Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Post Mortem - Ebenezer's Housecoat

Early in May I took on the assignment of making a replacement coat for the character Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" to be produced by the Chatham Theater in December.  I did my best to copy the coat to tracing paper and then transferring the pattern to muslin pieces.

The original coat is over 30 years old.  It had been let out numerous times and there were generations of repairs.  There was a total breakdown in communications between me and the costume designer for the play.  I wasn't until just weeks before the opening of the play that I learned what the actor's size would be roughly a size 53.  I was further directed to provide a 1" seam allowance without grading so that the coat could be let out more if needed.  The coat was to be fully lined, which is unusual for stage.  The fabric was a velvet upholstery, and I hadn't made a coat like this before.  From reading books on tailoring, I learned that an important element of creating the body of a coat is the undercollar.  The undercollar provides the shaping for the outer collar and pulls together the front and back pieces.

I wish I had taken more pictures of the under collar construction.  I had a fairly stiff interfacing and did padstitching (about five close parallel stitch lines in a slight arc from the center back to the seamline) to shape the collar and then diagonal quilting lines from the outer padstitch line to the seam.  The collar had a full rounded look that I thought was pleasing.

I made a muslin for fitting the actor.  Unfortunately, we was wearing a heavy sweater and had little arm movement at the fitting so the designer directed me to roll the sleeves back in the armhole.  When I returned with a first cut of the coat in the final fabric, the actor was wearing only a T-shirt.  The designer directed me to cut the yoke of the coat back 1/2" on each side.  I knew then that reducing a yoke by 1" was going to be trouble.  On the second fitting, the actor didn't have arm movement again so the designer directed me to reduce the seam allowances to 1/2".  By this point, I'd had it, especially with the show opening 1 week away.

The coat's original design was a rumply affair to begin with, but with the many changes the coat took on a life of its own and got away from me.  The dress form I have is a size 40, so it was really a struggle for me to see how the coat would look at all.  In the end, I gave up and turned the coat over to the designer along with the leftover yardage.  After the play closed I learned that the designer never used the new coat, as it was too much of a departure from the old coat.  She really wanted a perfect knock off of the old coat.

A couple of weeks ago, I joined the Yahoo Group GBACGCostumers (Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild).  One of the members mentioned finding a pattern for a "Prince Albert" Skirted Frock Coat on the Birch Street Clothing site.  As the member said, I found a Laughing Moon pattern # 109 and the great treasure Mr. Lars Malmberg, proprietor.  I purchased the coat pattern to sanity check my own copied pattern, a Birch Street pattern for a reversible bolero jacket,  Birch Street pattern for a reversible Vest, and #106 Folkwear Turkish Coat.  The Turkish coat also provides Trapunto designs for all the borders, so I might be consulting with my mom on trapunto again.

There is an interesting twist to the story.  The actor was Alan Semok a/k/a The Dummy Doctor.  During the fittings, he liked the coat.  He wanted the sleeves kept long, the designer cut them back.  He wanted an inside pocket; I made sure he got his pocket.  Alan asked me if I would be interested in making clothes for ventriloquial dummies and puppets.  In a heartbeat, I said I would love to!  Very soon I hope to meet Alan in his workshop. 

In the next entries, I will tell you about my trip to the Merrow Machine Company , Fall River, MA where I met the present owners Mr. Owen Merrow and Mr. Charles Merrow, descendents of the original Mr. Merrow.  And just today in the NYC Garment District, I visited Elliott Berman Textiles, where Eugenia presented me with a double gauze cotton print from France that I bought for a future shirt, and visited the International Pleating Company where I met George Kalajian.  You've got to check out Geroge's blog and his store on Etsy, both linked from the company website.

Good night!

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