Cheque, please!

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I get a kick out of little details in things, which is why I often spend too much time on small prop details that likely won’t be noticed by anyone but myself. Today’s example? The certified cheque prop needed for Bygone Theatre’s upcoming production of His Girl Friday.

Really, it’s a pretty simple one, and since we’re seeing the cheque before it’s cashed, I’m not going to the trouble of embossing it, I did however want something from around the right date, and double-sided.

Since this show will be on a real stage, and not something that requires the same accuracy as was needed for shows like Rope, which practically happened in the audience’s lap, I just searched for 1930s or 1940s certified cheques and settled on one from 1933;

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I found this through a memorabilia site – it works great as it doesn’t have a big distracting logo, its from around the right time, the right place, and has the fun added detail of being signed by a Walter (it comes from our character, Walter Burns). Again, chances are none of these details will be seen on stage, but still fun to note. I did want it double-sided, so that took a very small amount of photoshopping, about 3 minutes worth.

I opened the image in photoshop, and then selected the general colour using the eye dropper tool. Then, I did a new “fill layer” (Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Colour) so that I had a solidly coloured piece the same size as my cheque. The original image had a speckled appearance, so to do that I simply applied a filter (Filter > Filter Gallery > Reticulation).

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I chose the “reticulation” filter because, after browsing through a few like “film grain”and trying the “dust and scratches” one, I thought this looked the closest to what the front of the image looked like. So, voila! The back of my cheque.

I’m sure there are other (better?) ways to do this, but as I wanted to print quickly I just dragged both the front & back images into Word to print. I did 3 on a page (these will be for rehearsal, for the show I will of course have one for each performance, plus a couple back-ups), and since they are the same size just placed them in the same spots on 2 sheets.

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Then printed double-sided and there you go! Quick, easy, and I think certainly worth the few extra minutes to get something that isn’t white (and super-fake looking, imo) on one side.

All for now,

-E.

Building Prop Food for Wait Until Dark – Part 1, Research

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I usually try to do posts throughout rehearsals and leading up to a show but this past month has been too busy. On top of my work at Tarragon and rehearsals for Wait Until Dark, I have been prepping for Vaudeville Revue, have run another Retro Radio Hour, and moved into a new apartment only 2 weeks before opening. Now that the dust has settled, I’d like to go back and highlight some of the work that went into the show, starting with one of my favourite things, prop food.

I’ve done a post on vintage labels before, a brief one that highlighted using public domain images and another with the focus on old liquor labels, but what I needed for WUD was a little different.

A key piece to the set was a fridge, and knowing it would have to be open a lot, I wanted it to be stocked full of vintage goodies. As well, there is a point in the show where the characters have emptied everything out searching for something, and I need some things to make a mess with – seeing a kitchen as half of the set, I figured food and cleaning supplies as the way to go.

As often happens I planned more props than I actually had time for, but as these are relatively easy to make I may just make this one of my evening hobbies, maybe build a faux cereal box while the BF is watching football or something. At any rate, here’s a few tips if you’re looking to do some retro prop making of your own.

1. Decide on a decade

I’m a little odd. I often pick an exact date for my show and go to great lengths to make sure that everything in it is VERY period accurate – it goes without saying that this is not necessary, simply narrowing down a decade (or part of a decade) is enough to give the feel of the period, and what’s more important than knowing the EXACT date you’re looking for is knowing what’s characteristic of that time.

See the Rice Krispies packages above, ranging from 1928-1984,  the key change is the introduction of the elves and addition of bolder, brighter colours that would be more attractive to children. The image on the far left is from 1928, and the font-only package existed only a few years, as the elves were created in the early 1930s. However, if you were dressing a set for a play in the 30s, or if you were looking to dress an adult’s kitchen, you may want to use that style box a bit past when it was really used, as it immediately reads as old and has a great no-nonsense, grownup style. In the same vein, if you wanted to create a family kitchen, you would likely look for some “children’s cereal” and source some boxes with a fun cartoon character, like the third one above from 1965.

