April 26, 2014

James and the Giant Peach

The next Thin Ice Ensemble Theater play is "James and the Giant Peach," based on the Roald Dahl book. We have 28 actors, aged about 6 to 11.  Here are the sketches for their costumes.

The bodice of Aunt Sponge's dress is stuffed with fabric.  The actress is wearing two bum rolls and 3 very long, very full petticoats that hang from shoulder straps.  The dress is now too full to zip closed, needless to say.  The back opening is secured with three elastics, and she will wear the matching apron as a capelet to hide the back.

The bottom ruffle of Aunt Spiker's dress was removed to make a straighter line, and leave her ankles showing to add to the illusion of height.  Black trim is being added to emphasize the vertical, and the ruffle will become a turban-like hat.

Unlike in the book, our aunties don't die.  They reappear at the end, watching James' and the insects' triumph on the telly.  They will have canes and bandages to show they were hurt when the peach rolled over them.

The magical Little Old Man is being played by three girls.  I wanted them dressed identically, and decided to finally use the amazing dresses we call "The Supremes" and have never found a use for until now.  Purple satin sheaths with poofed, large-scale orange and purple plaid overskirts.  They are adult-sized and needed quite a bit of alteration, but will be worth it just to finally see them on stage.

The insects are dressed in human clothes evocative of the characters plus little touches of insect-ness.  They each receive a bit of bling or a prop at the end to indicate their new status.

Grasshopper is quite dapper.  Silkworm will be wrapped with a big sash or sari-like drape and turban.  Centipede, a self-avowed pest, and is dressed in an Artful Dodger look.  She has removable shoes made from a wonderful shoe print fabric Maureen discovered online, with layers of felt and velcro.  Spider has a headband with spider eyes made from stryofoam spheres, paint, and sequins.  Ladybug has a circle skirt with black felt spots stitched on, and elastic in the hem to pull it around two fluffy petticoats for a round body.  Earthworm has a long and narrow pink lace dress and sunglasses.  Glowworm has a bustle of green and yellow satin and net that will be lit by a string of mini-lights.

Thanks to my costume crew for helping design and create all these fun ideas!

The rest of the cast are narrators who take on other roles throughout the play.  They will all wear black base clothes and then add costume bits indicating their various roles.

I combined each actor's changes on this one page so I could visualize the whole thing better.  

The grey triangles indicate shark fins that are being created by two of the teens, made out of cardboard, grey duct tape, metallic grey spray paint, and elastic shoulder straps.  The white ovals indicate the white shower caps being worn by the Cloudmen. 

Sewing is nearly complete.  As with last year's Phantom Tollbooth, there is a whole lot of backstage organization needed to make this all work, and that is my next task.  Each narrator will have a section of a table backstage, with a list of all items and the order of changes.  I will also make labels for hangers and boxes in the dressing room.  

Post-show update:  Photos of the show in progress can be found on a subsequent blog post, and on my website.

April 23, 2014

Tablecloth Update

In honor of spring - to which, in my part of the world anyway, we are all saying "finally!" - here are some lovely yellow roses and little purple posies.  This is the tablecloth begun by my mother-in-law Jeanie, which I am finishing in her honor.  I'm not an embroiderer really, so I am learning as I go.

Here's how the tablecloth looked as the Olympics, prime embroidering time, started.  Luge and skeleton were particularly profitable in embroidery terms.

And here we are now.  You can easily see that I've moved my way around the center oval (speed skating, ha, ha!).

Not so easy to see is that I stitched the final side of the edges.  Here's a closer view of that.

I also learned a new technique - the cutwork.  I've been really squeamish about snipping away at Jeanie's and my work.  A few months ago, I read up on cutwork online, but didn't get too much input other than "cut carefully," which is, well, pretty obvious.  I made a little sample shape in the extra edge fabric that will eventually be cut off, and experimented with the snipping.  It wasn't too bad.  You can see that at the bottom of the next photo.

And then one day a couple of weeks ago, for some reason, I felt really brave.  Here's the corner that I cut.  Much of this stitching is Jeanie's.  The top few holes and the edge are also her cutting.

Happily, I can report that I didn't wreck any of the embroidery.  Also, it was a nice break from the stitching, though definitely not something to be done with any distractions about. 

My husband remembered that Jeanie used tiny, curved blade nail scissors, so that's what I did.  And I highly recommend them.  I flipped them back and forth as needed so the curve matched the embroidered shapes.  Holding the scissors at a bit of an angle, to snip a tiny bit under the ridged edge of the buttonhole stitches instead of snipping right beside it, feels safer, and leaves fewer shreds of the linen fabric. The back ends up looking like the cutting Jeanie did, so I think I've got it right.

Here's the original shot of the tablecloth as I inherited it, and the current status below.  I've been working on it at those times when I want a relaxing, pick-up project for going on two years now.  My husband says he thinks Jeanie may have made a dozen of these, giving them to family members and close friends who are family.  I find that thought utterly amazing, and will be so happy to have finished just this one!

I took the tablecloth with me last week to a family funeral, and it was nice to have Jeanie and her memory join us, through her needlework.  

April 15, 2014

Favorite Quotes #5 - Becoming an Elder

"It's no good getting old, if you don't get artful."

I found this quote somewhere, so long ago that I don't remember where.  The only note I have says that it is a Yorkshire proverb.

I like the double meaning possible here, for an approach to Life in general, and for pursuing creativity and expressiveness.  I find it most uplifting.

