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What i Made: Wexler Rose

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There’s a reason why Vivian Ward wore red on her date with Edward Lewis. It transformed her, Cinderella style, in an elegant way. It’s also why many of us choose that crimson hue instead of white, green or any other color when we want to vamp it up. Research has proven the color subconsciously but powerfully peaks emotions, and society has leveraged this effect long before it was confirmed by science. Women in Mesopotamia wore red lipstick 10,000 years ago and Cleopatra was known for her seductive, red kissers. Although we ladies paint our lips using formula from a tube rather than a crushed up insect, the effect remains the same. Daaaamnn girl.

While my lingerie sewing has increasingly become more intricate, my garment sewing has swung in the other direction. Back to the basics. Yet, despite the itch for simplicity, I still crave a minor dose for bloody rose. There’s a weird dichotomy going on inside my head and I think it’s ironic how it’s balancing out. However conflicting my sartorial sewing is, this pair of pants, Wexler Rose, was the perfect fix.

One of my sewing goals this year was to develop 5 core patterns that would serve as the basis of my me-made wardrobe. I gave myself the entire year because that’s how much time it takes to not only develop a foundation pattern, but fine tune and perfect it. One of those was Jasper Lee (the top) and another was Orla Madison. I’ve made them out of silk pique and I’ve made them out of orange lace. This time around, it was red wool from Mood Fabrics. I won’t go into too much detail about the construction, you can find that information here, but what was new about this version was the longer, wider leg. It was an experiment. Could I simply extend and widen the leg from the previous pattern without it altering the hang or the balance? Yes, indeed! It’s a no brainer, but every pattern maker must be careful of the butterfly fly effect a simple slash and open or something similar could cause.

I also recently brought up a topic about pants and underlining. The first pair of these pants was unlined, and it stretched out during the day. I underlined the second pair with a light-weight, firmly woven cotton, and it worked wonders. Those babies stayed very close to their original measurements through many wearings. This version tested my theory. Now, I’m not saying that every pair of pants need to be underlined, but considering the amount of stress they are put under, I think that if you’re using a fabric for a pair of pants that isn’t heavy-weight, consider underlining it. Beef those babies up (it also makes slip stitching the waistband and catch stitching the seam down a lot easier!)

Oh, and what happened to that polka dot top I planned to pair with these pants? I lost it! I swear I’m not lying! Not the whole thing, but the back piece. I searched high and low for it to no avail. Has that ever happened to you?

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Handmade: Pierre’s Costumes

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The world of cosplay is as misty and obscure as it is distinct. A massive subculture, its boundaries are limitless and its realm is densely populated with characters such as monsters, superheroes, mangas and more. For some, getting into character is reserved for once a year, Halloween, but for others, it’s a way of life. A lifestyle. A vocation such as this might seem to strain credulity – it is so nuanced and specific to the world of appearance that it seems like something dreamed up by a Zoolander character. But just think about it. When we dress up, for just one moment, we get to be someone else. That’s equally powerful and enchanting. For both subsets, there is a costume shop tucked below The Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia that is the doyen of the costume kingdom. One of the few of its kind left in the U.S., Pierre’s Costumes houses well over 1,000,000 different characters. A block away from my house, I walk passed every night, and its wonted façade gave the impression that it’s nothing special. But my kibitzing personality told me to pry; I sensed there was more behind its chiseled, concrete exterior. My feeling was correct. Behind the showroom and the sewing studio, which would make any seamstress drool, was a floor to ceiling “closet” that housed all the costumes. You thought your wardrobe was overflowing?

As interesting as Pierre’s history is Jennifer Valosen’s, General Manager of the store. She was the sewer who said she would never touch a machine after she made her first garment. But as she says it below, sewing found her and she did not have a choice in the matter. She not only discovered herself through sewing, but she thrived. Costumes are what she was meant to do.

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your story Handmade: Pierres Costumes

Pierre’s Costumes, originally named Pierre’s Uniforms, began as a manufacturing company that made mostly uniforms for hospitals and restaurants. It didn’t become a costume shop until 1961 when it purchased a tremendous inventory from Miller Costumier of Philadelphia, which had been active since 1876. With this acquisition, we became the leading costume company in the U.S. and since then, it has made, sold and rented almost every costume imaginable. We have provided costumes for theatrical productions, national theater tours, school and college theaters, movies, advertising, parties, production companies, professional sports teams, print and commercial TV, major corporations, televised parades, theme parks and more. We continue to acquire costumes and stock from other costume shops that are retiring and we still maintain a full service professional costume house that designs and manufactures here in the store.

In 1993, we moved our facilities to New Jersey to a larger, more modern space, but the stay was short lived. In 2000, we moved back to Philly, taking residence in Old City and re-opening right before Halloween. The new space was even larger than the last and included a brand new, state-of-the-art costume studio.