2. Narrow down a style & colour scheme, OR decide on the types of products your characters would buy

Another important decision in regards to your props is whether they are there to just enhance the look of the set, or if they are meant to add to the story or character. If, for example, you were going for something stylized and wanted a wholly monochromatic set, you could search for period packaging to fit your colour scheme.

Google makes this very easy. Go to images, search tools and you will see a dropdown for colour; the images above show what comes up for “retro packaging” with no search filters, and then with selected colours. Makes for a very easy starting point.

Of course, no one’s cupboards are really all colour-matching, and so if you are going for realism you will want to think more about the products themselves. Does your character buy only the best? Maybe they want a discount brand, or something in bulk. Do they clean with just water and vinegar or do they have all the latest cleaning supplies, one for everything that could possibly need to be disinfected? Give it some thought and you will make for a very authentic and interesting set.

3. Search for hi-res images, or simple designs

If you are looking to print off labels you find online, you want to be sure you have a high quality image, otherwise you will end up with something blurry or pixelated and that will distract from, rather than enhance your set.

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Check out sites like Etsy for hi-res scans of old labels, and browse for Flickr accounts by collectors as well. I have yet to find a really good, comprehensive collection of labels by decade, but I feel like there is one out there, and if not, I think I need to make one. Some companies that have been around a long time, like Hershey’s, have a history on their website, and that can be a good resource as well.

If you are unable to find enough high quality labels, look for a simple design that you can edit easily in photoshop. The labels above use complex design and typography, and would be difficult to replicate without some pretty serious artistic skill. However, many packages use simple colours and fonts, and with a few minutes of editing can be made into something passable, if not something very authentic. That is in part why I chose Dreft as one of my packages; greta retro colour, very simple design.

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4. Source forms

After you’ve decided on the labels you want, you need to find the forms to build them on. Existing cereal or granola boxes are an easy start, and you can always edit your label in photoshop to match the dimensions (like I did). Alternatively, you could build one yourself and finally use your grade-school geometry training, but honestly I think that takes more time than it’s worth. When looking for something like beer bottles remember that the shape used to be different, shorter and wider, and while it’s unlikely audiences will look at a bottle and say, hey! that’s not the right shape for that decade! when it is right, people do tend to notice. I managed to find something called “Vita Malt” (sounds yummy, eh?) that had just the right shape, AND the right dollar store price.

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5. Remember the magic of theatre

While I always aim for film-quality props, the magic of theatre is that you are generally far from the audience and under bright lights, two things that help to blur some details and let you get away with less-than-perfect props onstage. Found a great old label but it’s scanned from a crumpled original? No worries. Throw it in photoshop and paint out the details, fix only the logo and no one will notice if it’s missing some extra info. Want to alter the colours slightly to better match your set? Go for it. Up the saturation & contrast, adjust the hue, go crazy, no one is going to notice the change but they will notice the final effect.

After you’ve found your forms & your labels, you’re ready to build, a fairly simple process but there’s a couple important things to remember if you want to really nail the look – I’ll go over these next time. For now, goodnight.

-E.

Propnomicon – Vintage Telegrams

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While scanning the web for some vintage mail labels (making props for Wait Until Dark) I came across Propnomicon, a great resource for building some creepy props. They have a ton of posts on telegrams, and even though that pre-dates what I’m looking for, I loved them so much I thought I’d share. Enjoy.

-E.

Vintage Style Icons

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Today while wasting time on Pinterest I got to thinking about the problems with so many of the “style boards” you find on there; they are very obviously not made for Canadian winters. For those of us that love vintage looks, it can be especially disheartening to browse through gorgeous outfits knowing that you couldn’t stand them for more than about 30 seconds outside; those pretty dresses don’t keep you warm.

So I decided to throw together a few style boards of my own, all inspired by Golden Age actresses but made for us Canadians, with pants instead of dresses and all prices in CAD. More to come, enjoy!

