Friday, August 16, 2013

Learning To Say No

I hate disappointing people.  I really, really do.  There is something inside me that wants everyone to like me and what I do, even though I know that is impossible.  At some point I'm going to disappoint someone, and that's just reality.  That's why I have a hard time saying no to people when they ask me to do something.  And that's why I get over-committed and stressed.

For the most part it's just me and my sewing machine.  My mother has been a huge help by working on some of my overflow, but recently she has had some health problems and can't do as much.  My sister has also jumped in many times, but she doesn't sew to the same degree that I do.  So for most of my work it's just little ol' me.  Besides making costumes I'm a mother who home schools two children, and my husband appreciates me being a wife from time to time.  So I can't afford to always put in 8+ hour days without neglecting the rest of my family.

That's why I've been trying to learn how to say "no" to requests.  In the past I've driven myself crazy and worked over 12 hours in a day to complete things that I committed to.  In the last 2-3 months I've done costumes for two plays, a large museum event, and several single commissions.  Overall I've made somewhere around 40 costumes during that time!  Most of it happened at the same time because earlier in the year I said "sure, I can do it."  It's a hard lesson to learn that I can't do everything for everyone.

I'm getting more choosy and realistic with my costume business.  I have had to turn down commissions because I didn't think I'd be able to complete them by the time the customer wanted them.  That's difficult for me because I want to be able to say "yes" to every request.  But my family deserves at least as much of my time as my work does, and I need to have some time to myself or I'll go insane.

Thankfully my schedule has calmed down and I can take a little bit of a break before starting on my next project.  I'm learning to spread out my work more and to say "no" if I get too many things at once.  So if you are in the market for a custom costume, make your request early!  I get booked up quickly!

Monday, July 29, 2013

My Sewing Playlist

For the past several weeks I've been putting in 50+ hour weeks, made up of 10-12 hour days, in order to get through my heavy sewing load.  I just finished a local production of Beauty and the Beast, as well as Arsenic and Old Lace.  Currently I'm working on some costume commissions while also working on casting and making pieces for a local museum event.  It's a lot of work sitting at a cutting table or sewing machine.

What is probably more interesting is what I do while sewing.  While I love music, that's not enough for me while I'm working.  I need something a little more interesting so I watch TV and movies.  My selections say a lot about my interests and personality, which is reflected in my work.  So what have I been watching?

In the last couple of weeks I've made it though all four seasons of Lois & Clark and within the next week will finish season one of Once Upon A Time.  Besides Superman and fairy tales I also watch a lot of movies that you would find on the Hallmark channel.  I'm a very "Disney", "rated G" kind of girl and even though I've become a geek over the last 15 years I still prefer movies that make me feel good and have a happy ending.

In just under two weeks I'll finally be caught up and can take a break.  Plenty of time to go through more of my movie collection.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Variations In An Iconic Dress

My favorite animated movie of all time is Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  I love the story and the character of Belle.  I'm also in love with the Broadway musical version, having seen it on tour four times.  In fact, I'm currently making costumes for a local production of it using teenagers and young adults.

I'm super excited about this production!  And of course, I have to make Belle's clothing, none of which is more iconic than her yellow ballgown.

I've mentioned before that taking something from animation or print and making it three-dimensional can be a bit of a challenge.  In this case it shouldn't be too hard, because Disney has women wearing this at their parks and in the live musical.  So just copy those, right?

Nope.  I have discovered over the years that there is no one single version of the dress, even with Disney.  take a look at the variations, all of the "official" Belle.

As you can see, there is not one "official" Belle ballgown.  While they are all immediately recognizable as her yellow dress, they are not exactly the same, despite all being made by Disney.  And none of them are 100% accurate to the animated version.

In one way this makes it more difficult, since there is not one single style to duplicate.  However, it also makes certain aspects easier, as I only have to get the basic lines, style, and color without having to make it perfect to one version.  This dress is so iconic that someone just has to get the color and basic silhouette and someone will recognize it as Belle's.  For example, look at this image of Belle from one of my favorite TV shows, Once Upon A Time.

There are many elements in it that are not the same as in the original Disney movie or Broadway show.  However, because of the similarities anyone can tell that this is meant to represent the same gown.

