Saturday, 22 December 2018

Christmas Costumes!

In the run up to Christmas, with no panto on the horizon this year unfortunately, it was suggested to me that I try making some Christmas costumes for sale. This is something that I have never tried before, having always made for either shows or commissions to a specific brief, and always to specific measurements!

At first I started making hats and scarves (after all, what is a being from the North Pole if not one that requires warm clothing?) From there I must admit that I went with the more obvious fabrics first, red tartan and other fleeces, with two exceptions - the first being my Elf-On-Strike hat! Not working to a brief I confess this was more inspired by the fact it was the first of the Christmas pieces I was attempting, right at the beginning of November and so I was not overly in the festive spirit. This is the first time I have attempted large scale hand embroiders, I was embroidering on fleece so I used multiple embroidery threads and a bodkin to make sure the embroidery was substantial enough to last without warping the fabric.

From hats I wanted to make full costumes, so I decided to start with elves - not the everyday interpretations but something a little bit different, and special. Having to do it to non-production specifications was interesting, I am so used to thinking about the production requirements when making a costume! I decided to do the elves out of synthetic fabrics with a lining.

Thinking of what makes an elf - the colours, red and/or green are synonymous in the UK at least, so that was a good jumping off point, as well as a bit of sparkle, it is for Christmas after all! So I started with basic shape designs, then chose my fabrics according to my self imposed budget. I had spare calico that I used to draft a basic pattern also helped by my borrowed dress form!

Another fun skill I got to learn from this was how to make frogging from cord. This is an incredibly difficult and fiddly process, and I must admit that if you can get exactly what you need online, it is worth the extra expense! However if you can't wait, or you just can't find the right colour of type of frogging you need it is possible to make it, just be prepared to fail miserably the first few times no matter how many different how-to's or tutorials you try online! In the end I knew the basic shapes I wanted and just ended up working with the cord until I figured out a way to make them that made sense to me and that I could work with.

Above - one of my first elves right before I added the buttons 

A fabric that in theatre I have never actually gotten to work with before is fleece, stage lights and hot theatre's not being overly conducive to hot costumes! However it is by far one of the easiest fabrics I have used, and I loved making this Nutcracker inspired costume below.
My Nutcracker, 1

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Candide and West Green House Opera

In July I was able to spend an amazing four days in the grounds of West Green House, working as wardrobe assistant under wardrobe mistress Aly Fielden on West Green House Opera's production of Candide, fantastic as this was the first opera I have ever worked on, I was able to embellish and alter costumes as well as make some Nun hats! I have no photos to put on here unfortunately but if you are in Hook for the two weeks of the summer of the Opera I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

'Anything Goes'

We are now post-show, and what a show it was! Anything Goes with Bournemouth Musical Theatre Productions at the Regent Centre in Christchurch, we had a four day five show run last week closing on Saturday and it was a triumph! I was back on board as costume assistant and wardrobe mistress (some designing and making, a lot of alterations and repairs, and again prepping and running the wardrobe and dresser team for the run!) There were plenty of quick changes, the shortest of which was 15 seconds, rivalling the 12 second Spamalot quick change.

Before I get into backstage though, the costumes. I was working again with the wonderful BMTP head of costume Lisa Stead. The majority of the costumes were hired from a wonderful company in Guildford that has been active for 30 years, however not everything we needed could be found there. After the read through I drew up a selection of costume designs, late 20's and early 30's, just in case we couldn't find what we needed from hires and buys, and I am so proud that two of my designs were selected by Lisa - a wedding dress design and a day dress design - to be made for the show, with the day dress design being used for four matching day dresses for Reno's Angels, used by them for the majority of their scenes. Not only that but I was also asked to make the iconic Palazzo trousers for Reno and her Angels! I had a four page to-do list of alterations and repairs that accumulated in the weeks before the show, but there were so many small bits I wont go into detail, and instead stick with the designing and making!

The onstage photos are provided by Paul Thompson of Oakphotography.

