the blog

Elsa photo by Little Noise || Mina photo by Little Noise || Femshep photo by Little Noise

wig work, make up, body art, armour, dance-wear, formal gowns, historic dress, embroidery, and finally large scale prosthetic work.

Costume maker and performance artist since 1999. Diploma of Performing Arts, 1997 Mistress of the Order of the laurel (Society of Creative Anachronism)2007 Head coordinator and judge for New Zealand’s largest media costume competition from 2007-2014.


American System of Dressmaking- updated

I had a lovely comment come through about a personal connection to the book (a relative who passed the course and gained their Diploma!)

The American system of dressmaking (1909)

So I have updated with a little more information to put the book in context. 

There are also a few more recent books that describe it as the largest successful dressmaking correspondence school at the time:

How I Learned The Secrets Of Success In Advertising
By Guy Lynn Sumner

And that lead to learning about Mary Brookes Picken as I realised I have probably skim read at least a few of her books through the archive.

Mary Brookes Picken on Archive.org

my studio is mine again

It’s taken a while because I have to do it in stages, but I have managed to make my studio feel like it is my space again. Hah, myspace..

I was going to do some patterning today but decided to get some sorting and get to work on clearing my stash after all. I have a lot of photos of my Elsa kits (skirt, bodice, sequins- partly assembled and easy to fit) and cape. 

I had made them for myself, one as my actual dress before I got my other sequin fabric, and one as an historic version (based on a photo I think inspired the actual design as it’s one of Queen Maud’s gowns- Queen of Norway.) But I just don’t see me doing so any more. 

I also found my uncut pattern (Simplicity 3637- the Robe a la Francaise that is actually a really nice, really nice introduction to historic patterns in a modern format) so will be able to send that off too. It’s not my size, I grabbed it because it’s a really nice pattern regardless.

Anyway, I also can get Netflix out there so yay! Got to watch The Good Place which was very nicely fitting.

Now it’s time for a tea and time to update my destash album as I kind of need to get it under control.

slight wibble in plans

I need to destash some gear; so I’m looking to part with my silver lace, my stunt Elsa cape and dress parts (more than enough sequins to do the bodice), a Padme.

Also possibly parting with my overlocker- the industrial grade juki. I will take some time to clean the desk but she really needs someone who is more physically able to restore and use her. The fully metal frame slightly limits that! But I would like to know she is being used by someone who will appreciate the speed and quality boost. Also because of how long the foot is it’s very safe- I’ve never come close to hurting myself. I did sew through my nails with a domestic sewing machine though. I was 12.

Anyway. The blip just really reinforces that time runs away when you don’t look and this year certainly has. The current list of things to make has felt overwhelming, right now I am feeling like I can do it. Well. Parts! 

There are several pieces that are cut and assembled but need decorating or are still in lengths of fabrics.

But this new costume, so fun. Terrible. But fun. Slightly more sensible than one I so desperately want to make. Might attempt it next year.

inspiration and tidying

So I think it’s pretty clear when I fall for a song, or a gown, or  character, I fall hard.

I have one that I haven’t really shared but it’s come back and there is even better news. This version basically is overly complicated which naturally means it is a must do now.

sleeve detail

This is part of the sleeve (I did a lot of digging to find hi res images which involves learning a fair bit of code to be fair and I feel confident in making my own theme entirely now.)

Note the solid shiny twisting oversized cording, note the tiny sequins that appear to be veiled in a fabric that is not evenly textured.

I was up until 1am with insomnia so I also managed to find a pro shot video of a presentation evening and now have a view of the back and underarm that confirms my theories and now. It looks like Giger designed formalwear.

In the tidying news I am finally trying to part with a few items. My “stunt” Elsa ice cape and my silver lace. I found a much more delicate lace with as many repeats across the width, it’s just a little more expensive.

There may need to be some more time spent on getting inspiration folders tidied. I have my in progress or must do costumes on one drive but a good 15 years of files on another drive that really really needs sorting. It’s just a little slow. But my new glasses are perfect for desktop work, I have a hot water bottle to keep my hands warm and I may also be able to do a proper back up of most items.

a bad patient

I make one of the worst patients ever. I may only have a BSc, but I have that BSc as a direct result of an interest in biochemistry. My second and third years were basically me trying to get a degree that would help me with forensics (I could see a potential beyond DNA- mostly it would have been for drug testing and pathology but I had that focus.)

So for me my RA was very easy to understand and accept. I studied it. I did my first immunology lab test on blood from RA patients here in New Zealand. It was more than real to me.

