Sunday, 26 May 2013

Making the Sound of Music Costumes - Part 3 - The Family Von Trapp

Two of the Von Trapp children marching onto stage
Liesl and Friedrich Von Trapp (Photographs by Peter Cook)
Did you know there were really 10 Von Trapp Children? And Maria came as a governess to just one of them - also called Maria - who was recovering from scarlet fever.

Not sure why they changed the numbers for the film and the musical, but I suspect the Mother Abbess would have had an even harder time persuading Maria to take on the job - 7 was more than enough!

But the LRVS showcase had even more! All in all we had 12 Von Trapp children - although Liesl and Friedrich stayed the same each night, our Directors, Lulu and Natasha, had double cast the younger Von Trapps.

Double (or triple) casting younger actors is normal practice in musicals and shows that run more than a few days - there are very strict rules about the number of performances a child can do. And even if you are only doing a few nights, double casting is great as even more young actors and singers get to play a role and you automatically have understudies. It does have its difficulties though - rehearsals are longer as you have to do everything twice and of course it can mean more than one set of costumes!

Maria with some of the Von Trapp children in sailor suits
 (Photographs by Peter Cook)
Wardrobe mistresses live in hope that directors will cast matching pairs of children, so that the same costume can double up. My son got through to the last but one recall of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Musical tour a few years back only to be turned down as he was much much shorter than the other children. And even when they have chosen the cast, there is lots of lining up and juggling around - my daughter's first audition was for a Panto Babe in Aladdin - selecting the 24 kids didn't seem to take too long, but they took ages in deciding which troupe she would be in and who she would be paired with.

Captain Von Trapp with Gretl and Marta
(Photographs by Peter Cook)
And it was the same for our Von Trapps! While Liesl (played by Immy) and Friedrich (played by Jack) were performing each night, and needed their own costumes, I tried to double up on costumes for some of younger children - Emily and Lottie who played Marta were similar height and build, as were the two girls playing Brigitta - Nia and Marnie. A great start.

But I wasn't so lucky with the other kids. There was a really big height difference between Leila and Rebekah who were both playing Louisa and also between the two boys - Ioan and Declan - who were cast as Kurt. And it was the same with the two youngest (and definitely cutest) cast members - Holly and Rachel who were brilliant as little Gretl. And I loved those plaited hair twists over their ears.

Captain Von Trapp and children singing in farwell concert
(Photographs by Peter Cook)

3 Von Trapp children in Sailor Suits - trousers and skirts
(Photographs by Peter Cook)
Although our showcase included selected scenes from the whole musical, the cast wouldn't be able to change costumes. So for the Von Trapp children, I decided I would go for the iconic look - the sailor suits. I did half think about costumes from curtains, but the look of horror on the boys' faces put paid to that.

Having looked at loads of kids sailor outfits on-line, I decided to go for simple navy and white, which was marginally more acceptable to the teenagers. Although the girls weren't too keen on the white socks! They weren't too keen on the skirts either - which were simple pleated school uniform skirts with elasticated waists and in a variety of lengths to suit each child. I'm not too sure if they got them muddled up in the dressing room, or if they rolled up the waists, but I'm sure they were all knee length at the dress rehearsals!

I had been given a couple of pairs of navy school uniform trousers by Declan's mum - so he wore one pair and I cut the other one down for Ioan.  And luckily I found a larger pair in a local supermarket that suited Jack - I got the skirts from the same place - excellent price and a great colour match to the trousers.
Sailor suits - white tunic tops with ribbon trimming
(Photographs by Peter Cook)

The tops were long sleeved, round neck t-shirts I found on-line. I cut off the cuffs and turned under a small hem to make them more boxy. I machined sewed a band of navy grosgrain ribbon about an inch up on the sleeves and from the bottom - I was a bit concerned about adding ribbon to stretchy jersey but it was easier than expected.

And they looked great - even putting up with being washed and dried every day between performances. In hindsight though, I wish I'd used white sweatshirts as the t-shirts needed careful pressing to keep them looking crisp.

