Wednesday, 29 January 2014

I'm quite cut up about this corset..

This is Annette's duct tape cast cut up into fourteen pieces to make the pattern for the practice version, or mock-up. In theory, this 3d to 2d transformation, in combination with all the measurements I took, should translate back to a 3d corset when recreated in the correct fabric.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Corsets are GO

I'm not researching a new talk this year (plenty to keep me occupied with Elizabeth, Victoria and Marie) so this year's big sewing project is to make glamorous outerwear corsets for the ladies of my singing group, The Upper Octave. All four corsets need to be made-to-measure and ready to wear by 5th December this year, which is our Christmas concert at Holkham Hall.

Here's a picture of stage one in my corset making odyssey: in addition to measuring the ladies, I have used the popular re-enactors' trick of making a body cast from duct tape over an old t-shirt. I can chop these flexible 'casts' up to assist in making up the patterns for the corsets.

This picture shows my fellow chanteuse Annette being mummified in duct tape and then drawn upon with permanent marker.

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Gove made me do it...

Just a quick pic of this week's sewing: a 1950s semicircle skirt for 'Homes Long Ago' schools event at Gressenhall. This is an existing KS1 Victorian event, which will also be available as a 1950s event with effect from Sept 2014. We've had to develop a new version to make it fall 'within living memory' as decreed by Mr Gove.

I had a genuine 1950s net petticoat which was all but rotten. I was able to save the important layers of net but the yoke at the top had to be replaced. I used simple lining fabric for that job, although the original seemed to be some sort of plasticised material. The shreds of the original which I had to leave in place to keep the netting intact were unstitchable - just moving the garment around caused  more tears to appear. So I taped them up with good old duct tape, wide, lightweight and flexible. People need never know...
I then used the dimensions of the petticoat to make a pattern for the skirt itself. The skirt needed to show an obvious fifties shape whilst still being practical for whatever schools activities are required. This meant it could not be huge! It will also need to be washable, so a vintage fabric was out of the question. After a bit of research on fabric styles I was able to track down a modern fabric with the right sort of look. Unfortunately the right look did not deliver the right weight, so I lined it with simple cotton poplin, enabling it to fall in nice folds over the petticoat.
A hook and eye fastener and a little ribbon decoration finishes it off beautifully.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Six Practical Tips to Combat Public Speaking Nerves

Clammy hands, stomach knots, and an almost irresistible urge to run away: speaking in front of others, even when you have years of experience of doing it, can trigger symptoms of mild panic in the best of us. Here are my practical, road-tested tips for taking charge of your pre-presentation nerves. As with all good Scouts, the simple key is to be prepared!

Preparation#1: Clothes
Uncertainty breeds nervousness. Do as much of the thinking as you can before the day, including what you will be wearing. Decide on and lay out your entire outfit, including underwear and accessories, the night before. Ask yourself some questions: Will you wear different clothes to travel in? Which coat will be appropriate? Will you need a brolly? Decide all this type of thing in advance to save time and dithering on the day.

Preparation#2: Travel
Your audience cares about your talk, not your travel problems. Arrive early and calmly: if you arrive late or just in the nick of time you will be flustered and look unprofessional. So know EXACTLY where the venue is- Google Maps is a fantastic resource for this- or you could go 'old school' and speak to whoever booked you.
Work out the practicalities of where you are going and how you are getting there, well in advance of the date you are speaking. Work out public transport routes, costings and timings. Make sure your information is up to date. If you are driving, make sure there's enough petrol in the car, use a route planner like the AA's, and if you are, like me, totally without any sense of direction, buy a good sat nav.

Preparation#3: Equipment
Check, double check and triple check your props and equipment. Make sure you have everything you need with you and get it in a logical order- the less thinking you have to do in situ, the better. For example. My talks are about historical costumes, so I pack them in a box or boxes in reverse order so that the last thing I pack is the first thing I'll need, ready at the top of the box, but the same trick would work for any other type of equipment, too. Check electrical stuff is working EVERY TIME. Take an extension lead. Take duplicates of hardware like CDs, back-up any digital resources on a memory get the idea. And take a bottle of water, one with a nozzle so you can't spill it over your equipment. And a packet of tissues (not loo roll if you can possibly help it)- if the room turns out to be cold you may get a runny nose, and sniffling will be distracting for your audience.

Preparation#4: Knowledge
Know your subject, of course, that's obvious. But just as importantly, know your audience. Talk to whoever booked you to find out your audience's average age, their gender, and any other relevant information. What are their expectations of you? Do you represent an academic lecture or an end of year  'jolly'? For example I do my Queen Elizabeth 1 talk for school groups, U3A, women's groups, history societies, as an after dinner speaker...the list goes on, and no two talks are ever identical. Can you predict and prepare for the types of questions you may get? It's useful to prepare a stock phrase for moments when you don't know the answer, or if an audience member says something strange!

Preparation#5: Physical symptoms
Steps 1-4 should alleviate the main practical causes of pre-presentation stress. But if nerves persist, take five minutes just before your talk begins and use your body to relax psychologically. Deep breathing is SO effective. Find a private area (toilet/cupboard/your car- it doesn't matter). Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose steadily until your lungs are full. Hold it for the count of four, then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Repeat for as long as you can, but a minimum of three times.
If your pre-presentation adrenalin surge makes you shake, tighten your knees, scrunch up your toes and tense up your buttocks! Honestly! No one can see you do it, and it really works.
Dry mouth? Pause, and drink some water slowly. It may seem like a huge delay, but it won't be, it will gain you valuable thinking/calming time. If you drink too fast it will make you burp.

Preparation #6: Get Excited
Re educate yourself that what you're feeling, butterflies, sweaty hands etc, doesn't mean you're nervous but that you are EXCITED! Visualise a time when you felt fully confident, and recreate those feelings now. You wouldn't have been booked if people weren't interested in what you have to say; they have confidence in you, so do them a favour and have confidence in yourself. Exchange the word 'nervous' for the word 'excited'' - it really works!

Monday, 6 January 2014

First Footing, Forward Looking

Back to work at Norfolk Museums Service tomorrow and this will be my eighth new year as a Live Interpreter. This year will bring lots of changes; the new history curriculum will demand that we align  our schools' offer to it. We'll be adding a Neolithic event and, no, I won't be wearing anything made from leopard skin.

On the freelance side of things, I am deliciously busy, with barely any space for any more talks in 2014. Already booking for 2015, believe it or not. One of my more unusual bookings this year will be in March, when I've been invited to speak at The New Cavendish Club , Marble Arch, London- I'll be taking Queen Elizabeth 1.

The third bow in my quiver is of course my costume-making, and this year will be the year of the corset. More on that in the future. But in the meantime here's a picture of my brilliant new sewing machine: