Archive for August, 2012

Tapping new fandoms

It’s no secret that business here at Storied Threads really took off when I started tapping into pop culture and fandoms.  It started last spring, when I debuted the Doctor Who Awareness Ribbon patch, and has simply grown exponentially from there. At CTRF last fall, I had a handful of Doctor Who patches, which sold so fast I couldn’t keep them in stock. And by this year’s Robin Hood show in May, I had so many Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, and even Avengers patches that they each got their own section of the tent to be displayed in.

The trick to maintaining this momentum, though, is to keep things fresh. I try to have at least one or two new patches to debut every week, and while I love the shows and movies that have inspired me the most, I also know how important it is to keep diversifying the things I can offer. I’ve been making a concerted effort lately to not simply say, “Oh, look, another Doctor quote I love! Oy, watch it, Spaceman!” but instead to remember other things I love, and to share that love with my customers.

The question always is, though — what movies and shows and games do other people love as much as I do? And what are the moments from them that stand out in their memories? And at the same time — how do I keep what I do DIFFERENT from what other people tapping the same market are doing? For instance, I could do a Firefly patch for “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”. It’d be easy. Throw in a dinosaur or two, and it’s done. But….how many times have you seen that quote on a t-shirt or other fan art? I want my work to stand out from the crowd, not be just another Wash-and-dinosaurs offering among dozens.

So, I’m playing with other things, too. The Princess Bride. Galaxy Quest. Zombieland. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Harry Potter. And there are some that I really WANT to do things for, but haven’t yet figured out what, exactly. Mystery Men, for instance. Or Labyrinth.

What are movies that you love, or moments that have stayed with you? What — if you saw it on a patch, or a bag — would make you think, “This! I must have this!”


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New England Pirate Faire

I couldn’t resist the mustache-on-a-stick.

This past weekend was the New England Pirate Faire, and it was kind of a rare experience for me — I didn’t do costume design, I didn’t vend, I didn’t even dress in garb….I simply went as a patron, and saw the show. It’s been YEARS since I did that, and I was a little worried I wouldn’t know how to be a patron anymore.  And to be fair, I did work a little. I got there crazy early, since Mike had to be there for fight call several hours before the gates opened. And it turned out that Mike Marquis, of Legendary Leathercrafts, was there on his own, and had to get set up. I’ve known Mike for something like 12 years now — we both started out as performers, and have since made our way into vending. So I gave him a hand that morning, setting up his tent, putting out displays and stock. It was nice to feel useful before anything was really going on, and great to catch up with a friend.  Also, I couldn’t resist buying a mustache-on-a-stick from him, which was just too much fun to play with.

Kate, my assistant and back-up brain, went back to performing for the weekend.
Photo by Lauren Dubois.

It turned out, being a patron was easy.  I watched all of the scenes, saw people I hadn’t seen in far too long — both cast members and other patrons — and had a really good time hanging out for the day.  In addition to Mike performing, my assistant — and back-up brain — Kate was also able to be there as a performer.  She played third mate Flora Burns on Calico Jack Rackham’s ship, fully decked out in costuming she’d made herself. The jacket and vest were originally part of her costume from our brief indy act “Sex and Violence”, which — while fun — turned out to not be how I wanted to be involved in the faires. (“Sex and Violence”, by the way, is also the show that the Frock Bodice was originally designed for. It moves marvelously in a rapier fight!)

Mike Bailey, Rich Rinninsland, and Joanne Baranofsky in various Storied Threads finery.
Photo by Lauren Dubois.

I did notice, as I watched the show, an incredibly high number of Storied Threads pieces (or at least, pieces I’d made) showing up in the cast costuming. It’s always odd to see how things get re-purposed or changed around.  I even saw the very first bodice I EVER made being used on one cast member, which was kind of a shock. I had forgotten that I’d even donated it to Pastimes during one of my closet purges, but there it was, being worn by one of the pirates.  And it was kind of odd to see it, and realize how far I’ve come in my pattern drafting and sewing since then.  Besides that, though, there were all kinds of skirts, pants, waistcoats, shirts, and just a little bit of everything, showing up in the costuming — largely pieces people had actually purchased from me over the years, and it was really good to see it all coming together as a cohesive look. In the above picture, for instance, Mike Bailey is wearing our fall-front knee breeches, Rich Rinninsland is in a waistcoat I made him several years ago, and Joanne Baranofsky is in a Storied Threads pick-up skirt.

