Monday, 12 December 2011

Chimera Costumes regrets to announce that we have ceased trading as of 12 December 2011.This is mainly due to changes in trading conditions brought on by the recession. We find we are no longer able to provide the breadth of service which was our aim from the beginning & which our customers have come to enjoy and sadly, circumstances have forced our hand.

For any correspondence relating to Chimera Costumes, please contact the Official Receivers Office on 01142 212700

We would like to take this opportunity of thanking all our customers for their continued support over the past 13 years and wish you all the compliments of the season.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

By Popular Request!'s been awhile and apparently, people have noticed. This is for those of you who have been kind enough to offer lots of encouragement and the occasional gentle nudge in the last year, when life overtook other plans.

That's not to say that we haven't been working - far from it! So many projects undertaken and completed in the intervening year and over the coming months, I will review some of those.

So where to begin? Let's dive in with the most recent project, a replica of an 18th C ribbonwork Needlecase held in Gawthorpe Hall. I first noticed this in the wonderful book,18th Century Embroidery Techniques by Gail Marsh when I first got the book a few years ago and at that time, I concentrated on aerophane work, using it to trim my 18thC Bergere hat for the Williamsburg wedding. .

I have a very long list of projects I want to complete for personal satisfaction at some point and this little needlecase kept nagging, often at the most inappropriate time.

Whilst dandelion the tubby cat snored and dreamed of catching unmentionable things, [like ribbon, perhaps?] I created a card template and drafted the embroidery onto that, then punched out small holes at the start and end points of each ribbon stitch. Then I marked up on the silk, using a pencil through the holes  to accurately mark the design onto the silk surface.

Next, to embroidering the stems in backstich uisng silk floss as in the original and then selected narrow ribbons between 2 & 6mm wide from my 'stash' in white, red, brown, gold, acid yellow and green. The modern duchesse is denser than it's 18th C counterpart, so I found that I needed to work the start & end holes of each petal & leaf with a larger needle first, but the work went smoothly from there.

And voila, a hungry cat, 5 hours & 3 petals later, the embroidery is complete. 

In the next post, I'll post the completed needlecase.

Happy Stitching!


Friday, 13 August 2010

Material matters!.....

It's been on my mind lately that while we don't watch T.V very much here, usually documentaries- and occasionally a series that looks promising - we aren't enjoying them a lot. If any of the broadcasting companies have the brief 'To educate end entertain', they are falling far short of their objectives.
Do you think it would be worth putting a petition together? Perhaps something on the following lines?

'We the undersigned, have an attention span of more than two minutes, we do not need to be told what is coming after the break, if your programme is interesting enough, we'll be here to see it. After the interval we do not need to be told what happened before the break.  It smacks of not having enough material. If you do not have the material to fill the time slot - don't make the B.......y programme! We are not children, please do not dumb down your programme or show us what is going on through the 'round' window. We get it. (Hint to the History channel - If you make the battle scenes 'fuzzy' It shows that you couldn't get the right people - and your costumes are up to 50 years out of date). Plan ahead. It is no good going to suppliers at the last minute to provide stuff for your programme - all the good ones are busy and you end up with second best - again.  Most of us do not care about so called celebrities who are famous for being famous - we'd rather see someone with talent.  So, BBC - repeat after me, "Monty Don is a good presenter"!
Now would you like me to run through that all again to make sure you understand and remember it? No, well don't do it to us either - we're not stupid!

This is of course a first draft and suggestions would be welcome. To give it more effect, I'm thinking it should be handed in - in person - by Katie Price perhaps? ;-)

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Case for Needles

By the time you read this we should be at the Festival of History, which is one of the biggest shows in Britain. There you can see all the newest & best productions of the old - if you see what I mean! It features some the best in 'costumed interpretation', that this country has. We call it costumed, but it really means 'clothed'.  The vast majority of the interpreters there are professionals and the demands on the clothing they wear is legendary. It has to be well made to stand up to the rigours of being worn constantly, maintainable within the confines of history, and to instantly give an impression of status and purpose. We try to build clothing that stands the test of time and we have lots of clients who come back to us and say "The one you made for me in 1998 is still going strong, but I'd like a change...."! I wonder if much modern clothing lasts as well?
 The picture shows a needle case made when Gini was 5 years old - and it's still used everyday - O.K it may not be the best needlework ever seen on here, but even at that age - Gini built to last!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Haberdashery & Textiles

