In the Wee Hours of the Morning

In the Wee Hours of the Morning

I’ve always been a morning person, or rather, I’ve never really found it that difficult to get up at before the crack of dawn. I’m usually not ready to actually talk to anyone until after the sun is up but, I actually really like the quiet pre-dawn hours, especially in a big city, like New York.

The bars here close at 4:00 am so the hours between four and six are the transition between last night and this morning; people who work in bars are on their way home (as well as those who were just out drinking) while another whole group of people are on their way to work. The streets are relatively quiet without much traffic – a true rarity in New York City. Cycling through the early morning streets always feels like a special, secret thing. The cabs that are out and about rarely honk this early and we share the roads without incident.

Top of the morning

A lot happens in the city between the hours of 4:00 am and 7:00 am. I’m not the only one out. Central Park is already humming starting at 5:00 am with runners, walkers, cyclists, and dogs. The street vendors are up and opening up their carts. Most bodegas are open already (many of them stay open all night). On the weekends, there are bike races and running races (the NYC half marathon was yesterday) and, all about the city, especially if its Monday morning, film and television crews are going to work, or are already at work.

If you want to work in film and television, you have to be able to get up early. And I mean early, like before 5:00 am, and, if you’re in the wardrobe of hair and makeup departments, often before 4:00 am. It’s not unusual for the costume and wardrobe departments to have to be at work by 5:30am, or 5:00 am. I’ve even had to be at work by 4:30 am before.

Actor call times for this morning, including fitting times.

Actor call times for this morning, including fitting times.

The main reason for this is the sun, and the fact that most shooting days are, at a very minimum, twelve hours long. Mondays usually mean a super early start as the goal is often to start filming outside as soon as the sun is up (you don’t want to miss any of that precious daylight, especially in the winter months when the days are shorter).

It’s all about proper preparation

In order to have the actors ready to go on set when the sun is up, they need to get to work an hour or two beforehand to go through hair and makeup and to get dressed. If it’s day that requires a large amount of background actors to be dressed and ready to go in the first shot, they (and the wardrobe people who are there to help them get ready) often must report to work a couple hours before sunrise.

As the tailor, I often have to be at work for an early morning fitting that happens before an actor goes to hair and makeup. Then I have the hour or so when they’re “in the chair” as we call it in the film business, to complete an alteration. This is also when my fast sewing skills come in handy.

The early bird

This Monday on Blindspot, we’re in the studio on the stage so all the scenes are interior but, general crew call is still 7:00 am.

This Monday on Blindspot, we’re in the studio on the stage so all the scenes are interior but, general crew call is still 7:00 am.

This Monday on Blindspot, we’re in the studio on the stage so all the scenes are interior but, general crew call is still 7:00 am. We were also on the stage most of last week, including Friday, so the crew will be pretty much ready at 7:00 to start shooting. If we’ve been out somewhere on location shooting, sometimes an extra half hour or so is needed to get the lights ready, the cameras out, the props set, etc.

Times the wardrobe, costume, and hair & makeup departments had to be at work this morning.

Times the wardrobe, costume, and hair & makeup departments had to be at work this morning.

The wardrobe crew, though, was here at 5:42 and 6:00 and the first actors arrived by 6:00.

Sometimes people ask how I’m able to get up so early. I honestly don’t know the answer. I will say that I think you do get used to it. I actually hate when I don’t have to be at work until 9:00 or 10:00, mainly because it can take twice as long to get there when you’re in the midst of rush hour traffic. I’d choose the 5:00 and 6:00 am starts every time.

I do my best, focused work early in the morning; things don’t seem as frenetic before the sun is up. There are fewer distractions, the phone doesn’t ring, the only texts are most likely directly related to whatever I’m working on, people aren’t quite awake yet so there’s less chit chat. Things just seem to flow along at a steady, quiet, unencumbered pace.  Also, when you get to work at 6:00 in the morning, you get to have second breakfast at 10:00 – and who wouldn’t be up for that?

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.

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.

Miter Me This

Miter Me This

One of the alterations I did last week for the television show Blindspot was lengthening the sleeves on a woman’s suit jacket for one of our actresses – a straight-forward and fairly simple task.

