Category Archives: Favorite Things

Nécessaire du Voyage

My career keeps me very busy…much too busy to do much acting or designing any more. I’ve instead focused my creative energies into creating garments that follow (as closely as I am able) historically accurate 18th- and 19th-century designs. I recently attended a weekend workshop and needed to bring my sewing materials with me. I’m a follower of the dictum, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” At home, this is simply a matter of putting things into the box, bin, or basket I’ve assigned for it. Traveling with my gear was bound to be trickier, but I expect to do a bit of it as I continue in this hobby so I decided that what I needed was a Nécessaire du Voyage.

Nécessaires have been around for many centuries and come in various shapes and sizes. They hold any manner of items that a lady or a gentleman might need on a regular basis.  Some were small and could fit in your pocket or hang from a chatelaine:

Phila Museum- Chatelaine with EtuiChatelaine with Etui, Made in England, c. 1760-1765. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

You’ll notice the term used here is Etui. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but Etui seems the more appropriate term for a smaller case. However, you will just as often find the use of Nécessaire for these small cases, especially when the tools enclosed are sewing implements.

Oftentimes, a Nécessaire du Voyage is a box or leather case with spaces for containers, drawers, or other storage devices for items needed when traveling.


Antique Tortoiseshell Necessaire Etui, c. 1825, Hampton Antiques.

This is a small sewing nécessaire, likely no more than 8″-9″ long. Others are rather more impressive.

Grand Ladies nécessaire, early 19th century, Le Curieux

The case above is just about 18″ x 12″ x 6 1/2″. It contains all the accoutrement for tea for two, combing and styling one’s hair, sewing, and writing. The center portion with the spoons lifts up to reveal two more trays of items!

My nécessaire only needed to be large enough to hold my sewing tools. Since I wanted it to hold my tools, I knew I needed to make mine myself (not that they are readily available otherwise). Since I’ve not been able to study more than one or two of the smallest cases personally, I decided to make mine out of modern materials and treat it like an experiment. At some point, I’ll hunt down an antique box and do more in-depth research, but for now, I just needed to get the thing done and ready for the event just two weeks away. I know a lot of people get frustrated with creative types because they don’t understand how we can come up with some of the things that we do. I always try to explain that part of it is applying experience from one project to another that may be completely unrelated. It’s also a willingness to try things and make mistakes. To that end, I will be sharing my failed attempts, of which there were several.

I began by trying to think of what they used to create the custom formed holders for everything from scissors to spoons. In this period, the options would most likely be carving out wood, sculpting papier mache, or perhaps some kind of heavy paper board. My tiny apartment doesn’t leave me much room for woodworking, but that seemed to me like a highly likely option since it is rugged, easily carved (depending on variety), and readily available. I decided to use foam as my wood substitute. Friday after work, I headed to the craft store. At first, I got the type of foam that’s used in upholstery. I know this type of foam is easy to cut with an electric meat carver and you can also hack at it with scissors. I went to an art and craft store and bought the foam, a wood box, and some other small pieces of hobby wood.

I began by laying out those materials and all the things I wanted to carry in the case.

The first thing I realized was that my box was smaller than I had hoped. The second thing I realized is that the awl that I got from my toolbox was too big (especially the handle). I thought I’d see if I could develop a layout that would accommodate all the rest.


I drew a rectangle the size of the interior dimensions of the box on a large piece of paper and marked off a half inch border to keep from getting too close to the edge. I liked the balance of this arrangement and felt comfortable moving on. I traced each item onto the paper, using the width of the marker to give me a little wiggle room for the lining. I wasn’t happy with my symmetry on the four silver containers so I picked the tracing I liked most, folded the paper in half, and copied the good tracing onto the other side. Once I did that, I covered the paper both front and back with clear packing tape to give it a little more body. I then cut each opening out with a blade on my self-healing cutting mat.


I thought the template turned out rather well and turned my attention to making the tray that would sit on top of the base layer. I really had hoped to find a piece of model-making wood that would be thin but not too thin and wide enough to fill the whole box. Alas, I was unable to find this so I had to settle for a piece that’s narrower than the box. I purchased a 1/2″ square dowel and cut it down to size. I mitered the corners in order to get nice clean edges. I realized I needn’t have bothered after I’d done all the work because I was going to cover the tray with fabric.









My approach to the carving was meant to be additive and subtractive at the same time. I intended to cut out openings for everything from the top layer of foam, then cut out only the taller items from the bottom layer. I traced the template onto the cushion foam and got out the electric meat carver (along with some polystyrene foam) I’d just bought at the store. And then…I made a mess. The foam cushion was too narrow for the carver to really move through it smoothly. No matter, I thought, the rough edges could be smoothed over when I covered the whole thing with the fabric. Then I started using my craft knife to cut into the foam. I started with the smaller implements at the top and very quickly discovered that the foam had no structural integrity when making several cuts in a small space. I ended up with pieces of it flapping everywhere. I knew, covered in fabric or not, that this was just going to fall apart when I tried to use it. I knew I needed a foam with more density but I didn’t have a good source for the really dense upholstery foam and decided I would need to give the rigid foam a go. The block I had purchased was 2″ thick. I had seen a melter/cutter tool at the craft store, but I didn’t want to pay $30 for a tool I’ll likely never use again, so I skipped it. Using my craft knife and a box cutter, I attempted to carve the shapes into the foam block. I eventually realized that heat really would be useful, so I was using a lighter to heat the craft knife’s blade, then running it through the foam until it cooled down again and got stuck. The melt was unpredictable and I was struggling to get smooth lines when it took 10-12 heatings to cut out one shape. It turned out..well, see for yourself.


