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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cultural Inaccuracies

I have frequently admitted to knowingly using the wrong fabrics for a given time and place because I can't afford the right ones. And I will acknowledge that the quality of my research varies based on a lot of factors, including how much the client cares. Sometimes my inaccuracies are more conscious. When I copied a Madeleine Vionnet gown, I added cap sleeves to the design because it was for my own personal use, and I don't wear sleeveless things. I stand by those choices, no matter what anyone thinks, but I am more conflicted about a recent design.

As you may know, I was recently in a production of "Savior of the World." I made some of the costumes, but for most of them, I was following the instructions of the costume designer for the show (who did an impressive job with a tiny budget). However, I did get to design my own costume for the "Many Saints Shall Appear" scene.

In that scene, I represented one of the dead who rose from the grave shortly after the Savior's resurrection. We had no lines, and we didn't really dance. We simply pantomimed the joy of coming back to life. We represented different cultures that existed before and during the time of Christ, and I chose ancient India. (Greece and Egypt were also clearly represented. The other costumes were less specific.) I admit to assuming that the clothing was similar to current traditional Indian clothing. I know they have worn saris since before the time of Christ, but I admit to not knowing exactly when they began to wear salwar kameez, which is what I chose to wear.

As usual for me, I used the fabrics and trim available to me (in this case, from the costume designer, not my own stash), so it's not entirely accurate, but I've done worse. "Salwar" technically refers to a specific type of very loose pants that are cut on the bias, but "salwar kameez" is often used more generally to refer to the type of Indian outfit with a dress over pants. I chose to make the narrower type of pants known, I believe, as "churidar." I made the kameez or dress with an almost circular skirt portion because I wanted it to twirl well. (Don't judge. Skirts that twirl well are extremely satisfying to me.) I made a veil out of the same fabric as the kameez.

The design choice that causes me some mental conflict was the fact that it is white. That choice was not mine, but I do agree with it. Something about our costumes needed to set us apart as resurrected beings, and the audience was, after all, western. But in Indian culture, white is the color of death. So that makes me less likely to wear the salwar kameez very freely because it could be perceived as mourning clothes. (I also struggle with what is and is not cultural appropriation, so although I love clothing from a lot of other cultures, I don't often wear them without a specific reason.)

I used a crepe fabric for the churidar because it would drape nicely on my legs and not be too terribly hot. The kameez was made of a layer of heavy cotton twill (for opacity) and a layer of sheer crinkly fabric over the top. The sleeves were sheer. The trim I used had a silver floral design down the center and borders of diagonal silver lines, so I used just the center to trim the neckline, the whole trim at waist and skirt hem, and the narrow border at the hems of the churidar and the veil. I liked the slight variation that gave me. It also allowed the amount of trim I had to stretch further.



I was in a big hurry making this, and I didn't take enough time to get this trim to lay perfectly flat.


I was very pleased with how the pattern matched up at the ends of the trim that went around my waist.

I was also able to line it up very well around both ankles.


I was not so lucky with the trim at the edge of the skirt.

Monday, July 11, 2016

When Teachers Change Your Life

Once upon a time, I was in All-State Choir. I don't have a voice that really makes me stand out, so a lot of people don't realize I sing at all, but I'm a solid choral singer, and I worked very hard for that audition. My work paid off, and I got in.

Musically, it was a fantastic week. I got to make gorgeous music with a lot of talented people. I got to spend whole days singing--somehow without getting hoarse. We were directed by probably the best musician I have ever met. He could sing in any style you could imagine, and he could get 450 teenage singers to stay together with precision and really sound good on really challenging pieces of music. He even had me singing much higher than I had previously thought possible (by working with the whole choir, not just me). Would you believe that my vocal range used to be 2 1/2 octaves? It's true.

He was funny too. He was balding, but he would shake his head as though he were shaking out long hair and make comments about his luscious "Fabio hair." He did Elvis impressions and, in various ways, made really hard work fun.

But none of that is what really made a lasting impression on my life. You may have noticed that I don't have a career in music, and I can't still sing 2 1/2 octaves--my range doesn't quite span 2 whole octaves anymore. I'm an okay singer, but no one will ever be blown away by my voice (except possibly my husband, but he's hopelessly biased).

What really stuck in my head and made him important to me had nothing to do with music. He told us repeatedly during our rehearsals that, even if we forgot everything he taught us about music and singing, he wanted us to remember one thing: "There is always hope. Always!" He said it very forcefully, and I think he even made us repeat it out loud.

I'm sure he wouldn't remember me because, when you only have a few days with 450 new students, you can't get to know them individually, but I wish I could tell him that I've remembered what he said. That it has helped me through some of the dark times in my life. That it has been keeping me going lately.

