Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to Make Your Own Cross Stitch Pattern

I said I'd do an update on Sforza and Gaddi, but well, this isn't it.

If you're like me, you've found that you're unsatisfied with following the readymade cross stitch patterns on the market. You might, like me, long to create your own pieces. And, like me, you probably don't want to spend money on software to do it for you. I'm poor folk, and I can't afford a fancy schmancy computer program - Adobe already emptied my pockets.

Doing it by hand is easier than you might think. First and foremost, decide on what you want to embroider. If you have a photo or printout, you're about halfway there. If you're like me and can't find a big enough jpeg to print, you do it by hand on tracing paper.

Next step is to get ahold of some 1/16" graph paper. I can't afford to buy a pad, so my awesome boyfriend printed a few sheets for me. Slap your original image onto a light table, and tape it well while you're down there. Next, tape your (makeshift) graph paper on top of the image/drawing. If you, again, are like me and can't afford a light table, you can flip a clear plastic bin over and stick a bright light under it. Cheap and effective.

The next bit is coloring your graph paper square by square. This part is a bit of a painstaking process. Fortunately, after years of "dolling" I'm used to drawing one pixel at a time, so this part isn't so bad. Here's a snippet of what I've got so far. I'll be slowly working on this over the next few/several weeks/months, in between paying stuff. Here's hoping I don't forget about it in the meantime.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Evolution of a Corset

This entry is going to be somewhat image-heavy, mostly because I don't have a lot to say about the project. The sky blue corset I've been working on is nearing completion - all that's left at this point is adding grommets. But since that's the only thing left, I'm going ahead and creating an entry as if it were done. Because I can.

Here is a picture from after I had assembled all the fabric bits and threw it on my form. I like putting things on dress forms often, because I like checking and making sure everything is about where I want it. Plus, it's just plain satisfying.

Aaaand, here's a shot of it, as I was adding boning and channels.

Exciting, right? Maybe only for me. Next is one of the bias binding, and a closeup of some of the flossing.

Flossing was originally added to help keep bones in their channels, thus avoiding issues of them popping through stitching and/or the fabric, itself. The technique quickly evolved to become more than just functional, and there are some beautiful examples of flossing in period and modern corsetry. Mine isn't particularly beautiful or refined, and it doesn't take theform of flowers and the like, but I do enjoy it, nonetheless. Like embroidery, it's soothing to do and helps complete the overall look.

Nice effect, huh?

And lastly, the finished corset.

I'm very satisfied with the finished product. This corset would look better on a body than my crappy form, but it definitely achieves the look I was going for: feminine, soft, pretty. 

What I learned from this project:
Not much, really, though I did enjoy working on it. I did learn that Ageless Patterns isn't much help, beyond just the basic pattern. If I ever need to make something I've never done, I won't buy a pattern from this company. The stitching on the corset isn't as perfectly symmetrical as I'd like, but it's still quite satisfactory. 
After I get the grommets in, this piece will be delivered to its new owner, and I'll be taking measurements to get her gown underway.

Up Next: Luigi Gaddi and Mario Sforza

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Update on the Russian Court Dress

Back to work on the corset! I'm almost done, which is rather exciting. The bias binding is now sewn down, and I am currently working on flossing the thing. I'm planning on being done with the corset within the week, and moving on to the dress.

This weekend, I was also able to fit the giubonni for Mario Sforza and Luigi Gaddi, so there will be updates involving those, as soon as I get the muslins trued up and adjust my patterns. Exciting! For me, anyway.

In other unrelated news, I got engaged over the weekend! Yay, me! And my fiancé, of course. We're not getting hitched for a little while, as we have other ducks to queue up, first (even though I'm already planning things in my head). But Yay! I swore to myself years ago that I wouldn't become a wedding-obsessed-type. We'll see how well that pans out.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Non-Update, aka Revisiting Old Work

So, Halloween has just passed, which means that up until this week, I was busy working odd hours and fighting illness (every year, I get sick. It's tradition, now). But now the chaos of haunted events and the Playboy Mansion is over, and I have some fun stuff to report: The busk for the late Victorian/Edwardian corset arrived, which means I can finally get going on it, again. And while I was waiting on the busk, I got a doublet and sleeves drafted for Luigi Gaddi. Progress! That said, I don't have much else to post about, so I'm showing a veste I worked on last Winter/Spring.