I couldn’t get a nice flat bottom to the partial-depth pieces because I had no way of sliding my knife in the material but parallel to the surface. It looked terrible and I knew a little bit of fabric wasn’t going to fix it. So I sighed and do what I always do when I reach an impasse. I set it aside and decided to come back to it later.

In order to keep the project progressing, I decided to do something I thought I’d be able to actually do fairly well because I’ve done it before. I, therefore, turned my attention to the box. This box is a cheap basswood hinge-lidded box from the craft store. The box is glued together with wood glue, which works just fine until you drop the box on the corner and the whole thing splits apart. I speak from experience on this point. I decided the first thing to do was reinforce the box. Using some small brass nails I already had in my toolbox, I set a series of nails up along each side of the box and the lid, doing my best not to come out of either side. This particular box was tricky because the corners were mitered and then chamfered so there was very little material to put the nail into. I worked slowly and meticulously and managed to do a pretty good job at it. Then I needed to stain the piece. Well, I don’t have the right shade of stain for what I want. Oops, forgot to pick some up at the store when I bought the other supplies. What to do? What to do? I went into my painting box and pulled out a couple of colors of oil paint. I knew I wanted a very red-toned stain finish. So I pulled out my pallet knife, squeezed out some colors and got to mixing.

IMG_4464I used a scrap piece of the wood I had used to make the tray with and brushed a little bit of the paint on it to see what I had (bottom area). It was a little too red so I mixed some burnt umber into the paint and painted a second swatch. That’s the color I was looking for! As you can see, I was applying the paint in a very thin coat, just enough to get the color onto the surface, not enough to hide the wood grain. I could wipe any excess off with a towel as well, but I didn’t want to touch the surface too much so I tried as much as possible to dry-brush the paint on. I’ve done this technique before with acrylic paint (house paint) and, as long as you dry brush and wipe any thick areas quickly (because acrylic dries so fast), it does a beautiful job. Happy with my color, I set up my box on jimmy-rigged supports and got to work dry-brushing. Oil paint takes some time to set, so I knew I needed to leave it alone for at least a few days. This was fine since it was Sunday night by this point and I had to work all week and may not have the time or energy to do much more on this project during the week.

I came back to the project on Friday night and, sure enough, IMG_4467the oil paint was set. I had painted right over the nails I had added to the box, so I used a rubbed bronze acrylic craft paint to delicately paint the head of each nail. I did the same with the hinges. That sets pretty quickly so I was able to cover the whole box in polyurethane that night. On Sunday night, I gave that coat very gentle sanding, then wiped it down and gave it a second coat of poly. This gave a nice shine to the box and protected my hacked stain and the bronze details from the eventual wear and tear the box will see.

I had picked up two 1″ pieces of polystyrene foam during the week and a craft knife that heats up so I could melt/cut my way through the foam. I decided that the best path forward was to cut all of the shapes out of the top layer, then only cut the shapes of the deeper containers into the second layer. I would then glue the two layers together and have just what I needed. Having the special melter blade definitely helped, but I was both not perfect using the tool (of course, first time) and I somehow misaligned the two sheets of foam. I glued them together, trimmed off the excess on the edges, then carefully tried to trim off or smooth out by melting, the little bumps and misalignments between the layers. It was much better than both my first and second attempts, but still not great. I gave it some thought and grabbed some wood filler. I applied it like frosting to the inside of my shapes, then smoothed it out as best I could. The secret to working with wood putty is to touch it as little as possible. I knew I’d need to come back and do some sanding, but it did work to fill in hollow areas and give me something to glue the fabric to later.


You can see my layout evolved somewhat. I decided I’ll buy a bone awl next time I see one and I carved out space for it. I decided also at this time to forego my metal ruler to clear up some space at the top. When I bought the additional foam, I also picked up some black felt fabric. I decided the black would be a sharper contrast against the color of my box than the grey fabric I had had laying around. I used it to cover the entire tray that I made early in the process. I squeezed some wood glue onto the edges, then used a foam brush to spread the glue out. I found the wood glue wasn’t absorbed as much by the wood and so it was able to create a better bond between the wood and the fabric. I also held it in place for a good minute on each surface. IMG_4477

The wood putty had set on the foam by this time, so I used some emery boards to sand any really high spots down. I knew it didn’t have to be perfect because the felt would hide any small discrepancies. I cut a piece of felt the size of the whole base and glued it to the underside of my foam assemblage. I then cut out a piece for the top and, once again using my stencil, marked and cut out each piece from the design. I used these cutouts to line the bottom of each of the openings, then cut strips of the felt to wrap around the inside edges. In some of the extant examples, it appears this lining may be done with grosgrain ribbon and I had purchased some but decided against using it because I needed the felt to hide the discrepancies in the walls of each shape. I set the whole thing aside to dry.

IMG_4482 (1)

Most of the examples of the box-style nécessaire I’ve found have a lock, but I do not have the wherewithal to install a lock on this flimsy little box. I found one or two examples with a latch and happened to have one in my stash of stuff (cannot even fathom when I got it but it was likely at least a decade ago). I installed the hardware for the latching mechanism on to the face of the box. It attaches with screws and I didn’t want to be glaringly in your face. Screws have been around for a long time but the use of screws to mount surface hardware is not seen until very recently. I know this project isn’t HA, but I don’t want to be totally anachronistic if I take the box to an event. Besides, it bothered me.IMG_4483

I filled the head of each screw with some wood putty. Once that dried, I painted the putty and used the same paint to fill in the background of the filigree design on the latch. I did not paint the strike because I didn’t want the paint to gum up the works. By rubbing off the paint from the high points of the latch, I was able to soften the contrast between the paint and the original finish of the assembly.

