a number of pieces — like ammo belt details — so you might want to make sure you start early enough to tend to all of these aspects!

Another Star Wars project that you could make for your little one is this BB-8 skirt.

Another Star Wars project that you could make for your little one is this BB-8 skirt.

Another Star Wars project that you could make for your little one is this BB-8 skirt. It’s a nod to the more recent Star Wars movies with one of the two awesome droids that have come to the surface through them. Seriously! I adore BB-8, and K-2 is so awesome! This skirt would be something that could be worn any other day of the year as well since while it’s a nod to BB-8, it’s basic enough that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a skirt that’s Star Wars themed. It could easily just be a skirt with stripes, which isn’t day-specific! Essentially, with this product, you could have a perfect piece of clothing to wear through the day that’s general enough to wear again and again, regardless of the day.

One last project applies to anyone in need of carrying around documents & such — whether that something to carry is the sketch pad shown or a stack of papers that you, as a teacher, graded!

One last project applies to anyone in need of carrying around documents & such — whether that something to carry is the sketch pad shown or a stack of papers that you, as a teacher, graded!

One last project applies to anyone in need of carrying around documents and such — whether that something to carry is the sketch pad shown or a stack of papers that you, as a teacher, graded! Now, obviously, you might want to make sure that this project is okay with your employer before you carry it into a formal meeting, but if you get a thumbs-up, there’s something awesome to me about the idea of carrying a Star Wars case into said meeting with your company-important documents. This could also be used for things around the house, like keeping your receipts or pictures in, and it’s a small enough project to easily manage between today and May 4, 2018!

This is the perfect day, in my opinion, to embrace your inner nerd and run with your sewing projects! It’s for what could be labeled the epitome of Sci Fi/Fantasy movies, and there’s plenty of room to work these mentioned projects into your May the 4th schedule. Need proof? Here you go: You could grab that Star Wars quilt and the baked goods you made while wearing your apron, toss that quilt over you and your kids in the Chewy costume and BB-8 skirt, put your distractions in your carrying case, and watch some Han Solo!

80s Prom Dress Hack

80s Prom Dress Hack

For the most part, I use my sewing skills for myself, and my immediate family. Sometimes, however, I get to help friends out. As was the case this week when my friend, Tania, asked if I could help her with a costume for a party this weekend. The theme was 80s Night and she had found an authentic 80s Prom Dress that ALMOST fit her. She just needed the dress to work for that one night. I was game to help her make it happen.

Verdict

When she brought over the dress I assessed three main issues:

  1. The zipper was broken on the left side of the plaque.
  2. There were two rips to the right of the right-side zipper.
  3. Her rib cage was wider than the fit of the dress. We would need to somehow expand the torso piece of the dress to get it to fit her for an evening.
I decided to extend the circumference of the dress by creating a fabric plaque that would be sewn onto the left side of the zipper opening.

I decided to extend the circumference of the dress by creating a fabric plaque that would be sewn onto the left side of the zipper opening.

The good news is that these were all problems I could tackle. I decided to extend the circumference of the dress by creating a fabric plaque that would be sewn onto the left side of the zipper opening (I cut off the broken zipper) and would attach via Velcro to the right side of the zipper opening.

The good news is that these were all problems I could tackle.

The good news is that these were all problems I could tackle.

Resourceful fabric recycling

Tania brought two gift bags with her that we planned to use as extra fabric. They were glittery and shiny and would match the dress and the theme of the party. From the red bag I cut out the larger plaque.

 

I sewed it directly onto where the zipper would have zipped up on the left side of the dress opening.

I sewed it directly onto where the zipper would have zipped up on the left side of the dress opening.

I sewed it directly onto where the zipper would have zipped up on the left side of the dress opening.

Patches?! We don’t need no stinking patches

Then I tackled the holes. I used the gray gift bag fabric to support the fabric under where the rips were and then zig zag stitched several lines of stitching to patch the rips (Remember this just needed to work for one night).

 

Here you can see the gray gift bag fabric on the underside of the dress. I sewed Velcro to the right side of the dress opening, sewing right over the invisible zipper.

Here you can see the gray gift bag fabric on the underside of the dress.

Here you can see the gray gift bag fabric on the underside of the dress.

Measure twice – cut once

For this part, I had her put the dress on and then we fit the dress to exactly the width she felt comfortable in. I used my Clover Chaco-liner Pen to draw a line where the other side of the Velcro needed to be sewn on. The curve at the end is where the lower portion of the still working zipper zipped up to meet the straight line of the back piece.