The Chocolate Veste
This was the inspiration portrait. I have no idea who painted it. The woman who wanted it for Southern Faire was keen on keeping her original main color, which was a black/orange shot taffeta, which reads as brown. Because she was playing a Baronessa, we chose to trim her veste in a subdued gold that reads like gold with extra nickel in it. This was the second Italian dress I'd worked on, and the first noble costume. This costume had a number of challenges. First and foremost, the woman who commissioned it was planning on losing weight. A lot of weight. between her first corset fitting and the final veste, she lost somewhere between 4 and 6 inches in her waist. This was awesome for her, but quite challenging for me. Also, San Lorenzo, the guild we're in, has a history of trouble with collars on vesti. Women either had collar flop, or resorted to inserting boning. After trying two different collars on my toiles, I realized I could just make a built up collar that was an extension of the bodice.

Pretty satisfying. So far, this is just one layer each of taffeta and cotton canvas, with two lines of trim to cover the shoulder seam. So, first hurdle was complete. Next up, the dreaded baragoni. The portrait had four rows of loops, so I attempted to do what I could to achieve the same look.

My baragoni are definitely bigger. But, in this case, I was okay with that. The woman who commissioned this veste has a broader ribcage and hips than the little young thing in the portrait, and the larger baragoni really help to show off her ever-diminishing waist. I ended up started with a short sleeve as the base for the baragoni, before tacking down strips of taffeta and trim. It was a simple solution, and a pretty effective one, if I may say so. I have no clue if this is the way it was done during this period, but it was the most straightforward method I could come up with.

And this was the veste, once I attached the skirts, which were padded and pleated in the usual way. See how tiny that waist looks, between the baragoni and the skirts? And I swear this dress isn't as shiny in person; the flourescent lights in the shop are reeeeaaaally making it look funny.

What I Would Do Differently
What did I take away from this project? Overall, I like it. The veste looks like a chocolate box, which pleases me. However, next time, I will do my damnedest to convince the next person that they should really be wearing two layers (a sottana AND a veste), as it never looks right otherwise and creates extra issues that have to be solved in a theatrical manner, instead of maintaining a better level of period accuracy (like adding a zipper to keep the skirts from gapping in front). I would love to never ever put another zipper into a Renaissance costume. Ever. That said, you can't actually see the zipper, so it works from a theatrical standpoint. But everything would have been much more satisfying if I had made two whole garments.

Up Next...
The corset to go with the Russian Court dress, and some toiles for Mario Sforza and Luigi Gaddi.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mini Update

It's Halloween season. This means that my spare time gets eaten up by sideshow gigs, and I have little to no time to spend on commissions. However, the busk I ordered arrived (yay!), so I can get going on that after the chaos of sideshow gigs is over.

I ordered a Miao hairpin on eBay in September, and it never arrived. I opened a case with the seller, and contacted a wonderful bellydancer  who also happens to sell Miao jewelry. Unfortunately, she didn't have anything to suit my particular needs. So, what to do?

My (awesome, intelligent, genius) friend, Melissa, suggested checking Cost Plus World Market for something appropriate. Lo and Behold, she was right on the money. Have I mentioned how ingenious Melissa is? I came away with a necklace and a pair of wood chopsticks.

With a triangular file and some wire from my jewelry stash, I ground some grooves into the chopsticks and restrung the spokes of the necklace and prepared to attach them to said eating implements. A kink in the plans! The dang spokes were too floppy. The solution? Sandwich the danged things in between two Afghani coins I had laying around from my belly dancing days. With some somewhat haphazard wiring, the boyfriend and I lashed the heavy sucker to the chopsticks, and Voila! A hair ornament that will be seen from a good ways away. It's not particularly Chinese-looking (I play up my hapa heritage for sideshow), but it will do.

Have I mentioned how heavy this sucker is? Those silver coins from Afghanistan don't fool around. Good thing I only wear it for a few hours a night!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Beginnings of Mario Sforza and the Russian Court Dress.

The Russian court gown is coming along sloooowly. Most of this is because clothing from the Romanov era requires the proper underpinnings - specifically, a proper corset.

I started out with a pattern from Ageless Patterns. If you're curious to try using something from this company, you will need a good background in period clothing construction: There are NO instructions. If you have never made a corset before, I would recommend starting off with another company, like Laughing Moon Mercantile. Ageless Patterns is not for the faint of heart. 

 I found the size closest to the customer's waist measurement and proceeded to make a mockup. Now, here's the thing about Victorian corsetry: The more Rubenesque you are, the closer you will come to achieving that lovely wasp-waisted figure that was so popular during the turn of the century. The customer who commissioned this costume is willowy enough that the extremely pinched look can't happen without adding so much padding that it would look unnatural. So, some sort of happy medium will need to be achieved.

I ended up removing the bust gores and two of the hip gores, to achieve a better fit. Also, the dress form is doing a horrible job at filling out the garment, as per usual. So far, the body of the corset is together, and I'm waiting on a busk to come in the mail, before I can continue working on this piece.