Style Icon - Katharine HepburnStyle Icon - Marilyn MonroeStyle Icon -Audrey Hepburn

Vintage Halloween Decor

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With Halloween fast approaching I thought I’d share some great vintage designs sure to give your party that awesome retro flare. Links are in the comments – enjoy!

Cats are a big part of vintage Halloween decor, and thanks to people like Martha Stewart, chances are you are familiar with the classic “scared cat” design. You can find variations of it here from sites like Johanna Parker Designs;

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and The Sum of All Crafts;

Great for wreaths, masks, invites and more! Just print and hang.

Try whipping up some eerie apothecary bottles using vintage medicine labels; you’d be surprised how many household items were poisonous back in the day!

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Turn of the century labels often have beautiful typography and design. Try throwing a few less deadly bottles in your mix (like the bitters one here) to make a more eerily authentic display.

Try throwing some of these onto bottles of brightly coloured punch and let your guests “pick their poison”.

sugar-of-lead Have some old family photos? Swap out your blurry selfies and vacation shots for some with a bit of vintage charm, and try adding a few extra eerie ones as well, like these;

Really, can you think of anything more terrifying?

Post mortem photography was popular in the Victorian era.

Check out the Bygone Theatre Vintage Halloween Pinterest Board for more design ideas!

-E.

Million Dollar Props on a Dollar Store Budget: Faux Food Made With Wax

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Since Rope is in a site-specifc venue and doesn’t have any glaring, boiling hot stage lights to worry about, I thought I’d play around with a very cheap and easy medium when making my prop food; wax.

I went to the dollar store and wandered the aisles until I found some candles I liked the colour of and some molds I wanted to try out; I could have gotten better quality ones at Michael’s, but these were dirt cheap and good for a first go.

Here’s some simple step-by-step instructions:

1. Chop up the wax you want to use. I had in mind something like a cherry or tomato so I wanted it to be a little translucent. I mixed a red candle along with a semi-opaque one – both were from the dollar store.

Dollar store candles

Dollar store candles

1. Chop up the wax in a heat-able container

1. Chop up the wax

2. I put the wax in a pie tin and melted it in the oven. You could also put it in something microwaveable, and I’ve even done some small bits with a lighter.

2. The mixed melted wax

2. The mixed & melted wax, after being in the oven

3. Pouring the wax into an ice cube tray

3. Pouring the wax into an ice cube tray

3. I got an ice cube tray from the dollar store, one that has the rubber bottom so you can easily pop them out. This one had nice rounded bottoms so I thought it could make a good cherry mold. I poured them in, using an oven mitt.

4. The cooled wax

4. The cooled wax

4. I stuck them in the fridge for a bit to cool them faster. They hardened quickly, but were a bit concave on the top.

5. They came out of the mold easily, unfortunately the rubber bottom gave them a rough look on top (the sides came out smooth like I had wanted).

5. Removed from the mold

5. Removed from the mold

With my new little wax blobs I started playing around, seeing what they could be used for. Here are some of the results;

Mini h'orderves made with salt dough, spackling, fake leaves and wax

Mini h’orderves made with salt dough, spackling, fake leaves and wax

Mini tart made with salt dough, styrofoam, wax and gel medium

Mini tart made with salt dough, styrofoam, wax and gel medium

Mini h'orderves made with wax, styrofoam and fake leaves

Mini h’orderves made with wax, styrofoam and fake leaves

Mini h'orderves made with salt dough, spackling, fake leaves and wax, as well as fake caviar made with beads

Mini h’orderves made with salt dough, spackling, fake leaves and wax, as well as fake caviar made with beads

Awesome Blog On How To Make a Fake Quiche

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I’m about to get started on making some props for Bygone Theatre‘s Rope so I’ve been browsing the internet looking for some inspiration; I came across this

Theatre Projects Faux Quiche

Theatre Projects Faux Quiche

A blog called Theatre Projects has some amazing posts on various props, from decapitated heads, to crack pipes and faux food. Being a fake food fan myself, I particularly liked those, like this one on how to make a fake quiche; may try this one out!

