Field trip: Costume Rentals, Minneapolis

Readers,

A dress Kristin Chenoweth wore in a production of Babes in Arms at the Guthrie Theater in 1996.

A dress Kristin Chenoweth wore in a production of Babes in Arms at the Guthrie Theater in 1996.

With the sewing domain unavailable due to the start of improvements (about which, more to come in future posts), I did a field trip to Costume Rentals in Minneapolis Saturday.

Costume Rentals occupies 17,000 square feet and stores about 70,000 items belonging to the Guthrie Theater and Children’s Theatre companies in Minneapolis, representing about 500 productions. Costume Rentals stores costumes between productions and handles (naturally), the rental of costumes to theater companies across the country, documentary makers, and even publishers designing book covers.

This mannequin is too large for the diminutive Ms. Chenoweth's dress.

This mannequin is too large for the diminutive Ms. Chenoweth’s dress.

Costume Rentals also rents costumes to the public. So if you want to dress as a pirate, a princess, a gypsy, Santa Claus, or a Roman soldier (all frequent requests), you can be easily accommodated.

And there are so very many other possibilities for dressing from different periods (medieval, 18th century) or parts of the world (Russia, China), in different roles (a ballerina, a peasant), or even as different species (lions, insects) that you can’t help but think that your own wardrobe is pretty dull.

At least that was the case with me. I’ve toured Costume Rentals before. I’ve also taken extensive tours of Angels the Costumiers (home of 4 to 5 million items for the stage, film and television) and the costume-making facilities of the National Theatre, both in London. Each time I’ve concluded that my wardrobe and sewing ambitions are frightfully predictable and modest.

T. R. Knight wore this in the leading role of Amadeus at the Guthrie Theater in 2001.

T. R. Knight wore this in the leading role of Amadeus at the Guthrie Theater in 2001.

Visiting a place like Costume Rentals reminds me of the multitude of choices I have as a sewer.

There's a world of embellishment to tap into.

There’s a world of embellishment to tap into.

Even if I don’t want to look just like Marie Antoinette or a harem girl, I might enjoy quoting from their design traditions, embellishing a simple jacket with passementerie or sewing a dress from something sparkly. As a sewer, I have that freedom.  Why not use it?

Another thing I’ve experienced during each of these tours was exuberance. I’ll bet that any security cameras in these warehouses and workrooms would show me grinning, and it would probably be equally true for my fellow tourists. Even when looking at a (theatrical) blood-stained Julius Caesar costume it’s hard not to feel surprisingly positive. Strange, isn’t it?

Only one category of many for headgear at Costume Rentals.

Only one of many categories for headgear at Costume Rentals.

Every wardrobe could use some sparkle.

Every wardrobe could use some sparkle.

A casual, hand-lettered sign for an exotic category.

A casual, hand-lettered sign for an exotic category.

The Cleopatra costume is a popular rental.

The Cleopatra costume is a popular rental.

At the end of our 45-minute stroll through the stacks and racks our tour guide gave each of us a coupon for 20% off our next costume rental. I hadn’t seriously thought about using it.

It would never cross my mind to sew with peacock feathers.

It would never cross my mind to sew with peacock feathers.

Heck, why not?

Why limit yourself to your own species? Wear an animal head!

Why limit yourself to your own species? Wear an animal head!

Summer Sewing

Readers,

My muslin in the process of being pinned and fitted at a Treadle Yard Goods salon.

My muslin in the process of being pinned and fitted at a Treadle Yard Goods salon.

Summer sewing. For various reasons I have never given it its due.

Summer’s not very long in Minnesota, so I don’t wear my summer clothes so much that I get tired of them. Soon enough they get packed away again.

And until recently, in the summer when I wasn’t working I was probably traveling and away from the sewing domain.

And then in colder weather I turn my attention to sewing warm things.

I have managed to sew Jack a lot of summer shirts, though.

Jack sports a shirt I made him last summer.

Jack sports a shirt I made him last summer.

Hmm. I guess that’s because the decision is so simple: “Wow, what great shirt fabric for Jack for summer! I think I’ll sew him a shirt!” Boom. Done.

For my wardrobe, though, the decision process can go on indefinitely. Which patterns shall I use? Fabrics? Buttons? What shall I coordinate with? The curse of the divergent thinker: infinite possibilities.

I’ve tried to narrow down the possibilities recently to several simple summer blouse and pants patterns. They’re at the muslin stage.

I'm making the blouse, but aren't the jacket and big-pocketed skirt great, too?

I’m making the blouse, but aren’t the jacket and big-pocketed skirt great, too?

I’m about to make a wearable test of the blouse from Advance pattern 5455, from 1950. There are no illustrations of the front of the blouse completed, by itself. But the collar appeals to me.  It can be made with three-quarters-length sleeves or sleeveless. I can see both in my summer wardrobe.

I brought my muslin to yesterday’s Treadle Yard Goods salon, where Michele worked her fitting and pattern-altering magic on it.

The next step is making a wearable test from stash fabric. I will try this cheerful posy-strewn stretch woven that just shouts summer. I have a lot of it, so I can afford to “waste” some on a test.

