{Costume Design}

In the Atelier Today

I always like the “deconstructed” look during the embellishment process. Should I to stop right there and use those basting threads in the finished piece?

A very small “White Swan” Tutu bodice with it’s very first layer of embellishing… feathers, beads, sequins, crystals… all waiting patiently to be applied.

Scaling down the “Black Swan Tiara” to a small “White Swan” or “Cygnet” size. I will be using larger white gems wrapped in gold tull as well as Aurora Borealis crystals for their warm pink tones. Layers upon layers of wood putty and gesso to soften the shape… endless sanding. A project that is all about delayed gratification!

The finished tutu bodice and skirt. Small, white, feathery and very sparkly!

What little girl would not squeal with delight upon receiving these in the mail? Bloch’s tensus demi-pointe embellished, with real silk satin custom dyed ribbons. SWEET!

A Dyeing Process

One of the most important tools, in this particular process of hand dipping - or "mottled" dyeing - is a set of gloves and liners that protect your hands (as you plunge the fabric into the boiling acid dyestuff).

Acid Dyes will be used for this process. Acid dyes are used to dye protein fibers such as woolen goods, soy protein fibers called Soy Silk, and the synthetic polyamide fiber nylon. They produce a very even, single-color solid effect. Either vinegar or diluted acetic acid can be used to set them.

Acid dyes can safely be dissolved in hot or even boiling water without making them go bad but you must be very careful to completely dissolve the dye. I often add a drop of a surfactant, such as synthrapol, to aid in the dissolution. Another method is "pasting" the dye: mix a very small amount of water with your dye and stir it until it forms a smooth paste. Gradually add more water, stirring until smooth, and only then mix in the rest of the water.

The dyestuff is brought up to a rolling boil, and I mean hot! The warm/wet fabric, in this case the woolen pants, will be bunched up and plunged into the boiling dye, held there for 12 to 16 seconds. This will be repeated over and over with different color dye-baths until the layered and mottled color effect has been achieved.

The wool pants in their pristine state. I have not slit the button holes, the back has been left open and they are unhemmed.

Halfway through the process (it is lengthy), the color is starting to build up on the pants.

I intentionally sewed these pants with a polyester thread that does not take in the dyebath. The stitching adds a contrast note to the overall effect, plus it is strong and will hold the garment together better than a natural thread would.

Pants are pressed and readied for shipping.

The idea is that they should look just like the rendering!

Designing Leotards

Designing for stretch dancewear demands a knowledge of close fitting patterning as well as an understanding of working with a fabric whose character is both loose, fluid and elastic. It is also about how one divides the human body into sections that accent a torso’s physique. The work is complex yet minimal and the seams used are very important. There are countless possibilities, therefore countless quick sketches...

My quick sketches are translated into pen and ink, then I scan those into the appropriate application for coloring and finishing the renderings. I will usually work up many more than needed, from there, it is a process of elimination but always a collaborative one.

1 of 3 Designs. Trying out an idea for color gradation, but the coloring is not set yet, most likely it will change. At this point I can start collaborating with my patternmaker Marilyn Burbank, of Entr’acte Dancewear, on the build. I will be dyeing these after the fact. If you click on the rendering above you will be taken to The Entr'acte Costumes website.

Here are the fabric prototypes for the first design. A combination of solid nylon lycra stretch with a foiled sheer mesh and metallic foil trim.

2 of 3 Designs. Variation on a theme.

Worked up in fabrics. We go back and forth to revise proportions as well as lines and curves.

The mesh unitard will be worn over the leotards. The neckline mirrors the neckline of the leotard, but 1” up, which causes headaches to the patternmaker as they are working with a fabric that has a different stretch ratio than the leotard underneath.

Third design. Yet another variation.

The third design worked up in fabric. Next step will be to vat dye them into a selected color palette.


