Sunday, 21 May 2017

Les Miserables Costumes - Part 1 - Workers and Poor

I haven't been blogging for ages as my sewing has taken a back seat to my day job. But I have been meaning to write up some posts about of the shows I've been costuming over the last year or so.

As Les Miserables needs no introduction I'm just going to get straight to the costumes!

A lot of the costumes from this show were adapted from eBay and charity shops, althouh I did make most of the skirts from scratch.  Surprisingly, the costumes of the era were more modern than I thought and by choosing vintage looking items in natural fabrics like cotton and linen, I was able to evoke the look of early nineteenth-century France. 

Most of the chorus had multiple parts so we needed costumes that would work as villagers, inn customers, everyday folk around Paris and students at the barricade, but could also be made to look ragged for the poor in scenes like At the End of the Day.

So I started by created a basic costume of blouse and skirt - or shirt and trousers - which could be layered with accessories such a jackets, waistcoats, corsets and shawls for the different scenes.

I limited the amount of black as this looks flat on stage, and needed to avoid modern colours - especially white - as these are not authentic for the period.  So I went for muddy shades - lots of beige and brown - but livened it up with some orange tones such as tan and ochre, and some grey-blue-greens. It was quite hard to find these colours so I dyed quite a lot of items, mixing up shades or adding a touch of brown or denim blue to give the effect I wanted.  For the really poor clothes I used dip-dying and over-dying techniques to created an aged look and dirty hems.

The lovely thing about natural linen or cotton is that it goes soft and crumpled if washed and tumbled dried at high temperatures.  And anything with silk in was even better - I found a linen silk mix curtain fabric in a remnant bin that made fantastic rag shawls once boiled and dyed.

While I had made some really rough layered and bulky skirts for the younger cast who were mostly just in the poor chorus,  I used more gentle gathered and A-line shapes for a lot of the older girls that gave a more elegant silhouette.   And I trimmed some of them with upholstery braid and ribbons to create more of a class distinction.

This really helped me get a different look for the women who worked in the factory with Fantine.

Although the skirts were all different colours, I managed to source lots of shirts and blouses with a fine pinstripe - and dying them all the same blue colour  and adding blue aprons created the uniform look I wanted.

The one thing I couldn't get the girls to do was put their hair up in era appropriate buns or wear caps! 

The Old Button is more than happy for you to use these costume ideas as inspiration for your own production. 
Pinning through Pinterest is fine as long as you credit The Old Button but please respect the copyright of the photos, and do not reproduce in other forms without permission. 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Tie Dying with Becci, Maggie May and William too - a summer craft tutorial for children

Before you start - check with your adult helper where you can do your tie dying! Dye stains don’t come out, so do it outside if you can – a bit of dye on the grass is better than on the carpet or kitchen table.  

Wear old clothes and plastic or rubber gloves. And ask your adult helper to read the instruction with you (and to read technical bits at the end) before you start. 

We hope you enjoy tie-dying your own t-shirts as much as we do…
Becci, Maggie May and William

·        T-shirts – white ones are best but light colours can work
·        Fabric dye  
·        Salt
·        Water
·        Plastic bowl and an old wooden or plastic spoon for stirring
·        Old table (or plastic sheeting / oilcloth covering)
·       Adult helper
(Dye catcher for washing is also useful- see technical bits)


Put the t-shirts in cold water so they are wet all the way through. Squeeze most of the water out of the t-shirts. Open them flat then fold, roll or scrunch each one up in whatever style you like. 

We've showed you how to do a simple stripe - but we have more photos at the end for other patterns.

Fold or pleat your t-shirt neatly and use elastic bands or string to tie it up - we used 2 but you can add more if you want more stripes. Make sure they are tied really tight to stop the dye getting in where you don’t want it. Adults are great at this. 

Ask your adult helper to help mix up the dye in a plastic bowl.  Tell them to follow the instructions on the packet – you usually have to dissolve the dye in water and then add salt – don’t forget this bit - the salt makes the dye come out a strong colour and stops it fading too much.  

Stir the mixed dye well with an old spoon – we love using wooden ones as the dye turns the spoon a great colour.  