At this point, I went to glue on the top layer of felt onto the foam. And the project almost met the garbage can. First, I applied the glue to the wrong side of the felt, which was a problem because of the two items that are not symmetrical. I cut another piece of felt, got the glue on the correct side, started sticking it down and it looked terrible. The felt I used to line the sides got stiff from the glue and any little piece that was proud of the surface created a bump under the felt. The felt, traced from my original template, didn’t align well with the cutouts in the foam. I was almost out of felt, frustrated, and really considered giving up on this whole project. I was also running out of time. I sighed, ripped off the felt, set the whole thing aside, and went to bed.

The next day, I thought about using some thin board to give the top some support. My hope was that this would keep every little thing from being seen under the felt. It was a work day and I had no time to buy something, so I needed to find something on hand. I fell upon the idea of using the backer board from one of my large drawing pads. It’s a thin cardboard material, just enough thickness to give the top some shape. I took a piece of paper and laid it on the foam. I used a piece of chalk to trace the openings as they existed and realized I wasn’t too far off. In fact, the openings were mostly ok, the whole assemblage was slightly twisted. I used this knowledge to trace my template onto the cardboard and then set to work cutting out all the openings. I cut a piece of felt larger than the top and glued the cardboard to the felt. I set a stack of books on top of that and went to bed.

The next night after work, I cut slits in the felt so that I could wrap the material around the cardboard. I glued the felt to the back side, trying to keep it even so that there was no one area with a lot of overlapping material. When I set the top onto the styrofoam base, it was brilliant! I had one or two spots where the white of the styrofoam could be seen if you looked at the whole arrangement at a certain angle so I used some matte black paint to cover those little spots up. It looked so good and slipped into the box on the first try with no problems!


I was really excited to fill up the spaces with my goodies. That’s when I came to realize that using the width of my marker to trace around the items wasn’t quite enough and that I hadn’t selected a large enough circle for my thread winders. The winders can sit in their spots, but most of them have to be at an angle instead of laying flat at the bottom how I wanted. My seam ripper, bone folder, and pinking iron fit in their slots, but they are wedged in there super tight!


I decided to just live with the thread winders and other items being too large for their spots since they don’t interfere with the tray being able to sit on top. I cut a little bit of the grosgrain ribbon that I had purchased for this project but didn’t use and put a small piece under each of the tight tools with the ends of the ribbon sticking out. That way I can pull on the ribbon and get the traction I need to get them out. I figure these will loosen up with time. Until they do, this works just fine. So, there we are. In the end, when I am able to do some more research on the materials used for period nécessaires, I will be able to apply this as a lesson learned and will cut the spaces a little bit bigger to account for the thickness of the felt. Until then, I have a useful nécessaire du voyage to see me off on my sewing-related travels.

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Posted by on March 16, 2019 in Favorite Things


Stage Makeup…using drugstore products

Stage Makeup…using drugstore products

I haven’t posted in a bit because I’ve been working on a play. I was cast as Marjorie, the lead in William Mastrosimone’s ExtremitiesIt has been a challenging, exhilarating experience and I’m so sad it’s almost over. It seems inevitable that I end up teaching someone how to do stage makeup every time I do a show. When I was taught how to do this style of makeup, way back when I was in school, I learned using Ben Nye and Kryolan products. These are sometimes known colloquially as “grease paint”, although never by theatre people! When I teach folks in community theatre, people who will rarely use the makeup, it does seem silly to have them purchase all of the products they would need (which can be a bit pricey), so I’ve come up with a way to get the same effect with street makeup. Why do we use this freaky looking makeup? The blast of the stage lights will flatten your face, making you look like a body with a bright blob on top (yes, even if you’re dark-skinned). Stage makeup is designed to render the three dimensional features of your face so the audience can identify them…and, critically, your expressions. Men, yes, you need to wear makeup on stage. Get over it. You can follow the tutorial in the same way, just choose a more neutral lip color and a thinner eye-liner line. Please note, this is the way I do this style of makeup, other actors may choose to do things differently. One actress I know puts a red dot at her tear duct. As long as it reads from 30 feet…



This is a photo of all the products that I will use in the tutorial. As you can probably tell, I don’t use one brand of makeup. Over time, as I’ve tried different products from different companies, I have found which items I like for each bit of makeup. Here’s the rundown of the things you’ll need:

-Concealer (If you have dark under-eye circles.)

-Liquid Foundation (Yes, liquid. No, mineral makeup is not just as good. Trust me.)

-Bronzer (Several shades darker than your natural color.)

-Brown eyeshadow

-White or light beige eyeshadow

-Loose powder (Not pressed. Pressed has too much oil, a real enemy to keeping your makeup in place.)

-White/Natural Beige eyeliner (I prefer a white pencil but, with my regular kit at the theatre, I used beige today. Sometimes you can find a “brow highlighter” pencil, that works just as well.)

-Black or Dark Brown eyeliner (Pencil or liquid, your choice.)

-Black or Dark Brown Mascara (I like the kind that has a primer that leaves “extensions” on your lashes and then the color goes on top. Mostly because I hate wearing false lashes and avoid it unless it is a very large stage.)

-False lashes (Optional, see above.)

-Lip liner (You can either match the lipstick or go with a tone that is similar to your natural lip color.)

-Lipstick (The shade really depends on your character. You don’t want a “virginal” character wearing blood red. I don’t know many people who can get away with not wearing lipstick on stage. I never wear it in “real” life, but I always wear it when acting.)



-Makeup sponge (For your liquid foundation/concealer. Do not use your fingers.)