Or so it should be

Functional, cut buttonhole, unless you need to lengthen the sleeve.

Functional, cut buttonhole, unless you need to lengthen the sleeve.

This time, though, the alteration gods (and the clever designers at Banana Republic) were against me. The suit jacket had cut, functional buttonholes (three of them) on the sleeves. Not that big of a problem. I just needed to lengthen the sleeves 3/4″ and could get away with leaving the buttonholes as they were as the first hole was only an inch and ¼ from the hem.

No biggie

So, no big deal, I could still re-miter the corner 3/4″ below the original hem and not have to mess with the buttonholes. I might have to cut some of the seam allowance free from the bottom hole but it shouldn’t matter. I would still have enough fabric to do the miter properly.

I pulled both sleeves inside out to find the one with the top stitched opening. Women’s jackets normally just have one sleeve with the lining opening and the entire thing can be pulled through that hole and inside out. This is because, in most cases, the armhole lining isn’t attached all around the seam allowance as it is in men’s suit jackets.

I pulled my two sleeves inside out through the opening and started taking the hem apart. Much to my annoyance, I discovered that the miter corner had been trimmed so it was impossible to redo the miter at a longer length. I also needed to add more seam allowance to be able to lengthen the sleeve the amount I needed.

Take a step back

A simple alteration just got a bit more tedious. First, I dug into my fabric stash to find a wool similar to that of the jacket. In this particular case, the jacket I was working on was a dark brown and black tweed. The jacket was paired with black wool pants so I decided I could get away with using a black wool for my corner and added seam allowance.

I cut two pieces of black wool 2″ wide ( ¾+ ¾+ ¼ for each seam allowance. you need ¾ twice because you need the length for both the lining and the face fabrics) and 10″ long (this length doesn’t matter except it needs to be longer than the sleeve hem) on the bias (or diagonal). I also cut an addition 2″ wide by 6″ long bias piece for the corners.

Sleeve lining with topstitched seam (open up from here and pull everything through).

Sleeve lining with topstitched seam (open up from here and pull everything through).

The next thing to do after opening the entire sleeve hem up (don’t press, you’ll want to see the original seam creases) is to sew the black wool to the miter edge. Follow the stitching line from the original miter and make sure to leave additional fabric on both ends. Then, open the sleeve hem up so you can see the straight angles of the bottom and side edges. Draw straight lines to connect those edges, then trim.

The mitered corner.

The mitered corner.

Next, attach the 2″ piece to hem edge and trim any excess off the ends. At this point, I redraw my miter line. Measure down ¾ from the original hemline exactly on the fold line – that’s your cross line for miter. Use your old miter line as a guide for the proper angle. Sew the miter, press, and turn. Don’t cut. I use a wooden tailor point pressing block, a simple point turner, and generous steam.

 

Diagram on where to add fabric and redraw miter seam line.

Diagram on where to add fabric and redraw miter seam line.

Wash, rinse, repeat

Mark the ¾ down on the un-mitered corner and any sleeve underarm seams into your fabric extension so that you can match up the lining properly. Then, pin together your hem edges and sides. Sew. Repeat for the other sleeve, turn everything back right side out, and sew the opening closed in the sleeve lining.

The finished contrasting corner miter: (note: the suit jacket will be worn with black pants so the corner coordinates nicely).

The finished contrasting corner miter: (note: the suit jacket will be worn with black pants so the corner coordinates nicely).

Done. I now have a jacket with a cool little detail. Most people probably won’t notice it but if you happen to watch Blindspot and see it, let me know! I like it and my designer and actress like it, if only for the reason that the sleeves are the proper length.

As Pinned: Sewing Alterations in the Film Biz

As Pinned: Sewing Alterations in the Film Biz

Most film and television costume departments in New York City use bright pink oak tags to identify a garment as needing an alteration.

Most film and television costume departments in New York City use bright pink oak tags to identify a garment as needing an alteration.

Most film and television costume departments in New York City use bright pink oak tags to identify a garment as needing an alteration. Larger (and usually period) shows, like Boardwalk Empire, The Deuce, The Get Down, have two or three Costume Fitters who run the fittings for the background actors. They keep everything organized in the fitting rooms, take measurements and photos, assist the designers, do a lot of the pinning (unless something really wacky is going on, then they’ll usually call the Head Tailor in to check it out), and write the alteration notes on the tag.