Gretl peeping out from behind Louisa - close up of collars
(Photographs by Peter Cook)
I did think about using the cheap sailor collars you find in fancy dress shops - so I ordered one to try it. It was awful. The polyester fabric was nasty and the white "ribbons" were just painted on stripes. So although I was rapidly running out of time I felt I had to make my own. I bought some crisp navy cotton sheeting and used the fancy dress collar as a pattern - improving the curved shape around the neck and scaling it down in size for the younger kids.  Luckily they could share so I only needed 8 (7 Von Trapp children plus a spare - you always need a spare!)

Sewing the twin ribbon stripes was really time consuming - I pinned the first stripe in place and top-stitched very slowly, making sure it was straight and an even distance from the edge. Using grosgrain ribbon helped - the slight ribbed surface stopped the ribbon from slipping, and as it was double side I was able to turn sharp corners on the back of the collar by folding it back on itself by 90 degrees. The second stripe was easier as I had the first as a a guide.

Brigitta trying to confuse Maria while other children are laughing
(Photographs by Peter Cook)
I didn't want to have to hem the collars as curved hems always sit badly.  So I cut out a lining from the same cotton and sewed them right side together. I left a small gap on one straight side which meant I could turn the whole thing right side out.  I use this technique to make children's aprons - it's brilliant - no hemming and all the messy stitching is on the inside.   

And Joe - one of the technical crew - mentioned he knew how to tie brilliant knots. Big mistake Joe - it's not easy to set up the sound system and lights when you have a queue of children wanting collars knotted just before curtains up.

Well done to all the Von Trapp children - brilliant harmonies and I just love your facial expressions.

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. 

Monday, 6 May 2013

Making The Sound of Music Costumes - Part 2 - The Nuns

How many Nuns?

I have a confession to make. I didn't actually make the Nuns costumes. There I feel better now. There was no way I was going to do everything on my own this time, so I asked around to see if any of the other parents could help. I was mightily relieved when Rachel said she could sew. So I'm handing my blog over to her so she can tell you the story in her own words.... Oh, and don't believe half of what she says - she is brilliant! And if you want the answers to the quiz in the previous post - they are at the bottom. 

Two nuns in The Old Button Costumes excitedly talking to each other
(Photographs by Peter Cook)
I’m still trying to work out how “Oh I have a sewing machine” translates in Sharon language into - "I’m an expert seamstress”.    

It all started last October when I mentioned to Sharon that I had a sewing machine and would be able to help out with some basic sewing for the costumes for the upcoming show. Although Sharon seems to thrive on designing lots of different costumes, I told her I would prefer to work out how to make one costume and then run off a few more of the same.  That’s where we are different; Sharon is a creative genius whereas I’m more of a low skill production line worker.

So we agreed I would do all the nun costumes. I picked the fabric up from Sharon at one of the rehearsals. Forty metres of it on a huge roll I could hardly carry! Nuns don’t wear skimpy clothes. Sharon had managed to source some perfect material - a polyester mixture often used for making staff uniforms. Reasonably priced, hangs perfectly, has some slight stretch (which was great when fitting sleeves). But boy did it fray.

Right that’s great. Now “Where’s the pattern?” asked I. “Oh here is a cheap fancy dress nun’s habit; you can use that to make a pattern .....but make it longer.  And wider... and with nicer sleeves. ” said Sharon. Gulp. I’ve never made anything without a pattern and detailed instructions before. I am completely out of my depth. Panic! Do I own up now or have a go. I know many of you reading this will think I’m a little pathetic. They are only nun’s habits, that’s easy you say, but you really do have to realise how much of a novice I was. However, Sharon seemed to have every confidence in my ability and convinced me to have a go. 

Sharon found some fantastic white hijabs which would work really well for the wimples. All I had to make was the black tunics and veils. So off I went to try. Sharon was right, making the tunic wasn’t too hard - I basically started of with three oblongs in a t-shape and added a tie belt. Having tried it on my daughter Laura though, I knew I had to set the sleeves in. I struggled a bit with working out the shape of the arm hole and the shape of the sleeve to fit into it but I got there in the end.

