La Bricoleuse -a costuming blog

labricoleuseHark! A new-to-me blog, La Bricoleuse, courtesy of Rachel Pollock, a costume artisan and graduate school professor at UNC Chapel Hill. I don’t remember how I found the site but I was immediately attracted to its high quality content. For example, this entry on making a half scale dress form. While it may not be as in depth as one would like, the materials and chemicals used in the process are obvious if you’re of a mind to make your own. I think many of the form tutorials available keep sources close to the vest. But maybe not now, I haven’t looked in awhile.

UNC_student_projectsAnother feature of the site is an inside look at student costuming projects. I can’t speak for you but I had never had to do anything like this. A sample is shown in the image at right. Kaitlin Fara‘s drape is on the left and Adrienne Corral‘s work is on the right. I’m very impressed with the level of craftsmanship, the result being very polished. It provides a striking counterpoint to a lot of costuming work seen on the web, much of the latter looks as though it has been glued together.

Another example of the site’s content is an interview with Daniel Weger; the head tailor and pattern maker at Eric Winterling, the lauded NY costume house which produces for myriad Broadway musicals as well as commercial work for Disney, Sea World and film and television entertainers. An excerpt:

Q. What are some of the specific considerations you have to take into account when creating tailored garments for the stage and screen? Do you have any tips and tricks to share for speeding up parts of the process while retaining quality level?

A. Unlike many regional theatres I have worked in, New York shops use a lot of fusible interfacing such as tricot. Some fabrics take dye better than others, so it is not out of the question to make suitings out of stabilized spandex. We also use a lot of custom printed polyester. The tailors here use premade canvasses that they beef up with a little extra canvas or felt. With the high volume of suits we make and the often tight turn-around, it is most cost-effective to have these one hand ready to go. As a patternmaker, I come from a theatrical background so I was trained in the theatre. I am accustomed to making suits that include large seam allowances, etc., in order to improve the versatility of the garment. A majority of the tailors who work with me are from the commercial industry, so they bring the techniques of manufactured garments with them. The quality level is very high, the main difference is that the clothes are completed to be used for a single actor, and not to be returned to costume stock to be used and altered over the years.

Daniel mentions his most important tools are his shears and his L-square. The divisional scale on the latter saves him the work of math calculations. I wrote about it before; the L-square includes a chart of aliquot parts. I don’t think hardly anyone uses it these days so I was gratified to read he does.

Last but not least, Rachel has had significant impact funding sewing and costuming arts programs in public schools with very little backing. I tried to donate on her project page but it wasn’t working -a browser conflict perhaps? Keep her mind if you have some materials or machines to donate. Other than her blog, you can keep in touch with her via Facebook and Twitter. I’ll leave you to explore her site and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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  1. Jessica says:

    A lovely blog indeed! Now you’ve awakened some great memories of my years in costume land and using extra large seam allowances and construction methods that make future alterations as easy as possible (lots of flat lining)! I spent alot of time altering period opera costumes, and it was fascinating to examine all the inner constructions – though certainly the magic of theatre and the stage hides alot, as you can see when studying 25 year old costumes up close! It took me a little time sewing outside of the costume industry before I felt comfortable clipping / trimming / grading seams, as we always had a rule to never cut a costume when altering to ensure it could be let out as much as possible down the road. We also had a rule to never tape or glue costumes together…but you’ve got to watch out for those actors who want to fix their own costumes during a show…gaff tape on fabric is a sad thing!

  2. Grace says:

    During my time as a wardrobe mistress at the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival, one rayon gown was cut on bias, but only allowed to hang overnight. That thing grew and grew for the first week of the production. Each night, I hand-hemmed it .again. But the thing just kept growing while being worn. I remember following the actress around backstage, trying to tape up the hem with 1/4″ hem tape before her next entrance. 1/4″ hem tape doesn’t have a prayer against heavy rayon satin. She was a real pro, though. She never tripped when the tape gave out.

  3. Donna says:

    Brings back fond memories of going to Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in LA each year to see the display of movie costumes. Seeing the costumes up close is so exciting.