His name was Paul E. Oakley, and he passed away almost 4 years ago. I wish I had ever had the opportunity to get to know the man for whom, "There is always hope. Always!" was the most important thing he felt he could teach us, despite vast musical talent and training. I hope that, where he is now, he knows what a difference he made, not just to me.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Christmas In July (part 2)

I was recently in a production of "Savior of the World: His Birth and Resurrection," which depicts the events surrounding those two great miracles, rather than focusing on the Savior's mortal ministry. I'm not an especially great actress, so I was in the ensemble, but I also got to help with costumes and props. Perhaps my greatest labor of love was making the swaddling bands.

There are a few things that many people don't realize about swaddling bands at the time and place of the Savior's birth. (I include that distinction because swaddling bands have been different in different cultures.) Swaddling bands in that culture were not just for wrapping up infants; they were made by a bride leading up to her wedding to be used in that ceremony. She would embroider them with symbols of, I believe, her own and her husband-to-be's heritage. It may really have been just one or the other, but my research was a bit hurried, and Mary and Joseph were both of the House of David, so that detail didn't matter as much to my project. The embroidery was to be identical on both sides to symbolize honesty in marriage--inside matching the outside and nothing being hidden. These same swaddling bands would later be used to wrap their children.

I used a double running stitch because it matches on both sides, and I am significantly less skilled at making any fill stitches match on both sides. I also didn't have a lot of time, and just outlining is obviously faster. Most of the motifs I used are symbols of the House of David, and all have meaning as symbols of our Savior Jesus Christ. When Mary was first betrothed, she did not know she would be the mother of the Son of God, and I don't think she fully understood His mission until He had completed it, so she would not likely have been thinking in those terms. However, they are all things she would reasonably have used; they just have other meanings for modern Christians. The bands are white, and I embroidered in shades of blue throughout because blue and white are the colors of the House of David.

The first motif I embroidered was a pomegranate. Most people think of this as a symbol of fertility, but in Jewish embroidery, it symbolizes a righteous priesthood holder, which of course, our Savior was. Mary would also have wanted to establish her family in righteousness. I adapted my design from two different ones by Paula Katherine Marmor. Her designs are in a renaissance blackwork style, but I liked them. I possibly should have used a different style, but it's a bit late to change my mind now.

My original design was too tall for the width of the fabric.

This has been adjusted for height.

I haven't done any blackwork for years, so this isn't my best work. I should have practiced.
The second motif (and the most complicated) I embroidered was a Tree of Life. The tie to our Savior is obvious, and it is one of the symbols of the House of David. I adapted this one from one I found here.

This design was also originally too tall.

My tree design altered for height. When I went over it in pen this time, I unfortunately used a very blotty pen.

This one looks a little messy mostly because I didn't photograph it until after it had been handled a lot, and I could still use some work on anchoring my ends in a double running stitch. I'm rather proud of it over all, though.
Next came a key. This was another symbol of the House of David. To me, it also symbolizes the keys of the priesthood (God's power and authority) and the key of knowledge. It is patterned off of a fairly generic skeleton key.


After the key, I embroidered a lion. A lion and lamb are symbols of the House of David as well as symbolizing the Second Coming of Christ when all creatures will live in peace. The Jews believed (and still do, I think) that the Messiah would come as an earthly king and strike down their enemies, returning them to earthly power. We, as Christians, believe that Jesus Christ was and is the Messiah, and that He came with a much more peaceful mission, so I drew the lion dormant (laying down) instead of rampant (rearing up) as it is more commonly depicted in Jewish embroidery.

This design is more truly my own. I used drawings of lions for reference for the dormant position and several different pictures of very old embroidery for the general style.

The wavy lines on the lion's mane were done freehand.
The next motif I embroidered was a lily. This has no significance to the House of David, but it has long been a very common embroidery motif, so it is reasonable to believe Mary might have included it. I included it because lilies are a symbol of the resurrection. It also has personal significance to me because it is the name of both my own and my best friend's daughters who have both passed on, but who will live again through Christ.

I have lost my reference photo for this design, so I am unable to give credit where credit is due. If anyone recognizes this (even as very similar because it is not an exact copy) please help me figure out who to credit.

The final symbol I included was the lamb for reasons already stated, and Jesus Christ was and is truly the Lamb of God. Lambs also make me think of my mother because they are her favorite animal, although I confess that wasn't specifically a reason I included it. If it were really for her, it would be a "funny face" lamb (black face with white fleece) because that's her favorite, but that would be difficult to depict without fill embroidery.

I didn't even attempt to keep this true to old embroidery styles because I couldn't even find embroidered lambs, and embroidered sheep weren't particularly recognizable as sheep. This drawing is completely my own.

Swaddling bands are supposed to be 5-6 yards long, so I planned to repeat this series of motifs to fill the fabric. I ran out of time for embroidery, though, so I did the rest with paint pen. The swaddling bands were positioned during their scenes so that the embroidery was on display, but I didn't want the rest of the fabric to be completely blank if it showed.

This was photographed on my beautiful mosaic table, made by my sister.
Since I put a lot of work into these swaddling bands, I plan to keep them, so I also plan to embroider over all of the paint because I feel like that is more worth putting on display in the future. I want to work this into my Christmas traditions in the future, but I'm not sure how yet.

Until next time!