Monday, 12 December 2011

Specialist Practice - Workbook Blog - Contents

N.B. see also my hard-copy Research File for annotated research images, a fabric sampling sheet and pocket sample. A copy of the Learning Agreement and Initial Work Plan is also included in the file.

This Contents list presents a chronological sequence of my progress in working on Specialist Practice, for ease of reading. Click on the title to go to the relevant post, or simply scroll down this page to read the blog in reverse-chronological order.

Sunday, 11 December 2011


Cabrera, R. and Flaherty Meyers, P. (1983). Classic tailoring techniques: a construction guide for men’s wear. Fairchild Books.

Mitchell Co, J. (1990). Men’s fashion illustrations from the turn of the century. Toronto: Dover Publications inc.

Rolley, K and Aish, C. (1992). Fashion in photographs: 1900-1920. London: B T Batsford Ltd.

Whife, A. (1945). The modern tailor, outfitter and clothier. Volume I. Caxton.

Yarwood, D. (1952). English costume from the second century BC to 1950. London: B T Batsford Ltd.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Final Evaluation

Overall, I am very pleased with the outcome of this unit. In my experience of the course, each unit has challenged myself even further, and this has been no exception. I have worked very hard throughout the project and am happy with what I have achieved.

I have worked closely with the designer and costume supervisor in my work, and feel that the finished costume represents the character of the Narrator very well. Having analysed the character’s situation as well as the context of the performance, it was clear that I should produce a traditionally tailored suit. I consulted with the designer at all points where specific design decisions had to be made (such as style areas), and made sure to take the usage of the suit into consideration, such as making lots of working pockets which would contain props. On the whole I have made sure that the Designer made most of the design choices, from the fabric down to the smallest details. Nonetheless, there have been times when I have had to be insistent on certain choices due to my research and experience with traditional tailoring, such as the type of cloth and buttons. At times I feel that I should have been clearer about tailoring conventions, for there were difficulties when the wrong type of buttons were purchased. Luckily in this instance there was enough time to find more suitable alternatives, and in the future I know to be clearer when necessary, for the luxury of time and budget may not always be available when working on live projects with tight deadlines.

As I had completed a very similar suit for SDP last year, this project proved a way to consolidate and improve upon my tailoring and pattern-cutting skills. I have therefore worked as independently as possible throughout the project, making independent judgements according to my own reasoning and experience, and asking advice from tutors only when I needed confirmation of the appropriateness of my decisions. I was happy to work in this way, for it undoubtedly prepares me for work in the future as a costume maker.

I encountered many difficulties whilst making the suit, which were mainly due to my pattern drafting and cutting – such as the error with the elongated trouser crutch, and when I did not accurately match the checks on the jacket side back panels. Nonetheless, overall I am glad that I made these errors particularly in pattern drafting, for they have allowed me to truly understand the tailoring blocks, and notably how the 2D shapes relate to a 3D form. Ultimately, as I have now made grave errors in a supportive and taught environment, I should be better equipped to handle errors in the future – and ideally, not make them at all! I am very happy with the fit of the suit. Throughout the project, the actor was very honest about when and where areas of the suit were uncomfortable for him, and ultimately declared that he felt it fit him very well. His clarity and honesty has made me really take notice of which portions of a suit need to be flexible, and I have noted how this relates to the drafts. This will definitely be of great use in the future when I come to fit a costume either without extra help (i.e. with the tutors supervising), or to an actor who is not as readily vocal when in discomfort.

Matching the checks on this suit was one of the things that I truly struggled with. Prior to this project I had not worked with checked fabric, and it was a challenge which at times felt beyond me. Despite practising pattern matching across areas such as the pockets, and taking great care when sewing up the suit in general, it is certainly still imperfect. There are areas of the suit where I feel that I could have really improved upon the pattern matching, such as the jacket pockets and the area of the jacket by the back vents. However, I do not feel discouraged by this imperfection for I truly feel that I will improve upon this difficulty with experience. In the future, I will continue to practice matching specific patterns across difficult areas (such as pockets) on samples before applying them to the finished garment.

Additionally, this project has truly taught me the importance of precise and methodical working: I feel that I should have allowed much more time for pressing the suit, both as I was making it as well as at the final press. This is such an important element as it finalises the suit’s overall look. I feel that this may be a failing in the suit, particularly the jacket, for some elements did not look as crisp as they could have during the performance. However, overall, I am really happy with the suit. I have learnt so much, and feel that I have truly developed and improved in my tailoring work. There is still so much room for improvement, and this project has certainly taught me that. Nonetheless, I look forward to continuing to develop as a tailor in my future working life.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Watching the Show

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching A Soldier's Tale on its opening night. Despite having familiarised myself with the music and storyline when researching this project, as well as of course being intimate with the design, I had managed to keep an open mind. I feel that the costumes - in terms of the overall making, as well as design - were really successful which truly gladdens me, and I feel reflects all of our close working with the Designer, as well as each other, throughout the project. I was very happy with how the Narrator looked - although I did wish that the jacket had been pressed or at least steamed before the performance, as the back was really very crumpled from when the Actor had sat down on it (and generally moved around in it - he was much more dynamic that I had anticipated!) numerous times during rehearsals. The back flap rode up a little, and one pocket flap was a little too springy still, and stuck up a little from the rest of the jacket. Apparently no one else noticed though. Although I had pressed the suit several times before handing it over to the show team, I feel that I should have allowed even more time for pressing. This would have contributed further to the loose breaking down of the suit, for if the character had owned it for many years, it would have been pressed many times in the past.