The curve at the end is where the lower portion of the still working zipper zipped up to meet the straight line of the back piece.

The curve at the end is where the lower portion of the still working zipper zipped up to meet the straight line of the back piece.

Ta da!!! The red fabric + Velcro expanded the corset piece perfectly. On the right you can see her in the dress after we’d finished. The dress is a little roomy in the bust, but she will be wearing a strapless bra to fill that in.

I’m so glad I could help my friend out with my sewing skills.

I’m so glad I could help my friend out with my sewing skills.

I’m so glad I could help my friend out with my sewing skills.

Have you ever helped someone DIY a costume?

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Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and sewist in Mammoth Lakes, California. She specializes in marine and home interiors and continues to fall more and more in love with quilting. You can follow her at charlottekaufman.com.
Stunt Doubles and Magic Gloves

Stunt Doubles and Magic Gloves

Stunt Doubles and Magic Gloves

The film and television business has many safety precautions in place. Productions almost always have a Stunt Coordinator to supervise and choreograph any type of fight or daredevil action scene. Actors and actresses often have stunt doubles who will perform most of the really ‘dangerous’ bits. Big name actors usually have a regular stunt double who always works with them no matter what show or film they are on.

What this means costume-wise, is that we need to dress the double in exactly the same clothes as the actor. Many times, both the stunt and actor themselves will require multiple outfits of the same thing.

Love / hate

I have a love-hate relationship with multiples. On the one hand, it can be super boring to do the same alteration on the same pair of pants, or jacket, or whatever six to ten times. On the other hand, it can be a very zen experience: doing the same thing over and over kind of puts you into a rhythm where everything flows naturally and without much thought. I prefer to do all the multiples at one time if possible.

When I lived in Austin, TX, I worked as a set costumer on many of the films directed by Robert Rodriguez: Spy Kids, Sin City, Grindhouse. His movies are very stunt heavy which makes his sets very active and interesting. The stunt coordinator for all the films I worked on for Mr. Rodriguez was a lovely and talented man named Jeff Dashnaw. Many of the actors and stunt actors were harnessed for various scenes. A stunt harness is similar, I suppose, to a climbing harness or rig. It’s made of heavy canvas and twill and sometimes has metal jump rings to facilitate the attachment of cables.

There are different types of harnesses, depending on what sort of action is required. Some are full vests and some are just a belt and leg straps. It’s up to the stunt coordinator to determine what harness should be used and where the cables should be attached in order to create the desired effect. There’s quite a bit of physics knowledge in all of that!

What to do when things go wrong

Things can go wrong sometimes and people can be injured. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen all that often. On a show I worked on recently one of the actors tore a ligament in his hand which, in turn, resulted in him having to wear a big, rather awkward cast. The task of trying to disguise this cast fell to the costume department.

The costume designer and I had to figure out how to make a glove of some sort to cover the cast.

Tracing of hands.

Tracing of hands.

First, we traced the actor’s hand in his cast.

Make a pattern.

Make a pattern.

Next, I made a pattern of the tracing. Our idea was to use an existing glove, take it apart, stitch the fingers together (since his fingers are bound together), and add a new neoprene layer on the palm side.

Taking apart an existing glove.

Taking apart an existing glove.

This was the first result: Not too bad.

First attempt at a glove to hide the cast.

First attempt at a glove to hide the cast.

Then we decided that it might look better to have the thumb separate so I did some modifications:

Attempt 2 with separate thumb.

Attempt 2 with separate thumb.

Now, it’s a bit too small across the knuckles so I have to take the neoprene back off and recut a new, wider one, to add some width.

Being flexible is key

Projects like this are fairly normal in my sewing life. And if there’s one thing that seems to be true no matter what show I’m working on it’s that the costume department is almost always the ones tasked with finding solutions to a problem that no one else wants to deal with.

TV magic. It’s a real thing. This actually reminds me of an incident during Boardwalk Empire when I came to work one morning to find a shredded beaded dress on my table with a note that said, “Help! Please work your magic to fix this dress. It works again this evening.”

We did indeed manage to put the dress back together to get through one more night of filming but we sent it back to set with a note that read, “We are all out of magic for the week but did our best to bring this dress back from the dead. Love, The Costume Shop.”