Picture of Nun showing close up of wimple and veil
(Photographs by Peter Cook)
Next the veil; that was going to be easy I thought - just a piece of fabric narrower at the front with elastic straps, and wider at the back with a curved hem. Mmm - my first attempt was alright but not perfect. The fabric, and probably my sewing skills, didn’t take to kindly to hemmed edges - they were stiff and didn’t hang too well particularly on the veils. But some type of edging was needed as the fabric frayed badly so Sharon suggested I zig zaged close to the edges and cut off the spare close to the zig zag. That worked much better. I had one outfit made. Hooray.

"I think I’ve worked out what I need to do, now how many do I have to make?" I asked.  "Nineteen?"  "Are you sure? Are there really that many nuns? Why didn’t I start earlier?" Nothing on a small scale with LRVS! I reassured Sharon I’d get them finished, no problem. I never miss a deadline. I’m an adrenaline junkie – it drives the people I work with mad sometimes. But I never miss a deadline. 

Over the next few weekends the sewing machine and vast swaths of black fabric occupied the dining table. I roped my daughter Laura (aka Sister Catherine) in as a model, fabric cutter and edge trimmer. Adjusting the pattern slightly for different sizes and heights was a doddle. This was going better than I expected and I thought I would get the job done with time to spare. 
A long shot showing lots of the nuns in costume
Just a few of the Nuns and Sisters (Photographs by Peter Cook)

But I wasn’t thinking far enough ahead. I had made an amateur mistake - I didn't check I had enough fabric before I started and I was a couple of costumes short! "Could we get more of the same? Would it arrive in time?" (not much time ‘til curtain up now!). Ever calm Sharon. “No problem everything will be fine.” Next Saturday at Vocal School she arrived with more fabric for me, giving no indication of the stress I had put her through by asking for more fabric at the last minute. Sharon’s original supplier was low on stock - she phoned them up and reserved what they had, sorted out next day delivery and then made a frantic dash to a shop in Cardiff who also had a few metres in stock. So resupplied with just enough fabric I finished off the outfits with a little time to spare. 

Close up of Mother Abbess with two Sisters
Sophie Rees as Mother Abbess (Photographs by Peter Cook)
But I had forgotten about Mother Superior's wimple - it needed to be different - bigger and have a white lining and with a substantial frame. Having checked out the film and various images on-line, I cut a small plastic food container - the sort you get with takeaway food - in half to give the headdress more structure and tucked it into a folded piece of white fabric that was also used to line a slightly larger veil.

This helped frame  our Mother Abbess's face - adding to her  serene look - Sophie really looked the part, calmly guiding her sometimes excitable group of Sisters, Nuns and Novices.  Her beautiful voice sounded incredible, especially during the final song in this section - Climb Every Mountain 

So there you have it my journey from keen novice to proud assistant wardrobe mistress. Thank you Sharon you have been a fantastic mentor.  "Would I do it again?... Next year - yes please."  

Having been making costumes for so long, I'd forgotten what it is like to be given some fabric and told to go away and just run something up. So sorry Rachel - it was a huge ask and you came up trumps.  I really didn't want to use cheap fancy dress outfits - they were very flimsy and short and reminded me of a hen night - but your nuns costumes were absolutely perfect.

Sound of Music Quiz answers
In my previous post Sound of Music - Part 1 I mentioned I'd found some fab home-made costumes during my research that were based on songs from the musical. How many did you recognise? 
  1. Tea bag - this is from Do-Re-Mi "Tea with Jam and Bread"
  2. A goat with long strings going from hands and feet to two crossed sticks is inspired by the puppet show and the song The Lonely Goatherd
  3. A jar of fruit jam - from Do-Re-Mi "Tea with Jam and Bread" again
  4. Atro turf - Sound of Music - "The hills are alive" .... ok so going to a party dressed as a grassy hill is a bit weird 
  5. Whiskered cats - Favourite Things - "Whiskers on kittens"
  6. Five teenagers wearing different numbers reading left to right 16; 161/4; 161/2; 163/4 and 167/8 - I love this one - its based on the duet between Leisl and and Rolf - 16 going on 17

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.