Additionally, I was really worried throughout the performance that the trousers would split at the crutch seam! I was literally on the edge of my seat at this. Edwardian trousers were really very narrow in the leg, and as tight as the wool cloth would allow. I had double-stitched the crutch seam to allow for the fact that it would be put under strain, and luckily it did hold. However watching the Actor leap around in the trousers (as well as sit on the boxes with his legs open, as men are wont to do) was truly nerve-wracking - probably irrationally so. The Actor has since re-assured me that the trousers fit him very well through the performance, and did not even come close to ripping or splitting, which is very re-assuring! Nonetheless, in the future I may reinforce the crutch seam further by triple-stitching

 I thought that the suit bore the audience's scrutiny well, in terms of the context of the performance venue. I feel that all of my efforts in pattern matching had been worth it: although I personally can see where it could have been improved (it was definitely imperfect, particularly across the revealed jets of the flap pockets), on stage, the checks really looked like they matched up brilliantly. It was amazing how much of the pattern on the cloth disappeared when viewed from the seating stand - all that could be seen were the bold, prominent lines across the fabric. The smaller, houndstooth-shaped check was just not visible at all. Throughout my work, I had been so preoccupied with matching the checks that I had simply forgotten to consider the factor of distance! However I would never want to work in any other way (i.e. be less than meticulous with the pattern matching) as it indicates the quality of the suit just as much as anything else. Additionally, since the suit is going into the Costume Store after the show, it may be used in a film, in which case the pattern might be clearly visible, depending on the type of shot. Nonetheless, this realisation has led me to remember to truly factor in distance in the performance venue, in my work in the future. This could be particularly important if I am making something with graphic motifs, for instance.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Orchestra fitting

I agreed to be part of the team that went to Poole to fit the Orchestra into their WWI army costumes. As I am a maker, Grace assigned me to fit one of the players and organised assistants for everyone. I also stayed on afterwards to apply alterations as there is so much to be done still before the opening.

Dexter oversees a fitting

Team work was of course important in this situation. Dexter was the only tutor present and was overseeing 8 fittings happening at once, so it was important to use my judgement as much as possible, yet checking with him before any firm decisions were made.

Rather hectic fitting space

Fitting the orchestra was different from fitting actors in my experience, both the student actors at uni and when I have assisted with fittings with musical theatre professionals in my summer work on Rigoletto at Opera Holland park, and at the West End's Phantom of the Opera. Movement was of paramount importance, and many orchestra members made it very clear that they would not wear the army jackets as this would inhibit their playing. Additionally, concern was for the costume being too tight around certain areas, which would distract them from their playing (such as the putties). This is not difficult to remedy - the putties, for instance, can simply be tied more loosely - however the various concerns expressed by the players can perhaps be accounted for due to the fact that when they perform professionally, they would wear formal dress that they had chosen themselves, rather than being costumed. In any case, I did my best to assume a manner of professionalism, important when I was fitting sensitive areas (such as the trouser centre back seam) to somebody I had only just met.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Photographing the Suit

I decided to have the suit photographed with the Narrator in full costume. I felt that it was important to have a really good photo of the suit for my portfolio, for I know that I will want to show potential interviewers this project: this suit, although still with a myriad of faults, is so much better than the one I made for SDP and has been a piece of really complex work that I want to display. I was unable to confirm whether photos would be taken of the show, and was also unsure how much access I would have of it after the performance when it went into the Costume Store. Additionally, I wanted a really clear photo of the suit. The Actor was more than happy to do this for me, and the Supervisor was also happy for me to use the other components of the costume. I therefore made sure that I did this with the least inconvenience to the other members of the show team.

Jana, the photographer, is still working on photos but here are just a few more now. We made sure to photograph certain details as well as the overall suit.

The Final Press

After the costume parade Dexter showed me how to do a final press on the suit. He stressed that care should be taken; to work slowly and methodically; to press carefully from the inside of the suit; and finally, that each area should be left to cool down totally before moving it from the ironing board to press the next section. I was really glad to learn how to give the suit a final press, since we had not been taught this in SDP due to time restraints. Additionally Dexter taught me how to set the lapel and collar, as well as giving me hints on how to further smooth down seams and pocket flaps. Ultimately this is the final stage that contributes to a flat, crisp finish. It takes a lot of time, and I should definitely have planned for giving myself more time to do the press. After pressing it for the first time, I had the suit photographed in the photography studio; however after this I should have pressed it again and left it to set overnight. As a result of this, when the Actor wore the suit at rehearsals over the next day, the suit was again very crumpled with areas such as the lapel being 'bouncy' (i.e. not as flat and crisp-edged as I had left it the previous night!) once more. I had to take lots of time to press it again.

