Apr 152011
 
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Why a 100% perfect reproduction of a garment is not possible

When planning to reproduce a garment from a movie, a painting or photograph, most people ask themselves how accurate they want their reproduction to be.

Some say that it has to be ‘the perfect reproduction’, and shell out lots of money (for materials) and time to create something of which they think that it may be a 100% perfect reproduction.
Others don’t have standards that are so high, and /or their money and / or time for the creation of that garment is limited and don’t aim for a 100% perfect reproduction.
Some more people just let themselves be inspired by a garment and clearly state that they were “inspired by…” and they don’t claim that they have a ‘reproduction’ of any kind.

But what would a 100% perfect reproduction of a garment be like?

I have a fairly simple task: Buy a man’s undershirt (aka ‘tank top’), which is probably the most simple garment in the world, in a regular shop and try to make a perfect reproduction of it.

That’s simple? I’ll tell you why you will probably fail.

  • You would have to buy the exact ribbed cotton fabric that was used for the original tank top. And while it’s fairly simple to buy *some* ribbed cotton fabric, it’s highly unlikely that you will find the *exact* ribbed cotton that was used by a mass producing company.
  • Tank top’s edges (sleeve holes, neckline) are usually oversewn with some kind of cotton stretch banding. Again – the probability that you will find the *exact* banding in a store is highly unlikely.
  • You will have to take the exact measures from the original tank top. That’s somewhat simple – as long as the tank top has not been washed. But what about one that *has* been washed, and several times? How would you take the measures, match the already washed fabric, match the color (wash the tank top just once with, for example, a brand new red or black sock, and you have a problem if you would like to reproduce that coloring)
  • You will have to measure the exact stitching length, you would have to use a sewing machine that will use the same pressure as was used on the original tank top. It’s – you probably already guessed it – highly unlikely that you will be able to reproduce the exact stitching.
  • The tank top’s bottom hem is usually serged. Can your serger reproduce the exact stitching in wideness and length?
  • What about the threads – are you sure that you used the same threads as those that were used for the original one? Are you *really* certain?

This little task was just to show you that it is already almost impossible to make a perfect copy of the most simple garment in the world.

And what about a movie costume?

To reproduce whatever movie costume perfectly, we would need…

  • The exact fabrics the movie costume designers used.
    While on most costumes we can guess the fabric – like velvet, satin, chiffon etc. – it’s highly unlikely that we will find the *exact* fabric. If you’ve sewn lots of silk, for example, then you know that the silks from two different stores, even if looking likely, are sometimes not the same on close inspection – that’s because they were probably woven by different companies.
  • Moreover, we would need those fabrics in the exact colors that were used in the movie.
    As most movie companies today tend to have their fabrics for costumes specially dyed, it’s *much* unlikely that a person willing to reproduce a movie costume will ever be able to match the exact color of those professionally and custom dyed fabrics.
    Even *if* that person would be able to match the perfect color (which would require visiting a movie costume exhibit in order to be able to compare the colors side by side), it’s still unlikely that – as already mentioned – the fabric would be slightly different and would therefore take the dye in a different way than the original fabric.
  • Measuring stitch lengths / widths on original movie costumes? Forget it. Even if you would visit an exhibit, it’s not very likely that you would be allowed to touch, let alone measure the seams from inside the garment. If the garment is fully lined, such inspection wouldn’t even be possible.
  • Embroideries, decorations, trims – would have to be *the* ones the movie costumes designers used. Experience shows that modern movie costume designers tend to search for unique – hand embroidered, vintage – embroideries, trims and decorations – which makes it fairly impossible to find *the* perfect match.
    And even if modern trims were used, which can be found in one store or another – they will *still* be somewhat different, as they will probably come from a different spool. And what does every (good!) employee of a fabrics store tell you if you plan to buy ‘the same’ fabric from two different bolts? That they can be *slightly* different, due to the fact that perhaps a slightly different thread was used for weaving.
    Same goes, for example, for trims.
  • You would need the exact pattern used by the movie costume designers. As 99.9% of all movie costume designers use custom made patterns, which were made from their designs which they sketched, it’s *impossible* to obtain such a pattern – except if you *worked* on that movie and were able to, shall we say, lend the pattern for some time to copy it.
    Developing a very own pattern that results in something *likely* is possible – but, again, it would only be something likely and not the same. Differences of 1/2 an inch to the original pattern on whatever seam would result in a different garment.
  • Last not least, you would need to know the exact measures of the actor/actress who wore that particular garment. As soon as you would change the garment pattern to *your* measures, it would not a perfect copy.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

It’s even more frustrating with any kind of historical costume from a painting, if the costume has not survived.