-Powder Brush/Powder Puff (I really love my kabuki brush, though most drugstore powders come with a puff.)

-“Liner” brush (For filling your eyebrows. The thinner, the better.)

-Eye shadow brush(es)

-Enlarging Mirror (Optional but, oh, so helpful.)


Ok, we’re ready, let’s begin!

Step 1:

Bare Face FrontBare Face Profile

Dear God, am I seriously posting photos of myself without makeup online! Yes, yes I am. No, I’m not sick or tired, those dark circles are hereditary…moving on!

You must start with a clean face. No trace of prior makeup can remain. It’s best to have freshly cleaned skin. You will sweat under the lights, any oils on your skin will allow the sweat to make your makeup susceptible to being rubbed off. It’s best to avoid extra oil for this reason. I do not moisturize before applying stage makeup for the same reason. If you have very dry skin, try to find an oil free moisturizer. For the rest of us, we’re only wearing this for a few hours in a stretch, skip the moisturizer.


Step 2:

Concealer and Foundation

Apply concealer to under eye circles and any red blemishes, then apply liquid foundation all over your face, down your jawline and onto your neck. Make sure the foundation goes all the way into the hairline (this is why I style my hair after I do makeup). Apply the foundation right over your eyebrows, eyelids, and lips. Think of foundation as the “glue” that will hold all of your makeup in place.


Step 3:

Contouring Cheeks

Now, we begin contouring. I usually start with the cheeks because, having a naturally full cheek, the only time I see strong cheekbones is when I do my stage makeup. Gently suck in your cheeks, you don’t need to make a fish-face, you’re just looking to find your natural hollow, and use your blush brush to apply the bronzer along the underside of your cheekbone (from the hollow of the cheek diagonally upwards to the “sideburns”). Don’t be timid, this needs to be a strong color, remember, 30 feet is your goal).


Step 4:


Continue with the bronzer, following the underside of your jaw and down a little way onto the neck. I love this, makes my “soft” jaw look sharp! If I were doing old age makeup, I would use the contouring here to create jowls and wrinkles in my neck. Since this is beauty makeup, I’m giving myself a fashion model jawline!


Step 5:


Apply contouring with an eye shadow brush to the sides of your nose (you can make a crooked nose look straight and vice versa), into the crease of the eye, in the dip between the lips and the nose, along the hairline, and in the crook created between your mouth and chin. The right side of this photo shows the contouring, the left is pre-contour.


Step 6:


Where there is shadow, there must be highlight. My arrows seem to have disappeared…here’s where you put the highlight (I used a very light eye shadow because my skin is pretty pale, if your skin is darker, you could use a shade of foundation that is too light for your skin):

-along top of nose

-along top of cheekbones

-above the eyebrows

-on top of chin

-along the jawline

This is part one of highlighting, there’s more to come. But first…


Step 7:


Set the face with loose powder. Use a shade that is a close match to your skin. Pat it on, your don’t want to wipe shadow onto your highlight, or highlight onto your shadow. Powder your whole face and neck. Although this helps to set your makeup in place, avoid touching your face as that will likely remove some of your makeup, or smear it across your face.


Step 8:


Fill in your brows. Everyone needs to do this. I have black hair and brows and even I fill in my brows. Eyebrows frame your face, give you expression, and can even establish time period…they’re important. If you’re a blonde or redhead, fill them with a medium brown (yes, I know, you’re not used to seeing them so strong, remember how important they are!) Brunettes and all us raven-haired beauties, dark brown shadow is good. Black can be too harsh. A good, fine brush will help a lot here. Brush it on in short strokes, almost like you’re painting individual hairs. You can play with your natural brow shape here, I like to extend the end of my brows, a la the 1930’s. If you base them out very pale, you could give yourself super sharp angles….very evil. You could use a pencil, but then you have to set it with some sort of powder or you risk wiping them across your face halfway through Act 1!


Step 9:

Under brow highlight12

More highlighting! Using white or a neutral color, draw a line under your eyebrow, under your lower lashes, and add some to the area right next to your tear duct. I like to extend this line out and down a little as it makes my small, deep-set eyes look just that much bigger.


Step 10:


Set your highlight with light eye shadow. I like white or a light beige or cream. Avoid anything sparkly! That’s a rule for all your makeup, but especially the eye shadow. Under the stage lights (or a photographer’s flash), the sparkly bits (usually mica or something similar) can catch the light and make you look sweaty! You don’t want your audience to know how hard you’re working…even though you will be, in all likelihood, really sweating.


Step 11:


Use a neutral eye shadow on the eye lid to the crease and then re-emphasize the crease with dark brown shadow. Then it’s time for…eye liner! I prefer to use a liquid liner, black for me, dark brown for my fair-haired co-stars. A fairly thick line is good and I like to extend beyond the lash line (remember, I’m trying to make my eyes look bigger). If I were to wear false lashes, I would apply them after my liner. That way, if there’s a little gap between my lashes and the falsies, no one will be able to tell. Yes, lining is tricky…that’s what practice is for! I find that gently pulling the outer corner of the eye out (to make the skin of the lid taut) is very helpful. If all else fails, ask someone else to help you.


Step 12:

Wonders of Mascara

As I said in the intro, I like to use the kind of mascara that has a primer/extender on one end of the tube and the mascara on the other. Several companies make this kind of mascara. Notice, I do not line or put mascara on the bottom lashes. I know you want to. Resist! The whole point of the light liner under the eye is to draw as much light into the eye, dark liner or mascara will completely un-do this. If you were on a large stage, you might choose to draw a “lower lash line” under your eye, about 1/4″ from your actual lower lash line. Talk about a tricky line to draw.