So Fibro has been tough. Bu I have been exhibiting ever more symptoms even if some of them have been with me since I was young.

But what has made that hard is not having that same clear understanding of the biological process.

Too often patients are told “you shouldn’t feel this” instead of “we just don’t know why you feel this.”

One states there is no cause, the other that we just haven’t caught up on the science.

But today I just bluntly searched for fibromyalgia tissue sample because that is the kind of study I can trust. At least for finding changes that we know to look for. Studies on perception or behaviour I don’t trust because the interpretation can be so heavily altered by bias. 

And yes. FM patients have higher levels of cytokines in our tissue than controls. I honestly don’t know why it’s only been in the last decade that I can find these papers because I would think it would be where to start. You can find the links in the chain working back to the brain, rather than start in the brain which is so complex. 

And immediately I thought, okay I get this. I can start to look at changes in therapy to match this.

Clin Rheumatol. 2008 Mar;27(3):407-11.
Characteristic electron microscopic findings in the skin of patients with fibromyalgia–preliminary study.

Small fibre pathology in patients with fibromyalgia syndrome
Nurcan Üçeyler Daniel Zeller Ann-Kathrin Kahn Susanne Kewenig Sarah Kittel-Schneider Annina Schmid Jordi Casanova-Molla Karlheinz Reiners Claudia Sommer
Brain, Volume 136, Issue 6, 1 June 2013, Pages 1857–1867, https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/awt053
Published: 09 March 2013

theft follow up

The insurance company can’t find a replacement for my model. I am not surprised. It is only available now from overseas and often from sites that may contain dupes.

So that’s sad on one hand. It doesn’t really help find mine- even though it is a very uncommon model I doubt it’s being directly sold to the hobby community but instead one of the many second hand markets I can’t get to.

I also have had to look up the missing tools and that was hard as the tools are no longer made. I believe it was a Skil set. I can only find them on IndiaMart right now. Again could be dupes.

I spent all Sunday looking at photos to try to find a photo of this in the background of any photo.

And so that involved looking at all the photos of my Boo in his final days.

That was very hard. It stirred up all the painful memories of the moment. He did not have an easy passing. He was stressed and scared and I still have so much guilt about that. I couldn’t even hold him because he was in so much pain it would have made it worse. But now I wonder if that was right.

I didn’t find any images so I did end the day not feeling terribly great.

I’ve been searching again today and am going to have to draw the line under this.

thanks body

So I apparently had a panic attack yesterday. And let me set one thing straight for people who have never had one- it did not spring from stressful thoughts. They came after the physical. It’s very weird and scary. My hands cramped up (just like my toes do regularly anyway) and my legs.)

Anyway. It all started by a whole bunch of really bad timing. I had my usual breakfast. Which is not a breakfast designed for lots of energy. 

Firstly my bus to my destination sat idling for at least 20 minutes. I think it was there early and because it was at the front of the stop we all got on board while the earlier one was later and so we all missed it.

I got to my destination late so was already pushing my limits for the day, the trip is usually only about 30mins but with the added wait it was obviously much longer.

I was going to get a cup of coffee or tea then but thought that I could grab a cup at the hospital as it was next to the blood collection place which was what I needed to do. It was going to be what, ten minutes.

I decided to walk the short distance to get my blood tested after only to find a sign saying they had moved. To a street right next to the place I was just at. It was a short distance down the side street and then down a driveway. 

By that time I was very sore. and by the time I got to the centre I was not really fit for walking- but had no option as I was already out walking. 

Basically if this was The Good Place my test would be this scenario. 

Then there was a good 20 minute wait there as there was one nurse on- people after me left- I was not really able to do that.

So then I had to walk up the street and was going to have a cup of tea, as it was now after 1pm so coffee was a no no. 

But my bus back was pulling into the stop so I decided to put off having food/drink until the bus got me back to the station. So that was another 30min delay in rehydration.

And then lo, at the station my bus home was about due so I put it off again as my buses are too infrequent to just go to the next one. 

But by that stage I was hunched and my ribs hurt and I was not breathing properly. So that’s when My entire body started cramping and tingling. And then at my gp I was just about ready to fall over.

So this is very much what happened almost exactly 6 years ago at DragonCon. It was just a lot more obvious as to the physical cause.

Anyway. I basically got home and went straight to bed.

And I hurt still today. Will be doing more in the way of research again.

sunburst update

So I have been as obsessed by the sunburst gown longer than the electric light gown but hey are in fact really interlinked!

