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Being the Dame’s Dresser in pantomime involves nice quiet periods in between bouts of frantic physical activity where I am trying to haul one costume (including wig, jewellery, shoes etc.) off a huge burly bloke while trying to simultaneously shove him into his next frock and wig. So once I’ve tidied up the chaos and returned the changing room to a temporarily Zen-like place of calm, I get to stitch.

Ribbon roses at the beginning of the week for my Stitch Zone ribbon embroidery workshop the next Monday. As I was working under dressing room lights the colours aren’t great, but it’s purples and lilacs on a indigo dyed scrap of cotton.

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Then ribbon stitch leaves around the french knot buds and closed fly stitch leaves.

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Finally completing it with some tendril-like stems at the ends in split stitch and a couple more fly stitch leaves.

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At the end of the week I moved onto mushrooms! When we did the Bayeux Stitch workshop at Embroiderers’ Guild last July I was working on the baby leaf-tailed dragon, but I did have a sudden desire to stitch some big chunky mushrooms in Bayeux Stitch. I started by sketching a simple design freehand and then traced it onto some calico.

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The light in the changing room is good to stitch by but not to take photographs by and the green cap is really more of a teal.

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Salmon-pink spots, not red!

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And tan gills.

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Stalk in a darker brown which I think might have been vintage mending wool – it kept breaking.

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And then the outlining.

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A lot of fun to stitch. I’ve still got the gills to put in and the rest of the outline and highlights to do, but I’m really pleased with all the stitching (even the ubiquitous mending of seams, buttons and various fastenings etc. of show week) I got done during panto this year!

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As regular readers will know, I am heavily involved in a local amateur dramatics group (Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club) and this time of year is panto time. As with last year I ended up doing costume again – hence the reason I’ve only just surfaced. This year it was Mother Goose, with a new script which I wrote as well as being Costume Mistress and Dame’s dresser. Not the least of my jobs was making hats for the goslings and trying to work out where was best to place the nostrils!

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But we’ve finished in theatre now – I just have every single costume (12 adults and 19 children, many with multiple costume changes) to wash and replace in our costume room.  It only took me until August last year…

But I did manage to design and stitch some Christmassy hoops for a workshop I taught before Christmas:

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And a single snowflake which I stitched in silk:

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The workshop, held at Jaylaurs, in Brigg was a great success. Just five ladies but they got on so well with the designs and two of them have since sent me lovely photos of their finished stitching.

I also had a go at chenille work, making a Christmas card for my parents. I started with a cardboard ring and used crewel work to stitch over it. Not satin stitch but coming up the same side and then going back over, to reduce the bulk at the back.

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It was a long slow job…

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…as it needed lots of layers to make sure I got the fluffy chenille effect at the end.

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Now the fun bit – the cutting. Carefully in the middle. That meant I could get the card shape out but left me with a distinct space where it wouldn’t cover the base fabric.

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Vintage trim to the rescue. I’ve had this particular very seventies trim since I was very young, when my mother would allow me a metre of ribbon or trim when she went to the local haberdashers, but not the sweets that like all small children I would have preferred! Anyway, sweets would not have solved my problem here but the trim that I’ve never used before did!

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I stitched it down with little gold beads between the ‘flower’ sections and added a hand made gold bow at the bottom.

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Very Christmassy and very pleased with it. (Was a nightmare to post though…!)

 

 

 

 

 

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In the end, Baby Leaf-tailed Dragon wasn’t finished for show week and in total, I only managed to put half a dozen stitches in him on stage the entire week, most of which had to be unpicked and restitched later! But ‘The Fifth Elephant’ went well and we had lots of positive comments from Pratchett fans, some of whom had travelled some distance to come and see the show.  No rest for the am dram wicked though – last performance of ‘The Fifth Elephant’ on Saturday and tonight (Monday) is the first casting reading for panto!

I did manage to get some stitching done in the interval though, so all the Bayeux Stitch is completed and I’ve started the couched outline. It neatens the edge up a treat.

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Since the Baby Leaf-tailed Dragon and his frame were props for a scene in Act 1, I had to find something else to sew before curtain up and I decided to experiment with a banner style brooch using an odd kilt pin. I had a few small pieces left of a wool jumper I felted a while ago and turned variously into a cushion cover, a pair of mittens and some earring cases.

I added some commercial grey marl felt and an odd earring drop…

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…blanket stitch, french knots…

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…sequins, a bead, split stitch and detached chain stitch…

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…before finishing with a kantha stitched back ground in shimmery blending filament, a beaded blanket stitch edging which joined it to the grey felt back and blanket stitching it to the kilt pin in stranded silk thread.

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A fun little project and I particularly like the subtle sparkle you get from the blending filament.

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After a long stretch in various back stage roles, from costuming to directing with props and writing in between, I’m finally going to be on stage again, playing the role of Lady Sybil Ramkin in Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club’s upcoming production of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Fifth Elephant’ at the Plowright Theatre from Wednesday 2nd of October to Saturday 5th of October. Details and booking information can be found here.

