Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Happy New Year from the Wishing Tree (and some blurry photos of carnival costumes)

Happy New Year!

Things will be slowly, slowly churning back into motion over the next few days. It's been a good few days, including some amazing fireworks (you can go catch the highlights on youtube, if you so wish) and I even found time to go visit the famous Wishing Tree at Lam (literally "forest") Village.

Recovering from the Weight of our Wishes
The Wishing Tree has had a long and glorious tradition. The process is simple: you write your wish on a bit of paper, attach a mandarin and throw. The aim is to get lodge the mandarin (wish and all) on the branches of the tree. It can be seen in many a Hong Kong drama, often in some sort of melodramatic scene where someone is tearfully and desperately hurling a mandarin into the tree (as it storms around them).

The original tree suffered from the weight of all our wishes (or more specifically, mandarins) and a branch broke in 2005. Since then, they've built a plastic tree for people to throw plastic mandarins at. The original trees are still alive and recovering, but I'm sure there's some sort of pseudoprofound metaphor about the state of modernity we can extract from that little story.

Around New Year, it seems, a market has sprung up around it (with the help of the tourism board). There have also been floats and Chinese Opera and many, many things. I was only there briefly to throw a plastic orange, eat traditional Hong Kong egg waffles and see Rampage Carnival (or that was what I caught their name as).

There is also the triple temple to Tin Hau (Queen Mother of the Western Skies), Long Mu (Mother of Dragons) and Man Mo (Twinned gods of Literary and Martial matters). Though it is clear who is favoured as only Tin Hau's section was bustling with worshipers.

There is also an award-winning toilet, I'm not sure why it's relevant, but it's definitely there. I'm sure it says something else that it's probably bigger than the temples in size.

(And here's a photo of me in a coat inspired by Georgian riding coats, with rose buttons and blackwork. It should get its own blogpost one of these days.)

All the best and there are some (blurry) photos of Rampage Carnival under the cut.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Preview: Embroidered Elven Robes

Due to the nature of the embroiderers and them reluctant to take on any orders that don't involve fewer than a dozen garments, we have been experimenting with designs and have come up with this elven ensemble, drawing quite strongly on elven aesthetic of the Lord of the Rings films. Though as said before, there's something very oriental about the garments and it came easily to people who were accustomed to making tangzhuang.

The whole outfit doesn't really fit me. It's a couple of inches too wide in the shoulders and hangs more than a little oddly. The wide sash (maroon faux silk with a silver white embroidered design) makes the whole thing neater than it really should. The sash is just pinned to me in the photos (being on the large side) but there are snap buttons.

The elven coat is a dark green wool (very much the same lovely medium weight wool as that of the tail coats), though we've also done a couple in a much lighter fabric, a faux silk. It's fully lined in green faux silk and the buttons are small, round and in gunmetal grey, fitting into tiny little satin loops. The stretch velvet robe is unlined (and really quite rough). We've more made it to show the effect of a complete outfit than selling large numbers of them.

And yes, these are indeed more blurry photos. I'm having some problems with the camera battery and long story short, it might be a little while before we're seeing really good photos on the blog again. But hopefully we'll sort this out.

Also, if you have any commissions, I do recommend sending them in the next week or so. The official deadline is the February the 3rd, after that it's very unlikely we'll be able to do any custom work.

If you're interested in our Elven designs, do have a look on the items we have in stock on the Character Kit website. These embroidered coats (sash included) are likely to cost something in the region of £95-115, depending on how the maths works out at the moment. Unfortunately due to how the extra surcharge on single item orders with the embroiderers, custom versions would likely cost about £15 more than the standard.

More photos of the embroidered elven robes under the cut.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Clasps, Buttons and Musings

I found some clasps recently in my wanderings in the land of Haberdashery. They're quite nice. We've not really used clasps that much in our cloak designs, mostly favouring buckles, the more subtle hook and eye as well as ties under the arm.