Revisiting Cylindrical Shadows @ PNB

Adding to an already existing color palette for "Cylindrical Shadows" we have a very broad range of colors. Strong, saturated, they punctuate the dreamlike mood of the piece... adding another layer, another point of view.

The new larger cast at PNB.

A Costume Designers Loose Narrative Monologue, featuring “Associative Leaps” and such.

Building Renderings

Most renderings start with an idea sketched multiple times, the image pose is refined then inked.

Color development and choice goes hand in hand with the sketching. For me, it is an intrinsic part of the design process. There is nothing random about the choice, it is always based on mood, movement, and one must visualize the palette as it moves on the stage and as it is completed with the work of the lighting designer.

Once colors are defined for each dancer, I literally build them in photoshop using scans of my dyed material samples (more often than not I will be dyeing these, so this is my opportunity to figure out the dyeing process). I layer the fabric samples with vector images of weaves I have made previously, then save each image as a fabric sample to be used in a rendering.

I digitize all the different components. This is similar to the collage process, in that each part of the illustration has a built shape that can be "cut" out and layered. Each shape is turned into a vector path, one literally redraws everything that has been hand-drawn and/or painted. It is laborious, but the beauty of this is that it affords one the option to go back into a rendering and change one small part or color of it.

Here are some of the painted backgrounds and textiles I have made, which have been scanned and brought into the rendering.

The finished illustration. I can go back into this and change the color if necessary.

A colorway for one of the women. I always try to bring to life the particular fabric I will be using. In this case it is an ultra light, embarrassingly expensive Italian wool challis, that I will be hand dyeing.

Another colorway for the men. Building transparency in some fabrics, where they actually occur is also a plus as it helps to give a realistic idea of how the fabric will behave on the dancer.

There are many steps to this process, it is time well spent though as it helps to focus my attentions and hopefully prevent any costly construction or color mistakes. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Color work

Today I am refining the Inspiration board for Ma Cong's new work for the Tulsa Ballet. A beautiful piece set in part to the very evocative Fado music of Portugal. My inspiration comes from the palette of the ocean, sand, rusted and oxidized metals as well as the natural murex purple dye produced from shellfish.

Colored shawls on the left with my dyed samples on the right. This kind of work is very important to me as a designer. Color sets the stage, not just literally but also psychologically. Faber Birren, a color theoreticist, noted that "the sound of the oboe is violet, bass notes are brown, percussion notes are orange.” This brings to mind what John Ruskin said in his “Elements of Drawing” 1857: “The whole value of what you are about depends on color. If the color is wrong, everything is wrong: just as, if you are singing, and sing false notes, it does not matter how true your words are."

Black Swan


Another {BLACK SWAN} in the workshop! The green/black iridescent hackle feathers are particularly beautiful, set against the variety of blacks in the tulle and bodice, but be warned, they are not easy to sew into a project!

All the ornamentation is applied by hand. The feather “wing” extensions are individually graded, controlled onto a ribbon length, than bound and sewn down. Bloody fingers ensue!

The larger jewels are hand-wrapped in tulles which are dyed to “colored” black shades. The settings for the jewels are enameled in black.

These tutu's always take an extraordinary amount of time, which translates into labour... and quite a bit of that is hand-sewing and finishing work, around 80 hours of labour for that alone. Swarovsky crystals, vintage iridescent sequins, black glass jet beads and wrapped jewels are hand sewn onto the venice lace motifs, which are hand sewn onto the bodice and basque before the embellishing begins.

The ballet costume includes a 3 layer Silk-dupioni boned bodice, with lace-up back closure, a classical hooped net and tulle tutu skirt with silk basque and “hip- wings”. Since it is custom made, it is sized to specific proportions. For those who want to wear this as a costume, I would advise them that it is a real ballet tutu. The skirt is standardly short and stiff, shows off all the leg and thighs and presents some difficulty when sitting or getting through some doorways. No slouching in this and you cannot relax your hands down by your side!