Upon reflection, I should definitely have spent a longer time pressing the suit in the first place, so that the jacket in particular would have 'set' more firmly. I will certainly do this in the future, for it will give my work a much more professional finish. I will also press the jacket more effectively as I go along (which I now know how to do, thanks to Dexter's tips) so that I build up the pressing slowly. This will be more efficient in the long run, as I will then not have to dedicate quite so much time to it at the end - the final press will just give it a final set; this is important as when working on live productions I may often be short of time, and should definitely not have to cut back on the press. Overall, I should spend more time pressing as I go along, when working. I will be sure to get into more of a habit of constant pressing in the future. As Graham taught us  - the iron is your friend!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Costume parade

The costume parade was held in the morning. It was really fun to see the costumes all together and get a feel for how the production will look. I had managed to finish my suit before the week-end so was not too worried about the parade as after the last fitting I was confident in the fit and the look of the elements of the Narrator's costume that I was responsible for. However, I had not yet learnt how to give the suit a final press, which meant that areas such as the lapel and collar were not sitting correctly. In hindsight, I should have tried to arrange a session with Kat or Dexter on pressing the suit beforehand, for this would have aided the show team (Designer, Director, Supervisor, Rebecca, Mandy and Dexter) in getting a better idea of the finished feel of the costume.

There were very minor alterations to be made to the suit. I had to re-sew the buttons onto the jacket as we only got them just before the parade started and had done them in a hurry. I also had to lengthen the trouser hems a little more at the front. The fact that I have had to lengthen them several times already suggests that I should have noted the length of the trousers more precisely at the fittings. Of course it also depended on the shoes that the Narrator was to be wearing, which were not decided till rather late. In the future I will make sure that the Actor is standing very straight when I set the length of the hems so that they do not come up too short.

I spent the rest of the day doing the suit alterations and pressing, which took a lot of time; however I wanted to get it done as quickly as possible so that the Actor could commence wearing the suit in rehearsals. I also helped the rest of the team by doing laundry and pressing shirts when I had spare time.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Team Work

Working in a team had been something that I was looking forward to within this project. Overall, as a team we have come together mainly at the beginning of the project, and then at the end. As I was confident in how I was to make the Narrator's suit, and more than happy in coming up with solutions to areas I was unsure of, I have enjoyed working with the rest of the makers in aiding them come up with solutions of their own. Obviously I have not been dictatorial since we are all working on our own projects; but I have enjoyed coming up with suggestions, such as with some elements of the Devil's costume (how to make it look like vines are growing up from the feet - in chatting with Emily H. I suggested nude power mesh attached to the lower portion of the leg).

After the initial brainstorming we more or less went our separate ways, in constructing the costumes. However, overall, I have found working in this team incredibly supportive. I truly feel that, although we have been working on completely different things (aside from Emily M., whom I have always worked closely with as she is making the Narrator's waistcoat) we have come together very well. Upon reflection, I believe that this might not always be possible, particularly if it is on a very large production with really huge teams. Additionally, people's personalities may not always be so that everyone always gets along. In this way, we may have been lucky! However due to this project I truly see the importance of close team work, especially when it comes to show week! As such, I have agreed to go along to Poole to fit the orchestra's costumes, and have offered some extra time to the Supervisor in order to help with the additional alterations which I expect will be inevitable!

Friday, 2 December 2011

The button fiasco

There has unfortunately been a set-back with the buttons. The Designer and the Buyer went to Button Queen in London to purchase buttons for the suit on Tuesday. They had asked my opinion prior to this and I had advised plain bone or horn buttons which blend into the suit without much notice. This was according to my research in tailoring books, which advised on button choices. Rebecca had said much the same.

They bought buttons which were a bright chestnut in colour, and in leather. I wasn't sure about the choice but felt that as the Designer had bought them, then her decision would have to have final say. The colour felt far too bright, but I was told that I could take the colour down with boot polish, as they were leather.

However, I felt that I should show them to Rebecca to check before sewing them all on. Her reaction was strongly against them; she pointed out that they were the style of buttons used for Harris Tweed jackets, not the type of suit that I had made. I explained that I had had the same misgivings about them but thought that I should concede to what the Designer had chosen. However, Rebecca pointed out that as the suit was going to be in the AUCB Costume Store after the production, her say (that the buttons were unsuitable) would have to override whatever the Designer had chosen. I suppose that I should have been more insistent on the type of button that they had bought; in any case I will know to make it clearer if things have to be in a particular way. This seems very important in classic styles of tailoring, as there are so many rules which must be followed.

 Luckily Mandy is going to London anyway this week-end so she will buy new buttons for the suit that I can sew on. Even though it is so close to the deadline, this shouldn't be too much of a problem as I don't think that it will take me too long to sew on the buttons, and I can do so when the costume parade is taking place on Monday.

I have asked for extra buttons to be bought to sew into the lining, in case they fall off and need to be replaced in the future. This is important for the suit will be placed in the AUCB Costume Store after the production, and will be used in the future.
I will be sure to buy extra buttons for all costumes I make in the future, as it is simply something I have not considered previously.