Step 13:


I have yet to meet anyone with perfectly symmetrical lips. This is why lip liner is so crucial. With lip liner, you can match up the two halves of your cupid’s bow, or give a period look to your lip. A Twenties “Clara Bow”? A Forties “Joan Crawford”? It’s all in the lip liner. If you have small lips, use the liner just outside your natural lip line. If you have full lips and would like them to look thinner, line inside your natural lip line. This is why we applied the foundation right over our lips.


Step 14:


Fill lips with lip liner. Fill in the entire lip with lip liner. This will help lock your lipstick in place for the duration of the show. You can sip through a straw (water only, no drinks other than water once you get in costume), with minimal damage to your lip rouge.


Step 15:


Apply lippy! Apply your lipstick right over the filled-in lip. Colors to avoid…anything frosted, sparkly, very glossy, or pale! I like to use a nice orange-y pink for my olive skin for normal characters. Red for va-va-voom or villains. When I do dark-skinned ladies, I love to move it into the plum colors…so lovely! Makes me jealous.


Final Look:


So, once the makeup is done, I wipe off any excess foundation or powder that got into my hairline and style my hair. As you can see, it looks really strange up close. Actually, the photograph lies a bit, it’s even stronger in person. Look at those cheekbones! Love them! Now, let me share some tips and tricks:

Sharpening pencils:

You want a nice, fine point on your pencils, which is impossible to accomplish with a gooey pencil “lead”. Before sharpening, place your pencils in the freezer for a few minutes. This will harden the waxes, allowing you to get a sharper point. Also, be very careful about trying to use a pencil that isn’t totally sharp. Wood scratches delicate face skin and hurts!


Finding the Foundation that Matches:

Oh, how I wish this was easy! Unfortunately, without being able to test the product, this can be a bit hit or miss. All of us have different shades just on our face. Generally our jaw area is darker. This can be especially noticeable on dark-skinned folks. The rule of thumb is to match the inside of your wrist. It will be paler than some sections of your face, but a good overall match. You probably can’t tell from the photos because the lighting in my bathroom is very orange, but I have very pale skin. My Ben Nye foundation is actually called “Death Flesh”. In the store, if there’s not a sample to try, lay the bottle over your wrist and walk to the front of the store. Try to see it in as close to natural light as you can (just don’t set off the anti-theft sensors!). There’s no guarantee this will get you a perfect match on the first try but, with so much contouring, you can get away with using a shade that’s not perfect.


Drugstore vs. Department Store:

Here’s the thing, makeup is made of (mostly) the same ingredients. I don’t pay a lot for department store stuff because I’ve never found that it’s so much better as to justify the significant price increase. Not to mention the pressure from the salesladies (who are only doing their job) to get you to buy all of their products. If you need a funky eye shadow color, but a cheap brand. Add a little water to your brush and you will pick up more product, which will make the color stronger on your eye lid. The trick of filling in the lips with lip liner first can also come in handy for strong eye shadow shades. I don’t use “cream” eye shadows, I find them too greasy to stay put under the lights. Pencil and shadow.


A Note on Kohl:

If you have been asked to do a kohl-rimmed eye (very hard to pull off, on stage or in life), place a generous amount of loose powder under your eyes (like, a mound you can see under each). Line the eye with a black pencil, draw your shape as you desire and fill it all in with the black pencil (be careful not to open your eyes wide at this point, the pencil can get on your brow bone area accidentally, bummer). Set the black pencil with black powder. Once all the black is in place, use a large brush to brush off the extra loose powder. This should prevent you from getting little flecks of black on your under-eye area, making it look like you have dark circles.


Have on Hand:

Q-tips, towels, makeup-remover wipes, and cold-cream or cleanser. Q-tips come in handy for all sorts of things. Get a bit of liquid liner or mascara on the side of your nose? (Don’t ask.) Let it dry, then place the Q-tip right on top and give it a twirl. The messy makeup will come off easily, with minimal damage to your foundation. Are you someone who goes to bed periodically wearing your makeup? Oh, come on, you know we’ve all done it! It’s imperative that you don’t do that with your stage makeup. As soon as the show is over and you are backstage, wipe off the major portion with a makeup-remover wipe, then follow with cold cream (remove with towel) or a good cleanser. I like the cold cream because it leaves a little moisture on the skin, so I don’t have to moisturize. There’s also something nostalgic about using the same product as generations of other women.


Sharing Makeup:

I try, as best as possible, to avoid sharing my makeup. I replace my makeup sponges each time I use them, wash my brushes periodically, and make sure my tackle box (I’m not kidding, largest one I could find) is cleaned out periodically, tossing old product and cleaning every nook and cranny. Of course, as I have experience and a lot of products, I do get asked to do other’s makeup. As long as I have a new sponge, I don’t mind sharing foundation, contouring items, and powder. I do not share lip liner or lip stick (I don’t get cold sores, I’d like to keep it that way), or eye liner and mascara. If someone is desperate, I will give them my mascara, but will buy a new one for myself before the next performance. Eye shadow is a little tricky. In general, I don’t mind sharing it, I just make sure I use a clean brush and, if someone gets frequent sty’s, or possibly has conjunctivitis (pink eye), I will not allow them near my eye shadow. I do not allow others to use my brushes, I will use them to apply product, but I have spent some good money on a few nice brushes, I don’t want them to walk away.


How Long:

How long does it take to do stage makeup? I get asked all the time. I can crank out a face in fifteen minutes…if I have to. When I do my own face, I like to have a minimum of 45 minutes. It’s about my routine, my meditation, my calming time, and my mental prep for the show ahead. I don’t listen to music, and I prefer others wear ear phones if they do. I like to get to the theatre early, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours before curtain. Once again, this is more about my mental prep, my way of leaving the day behind.


