Monday, June 2, 2014

Mundane Monday's Costumer Spotlight - Jen Thompson

Our next Costumer Spotlight is Jen Thompson.

What started you in costuming? What was your first costume? 

I have been obsessed with costumes since I was a little girl so it’s hard to pinpoint a true “first” costume, but the first costume that I actually sewed myself was made to wear to the Texas Renaissance faire while I was in college. My first few costumes were just wench bodices with hitched up skirts and flower wreaths, but they were the gateway costumes that inspired me to start researching historical styles and drafting my own patterns.
Many of us are not fond of our first few costumes when we look back on them, but can you tell me a couple things that you did like about yours? What about them inspired you to continue and make more?

I’ve never been overly judgmental about my first few costumes. Actually, I’m always a bit amazed by how fearless I was and how I jumped right into sewing some pretty complicated outfits right from the start. For example, my wedding dress was only the 3rd or 4th historical outfit that I had ever made, and attempting something that big and important with so little experience seems a bit insane to me now, but I somehow managed to pull it off. I’m a big believer in the whole “fake it until you make it” mentality, and even though my first costumes were held together with lots of hot glue and safety pins and they were FAR from historically correct, they made me feel beautiful, were tons of fun to wear, and my sewing skills and historical knowledge improved by leaps and bounds with every dress that I made, so that’s all that really matters.

When I started doing research into historical fashions your 1560 Venetian gown with the cutout sleeves was one of the first costumes I discovered. Will you share with us, why you choose to undertake that dress. Are there any interesting things you learned while making that dress?
I’ve always been a bit of a cheapskate when it comes to costuming, so I love figuring out ways to manipulate fabric and embellish it so that you end up with something really eye-catching without having to spend extra money on it. Cutwork in particular has always interested me because is very inexpensive and low tech to make, but it has a great wow-factor thanks to the high contrast and intricate patterns. All it takes is patience and time, and I discovered that working on repetitive patterns like this is actually very meditative and soothing. 
Renaissance faires are how I started costuming.  This was one of the first gowns that I came across when I started researching historically accurate costumes. It still wows me to this day.
What is your favorite costume of all that you’ve made and why?
Such a hard question! My answer would probably change depending on my mood, but right now, I think my favorite costume is my 1790s ikat open robe. It is a relatively simple dress, but it is so fun to wear. I adore fashions from the 1790’s, and the combination of the cotton print with the train and turban makes it feel somehow casual and glamorous at the same time. I’m pretty laid back with fashion in real life, so this dress feel more like “me” than some of my other more fancy outfits. 
Which  of your costume did you learn the most as a costumer and what did you learn?

I think I learned the most on my 16th c. Moroni outfit because it was such an ambitious project for me at the time in regards to research and techniques. I’ve always admired the historical concept of a “masterpiece” where you create a challenging and somewhat showy work of art to graduate from the journeyman stage and show the world that you have mastered your craft. I always looked at that dress as my own personal “masterpiece”, using the traditional meaning of the word. It’s one of the few dresses that I’ve ever made that I was completely happy with and wouldn’t change a thing about it. 
What inspires you most when choosing what costumes you want to make?

I seem to fall into two categories when it comes to inspiration. About half of the time, I fall in love with a particular fashion plate, painting, or surviving dress, and I am either trying to recreate that one dress, or maybe I’m working to create a very specific type of dress from a particular time and place. But I am also equally inspired by mental puzzles and difficult challenges, like the Historical Sew Fortnightly. I think my desire to recreate specific dresses shows my love of history and research, and my desire to work on challenges allows me to express my creativity and love of problem solving.

Are there any fields in costuming that you think are interesting or intimidating that you still want to learn? What about that specific part of costuming makes you want to try it?

I am totally blown away by people who make their own shoes, but I’m not sure if this is something that I will ever try myself. It seems so technically difficult that I can barely wrap my brain around the process. But I’m fascinated by the idea of making shoes, and I have AMAZING respect for the few costumers who can successfully create their own footwear. They are my idols!

Any big projects planned for the future that we can look forward to following and /or its big reveal?
I am hoping to make a 1900’s mourning outfit for the DFWCG’s Mourning Tea Party in October, which will require a whole new set of underwear and some fun experiments with new patterns and a giant Merry Widow hat of DOOM! ;) I love exploring eras from history that I haven’t worked with before, and I’ve never made a true Edwardian costume, so I’m really looking forward to learning some new things with that project.

And in true Mundane Monday fashion please share a couple links that you found interesting or inspiring this week. 

- All the Pretty Dresses – I think this is such a cool resource to supplement what you can find in museum databases. Best of all, a lot of these entries include photos of the insides of dresses, which helps you learn so much about construction techniques. I think Isabella is doing such a wonderful thing by collecting all of this information in one place.

- Kleidung um 1800 - Sabine is my research idol, and I love the way she blurs the line between hobbyist costumers and academics. Her articles on regency short stays are truly groundbreaking, and her Regency clothing always make me feel like I’m peeping through a window in time. She is amazing!

- Bunka Gakuen digital archive - this is my very favorite place for historical costume research and inspiration. I love this site like crazy and have spent hundreds of hours obsessing over the fabulous eye candy here.

You can follow Jen at her blog, Festive Attyre.

I am extremely grateful to each Costumer that agreed to be featured in a Spotlight. They helped the blog from falling into radio silence while I was busy with end of semester work. BUT finals are over and I can get back to using my energy towards creative things again. If you don't already, I would highly recommend following each of these ladies' blogs. They all inspire me on a regular basis with the many different, creative, and beautiful things they do.

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