Studying Theatrical Costume and other adventures in London - sewing, fabrics and events.

Tag: theatre techniques

Homework 32: Button hole elastic

This evening I set out to put the button hole elastic on to the bodice and add the buttons to the skirt as Claire instructed during our last class:

  1. cut elastic with one or two holes, depending on the size and stretchyness. Cut half way between the one button hole and the next. You will need one for each bone or seam. I used three on each side. More on the side and back than on the front as most people tend to lean forwards more.
  2. machine zig-zag stitch the edges to stop from fraying
  3. use double thread to sew in place
  4. place them so that they finish 15mm-25mm above the waistband
  5. during a fitting work out where to place the buttons on the underskirt
  6. use a flat button on the inside of the underskirt

I had already zig-zag stitched the edges ofthe elastic to stop them from fraying.

Zig-zag stitching the button hole elastic

Zig-zag stitching the button hole elastic

Measuring how far away from the edge to place the bottom of the elastic

Measuring how far away from the edge to place the bottom of the elastic

Elastic sewn in place

Elastic sewn in place

Checking the stretchiness and that it it firmly in place

Checking it is firm

Sewing on a button to the overskirt

Sewing on a button to the overskirt. Pin marking where it should be placed.

Ben helped me during a fitting to mark on the overskirt where the buttons should go.

Buttons sewn on the wrong side (should be on the inside -  I had sewn 5 out 6 before I noticed)

Buttons sewn on the wrong side (should be on the inside - I had sewn 5 out 6 before I noticed)

Once I had rectified my mistake – Button elastic was in action.

Button elastic in action

Button elastic in action

Feels like I could be nearly finished with the costume. Only a few more bits to do.

Homework 32: Making up the cuffs

Using the piece I cut in class 32, I sewed a 8mm bias channel about 30mm from the selvage edge. This was to put in elastic so the edge would be ruffled. I then gathered along the curved edge so that it would provide the baggy shape with a straight edge at the bottom of the cuff.

Cutting the cuff in lawn

Cutting the cuff in lawn

The cuff had to fit in to the bodice sleeve, so gathering had to fit on a bias strip 36cm long.

Bias binding the top of the cuff

Bias binding the top of the cuff

The elastic channel looked really bulky and not very good.

Using bias for the elastic channel

Using bias for the elastic channel - very ugly

Because it looked so hideous, on the other cuff, I just put a pleat in the fabric and threaded the elastic through that. The elastic I was using was flat and only 4mm wide.

Using a pleat in the cuff to hold the elastic

Using a pleat in the cuff to hold the elastic

This looked a lot better, so I unpicked the other cuff and did it the same way. All of this had to be hand sewn as it is very visible and machine stitching would not be correct for this period.

Once I was happy with the cuffs, I just slip stitched them to the facing inside the sleeve.

Class1: Introduction to the course

Tutor: Claire Porter (1 tutorial each term)
Teaching assistant: Eileen Hill

Course overview

Costume: 18th century polonaise c.1770-1785 with undergarments

  • Term 1: Undergarments – Corset and Petticoat
  • Term 2: Toile for outerwear
  • Term 3: Bodice and decoration

We will be using Jean Hunnisett’s book  ‘Period costume for stage and screen‘ to make a costume for ourself.

Outerwear design to be ready for Christmas break.  Design should include ‘red, white, blue’. We will need approx. 10 meters of fabric. £150 budget (max).

We have to keep a log book which records our learning, samples, photos, and evaluation (what went well and what went wrong).   This should be about 50 percent photos and illustrations to 50 percent writing.
Assessment will be on our log book.

Course consists of 4 units to obtain a BTEC Level 2 Certificate in Fashion and Clothing, these are:

  • Unit 7: Developing Pattern Construction Skills
  • Unit 8: Developing Sewing Skills for Fashion
  • Unit 9: Developing Production Techniques for Fashion
  • Unit 10: Fashion Realisation

Additionally we will get the Kensington and Chelsea college certificate in ‘Theatrical Costume’

Hand outs (read for homework):

  • Course Handbook
  • Contact sheet
  • Term schedule
  • Directory of suppliers and reading list
  • Project brief: Unit 9: Developing production techniques – Technical and practical application.

What we will need for next week:

  • seam ripper
  • fabric scissors
  • paper scissors
  • pins
  • needles
  • white cotton
  • thimble
  • tracing wheel
  • carbon paper
  • tailors chalk
  • 10 meters of medium weight calico or cambric (can be bought from Shepherds Bush – A1 or Classic textiles).


Tracing wheel

Tracing wheel

Cotton thread

Cotton thread

Carbon paper

Carbon paper

First day – Theatrical Costume @ Kensington and Chelsea college

As usual, I turned up just in time. The morning had been going so well, but then there was traffic from Earls court to college and I had chosen to take the bus. Anyway it wasn’t too bad and there was still a space for me in between Lorna and Alex.

Claire, our tutor for the year, gave an introduction about the college, the course, and what was expected.  The theatrical costume course at Kensingtion and Chlesea College (KCC) is based on a BTEC in fashion and clothing level 2 certificate, but you also get a certificate from KCC to say it specialises in theatrical costume. Claire gave us a psychometric test, and quite a few hand-outs which contained a list of London fabric shops and museums we were to visit in the afternoon.

In the hand-outs there was information about our first 2 units: developing production techniques (unit 9), where we will make samples to demonstrate our knowledge and skills; and developing pattern construction skills (unit 7), for which we will make undergarments for a polonaise (1770-1785). The course is made up of 4 units (60 hours each), and we will be doing 2 in the first term and then one each term after.

We were also introduced to Eileen who will be teaching us some of the practical parts of the course – samples etc. Eileen showed us log books and portfolios of previous year students. They were very impressive and a lot of work had gone in to the presentation as well as the content.

In the afternoon I paired up with Kate. We walked to the Victoria and Albert museum to look at the fashion and theatre & performance collections as well as getting distracted through the other rooms. Afterwards we walked to the Wallace collection where I discovered Mary Robinson, an actress, writer and poet who lived from 1758 until 1800.

Robe 'Polonaise' 1775-80 at the V&A

Mary Robinson by John Hoppner c 1780

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