Inevitably, a high percentage of alteration notes will read something like: “Take in as pinned” or “CB as pinned”. ‘CB’ means center back if you didn’t know. And ‘AP’ is the abbreviation for ‘as pinned’.

So, anyway: “Take in as pinned.”

Measure twice, cut once.

Take in as pinned

Here’s the thing, even if I pinned the alteration myself in the fitting room, ‘take in as pinned’ shouldn’t necessarily be followed literally. Seriously. It is indeed true that humans in general are not always symmetrical but it’s rare that you honestly need to take in one side more than the other. I also cannot tell you how many times an initial, “he has one arm longer than the other” turned out to be a jacket not sitting evenly upon the shoulders.

The garment can, of course, be lopsided to begin with – always a possibility if you’re dealing with vintage clothing. Measuring is always a good idea. As my Dad always says, “Measure twice, cut once.” He was talking about lumber and carpentry but the same advice applies to sewing as well.

I usually mark (or just measure) the pinned out alteration with chalk or wax on the wrong side of the garment. Then I take the pins out and assess the situation. If two side back seams were pinned in and one is considerably larger than the other, even them out. Do the same thing on both sides.

This is actually one of the top five laws of sewing – if there are laws of sewing.

I just pin everything out in through the center back then figure out later the best place to take it out.

I just pin everything out in through the center back then figure out later the best place to take it out.

I often only pin one side of a thing. More often, I just pin everything out in through the center back then figure out later the best place to take it out. A large amount will look better if you distribute it through more than one seam.

For example, if you pinned out 5 inches at the center back waist of a shirt or jacket, split the amount up between the center back, side back and side seams. The end result will look much better.

An alteration I do a lot is taking in the backs of men’s button front dress shirts. Unless it’s a slim cut John Varvatos, most men’s dress shirts are excessively roomy in the back. The quick and easy solution to this is to add side back darts.

If I have time, and the shirt has back pleats going into the yoke, I’ll take the whole back off and take out the pleats – re-cutting the bottom part of the armseye and the side seams. This can take quite a bit longer, especially if you are dealing with a shirt by Brooks Brothers, who insist on gluing their side seams as well as sewing them.

Take in as pinned.

Take in as pinned.

Speaking the same language

At Blindspot, since I’m the Head and only tailor, we just put blank pink tags on the garments as indications that they need altering. If I pinned it, I don’t need any notes. The Costume Designer for the show is also an excellent tailor (which is rare) so if I wasn’t in a fitting for some reason, he can easily tell me what needs to happen – often without pinning.

He’ll come to me and say, “I threw this on so and so, it just needs to be taken in about this much in the back.” Then he’ll show me by pinching an amount out with his fingers.

Tailoring and patterning is indeed a language all its own and it’s a beautiful thing when you work with someone who speaks it as well as you do.

Scissors, scissors, scissors

Scissors, scissors, scissors

Partial scissor collection.I have a bit of a scissor problem, as in, I have a lot of them. I’m not always good about getting them sharpened, or sharpening them myself and often will just order a new pair – which isn’t necessarily very economical but, often, much more fun. This photo is of the scissors that are currently in my shop at Blindspot. It doesn’t include the scissors I have at home or the scissors that are in my sewing kit on the wardrobe truck or the scissors I probably forgot about that are at the bottom of a bag somewhere in a closet.

In New York City, you can have someone come to your shop and sharpen all your scissors with an electric grinder. There’s also a scissor and knife sharpening truck that still trolls the streets of Brooklyn (like the Mr. Softee ice cream truck). I never have any scissors on me when I see the truck though I always want to flag it down. You can, of course, sharpen your own scissors using a sharpening stone but I never seem to get around to doing that.

Most tailors have a favorite pair or a preferred model that they own more than one of.

My absolute best loved are Gingher’s original 5” tailor points, the ones that are actually pointy on the end. For some reason, when Fiskar acquired the Gingher brand, they altered the 5” tailor points. Now they have more rounded blades and a blunter end and are often called ‘craft’ scissors. The pair on the left in the following photo is the oldest pair. See how much narrower and pointier the blades are?

