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.

022 023 024 025

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.

026 027

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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Underwear Rant

I don’t understand how, with nearly a century modern “underwear”, it still fits so badly. We all know women complain about bras. No matter how comfortable a bra is at the start of the day, you will be desperate to get it off at the end. My real pet peeve, though, are panties. Why, oh why, must they ride up? It doesn’t matter the cut, boy short, cheekster, granny-panty, or thong, it will be up your butt at some point in the day. It’s such a pain! Do men have this kind of problem? I mean, boxers are just a pair of shorts away from going commando, but, do men who wear tightie whities have the same problem? And, if they don’t, why can’t women’s undies use the same system to keep them in place? Inquiring minds want to know!

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Posted by on February 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Adrift by Steven Callahan

The Pacific castaway José Salvador Alvarenga was known by fisherman in a Mexican port and his boat was reported missing in late 2012, it has emerged.

A few days ago, this man, José Salvador Alvarenga, was rescued from the Pacific Ocean after what he claims were 13 months adrift. Some people accept his story, many are suspicious:

While I reserve comment on this particular case, I don’t think we have all the facts yet, I don’t find his story completely unbelievable. Why? Because I recently read an amazing book by Steven Callahan.

 Adrift: Seventy-six days lost at Sea is Callahan’s recollection of his time on an emergency life raft after being shipwrecked in the Atlantic. The story is incredible, moving, and uplifting. Callahan, a lifelong sailor, built his own boat, the Napoleon Solo in 1981. It is apparent from his detailed description of this boat that Callahan truly loved this boat. He wasn’t a “” either, by 1981, Callahan had been building and designing boats for seven years.

Callahan’s ambition was straightforward, he wanted to test the Napoleon Solo in a trans-Atlantic race called the Mini-Transat, alone. He tested the boat in a solo race from Newport to Bermuda. He then sailed with a friend from Bermuda to England, the plan being to head to Penzance where the race would take him to the Canaries and on to Antigua, thereby circumnavigating the Atlantic Ocean. Callahan claims that he didn’t have any thoughts of being the fastest, only of testing himself and his skills as a boat builder and designer, and as a seaman as well.

After leaving Penzance, Callahan faced a major storm which necessitated major repairs to the Solo. He made the repairs and headed out for the open water of the Atlantic Ocean on January 29th. He experienced smooth sailing at first and anticipated arriving at his destination on February 25th. Then, a major storm in early February, through which he fought to keep his boat safe, ended up causing such major damage that he had to abandon the Solo, managing to remove only the emergency life raft with its standard supplies and a duffle bag with extra emergency supplies he had packed and a survivalist guidebook.

Through a combination of intelligence, planning, luck, and sheet force of will, Callahan managed to survive the treacherous crossing. He had to fight hunger and, more crucially, thirst, storms, sharks, fish, and his own mind.  Callahan’s writing style is spartan. He could be an engineer in the way he focuses on the facts of the situation. Then again, this may have saved his life. With his intelligence he was able to remake his fishing spear each time it was damaged apparently beyond repair. He was even able to repair a massive gash in the side of his life raft, and modify desalination units that were not working properly. In the end, he floated to the island of Guadeloupe and Marie Galante, where he was rescued by fishermen who happened to be in an area they rarely fished. Callahan spent weeks in the hospital recovering and was eventually reunited with his family.

Callahan’s story is fantastic, and this book is an incredible testament to the power of the human will to survive the apparently not survivable. The illustrations drawn by the author are compelling and are used to great effect to illustrate complex rigs that Callahan devised during his journey. He also uses them to show the pathos of his experience, betraying the lack of sentimentality of his words.

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Posted by on February 7, 2014 in Book Reviews


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New Paintings

I’ve spent many years pursuing the perfect photo-realistic painting style. I’ve studied undertones and details and have striven for perfection. Recently, though, I threw that all out the window and decided to feel my new paintings. They’re not perfect, but I like them. The colors are a little off because I photographed them on my phone, but you can see the way they flow. It feels really good to paint this way!




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Posted by on February 2, 2014 in Uncategorized


Treasure Trove!

I really needed to clean my apartment, but I didn’t want to clean my apartment…so I went out vintage browsing instead. I was sort of looking for a nightstand, but was open to finding something else…and did I ever! I came across this box:


It was labeled at $10. I knew they were patterns. Old patterns. The box said 40’s and 50’s and the few I pulled fit that time period. In this condition, I usually expect to spend a couple of bucks per pattern. There were obviously more than ten, so the cost was more than reasonable. Normally, I only collect Vogue patterns (because it would be a never-ending hunt if I didn’t narrow it down and I prefer the Vogue illustrations), and the box didn’t have any that I could quickly see but, still, a whole box…what costumer in her sort-of right mind could pass it up? Not this one!