In the meantime, I have begun drafting patterns for the Mario Sforza costume. I have the doublet done, and am hoping to complete his slops and sleeves while I await the arrival of the busk. I have no pictures to prove any of this, though, so you'll just have to believe me. Or not.

To make up for lack of photographic documentation, here's a picture of Zita, hiding in my sleeve:

Upcoming Projects

I've got a number of commissions/projects coming up, but since most of them are in the planning stages, I don't have much to write about just yet. But I CAN share images of the inspiration/basis for what I'll be working on.

The boyfriend is in dire need of a new suit, and wants a copy of the burial clothes of Don Garzia de' Medici, which resides in the costume collection at the Pitti Palace, in Florence. I've set him to work on all the gold couching, so this costume is waiting until he's done. In my version, his calze will have 26 panes in total. I believe he has 11 done, so far.

My current project is a Russian Court Gown. This isn't actually the image we're using for reference, but I honestly just couldn't remember where to locate the other one on the interwebz. Right now, the corset is in the middle of construction, and we're waiting on a busk and boning. More on this in future entries (possibly).

Also on the list of to-dos is this portrait, by Sofonisba Anguissola. It will be made for a teenager portraying one of the Medici Boys (Giovanni) at Southern Faire. In all likelihood, this one will be done before the Garzia.

Other costumes in the works include clothing for a retired captain of the Bande Nere, Mario Sforza, a Florentine physician, and a new dress for me. However, I do not have any photo references for these, yet. Stay tuned for more adventures in costuming!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Completely Unrelated Shameless Self-Promotion

First day of my blog, and I'm already breaking my own rules. Sort of.

No, this is pretty much completely unrelated to costuming.

Remember how I said that I'm in an all-girl sideshow troupe? Well, it's Halloween season, which means this is when the bulk of our gigs happens. A number of our shows take place at private events, BUT here's one you can come see: Boo at the Los Angeles Zoo! We'll be performing five shows on Saturday, October 26th. Want to see daring damsels in distressing situations? Because this is your chance! For more info, check out the LA Zoo page at www.lazoo.org/boo/
And for more info on our sideshow troupe, be sure to visit www.facebook.com/sideshowsirens

And just to pretend to tie this all back into costuming, I'll mention that I am the costume consultant for the group and that I made/altered/spiffed up most of my current costume. I intend to make an entry about that costume as well, at some point. But I make no promises.

New Side Project

In between a few different commissions, working on a number of dance costumes, and the Halloween season (sideshow gigs), I've decided to start a new side project. I got re-addicted to cross stitch, and am in the planning stages of developing a new pattern: Francesco de' Medici's coat of arms. If all goes according to plan (read: I don't hate the project before I finish it), this will be displayed in either San Lorenzo's guild yard or safely at home. So far, I've got a black and white copy that I've filled in with color, to get an idea of what I want to do.
I was undecided whether or not the figures (seraphim?) should have blue or green tunics, and gold or burgundy tassels hanging from the Maltese crosses. After coloring everything, I think I'll be going with the light green tunics to tie in with the garlands, and the burgundy tassels, to add weight to the bottom.

Since the original image gets pixelated at even the size of a quarter page, I went ahead and freehanded an approximation of the original image.
It's not perfect, but it's close enough for cross stitch. Also: Yay, tracing paper for creating symmetry!

The image, so far, is roughly 14"x14". The next step will be to get the drawing on a light table, under some graph paper, and fill out the 1/16" squares with color. It's a tedious way to map out a cross stitch pattern, but I don't have a program that will do it for me, and this method will give me the results I want. I also don't have a light table, which means I'll be improvising with a glass-top table that's been sitting in my mom's barn. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?

About Me

About Me:

My name is Tamara. I am a costumer, a sideshow performer, a bellydancer, an avid reader, and a tea snob.

 I studied at FIDM, and earned an AA in both Fashion Design and Costume Design for Film and TV. I've worked on a few short films and a handful of theatre productions, but most of my time has recently been spent working on private commissions and costumes for competitive dance.

Did I mention that I also work as a sideshow performer? Cause I do. I perform dangerous and often painful stunts with a a group of beautiful, wonderful, girls. If you're ever in the Los Angeles area, you should check us out - I promise you won't regret it. You can find out more about our fearless feats at www.sideshowsirens.com

I am also a performer at the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire. I've worked there since 2000, and have been a boothie, part of a stage act, and an actor (I'm horrible at the acting part). I am part of the Guild of San Lorenzo, the Florentine embassy from the court of Cosimo de' Medici; with them, I am a street actor and the resident Costume Director.

 This blog will be a place for me to share and keep diaries of my progress on various costume pieces. The content will likely be predominantly Renaissance in period, with healthy smatterings of other time periods/realities.

 Welcome to my blog - I hope you enjoy the ride!