Wednesday 23 June 2010

State Of Decay

Well today was the next day of what is gonna be one of the busiest weeks I have known of late.

I had a family wedding on Saturday and a big Father’s Day get together for my GrandFather, who happened to turn 90 on Sunday, so a double celebration for him with both his daughters and the extended family in attendance.

But today marked the first of the Who-happenings I am doing this week – watch out in the blogs for the rest as I write them up . . .
Here is the list of my week:
The Bomhams Entertainment Memorabilia auction was today, and I went along to view and see how the seventeen Doctor Who items faired.

First up, Lot 126, was an original Dalek. Thought to have been actually built for the Amicus feature film, Doctor Who And The Daleks, in 1964, it was sold to the BBC and extensively reworked and modified. 

It is officially recognized as the oldest surviving original Dalek, though the back has been removed so it is possible to step inside and see what it is like to be a Dalek operator. It quickly went beyond the £2,00 to £3,00 estimate, selling in the end for £4,800.

The next lot, 127, was a lovely little item, and the only one I would have seriously liked to have owned, though I hadn’t registered for bidding. It was the original hand-painted artwork to a 1960s Dalek annual, which I have a copy of at home!
This had a very affordable estimate of £500 to £700, but once the commission bids were taken into account, it was soon above this and in the room soared to an amazing £3,600!

The tone seemed to be set for these items!

Next was another full-sized Dalek, this time one from Patrick Troughton’s era, and one that had been specially adapted to go through narrow doorways!

This was evident when you looked at it face on. You can see the skirt is no wider than the shoulders, but it is the correct height and nose-to-tail length.

It was also in a very bad state of decay.

This sold for £4,800, over its £2,000 to £3,000 estimate.

Then we had what the auctioneer claimed was her favorite item from this part of the sale: a Cyberman helmet from Tomb Of The Cybermen.

Once again, the £3,000 to £4,000 estimate was way too low, selling in the end (to the person standing next to me as it happened) for £7,800!


It was now appearing to be the norm for items to sell for way over their estimates, with the next lot, a prop Krynoid prop from The Seeds Of Doom selling for £1,080 instead of £350 to £400 as Bonhams had predicted.

The lot was padding in my mind, with the target novel, VHS tape and a book, all with links to the story it came from.

Things seemed to calm down with the next lot, a Dalek guard costume worn in 1984 by Rula Lenska in Resurrection Of The Daleks.
This sold for bang on the top end of the £800 to £1,200 estimate.

The next lot, a Cyberman jump-suit, failed to find a buyer. I was wondering if the glut of similar costumes in the last Doctor Who auction in February had a bit to do with it.

Things were back on track though with the next item, a Zog costume from the Doctor Who - The Ultimate Adventure stage play, so was also the first of the non screen-used items.

The estimate had been £200 to £300, but it sold for £660, despite on inspection it looking very cross-eyed!!!

There then followed not one, but two K-9’s in rapid succession. The first was the better of the two, and rightly sold for £1,200, considerably more than its £300 to £400 estimate. 
The second was a much brighter looking model and in places looked unfinished! This sold for £504, and had an appropriately lower estimate of £250 to £350.

Both of these were ‘Built for exhibition purposes’ as would be basically the rest of the Doctor Who items in this sale.

The next lot was a replica Exillion mask. The estimate of £60 to £80 was soon forgotten as it went for £264.

The Husk costume, a replica of the one used in Ghost Light, had been cast directly form the screen used costume, but this didn’t put off buyers, when it sold for £540, yet again over its estimate, which was £250 to £350.

The next item, a miniature TARDIS, had been withdrawn from sale.

The next item was the ‘Longleat TARDIS Console’. The catalogue had not included any pictures of the console, so it was good to get a chance to photograph it in its entirety.
One of the panels was missing, so I just took pictures of the surviving five.
It sold for £900, double the top end of its £350 to £450 estimate.

Next was a destroyed Dalek shell. Again this was another ‘Created for exhibition purposes’ item

This had an estimate of £400 to £600 and sold for a little over that at £720.