  • Are you certain that the painter used the *exact* colors and depicted the garment true to life, or would you assume that the painter interpreted some things, left some things out or added some things that he originally didn’t see on the person?
  • How would you estimate the perfect fabric and color?
  • How would you develop the pattern?
  • What about the decorations?
  • Would you sew it with a sewing machine or by hand (considering the painting was painted before the sewing machine was invented)?
  • How would you guess the exact undergarments that were worn with the garment in the painting? Different undergarments could, no: will result in a different look.
  • And, again, last not least – how would you estimate the body measures of the portrayed person? Is it possible that the painter painted that person thinner / thicker / different than s/he was in reality?

You see – it’s absolutely impossible to make a 100% perfect reproduction, be it a movie costume, a garment from a historical painting or even a simple tank top that was bought at a regular store.

The question is: How should the percentage then be rated?

99%? 80%? 70%? 50%? 10%? Or 0%, even?

I have long thought what a rating system for the accuracy of a garment’s copy should look like, and came up with the following checklist. It’s not the *ultimate* and most certainly not the only valid checklist for reproduction accuracy – but, as I have said, I have long thought about it and think that it’s a good start.

Yes No Your percentage
1. Could you ever see the garment that you want to reproduce in person? 15% -15%
1a. Could you touch it, look up the seams, measure their stitching length? +2% – 2%
1b. Could you estimate the fabric that was used and/or see / photograph (detailed!) the embroideries, decorations, trims? +2% – 2%
1c. Could you color match the colors of all fabrics, trims, decorations and embroideries by daylight with a Pantone matching card? +10 -5%
2. Have you seen the original garment you would like to reproduce in photographs? 5%
After answering all “2” questions, go to 4.
2a. If it was a historical photography: Was it black and white? Go to 2f
2b. If the photography was black and white: Does any reliable description of the original colors of the original garment exist?
2c. If it was a historical photography: Are you familiar with the techniques of decoration / embroidery that were used during that period, and could you estimate in the painting which exact techniques were probably used for the portrayed garment?
2d. If it was a historical photography: Are you familiar with the construction techniques of that period, e. g. pattern construction, sewing methods?
2e. If it was a historical photography: Are you familiar with the accurate fabrics for that period?
2f. Many and detailed photographs from different sources? + 2%
2g. From all sides? + 2%
2h. Did you see a Pantone matching for the garment’s colors somewhere that was made by a reliable person who has seen the garment him/herself? 10%
2i. Do you know a fabric description by a reliable person who has seen the garment him/herself? + 2%
2j. Do you know a trims / decorations / embroideries description and sharp, clear photographical depiction made / taken by a reliable person who has seen the garment him/herself? + 2%
3. Did you see the garment in a movie? Go to 4
Was it a black and white movie? -10% +10%
If it was black and white: Does any reliable description of the original colors of the original garment exist? +15% -10%
Was the garment clearly visible in the movie, from all sides, with close shots? +20% -5% for each view that was not visible: front, back, side, full, detail
Did you see a fabric swatch (movie costume fabric swatches sometimes come on, for example, Topps cards) +10% -5%
If it was a historical movie: Are you familiar with the techniques of decoration / embroidery that were used during that period, and could you estimate in the painting which exact techniques were probably used for the portrayed garment? +5% -5%
Are you familiar with the accurate fabrics for that period?
If it was a historical movie: Are you familiar with the construction techniques of that period, e. g. pattern construction, sewing methods? +10% – 10%
4. Have you just seen the garment in a painting, or good photo of a painting? 5%
4a. Was the painter reliable, meaning was he known for painting true-to-life portraits? +10% -15%
4b. Is it a full length portrait or does it just show parts of the garment? Full length:
+ 20%
Just bust:
-60%
to waistline:
-40%
To mid thigh:
-30%
4c. Could you do a Pantone matching on the actual portrait? +10% Go to 4e
4d. In daylight +5% – 2%
4e. Is the garment just portrayed in one painting, or in more than one? Just one: +5% More than one:
Go to 4g
4f. Was it painted from all sides in those different portraits? Front view:
+5%
Side view:
+5%
Back view:
+ 5%
4g. Is the painting large enough to allow detail studies? +5% -5%
4h. Are you familiar with the accurate fabrics for that period? +5% -5%
4i. Are you familiar with the techniques of decoration / embroidery that were used during that period, and could you estimate in the painting which exact techniques were probably used for the portrayed garment? +5% -5%
4j. Are you familiar with the construction techniques of that period, e. g. pattern construction, sewing methods? +10% – 10%
5. Can you obtain / produce…
…the *original* fabric (material / weave), in the *original colors?
(Almost impossible for historical garments from paintings / photographs)
+30% Go to 5b
…the original fabric, but you have to dye it yourself?
(Almost impossible for historical garments from paintings / photographs)
+25% Go to 5d
And your dye skills are…
fairly good
intermediate
poor
A fabric that is matching…fairly goodintermediate
poor
5% for material,
5% for color
…the *original* trims/decorations/embroideries, in the *original colors / materials?
(Almost impossible for historical garments from paintings / photographs)
Trims/decorations/embroideries that are matching…
fairly good
intermediate
poor
5. Your sewing skills are …
5a. Beginner’s skills -20% Go to 5b
5b. Intermediate -10% Go to 5c
5c. Advanced -5% Go to 5d
5d. Extremely good +5%
6. Your equipment is…
(asking the following questions, I assume that you know how to operate your equipment – if it’s a sewing machine or likely -properly!)
6a. Fairly poor, you have a very simple or no sewing machine + 5% if it’s a historical garment from a time in which sewing machines were already in usein any other case:
-10%
Go to 6g
Go to 6b
6b. Intermediate – you have a well working sewing machine with different stitches Go to 6g Go to 6c
6c. Fairly good – you don’t only have a sewing machine, but also a serger Go to 6g Go to 6d
6d. Very good – sewing machine, serger, embroidery machine Go to 6e
6e. You’re planning to hand sew the garment, as it’s a garment which originally was also hand sewn and your hand sewing is…
– fairly poor
– intermediate
– advanced
– extremely good
-5%
-2&
0%
+5%
Go to 6f
6f. You’re planning to hand sew the garment, though the garment was originally not hand sewn and your hand sewing is…
– fairly poor
– intermediate
– advanced
– extremely good
-10%
-5%
-2%
-1%
For the sewing machine users:
6g. Your garment is either from a period that already used sewing machines, or a modern, machine sewn movie costume +5% Go to 6h
6h. Your garment is a historical costume which would have been sewn by hand, but you will sew it by machine -5%
Are you willing to take the task and actually reproduce the garment (1-4) true to all questions about the garment which you answered with “yes”? 10% – all% that you won’t be able to take