I suspect these won't end up as cloak clasps, at least not until we've sold more of our current stock. I'm liking the idea of them down the front of doublets or being used to lace up dresses.

(They're not photographing very well and there's another brighter one under the cut, but the lighter coloured clasps are completely washed out.)

There aren't as many designs for these colours, but it was still intriguing to find these colours for alloy buttons. Bright copper we've actually used before in the Inventor's Apron Dress, but the others not so much. I do like the pale dull gold. There are generally a lot more options for colours if we ever decided to embrace plastic buttons but the Designer and I both have a dislike for them (though I concede they can be useful when you want a lot of buttons on a thin fabric and the weight of the metal would make the garment sag).

Monday, 16 January 2012

Dr Watson's Costume from "Game of Shadows"

I was watching Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows at the cinema the other week and happened upon Doctor Watson's costume in a glass case. Out came the camera phone and here are the few snaps.

Jenny Beaven reprises her role as costume designer (there's a nice little interview with her in the wake of the first film on frocktalk). Clothes on Film also did a Q&A with her and some commentary on the first glimpse costumes from the trailer.

The scarf (left) is particularly interesting as she says: The idea was that Mary had knitted it for him (Watson) and Holmes therefore absolutely hated it! I chose colours she would have thought he would like, and he loves it because she made it for him. 

The scarf seemed to have a journey of its own as it gets taken off, claimed by gypsies (etc) during the course of the film. Other fascinating costumes in the film for me were Holmes' disguises which seemed to have to be good but not good (tipping the hand to the audience). Irene Adler's gorgeous pink bustle dress and dark blue coat from the first film is reprised and all the gentlemen wear some very smart suits in various degrees of actual smartness

I suspect you'd probably get better detail of the dvd when that comes out, but I still thought it would be cool to quickly share this.

A closeup of Watson's costume under the cut.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Borrowed Costume: Xiao Long Nu

Yang Guo raised his head; he saw a white jade hand lift the hanging curtain, a girl entered. The girl wore an old fashioned delicate white dress, it was as if her body was covered with smoke and mist, she looked like she was about sixteen or seventeen years of age. Apart from her black hair, her body was as white as snow [...] he thought that she was beautiful, but without comparison, exuding an icy and emotionless aura.
from Divine Eagle, Knight Gallant, Book One, Chapter 5, translated by "Noodles"

The white-clad Xiao Longnu is one of the main characters in Jin Yong (aka Louis Cha)'s Return of the Condor Hero (though it is more accurately rendered Divine Condor and his Heroic Companion or Divine Eagle, Knight Gallantas per the online translation of the novel). She is quite possibly the one of the most iconic characters of wuxia, especially given some rather consistent costume design throughout the many, many adaptations.*

Xiao Longnu is the leader of sect, the Tomb of the Living Dead. She is cold and dispassionate, cultivating a martial art that discourages any outward expression of emotions since an early age. She is the mentor and lover of Yang Guo, the non-avian titular character. The taboo nature of their relationship and their struggles with the disapproval of the pugilistic world fuels most of the plot, though the Mongolian invasion forms the backdrop to the story.

She is in many ways an archetypal Lady of War, being both hard as nails and characterised by her almost inhuman grace (she sleeps balanced on a tightrope). She can practically fly through her knowledge of the art of lightness and is, I believe, inspiration for many of the subsequent iterations of the trope in wuxia. That said, Jin Yong did largely found modern wuxia as a genre.

Divine Eagle is the second book of the Jin Yong trilogy, though it stands well enough alone. Depending on how you count (that is, if you exclude a certain slew of spin-offs made in the 90s), Divine Eagle is the most adapted of Jin Yong's wuxia novels. Like anything that has been extensively adapted, fans debate about which version was the best. The '06 version is probably the most accurate in the details and extravagant in production values (this fight is beautiful), though the '83 with Andy Lau and Idy Chan is probably the most beloved in Hong Kong. The anime is probably the most approachable since it periodically broken up by "footnotes" explaining the many of the underlying conventions of the genre (such as qiqinggong and pressure point strikes aka Touch of Death). The internet is also rife with comparisons on Xiao Longnu's various incarnations in the serials.