The penultimate lot was the third full-sized Dalek, but as these later items are, one ‘Created for exhibition purposes’.

This went for bang in the middle of its £800 to £900 estimate, selling for £900.

It was a bit of a mix, as it looked like a 1970s version ala Genesis or Resurrection Of The Daleks. But it had a plunger like that seen in Remembrance Of The Daleks. Very odd.

The final, and star item, was a full-sized, screen-used TARDIS from the 2005 series. 

Bidding was slow on this for some reason – I guess no-one wanted to show their hand too soon! It almost looked like it would go for its opening bid of £8,000, the very bottom of the estimate. But bidding soon picked up and it went for £10,800, right in the middle of the £8,000 to £12,000 estimate.

Rumour had it that it had been original purchased form the production by Matt Lucas as a present for his then boyfriend Kevin McGee, prior to their break-up and Kevin’s subsequent suicide.

Throughout the early part of the auction, there was a professional cameraman hoovering at the back, with a semi-familiar reporter in tow. Just as the Doctor Who item were finished they packed up and rushed off.
As I was leaving, I saw them again outside, interviewing one of the Bonhams staff, and I found it was due to be a report on the ITV lunchtime news that very day (in just over an hour’s time).
Here is the report, but it focuses on the sale a some Spitting Image puppets of former Prime Ministers, rather than the Doctor Who items.

Finally there was news of the next memorabilia sale, taking place in August in Goodwood near Chichester in Sussex. There will be a viewing at their Bond Street showroom prior to the sale.
A number of Doctor who items will be included. I wonder what they will be . . . 

Thursday 17 June 2010

Five Coat - review

This is a long overdue review but here goes.

One of the items that had been eluding me on a quest to put together costumes for all 11 Doctors was a proper looking 5th Doctor frock coat. When I first embarked on this journey in early 2007, budget constraints meant we were forced to go with a rather cheap solution I'd found online from a previous cosplayer. That plan was to take a lab coat, modify it, dye it beige and add red piping/bias tape. The result did the job and can't be beat cost-wise for a $50.00 investment. Although I was never really happy with it. I wanted to upgrade.

In June of 2009, my plans to commission a nice high end 6th Doctor frock coat crashed to a halt thanks to the untimely withdrawal of one of the better custom tailors to work on Dr. Who costumes (and really the only game in town if you wanted a quality Colin Baker coat). As a consequence, my attentions then turned back to the Davison coat. My plan was to have it ready for the '09 Comic Con so I duly ordered one with a 3 week rush turnaround from a well known online provider of custom clothing.

What I got back was severely disappointing. The fit was wrong. It had no flare in the skirt and draped rather like a shapeless box. This might work for an overcoat maybe, a frock coat - no. The lapels were too narrow and rounded, the front buttons too high set, strange vertical seams were present below the waistline that simply shouldn't have been there and finally, the fabric was too dark of a beige. Now I'll take the blame for the last part as I chose the fabric locally and it looked great in the store. As Steve has previously posted about, color is quite tricky especially when it comes to the all important lighting conditions. It was an expensive lesson learned. I was told by the online tailor in question it could be fixed for a nominal fee. I sensed if it was this far off the mark to being with, then they would never get it right so I passed. Soon after, I re-sold this coat and recouped what little I could from this misstep. I never even took it with me to Comic Con. The deadline was no longer an issue, but no decent coat to show for it. Now what?

Finally I did what I should have done from day one- which was turn to Steve Ricks, king of the impossible. I'd long admired Steve's work on his 10th Doctor coats and thought he would be a natural choice to re-commission a new 5th Doctor frock. Not only does he have the skills but he is, most importantly, a fellow Who fan who cares about the details just as much as you do. It turned out by happy coincidence that he was a fan of the 5th Doctor and had wanted to have a go at making the coat anyway. So we determined a payment schedule, I made my deposit in August of 2009 and we were off the races.