Evolution of Gingher’s 5” tailor points.

Evolution of Gingher’s 5” tailor points.

I do quite a bit of cutting. I never really took to the mat and rotary blade camp though I can understand how it can be an efficient and accurate way to cut. Probably because I started my whole tailoring/pattern making career before cutting mats and rotary blades were prevalent. Or maybe I’m just old. At any rate, my favorite scissors to cut with are Gingher 11” knife edge shears.

Cutting shears.

Cutting shears.

Other scissors that I use on a daily basis are:

Gingher 8” straight blade shears

– For trimming seam allowances, though you can cut with them. I just like a longer blade.

Gingher 7 ½” pinking shears

– I usually pink the hems in men’s suit pants as opposed to serging, mainly because a serged hem will leave a ridge if someone (drycleaner or otherwise) gets over zealous with the hem pressing.

Gingher 6” applique scissors

– I use these when I need to trim something very close the edge, or when I’m cutting around an applique (obvi.)

Gingher 7” straight blade scissors

– I use a pair of these as my paper scissors when patterning.

One of the sacred sewing laws is to never use someone’s fabric scissors to cut anything but fabric. Ever.

One of the sacred sewing laws is to never use someone’s fabric scissors to cut anything but fabric. Ever.

Excuse me… What are you cutting?!

Speaking of paper scissors. One of the sacred sewing laws is to never use someone’s fabric scissors to cut anything but fabric. Ever. The standard response from someone who sews to the question, “Can I borrow your scissors?” is “What are you cutting?”

The reason why is fairly simple: try cutting fabric with a pair of craft or paper scissors and you’ll find your edge looks as if it were chewed off by some sort of extremely hungry wild animal.

Wiss pinking shears.

Wiss pinking shears.

A few years ago, I acquired some old scissors for a mens’ tailor in the city who was retiring. I love this pair of old Wiss pinking shears. Despite the knicks and scratches on the exterior, they still cut very well.

What’s your favorite pair?

Costume Shops I Have Known

Costume Shops I Have Known

I’ve worked in a variety of costume and tailor shops over the past twenty-five years – some of them very permanent spaces, others makeshift and temporary. Some of them have been hellholes, some of them heavenly, and most of them somewhere in between.

One of the worst “shops” I’ve worked in actually happened this past summer. I was working on a new period Netflix show that was going to be filming for a few weeks in Savannah, GA. Now, Savannah itself is a very lovely city with a beautiful historical district, a properly chilling Ghost Tour and interesting & welcoming people. Sadly though, the space that I was told was mine to work in was an inner room of a sprawling low industrial type building. There were no windows, the air conditioning vents in the room didn’t work (think Georgia summer humidity), and none of the overhead lighting was functional. The room was essentially a hallway, providing the only path between the front and back of the building.

You Can’t Touch This

Long ago, in Houston, TX, I worked on a VH1 movie about MC Hammer (Yes, we made many pairs of Hammer pants). The Costume Shop was housed in a vault (as in a bank vault). We had so many lights rigged up in the space that I was sure one day we were going to start an electrical fire. That never happened but Tropical Storm Allison did. The Friday when the storm began, we were doing iron on letter transfers on t-shirts and sweatshirts – the kind where you peel off the backs and then stick the letters to the fabric. The Monday after the storm we opened the vault door to find about a foot of water and all the letter backs floating around like some giant pot of alphabet soup.

I spent most of my twenties at The Alley Theatre in Houston, TX. The original Costume Shop there was deep in the basement. As far as underground shops went, it was actually a very nice one with adequate lighting, three huge cutting tables, and lots of floor space. Sadly, that shop didn’t fare so well during Allison as the entire basement floors of the Alley filled with water when some underground bayou retaining walls broke.

All Washed Up

The only real ‘good’ thing about Tropical Storm Allison is that it hit late on a Friday night so most of downtown Houston was empty of people. The Alley was dark that night (meaning no show was scheduled). A few of the actors had been out and decided to stop in to The Alley on their way home. They were the first to discover that something had gone horribly awry in the underground tunnel system of Houston. Water was almost to the top of the steps and ramps that led down to the tunnel and shops. They immediately called the Production Manager who was sound asleep and had no idea yet what was going on. Her response, which since then has been immortalized in a very exclusive, limited run t-shirt, was, “Just put some towels down.”

