March 30, 2012

You Can't Take It With You

Last weekend, Thin Ice Theater presented the Moss Hart - George S. Kaufman classic "You Can't Take It With You".  Comedy ensues when the the straight-laced Kirby family meets the eccentric Sycamore family.  There is also a lovely message about living and enjoying life to the fullest.

One goal of the costuming was to clearly express the difference between the two families.  The Kirby's are neatly pressed and dress in subdued colors, hair expertly coiffed.  The Sycamore's are a bit wrinkly, their hair a bit mussed, and their clothes much more colorful.  Their friends each have a unique look that reflects their stories and personalities.  Our director Eileen set us the goal that the audience should laugh when each walked on stage, before any words were spoken.  And at the same time, we tried to avoid making anyone overly charicature-ish or clownish.  The play is set in the late 1930s.

Here is the family and their guests around the dinner table:

Here are Mr. DePinna and Paul, in the clothes they wear while making fireworks in the basement.  Mostly, this gave us the opportunity to pull out a few of the wackiest things we have.  These guys were such a good sports about it, and actually got excited every time we gave them something else outlandish to put on.  Paul is wearing one of the dusters that was made for Little Women last fall.

We dressed Donald quite casually, since as he says, he "don't go nowhere much".  And then added a crumpled fisherman's hat and cowboy boots.  Eileen's direction was for Penny to be a Lucille Ball type character.  Penny's theme became polka dots, to bring out her endearingly ditzy personality.

Below on the left is Essie. She dreams of being a dancer (and our actress has taken loads of ballet).  Eileen asked her to be an innocent, with a dark intensity that surfaces now and then.  All her costumes had to have full skirts and petticoats for lots of twirling.  Her husband, Ed, was to be basically geeky.

To their right is Grandpa, the anchor for the whole family, and the source of the philosophy of the play.  We decided to keep him dressed pretty conventionally, a dapper old gent.  But he's not totally pulled together, doesn't have a complete suit even though we do have the pants that go with that jacket.

And on the right is Henderson, the tax man, getting agitated trying to explain to Grandpa why he must pay his back taxes.

Next, here is Rheba the maid.  She's a sweet, gum-popping blonde.  We found a great wig for her.  To make her basic maid costume more fun, we pulled out all the aprons we have, and she wore a different one for each entrance.

She is talking to Tony and Alice, the romantic link that brings these two unlikely families together.  They are dressed in their finest as they go off to see the Monte Carlo Ballet.  

Then, Mr. DePinna puts on his Roman costume, modeling for Penny's artwork, while Penny is wearing her "painter clothes".  The Roman tunic is one of the few things we made from scratch.  We had the helmet in our costume collection.  After this photo was taken, we got some taller socks and he wore them with sock garters.  That was something I saw while looking at photos of other productions, and I really liked it.

In the background, you can see Essie coming downstairs in what I like to call her ballerina-wannabee costume.  It was a pink dotted Swiss petticoat that was restructured a bit, a white silk camisole-style blouse added, and then both embellished with pink lace and ribbon bows.

Here's the fateful moment when the Kirby's arrive for dinner.  I picked a red tie for the son, Tony, to give him a bit more liveliness than his father.  For me, the tie symbolizes that Tony is drawn to the wackiness of this family.

And here's Ed talking to one of the three G-men.  The G-men all wore basic black suits and fedoras and white shirts.

Here are two friends of the family.  The Grand Duchess Olga Katrina and Mr. Kolenkhov.  The Duchess is on break from her waitresses job at Child's Restaurant.  Eileen wanted her to be wearing a strange combination of duchess finery and her waitress uniform.  I researched fancy waitress uniforms of the day, and found a photo of this hat.  Annie miraculously reproduced it.  Eileen loved it because it has the look and feel of a tiara.  We inherited her fur wrap a couple of years ago in a box of fur bits and pieces. We left it torn, because she is down on her luck a bit after the Russian Revolution.

Mr. Kolenkhov is Essie's ballet teacher.  We found this huge beard for him that almost exactly matches his hair.  He is an impressario-wannabee.  We dressed him in tail coats, as he is always bemoaning what has become of the grandeur of Russia under the Communist government.  (He is also my son.)

Costume portraits are on my website.  This was a super fun show to costume, since we could break loose a bit and have lots of fun with silly costumes.

March 24, 2012

Amazing Stars, part 2

My previous post showed the repair work I did on a c. 1870 6-pointed star quilt.  In this post, I will share photos of this wonderful collection of vintage fabrics.