  4. Kate Rawlinson says:

    It is a great blog. The traditional tailoring that I was taught (in the UK) also leaves large seam allowances – only they call them inlays. Savile Row suits are expected to last 25+ years, and gentlemen tend to expand in that time (particularly the ones who can afford Savile Row).

    In my limited experience (having trained in tailoring but mostly worked in costume), making period menswear is much more like making ‘real’ garments – it seems to be constructed in largely the same way as it would have been back in the day, whereas period womenswear is much more full of shortcuts to get the look without all the faff.

  5. emily says:

    What a delightfully small world. I got to work with Daniel at the Shakespeare Theatre here in DC last year and his tailoring skills are really remarkable.

  6. Thank you so much for the kind words! And, thank you for the mention of my charity page on DonorsChoose, too. I fiddled with it this morning and i think it’s live again and working.

    You make a good point about a lot of the costuming images on the web, but at the same time, i get the idea that a lot of the folks documenting their costuming processes are hobby costumers, often self-taught, as opposed to the folks in programs like ours, where they’re going to grad school because they want to get jobs like Daniel’s. Most of the professional costumers working at the level of Eric Winterling’s staff are also often bound by NDAs and can’t share images of their work in progress or talk about their techniques because of those contractual restrictions.

    This is precisely why i started my blog, though–I have the good fortune to be in a rare position of working at a theatre which encourages digital media distribution of behind-the-scenes information, and teaching in a graduate program that trains people for those top-level production jobs. The head of our graduate program, Judy Adamson, worked for many years draping at the renowned NYC costume house Barbara Matera. She is very exacting about quality of the students’ stitching and finishing, on top of their learning processes of draping, drafting, and tailoring.

    I felt like, someone needed to be documenting this type of work in the field who had the freedom and encouragement to do so, since most do not, hence La Bricoleuse. I can’t balance out all the Stitch Witchery hems and hot-glue trim applications out there, but I hope I provide a useful documentation of the existence of an alternative.

    I’m a huge proponent of “open source costume production,” too, and will gladly respond to any comments or inquiries about methods, media used, clarification of anything that’s confusing. Because i teach only advanced grad students, i fully admit that i sometimes might be making assumptions of a base-level of understanding or recognition of media/methodology that could be better clarified for a general or non-costume-industry readership.

    Long-winded comment, sorry. Again, thank you so much for your shout-out! I have been a fan and reader of Fashion Incubator for years, so I’m a bit starry-eyed that you found and read my own blog. :D

  7. Jessica says:

    Rachel – It’s awesome to read about your commitment to sharing the process and methods of costume production through digital media.

    “I felt like, someone needed to be documenting this type of work in the field who had the freedom and encouragement to do so, since most do not.”

    Several years ago, I had considered going to grad school for costuming to learn more of the finer points that my undergrad degree didn’t cover, but don’t see that being my path anymore as my desire to learn more extends beyond the costume industry and covers a bigger picture of sewn product design, development, manufacturing, custom clothing, sustainable fashion, etc.

    Costumers need such a diverse range of skills in their craft, and I see their documenting their work to be a critical element in sustaining the sewing trade and keeping artisan techniques alive. Thanks for making such a quality contribution to the industry!

  8. Kathleen says:

    Hi Rachel, I’m so glad you stopped by. I don’t remember how I found your site. I think someone left a link to one of your entries in comments. I think your site is an interesting opportunity for people to get an inside look at this aspect of clothing production. Definitely more artisan centered and having to learn soup to nuts as well as problem solving around incredible challenges. Sometimes I envy that…

  9. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for the link Liz, I appreciate being directed to content (and am just SO glad hers is not as lengthy as mine). The apron is cute. I wear an apron every day. I feel naked without it. I even wear it on quick trips to the store and then I wonder why other patrons ask me where the soup or catsup is.

    And yeah, I feel kind of silly that I don’t know about everything out there that I should which is why I rely so heavily on all of you to keep me on my toes.

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