Having recently passed my 60th birthday, I'm finding myself latching on to words and ideas to help me grow into the next stage of my life, thoughts about how to be an elder, and hopefully, a wise one.

I find I'm thinking of this chapter of Life as a time to gather the results of my experiences and share them, and as a time to give more space in my schedule for "just being", with myself and with others.  And don't these goals have a place in both kinds of artfulness.

I'm appreciating the style of the Red Hat Ladies - having fun, breaking with convention, and togetherness.  It's just around the corner now.

Publishing my book stems from my desire to pass along things I have learned.  And really, now that I think of it, the cover is nearly in the official red hat lady colors.  Oh!  Maybe I am a red hat lady already!

The photo is of me and the life-sized doll I made for a production of "Arsenic and Old Lace". The doll played the double roles of the bodies of Mr. Hoskins and Mr. Spenalzo with a change of jackets and an added hat.  Old and artful, the both of us!

April 2, 2014

Dresden Plate

This is a lovely quilt from the 1930s or 40s.  The pattern is a variant of the Dresden Plate known as Friendship Circle, the differences being that the spokes at the four quadrants have pointed tops, and that the center circle has four graceful ovals.  These special pieces are usually made in an accent fabric, in this case, a pumpkin orange solid.

One issue to be solved for this quilt was patching some worn pieces.  I did a bit of color manipulation on these, because the whites in this quilt have become quite yellowed and the other colors have faded.  The easiest fix was with this black fabric.  Using the reverse gave it just the dullness needed to not stand out from the original fabrics.  (The little swatch shows the right side.)

I also used the reverse of the green fabric.  The right side of the pink was alright.  But for both, the whites in the prints were too bright.  I dipped both fabrics quickly in simmering tea to dull them.  I usually try to avoid tea-dyeing, first because tea is an acidic stain and not necessarily healthy for the long-term life of the fabric, and second because it still will never give a completely exact match to the patina of old fabrics.  But sometimes, I do feel it helps the overall outcome.  After the tea dye, I wash the fabrics well, to remove all unabsorbed tea, and then press with a hot iron until dry to set the stain.  (The little swatches show the original colors.)

I always keep my eye out for fabrics that already have a beige or cream or creamy beige rather than clear whites.  

The pumpkin orange is one of the signature colors of the 30s and 40s.  I found this one at Reproduction Fabrics.  It is a really good rendition of what this color probably looked like when new, but was too intense for the current state of this quilt.  So, this got a dip in the tea as well.  It is still somewhat strong, but not as bright. (You can see a bit of the more original color around the tears on the far left.)

One of the edges had an area of major damage, with some fabric and batting totally missing, and lots of rips in the remaining fabrics, both front and back.  

First, I patched the back.  This gives the area a solid base from which to start rebuilding.

Then, I started re-filling the missing areas.  I use 100% cotton batting.  In this case, I pulled the batting apart horizontally, to better match the current thickness of the quilt.  I also pulled off little bits of batting all around the edges to make a softer, feathered edge.  Then I lifted the tatters of fabric, and smoothed the new batting into each piece.

Here is the area with the patches of new fabric ready to be appliquéd.  You can see the big patch of white on the back extending out beyond the scallops. 

Here is the area with the appliqué and re-quilting completed, and the white back patch cut to the finished shape.

Here's how the white patch looks from the back of the quilt.

The final step is binding the area.  It is a bias binding because of the scalloped edge.  Here is the back, binding attached with a running stitch.

And here is the front, the re-build totally completed. 

The final issue for the quilt was that there were some pretty intense stains.  The owner asked me to evaluate washing the quilt.  First of all, I really try to discourage washing these old quilts unless the condition is so bad that there is no other option.  In this case, it didn't seem like the stains were damaging the fabric.  It then becomes a question of which will be most stressful over the future life of the quilt - the stains themselves or the potential of introducing more damage because of water quality, soaps, etc.  Conservation labs have much more specialized equipment, water quality control, and highly trained conservators.

Then I noticed that it seemed like the orange dye was bleeding through to the back, along the quilting lines.  This was happening in many places across the quilt, not underneath the stains.  I decided that I didn't have enough skill or set-up to risk wetting the quilt.  I feel that it's always better to err on the side of doing too little, especially with washing quilts.  Once a quilt is wet and the dye starts to run, there is no turning back the clock.

So, I tried patching over the stains.  I found a cream fabric fairly close in color, but it was still a bit bright.  So I went back to the kitchen, and dipped a few swatches in tea.  The swatch on the left is the original color, the one on the right is too dark (i.e. too long in the tea), the one in the middle is "just right."

Well, not really "just right."  Matching old whites is one of the trickiest things to do.  Another example of this process is a blazing star quilt I worked on a while back.

I put on a sample patch.  Here is a photo for comparison.  There is a patch in the upper right, a fairly distinct stain in the lower center, and another, less distinct stain in the upper left.

I ended up finding the stains actually less obvious.  The patch fabric still doesn't match the quilt exactly, and the patch has very clear edges, which the stains do not.  The patch sits just a bit above the surface of the quilt, and the edges create little shadows.  Also, under artificial light at nighttime (this photo was taken with daylight), the stains show less, because the yellower light blends them into the overall yellowing of the quilt.  Then, the lightness of the patch is even more apparent.  I recommended to the owner that the patching didn't seem successful enough to warrant the expense.  Which effect do you prefer?