Tips for box set using muslin flats?

morganmac

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We are looking at the double whammy of elevated lumber prices AND institutional budget cuts at our university theatre. I'm trying to save on lumber costs where I can, and had the idea of doing our first set the season (Crimes of the Heart, in September) using soft cover flats. I've built muslin flats for masking/more abstract set use before, but I've never done a box set with them. Any tips besides dutching seams? I am free to screw into our black box deck to secure things.

This is probably a silly question, but every theatre I've ever worked with mostly did Hollywoods skinned with lauan, or built walls to suit. Thanks!
 

rsmentele

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I would also reiterate checking muslin vs 1/4" Luan costs. Depending on the width fabric you order, Im seeing $6/yd on average. 8' tall flat would require $14 or $15 in fabric. I found 1/4" for $15 at a big box store. So I think cost savings may be non existent. and not be worth the extra effort in labor to build the soft flats
 

MarshallPope

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Echoing what RickR said, trim can be your friend. Both to strengthen/align joints and to cover up ugly seams. If there are any larger furniture pieces, those can also be used to solidify the flats - For instance, if there happens to be a large cabinet or bookcase, hide a seam behind it and attach it to the floor and to the flat at the top.
 

Van

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If you are dead set on doing muslin covered flats, well even if you build Studio Flats there are a few things you can try to cut costs. I don't know if the trick will still work but years ago we could get 1x8 for cheaper that you could buy 3 1x3's we would buy 1x8 and rip it to 2.25" which is sufficient for framing both types of flats. It saved a bit of money on the supply side and Labor was free in College so it helped a bit. Being in Ga. you might have a better shot at decent prices for muslin go cheap. Yes heavy weight muslin looks better and lasts longer but Lightweight is cheaper. You may want to do some more math here and figure if the costs for wider body material is higher per yard than narrower body goods. Base your flat sizes off of that calc vs. framing costs.
No matter what the wider you build the frames, the more unsupported area of fabric there is, the more wobble you're going to have in the flat. A door slam in a fabric set is always going to wiggle the walls even if just from air pressure. Oh, you can reduce your door wiggle issue by not actually connecting the door unit to the walls. build your jamb and casement molding as a piece and leave it slightly away from the face of the flat. leave the opening in the flat slightly larger than the jamb but narrow enough for the casement to cover the gap. Brace the crap out of the back of the door unit. Like I said you'll still get air pressure wiggle but you wont get kinetic wiggle.

The only other thing I can think of is to size and paint the crap outta those walls. The more paint build up on the fabric the more it acts like one big solid rather than a floopy piece of muslin. Oh, and in a pinch you CAN use 1/8" luan for flat you just really need to add an extra toggle.

Theater faces so many challenges right now I feel there are going to be a lot of folks returning to the "Old Ways", unfortunately, as others have mentioned even the old ways have been priced out of reach.

Do worry when the housing market crashes Wood prices will come down. :rolleyes:
 
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jtweigandt

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Why the gasp.. Oh resident curmudgeon.... you gonna staple it to the front as long as we're using sub standard materials? I checked 5 foot wide muslin rolls though... not any real savings here if one
were to buy in bulk. I bet I have some muslin flats in storage that are easily older than 3/4 of the denizens of the forum.. don't really use them, but I know where they are buried :)
 

Van

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Staple half inch from the inside edge of the framing, glue and wrap, dry, pull staples, size. You Huguenots!
 
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microstar

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I seriously doubt that "canvas drop cloth" is unbleached as who would want a drop cloth that shrinks? Over my career I've probably built hundreds of flats and never used staples to fasten the muslin, even temporarily.
If you glue it to the frame properly.... and let it dry completely before sizing..... you don't need to use staples and then have to pull them out. According to "Stock Scenery Construction, A Handbook" by Bill Raoul (a wonderful resource on scenery construction) tacking or stapling got its start with fabrics that did not shrink well together with glue that did not hold well. Muslin and synthetic glue like Elmer's remove the need for stapling.
 

JonCarter

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""Wrap around the frame" Blasphemy!!

Get a copy of Burris-Meyer & Cole & do your homework.