 

-E.

How To Make a Buckram Hat Frame

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Recently I posted a blog on how to make a custom hat pattern from scratch, based off of skills I learned at my Stratford Off The Wall millinery course. Here is part 2 of my very simple how-to series on constructing a buckram hat.

How To Make a Buckram Hat Frame:

Step 1. Trace Your Pattern

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Step 1. Trace your master pattern onto the buckram.

In the last blog, you created a master pattern for the crown of your hat. If you haven’t already, make sure you remove all the tabs from the head opening (inner circle); this is to ensure you are always coming back to the same, original size. They will be added again shortly.

To make sure you trace it perfectly, try pinning your pattern into the buckram and through a piece of foam. Be sure to hold your pencil perpendicular to the floor so you don’t skew the measurements by adding or subtracting space when angling your pencil.

Step 2. Darts and Seam Allowances

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Step 2. Make sure to leave an 1 1/4″ seam allowance in the head opening. Don’t cut out your darts.

Now that you’ve traced your pattern, it’s time to add in a seam allowance and mark your darts. Add a 1 ¼” seam allowance to the head opening of your hat. Mark all of your darts and seam allowances. If you have large, cut-out darts like I do, don’t cut them out; simply trace the edges as these will later be folded over. When you’ve completed your tracing, cut out the buckram and add tabs again by slicing from the edge of your seam allowance up to the edge of your head opening. They should be approximately 1/8″ wide.

Step 3. Hand Stitch Your Darts

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Step 3. Stitch together your darts

Since it can be difficult to properly pin your darts (buckram is very stiff), it is best to hand stitch the tops so that they stay in place when you move to the machine. Make sure that you are following your original guidelines and are using the proper measurements. Extra strong thread, like upholstery thread, may be good for this step.

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Step 3. If you are having trouble holding the fabric with pins, try tape. Just make sure not to stitch over it.

Step 4. Machine Stitch Your Darts

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Step 4. Use a zig stitch on your machine to hold together the back seam and your darts

To make sure that your back seam and darts are strong, you will now want to machine stitch them. Use the zig stitch on your machine, keeping the stitches close together. This can be a little awkward if you’ve never sewn a 3D object like this before, but it gets easier as you go along. Make sure you have a strong thread and needle.

Step 4. A dart, zig-stitched together

Step 4. A dart, zig-stitched together

 Step 5. Add Millinery Wire

Attach the millinery wire

Step 5. Attach the millinery wire

Adding the millinery wire can be a difficult step if you have an unusual shaped crown like I did. First, bend the wire to fit the top of the crown, holding it in place with masking tape. This can be a tedious process, but it will add strength and shape to your hat and so is well worth it. Next, machine stitch the wire to the buckram using the zig stitch; on the one side, the needle should be going into the buckram, on the other, into air. It is very easy to break your needle if you hit the wire rather than the buckram or the air, so go slowly. I hand-cranked the majority of mine.

Step 6. Molding The Crown

Step 6. prep your form so  you can mold your buckram crown

Step 6. prep your form so you can mold your buckram crown

In order to mold your crown, you first need to prep your form. Mark clearly your FC, BC, SR, and SL marks, as well as the edge of where you want your crown to be. Again, mine was a topper and so was a bit unusual; it was high-up on the head and wasn’t parallel to the floor. If you are using a good hat block, this should be done on masking tape, never the block itself. Afterwards, wrap your form in plastic to make removal of the buckram easier. We used plastic produce bags; any thin plastic will work, including cling wrap. Be sure it is as smooth as possible.