Costume Department Positions for Movies and Television Shows

Costume Department Positions for Movies and Television Shows

Last week, I wrote about how it takes a whole team of individuals to make a television show or movie, often more than most people realize. Then I got to thinking about all the conversations I’ve had throughout my life trying to explain to family, friends, acquaintances and sometimes strangers, what I do at work and what others in my department do.

One of the daily call sheets for Blindspot which lists the positions with call time (time to report to work). O/C means on call and is what is used for those who do not need to be on the actual shooting set.

One of the daily call sheets for Blindspot which lists the positions with call time (time to report to work). O/C means on call and is what is used for those who do not need to be on the actual shooting set.

Here’s a list of some common positions found in costume and wardrobe departments of films and television shows.

But first, the difference between the costume and wardrobe departments. Theses terms are basically interchangeable but, if a dividing line were to be drawn it would separate the costume and wardrobe departments by union locals.

The labor union for theatre, film, television and live events, founded in 1893, is IATSE or, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, its Territories and Canada.

Designers, assistant designers, shoppers and coordinators are normally members of Locals 829 (United Scenic Artists) or 892 (Costume Designers Guild). There are various locals across the country that are wardrobe specific. In New York City, the wardrobe local is 764.

Common costume and wardrobe positions on movies and television shows

Design/Costume Department:

Costume Designer

This is fairly self-explanatory. The costume designer is responsible for developing the look and feel of a show. They usually spend time talking with producers or the creators of a show, reading scripts and discussing character with the actors and actresses, as well as researching. They conduct fittings and manage the entire department.

Assistant Costume Designer

Again, pretty self-explanatory. Often, the assistant designer is the one who dresses the background actors. They also often deal with the budgets.

Shopper

The shopper spends his or her day out in the world, shopping. Being a shopper in NYC is completely different than being a shopper anywhere else because well, you can’t get around NYC efficiently in a car. NYC shoppers spend a lot of time walking, schlepping and taking the subway. There’s often a costume department driver who will meet them to pick up purchases.

Wardrobe Department (764 positions):

Wardrobe Supervisor

This position is the department head. He or she manages the day-to-day execution of the designers vision. They are responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly on set. They spend a lot of time looking ahead and anticipating problems and catastrophes before they arise. They are also very good at putting out fires.

Set Costumer

A set costumer takes care of the actors on set. He or she is responsible for continuity (making sure the correct outfit is worn at the correct time in the proper manner). Shows are rarely, if ever, filmed in order. A set costumer watches during filming and makes adjustments as needed. He or she pays attention to things like: How many buttons are buttoned, are the sleeves of the shirt supposed to be rolled, should that bag be over the right or left shoulder.

There is usually more than one set costumer on a show. Some actors have personal set costumers who only take care of them but most television shows don’t have the budget for this. Some high paid, “famous” actors have a personal costumer written into their contracts.

In Europe, a set costumer is often called a stand by costumer.

Production Assistant

Every department tends to have a production assistants who are usually people just starting out in the business. They do all sorts of things. In the world of television they spend a lot of time returning unused clothing and organizing receipts.

Costume Coordinator

I always think of the Costume Coordinator as the glue that holds the entire department together. They should really be paid more money than what they are.

They are the accountants of the department, the phone call makers, the calmer of nerves, the birthday party planners, the detectives, the soothsayers, the joke makers, the ice cream and alcohol buyers, the lunatic whisperers and the magicians. A costume department with a shoddy coordinator will most certainly fall apart at some point.

On Blindspot, we are very lucky to have an amazing coordinator named Sade.

Tailor

Most contemporary television shows have one full time tailor who is responsible for alterations and clothing construction. Big, costume heavy shows often have a full in house costume shop.

It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village

I was thinking about writing a post this week about some of the favorite things that I’ve made throughout the years. But, once I really started trying to decide, I realized I had way too many ‘favorites’ to put in just one post, mainly because I’ve made a ridiculous amount of stuff. Truth be told, I can’t remember a lot of it.

Also, ‘favorite’, is a bit of a shifty word. I have favorites for all kinds of reasons: favorite fabric, favorite pattern, favorite last minute construction miracle, favorite vintage piece, favorite thing made without a pattern, favorite complicated pattern, favorite funky design detail, favorite sewing technique.

So, I decided instead to write a little about some of the most memorable things I’ve made. Most (perhaps all) of them listed here were for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, designed by John Dunn and Lisa Padovani.