A cheerful, summery print for my wearable test.

A cheerful, summery print for my wearable test.

I like this fabric, but am a little conflicted about it: I want to keep the happy feeling but skirt cuteness and sweetness. Is that possible?

The cuteness factor can certainly be turned up or down by the cut of the garment and the colors of the coordinating pieces.  I’ll see how it goes.

I’d better get cracking. Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Transferring changes in the muslin to the paper pattern at a Treadle Yard Goods salon.

Transferring changes in the muslin to the paper pattern at a Treadle Yard Goods salon.

The Chart

FullChart2Readers,

In my first post and on my About Me page I refer to this very casual-looking chart that’s the basis of Getting Things Sewn.  What in the world is it?  What is it supposed to do?

Let me explain.

Life before the chart was like this:

  • I’d fall in love with fabrics or patterns, and buy them.  But, strangely, I wouldn’t get around to using them.  There was always some missing element.  I’d love the fabric, but the right pattern hadn’t come along to bring out the best in it.  Or I’d snatch up a swoonworthy vintage pattern on eBay, but the right occasion never presented itself.  Or the right occasion would present itself, but I couldn’t hustle fast enough to fit and sew the pattern in time.
  • As a result, I yearned.  I was in this mindset that I couldn’t have what I longed for, because…hmmm…why?  Excellent question, and either I couldn’t tell you or I could recount innumerable reasons.  Whatever the case, I remained frustrated.
  • I had many unfinished sewing projects, and finished sewing projects that were wardrobe orphans.
  • I viewed my unfinished projects with dread, but I didn’t feel right about just dumping them.  All that work down the drain!   I had (still have) a sportcoat I started for Jack, my husband, in 2004, plus dresses, jackets and more in the muslin stage.  When I learned about the economics terms “sunk cost” and “loss aversion” I related them to my sewing stashes and projects.
  • I thought I just needed to be more efficient.  But I was just trying to do the wrong things faster.
  • I was struggling to master skills myself when I should have been cultivating creative partnerships.
  • I used to lament that I just had “too many ideas,” and fellow sewers would chime in that they suffered from the same affliction.  This didn’t get me anywhere.

About a year ago I realized that I had the tail wagging the dog.  Too often I’d buy fabrics, patterns, tools, books–even a serger–without fully considering its role in the larger scheme of producing a wardrobe I loved.  Not just a wardrobe.  A wardrobe I loved.

After all, if I want a closet full of clothes that don’t quite fit or go together, I might as well buy retail, right?

I’m good at blinding glimpses of the obvious.  So, a wardrobe is the objective of my sewing!  Got it.

Okay.  Next, what drives my wardrobe?

I came up with two main drivers.  One I labeled “Individual.”  In this column I put categories that originated with me:

  • Fit
  • Personality
  • Style
  • Silhouette
  • Colors
  • Physical characteristics
  • What I’m growing into, psychologically

The other driver I labeled “Context.”  In this column I put categories outside myself, with which I’d interact:

  • Occasions (wedding, evening out, work, hosting a dinner)
  • Activities (walking all day as a tourist, sleeping on a plane, dancing, sitting at a desk)
  • Roles (public speaker, conference attendee, member of a wedding party, etc.)
  • Physical conditions (air-conditioned offices, rain, sun, salt water, etc.)
  • Mood of the occasion (professional, somber, celebratory)
  • Other wardrobe items (accessories, outerwear, etc.)
  • Other fabrics, buttons, patterns
  • What I’m moving into, like a new role, activity, type of occasion

Using the drivers of Individual and Context I now had a tool for assessing my wardrobe needs and desires.  I could design outfits.  I could be appropriately dressed for the roles I was playing.  This was enlightening!  This was wonderful!

This driver idea had me buzzing with excitement.

So, what does my wardrobe drive?

Well, sewing projects, obviously.  And buying: both ready-to-wear and sewing supplies.

Come to think of it, my wardrobe should drive the way my closet is arranged, too.

And the nature of my sewing projects drives the design of my sewing space.

So that’s The Chart.  It looks simple and obvious.  But does it work?  That’s what I’ll investigate in Getting Things Sewn.

I will  sew individual garments, buy ready-to-wear, and create outfits for myself.  I want to be sure this chart works for others, too.  I’ll run The Chart through its paces for Jack as well.

I’ll cover every category of Individual and Context in detail not only to clarify and define for myself, but, I hope, for you too.

Also on the docket are editing all my stashes.

A couple of weeks ago I examined every fabric in my stash.  The Chart made this task interesting and enjoyable.  I easily determined which fabrics belonged in my collection and which to let go.  I describe this process here and here.

I will also design my basement sewing space.  I realized recently that I’d never designed my workspace, and it shows.  I’ve let supply storage dominate while allocating no space for some other important tasks.  What if I purposefully addressed workflow and assigned zones in my workspace?  How much more effective and enjoyable could my sewing be?  This year I’ll find out.

So readers, is it easy for you to design and execute your sewing projects, or do you have stumbling blocks?  Do you have many unfinished projects?  If yes, do you know why?  I’m very curious to know.