Makeup for Others:

Why do I do other’s makeup? Sometimes they are hapless. There’s a particular male actor who is older and likes to have a bit of a tipple before getting to the theatre to calm his nerves. If I design the costumes for a show and he’s in it, he and I already know I will be doing his makeup. I also like to do my young student’s makeup. It’s a way for me to pass on the stage makeup techniques that I have learned, and get them into good habits. As they get older, they can do it for themselves and know what they are doing. Sometimes people will specifically ask me. If I’m in the show, I don’t mind doing one or two faces, if there’s more than that, it eats into my “me” time. A little pet peeve of mine…I don’t expect to be paid if I do someone else’s makeup but, if I’m using my products to do it, it is good practice to offer to replace something if it is running low. I may turn you down, but it shows that you are aware that I am using items with a value, and skills with a value, to make you ready for stage. If I’m designing a show and there is any kind of special effects, or complicated makeup, you better believe I’m doing it myself. It needs to look how I designed it every night, which I can best ensure by doing it myself, or teaching one of a handful of people that I trust to do it for me.


Old Age/Specialty Makeup:

I may some day post a tutorial on doing old age or other specialty makeup. Until that time, all you need to know is that shadow and highlight are your friends. Shadow goes on the bottom, highlight on top. Research is also very crucial. If I’m doing a period look, I try to find as many images as I can for hair and makeup. If the character is a “normal” person, I try to find as many regular snapshots as I can. Joan Crawford may have had her makeup done a certain way in the movies, and women may have emulated her, but I don’t want to put Joan Crawford’s face on a frumpy housewife.


Just realized I’ve spent two hours on this post! That’s in addition to the time it took to do the makeup and take the pictures! I hope people find this helpful. Please let me know if there’s anything that needs clarification by leaving a comment. I’ll do my best to respond in a timely manner.



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Let’s make a dress

Several years ago,when my mother and step-father were getting married, I made matching seersucker dresses for my sisters and step-sister. I ordered the fabric online and ended up with yards and yards of extra fabric (60″ fabric, accidentally ordered quantities for narrower fabric). In any case, as I was re-organizing my sewing supplies and fabrics, I came across the seersucker and decided to make a dress out of it. I was thinking about that stash of vintage patterns I recently bought, and the idea of actually making one of the patterns was too irresistible. Thought I would document the process here so those who’ve never made a dress can see what is involved. A disclaimer before we start, I use the pattern pieces but don’t read or generally follow the instructions. I’ve made so many garments, I find my instinct and logic are enough.

Here’s the pattern I chose:

002Copyright 1955, a classic “New Look” silhouette…nipped waist and full skirt. Though the envelope shows three looks, it’s the same dress, the only difference between 1 &2 is in the decorative bow placement. Look 3 has narrower straps. Unlike modern patterns, this envelope contains only one size. It’s size 14…which has nothing to do with modern women’s sizes. The nipped waist look is awesome, but I knew I’d have to modify the pattern because I’m more of a “ruler” than an “hourglass”.

From Left to Right: Ruler, Inverted Triangle, Triangle, Hourglass

Original Image here.

I thought the pattern pieces would be really delicate and purchased a special fabric material that’s meant for making patterns. Removing the pieces, this is what I found:

003 004 These are the original instructions. They are very yellow (from the natural oxidation of the acids in the paper), but otherwise in good shape. In fact, the pattern pieces were in great shape themselves. I decided they were in no danger from me using them directly, so I proceeded without copying the pattern first.

008I pulled out the pattern pieces and pinned them to my dress form, an adjustable model which is set to my measurements. I have the waist padded with some fleece to match mine, since I don’t “nip in” at the waist. I wanted to make sure the pattern would fit me well. By pinning it to the dress form, I was able to make modifications before cutting the fabric. If you look closely at the photo, there are two things you’ll notice, the pieces are overlapped, that’s the seam allowance, or extra fabric built into the pattern piece to let you sew it together. If I pinned cut edge to cut edge, the pattern would seem too big. The second thing is that, as I am short-waisted, I have pinned up the pattern to make the waist of the pattern sit where my actual waist is. This is an adjustment that is conveniently printed onto the pattern; which is very good with such an emphasis on the waist in this design.

015 016

The pattern calls for a side zipper, which means the center back seam is a great place to add the extra room I’ll need for my body shape. After pinning the pattern piece in place, there was a gap at the bottom between it and the center of my padded dress form. The top was actually overlapping the center line. By using the ribbon to follow the center line and an extra piece of paper, I was able to pin the extra pattern at the top to the center line, and draw the extra needed piece at the bottom. You can see the finished back piece on the right. I suppose I could have cut the extra paper away from the top of the pattern but, it has survived this way for more than half a century, I’m not about to chop into it.

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The next step was to cut the pattern pieces from my fashion fabric. I fold the fabric in half and lay out the pattern pieces, utilizing the best layout to waste the least amount of fabric. I only have to cut around each pattern piece once and will end up with two mirror image pieces cut out of my fashion fabric. Some of the pattern pieces, for example, the center front, I will actually lay the pattern onto the fold. This way, I will end up with one piece of fabric that is mirrored across the fold. I wanted to ensure that all of the markings on the pattern were properly transferred to my fashion fabric. The arrows will help line the pattern pieces together to each other and are clipped as I cut each piece.

The three other photos you see are three methods of transferring the darts which shape the flat fabric into a three-dimensional garment. The first is using transfer paper and a tracing wheel. If you lay out two pieces of transfer paper, one on either side of the fabric, and press hard, the dart can be transferred to both garment pieces at once.  This method can cause damage to the pattern, as it will cause perforations to the tissue paper. I found that this tissue was too delicate to utilize this method.

