Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world

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Or, at least a regional 3rd at the Crown Championships of Cosplay. For Marie Antoinette, I actually ended up making about four different pairs of shoes on the way to the final product that I used at the competition. I had never made a full pair of shoes before until last summer, only shoe covers, etc. My dream had been to make “real” shoes, with wooden heels and all that, but there comes a point where you have to focus your priorities and while shoes were important, finishing out the actual gown to the highest standard took precedence. BUT, I still wanted Cinderella shoes for this.

The first pair was a complete trial-and-error situation. I patterned them from scratch, using heavy felt for my pattern to mimic the structure of the final shoe. It was weird, there are so many tucks and curves in shoemaking that you don’t realize are important until you make them yourself. The first version got thrown out pretty quickly, the second version is what came to DragonCon with me. These were pretty basic, with a vinyl sole, felt lining, and silver lame outer. The pointed toe was a little more compicated to get right than I expected, and involved lots of re-cutting of the pattern to get the point to fall in the exact spot it needed too. These were embellished with gold sequins and tamboured stars.

One of the things I loved about these is that they were comfortable. My last competition costume involved 6″ heels (a necessity in order to be true to Guillermo’s vision of Lucille Sharpe), and nerve damage happened (also something far too many competitive costumers are familiar with), so making comfortable footwear was a priority.  But, the embellishments never pleased me all that much – I didn’t really plan out my design and hastily did it in the eleventh hour before con. I knew that these were going to be completely remade for the Crown Championships.

I pretty much went through the same process the second time around making these shoes, but I referred to my friend Casey’s blog post on making her own shoes for her Anne Boleyn costume (my friends also like to costume themselves as dead queens). I used her approach, since the interiors of her shoes were a lot cleaner than the ones I had previously made and that was one of the big things I wanted to improve upon. I made a whole pair, again, that I did not use (I guess theoretically I’ve amassed myself a great collection of shiny house shoes), because I struggled again with getting the pointed toe right. Lots of nipping and tucking for days – trying to fit shoe patterns on your own fit is weird – and I finally settled on something I was happy with. The final new product was simple but well-made. The interior sole actually looks like a real shoe sole which makes me happy. I pad stitched so that there would be a little bit of grip in there. I completed all of the hand embroidering and beading before I sewed the shoes together. All of the stars, like the ones on my dress, are tamboured by hand. No store bought appliques.

The design was a lot more intricate this time around. They’re incredibly tacky, to be sure, but that is what a 1930s star-themed faux-rococo costume is supposed to be. I love them. My happy moment was when someone backstage at the Crown Championships told me I had Cinderella shoes. Yes!

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But hey they look like actual shoes

I completely forgot to mention my shoes during my five minute pre-judging, and while I’m sure they were seen, I was really disappointed that I didn’t have time to talk about them and have them seen close up. I spent so much time on these, and as with the rest of the costume, whenever you spend so much time hand embroidering something, there is a piece of your soul left in it. But I did make sure I kicked up my skirts to show my ankles on stage during the main show. I enjoy living scandalously.

 

 

1938 Marie Antoinette’s Grande Panniers

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Now that C2E2 is done and done, I’m going to try and share more of what I’ve been doing on Marie Antoinette over the last few months.

One of the first big things I did after DragonCon was a complete remake of the grande panniers. Two reasons. 1) I needed them to be able to break down easily for air travel and 2) I wanted a cleaner, more polished finished product, and for competition, it was important to me that these were self-patterned and more attractive.

There are no commercial patterns available for grande panniers of this size. Norma Shearer’s were over 6 feet wide. Since I am almost half a foot taller than she was, I scaled them up to 7 feet wide. Version 1.0 was a heavy modification of Simplicity 3635, but because they had to be scaled so much, they lacked some structural integrity. Also, the fabric I used was too lightweight. I used plain old cotton muslin, which should have been a “duh” moment from the beginning, but you live and you learn. I also used commercial bias tape, which, again, did not get the job done. It was too narrow and too weak. These panniers drooped a fair bit both during the costume build. (for a costume like Antoinette, 85% of the costume is built on to the panniers on a dress form – i.e. lots of arm cramps. Arm cramps for 15 months…) They were also incredibly difficult to transport and basically could not be broken down. The bias tape was too narrow to easily slide the steel boning in and out quickly, and I also had made them so that the boning was sewn down inside of the casing. Don’t do that. Just don’t.

 

Version 1.0
Self-patterning v2.0 allowed me to completely engineer them from scratch, troubleshooting ALL the issues from v1.0.
It’s virtually like engineering a tent. You don’t want the tent to droop in corners or collapse in on itself.
The pattern for v2.0 is completely different, with a totally different approach to seam lines to reduce bias pull and balance issues. I added additional channels for steel boning, all made from 43 yards of 100% handmade bias tape. I also added additional internal ties – 52 of them to be exact – to the interior of the hoops to form the kidney shape. And I used stiffer, stronger fabric. Since this is a 1930s movie costume and already derailed from any kind of historical accuracy, 18th century accuracy was not a huge concern for me, so I used cotton-poly broadcloth. I chose it because it had virtually no stretch, not even on the bias. I used it to make my bias tape as well. I liked it so much for bias tape, I made an additional 30 yards of bias tape just to have around and use for future projects. (like a bustle…!)
Technology in cosplay isn’t and shouldn’t be just about wires and programming. 18th century court fashion defied gravity. It’s more than just popping some hoops through some boning channels. To create a distinctive, wide, flat, kidney shape, distances have to be measured, seam lines and bias stretch have to be accounted for.  So much math went into these, which was a challenge and accomplishment for me since I am not a math-y person. (I didn’t even ask my husband, who actually IS a mathematician, for help!)
The last thing that I wanted out of my new panniers was that I wanted them to be fancy and pretty. v1.0 had been functional but plain. I wanted these to resemble the paper doll illustration of her undergarments I found in my search for reference materials. I handmade 15 pale pink rosettes, added lace, and added a wide bottom pleated ruffle for additional poof because this dress could always handle more poof.