Step 6. cut buckram on the bias

Step 6. cut buckram on the bias

Cut out a piece of buckram larger than your crown (give yourself a fair bit of room to make tugging easier) and lay it on your head. The bias should be facing FC and BC. Spray your buckram with water. It should be damp enough that it begins to soften, but not dripping to the point where the glue (in the buckram) washes away.

Step 6. pull and form your buckram

Step 6. pull and form your buckram

You will notice the buckram start to soften; now is the time to stretch it. Pull and smooth your buckram over your form, pinning it in place. Since I used a wrapped styrofoam head, I was able to use straight sewing pins. If you use a wooden hat form, you will need tacks or nails that may need to be inserted with the help of a hammer. Remember, you need just enough to hold it in place, all of these will have to come out again so don’t go nail-crazy.

The buckram will get sticky so be careful of your clothes and jewellery. You can achieve the majority of the smoothing by pulling rather than rubbing your hand over the surface, and this will help you be a bit less dirty. Once you’re satisfied with the result, set it aside to dry, leaving about 24 hours.

Step 7. Finishing The Brim

Step 7. glue bias tape to the edge of the crown

Step 7. glue bias tape to the edge of the brim

While your crown is drying you can complete your brim. Take a piece of bias tape longer than the circumference of your brim, and coat it lightly with a strong, tacky glue.

Step. 7 use the knife ridges as a guide

Step. 7 use the knife ridges as a guide

You can use a plastic knife to spread the glue evenly, and try to leave just the amount in between the ridges. Be sure there are no globs.

Step 7. attach to the wire

Step 7. attach to the wire

Once the bias tape is covered in glue, your can attach it to the wired edge of your brim. Go slowly and make sure you are attaching it evenly, and applying it firmly. You will be left with a smooth, covered edge.

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Step 7. your completed brim and the molded crown

Step 8. Removing Your Crown

Once the crown is completely dry, you can remove it from the form. Sometimes a vacuum is created and so you may want to enlist the help of a buddy.

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Step 8. Remove your crown

After you’ve removed your crown, trim it with some sturdy scissors to get it to  your desired shape. You are now ready to start covering your hat!

If you are putting light-weight or sheer fabric on the hat, you may want to try mulling it first. This is a technique that involves covering the entire form in some lightweight, white, flannelette. If you don’t think this is a necessary step, you can begin to cover your hat with your final fabric. But that will be covered in another blog!

All for now,
-E.

How To Draft a Custom Hat Pattern

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On Monday I started my week long millinery course at Stratford Off The Wall; after only one day we’d already done a ton.

After going over some basics we had a chance to tour the costume warehouse at Stratford, including the upper level not usually open to tours. There we saw some amazing costumes, like this beauty;

Hat in the Stratford Warehouse

Hat in the Stratford Warehouse

There was so much to see we could have easily spent a day there, but our main focus was the hats. Even limiting it to that section, we spent a good hour browsing the aisles, each of us allowed to pick out one to take back to the studio and model our own hat after. I chose this cute little topper that had been worn in Guys And Dolls a few seasons back;

Hat from Guys and Dolls

Hat from Guys and Dolls

While my own hat has since been altered greatly from this version, it was great to see a professionally made one up close and personal.

There’s a lot of work that goes into making a hat, and being a novice I certainly have more to learn than teach. But in the interest of sharing knowledge and fun I’m going to break my lessons down into several blog posts, starting with this one. So part 1 in my hat how-to tutorial begins with….

How To Draft A Custom Hat Pattern From Scratch

Step 1. Prepping Your Hat Form

Step 1. Prep your hat form

Step 1. Prep your hat form

If you don’t have the luxury of using a wooden hat block, the first thing you need to do is prep your hat form – here I used a Styrofoam head. I covered the entire thing in plastic wrap and masking tape, making it stronger and protecting it for future use.

If you were looking to do a more fitted hat that comes down more on your head, like a cloche or a fedora, you’d need a form that is the right size for your head. Since I was doing a topper, it didn’t need to be as precise, so this method worked well.