All over England haberdashery shops are closing down and it's getting harder and harder to find things that are 'right for period', whatever that period happens to be! This sort of thing seems to be a continuing theme on this blog, sorry, but it does affect a lot of our customers! We've been adding items to our haberdashery shop - Here.- and we've managed to find a good linen range at last. With an excellent drape, this linen pleats & gathers beautifully, making it suitable for shirts, chemises, petticoats, ruffs, collars, cuffs & linings. 58"/147cm wide 7 oz per metre square/10.5 oz per linear metre. O.K, it may be a little more expensive than buying from traders at fairs, etc., but there are a couple of advantages. We are not talking 'ends' here which are, of course, 'ends' for a reason, but a fully repeatable range that will be available 24 hours a day - not just when they happen to be 'on sale'. We are going to try and add good wool and velvet ranges soon - we're in negotiations at the moment, so watch this space! Meanwhile, lace, braid, pewter buttons and much more are available for you to look at and hopefully, drool over!
If you're looking for certain items there, use the pull down menus and hit 'search'. If you still can't find what you're looking for, contact us. If we don't supply it, we usually know who can....... and we're always looking for ideas of things you'd like us to stock.
 Have a look, go on, you know you want to!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Film & T.V

We were asked lately, if we did Film or T.V costume dramas. The answer is no, not a lot! In the past we have been involved in special pieces for a few shows, 'The Prairie House',  'Elizabeth' and the upcoming  'Edwardian Farm' among them, but it's not quite that easy. To be able to do our best Gini has either to be the designer, or to be really in tune with the designer and to be 'reading from the same hymn sheet', so to speak. Imagine, a great friend of ours was 'historical adviser' on a certain film. The designer wanted a British Napoleonic Infantry officer to wear black, because he didn't like red! Now, while there was a certain leeway in officers' dress, if you want to give a decent impression of 'Infantry officer' of the time, red is the only choice. Another problem is time scale, throwing 20 -30 characters into the mix, on what is always a very tight schedule, is not an easy option. - and sometimes a leading actor or actress hasn't been confirmed, so the size to make to is academic until the last minute.

I'm not saying we don't consider some, indeed, we have an enquiry at the moment for a film out of L.A and we certainly see our garments being worn on T.V (about twice a day, on average!). Sometimes it's an actor or re-enactor who specialises in a particular period, sometimes the wardrobe department who has ordered in bulk, sometimes we've clothed a regiment. - even our wedding was televised for Yorkshire T.V (2 x 30 min. programmes for the series 'I Thee Wed'). Just to prove how deadlines work, we had 13 weeks to put on a spectacular wedding, make sure that everyone was costumed, find an historical venue, find 3 chefs,13 serving staff, dress them as well, devise a 'timelined' historical banquet - 11 courses starting with Roman then saxon and ending 9 courses later in Victorian. The web album, if you're interested is here. All this while being filmed and having Claire and Michaels' wedding clothes to produce as they were getting married on the same day!(See photo).

So unless we have a little time to plan, Gini would much rather be 'consultant'!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Wool Trade-off!

Most of the materials used in historical clothing are getting harder and harder to find. Decent wools and linens, can nowadays be more expensive than a good silk! How different from most periods in history when wool and linen were the staples of the garment trade.
The make-up of wool has also changed in the last 150 years. Before this time when wool was hand woven, the thread was usually a lot thinner and the thread count, per inch, was a lot greater.  Most coats and uniforms would be made 'raw edged' because this sort of material is far less likely to fray. I wonder what sort of demand there would be for this type of wool today - £150.00 per metre anyone?
That is not the only change in wool through the ages. One of the difficulties in making medieval 'hose' is due to the weave of the wool available. Medieval Hose are cut on the bias and wool today stretches at very different rates than that available in the past. This would mean making a new pattern for every type of wool used.  The original wool made with a mixture of 's' and 'z' ply (in other words, one of the threads was twisted the opposite way), this gave the material incredible stretch - almost as good as lycra! You will notice when you look at medieval paintings that most 'hose' look like they are 'painted on' and that's the reason. Nowadays wool is woven with 's' ply only giving significantly less stretch meaning that it is almost impossible to give a smooth fit that will not tear in movement. This is why Re-enactment is littered with baggy, saggy ill fitting hose.
So, we could have it made. The last time we asked, we worked it out it would cost an investment of £12,500 for a medieval colour palette, - too large an investment when you consider that these are just one of the garments out of the hundreds we produce!
Or we could use material that had a small percentage of lycra. There are two reasons that won't happen.
1. It is dangerous near fires.
2. We expect our clothing to last a decent period of time. Once the hose had been washed a few times the lycra would be washed out and you'd be back to the baggy, saggy, old cloth look again.
Ah well, back to the drawing board!
The picture shows  some decent melton wool!

Friday, 30 April 2010

Ahhh, Cute!