As for me, I started sewing when I was 8-years-old. As a child living in the Midwest, I was a member of 4-H, which taught kids everything from canning to cooking and sewing. Basically, it was home economics. What we made throughout the year was brought to the state fair, and my project that year was a sundress. This was no basic sundress. Made with a peachy-pink fabric with white seashells printed on it – I remember it vividly – it had a button front, drop waist and side patch pockets. Being a seamstress, my mom had me construct the dress correctly, using a serger to finish the seams so that the inside was nice and clean. At the end of the project, I told my mom I would never sew again! Looking back, I see why I felt that way. Whose first project involves a serger!? That machine is scary to a well-trained sewer! Why couldn’t I sew an apron?

I toed in cross stitching, quilting and other piece work for many years after, but it wasn’t until high school that I dived back into garment sewing. I was part of a military family and by the time I was 18-years-old, I had moved 32 times. Because of this, I didn’t fit in with my classmates and thus, I was forced to find out who I was at a young age, and it was through sewing that I achieved this. Sewing is the only thing that makes me feel comfortable. Whatever the current fashion trend is, I know I can’t wear it well. I’m oddly proportioned – at 5’6”, I have the torso of someone who is 6 ft and the legs of someone who is 5’4”. So I’ve always had to work hard at making myself look proportionate and be comfortable in my own skin.

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I got into making costumes when I was in college. In order for me to afford it, I had to get a work study job. The only skill I had to fall back on was sewing, so I ended up working in the costume shop as a paid employee my freshman year. I remember the first project I was given – to hem a ball gown. Thankfully, my mom was visiting for the weekend and finished it for me (thanks mom!). I hate handwork, especially on that level. And don’t think I sat back all weekend while my mom sewed. While she hemmed the gown, I finished period garments for The Cherry Orchard.

Because I was the only full time employee (the costume designer was a part time and worked 2-3 days a week), I learned a lot about the construction of costumes. A lot of it was by trial and error; I would be given a plastic bag with a project inside and if there was a pattern, instructions would be left on what the next steps were.

It took me 4 years to realize that I should be taking theater classes to go along with my costume sewing, but I didn’t make the connection until I graduated with a degree in communications and public relations. At that point, I said to myself, “Well, I went to college for the wrong thing.”

Then, I moved to Philadelphia. I was not new to the city; I had an internship during college as an editor. My boyfriend at the time worked at The Wilma Theater and he suggested that I try to get a job at a local theater company. I applied for a fellowship in production where he worked (The Wilma Theatre) and I hadn’t arrived home when they offered the position. As part of my role, I toggled between lighting, scenery and costumes, which was a great experience because I touched all aspects of the theater. Within a month, I was hired full time and given the responsibility to run the wardrobe department. It became clear to me at that point that I didn’t choose my profession, it chose me and I didn’t have a say in the matter. And I’m the kid who said I would never sew!

I stayed at the Wilma for 2 years until I was stolen away by a local costume designer. With him, I designed costumes as well as ran his costume shop. From there, I worked for Haverford College doing the same thing, and then Drexel University.

But I got tired of the work life I was living – I wanted a Monday through Friday and weekends off – so I applied for a job at Irving Stern, another local costume shop. It was a new avenue for me as I didn’t know the business of a rental costumes. I never rented a costume in my life! I ended up Pierre’s when they bought Irving Stern in 2005, and I’ve been here for the past 8 years.

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process Handmade: Pierres Costumes
The process starts with a customer or a company calling or emailing us with a request. The first step is to figure out their budget, how many costumes they’re looking for and the type of venue (school, community theater, semi pro production). With this information, we create and send what is called a costume plot, which shows stylistically all the costumes a character will wear throughout play. The client reviews it and after, sends us their notes, changes and most importantly, measurements. When working with a theater, we only deal with measurements. There are no live fittings like with a normal customer. Then, we go into the back and start pulling costumes. Most times, our costumes don’t live as a full costume, so we alter each dramatically. All costumes are made to be between 1 and 2 inches of the actor’s measurements to allow for breathing. The next step is to ship it to them. When the show is over, they send it back to us and we alter it back to what it originally was and then wash/dry clean it. Last, we put it back into the archives.

cost timing Handmade: Pierres Costumes
For us, a show is 10 costumes or more. It’s an arbitrary number that we defined a long time ago. A full show costs about $52 per costume for 11 days, which works out to $4 per costume per day. It’s pretty reasonable and makes shows for companies with smaller budgets possible without compromising quality.

We require at least 8 days to turn around a set of costumes. If we receive less than 8 days notice, we can do it, but there will be a charge a rush fee because we have to change our schedule.

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One costume that I am extremely proud of is a Santa Claus worn by the WWE wrestler, Mick Foley. His signature is a red and black, buffalo plaid shirt and we used this in the design to create a burgundy velvet suit with a wrestling-inspired belt featuring gold, metal trim with an intricate overlay. He wore it for several occasions, one in a documentary about becoming Santa Claus and another to the WWE Christmas Eve Special. To make someone have that iconic look so that they can bring joy to other people is what made this project special. In a sense, I’m Santa’s tailor.