And speaking of designers…

I just want to clarify that every show and movie has a Costume Designer. Sometimes, on low budget and indie or college productions, the costume designer is the same person who also makes and shops the clothes. This is not the case on any mid to high budget shows. It takes a village to create the finished product. I didn’t design anything for Boardwalk Empire or any of the other major television shows and movies I’ve worked on as a tailor and pattern maker. I just make what is in the designer’s head.

How do I know what’s in the designer’s head?

Sometimes I get a sketch, sometimes pictures and photos from magazines and catalogues, sometimes vintage garments to use as a starting point, and sometimes it’s just a conversation with a scribbled line drawing on a manila oak tag.

And one other thing about the village: I made the patterns for all of the pieces to follow but, most times, I had the help of very talented tailors in the construction of the finished product.

A (partial) list of most memorables:

Outfit from an existing vintage pattern.

Outfit from an existing vintage pattern.

I used an existing 1930s vintage pattern for this ensemble. I altered the pattern slightly for fit. It’s a bit hard to see in the photo, but the jumper has an asymmetrical over lap opening in the front (that button is functional.) If I recall correctly, I did put together the blouse but I know that the jumper was constructed by one of the tailors in the shop, Amy.

Showgirl ensemble:

Showgirl ensemble.

Showgirl ensemble.

We made quite a few showgirl ensembles for Boardwalk but the sailor girls were my favorite. The trickiest part of any of the showgirl things was always the time constraints. We routinely had a week (at most) to construct the outfits, and this was on top of all the other things we were making and altering. Thankfully, the actresses playing the showgirls remained the same throughout the season so once I had their measurements I was able to pattern (relatively) efficiently and go straight to fabric without doing any sort of mock up. Any showgirl extravaganza was always a true group effort, as in the day before the costumes were needed, almost every single person in the shop was working on them.

Costume involving fish:

Costume involving fish.

Costume involving fish.

We made two of these for the final season of Boardwalk Empire. The fish have batting and wire in them to make them slightly three dimensional, and there are two more on the back. These took an especially long time as all the pearl trim had to sewn on by hand.

Complete outfit in shortest amount of time:

Complete outfit in shortest amount of time.

Complete outfit in shortest amount of time.

I will always remember this one. I had literally two days to get this done. On the morning of the first day, the actor came in for measurements. I started patterning as soon as he walked out the door. John (designer) found fabric he wanted to use that we already had in house so I was able to cut as soon as my patterning was done. I handed off the jacket pieces to one person and the pants to another and I put together the vest. The very next afternoon, I did the fitting. As you can see from the photo, the only changes needed were a sleeve and pant hem. This illustrates the importance of proper (and extensive) measurements.

Strangest costume:

One of the oddest costumes I’ve made were these lobsters, again for Boardwalk.

One of the oddest costumes I’ve made were these lobsters, again for Boardwalk.

One of the oddest costumes I’ve made were these lobsters, again for Boardwalk. I think the over bodice and sleeves were attached to the tail bit and it was put on like a coat, snapping and tying center front. I do remember the use of quite a large amount of wire.

Most adorable:

Most adorable.

Most adorable.

I patterned all of the boys’ things for Boardwalk. The principal men’s suits were made by Greenfield’s in Brooklyn but the in house shop that I ran always did the suits and jackets for the younger boys.

So that’s a short list of some of my most memorable projects. There are definitely many more though. One of the best things about my job is that there is always something new to make.

Thanks for the Fabric, Tahari

Thanks for the Fabric, Tahari

Throughout my career I’ve worked on a variety of projects. People often ask what my favorite show to work was, or what my favorite period is. Both of those questions are difficult for me to answer. I could probably tell you what my least favorite show to work on was but narrowing them all down to one single absolute best and favorite is not possible.

It all depends. Some projects require more creativity than others. Some are relatively simple straightforward gigs that involve hemming a staggeringly large number of pants. Some shows are more stressful than others with a higher than normal rate of last minute changes. Some involve working with difficult people. Others are filled with co-workers that quickly become family.

Whenever I mention any of the period shows or movies I’ve worked on, people usually say, “Oh that must be so much fun!” When I say I work on a contemporary procedural crime drama, the response is more something like, “Oh. The show with the tattoos?” or “That’s interesting.” Meaning: That doesn’t sound interesting at all. Don’t actors just wear store bought clothes? What do you possibly have to tailor on those shows?

To this all I can do is laugh. No major actor or actress on any contemporary procedural crime drama wears clothing that hasn’t been fit and altered specifically for him or her.

There are, always, a few exceptions to this, notably when a talented costume designer knows the cut and style of high-end clothing well enough to know which designer label will fit a particular actor the best with little or no alteration. Frank Fleming who designs Power for Starz Network is an absolute master at this.