The version I'm making now is actually my third one.  The first one was actually the first dress I made on my own, several years ago.

I was pretty darn proud of that dress!  But I realized that I could probably do better, so when asked to do one as a commission I worked to improve it.

The same basic idea is there, and though neither dress is exactly like the examples I posted above, they are still something that someone can look at and think "Belle's ball gown!"

My third one will be my favorite version, with more tweaks and some changes to improve the pattern.  If you want to see what it looks like, check A Touch Of Magic Costumes on Facebook in a few weeks for the final pictures.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Becoming Gypsies

One of my family's favorite events is the Renaissance Festival.  We've been to many of them over the years and make a point to attend the one in our state at least once per year.  I realize that "ren faires" are very romanticized reenactments of history and involve a hodge-podge of time periods from medieval to true Renaissance times.  But there's something so fun about stepping out of the real world for a day to see acrobats, actors, and swordfighting while browsing the numerous vendors.

My husband and I talked for years about dressing in costume before we actually did so.  At first we bought our clothing as I hadn't started sewing.  But when I took up needle and thread a few years ago I made outfits for myself and our children.  My husband's clothing was still in good shape and looked good so he continued wearing it.  Last year I looked at our family and realized that he was the only one not wearing clothing I had made.

Well, I couldn't have that!

This year I decided to make sure that everyone was wearing my creations.  We also have realized that we prefer comfort over incredible looks when spending a day walking around a faire.  After some thought we decided that gypsies would be fun as well as comfortable.

Being a costumer is more than just doing the actual sewing.  I consider styles, patterns, fabric, print, colors, and just about everything else.  Since I was creating all of this from scratch I looked into the stereotypical gypsy designs, especially the kind you see at ren faires.  Here are the looks I came up with.

I have to say that this was the single most comfortable outfit I've ever worn to a ren faire!  And if I do say so myself, it all turned out very nicely.

After so many costume commissions, it was nice to just have fun and make something for myself.

Monday, April 8, 2013

I Costumed Burt Reynolds!

Sometimes my life as a costumer gives me some very unique opportunities.  Recently a small film shot some scenes in my town for a movie called Hamlet and Hutch.  It is about an aging actor, played by Burt Reynolds, who is in a community theater production of Hamlet.  I can't tell you much more about the plot, as I don't know all of it, but I do know that it will eventually air on the Lifetime network.

One of the large local theaters was rented to film some of the stage scenes.  I have done several productions there as a costumer and an actress, so I am friends with the theater director.  She loves my costuming and utilizes me regularly, so when the film company asked for help in arranging costumes appropriate for a community theater production, she gave me a call.

Honestly, this was an easy task, as I didn't have to make anything.  I used costume pieces from my own personal collection, as well as a few things from the theater, and was able to meet the needs from these simple sources.  But what was the coolest was when the costume organizer for the film sent me Burt Reynolds measurements!  Yes, I had to find a costume specifically for him!  Though I'm not a huge fan, I certainly respect his lifetime of work and the contributions he's made to entertainment.  And he's one of the most well-known celebrities I've met, so of course I was super excited!

Did you know he has a small foot?  I was surprised by that fact.


So I got the pieces together and brought them to the theater on the specified day.  While I didn't get to interact with Mr. Reynolds directly, and unfortunately didn't get to help with his fitting, I was in the green room when he came in and started talking to everyone.  I was also an extra in the audience along with my children (my husband was working and couldn't be there).

I wasn't completely star-struck, thanks to years of meeting celebrities at Dragon*Con and other conventions.  But it was still an amazing and cool experience, especially knowing that he was wearing what I picked out.  Not his costume coordinator.  ME.  Lil' ol' Tink arranged a costume for Burt Reynolds that he is wearing in the movie.  I was also able to arrange a brief part for a good friend of ours, Alan Sanders, whom I've worked with a lot in the past.  I provided Alan's costume as well...just sayin'.

Of course I took this opportunity to pass out my business cards to the film's costumers, director (who took two!) and other staff.  Who knows?  Maybe this will be my open door to working on other films.