The second is to simply mark the circles along the dart with a tailor’s pencil. You can then “connect the dots” with a ruler, or just pin dot to dot and sew the dart freehand. This is the method I used for this dress. You do end up having to re-pin the pattern to both pieces of fabric so that the marks can be transferred to each, but that doesn’t take too long.

The final photo shows a tailor’s tack. This a a type of stitch which is kept fairly loose and marks those same circles on the dart. Once the pattern is removed, the tack is cut between the two pieces of fabric, leaving a small thread on each piece. Once again, you can connect the dots as with the pencil.

At this point, I also cut the lining for the front and back of the bodice from plain white lining fabric.

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After years and years of coveting one, I finally bought a serger. This machine, which looks a bit like a sewing machine, uses four spools of thread to create an interlocked stitch on the edge of the fabric. This prevents unraveling, especially when a garment is washed. I used the serger to protect all of the edges of each garment piece individually. There are other ways to prevent unraveling; everything from liquid plastic, to sewing on bias tape (more on bias tape later), or creating a french seam (actually two seams, the first connects the two pieces of fabric, the second seals the edges of the fabric inside a channel…lots of work). After all my pieces went through the serger, I sewed the darts into the pattern pieces that I had marked, then sewed the pieces of the bodice together. This is a four-piece bodice, Center Front, Front Side (Left and Right), and Back.

028Checking the fit of the bodice on my dress form. The serged edges are still exposed along the neckline, armscye, and bottom. I sewed the lining to the “right side” (the front of the garment) on both front and back. Yes, I forgot and had already sewed my shoulder seams together, so I first ripped out that stitching!

032 033.

I used my scissors to carefully cut notches into the seam around the circumference of the armscye and the areas where they neckline curves. I then turned the garment right side out again, machine sewed the fashion fabric at the shoulder seam, then tucked and hand stitched the lining closed at the shoulder seam.

034 Normally you will press your seams flat when you’re done sewing them and, often, you will top stitch to keep them perfect. I didn’t want to crush the seersucker, so I didn’t iron my seams. I did want them to look neat so, using a double needle (literally, two needles that sit side by side on one shank and sew at the same time), I top stitched the seams all along the bodice.

036 Another re-check of fit, once the bodice was lined and top-stitched.

037The side zipper will be partially on the bodice, partially on the skirt. To make sure that everything would be neat when I went to sew in the zipper, I basted (long, loose stitches) the seams where the zipper will be placed. While the basting is intended to be removed, I still usually like to use a color that matches the garment. That way, if I miss a stitch, no one will notice. I wanted the basting to stand out for the camera, so I used bright orange thread this time.

042 046 048With the bodice complete, I needed to make the skirt. This is where those yards and yards of fabric get used in a dress of this type. The completed garment, if you measured the bottom hem, measures six yards around (that’s 18 feet). I cut four identical rectangles, ran them through the serger, then sewed them together to make a long tube of fabric. The most important thing…make sure the seams are all going one way. Without a true “right side” to this fabric, I didn’t want to get confused and accidentally end up with a seam on the outside and one on the inside of my tube!

The first photo shows how the pattern calls for the pleating of the skirt. When I’ve shown people pleated pattern pieces before, this has seemed to really confuse them. It’s just a matter of drawing one point of fabric to the next point. I think the words and drawings that are sometimes presented make it seem more complex than it is.

The second photo shows the skirt fabric after I’ve pinned all the pleats. Yes, this took a long time. I could then choose to pin all of the extra fabric in the pleats to one side, or create a box pleat, where the fabric is distributed evenly on either side of the pleat. This is what I chose to do.

The third photo shows the skirt fabric after I had pinned all of the pleats. I hand-basted the pleats down to keep the suckers from accidentally getting picked up in my machine’s sewing needle. Trust me, the extra time spent basting is well worth it! There’s nothing more annoying than having to rip out a bunch of stitching because you accidentally sewed through fabric that got in the way.

049I pinned the skirt to the dress form to check on the length of the skirt. The pattern calls for the skirt to end just below the knee. This is a dangerous length for those of us on the short side! I had already made the rectangles of fabric shorter, measured to hit at my knee. By pinning it in place, I could check that it was where I wanted it. With 5/8″ in the pattern for the seam allowance, I could cheat some in this area to make the skirt hang either a tiny bit lower or a tiny bit higher. My measurements were right, so I was pleased with the length and didn’t have to make any adjustments.

050After I machine sewed the skirt to the bodice, I returned to my zipper. When using a side zipper, you want to always use an “invisible” zipper. This zipper is meant to be installed in such a way that will render it “invisible”. Obviously, that’s not really possible, but it is a very subtle installation that allows the garment to be admired, without being distracted by a zipper. That recent trend of zippers being sewn to the outside of a garment so that all the tape shows? Yeah, no way.

I pinned the zipper in place and removed the basting, then used the machine to permanently attach it. The other side of the fabric is set so that it touches the first side, leaving very little evidence that there’s a zipper.

052A decorative bow. It’s such a cutesy dress, it needed a cutesy bow. It’s made out of bias tape and it is sewn together and then in place. I think this shot should also allow you to see the top stitching a little better.

054Using the same bias tape (bias just means that the cotton fabric that is used is cut on the diagonal, this gives the resulting tape some flexibility to go around curves without puckering), I pinned it to the outside of the skirt and sewed it close to the bottom edge. I then had two options I could use. I could turn the tape all the way to the inside of the skirt to be stitched in place. This would tuck the raw edges between the skirt fabric and the tape, protecting it from unraveling. Because I had already used a serger on the edge of the fabric, I also had the option of flipping the tape down and stitching the seam down, leaving the tape exposed below. The fabric won’t unravel due to the serging, and I end up with a decorative design detail that matches my bow. This is what I chose to do.