Day Dresses;
Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a close-up professional photo of all the Angels on stage together in their day dresses, however I got one of them all together backstage, and two professional photos of them during scenes. My initial design was shorter, and a dark blue that I had envisioned for Erma's character as an evening dress, however making it knee length and a pale blue brought them into daywear. In order to keep them more period specific and to better accommodate the fabric we were using for them I bias cut the dresses, which when standing correctly as onstage in the below photos suited them wonderfully!

Above - Angels in day dresses, front right stairs, third back left stairs

Above - Angels in their day dresses on the left stairs

 Above - Angels in their day dresses backstage

Above, photo during the making process, before the second fitting to correct the length and before the sleeves are hemmed.

The Wedding Dress;
The wedding dress was a labour of love, I absolutely loved both designing and making this dress! A 1930's bias cut, which is something I have never done before but surprisingly enjoyed. Originally I designed this as a V-neck but due to concerns of the performer I changed it to a higher, round neck which was also period and suited better. I originally also designed it with a line of buttons up the front as a mock fastening and point of interest, however after seeing it on I decided to leave it without the front buttons as the clean lines were so elegant.

The Finale! Wedding dress to the right of the photograph

  Our Hope in her wedding dress on set between Saturdays Matinee and Evening shows
A little shot of detailing on the sleeve cuff - I added three buttons to each cuff and elastic mock rouleau loops

The Palazzo Trousers;
Due to a photoshoot to promote the show a few weeks before we opened, the white Reno palazzo trousers were the first ones that I made! After examining the way they hung and where they were fitted I decided not to cut them on the bias, and instead to put long zips and where necessary additional Velcro on the side of the trousers. For the front, I found the most effective and simple way to do the front section was to do a stitched pleat each side of the centre line going into the pressed line down the centre of the leg, adding the buttons on to make them look as though there is an additional panel. I repeated this for the dark blue trousers as well, as with the other costumes making each to the measurements of the performer. The white trousers are the only ones with the mock turn ups, made by stitching a tube of fabric to the bottom of the trouser legs and securing it up with a swing catch at each side - yes it is the return of the rare swing catch! The fabric used for the trousers, both white and blue, is the same as the light blue day dresses, and it was due to the photoshoot that we discovered that, unlike the light blue fabric, the white was partially see-through and definitely needed lining! This was simple enough to add and below you can see photos of the white lined trousers on-stage.

Unlike the other costumes there were some fantastic professional photos of the trousers!

 Anything Goes! The Angels and Reno in the Palazzo trousers on stage

The Angels backstage in their Palazzo Trousers

 The white Palazzo trousers just after I finished them, before pressing

As wardrobe mistress, this show was a different animal from Wizard of Oz and Spamalot where the majority of costume changes were for specific songs, instead there were a lot of multiple quick changes for the same performers during single scenes, and quick changes to accommodate the dance sections of certain numbers, and the fastest and most prolific set of changes during a certain scene in the first act, including a change of just under a minute out of two layered costumes to the third base layer, with another layer again added over the top to be stripped out of on-stage! For this I had my largest dresser team yet, with myself and five others on rotation of three or four at a time, who are currently students at the Arts University Bournemouth.

The next Bournemouth Musical Theatre Productions is already chosen, but I will not announce it on here yet as I don't want to ruin the surprise!

Friday, 26 January 2018

Pantomime - A Town Is Bourne

It has been a nicely busy Winter season for me as I went straight from Starlight Express into a pantomime! The show - 'A Town Is Bourne' at the Shelley Theatre, Boscombe - was written and directed by James Jones, who also played the Dame, Cherry Winkle. The concept was locally based, an idea on how Bournemouth could have been given its name.

