Friday, December 23, 2011

Giveaway 50+ followers: Apron happiness and distraction

I promised myself to do a giveaway when I got 50 followers and I've just topped it. Thank you so much to you all for tuning in to my erratic outpourings.
So, time for a giveaway!! Remember this apron:
It is now finished with an assortment of mismatched gold and pearl vintage buttons and looks very pretty! And I will post it to anyone, anywhere in the world. I love the idea of my handiwork being worn in a place I've never been. Not that this means I'd discount my lovely local followers!
Open to followers, if blogger is not your friend and you have to post anonymously anyway just let me know that, and extra entries for sharing on Facebook, linking to your blog or joining up a friend (all of which you'll need to let me know about, too)
I'm away from the internet until 1 Jan so I will leave it open until then.
Merry Christmas everyone! xo

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lonely Hearts preview

While I've been away and sewing, the cast have been rehearsing like crazy. Today they released this little snippet. I love this number, it's a cynical homage to traditional musicals and rock and roll. Three fantastic voices too! And you can spot the talent behind the songs at the piano, Michael Nicholas Williams. Married to Emma, the second voice in the song. :)
I don't know how to make it show up in my post, sorry! :)

Oh Christmas Tree!

Our tree is finally up. It makes me very happy! I'd like to share with you some of my favourite tree ornaments,starting with the Ladies
Our fairy on top, miraculously held in place with a chopstick and duct tape!
The gloriously Edwardian circus splendour that is Mermaid Mama.
This year's addition to the Tree Ladies, Florabelle. I love her heart shaped bodice and her graceully extended arm.
Lion looks happy and smug, like he is King of the Tree. But he has competition!
Blake the Tiger burning bright around the other side thinks HE is too. Best to keep them out of eye contact with one another.
I have five left of these cardboard christmas trees. The children and I made them when they were about 5 and 7 (they are now 12 and 14!) and they are the most precious of all the ornaments on our tree.
And all together! Yes, the window lights really do loop around it, as a safety precaution thought up by MrC.
Wishing you all a Happy and Merry Christmas, or whatever version you celebrate, from my heart. xo

Monday, December 12, 2011

My latest project - costuming a show

Been a looong time since I did a show, and this one is a doozy.
Lonely Heart opens at BATS theatre on 17th January 2012
Eighteen years in the making, this musical is the work of Michael N Williams, a very old friend of mine. (As in long standing, not ancient!) We first met when I was 17 and auditioning for Fiddler on the Roof, and he was the Musical Director at about 20. While that was my first and last appearance onstage in a musical, Michael has gone on to become a fabulous and sought after MD.
The story is based on the real life Lonely Heart killers, Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez. It's a grim story set in late 1940's America,  about swindling rich widows out of their money, and occasionally their lives. I love it, even though I generally prefer happy stories. It is a beautifully told tale with stunning music and Michael has done us proud.
Anyway, I am the costume fairy. And I thought it was a good opportunity to look at the difference between costuming a show and making costumes for reenactment, or for pleasure, as so many of us do. Theatre costuming is my background and it took a year or so to get used to unthinking the constraints of stagework, now I have to put them back on!
Costumes for stage have a number of requirements - lighting, scale of texture and detail, changeability, usability, relationship and mood.
Theatre relies on lighting a lot to create effects, set moods, change scenes. Stage light is always coloured - "neutral" light on stage is usually salmon or straw coloured.
See how golden this scene is - the camera picks up the colour far more than the eye does, which responds to the light in a subliminal way.
Because of the use of coloured lights, costume colour and texture is important. This production is to have a film noire, grim feeling, and so will be quite monochromatic, but black is boring on stage (a message I wish most of the performers in the world would finally hear!) and doesn't reflect light well, and is also surprisingly cheerful when partnered with white on stage. I blame years of tophat and tails Fred Astaire numbers. So, I'm going for steel blues/greys. From deepest midnight through steels to palest blues. Drab to sinister, will work well with the light.
Martha and Ray. Like so many of the images from the time, it has a blue caste. We want to capture that without it being visually boring.
Scale of texture and detail
 Real things don't look real on stage, they look diminished. It's to do with the light and the distance. Delicate beading and embroidery are wasted; a hot glue gun line sprayed with gold paint looks better than a piece of cording. When choosing fabrics and trims for stage, I look at them from at least 20 feet away to see if their detail travels over distance. This is why theatre costumes often seem tawdry to non theatre costumiers, because they have to be! And I suspect that early film costumes suffered from the costume dept not realising they needed to rein it back a bit, as film and TV are more like real life.
One of the key costumes in this show is based on a dress Beck was photographed in several times. I will be exaggerating the details in order to have them work on stage.
Quick changes are almost unique to stage work. Plays are sometimes written to bear in mind the need to change costumes very fast, but not always. So fastenings and entrance/exit points are essential and a costumier needs to know about these things before embarking on a make. Quick changes need rehearsing also - one show I did at dress rehearsal a change took 5 minutes, when there was only 30 seconds. Three run throughs however and we had it "down pat". In this show I am using a couple of unconcealed conversions to change costume - where the actor themselves makes a change to the costume, usually off to the side but within plain view of the audience. This is a tricky theatrical device and one that you need to stick to throughout, but it can be very powerful. Changing from a prisoner to a nurse who hates her job and feels like she is trapped in it, for example.
Carrying on from changeability. You make a costume, you go to rehearsal and find that a character is rehearsing pulling a plot essential handkerchief out of a pocket that you didn't know the costume needed to have, therefore doesn't. The character is thrown to the ground and wrestled with, and they're to wear a vintage dress you've borrowed and promised to return in the same condition. Noone thinks to tell the wardrobe unless you've made it clear, keep asking, and go to rehearsals. Costumes need to perform :)
Costumes help enormously to help the audience understand who is on the up, on the down, how they see themselves in relation to other characters, and vice versa. Colour is often used, and texture and drape. Stiff costumes for suppressed characters, that kind of thing. Easier to play in this space when staging a period piece than modern dress, as there is more costume to play with and it is 'out of time' for the audience.
Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, while a film, is an excellent example of using colour to establish relationship, and also, let's face it, to help the audience keep track of who is who! The Montagues in blue, the Capulets in red. Even in this shot, Romeo stands out among the reds as being 'not people like us'.