More than any of the other novels though, Divine Eagle is a love story, or love stories, even, as most of the characters are motivated by love. The Scarlet Immortal is primarily motivated by her deep hatred of her ex-lover (the book opens with her slaughter of his entire remaining family). The feud between the Taoist Quanzhen ("Complete Truth") Sect and the Tomb of the Living Dead come about due to the extremely repressed romance between their founders. Passionless Valley even has a poison that kills you when you think of the one you love.

Some of the plots do seem overwrought and melodramatic to the modern eye, and for a genre that is often sold on its fights, there is a lot more going on (and early tv adaptions certainly did not have the budget for hugely elaborate fights). Questions of the rejection of society (and societal judgement), the price of honour and patriotism come up. And, of course, as the frequently quoted poem asks: "What is love?" (Which makes it really very good inspiration for anyone seeking to run an Exalted game.)

The outfit is based predominately on the outfits worn by Liu Yifei in the 2006 version. It consists of three layers: a white sleeveless inner dress, a short lacy cross-collar top with long sleeves ending in lace cuffs and a large white robe. There is also a wide lace sash that is then secured with a white cord. Both this and Xiao Long Nu's costumes in the 2006 serial are quite interesting in how its very much it is a fusion of modern materials and ancient styles. Lace of the sort used for her cuffs, for example, was certainly not known in the Song dynasty. One of her variant outfits also features white cloth "petals" over her breast and some lovely white-on-white embroidery on her over robe.

Though we didn't make this costume (see here for the full story behind the shoot), it is possible to commission something like it (or something closer to any of the original Xiao Longnu robes from the various serials) from the Costume Mercenary. Email us for more details. Also, Character Kit sells an excellently weighted 38" larp-safe Chinese Jian (£50).

More photos of me pretending to be Xiao Long Nu under the cut.


* For those who have seen Kung Fu Hustle, Xiao Long Nu is revealed to be the name of the formidable Landlady (and Yang Guo, her husband). They appear in the subtitles as "Helen of Troy" and "Paris", which isn't quite the same.

My uncle's response to seeing these photos was an exclaimed "冷如霜" (literally, "cold as frost", a paraphrased quote from the novels).

Needless to say, cosplaying her is really rather vain.

Flembic Splendour: Purple Polonaise

part of a series of Maelstrom-related Portraits 
done by Chris Brett

The wits' salons, most notably di Racines, are more cultured, offering a place of social discourse, literary discussion, and philosophical debate. These are places where the intellect is glorified, where wit and repartee are the weapons of choice.

The Purple Polonaise has already had it's post (where the details of the garment were far more visible), but there is a still a lovely sense of character to these photos, which I find with some surprise were still stuck in the drafts folder of the blog.

The polonaise is certainly too serious seeming to be what my character has called her "business dress" (it is by default the most silly thing I have brought to any given event), but there is a nice air to it. Perhaps it's just the documents in my hand that lend the set a more scholarly air.

The Designer and I produce an in-character newspaper for Maelstrom named the New World Chronicle, a copy of which can be seen in the photo. It's more work than we'd ever really like to admit to, usually working through the night before an event and printing at six in the morning. We've seen competition come and go - newspaper editors seem to have a terrible habit of dying. The Pioneer, I believe, lost at least one an event until they ran out.  As such, The Chronicle has become longest running newspaper in the game, and it is probably safe to say (given the winding down of Maelstrom) that we will remain so. It still amuses me to ask for the five pfeck the paper costs, a sum that people frequently claim to not have on them due to being far too paltry.

