Thursday, March 8, 2012

Has it really been so long?

I think I have a little catching up to do. There's no mention of my volunteer work for Centenary College's Theater production of "A Christmas Carol - The Musical". I'd read an article on the Burdastyle Website that inspired me by Kristen Elmer because I've been thinking about how to make a living at sewing. The college is walking distance from my home and their costume director was thrilled to have the extra hands for her production as there are 200+ costumes. My assignment was to make tuxedo jackets for male dancers in the Christmas Present scene. I had three weeks to make seven jackets.

The dancers ranged in age and sizes from a small young man to a college senior who took a size 44 jacket. Yikes!

Using a pattern for a pirate costume as a starting point, I modified the jacket to remove the front tails and round off the rear tails. I made a 'baseline' muslin that I thought would fit most of the dancers. Think again. It fit two of the dancers. I took some wild guesses about scaling the pattern and came up pretty darn close.

The fabric was a horrible cheap double knit from JoAnn Fabric, but on a positive note it had a lot of stretch in it. Really bad things happen when one straight stitches in the direction of the stretch. My Pfaff has a zig-zag stitch that is a combination of short straight stitches in a zig-zag pattern. What a life-saver! Particularly at the armscye where the sleeves were set in. Unlike regular jackets which uses horse hair interfacing to shape and build body, dancers' jackets need to have a lot of flex around the arms and waist. Double knit poly has plenty of flex and strength. Another positive, the stuff just doesn't fray along the seam allowances. Tip: fusible interfacing slides right off the fabric so don't even bother, use sew-in interfacing only and make it really stiff stuff. I used a heavy interface that is used in back packs and bags to give my jacket lapels and collars shape. Without it, the double knit would flop over and curl up into polyester canolis.

Though I attended rehearsals to take measurements and try fitting my muslin, I really didn't see my jackets in action until opening night. I damn near died when I saw the spectacular vigorous dance routines, complete with slides and splits. At the last minute, the director required red bow ties. I had anticipated flopping collars, so I sewed down the collar points. Six of the dancers took the time to thread the bow ties under the stitched down collar points. The 7th ripped up the collar and had his collar flopping up and down, revealing his red tie, with every move. Oye! The costume director said 'let it go' and I did. The show was wildly successful. More musicals will be planned for next year's season.


After the jackets and after the bow ties, I returned to making shirts again. I'd bought some vibrant plaid and am still working on making a pattern that fits my crooked body, so I forged ahead. Again following the book Shirtmaking by David Coffin, I made my own collars, cuffs, and plackets rather than use the McCall's pattern pieces.

I'd never sewed with a plaid before. It turned out to be one of the most difficult plaids one can use. Most plaids repeat symmetrically horizontally and vertically, or at least one of those directions. This pattern is asymmetrical in both directions. I had no idea until I tired to pattern match my shirt pocket to the body of the shirt. OMG! I spent hours figuring out what went wrong. It never seemed to match. And then I got it. I did fairly well matching back to front, and sleeves to body, but this was more careful dumb luck than planning. Next time I try a plaid pattern like this, I'll pin the fabric to my dress form first before I pin and cut the pattern to it. I thought I'd got the plackets right, but I go blind looking at them even now.

Because this weekend my town has a St. Patricks Day Parade, I made a shirt that I could march in and feel I have something unique to add.

The plaid shirt had a little too much ease in the shirt sleeves, so I increased the seam allowance by 1/2 inch. It was a big improvement, but I need more. My wrists are very thin for a man too. Reducing the seam allowances any more really won't help because the sleeve cap and armscye are starting to look very large relative to the sleeves. I don't think the raglan look is good for a shirt. So I need to redraft the fronts, the back, and the sleeve pattern pieces.

But not next. I volunteered for a production of Cabaret that will be put on by the Chatham Country Players at the Chatham Theater. The costume designer gave me my first assignment, which is a lined robe for the character Sally Bowles. I have three weeks to get it done.

Almost forgot to mention, I made my first skirt. One of the ladies at my bank was so impressed by the plaid shirt that she begged me to make a skirt for her to march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. She had a very simple skirt pattern with an elastic waist, and I already had a brocade-like green fabric. She was very pleased, and it really only took me a couple of hours to make. Pictures to come.

And that's all for tonight!

1 comment:

  1. I just found your blog through MPB. I think your shirts are looking great! And those jackets......very McQueen. I'm so impressed.