It might seem that some combinations – e. g. extant garment that you have seen yourself, and which was also portrayed in a painting, on which you could do a pantone matching, you could obtain a fairly similar fabric and do similar and period embroideries – *could* result in more than 100% accuracy.
However – and please excuse me if I sound nasty – I yet have to see such a garment. If you show me one, I’ll revise the table 🙂

According to the above shown table, my Pelican gown, for example, has an accuracy of about 35% – I have just seen it in photographs of the only painting that exists and which is not a full length portrait though Hilliard was known for painting true-to-life-portraits; have not done Pantone matching, have sewn the garment by machine instead of by hand, the decorations I have rated ‘poor’ (because as impressive as they might look, they’re fake jewelry and not real gold, gemstones, pearls (plus the shape of the jewels is wrong; the original ones were square while mine are round); and the blackwork embroidery on the partlet is also fake); but I’m much familiar with the construction techniques of that period, have used half-way period patterns and know how to operate my equipment.

Also, according to the table above, my ‘Queen Jamillia’ costume, which some, Star Wars-savvy people have called ‘the best reproduction of Jamillia’s costume that (currently) exists”, has an accuracy of approximately 40-45% (personally, by the way, I’d say it’s accurate by approximately 80%; but that’s just me and without using the table above; and basically just because I have never seen any pictures of the inside of the costume and don’t know how it was in fact constructed). Go figure.

So, in short terms – creating the perfect reproduction of a costume is extremely difficult and maybe even impossible – but it’s even more difficult to actually JUDGE how accurate a reproduction is.

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