I truly enjoy working on Blindspot (my current gig). Everyone in the costume/wardrobe department is absolutely amazing and all the actors are lovely to work with.

One of the lead actresses wears a lot of expensive high-end dresses and skirts and blouses. Most of the dresses I alter for her require alterations in the shoulder, side, and waist seams. Altering the shoulder seams means the neckline will need to be altered and the sleeve taken out and reset. Altering the side seam means (again) the sleeve will need to be removed and put back on. Basically, I must take apart the entire dress and put it back together (Thanks for the fabric, Tahari! or Black Halo or Escada or Nanette Lepore).

We also do things like changing necklines (from a high scoop to a vee) and changing short sleeves to long sleeves or even adding sleeves altogether. Jared B Leese who designs Blindspot comes up with many creative and brilliant ways to alter something so that it no longer is a dress ‘off the rack’. He’ll ask things like, “Can you open this neckline?” or “Will you make sleeves for this dress?” or “What if we turn this into a v-neck – do you think that would look better.”

The answer is always “yes”.

This beautiful suede Tahari dress used to have a high crew neckline and short sleeves:

Tahari dress with new neckline and sleeves.

Tahari dress with new neckline and sleeves.

This lovely dress (also by Tahari, I think) used to be sleeves and all suede. We replaced the center panel and added some sleeves.

Tahari dress with new sleeves and center piece.

Tahari dress with new sleeves and center piece.

And this Black Halo dress used to be navy.

To be honest, this one was a complete rebuild. I copied the pattern from the existing dress, made a few adjustments and cut out and built a whole new dress.

Make of Black halo dress.

Make of Black halo dress.

See, contemporary procedural crime dramas are anything but boring (and often my favorite type of show to work on).

Just a closer view of the Black Halo dress.

Just a closer view of the Black Halo dress.

Halloween Costume Pattern Round-Up

Halloween Costume Pattern Round-Up

Halloween is just around the corner. Plan ahead & avoid holiday headaches.

Halloween is just around the corner. Plan ahead & avoid holiday headaches.

Fall is in the air which means it’s only a matter of time before kids (and some adults) meander neighborhoods in search of candy. Halloween is loads of fun for everyone. I used to love to make my costumes as a kid and I bet your children would love a unique, made-by-you (maybe even with their help) costume too. Here are some of my favorite Halloween Costume ideas for 2016.

Wall-E Costume

I loved this movie and I know a lot of your kids probably did too. The title robot is so cute! I’m also a huge fan of reusing materials whenever possible. This awesome costume on Instructables uses old boxes and some other easily obtained

materials to make the cutest Wall-E costume ever!

Black Umbrella Bat

Bats are such an iconic part of Halloween. There are tons of bat costume ideas out there on the web, but I really love this one from Evil Mad Scientist. It’s fast and easy to make, requires few materials, and has huge wings and ears. Grab a black umbrella you don’t mind cutting up and a black top (sweatshirt for those in colder climates) and you’re ready to start.

Bag of Groceries

No one else on the block is going to have this costume, I bet. Take a look next time you hit the grocery store for some inspiration. This idea from Costume Works is sure to be a hit and it costs less than $5 to make. All you need is some brown bags, a box and save some of those food packages from your normal shopping trip to use as items in the grocery bag costume.

Sheep or Lamb

Baaa! This costume is great for kids and adults of all sizes and the directions are in Spanish and English. You’ll need a few supplies, but once you have them, it’s a quick 10 step process to becoming the cutest sheep on the trick-or-treat patrol. Add a little face paint to complete the look and make sure to say “baa!” at each house!

Monarch Butterfly

Butterflies are always popular. Buggy and Buddy provide great instructions to make kids’ size wings, but you can resize them for any measurements to make a monarch butterfly costume for everyone in the family. Or switch up the colors and be any butterfly you wish.

Kid and Baby Doll

Does your daughter love to dress up like a princess? Does she bring her “baby” everywhere? These costumes by Simplicity are right up her alley. In one pattern envelope you get three princess pattern choices and the matching one for the doll. They’re easy to make and absolutely adorable.

Classic Characters

Childhood is full of classic stories from Little Red Riding Hood to Robin Hood and everything in between. The devil and the joker are always popular too. This set of five classic costumes from Butterick guarantees you’ll be able to make a sweet costume for your kid in just one hour!

What other costumes have you made?