A worst case scenario costume was for a church in Virginia. They contacted us asking if we could remake an incredibly ornate robe worn by their high priest. The one they had was easily 40-years-old and falling apart. When they contacted us, we had plenty of time to complete it – 9 months. They requested that it be hand embroidered, which is something we couldn’t do. So, we outsourced. Unfortunately, the person hired was not good at communicating and a week before we were to deliver the costume, she informed us it hadn’t been cut. When she gave me the box full of raw materials, it was do or die. I asked the owner to buy me a brand new machine with a zig-zag stitch – my machine is an old lady and I didn’t want to put her through the stress of the project – and for that next week, I worked night and day to finished it. By the skin of my teeth, I somehow completed the $8,000 costume. Not only did they get it on time, but they loved it and have inquired about making another one. I’m not so sure I want to undertake that project again!

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Weekend: Philly Sewing Meet Up

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Unlike online dating, when bloggers meet up in real life, especially sewing bloggers, it doesn’t end up as the worst date ever. At least that’s usually the case. Luckily, the dawn of technology-assisted matching results a long lasting relationship between us sewers.

Andrea moved to Philadelphia about 2 years ago. Don’t quote me on that number – it’s approximate – but I think that’s when she became a local Philadelphian. Not joking, she moved a block away from me in West Philly. One block away! Despite our proximity, it took us until now to meet in real life. We must have been busy sewing, right?

Last Saturday, that day finally came, and Andrea and Claire, another local sewer, enjoyed coffee together at one of my favorite joints, Cafe Ole. There was no initial awkwardness or long silences. We just picked up as if we had known each other for years. Andrea was super impressed with my super secret camera tricks, as you can see in the candid photo above (I use my phone as a wireless trigger. Shh! Don’t tell anyone!). Claire, as always, is being herself, which I love about her. Don’t change a thing, Claire! I hope Andrea and Claire enjoyed the afternoon date as much as I did. It’s so nice to be able to talk to other people about Grainline’s Alder dress, sewing bathing suits and grading. You just can’t get that kind of conversation from your “normal” friends.

And if you live in the Philly area and want to join our next coffee date (Andrea, I’m throwing you under the bus and scheduling a next time), email me! The more, the merrier!

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A Guide To Buying Dress Forms

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It’s a stressful time to be a dress form. She (or he) is under so much pressure to do it all – be anatomically correct, have a posture that mimics a real, live human being, and withstand the a seamstress’ pinning, which can get gruesome. But they’re one weapon of many in our arsenal to achieve the right fit, correct proportion and killer design, so it’s important that our best buddies in our sewing studios stay that way – our best buddies.

There’s a lot to consider when buying a dress form. Just like a car, not all forms are created the same. While all have a base with a body attached, there are major differences in the build and the quality. So, in an effort to break it down to you, The Shop Company, an online retailer that has incredible prices for dress forms, sent me one of their forms to review as well as show you what to look for when you’re on the hunt.

types A Guide To Buying Dress Forms

There are two types of dress forms. The first is a standard dress form, and this is the lesser expensive, cheaper option of the two. It’s used mostly as a display tool for sewers and retail shops. With a price below $100, it’s a good choice if you don’t plan to use it for pattern drafting, draping, etc. The second type is a professional dress form and these are used by sewers who want a more anatomically correct and adjustable form (collapsible shoulders). They cost much more than standard dress forms ($150 and above), but the price justifies their durability and versatility. For the sewer who wants to use the form as a tool for drafting, draping and designing, this is your best bet.

 

intended use A Guide To Buying Dress Forms

Do you want your dress form to be a body double or simply a hanger for in progress work? When I first investigated forms, I wanted one that would be my body twin, an exact replica of me. But the reasoning didn’t justify the price I would pay for a custom form. I was 18-years-old at the time, and since then, my body has changed and will continue to change. So why make a short-lived, hefty investment? Also, will you be making pants or mostly skirts? If you’re answer includes pants, you’ll want to purchase a form with legs. The same goes for sleeves and arms.

 

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pinnable A Guide To Buying Dress Forms

All professional dress forms will be either fully pinnable or partially pinnable. Fully pinnable forms have a thicker layer of foam that allows for the direct insertion of pins, which is very helpful when pinning heavy fabrics to the form. It will be hard for pins to hold up the weight on a partially pinnable form, since the pins can only go in at an angle.

 

collapsible A Guide To Buying Dress Forms

Collapsible shoulders allow you to put tight fitting clothing onto a dress form. When you put a tight-fitting garment over your head, you raise your arms , and this makes your circumference measurement slightly smaller. Collapsible shoulders mimics this movement.

 

other ways to adjust A Guide To Buying Dress Forms

For most of us, a dress form will be in the ball park of our measurements, but not exact. To get it as close as possible, pad up areas that need more width. Another option for adjustability is to buy a dress form that has dials which allow sewers to adjust critical areas like the bust or the hips. While this is super helpful, it also creates problems as there are gaps in the dress form that make pinning difficult.

 

diy dress forms A Guide To Buying Dress Forms
Can’t afford either option? Make your own! The supplies to make one won’t cost more than $50 and there are a ton of tutorials online.  Melissa Jenkins, owner of Katastrophic Designs and one of my sponsors, even posted a tutorial on Madalynne not too long ago!

 

So, if you’re in the market for a dress form, professional or standard, check out The Shop Company. They not only have a large selection of forms, but also fixtures and display options (racks, hangers, etc) at amazing prices. Happy shopping!

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