If you build your flats to standard sizes (8' x 1', 2,' 4', 5'9", 10' x 1.', 2', 4', 5'-9", 12' x 1', 2', 4', 5'=9", several of each width of each height and door & window units in each height) you can build one H of a lot of sets out of standards.
 

jtweigandt

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I seriously doubt that "canvas drop cloth" is unbleached as who would want a drop cloth that shrinks? Over my career I've probably built hundreds of flats and never used staples to fasten the muslin, even temporarily.
If you glue it to the frame properly.... and let it dry completely before sizing..... you don't need to use staples and then have to pull them out. According to "Stock Scenery Construction, A Handbook" by Bill Raoul (a wonderful resource on scenery construction) tacking or stapling got its start with fabrics that did not shrink well together with glue that did not hold well. Muslin and synthetic glue like Elmer's remove the need for stapling.
This stuff looks pretty raw.. I have actually used it as uh.. a dropcloth.. I don't really see anyone would worry about a little shrinkage in a drop cloth.... It might make a good experiment, especially if one was looking to have thicker material rather than the thinnest of muslin. It might be a disaster, it might be great. of course Integraply floor underlayment 1/4 inch sheet is still just 26 bucks. More stable than Lauan, so for the small price differential, I probably wouldn't futz with muslin because of all the downsides. Maybe 10 -15 bucks per 4x8 more than muslin. For all the advantages I'd still spring for the ply.
 

Scarrgo

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We dont need no stinkin staples !!!!

we still build luan hollywood flats....
funny that there is so much paint on them they weight twice the original weight...guess its time to build some new ones
and we build 4x10's, as they look right on our stage, 8' looks to short and 12's are to tall

I do wish we covered our hard flats with muslin (yes its kind of a waste) I just like the look of a painted muslin over flat wood...and honestly from 30', no one would be able to tell the difference....

got to remember the rule... 30' equals 30 mph, how much detail can you see going that fast...

Sean...
 

Catherder

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This stuff looks pretty raw.. I have actually used it as uh.. a dropcloth.. I don't really see anyone would worry about a little shrinkage in a drop cloth.... It might make a good experiment, especially if one was looking to have thicker material rather than the thinnest of muslin. It might be a disaster, it might be great.
It’s a disaster. I found a few flats in our storage that looked to be made with drop cloths. They suck. One man’s opinion.

But yeah, to echo what’s been said, why soft flats? 1/4” ply is one of the few wood products that’s not an arm and a leg right now ($16 a sheet at my local HD). Gotta get some 1x either way, so ... 🤷‍♂️
 

derekleffew

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Back in the day 5'-9" was the widest that would fit in the railroad baggage cars that were used to haul shows when on the road.
I've read and repeated this too, even though it never fully made sense to me. But there it was in Parker and Smith, and Burris-Meyer-Cole, et cetera.

1. The 5'-9" dimension was the width of a baggage car door. Okay, but who "tables" a flat? Wouldn't it make more sense to carry them on edge, in which case the door height would be the issue? The doors had to be taller than 5'-9", right?

2. Worse comes to worst, there's always the diagonal.

3. I'm guessing the theatrical industry stopped traveling by rail in the 1940s. That's a long time to perpetuate "tradition."

Semi-related: this reminds me of the tale of how the space shuttle traveled from the VAB (vehicle assembly building) to the launch pad on rails the spacing of which was determined by the width of ax ox's rear end. Train rails were originally spaced the same as an ox cart's wheels, two oxen wide. I don't know what that is in metric.

EDIT: I somewhat misremembered...
There’s an interesting extension to the story about railroad gauges and horses’ behinds. When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses’ behinds. So, the major design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a Horse’s Ass!
 
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Scarrgo

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Semi-related: this reminds me of the tale of how the space shuttle traveled from the VAB (vehicle assembly building) to the launch pad on rails the spacing of which was determined by the width of ax ox's rear end. Train rails were originally spaced the same as an ox cart's wheels, two oxen wide. I don't know what that is in metric.
That must have been two beefy oxen to drag the shuttle out to the launch pad....

On a serious note...
Its great that we learn something new every day....


Sean...
 
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