Little did I realize the race would take over 5 months to complete. There were a few factors holding us up. All of this is well documented already on this blog already but the short of it was - Steve was having to draw up the pattern almost from scratch, brushing up on his skills and finding similar garments to dissect and study. All of this paid off handsomely when in October, he delivered the test coat he'd made from white calico fabric. I was shocked at how good it already looked and how much *better* it was then my previous coat I'd picked up in July. The skirt flared, the fit was solid in all the right places, the button spacing looked right, the lapels looked great. I breathed a sigh of relief! After doing come comparisons to Season 19 production stills (and taking into account my own measurements) we both agreed on a few minor tweaks to the placement and width of the side pockets and adding a touch more length to the skirt.

In the meantime, we went through the process of picking materials. Steve is very well organized and had sent me 2 or 3 well laid out selections of swatches for wools and acetate/satin linings, buttons and trims. We quickly decided on the buttons and the red-orange trim. I had narrowed down my choice of lining to two options depending on the wool.

The only major hitch now was finding the right beige wool. I mean how hard can it be to find a 5th Doctor beige wool? Having been burned the 1st time I was extra careful choosing a replacement. Steve outlines this well in his blog, but this proved *really* tricky! We both searched high and low for about 3 months. Most of what we turned up was usually too brown, too grey, too green or too light/dark. Aiming for the Season 19 frock, I really wanted it to have that warm undertone of red or yellow in it. The few times I found a color I liked it was often not suitable fabric (50% wool/Lycra mix, cashmere etc). It was looking rather impossible. Finally after some help from a friend of mine who has a better eye for color than I do, (and a plethora of photoshop tests) I settled on one of the early swatches I found at B Black and Sons here in Los Angeles. It was a great color, BUT it was pretty pricey. almost 5 times what was budgeted. Once I made the decision I had to save up extra for it. When I went to buy it in December, I discovered to my disappointment that they were sold out and could not order more in. (They had sold out back in October no less!). By sheer luck, they had just gotten in another beige wool which was nearly as good and much more affordable. Steve had reservations due to how red it looked in certain light. Not taking any chances, I did another round of photo tests. It was quickly clear to me this new gaberdine was indeed a suitable replacement and bought my yardage. Based on this, I leaned to a more silver/taupe of the lining choices. The materials were finally all selected. The making of the frock coat could finally commence!

My only 'deadline' was to have it ready in time for Gallifrey 2010 and here Steve came through, the coat was indeed ready by the convention date. To further bring my costume up to snuff, I added an order of Season 19 Five trousers to the order as well which Steve happily obliged. I followed his blog while he was in the process of making the coat and he kept me up to date frequently on the progress. I was smiling wider and wider the more I saw this coat come together. Both of us were impressed how well the beige wool was photographing, pleased that the long fabric hunt had not gone in vain! Steve was always openly communicating along the way- even accomodating a last minute lapel tweak request from my end and altering it accordingly. I'm sure it was an added headache but he came though like always.

Finally in February of 2010 - I saw the finished coat and I was beyond pleased. I was going to own a top quality replica of the 5th Doctor's coat at last! The last hitch: due to logictics of travelling to the UK the following month and my desire to have 5 Doctor costumes for the Time Quest event, I had to ask Steve to hang on to the frock coat and trousers so I could collect them in person. It was a hard choice, but necessary. On the plus side, when I did arrive in England and Steve presented me with my coat on the first Day of Time Quest (for my photo with Peter Davison!) I was really blown away by the finished piece. I couldn't help but thank Steve profusely as he'd brought into existance one of my top costuming dreams. Once the entire costume was all together I felt like I was wearing Peter Davison's real costume for a moment. It doens't get much better than that.

What else can be said about Steve's work on this Peter Davison coat? It's absolutely smashing. It's a stop and look twice kind of coat. The quality of the tailoring is really top notch. When wearing this, it *feels* like a nice coat you'd see at the department store. I've gotten several compliemnts on it form my American friends when they've seen it. It's a labor of love and a beautiful coat.