I was fortunate enough to be asked to design for the production, my first pantomime, with stipulations from the director as to a rough idea of the period of influence - an element of the 1840's/1880's - and the colour themes for the three main families. Smocks were also requested for our two smugglers, again based on local history as one of the more infamous smugglers of the region, Gulliver, dressed his men in smocks. This was a fascinating experience for me as it is rare for pantomimes to have so much of a historical element in the look, but it was incredibly interesting meshing the two into a cohesive whole. The underlying theme throughout the pantomime was one of competition - with this in mind I added a visual element to the two parent couples who were the main competitors against one another particularly the fathers. For the Lord I had an ever growing cravat, every time he came on stage his cravat would have grown. For the Captain, I had his epaulettes increasing in size every time he went back on stage. It began very subtly but by the time the finale arrived it was very obvious! I was going to have the two mothers of the competing families also having a visually competing element, with one side having increasingly puffy sleeves and the other an increasingly embellished hat, however at the dress rehearsal the sleeves were not at all noticeable and detracted from the overall look and so I decided to stick with the men on having the visual element to play off each other. We also had our femme fatale, Saffron, the 'showgirl' who was incredible fun to design for.

Initially I was meant to be designing the costumes and wardrobe mistressing as my main roles, and assisting the costume maker, but due to circumstances beyond their control our costume maker had to withdraw from the production at short notice, I agreed to step into the role. Thankfully she was able to lend us waistcoats and a coat for the use of the production, as well as three dresses that could be completely remade as required.

Of the dresses, the blue dress I used for Emily. I changed the neckline and bound it in gold, removing and replacing the sleeves for a different style. The skirt was coming away at the waist but instead of removing it I added a new skirt over the top in a different fabric, leaving the original skirt underneath for a fuller effect to the skirt.
The other two dresses I had the two 'mothers' wear under their costumes as additional undergarments in order to again add more fullness to the skirts and additional structure in the bodice as I did not want to use corsets.

All the rest of the costumes were made from scratch.

Working on this show gave me the opportunity to work with fantastic makeup artist Sophie May Melville, who did an outstanding job with makeup and hair.

Cherry Winkle was without doubt my favourite to design as this was my first Dame costume! She was Perry the fisher mans mother so despite the colour theme of silver and grey for the colour theme of the Winkles this gave me a lot to work with, with pink, blue and green as the accent colours, I was able to make this a much more lively costume! The fish you may recognise as well, they are indeed the Spamalot fish I made for the number 'Fisch Schlapping'! The hat was also a new one for me as I haven't made any hats before, only masks and headpieces. Due to time constraints and not knowing at that point what the wig was going to be like I bought a fabric hat base, in pink, and built onto that enabling it to be pinned to the wig. The chest and hat shells and fish were stuffed with sponge.

Dame Cherry Winkle

 The hat, with the wig sourced and styled by makeup artist Sophie Melville!

 Perry, principal boy, and Emily, principal girl

Due to a special appearance at the Bournemouth Christmas Market, Perry's costume was the first that I made, with a stand in dress for Emily due to time constraints.

 Toby and Beth
Special thanks to Amy Cox for very generously donating an afternoon to help me by adding all of the bias binding to the Toby jacket!

The Tregonwells
Captain Tregonwell (Left) is based on a combination of an 1840's and an 1880's naval captains uniform, with the first of his five gold epaulettes (Epaulette set 5 in top group photo). Lady Tregonwell (Right) is one of the two with the secondary dress beneath for added structure.

 Lord and Lady Tapps-Gervis
Lord Tapps-Gervis without his coat, with the first of his five cravats (Cravat 5 in top group photo) Lady Tapps-Gervis is the second of the two dresses with the secondary dress beneath for added structure.
Chris Creeke
One of our two smugglers but unfortunately I did not manage to get an individual shot of the other Creeke brother, only in the group shot at the top of the post!

And lastly but by no means least, Saffron, our femme fatale, the 'showgirl' villain of the piece who was definitely one of my very favourite costumes to make!

In terms of wardrobe mistressing, the cast were wonderful to work with as was our venue, the Shelley Theatre, and Sophie was a wonderful makeup artist to work alongside. The show required very little in the way of changes and repairs, and so only required myself and my backstage kit on costume during the show.