Looking back, it must have been insanely ambitious (and still is) to have four non-base-ten currencies with fluctuating exchange rates. But it was damned splendid. Is suspect after it ends (last four events this year), we won't see its like again in some time. That said, I do have the pleasure of being involved in PD's currency creation once more (this time, for Empire - though the actual site appears to be down at the moment).

A similar dress would cost in the region of £130-40.

One more photos of the purple polonaise under the cut.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Blurriest Photo Yet: Purple and Silver Embroidered Tail Coat

So I was at a wedding with a confectionery theme (hence the bouquet of comically oversized lollies and ridiculous smile) and I was wearing one of the embroidered tail coats in purple and silver. Aside from the more feminine cut, it's more or less identical to the male ones. The coat is also a lot closer to bright purple than byzantium, but indoor lighting hates me.

I thought I'd just quickly share the photo before I forget and hopefully there'll be some better photos of the garment in the near future.

Return of the Watercolour Sketches

Chinese New Year is around the corner and everyone in the clothing industry, from the haberdashers to the cloth merchants to the tailors at the workshop (as well as every other industry) are going home and calling it a year. I've not much I can do for a little bit, so I'm taking to opportunity to dig though some of the old sketches I haven't found the time to paint and, well, paint them up.

To a certain extent, these aren't just ideas that weren't as good (and thus didn't quite get coloured first time round). Some are just abandoned because I'm not a very organised person, or I was too timid to put paintbrush to page. I was once told that you should always scan, then pain and ink. Then you could always go back and do it again a different colour. The Designer used to work in the glory that is Microsoft Paint and we would recolour drawings in it with the flood tool (the Flembic military dress went through half a dozen colours before we went with blue). We should probably do that again.

The above is of layered Persian outfits I was toying around with for Odyssey. I'm not entirely happy with it; I should have probably been more ambitious with the patterns, but drawing is hard (and I'm also out of practice).

There are a lot of rumours regard Empire and among them what the costumes inspirations would be. I'm still hanging back from actually drawing anything for it, but I do seem to have hit a vein of high medieval dresses in my sketching past, so here it is (to the right and bottom). Perhaps I'll be able to pass it off as some Empire culture or another in a few more months. (Insert smileyface here.)

The other seems to be some of the preliminary sketches for when I was dabbling with ricepunk. Revisiting that sketch and visiting Shanghai has got me thinking again, so I'll probably post about that at some point.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Further Adventures with the Embroiderers

The first of the batch of embroidered tailcoats have returned and I'm not quite sure what to do with how yellow the gold is. I'm not entirely happy, but they are otherwise rather spectacular. The cuffs are deep and the back now bears a small embroidered pattern just above the slit (as opposed to being blank).

The coat is made of sturdy wool, fastens in front with hooks and eyes and has a double row of ornamental buttons. There are

I'm developing a deeply love-hate relationship with the Embroiderers, to put it simply. Among other things, they do appear completely unable to understand the difference between gold and yellow (the current solution is to work around them and buy our own embroidery thread, but it's rather annoying that it has come to this), but their work is otherwise very good. 

The new back flower seems more unbalanced in the photos than they do in reality, but I'm not entirely happy with how it turned out. It is, the tragedy of only being able to afford to run so many prototypes. But we shall see. The effect of any given garment isn't really obvious until it becomes part of an outfit and is on someone. It's why fashion photography can get so abstract.

Some hopefully these coats will all be on the website in a month or so. There will only be one of each colour combination in each size, but there will be a plethora of colours (including purple; the one of the shown is technically maroon).

So watch this space.

Also, a more detailed photo of the "wreathe" on the back under the cut.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Preview: Borrowed Wuxia Costumes in the Studio

This was more or less an exercise in vanity and cosplay. I had the opportunity to dress up as Xiaolongnü, elegant, indifferent and hard-as-nails heroine of Jin Yong's Return of the Condor. I also got to play around with most of their costume rack (which included many other fascinating costumes not appearing in these photos).