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Lady Sybil is a swamp dragon breeder, all round dragon lover and the founder of the Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons, so when one of the scenes called for her to be sewing, it made sense to get my baby leaf tailed dragon out and underway again.  Last seen, I had finally managed to get his head and chest almost finished.

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Since then, I’ve been working on him through rehearsals. I finished the couching on his head and then all the stitches for his tail were laid over about two sessions…

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…with the couching taking another two. Just a few more stitches to put in before I can start on the leaves.

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I do love Bayeux stitch for the textured result and also the way it works up so quickly. However, that could be an issue as I only have his leaves left to do before the split stitch detailing. I’m a bit concerned that he may peak a little too early and be finished before we get into the theatre for show week!

My other bit of show stitching is adding bats to the pink blouse worn my Lady Margolotta, a vampire who is ‘”on the vagon” and has not bitten a neck for nearly four years. She is brightly dressed to reflect her more modern thinking, but the director, who is also making all the costumes, wanted there to be bats to reference her background.

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Lovely little bats but they all have to be individually cut out of felt and hand stitched on and it is taking forever – still got the sleeves to do yet!

 

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To paraphrase Sir Steve Redgrave, the British rower,  “Anybody who sees me volunteer to costume a pantomime again has my permission to shoot me!”

You would have thought that after the last minute dash to get two World War 1 era evening dresses made for Blackadder Goes Forth in October that I would have had more sense, but no. No sooner had the curtain gone down on Blackadder then I was straight into costuming Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club‘s 2019 pantomime, Dick Whittington.

I did think I was on top of it nice and early, but I had stalls at a couple of Christmas fairs/markets which meant I needed to keep making stock…

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…and our Christmas challenge for Scunthorpe Embroiderers’ Guild which was to make a Christmas themed brooch to fit in a box we were given in September (silk thread and sparkly blending filament crocheted into a snowflake shape and beaded) …

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…the Christmas meeting which was making temari balls with Hazel…

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(my attempt has got no further than this, but I did learn that rayon thread, however shiny and pretty, is a very, very bad thing with which to wrap your temari ball)…

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…and of course, all the extra work that Christmas causes meant that I had very little down time over Christmas. Although I had been working on the costume since October, starting on New Year’s Day I sewed, altered, mended and generally worked like something demented for eight days straight. There are some odd photos of my labours but most have been taken as afterthoughts very late at night so apologies for the randomness and poor quality!

As the dame (Sarah the Cook) was a big lad at 6′ 3″ and build accordingly, most of our stock didn’t fit him so I ended up making a lot of it, starting with a baking themed skirt to go with an existing floral top. The skirt was plain cream and I made some felt gingerbread men and cup cakes to go around the hem.  They are roughly A4 size so they really stand out on stage.

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The sequins caught the stage lights beautifully.

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Then there was an existing red and green skirt but the top didn’t fit, so I remade that using the bodice pattern from the dress pattern I planned to use later. Have to remember to add the length to the sleeves for taller men.

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As it was for the scene where the dame serves in the shop, I added a rosette of medieval silver pennies and tickets to the matching mob cap.

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The main dress was for the ship/shipwreck part of the story and had to be made from scratch. I used a commercial broadly 18th century dress pattern which had a very full skirt to go over the traditional dame’s hoop and was open down the back – ideal for a Velcro fastening and quick changes. I uncovered some ‘Finding Nemo’ fabric in our club store which was ideal and used it for the sleeves and back of the skirt.

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The bodice and front were in two types of toning blue fabric (trying to use up what we had and not buy any more) but I broke up the bodice with a triangle of the Nemo fabric with extra fish added in the spaces and then created a set of felt signal flags to go across the skirt. They actually spell out something and no, it isn’t rude, although I was sorely tempted!

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It was worn with a ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hat before the storm and a very cute octopus (here modelling a miniature prototype bycocket hat for Dick) …

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…who was attached to a head band with crocheted seaweed for after the shipwreck!

We splashed out and bought a sparkly silver and blue walk down costume but when the headdress I had found in stock didn’t fit, I ended up the morning before opening night making a steeple hennin from very stiff lampshade fabric, more Finding Nemo fabric and the floaty veil from the original headdress. I am not ashamed at this point to confess that I used more glue than stitch!

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Instead of a good fairy we had Neptune, but the director didn’t want an old man in a toga, so I ended up designing a more military costume. The basic garment was a tunic created from some fabric that looked watery and amazing but as the crescent moon pattern was created from  a layer of loose threads between two layers of organza it was a nightmare to stitch and I ended up fully lining it with some left over fabric from one of the Blackadder dresses.

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It was worn with scale patterned leggings, tribal style tattoo sleeves with some amazing fantasy style leather armour on one arm, a scrim sash to look like a fishing net and a faux leather apron belt which was a cross between Greek and Roman and based on one worn by a character from a computer game! I had an interesting time cutting it out by eye, hand stitching it to look like separate pieces of leather and then making a medieval ring belt to go over the top.