Steve tailored the fit just the way I wanted, went above and beyond to determine the finer points of the pattern to get the pockets, seams to all come together just right! His feedback and suggestions are stellar and his prices/payment schedule are reasonable. What more can you ask? I cannot thank Steve enough. If you're ever in the market for a Peter Davison Frock coat (or even a brown varient one!) then Steve's the man to see.
I'm often asked by my less costume-inclined friends "Was all the months of waiting, all the resoucres spent, all the stress of going beige colorblind worth it for this coat?" You Bet. No Question!

Sunday 6 June 2010

My new Overlocker

Or serger to my American readers!

At the moment I am pretty well serviced with all the equipment and tools I need to cover me for anything I am working on.

There is, however, one item I am lacking - an Overlocker (or serger as it is known in the US). (see right, a typical example)

This is a specalist machine used to bind raw edges of fabric with either three or four interlocking threads. It is almost always used on the internal edges of trousers or similar unlined garments.

I had used one for the very first time last year when I started attending college in Hemel Hempstead. There was always a bit of a queue to use the one available, since few of us lowly students had one at home, so the chance to tidy up a work-in-progress was keenly took.

The times I would have had need of an overlocker, I always made do with bias binding any raw edges, but having had the chance to use one I could see it really was the right tool for the job and something I needed to look into.

So buying one had been in my sights for a while now, though often priced at £400 plus, it wouldn’t be anytime soon.

That said I thought it was worth looking around and keep an eye open for what’s available. The first place I’d seriously look for somethime like this is always John Lewis as they are rarely beaten on price and have superior customer service and after sales care.

We were passing the Welwyn Gadren City branch recently so we popped in to take a look. As ever they had more than one model in stock, one of which was £399 as I expected, but the other was only £199 - and was a similar design to one I had used at college (see above).
I couldn’t believe my luck, so snapped it up before I could talk myself out of it.

One of my main concerns was the warrenty, which I wanted to be as long as possible as if anything went wrong with it I would not know where to begin with fixing it - it’s not like my trusty Singer after all.

Reading the blurb for it I found it came with a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty, with an option to extend it to five – which was a relief.

At the time or purchase I didn’t have a specific project that I had need of use for it, which was not entirely a bad thing. If I’d ploughed into a live job and not been competent at using it I could have made a hash of it.

Instead I set about making something I had thought of doing but never gotten around to.
In my sewing room I have various rolls of fabrics propped up against the wall behind my door. I was always worried of them gathering dust or possibly fading with sunlight as I sometimes have the bad habit of leaving them close to my window.
What I needed was some covers for them. They did not need to entirely seal the rolls up, but at least cover the bulk of them to give them protection.

Cutting a long story short, I made what I needed from calico, overlocking the raw edges and sewing the long seam in the same stitch.
They would all now be cover in the same fabric, making it hard to distinguish one from another, so I made a swatch tag that is attached to the tops of the bags, the edges of which, you guessed it, were overlocked too (see right).

Basically I made the entire bags with overlock stitch, giving me good practical practice in its application. The first one I did was a bit rough, but by the end I could see improvement in my ability to guide the fabric how I wanted it, making for some nice clean, crisp edges.

So, this week I am at last starting to use my overlocker ‘in anger’! I have a couple of pairs of Five Trousers to make, and this is an ideal opportunity to use it for the first time properly (see left).

The one part of using the overlocker than needs the most concentration and skill is guiding the fabric in at the correct angle. This is so the cutter, which trims the edge of the fabric to the perfect line before it gets sewn, cuts no more or less than I plan it to do.

The only thing more complicated than this, is re-threading the four cottons when they run out.
The machine came with a set of white reels, with a minimal amount of cotton on each. It hasn’t taken me long to get though them (apparently an overlocker will use up to seven times the amount of thread per sewn length compared to a straight stitcher).

Luckily the machine comes with an instructional DVD which does not look like it has been updated since it was first issued on VHS in the 1980s! (Okay, I exaggerate, but if you watch it you’ll know what I mean). At the end of the day it is an invaluable way to remember what order to thread them and what route each takes.
If you feel the need to watch how it’s done, the relevant part of the DVD is below for your enjoyment.

And here is the result of using the overlock, showing a before (below, top) and after (below, bottom) of the fabric edge.
This is fun!