I got home just a bit ago and started gingerly removing the patterns from the box. The envelopes are delicate and can crumble or rip if handled with anything but the utmost of care. I started laying them out and was awestruck by what I found:


40 Patterns! 40! And they span quite a range. There are ballgowns, everyday dresses, skirts, blouses, nightgowns and nighties, a majorette pattern, even one for slippers made from felt! I’m so thrilled. The patterns are tiny (as is bound to happen with items from before McDonald’s was everywhere), and all but a few have been cut, which makes them less valuable, but, to me, the invaluable part are the illustrations. Unlike fashion illustrations, the illustrations from patterns are a pretty reliable way of gauging what women from this time period would be wearing. Popular colors, patterns, shoes, and so forth are easy to see. Also, and this is vital, hair and sometimes hats are illustrated as well. I like having the patterns because they give me a way of accessing the visuals for a period from a primary source. I’m intrigued by several drop-waist dress patterns from the mid-fifties…I’ve not seen any like it before. And, yes, there are some Vogue patterns after all. One is for a pencil skirt, the other for a sleeveless blouse with a really interesting neckline, both are ©1952.

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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Vintage Beauties


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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



Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg & One Drop by Bliss Broyard

Cover artDiscovering family secrets is the theme of these two books I recently read. In Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret, Steve Luxenberg finds out that his mother, who had always claimed to be an only child, in fact had a sister who was physically disabled, and apparently mentally challenged (although whether she had a mental disability or psychiatric illness is unclear from all of the records Luxenberg found). This sister, Annie, was institutionalized in the 1940’s…whereupon Luxenberg’s mother began to deny she ever existed. Luxenberg only discovered her existence after his mother’s death, and began his quest to discover all he could about this aunt he never knew, and why his mother had denied her for so many years. Luxenberg’s writing is powerful and he looks at the facts with an unflinching eye. We are taken on a tour of the system of institutionalization of those deemed “different” from society, warts and all. The hunt for information of this kind is so elusive, we feel this in the writing and cheer every scrap of information, just as Luxenberg must have when he came across it. We also tour the impact on Luxenberg’s mother. Why precisely did she hide the fact of her sister? And why persist in the lie, even after she buried her next to her own parents? These are not questions with easy or ready answers, but Luxenberg handles them with grace and deep insight.

Bliss Broyard, daughter of long-time New York Times literary critic, Anatole Broyard, grew up in a very WASPy enclave of Connecticut in the 70’s and 80’s. As her father lay in a hospital bed, dying of prostate cancer, her mother asked, begged him to tell his children about his secret. He couldn’t bring himself to it, and so Alexandra, wife of Anatole and mother of Todd and Bliss, was forced to tell them that their father was a “colored” man. A New Orleans Creole of mixed heritage, Anatole’s family had moved to escape the segregation and daily humiliations of being black in the south when he was just a boy. Very light skinned, Anatole began to “pass” when he was in college in the 1960’s. It was an open secret among his friends, and he did not go around proclaiming that he was white, he just never corrected others when they assumed he was. Moving to Connecticut with his wife and babies, the very pale and blonde Todd, and the pale brunette Bliss, cemented his break with self-identification as anything other than white for the rest of his life.

One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life–A Story of Race and Family Secrets follows Broyard’s quest to discover her heritage, her hidden family, and the reason’s her father chose the path he did. Broyard visited New Orleans, Los Angeles, and New York’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood, hunting down the bits of information that tell the story of her father’s life. She finds family, some who also call themselves white and some who consider themselves black. She also finds the double secret that several of her family antecedents, Creole’s themselves, owned slaves during the antebellum period. The book is unsentimental and Broyard manages to present everyone involved in the story as they are, trying to understand their decisions without condemning them. It’s a story which is familiar in many families…whether they know it or not. 

In an interesting end note, some Broyard family members submitted their DNA for ancestry analysis…and discovered that they have mostly European and American Indian blood, with a small “drop” of African ancestry. What this means in this day and age, when we are often declared to be “post-racial”, is perhaps a subject for another book by Broyard.