Hollywood, here I come!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Costumer Never Stops

Last week my family and I took a vacation to visit my own personal Promised Land...Walt Disney World.  I could go on and on about how wonderful it was and how much fun we had.  The highlight was getting to dine at the Be Our Guest restaurant in the New Fantasyland and having our table in the West Wing of Beast's castle.  It was so magical that I actually got tears in my eyes!  And when I met the Beast himself I started crying again.  Yes, I know it was all Disney magic and a person in a costume, but that is my favorite Disney movie of all time and I couldn't help myself.

Speaking of costumes....I realized I have a problem.  I can't turn of my costuming senses.  There I was in the most magical place on earth, enjoying time with my family, and I found myself analyzing costumes.  On one day our first visit was to Belle's Enchanted Tales.  While I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I took a lot of pictures of Belle because I was analyzing her yellow ball gown.  I've made that a few times in the past and got some close-ups to help me make a new and better version.  I pulled myself out of the "moment" in order to look at the lay of the fabric.


Later I got to meet Tinker Bell, Rosetta, and Periwinkle.  This is my third visit to Disney World and I've never had a chance to meet any of the fairies.  Such a shock, considering that Tink is my favorite character and the inspiration for my nickname!  Of course, I was super excited at getting to meet them and have my picture taken with them.  So what do I do as it's our turn to step up to them?  I lean to my husband and say "Be sure to take lots of pictures of Tinker Bell.  I want to see how her costume is made."  Yes, there I am with my idol and I want to take the time to analyze her clothing.

It's a problem.  I can't turn it off!  I found myself doing that with every princess, fairy, or other character we came around.  My husband constantly picks on me about my habit, as I do it at cons, Renaissance Faires, and anywhere someone is wearing a costume.

In my defense, my husband does the same thing when it comes to animals (he's a vet).  He will immediately notice whether or not a male dog is neutered and if the pet is at a normal weight.  So he's certainly one to speak!

I love they're made, the fabric choices, and all of the little tricks that go into making the imaginary real.  When I see someone in a costume I want to know how it's made so that I can learn and improve.  The instinct is so strong that I simply can't help myself and it's an act of willpower to simply enjoy the moment.

I promise that the next time we visit Disney World I'll try to live in the moment.  But don't hold me to it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Mass Market Costumes

Over the holidays I stopped into the Disney Store, one of my favorite retailers to visit.  I'm a huge Disney fan, and just about breathe everything Disney.  So of course I love any chance I can get to surround myself with things from the House of Mouse.

Since I've been making costumes I tend to analyze things I come across.  When I go to Renaissance Faires, cons and just about anywhere I spend time going over the costume with a critical eye.  I'll look at stitching patterns, how the pattern is put together, what type of cloth is used and so on.  This new quirk of mine is a source of constant amusement to my husband, but I simply can't help myself.  I want to look at what others have one as a way to continually improve my own skills.

So there I was in the Disney Store and one of the costumes caught my eye.  I started looking at the pattern on the material and how the costume was put together.  Keep in mind that this was a princess dress for a little girl, nothing too fancy or detailed.  As I studied it I started to try and figure out what it would take for me to make it.

There is a big difference between a mass market costume and one made by a costumer like myself.  Costumes meant for places like the Disney Store are made in huge quantities, usually in countries with cheap labor.  They are done on patterns of only a few sizes, as quickly and cheaply as possible.  The pattern on the cloth is usually custom-made to the setting on large spools to cover thousands of yards of material.  Due to the sheer number made there are ways that the company can manufacture it that make them look really nice.

I had to admit that the dress looked pretty good, especially for $50 in a Disney Store.  There was no way I would ever be able to make the same thing for that amount of money.  Heck, the material alone would probably cost me about that much simply to buy.

So why do custom work?

It's about the quality and customization.  The patterns may be nice and be accurate to the source material, but the material is often thin and less durable than what I typically use.  The stitching is also less complicated and easier to pull apart than with custom work.  But most importantly is the ability to get customized measurements and get things you can't buy in stores.  Buying a custom costume means that it will fit to your measurements, something you can't be assured of buying off the rack.  The flexibility of custom work also allows unique creations, such as the steampunk wedding dress I talked about last time.

It really depends on what you want out of a costume.  But never forget exactly how much work goes into handmade artistry.