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Archive for March, 2011

Hi, everyone. My wife Veronica is crazy busy this week, so I offered to write a guest blog to keep things alive around here – “I” being her husband Mike, her chief supporter/enabler/idea sounding board.

Because Veronica is hip-deep in costuming the cast of the Connecticut Renaissance Faire’s Robin Hood Springtime Festival, she had planned to write a little about the process of creating interesting and meaningful outfits for characters. I am totally stealing that topic, since I can’t think of a new one.

The name of her company, Storied Threads, reflects the fact that Veronica adheres to the principles of costuming extolled by Academy Award-winner Ngila Dickson, who was the costumer for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Dickson put a lot of thought into creating the characters’ and races’ looks in those films, striving to give their fashions and individual outfits little details that reflected their respective backstories. Take a close look at anything a Rider of Rohan is wearing, for example, and you’ll see design elements that reflect the fact their culture is steeped in equestrianism.

Twitch - a girl with daggers

The first time Veronica really put this theory into action in a show – to my mind, anyway – is when she costumed Pastimes Entertainment’s King Arthur Festival in 2005 (her first time costuming that particular production). Her friend and assistant costumer Kate (of the blog Time Traveler’s Wardrobe) played a character named Twitch, who was supposed to be a batshit-crazy mercenary. Twitch had previously appeared in KAF 2004, and looked – well, normal. She had on a nice shirt and skirt combo, and if you took the daggers out of her hand she could have passed as a typical medieval woman.

Twitch - a crazy bad-ass mercenary

In 2005, Veronica gave the character a radical overhaul. The skirts were ditched for pants. The nice shirt was switched out for a ratty one that looked like it hadn’t been washed or repaired in months. Veronica then added a single leather pauldron and a mismatching leather waist cincher with some chunks of chainmail hanging off it. The end result was strikingly different. Twitch now looked dangerous. She looked like a rough-and-tumble brawler. Her clothes had a personality of their own that enhanced the character. It remains one of my personal favorite character designs.

King Arthur in his old surcoat

That was also the same year the knightly characters stopped wearing whatever surcoats they had handy in company stock and started wearing surcoats with very deliberate color and heraldry choices, most of which were drawn directly from the Arthurian legends. King Arthur, for example, ditched the drab yellow surcoat with dragon device and gained a royal blue job sporting the three crowns representing the three major kingdoms within his authority (North and South Wales and Logres).

King Arthur showing off his new heraldry.

When the New England Pirate Faire took over as Pastimes’ main show, Veronica got a lot of opportunities to get creative with costuming. The year Pastimes presented a storyline based on the death of Blackbeard, she got to play with the imaginative concept that Blackbeard’s victims haunted him as ghosts.

The four ghosts that haunted Blackbeard

To sell the idea that some of the actors were spirits, they wore make-up and carried lanterns, but Veronica added a subtle costume touch that, sadly, may have gone mostly unnoticed by the audience: the color red appeared only on ghost characters to indicate how they died. One had a red broach on her sash to mark where she’d been stabbed; another, who had been strangled by Blackbeard, wore a choker of red stones.

 

 

 

Each year Veronica took steps to make sure characters belonging to the same group (i.e., specific crews) had unified looks, but the year after the Death of Blackbeard year she got to create a very unusual group costume concept.

Sadie the Goat and her Gang

The plot involved Sadie the Goat, a real-life New York City street gang leader, and her all-female crew. In history, Sadie and her gang at one point attempted to launch a career as river pirates, and Veronica played with the concept of a group of post-Revolutionary street toughs masquerading (rather badly) as pirates. Elements of city street thug and stereotypical seafaring pirate were mixed and matched to create a very eye-catching group aesthetic that hinted these people were of two worlds, but suggested they didn’t quite fit in either.

I could go on and on because Veronica has created a lot of really memorable character-based costumes, but instead I’ll end with a shameless plug: if you want some advice on how to create your own unique outfit that tells the story of your character, contact Veronica. She’ll be happy to help you out.

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Auditions were this past Sunday for the Connecticut Renaissance Faire’s Spring Robin Hood Show, and casting notices started to go out last night. This will be the second year for this show, and the second year I’ve done costume coordination for it.

For me, this means that I need to really bust ass over the next few weeks, and get as many commissions finished as I can. If you can believe it, I’m STILL not caught up on commissions that I got during CTRF’s fall show last year! I’ve been working hard all winter, but there just hasn’t been enough time to get everything done — one of the downsides to still spending over 60 hours a week (between working and commuting) at a day job, and then trying to get all of my sewing done in the evenings and on weekends.

Doing costume coordination or design for shows means, of course, that I’ll have even less time over the next few weeks to work on commissions — not to mention building stock for my sales tent at the show itself! Luckily I have a fabulous assistant who can help with some of that. At the same time, though, doing these shows is so valuable to me — so many of my designs have originally been born out of character needs at shows I’ve costumed! For instance.

 

 

 

The Alan A Dale Coat was originally designed for, of course, Alan A Dale.  He was a character at the Robin Hood Faire at Hammond Castle many years ago, and the idea was to have him really stand out from the other characters — but in a medieval way. I wanted him to be a medieval rock star. This style of coat and hat is actually drawn from history, but is a style about a hundred years later than any of the other costumes in the show, and so made Alan seem like a trend-setter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Miniature Tricorn was first created for Agnes Bonnet, at the New England Pirate Faire in 2009.  She was the wife of a pirate who was mostly in the pirating trade because she thought it would be a lark. Really, they were quite wealthy without the need to be capturing ships or hunting down treasure.  So I decided that the perfect topper to her Colonial gown was a tiny, ridiculous, Marie Antoinette-esque tricorn hat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Uriens Vest was one I created the first year I costumed the Connecticut Renaissance Faire, back in 2005.  It was for — you guessed it! — King Uriens.  I needed some kind of “topper” to his outfit, something medieval, but with a bit of flow and richness to it, something that said to the audience that he wasn’t just another Medieval Guy, he was an IMPORTANT Medieval Guy.  So I created this vest, with a full skirt and swirling trim details, which could easily be worn over a pants and long tunic outfit to give it that little something extra that proclaimed Uriens’ status.

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