My own family background, very light-skinned Puerto Rican, has interesting reflections in this story. I have cousins who are red-haired and blue eyed, and cousins who look quintessentially “Hispanic”. I’ve often been told that I don’t look “Hispanic”…whatever that means. In another era, would I too have “passed”, or would I have embraced my ethnic heritage? Am I “passing” now, when I can walk through stores without being followed if alone, but am tracked like a criminal when with my mother, who speaks Spanish and English interchangeably as we shop is with me? Is it strange to me that, while I recognize the likelihood of having Native American and African antecedents in my family, I receive the benefits of living in an American society that still views lighter skin as better than dark…unless it’s a tan? Lot’s of interesting questions raised by these two books. What are the hidden skeletons in my family closet?

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Posted by on November 24, 2013 in Book Reviews


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Apollo’s Angels: History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans

Homans, a former professional ballet dancer and a dance critic, set herself to the formidable task of telling the history of ballet from its inception through to the modern day. Her book is meticulously researched, insightful, and well presented.

She begins, just as ballet does, in France. Telling the story of the court dances of Louis XIV through Louis XVI as the foundations of what we would recognize as the essence of ballet. As the courtiers of Louis XVI were replaced by professional dancers, and the revolution decimated their ranks, the nascent Paris Opera Ballet struggled against itself and outside forces to be recognized as an art form in and of itself, rather than a minor element of Opera.

As the ascendancy of the male dancer was falling by the wayside in France, the story (and book) moves to the Danes and their retention of the conservative movement and focus on restraint of Bournonville, all the way through to the modern day. The story then moves to the antithesis of Danish restraint, the flamboyant virtuosity of the Italian ballet. Blending the traditions of commedia dell’arte with the court dances developed in France, the Italians, lead by Manzotti, increasingly created larger and more spectacular spectacles. They developed a training system that led to their dancers being able to perform amazing feats of athletic prowess…but left the art form as little more than empty pageantry.

With money to entice, and an active pursuit of Westernization, Imperial Russia took over the mantle of the home of ballet in the late 1800’s. The aristocracy hired French, Danish, and Italian ballet masters to teach them to dance. They eventually created ballet schools that blended the elements of the different schools of dance, the virtuosity of the Italians, the male dance tradition of the Danes, and the regal, ephemeral beauty of the French ballerina. The Russians gave all to this art, treating it, much as the French ballet masters had desired, as an art form in its own right, on par with painting and opera. As the 20th century dawned, with the beginnings of modern dance, the Russians created the first truly “Classical” ballet, The Sleeping Beauty. The rise of the Soviets, with their ironic adoption of ballet (the art of courtly manners) as the art of the proletariat, was both a blessing and a curse to Russian ballet. Training in the USSR was, and still is, legendary. Poor and often orphaned children would be plucked from the entire Soviet Union and set to train in the Kirov or Bolshoi schools. Local schools were also developed, and the entire people understood ballet as an element of life in a way no one had before. The classical dances were preserved against the movement of modernism…and the art form was stifled under the extremes of the totalitarian state. As Homans points out, the Soviets did not have agitators within their system. Their dancers and choreographers either fell in line, or defected to the West.

The loss of some of the Soviets best and brightest, was to benefit the British and American dance traditions. The Royal Opera Ballet in Britain, and both ABT and NYCB benefited from the talents brought by these defectors. It is in this era, contemporary to the author, that the books tone shifts from the more purely historical presentation of the earlier chapters, to the views of the author as critic. It is obvious that she is in thrall to Mr. B (George Balanchine) and not a single word of criticism against him is presented in the book. Having read Dancing on my Grave by Gelsey Kirkland ( a former protege of Balanchine with some positive, but many negative memories of the man), it is hard to see Homans as an objective presenter of history when it comes to this particular era. The final chapter is a disgrace to the rest of her book. Homans essentially dismisses all ballet since her retirement, claiming it is vapid and devoid of personality and depth. She even claims that ballet is in its final death throes. It is the point of view of a critic and not of a historian, and one would think, having seen the “death throes” of ballet declared in each period her book explores, she may have been able to see the fallacy of her own proclamation. Perhaps she is right, perhaps ballet is stultified in America and Europe, but, one would think she of all people would recognize, that this may simply mean that it is to rise again elsewhere in the world.

The book has three sections of images inset. Most of these images are black and white and, as such, I would have preferred they be placed in the body of the text (as some images are). This would allow a lay reader, who perhaps doesn’t understand the more technical terms in the text, or have ready memory of the art or artists she mentions, to have access to those corresponding images as they encounter the information. Although I know what a pirouette is, or what Nijinsky looked like, some other readers might benefit from the visuals being included within the text. All in all, this is an excellent work, totally readable, and presents the topic with enough depth, considering its brevity, to capture, as the subtitle presents, the history of the ballet.

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Posted by on October 20, 2013 in Uncategorized