Step 2. Make sure the form is protected

Make sure the form is protected

Step 2. Get Your Measurements
Measure the head you are building the hat for, and transfer those measurements to your form. You need to have your centre front, centre back, and size measurements, as well as your circumference. For detailed instructions on how to take proper measurements, consult the millinery book, From The Neck Up: Illustrated Hatmaking.

Step 3. Get your measurements

Get your measurements and oval pattern

Step 3. Make Your Initial Pattern
Once you have all your measurements, as well as an idea of the type of hat you’d like to make, you can start to construct your pattern. We used butcher’s paper; any study but light-weight paper will do. This is where some basic math is required.

Start off with the circumference of your head, or the size of your “head opening” spot of your hat. In my case, since it was a topper, it was smaller (higher on my head = smaller opening than the true circumference of my head). In my case, it was 19.5″. We were lucky enough to have use of our teacher’s patterns, so I had a ready-made oval that was 19.5″ in circumference. Without that, you’d need to make one yourself. Trace this onto your paper.

Mark the Front-Centre (FC) of your pattern, and then divide the number by 2, so you can find where your Back-Centre (BC) should be; 19.5/2=9 ¾ BC

Following the same idea, continue to measure and mark your Left-Side (LS), Right-Side (RS), and the halfway mark in-between those as well. You should have something that looks like this:

Step 4. Make your pattern

Step 3. Make your initial pattern

Add a 1 ¼” seam allowance to the inside of your head opening, and then you’re ready to cut our your pattern. Make a slit up the BC of the pattern and cut out the inside of the head opening (leaving the seam allowance).

Step 4. Notches
Take your scissors and make notches to the seam allowance, going in as far as your actual head opening; this is so you can attach the brim to the crown. They should be about 3/8″ wide all around the head opening. Now you are ready to begin shaping your brim.

Step 5. Make notches and fit that pattern to your form

Step 4. Make notches and fit that pattern to your form

Step 5. Shaping Your Brim
Pin your crown to your form using the notches. Tape up the CB seam. Now is the fun part! You can fiddle with the brim, deciding on how wide you want it, and if you want to alter it by using darts.

Step 6. Begin shaping your hat

Step 5. Begin shaping your hat

Step 6. Slicing and Layering
If you want to create a brim with some shape, do so by slicing and layering. This is an experimentation process; don’t be afraid to make a mistake. You can easily tape it up and go back to your initial shape.

Step 7. Shape your hat by slicing and layering

Step 7. Shape your hat by slicing and layering

Step 7. Complete Your Initial Pattern
Play with the slicing and layering until you are happy with your brim shape; I was going for a 1940’s look, so I created an exaggerated brim, but you can do whatever you want. Once you’re happy with it, be sure to mark the size of your darts and then un-tape the pattern and flatten it out. Remove the tabs.

Step 9. Complete the initial pattern of your hat

Step 7. Complete the initial pattern of your hat

Step 8. Creating a Master Pattern
To be sure to get an accurate master pattern, you want your paper to be as flat as possible; use steam if necessary. I then pinned it over my strong cardboard (for the master pattern) and into a piece of foam to make sure it wouldn’t slide. Trace the pattern remembering to mark where you will be placing darts. If you have large notches like I did, do not cut them out, just trace them. They will be layered.

Step 10. Flatten initial pattern and trace a simplified version on cardstock

Step 8. Flatten initial pattern and trace a simplified version on cardstock

Step 9. Checking Your master Pattern
When you are done tracing, once again add a 1¼ seam allowance and create your tabs. Then, cut out the pattern and pin it to your form, making sure it still looks right.

Step 11. Make final adjustments to your master pattern, fitting it onto form

Step 9. Make final adjustments to your master pattern, fitting it onto form

Congratulations! You have now created your master brim pattern.

More to come.

-E.

 Like this post? Check out my company blog, Bygone Theatre for related posts on a brief history of women’s hats and how to convey character through hats.