055Once that was done, I hand tacked all of the pleats down, making sure the seam allowance was pointing down to the ground (not flipped up to the top of the garment). I didn’t want them to flip up and look messy and bulky. This took some time, but is well worth it for the finished result:

061Viola! My sister is getting married this summer. I’m a bridesmaid, so I need something pretty to wear to the rehearsal. I think I just made it!


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Remembering Sarah E. Jones

Team SarahLast week, while working on a film in Georgia, Sarah Jones, an incredibly talented, friendly, and sweet camera operator, was killed by a train. Details are trickling out, and I don’t want to speculate, so I won’t. What I will say is that this is such a tragedy and absolutely could have and should have been prevented. The film community is rallying to show their support, posting photos of slates (that’s the black and white clapper you see in movies about movies) with her name on it. They are calling it “Slates for Sarah“…and it’s going global. There’s also a petition being circulated to have Sarah included in the Oscar’s “In Memorial” review. I would be honored if those who read this post would be so kind as to sign the petition. My greatest hope is that we can use this tragedy to improve safety on film sets. We should all be on Team Sarah…Never Forget-Never Again!

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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in Favorite Things


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Another New Year

Wow! I started this blog 12 months ago today. I’m pretty happy to have posted 40+ times…much better than I though I’d do. This past year has been very hard, a huge roller coaster ride, but I think the next will bring great things. I’m taking my passion for history to another level and am applying to a Master’s program in Historic Preservation. I’m still reading voraciously, and I’m looking forward to the year ahead. Cheers!

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Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Favorite Things



Rental Children

This is posted on one of the cash registers at my favorite hardware store. It makes me laugh…I think my nieces function as my version of “rental children”; spend a few days with them and it reinforces my choice to remain child-less. It’s nice to be able to give them back!


Rental Children



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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Favorite Things


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I’m Going Down to the Library/ Pickin’ Out a Book/ Check It In, Check It Out

The title of this post is from the lyrics of a song I learned in elementary school. I found the original artists here:

All my things are packed for the big move, except it’s going to take two more weeks before I can get in. I had left out enough books to get me through the time I thought it would take to get into the new place, but these two weeks caught me off guard. So, off to the library I went. It still makes me giddy that I can check out as many books as I want…so I got 5 to start with. Whatdaya know? They’re all Biographies.

Library BooksBeautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr, American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare; The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life, and The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth- Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce.

I got the books yesterday around 5 p.m. I’ve already finished Wakingstill deciding if I’ll review it. I’m about halfway through The Lady in Red. At this pace, I’ll be back in the library before the weekend is out! I do wish WordPress had the option to underline text. I can make them bold or italicized, but not underlined…drives me nuts. When I do my reviews, I have to go into my word processing program, write the title, then copy and paste it into the blog. Maybe I’ll take a break from reading and try to find out how to ad that as an option!


Only took a few minutes…I had to turn on the “kitchen sink” option in the Visual Editor. I feel smart and stupid at the same time 😉

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Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Favorite Things


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You might be a Bibliophile if…

I’ve been living in my current home for six years. That’s a lot of time to accumulate things. I’m now packing to move and it has been eye opening to say the least. Here is the box count:

Kitchen items- 3 boxes

Clothing/Shoes- 7 boxes

Bathroom supplies- 1 box

Office/Computer supplies- 3 boxes

Books- 25 boxes!

I think I might have a bit of an addiction…

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Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Favorite Things


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Serendipity Strikes Again

I have an injury that’s kept me on the couch most of today. I’ve been reading online at my usual sites, and and decided to follow the rabbit hole of links available. I read an article from The Guardian, which had a link to a blog post on Instantly smitten, I poked around the site, scrolling all the way to the bottom where I discovered that they are based in Mount Pleasant, SC…just across the bridge from where I live! Love it!

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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Favorite Things


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A few of my Favorite Things

These are a few of my favorite things…

One) I heart! It’s a great site that gathers the best of historical and contemporary non-fiction (and recently, fiction) in magazines, newspapers, and websites. I usually set aside a good chunk of Sunday to read articles that strike me that have been posted over the week. I prefer to read non-fiction, and I love how they curate all these sources (many of them that you’d have to subscribe to ordinarily).


Two) The local “Friends of the Library” group receives donations of used books from the public and books culled from the library’s own stacks throughout the year. A few times a year, they host book sales in the different branches, proceeds benefiting the library. Once a year, in October, they host “THAT Big Book Sale”. Thousands upon thousands of volumes for sale. This is Heaven for me. I hit the Art, Dance, Theatre, Non-fiction, Foreign Languages, and (especially) Biography sections…HARD! For example, last Fall, I cleaned up. I acquired around 125 volumes for less than $200. After cataloging and shelving them, I’m quite content that I have enough reading material to last me the year. In fact, 99.9% of the books I’m reviewing for my blog come from this sale. 🙂

If you don’t know if your Library has a similar group, I highly recommend checking it out!

Three) IMDb (or the Internet Movie Database) is THE best resource for information on movies, especially American movies. They give synopses, cast lists, photos, information about productions, alternate titles…heck, there’s even an area where they point out goofs and bloopers. I particularly like looking up old movies and finding out about the careers of supporting actors, you know, those people who you recognize by sight but not by name. All my links on American movies are to their IMDb page, that’s how much I love them!

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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Favorite Things


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