After a little clarification that yes there were two Caroline Schermerhorn Astors. One Mrs one Miss and it is Miss Caroline Astor who wore the sunburst probably post marriage to Mr Orme Wilson.

Weirdly despite both ladies being the center of the very richest people at the time there are remarkably few pictures to be found of either.

But some brute searches in google after detangling the two has brought a very few written descriptions of the gowns of both.

So. The 1883 Vanderbilt ball. Ava Vanderbilt got to wear her electric light gown with working battery.

Daily Wabash Express,Terre Haute, Vigo County, 28 March 1883

Carrie Astor was in the Star Quadrille. These gowns were intended to be illuminated too.

The story of the missing invitationhas been retold several times. Usually that Mrs Vanderbilt claimed she had no idea Carrie was going.


Exactly how true the whole “I can’t invite you as you haven’t visited me” thing actually was is a bit obscured by lots of colourful retellings. 

It is hard to believe though that a formal part of the ball was unplanned. the quadrilles are a part of that formal element and the star quadrille was apparently devised by the hostess herself.

March 15
Indianapolis News,Indianapolis, Marion County, 19 March 1883

Either way she appeared as a star at this ball after all.

Daily Wabash Express,Terre Haute, Vigo County, 28 March 1883

Also of interest is this description of another gown at teh Vanderbilt ball, Light.

Daily Wabash Express,Terre Haute, Vigo County, 28 March 1883

The Mina

I have finally got really sewing again. Many reasons why I didn’t, but I am testing various therapy for fibro so have a few temporary options for pain. The daily stuff hasn’t really seemed to help for a full day.

Anyway. So I have been putting some of what I know works for me in other costumes to the test with The Mina and it’s working. It’s also offering a way for me to explain how my Northern Renaissance patterns work as they use the same basic engineering. The trick to shape is in specific curves.

The front of my bodice shows how the gussets are able to give a really crisp definition to under bust and hips while being very flat on the CF line.

The side view shows how the bodice basically has the straight of grain from shoulder down side and then is perpendicular to the waist. This is the same principle I use for my earlier patterns. 

Here though I have to use gussets over the bust for the idealised figure of the original. In the earlier patterns I just use the bias of the grain in the bust area to create support (not possible to mimic with a rigid mannequin though.) The key thing is that essentially the foundation is very stable vertical through the side and as far up from the waist as possible then allow ease over the bust. Some styles have that change a little further down some higher up (sort of starts very high in the lat 15thC then drops a bit and gets higher and flatter with the influence of Spanish style all over Europe.)

The back also shows some of my stabilising efforts. The V neck is prone to bagging both front and back so I’ll be using some stay tape along the edge later.

The hip gusset like the front one allows for the hip to hopefully be directed to the side rather than squished in.

This V shape of stitching follows some of the shapes seen in gusseted corsets especially. But as this is a bodice I was able to put in an angled side back seam to help smooth that out.

So speaking of smoothing out one of the dressmaking books I looked at again recently shows what I mean about how historical shaping is not just about the initial pattern being very different but the methods of fitting are also different. The post is here. Go straight to the book here (The elements of modern dressmaking for the amateur and professional dressmaker
by Davis, Jeanette E; Holahan, Cora M., ed, Publication date 1894)

1 to 1, 2 to 2, 3 to 3, Stretching for the hollows of the figure ; 5 to 5, Crossboning; 4 to 4, Extra bone in front.

I’m basically using the lines 3 and 4 to keep my fabric straight and thus most supportive. I will be using the methods of putting in vertical darts in the shell.

Here is the illustration showing where to add padding into that hollow for two variations (f for fuller, h for hollower). Also the darts at B and C are for lining fabrics only- this is likely that lining fabrics can’t be eased as easily as shell.

duchess of portland

Another image I have adored since I got a library card. I have the collated version of the book this was in, but this doesn’t appear in it. This is from the Visual History series of costume books.

Basically she just has this incredible gown and expression of total confidence that she absolutely nails it.

Clearly she had a thing for this collar as she wears another it in a portrait by Sargent! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winifred_Cavendish-Bentinck,_Duchess_of_Portland

The nineteenth century

by Foster, Vanda
Publication date 1984Topics Costume
Publisher London : Batsford
Collection printdisabledinlibraryinternetarchivebookschina
Digitizing sponsor Kahle/Austin Foundation
Contributor Internet Archive
Language English
Full catalog record MARCXML