It took a few years but, after the storm, The Alley built one of the best Costume Shops I’ve seen in my life. My friend Alice, who ran the shop for many years, called it “The Costume Shop in The Sky.” The shop (along with the rest of production) is up on one of the two top floors of the parking garage attached the theatre. There are huge windows and tons of space. It is truly a spectacular thing.

Another exemplary shop is the one at Troublemaker Studios (Robert Rodriguez’s studio) in Austin, TX. Again, it has large windows all along one wall. The windows are especially cool because they are the kind that, although the people inside can see out, folks outside can’t see in (perfect spy conditions).

Boardwalk Empire Refugee Camp

The Boardwalk Empire Shop was in a quanset hut – one of those dome shaped metal buildings – and essentially (no matter how hard we tried) always looked like a refugee camp. It was in the back of the ‘hut’ near a big rolling metal garage door. In an effort to provide sunlight and some sort of energy efficiency, the set construction guys made us wooden frames stretched with plexiglass that we set up in the doorway. We’d raise the rolling garage door to just above our “windows”. I saw lots of beautiful sunsets over the East River from those rickety plexiglass windows.

Brooklyn Blindspot

One of my favorite shops is the one I have now at Blindspot, mainly because of the big windows that look out over a busy Brooklyn intersection. For me, natural light and windows are one of the key things that make a good shop. If I have that, I can usually make the space work. The second thing would be proper electricity/power. I like to be able to plug all the things in at the same time without blowing a breaker.

What is the one essential thing for your dream shop?

The Zen of Making

The Zen of Making

I’ve been a professional tailor and pattern maker for twenty-five years. Some days I love my job. Some days I hate it. Some days everything goes together without mishap. Other days needles break, threads knot, seams bunch, the sewing machine makes crazy bobbin art for no reason, and garments with alteration tags that read, “drop a lining in” hang on the to-do rack. (please see ‘drop a lining’ rant at the end of this post). All of these things sometimes make me forget that I actually really do like to sew, to make things, to create from a pile of fabric a new complete garment.

The hard part about ending up in a career that involves doing something you love is that, every once awhile, you end up hating the very thing that you know you love.

Which is a shame. Thankfully, I always get over it. Sometimes the getting over it as easy as finishing an annoying project and moving on to something new. Occasionally, I need to have a little talk with myself, take a deep breath, and slow down (even if there are three people asking me when I’m going to be done.) I have to block out outside distractions and focus fully on what I am doing. That is when the ‘flow’ happens.

…my alterations motto is: leave no trace.

Currently I’m working on a show that, though it involves endless multiples (lots of stunts so actors usually need four to five of the same outfit plus one for their stunt double), never really sends me to the “I hate sewing” place of darkness.

One of the characters, new to this season, wears high-end clothing that usually requires quite a bit of alteration. I love taking apart a designer dress and figuring out the best way to alter it without anyone being the wiser. As in hiking, my alterations motto is: leave no trace. I can get happily lost in such a project.

Go with the Flow

The same goes for when I’m patterning or building something from scratch. I find that I’m in the flow of making. I forget about everything else going on and just concentrate on the thing I am doing.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that Flow is the secret to happiness — a statement he supports with decades of research. During a 2004 TED talk, he said “When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life. You forget yourself.”

A study titled, The Neurological Basis of Occupation, found that music, drawing, meditation, reading, arts and crafts, can stimulate the neurogical system and enhance health and well-being. And this study concluded that computer activities; craft activities, quilting, playing games; and reading books were associated with decreased odds of having MCI (mild cognitive impairment).

What this all adds up to is probably what most of us who sew and create already know: making things is good for your psyche and your soul (and your memory!). However you do it, wherever you find your flow is important and necessary to your well being, to you being you.

Drop a Lining In Rant

“Just drop a lining in,” they said, “It’ll be easy. No big deal. Shouldn’t take you that long.”