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I wish I had some photos of the full ensemble. :o(

I also made bycocket hats for Dick…

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…an extravagant turban for the Sultana of Bungahie…

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…based on a 1970s turban hat and dressed up with oddments of pleated metallic gold and blue fabric stitched over the top.

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And a proper chaperon for Captain Cuttlefish to wear in the walk down. I made it as per the real thing, so it can be worn as a caped hood with a liripipe (long tail)…

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…or turned…

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…and worn with the head through the face hole and the cape and liripipe hanging down on either side.

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Another one that I had to cut without a pattern following an image on the internet, but I am delighted with the effect.

The show went very well and the costumes were much admired. Now all I have to do is to wash them all, and put them all away in the right boxes. Fourteen characters with between one and four costumes, each made up from a number of different elements… I might possibly be back before Easter!

 

 

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Last week I directed ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ for Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club – hence why I’ve been awol again.

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Everything was going swimmingly until two weeks from show week we discovered that we didn’t have First World War period evening dresses for ‘Bob’ and Lieutenant George in the ‘Major Star’ episode. Nothing in the Club stock and nothing available at the place we were hiring the uniforms from. It was too late to buy the dresses available on eBay as they were in China and so the only option was to make them. That job ended up on my plate.

I can sew. I can use a sewing machine and I made the tree costumes several years ago for one of our pantos, but that was under supervision from my mum, who is an experienced dressmaker. This was going to be flying solo with a deadline and with the memory of my one and only other excursion into making clothes hanging over my head.

My first needlework project at middle school was to make a blouse so my mum equipped me with a paper blouse pattern and some horrible yellow polyester. In the first lesson it obviously didn’t occur to my needlework teacher to tell a class of eleven-year olds that when you have a paper pattern from which you can make different versions of a garment, you only need the pieces for the style you plan to make. I did as I was told: I opened the packet, cut out all the tracing paper pieces, pinned them onto the fabric and cut every one out. I was then promptly held up to ridicule in front of the whole class. I never did finish it and that was the end of my sewing for a long while.

So I bought a pattern, hunted through the Club’s fabric stock for something that would be suitable for evening dresses and ten days before show week, I made a start on the first frock. It was…interesting. And challenging. And thank goodness a) I’m not working at the moment because I ended up pulling some seriously long days and b) I was able to ring my mum and get her advice when I couldn’t make head or tail of the instructions or the pictures. It was not the straightforward pattern I had hoped for as a complete novice.

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My 90 year old Frister and Rossmann coped superbly with taffeta, lace, satin and organza. Multiple layers? No problem? Different fabrics? Easy. I love that machine sooooo much!

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There was a lot of hand stitching and finishing as well – the Friday before our Sunday Get-In I stitched for thirteen hours with breaks for cooking and eating meals, but I am pretty pleased with the results. Firstly, Bob’s dress.

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There wasn’t enough of the floral print for a whole dress but the taffeta matched the turquoise flowers perfectly and she was literally on stage in it for less than three minutes.

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George’s dress had to be made for a very tall and skinny bloke, which was another interesting challenge, but thanks to the purple lace I found in a box while looking for something else, I think this one worked a treat.

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My middle one loves it and had to be dissuaded from taking it back to university with her!

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I’m proud of the back.

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Well out of my comfort zone, but I think I may have finally laid the ghost of that bloody awful yellow blouse. And the show was a triumph too.

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Our upcoming show at Scunthorpe Little Theatre Club is an adaptation of Pinocchio in September and I said I would help with the costumes. My first task was to turn a floppy black felt hat which was styled like a classic musketeer’s hat into one for a carabinieri. The director provided me with a picture from the internet and I made a start.

First I had to unstitch all the ostrich feather plumes and steam the hat to get it back to a neutral shape. It had a nasty hole near the crown but I managed to mend that by needle-felting some black fleece into and around the hole. Then I could stitch both the back and the front of the brim to the crown and make start on the rosette.

The rosette on the front was created from lengths of red, white and blue grosgrain ribbon which I stitched onto individual card circles and then layered together.

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Yes, I know the colour of the inner ring is wrong – in my defence, it wasn’t a close up shot and it looked like blue to me! And having finished it before I realised my mistake, I was not taking something which is only a stage costume for a minor character to bits, so it will have to stay (and annoy me for not having checked my facts before I started…).

The flaming grenade in the middle is made from a picture of one of the cap badges which I stuck onto card and then added layers of gesso to give the impression of something more 3D before finishing it off with silver sharpie. Behind it I used an oddment of silver braid which was a brilliant last minute find at the point where I thought I was going to have to layer several other ribbons and braids together and use the silver sharpie again to get something similar.

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I was able to cut up and lash together two of the original ostrich feathers to make the plume, which is nowhere near as fluffy as the real thing, but again, will be close enough on stage.

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The director was delighted and the guy who will be playing the role was even more pleased that it was a good fit!

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Not sure I’m cut out for making stage costumes. I think I’m too much of a stickler for nailing the sort of detail that you just don’t see on stage. I’m pleased enough with it though, and very pleased that I managed to do it all from stuff I already had!

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