Final two photos in this post are used by permission of the photographer, Lauren Dubois. She is also one of the staff photographers for the Connecticut Renaissance Faire.

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This weekend, the New England Pirate Faire opens after a one year hiatus.  And, for the first time in the show’s history, I will not be doing the costumes design for it.

This was a conscious choice on my part.  Last spring, I took a step back and looked at the number of jobs I was doing, and realized it was too much.  I needed to be able to focus on really getting the vending aspect of Storied Threads up to where I felt it ought to be, and by doing costume design for shows, I was taking a lot of time away from that, and my business was suffering as a result. So I made a pledge to myself that I wouldn’t do any more costume design until I could really devote the time to it that it deserves, without sacrificing the quality of Storied Threads’ primary objective.

As the show approaches, though, it makes me realize how many of the things I sell were originally created as part of a costume for a specific character. I’ve designed a lot of shows at this point, and there are always pieces that need to be made from scratch — some of which then go into production on their own.

Travis Joyce, playing the Captain Gibert of the Panda, in his Storied Threads waistcoat.

My waistcoats were originally designed for a couple members of the crew of the Panda, the year Pastimes did the “Death of Blackbeard” storyline. They were a rather well-dressed crew, with a very foppish captain, and there just weren’t enough waistcoats in stock to outfit everybody appropriately.

So, I got to work at the pattern drafting table…which, at the time, was actually my living room floor.  Found myself about a million buttons. Found some terribly shiny and tacky and utterly character-appropriate fabric at a yard sale of all places.  And before you knew it, Captain Gibert and his first mate were appropriately dressed, and Storied Threads had a new item to add to the offerings.





The original Rachel Wall coat, modeled here by myself.

The very first year of the Pirate Faire, which was actually before I’d even begun Storied Threads as it is now, I played Rachel Wall in the cast.  She’s a character who, by now, has been played by three different actresses, and with three very different interpretations on the character. But when I played her, she was a clever, conniving, low-life kind of a pirate.  And it is for her that Storied Threads’ Rachel Wall Coat is named, since the very first one was made for her.

Kate Beckinsale, in “Van Helsing”.

The seeds of this coat design were actually planted by, of all things, the movie Van Helsing.  Which was, honestly, an awful movie — but with very pretty costume designs. And Kate Beckinsale wore this gorgeous little cropped jacket with a sleeve design that I absolutely fell in love with — and it sat there in the back of my head until I figured out what I wanted to do with it.

What I wanted to do, it turned out, was make a feminine pirate coat.  Kept the sleeve inspiration, but made it a longer coat, added pockets and buttons and trim and other piratey details.  And even made the first Bell Sleeved Blouse to be worn with it.

Mind you, Rachel didn’t wear it nearly as prettily as it shows in this picture.  I even originally had plans to burn a hole in the back of it, preferably with some powder burn around it, as if the original owner had been shot, and Rachel had taken the coat for herself. But once it was done, I found I didn’t have the heart to defile it like that. Which is, perhaps, not the choice I should have made as a costume designer — but it was my new pretty coat, and I just couldn’t do it.

Jasmine Ready in the first Miniature Tricorn.

Three years ago, the second-to-last time I designed for the Pirate Faire, we had a pair of very well-to-do pirates. As characters, they were hardly pirates at all — more like bored, rich people who bought a ship, hired a crew, and went into piracy for the fun of it.  The original concept for Agnes Bonnett was to put her in a giant Colonial hat, the kind with very brought brims, and long lengths of ribbon to tie them on.  Until one day I had the idea of going in the complete opposite direction — I thought of doing an almost Victorian-inspired hat, making a pirate’s tricorn that was so small it could be nothing other than a fashionable lady’s mockery of pirate styles.

I mentioned the idea to the show’s director, and he thought it was great — and, eventually, the Miniature Tricorn was born.  I played with trimming styles, with arrangements of plumage, and with about a dozen different means of securing it to Jasmine’s head before finally finding one that didn’t fall off or slide out of place. In the end, her hat even stood up to nearly gale-force winds on one of the show days!

Thinking about these kinds of things reminds me that creativity cannot exist in a vacuum. So much of what I do is inspired by characters, or conversations with others, or pop culture.  Sometimes I miss doing the costume design for reasons like that, and look forward to the day when I’ll have enough time to go back to it again.

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