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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