There isn't a terribly big market for wuxia, much as I've been using many of the elements in designing elven costumes. It's just not a genre that necessarily translates to live roleplay very well, though the Designer and I do have some notes and plans (nothing concrete). That all said, I did enjoy playing around with giant sleeves and flowing robes. We should have more of that, just generally.

What was rather amazing about the experience was watching the stylist do my hair: it's not a wig. She swiftly and efficiently built the whole coiffure out of my hair, additional braids, other extensions and, of course, various hair ornaments.

Due to these being studio photos done by a professional photographer, they have been tinkered with, that isn't actually a bamboo forest (unlike with the scholar and red robes shoots at the Durham Botanical Gardens, which is odd to think I was actually in China this time) and there is an utterly excessive amount of make-up on me. 

I suspect I'll write more on the actual characters being portrayed in the individual posts, though I can't say I'm not a little embarrassed at comparing myself to characters famous for if not defined by their beauty (the photo on the right being an impression of Yang Guifei). But as said, this is largely an exercise in vanity, and if we ever do end up running that wuxia live roleplay system, I suppose we've got some publicity shots on file.

Also, if you're seized by a sudden desire to own a larp-safe Chinese Jian, Character Kit offer an excellently weighted 38" one for £50.

Shanghai's Museum of Textiles and Looms

I was in Shanghai recently and had a chance to pop into its Textile Museum. I had the misfortune to forget the decent camera and the one on my phone (along with my phone) gave out after the second floor, so there aren't exactly a plethora of good photos (excellent writeup with photos of the later floors on the blog, We Drive East).

The lady to the right is Huang Daopo 黄道婆 who seemed to have been one of the founding lights of the textile industry in thirteenth century China. It's actually almost refreshing to see a figure celebrated like that, but then, I've probably read far too many pseudohistorical and fantasy books where and interest in embroidery or textiles is portrayed as a useless "feminine" frippery.

The exhibition gets a lot better as one progresses to the later floors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, little survives from dynasties before the Qing and what there is doesn't end up in this particular museum. But still, there is something very odd about having a glass display case solemnly filled with photographs of costumes instead of, well, costumes.

To the right is a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) rank badge, though only a replica of one. It is of brocade rather than embroidery, which is interesting. I suppose this is where I link to the rank badge I embroidered for the steampunk magistrate outfit last year.

Also interesting is this timeline of textile technology that I came across when looking up links for this blogpost. It's a nice overview, though obviously I'd advise going to look up something more authoritative if you're using it for anything.

Under the cut are a few more photos from the museum and a few ramblings.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Tat on the Table: Clockwork Pocket Watches and Other Bits and Bobs

The good news is that I've been talking to our pocket watch supplier and we have some new designs in (as well as a few more of the old). They won't be on the website for a couple of months, but it's still very exciting. The one above is rather snazzy.

Bad news, however, is that they've gotten more expensive. In all honestly, we'll end up absorbing some of that price difference, but we really can't afford to absorb all of it.

In other news, we've got some bits and bobs in. A job lot of exceptionally over the top pewter rings (featuring skulls on skulls on more skulls), a couple of bejewelled mirror compacts and some rings-with-hidden-watches. It has proven impossible to hold the ring open and to take a photo of it at the same time, but suffice to say behind that plastic gem is a watchface. I have funny feeling these items will be crowding the end of the table for far, far too long. But who knows?

The custom-patterned brocade is looking less likely by the day. I'm just not sure we can use five hundred metres of brocade (that's around three hundred waistcoats). Though I suppose we might try to use it with the million cog and screw buttons we have in stock.

Also, the Proprietor and friends have been working on State of Grace, a new post-apocalyptic cyberpunk Live Roleplay Game full of cyborgs, mutants and cannibals (to quote the website). First event is pencilled in for the November of this year. Go peruse the new (if incomplete) website.

(So all in all, not a bad time to head over to Character Kit to buy a pocket watch before the price goes up. They're £16 for the regular sort and £20 for the globe watches.)

Photo of all the other tat under the cut.

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