Client Spotlight: Matt & Shirley

Tattoos and costuming have a lot in common.  You get your first one and you think you’re done.  Next thing you know the itch for yet another coat, or hat, or patch, or whatever creeps in.  Add LARP into the mix, where you are always on the lookout for a new costume piece for an existing character, or for a brand new character, and every day is a new opportunity for another costume piece.

roach's first larp costume
My first ever LARP costume. I made a T-tunic out of an old linen and lace tablecloth. Not shown, the final product splattered with paint to look like blood.

And like tattoos, if you are lucky you find someone who you can trust to add to your collection.  It can make for a beautiful, and creative, relationship.  As a costumer/seamstress, I love those relationships.  Not only because it means regular income, but because the collaboration can take me to interesting and inventive places.

Matt and Shirley are two such clients.  I met them through LARP, and have been lucky to call them friends over the years.  When the approached me for costumes for a Byzantium based vampire LARP I did a little victory dance.  The last time I worked anywhere near the BCE was back when I first started LARP in a Constantinople by Night game.  There was a lot of room for inventive costuming just waiting to be investigated.

Matt and Shirley are great examples of costuming clients.  They had a good idea of what they wanted and were open to suggestions.  Matt’s costume request was simple: a sarong with a Poseidon themed border print and a cape.  He provided me with pictures of sample garments and knew what colors he wanted.  My only input was to offer up a few designs for him to pick from for the border.

The design was accomplished with fabric paint and a stencil.  I used a linen-look fabric for the sarong and cape for a period-esque look without the drawbacks (wrinkles and a high price point).  For the cloak I added a black and white key trim ribbon and chain clasp.

Stencil This
The most time consuming part of all this was cutting out the stencils. If I were to do this more often I would invest in on of those home laser cutter machines. I feel particularly proud of remembering to put down a garbage bag liner before I started painting.

I had never done stencil work before, so this gave me a valuable opportunity to pick up a new skill, and then think about other ways I could accomplish the same task.  If I had had the time and budget I would have gone with a 100% linen and used a bleach or batik technique for the design.  That said, no matter where you stand on the whole “LARP requires costuming“, (and equivalencies to tattoos aside), I advocate going with what your budget allows.  Getting the look for your character doesn’t have to cost a ton.

Shirley had a vague idea of what she wanted and with some back and forth we settled on a linen chiton with a fur capelet. This led to my favorite moment in the idea process where I mentioned I had a sheepskin in the workshop much to Matt’s disbelief*.

The chiton was, again, made from a linen-look material.  Much like Matt’s sarong and cloak I was just dealing with two long rectangles of cloth.  That was actually the most difficult part of putting the costuming together.  Dealing with yards and yards of cloth can be hard.  I ended up spending a lot of time standing in front of Kenny with fabric draped over my shoulder as I hemmed it.

The capelet was the most difficult piece to put together, mostly due to the fact that I was dealing not with a cut of cloth, but an entire piece that had ragged and awkward edges.  I spent a lot of time with it hung on Mildred, adjusting it this way and that to find the best drape.  The fastenings came from thrifted belts and metal hardware procured from Textile Discount Outlet.

Since neither of these costumes included pockets, and I am a proponent of hands-free gaming, I made up simple drawstring pouches for both out of left over fabric.  At the very least they would be able to store their character sheets out of the way when they weren’t throwing chops.

My other philosophy when it comes to LARP costuming, is that you have a better RP experience when your costuming is comfortable and fits.  I think these two pieces hit both those marks, if I am to judge from the pictures Matt sent me of Shirley in her outfit.

A Fierce and Wise Woman
Shirley in her completed costume. I love how fierce she looks.

*Over the years various and sundry items have materialized in the workshop.  I suspect the house gnomes secret them there.  In this case, however, a friend and client had gifted me the sheepskin after a thrifting trip.

Client Spotlight: Jon Pessin

Jon Pessin is a self described “Balloonatic & Licensed Goof-Off“.  He entertains at children’s parties and came to me needing a new party look.

Because this was a costume for work it had to allow for maximum movement (there’s a lot of arm movement when manipulating balloons), be practical (pockets for supplies), but need not be historically accurate.

Simplicity 4923
It can’t be easy to be a pattern model.

For Pessin’s purposes he decided the Simplicity 4923 would work perfectly.  We discussed the pattern and made a few tweaks (no collar on the shirt, adding patch pockets to the coat for supplies).

With yardage and material notes in hand, I hit the local JoAnn Fabrics store.  This is the fun part of the job.  Even when faced with varying shades of gold and forest green.  Sending pictures to Pessin we chatted back and forth about the choice for coat fabric.  It was proving difficult to convey the choices color and pattern wise, through cellphone camera pictures.

Eventually, he went to his nearby JoAnn Fabrics and sent me a picture of what he wanted, which matched one of the ones I had already photographed.  Being able to also feel the fabric in question helped.  Fashion is so much more than the colors of the fabric.  The texture, how it drapes, even how it smells all need to be taken into consideration when you are making an outfit.

With fabric decided upon and materials gathered it was time to sew, sew, sew.  The outfit came together pretty easily.  The only real drudgery was sewing all the darn buttonholes.  (I also had to plunder three different stores to get the forty-five buttons needed.)

Things I learned with this project: don’t wait till the last minute to attach buttons. It is far more enjoyable to sit in the evening watching Ripper Street and hand sewing, rather than trying to do it all in one go the day it is due.  I won’t be making that mistake again!

Fortunately, Pessin is an understanding client.  And his glee showed on his face when he came to pick up his new costume.

Jon Pessin Balloonatic & Professional Goof-Off

A few months after I delivered the outfit, we hit a snag.  Being a robust gentleman, Pessin needed a little extra ease in his clothes.  While I had built in what I thought would work, trying on a vest in the workshop is a different beast than wearing it to work.  All which led to a few buttons popping off where there was strain.

Pessin brought the vest back and I went to work.  First I reattached the buttons, this time watching new episodes of Black Mirror as I worked.  Then I added a panel to the back of the vest.

Historically, back lacing was used to give a custom fit to clothing.  However, I decided adding lacing would end up being more of a nuisance with the possibility of slipping laces and the requirement of an extra set of hands to adjust the fit.  Instead, I decided to add a back panel to the bottom portion, giving him an extra fit that could be adjusted just with the tie already present.

I ran into an obstacle in that I couldn’t find a matching lining fabric, so I went with something close that coordinated.  And then I turned to the sewist’s magic bag of tricks.  There is one universal truth: a fancy trim will turn any alteration born of necessity into a matter of design.  The result was something that was very pirate-y indeed.