Anyone who tells you this really doesn’t know much about sewing or patterning. “Dropping a lining in,” is no easy task and certainly not as simple as dropping, well, anything. Unless your garment is a true honest to god couple of rectangles sewn together (and believe me it very likely is not) there isn’t anything ‘just’ about it. To line a jacket, or skirt, or dress, or anything, you really need to make a pattern and it’s going to take more than a couple hours to do it correctly. On Boardwalk Empire, we would regularly end up with vintage dresses literally hanging on by thread with the note, “Drop a lining in!” attached. None of us wanted to do them. We’d shuffle them to the end of the rack until we couldn’t put it off any longer and finally someone would say, “Ok, ok, fine, I’ll do this one if you’ll do that one.”

What I Do at Work All Day (Part 2)

What I Do at Work All Day (Part 2)

(As promised) The Dart and Drop

Pinned side back seam.

Pinned side back seam.

I do a lot of suit alterations. Sometimes I alter up to eight suits in a single day.

Often, suit jackets fit well in the shoulders but are a bit too roomy in the body. Because of the inner canvas and the inevitable front pocket, you can’t really successfully alter the front of a suit jacket. You need to take in at the center back or side back seams. While pinning, you’ll usually notice that you need to take in the side back seam all the way into the armseye.

This presents the conundrum of:

  1. Should I also take in the sleeve so it will still fit?
  2. Do I need to get into that seam at all?
  3. Do I really need to take the sleeve out?

The answers are no, yes and yes. Do not take in the sleeve. Do take the bottom part of the sleeve out.

Men’s suit jackets are traditionally cut without an actual side seam. The place where you really want/need to take a jacket in, though, is often in that invisible side seam. The way to accomplish this is by using the dart and drop method.

The Dart

Dart pinned into side seam.

Dart pinned into side seam.

Take the lining out and the underarm sleeve apart from the side back seam to a few inches in the front of the side seam. There should be a notch in the jacket to indicate where the side seam would be if there were one. If no notch is present, lay the jacket flat on a table, buttoned up. Where the jacket naturally folds will indicate basically where that side seam is. Mark with chalk on the wrong side of the fabric in the coat body and in the sleeve.

Next, from the wrong side of the fabric, fold on the notch. At the top, measure in the amount you need to take in (as you determined by pinning your side back seam). Then draw a dart from that point down about 3 or 4 inches (or until you run into the top of the pocket). Sew the dart. You can put the same dart in the lining or you can simply do a tuck. Either is fine.

The Drop

The next step is to redraw your underarm seam. The armseye should remain the same size as it originally was. To do this, drop the underarm seam. I suspect there may be some actual formula for this but I’m more of an intuitive sewer. Dropping an inch is usually a good place to start. Use a curved ruler

to draw the new line making sure the connections are smooth. Pin your sleeve at your new side seam an inch below the original seam line. Then pin the rest. You might have to undo more of the original seam if the sleeve isn’t fitting. Do this in the back until you can easily fit the sleeve back in without any excessive easing.

Don’t Worry

Pinned underarm seam.

Pinned underarm seam.

If you end up having to undo part of the shoulder pad and sleeve header, that’s fine. Just reattach them once you have put your sleeve back in.

You can apply the same principle to jackets (or really anything) that have side seams. Unless you want to narrow the sleeve, dropping the armseye is a more accurate way to accomplish this alteration.

At this point I also want to add a little something about the idea of ‘a right way’ to do something. I don’t believe there is only one right way to do things.

Sewing jacket with side seam.

Sewing jacket with side seam.

I ran the costume building shop for Boardwalk Empire for four years. It was a shop full of talented tailors from all sorts of backgrounds and places (Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Tunisia & various U.S. states). We had a running joke about people who insist that their way of doing things is the only way (We even had a little song called, “There’s only one right way to do things. The other ways are wrong…”).

Walk Your Own Path

You need to figure out the way of doing things that works best for you while accomplishing the desired result. Sometimes someone can show you a whole new way of doing something that makes it easier for you. Sometimes not.

The tips and tricks I write about are the things I’ve learned work best for me over the years. Hopefully they will prove to be useful to someone else as well.

Missed Part 1? Check it out here!