The tiniest shirt we have so far had to make. In the picture you'll see an original taken from 'Clothes & the Child' by Ann Buck. (ISBN 0-903585-29-4). The other picture is the copy.  After the inevitable Oooohs! and ahhhs! from the staff at break, it got me to thinking about just what is it about miniature clothes that induces that reaction in women (and female costumiers in particular!). Most little girls like dressing dolls. We think it's a sort of 'hardwired' thing, where nature is way ahead of nuture and as they grow older only the style of 'doll' changes. On seeing a small child's clothing, most ladies will not remark on the style or materials and instead will say "Isn't it tiny!" or "Isn't it cute!"
Apprentices in the furniture workshops of the world often turned out exquisite 'apprentice pieces' to show their mastery of the craft and in some cases they are now worth more than the full size alternatives. Miniaturisation also happened in fashion history, where dolls were made as 'fashion messengers' or 'fashion envoys', if you will, being sent out by makers to clients and even to the courts around Europe.

In a 'pot luck' survey, a lot of costumier's dressed dolls in their childhood, especially those that work in the historical field. Were they subconsciously starting out on apprentice pieces? If so, then why aren't 'samplers' still popular?

Some think that, by definition, children's clothing should be cheaper than adults.We can quite see why people arrive at that belief. Clearly there is a cost saving on fabric, but the cutting is more demanding  as there is less tolerance, so any imperfections in stitching will glare and extra time could be needed to make up. Small, nimble fingers are required, which, in history, children were employed for. Ahhh, Not so cute!

Sunday, 18 April 2010


One of our friends was remarking the other day  that he'd been into a popular store to get some shoes and the assistant had some bad news for him when he requested his size - 10
"You want a size that is outside the ordinary, and of course, they sell out first!" he was told.
The same applied when he contacted someone 'on line' for regency boots. "I'm sorry we don't stock boots with that calf size, but we get a lot of requests for them!" the voice on the phone said.
Clearly, there is something wrong here!       

The question also came up yesterday in a discussion we were having about tailors' dummies and dress forms. It seems to us that those on sale at the moment do not reflect the 'modern' body and haven't done for a few years. Now notwithstanding the possibility that all of our customers are unusual in some way, (we don't think so!) this tends to suggest the industry supporting the fashion & clothing world, are out of step with changes in national  body shape for men women and children. If this is true, it beggars belief, given the sheer volume of published surveys documenting these very changes. For the longest time Britons have suffered the lack of any standardised sizing in the shops,  when we are told by a client that they usually take a dress size 14 (English again!) for example, we have to ask where they are shopping! Marks & Spencer have very different sizes to Monsoon for instance

Nape to waist measures, particularly in men are elongating. Our male dummies are permanently extended to their maximum length and we are noting this is is not enough, on average by 1 1/2" !  We are talking adjustable tailors forms here, but display forms are also seriously 'out of kilter'.
Four to five years ago this did not seem to be an issue. We would be be VERY interested if others are finding the same thing.

As Alfred Pearlman once wrote "After you've done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years look at it with suspicion....and after ten - throw it away and start all over again!"

So to those that make tailors dummies. Your ten years are now up!

The Picture shows a modern display dummy,  reformed to give a 1660 corseted shape

Monday, 12 April 2010

Primary Source

An entry in my Diary for Thursday reads  'Fit in Bath'.  It wasn't to remind me to change our hygiene facilities, but to remind me that a couple of our customers from Luxembourg were having a holiday there and we had to meet them for a fitting. While we were there we had a few other appointments but managed to do a couple of other things and played at being tourists for a change. We visited the Jane Austen centre and found that Dave Baldock and his team had changed the mannequin of Captain Francis Austen.  We also visited the Bath Fashion Museum, as collections like that always have something to teach us.
Using extant garments, the actual original garment is what we call  'Primary Evidence' or 'Primary Source'.  Writings of the time, woodcuts and portraits we call 'Secondary Evidence'.  Modern writings, Tertiary evidence. This differs from the way that most modern researchers classify, but it suits us.
 The first thing to mention is that everything must be checked. Even original garments could have been changed, in fit or in purpose or even in colour!
Secondary & Tertiary evidence can be even worse as each step away from the original can bring bias, perspective and the sometimes, limited knowledge of the writer into play.

Most costumiers out there will have made something following the patterns of Janet Arnold - who was one of the best researchers of historical costume.
Don't get us wrong we think that she was one of the best ever and we use her books all the time - here's the 'but'!
We have done the same, but if you see the original garment after studying Janet's patterns, you will notice the odd detail not included or that you interpreted a detail quite differently from the original even though it was notated.

Even if the garment you're making is not meant to be accurate, surely, as an historical costumier you should know the differences!

The pictures show a couple of amusing fashion plates from the many, many hundreds of 'Secondary source' plates we have here.