Friday, April 20, 2012

Juggling Many Balls

I started my costuming business about six months ago and have been learning many lessons about prioritizing and keeping myself sane.  It's not always easy!

First and foremost I'm a mother and a wife.  We home school our two children and my husband works full-time, so I have many daily responsibilities around the house.  Besides trying to keep things relatively clean and getting dinner on the table, I have to supervise the kids and help teach them when they're stuck on their lessons.  Among these things I try to sew at least four hours most days, and sometimes eight or more.  Really, I'm doing three jobs.  I'm a full-time mother, full-time wife, and lately have been putting enough hours in each week in costuming to make that a full-time job also.  And some people in politics have criticized stay-home moms for not "working"?  Let them come and try my job for a week!

Anyway....back to safer subjects than politics.

Currently I am helping a drama teacher at a local private school, making myself available to the parents who want to commission me to make costumes for their children.  So far I have completed four costumes and have six more to finish within the next seven days.

So far I have six commissions to finish by Dragon*Con (Labor Day weekend), two others by October, and a grand total of 12 for my own family.  Yes, the latter is really my own fault since we decided on all-new costume sets for this year's Dragon*Con, as well as clothing for me and my husband by next month for a Gone With The Wind themed barbecue.  That's a lot of personal costumes, but going to these events in outfits I made is some of my best advertising.

So that's six costumes in the next week, two more in the next month, then a whopping 18 over the next four months!  Considering that a simple outfit can be done in four hours but a complex one takes 10-20 hours, I'm looking at somewhere around 250+ hours of sewing between now and October.  This means I'm going to be putting in at least 15-20 hours every week.  While that may not seem like a lot, and is really a part-time job, remember that I also have jobs as a wife, mother, and home-school teacher, as well as being involved with church and local theater.  And somewhere among all of that I would like to have the chances to spend time with my family, go on vacation, and sleep.

Still, I love all of it and wouldn't give it up.  God has given me the chance to take a fun interest and turn it into a business that is quickly growing.  Sewing is actually relaxing and therapeutic to me, and is a nice change of pace from the rest of my duties.

Even so, I often feel like a juggler with too many balls in the air.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hidden Treasures

Most people might think that a costumer's favorite place is a fabric and hobby store.  Okay, maybe that's a bit true (just ask my husband when he loses me for a couple of hours in Joann Fabrics).  But even better places can be found!

My favorite places to shop are thrift stores, garage sales, flea markets, and antique stores.  You will be amazed as the things you can find!  I've found trim, bolts of cloth, belts, and various other materials to use in my costumes.  And usually they are dirt-cheap!

Since most of my creations are costumes for plays and cosplay, as opposed to regular clothing, I have learned the art of "repurposing".  If you go to a flea market or similar place with an open mind, you'll be amazed at the things you can find and use.  Let's look at a few examples.

This dress was for the Apothecary in our recent production of Romeo and Juliet.  The play had a Pirates theme and this character was modeled after Tia Dalma in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  The main material for the dress was actually a throw blanket I found at an antique store.  Even though it was made in the mid-1800s (seriously!), the blanket was moth-eaten and frayed so I got a really good price.  For a blanket it wasn't much good, but it had the perfect worn look I was trying for.  The fox head and necklace came from flea markets, and the satchel/pouch from Goodwill.

That's a really nice blue color in the dress, isn't it?  The material started out as curtains I bought at a yard sale.  Look at another example, a Renaissance dress.

The nice satiny embroidered material?  Curtains from a flea market.

I go to Goodwill at least once per week and hit yard sales and flea markets whenever I can.  Many times I don't have anything specific in mind, but am just searching for the "hidden treasures".  Sometimes I'll see something that looks nice, but I don't know what I would use it for.  I may buy it and set it aside for a day when it just might come in handy.  Sometimes a material will start my creative wheels turning, such as when I saw the curtains I used in my Renaissance dress.  And anytime I can get a good deal on fabric or other materials I'll snatch it up.  I love getting bargains, and when the profit margin is low in a small business every little bit helps.  My husband also loves it when I spend less money on the costumes for our own family, yet still make them look great.

So if anyone is looking to do their own costuming, don't stick to the fabric stores.  Look around at non-traditional places for good deals and learn to see beyond the surface into the "what could be".

Monday, April 2, 2012

Artists Aren't Costumers

Doing custom costume work I have quickly discovered that artists don't seem to have much of an eye for practical, real clothing.  I've done some commissions and are working on others for costumes that have never existed in the real world.  This means that I am having to take images from books, comics, or video games and figure out how they would translate into the real world.  And some of these ain't very practical!  Let's look at one recent example.

A new author recently commissioned me to make a costume for him of the main character in his new book.  Here's a picture of the cover, which also happens to be the best picture of the angel, as well the only one in color.

Cool outfit, right?  It works from a character design and is certainly iconic. However, when I started studying it and figuring out how I was going to bring it to life I ran into several problems.  Why does he have armored elbow and knee pads?  How do the straps attach to the armor?  Does the middle flap attach from the belt or it is part of the tunic?  How many layers is he wearing?  How in the heck does he put on all of those layers when he has giant wings?!!?!

It took some doing, but I finally did design something that is as close as possible to the image.

When you're making something that has never been actual cloth and three dimensions, you often have to make decisions and compromises.  What you see in an image may include materials that are hard to find in real life.  Patterns on cloth can also be a big issue, as stores don't make those patterns. Look closely at the material on the uniform tops in the newest Star Trek movie.  There is a subtle badge design woven into the material itself.  You can't go to a fabric store and pick up that material or even order it online; believe me, I've looked!  It's difficult or sometimes impossible to create something that is 100% accurate to what is on the screen or page.

Here's a current commission that I'm in the design stages for, a Jedi shadow from the Knights of the Old Repulic MMORPG.

Again, how many layers is this thing?  Where does the robe drape?  What does the bottom shirt layer look like?  How in the world does that "wrap" go around and stay up?  I have ideas for how I'm going to do this, but it may not be perfectly like the images in the game. 

I really have to wonder if artists put the right amount of thought into designing costumes and clothing for their characters.  I know that their main focus is to have an interesting look.  But I doubt that many of them have given much thought to how such clothing would work in the real world. 

I am starting to have a great appreciation for the Hollywood costume designers who work on superhero movies.