Put the tied up t-shirts into the bowl of dye. Use gloves and put them in carefully - don’t drop it in – it will splash dye everywhere and you don’t want it in your eyes! And use the spoon to push the t-shirts under the dye and to stir them. 

Leave the t-shirts in the dye for as long as the instructions say – some dyes take ages and ages to work, others are really quick. But don’t take them out early or the dye will fade too much when you wash them. 

When the time is up, ask your adult helper to carry the bowl of dye to the sink. Tell them to be careful not to spill any on the floor!  

Wearing gloves, take the tied up t-shirts out of the bowl of dye and put them in the sink. Turn on the cold tap but don’t put the plug in - just swish the tied up t-shirts around in lots of running water.  

When most of the spare dye colour is washed away, you can untie the t-shirts. Ask your adult helper to help if you can’t undo the knots or elastic bands. Keep swishing the t-shirts around in cold water until no more dye colour comes out.

This is the really exciting bit - when you get to see what your t-shirt looks like. Remember each one is supposed to look different so they won’t be exactly like ours. And they may look a bit bright at first but they will fade a bit when you wash them.

Finally put your t-shirts in the washing machine and ask your adult helper to wash and dry them so you can wear them. 

Other ideas - as well as the Simple Stripe, we also did a Spiral Twist which twists the t-shirt in a flat spiral pattern before tying. And Scumble - scrunching t-shirt up (little bits at a time) into a flat round shape, and Target - pinching the t-shirt from the middle into a cone and tying just like the stripes. There are lots of videos on YouTube to show you exactly how to do these.

More than 1 colour - put just part of your tied up t-shirt into one bowl of dye - lean it against the side of the bowl so you don't have to hold it for a long time. When it's had enough color, rinse it carefully but don't untie it. Then you can put the other part into another colour.  This is sometimes called dip dying.

You can also "over-dye" by putting your already dyed t-shirt into another colour. This Scumble t-shirt was made by dip dying half in orange dye and then half in blue dye for a long time to get strong colours, then putting the orange part into the blue dye just for a little while - it came out a brown colour. 

Have fun and experiment - the photo at the top of the page shows a t-shirt we tied in a different ways and dyed in lilac, orange and red colours.  

Technical bits 

Fabric dyes – you can use most fabric dyes that are soluble in water – just follow the instructions. Most use salt to fix the dye, but some specialist dyes use other fixatives so check before you buy. Cold water hand dye products like Dylon are great for first attempts – you can buy them at most supermarkets and fabric shops fairly cheaply; they come in pre-measured dosages and only need salt - but they can take a long time for the dye to take. You may want to distract the young dyers with a good film while the t-shirts soak. You can use special dyes for the washing machine too – but I don’t think the kids enjoy this as much as swishing the t-shirts around in the bowls! 

You should be able to do 4 or 5 kids t-shirts from a standard dye packet – but you must be able to fit them all in the bowl so they are fully submerged. If you can’t fit them all in, keep the dye for a second batch but the colour will be paler so try leaving in longer.    

Mixing and stirring - use old bowls and spoons, or ones you've bought for crafting - while home use dyes are safe to use if you follow the instructions, it's best not to use your current cooking utensils.

Supervision and help – depends on the age of the child, but even older kids will need help mixing the dye liquid as well as general safety supervision.  You may need to help younger kids fold and tie the t-shirts to get a good pattern – I usually do a few myself while “helping” them do one each – that way there are lots to choose from at the end – essential to prevent tears if one doesn’t work out! 

Initial washing instructions – between 40 and 60 degrees without detergent or fabric conditioner. This first wash helps fix the dye but I usually add in a Dye Catcher – also known as colour catcher – a small sheet of special paper fabric that catch spare dye in the wash. Also great for washing new denim and other non-colourfast clothes – you can buy it at supermarkets with the laundry products. Subsequent washes can be as normal for cotton t-shirts – but try not to wash at too high a temperature to preserve the colours.  

This tutorial has been adapted from an article written by me for the Creative Crafting magazine (Crystal Lady Designs), and published in June 2014. You can see the original article in the Creative Crafting online magazine (on page 54).