One of the tricky bits of this play is that the leading lady is a plain frump whose anger at 'her lot in life' has built up to a point where it fuels criminal behaviour. She is also poor. So, no fabulous vintage gear for her - her costumes need to fit badly. This is hard! I want the audience to get this about the character, not think I am a lousy costumier. It's not an issue most costumiers face, we all want to look gorgeous, don't we? So, I am probably going to make the clothes fit but use other ways to convey that they are not good quality, and this is helped by Bryony being such a wonderful actress; she doesn't need me to achieve this mood for her, only to not contradict it. Also in one scene we want her to look transcended and beautiful, as she sees herself, and so I need to maker her look worse the rest of the time, to heighten the contrast. Should be fun!

So in summary, theatre costuming is about doing shouty design things to help the audience catch nuances of mood, relationship and plot. They have little time to ingest a concept - with movies and TV we can watch a DVD over and over but live theatre is in the moment, so you have to grab people and take them on the journey with you. This is all achieved by a harmony of acting, moving, light, set, costumes and sound. Each one needs to work with the others. It is tremendous fun. Oh, and on a shoestring budget too!
More on this as it unfolds...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

More Apron Happiness!

Just spent a weekend on a quilting retreat, but the closest thing to quilting I did was make these little Christmas stockings, because they have a bit of batting in them:
Dupion silk and Christmas fabric offcuts, all kinds of pretty sparkly trims, brought together to make these cuties. They now have choccies in them and are all bagged up for market!
No childish giggling please about this photo! It is Lesley (female) making her very own stocking. The stocking bug spread around our table, and quite a few more went home than arrived!
And there was a hat and some bags in a bag, but the best fun I had (besides the wonderful company!) was making two Christmas "posh pinnies." I can't stop myself, so many aprons in my soul that need to be made real.  
My beautiful soul sister* Sandra modelling #1: olive green and dark red cotton with a red/green shot organza frill, contrast fabric top cadged from Lesley (who has the most amazing array of Christmas fabrics I've ever seen!!) and an organza rose corsage.
Sandra having a look at the bottom of apron #2. Red/gold cotton with a gorgeous sleigh motif border fabric, cadged from Sandra, with organza trim, and a holly corsage.
The corsages have brooch pins on the back so they can come off for laundering, although because of this clever touch on the one the Embroidenator made me a few years back, I lost it! But she lost the one off hers too so we are even.
They need a bit of work - sewing the red jewel buttons on properly, putting brooch backs on labels etc.
*Sandra and I are constantly discovering how much we have in common. Our stashes are about 60% the same with a strong red bias, and this weekend we both like rieslings and gewurtztraminers over sauv blanc. I am convinced she is really my (slightly) older sister who was swapped at birth and am going to have to speak firmly to the Embroidenator about this...