Thursday, November 28, 2013

On Water, the usefulness of which depends on its location...

By Jingo, water is great stuff. It keeps us alive, makes the crops grow, fish live in it.
However, it has no business coming through a ceiling.
This morning my shop manager called to say a mannequin had fallen through the ceiling of our little shop. I thought I had misheard. A MANNEQUIN falling through a ceiling??? Sounds a bit like too much sniffing of the white board markers!
And yet, here it is! Hanging on as if for dear life. It turns out that at some point, probably years ago, some shop owner's idea of a leak fix was to put this hollow backed mannequin up in the ceiling to catch the water. Once it was full and overflowing, the water just kept seeping into the tiles until it gave way, and a whole mannequin's worth of dirty water fell into our shop.
Right down our knitting needles and patterns. Erk.
Knitting patterns when wet make great papier mache, and that's about it!

And yet, I am thankful. For a great day's trading, in spite of the mess, for discovering the problem before it got any worse (the builder sent to fix it found several other overflowing containers along the edge of the ceiling!) and for a beautiful day today...

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Santa's Sleeves

I'm starting on Santa's sleeves. This is because I've been sick and they are small and doable compared with the acres of heavy velvet in the body for which I don't have the energy. Also, sleeves are a great place to sample finishes.
They are the red velvet, lined with the brocade and edged with the fur. The fur trim is 15cm folded in half, and sandwiched between the outer and inner with the down stroke on the outside.
I really love the view into the sleeve - very opulent.

It also means Santa can get away with wearing a t-shirt underneath, as his bare arms won't be too obvious in all of that. I actually reduced the depth of the sleeve end so I could get both sleeves out of the width of the fabric, and I'm glad I did.
But on the outside, the look is too plain, too department store Santa. So, I decided to do some machine embroidery.
Just holly, using a metallic thread. I don't usually do fine detail like this as it doesn't 'read' on stage, but this is not for stage - little kids may sit on Santa's knee and they will get a very up close experience. I want them to discover the little details, if they are that way inclined. I love the idea of some little child being so impressed by what they see, they vow to become a costumier. I remember that moment myself, at an exhibition of the costumes from The Six Wives of Henry the 8th back in 1979..
Still too plain, so I added a trim...

But it was still too plain, so I added beads...
They are just little seed beads in groups of three - they how up better in the flesh, as it were. I used shiny rayon thread to sew them on, it is SO nice to hand sew with almost as nice as silk! However, I still felt is was all too twee and lacked depth, so...
...I took it off and added half of my all time favourite gold lace. The whole width was too lacey looking - I just want it to look trimmy. That's a real word you know, stupid spellcheck...
The first trim goes back on over the raw edge of the cut lace, and we're nearly there. I'm hand sewing it all using the same metallic thread as the machine embroidery. Also surprisingly nice to sew with. Because of the very heavy seam allowance inside - two layers of fur, one of velvet and one of brocade, it's easy to hand sew knowing there's no way the stitching will show through the other side!
I've only done about 8 inches so far. But the time is far more consumed by the planning and sampling. Now I know what I'm up to, I can get them done in a few hours.
Next up, hood action!

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Christmas related tangent

Well, people, isn't life just quirky! No sooner have I moaned in here about not having time to sew for myself, I get an offer I cannot refuse. I can't, the liddle diddy kiddies would be so sad...

...Oh do get to the point!
A very good friend of mine is the Big Cheese at a museum, and they want to do a Santa's Grotto that will blow the minds of the world in its fabulousness. It's all about visitor experience people! No red velour, nasty white fur and cotton wool beard for this Santa. Oh no, he is going to be a real Dickensian Santa.
And, I am responsible for making his fantastic costume. No pressure.
I mean, I couldn't say no - it's such a fantastically fun project!!
Now I am sure that you all know Santa was stolen by Coca Cola early in the 20th C - prior to that he could be seen wearing not just red, but green, purple, burgundy, midnight blue - usually a long hooded robe trimmed in fur and often a wreath of holly. Here are some inspiration pictures - including The Ghost of Christmas Present from Dicken's A Christmas Carol.


This last image really took our fancy over a phone call accompanied by links to images sent back and forth. Imagine a greeen Santa with Arctic Fox fur trims!!!

And so, I got sampling and dyeing. I really love this stage of the process, arguably more than the construction, as it is where the artistry comes in.
I was over the moon to find a beautiful, almost entirely natural fibre based brocade, that just needed over dyeing. And a fabulous light brocade to go with it:
So delicious! Both fabrics shrunk unevenly in the dyepot, giving them extra texture. I loves texture. So dramatique! This to go with an amazing Arctic Fox fur, which is light but definitely not cream or white. It was all perfect for the Christmas Present Meets St Nick we had in mind. I duly posted the samples off and waited...
But the Staff pointed out to their Cheese that the iddy diddy kiddies would not realise the Green Guy was Santa. Red won. I am in awe of the Staff as I rarely win an argument with the Cheese. He is very hard to say no to. Lovely smile...
I love red and was more than willing to go with the decision, but finding a red fabric to match the beautiousness of the green was not so easy. I tried overdyeing the greyish original brocade in red and I love it, but I suspect any Santa wearing it would have looked like he had chainsawed the reindeer and all the elves while wearing it. SO not the look we want, in the context. I may yet make myself something out of it however...
And that IS the trouble with red. It is not a benign colour. Get it wrong and it is scary, get it too right and it is plastic. Lesigh.
Enter the Rayon Velvet. Very small poly content, a great sheen with a rough surface so lots of texture. Very drapey and heavy. The most delicious strawberry jam, Renaissance red. I loved it soo much, I realised it too needed overdyeing, lest it look a bit orange or pink to those not as red-sensitive as me.
We also had to swap the idea of Arctic Fox with a white rabbit fur - dirty not white thank you - It came from The Shop of Which We Do Not Speak, and was twice the price as the fab faux fox, but its dirty beigy white is just right. And in spite of being yukky acrylic, it feels incredible. Everything has to feel nice so kids sitting on Santa's knee only feel soft textures.
And here is the final line up. Typically hard to photograph white and red - the fur is dirtier than it looks. The velvet I overdyed - 6m x 150 wide of velvet in the washing machine with not even a whole sachet of iDye natural Crimson just intensified its colour enough to tip it into the truly red family. Same gorgeous goldy/pewtery brocade.
And that is where I leave the story for today. More soon... :)