I think it's easy to assume that everything in the olden days was drab and pale, mostly brown, and nearly always calico.  At least that's the traditional way to costume TV dramas about the 1800s!  But this quilt lays all that to rest.  When you're looking at these photos, take note of the range of colors and the variety of prints.  Enjoy!

Here are a few fabrics that help date the quilt.  A dark yellow-orange dye, sometimes called cheddar, paired with indigo blue.

Another era marker - the double pink, or raspberry pink.  These were available in a huge variety of tiny prints.

Older style, chintz like prints.  

Prints with very fine detailing.  By the later 1800s, the prints became much chunkier.

Design elements against patterned backgrounds.  By the later part of the century, the backgrounds were more often white or solid colors.

Green was a difficult color for dyers.  At the time this quilt was made, it was done with an overdye of blue and yellow dyes.  Towards the end of the century, actual green dyes were developed, but they were terribly fugitive.  Today, many of those late 19th century green dyes have faded to a khaki tan.  So here is a good solid green, indicating the older overdye process.

And finally, this print.  I like to think of it as early op art, not at all your sweet little calico.  It was apparently pretty popular, and shows up fairly often.

Now, here's a really fun thing about this quilt.  In the midst of all these amazing printed fabrics, here is one star done in solids, and quilted with hearts and paisleys.  I looked and looked, but I'm pretty sure it's original and not a previous repair.

And now, just sit back, relax, and continue the tour of these wonderful fabrics, each star better than the one before.  I just couldn't stop taking pictures of them!

A great combo of browns and rusts.

Check out those polka dots!

And yes, those intense yellows are real.  The color is known as chrome yellow, named after the dye process.

This star has one of my repair patches in it.  Can you find it?

Nothing dull about this star!

I hope you have enjoyed your mini-vacation with this lovely quilt!

March 21, 2012

Amazing Stars, part 1

This quilt just begged to be recorded for posterity.  It's not an uncommon pattern, a basic 6-pointed star.  It's a very nice rendition, stars surrounded by lighter colored baby blocks shapes.  But as you will see, its real claim to fame is its fine condition and its fine collection of 19th century fabrics.

The quilt dates to c. 1870.  "Circa" is usually interpreted at occurring somewhere in the 10 years before or the 10 years after the date.  I think many of these fabrics are 1860s and 70s, maybe a few into the very, very early 1880s.

I patched 6 diamonds.  A few of the browns have weakened and split:

Here are a few brown fabrics being auditioned:

Sometimes, part of the audition process is to look around at other fabrics in the quilt, even though they are still intact.  It's well nigh impossible to exactly match such an old fabric, but not impossible to find something that has the same look and feel and general coloration.

Here's the fabric I ended up choosing for this place:

First step is to trace the diamond to be patched:

 Next step is to pin the pattern to the fabric and cut, including a turn under allowance:

Here's the patching fabric pinned on, first edge turned under and ready to sew:

I slip the knot inside the turn under, so it is in the new fabric, not the antique fabric:

I use a ladder stitch.  It's kind of like sewing a seam with a running stitch, but from the top instead of from the reverse.  One stitch goes through the quilt (the purple in this photo), the next goes through the fold of the patch (the brown), the next goes back through the purple, and so on.  The stitches are not very tiny, so there isn't a lot of pull on just a few of the old fibers.

Once the patch is all appliquéd, then I quilt.  I don't quilt all the way through to the back, if the original stitches are still there.  The re-quilting can just go into the batting.  

I try to match the sizing and spacing of the original quilting. Honestly, my hand quilting on my own projects has improved by leaps and bounds over the years because of learning how to make anything from 10 stitches per inch to 4 stitches per inch, and anything from precision stitching to the long-short-long-long-short sort of stitching.

This quilt had one row of quilting right inside the seam lines, and also a smaller diamond inside each piece.  I did another tracing paper diamond for marking the little quilted ones.

A really helpful little marking tool is a hera.  This is a Japanese tool for fabric marking.  The narrow-edged, rounded end makes a fine, indented line in the fabric.  This keeps the quilt free from the dangers of using any marking material near the old fabrics.  You need to be sitting with a good light to use it, but it's not as tricky as you'd think.

Here's the completed patch:

Here's another broken fabric.  Finding a good patch for this fabric was a bit problematical:

Once again, it was the brown dye that was causing the problem.  But I noticed that it was being used here as a light, in one of the lighter baby block shapes between the darker stars.

Since I didn't find a suitable brown and white stripe to patch it, I looked at my small brown or black on white prints.

Here's the one I chose, because it so closely resembled another diamond's fabric, and because the background was the best match for the old whites overall:

In a second post about this quilt, I'll showcase this gorgeous collection of fabrics!