 

My new panniers held up to living on my dress form as I worked through several months of upgrades. I removed all of the trims and swags from the gown, remade them, added 1000 beads and 20,000 rhinestones, and sewed them all back on to the dress. All of these changes added a ton of additional weight, but it took the weight really well. They were heavy, yes, but there was very little droop over a long period of time.
For travel, they break down in about an hour, and it takes about 45 minutes to put them back together. It’s a small price to pay to be able to make this a fully transportable costume.
So there you are. The one issue that did arise, that was somewhat unexpected, was hoop burn. Super weird. Because the hoops are flat in the front, walking caused a lot of friction between frame and my legs, and so got hoop burn in six places all down my legs. Attractive. I should have worn a narrow petticoat underneath the hoops, and I would definitely do so if I were to ever wear this again to a convention.

Vanessa Ives / Penny Dreadful Cosplay

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A couple of photos of my new Vanessa Ives inspired costume from Penny Dreadful. (inspired, because I wore this to a historical themed event and not a cosplay event, so I didn’t want to wear a black wig) I have already made her black walking suit, but have been really wanting to make one of her more elaborate lace shirtwaist blouses. I hadn’t planned on making this particular one, but on a whim I ordered some lace, dug up some black glass beads that I had leftover from my Lucille Sharpe costume, and set about patterning and sewing it up. I will be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could manage constructing such a detailed costume piece in such a short amount of time. The blouse involved some weird patterning. I made a simple darted blouse, then patterned out the silk chiffon cutout. The black part is made from black lace flatlined with black cotton. The sleeve also has a shorter lace overlay.

Placing the lace was the hardest part, since it required a lot of trimming, layering, and manipulation to achieve the look of Vanessa’s blouse in the show. I also used antique lace on the neck collar and the sleeve cuffs. The blouse is adorned in black glass beads, though I ran out of time so I would like to add more in the future. I made a wide black velveteen belt to go with it.

I wore the blouse with my 9-gored walking skirt, though I would love to replace it with a black taffeta skirt in the future. My 9-gore skirt has proven to be one of my most versatile costume pieces, and I have worn it with about five different costume variants at this point! One day I still want to do a tutorial on how to make it.

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Geillis Duncan’s Gathering Dress from Outlander

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geillis1aredGeillis Duncan’s white dress from Outlander has been on my to-do list for such a long time, but for some reason kept getting pushed to the side in favor of loftier projects throughout the past year. I’ve already made Claire and Jamie Fraser costumes, but Geillis is such a fun character and I’ve always loved the weird factor that she brings to the story.  It should be noted that I am not a strict historical costumer. I enjoy historical fashion and as an academic, I respect the educational work of historical reenactors, but as a cosplayer (or whatever term floats your boat), I prefer to recreate costumes as I see them on screen. I know a lot of Outlander costumers have chosen to make “historically accurate” versions of the show’s costumes, but screen accuracy and respect for the costume designs by Terry Dresbach are personally more important to me.

I had been hoping to find some more screen accurate fabrics, but after I found some pure natural colored linen at a discount fabric store for only $3, I decided now was the time. The arisaid (or plaid, depending on who you are talking to) and chemise were made from fabrics that I inherited from my grandmother. I had wanted to incorporate those fabrics into a costume, so despite not being perfectly accurate, they are meaningful to me at least. Between finding such a great deal on the linen and repurposing my grandmother’s fabrics, I only spent around $30 on this costume including all the notions and the brooch.

geillis2aredThis costume wasn’t particularly difficult to make. I already owned all of the appropriate 18th century undergarments (stays, bum roll, and several petticoats), except for a sheer chemise. I honestly am not crazy with how it turned out and will probably make some adjustments to it in the future. The fabric, while pretty (and again, part of my grandmother’s stash), was a sheer synthetic that wanted to just shred itself at the hands of my sewing machine needle. I did French seams, which helped tame things, but because the fabric was so slippery, it was fussy and ended up taking a lot more time than I had intended.

I created a separate bodice and skirt. For the bodice, I already had a hand drafted base pattern that I’ve used for Tudor era clothing. The shape is so similar, I just modified it to fit my 18th century stays and to include the extra seams on the front sides that are visible in the reference photos. The bodice is fully lined with hand sewn armholes. There is no boning in the bodice, since I have a solid set of stays.

Geillis’ dress laces up the back, and I used the “cheat” method of installing metal eyelets and just hand covering them with embroidery thread (not a time saving cheat by any stretch of the imagination, fyi, just a non-historical cheat). I did this because again, this is a cosplay and not a historical recreation. I intend for this costume to get a lot of wear to cons, renfaires, and photoshoots, so it was important to make everything so that it will be resilient and can endure everything from multiple washings to hikes through the woods. 😉

The skirt is nothing special, just three larges rectangles that I knife pleated into a waistband. I didn’t have tons of fabric to work with so it isn’t as voluminous as I normally would have liked, but with the bum roll and three petticoats it ended up looking like it had more volume than it did. Again, everything has French seams except for the back seam which I flat felled.

The arisaid is just a large piece of textured sheer white fabric (also from my grandmother’s stash) cut like a men’s great kilt. Geillis’ arisaid appears to be finished all around with a gold rolled hem. I had not time nor inclination to do this by hand, so I tried to do this with my serger and ended up failing miserably. Again, old synthetic fabric. It just shredded when the needle it hit and no matter how much I fiddled with the settings on my machine, the rolled hem just ended up looking like messy loops. It just wasn’t working and my photoshoot was in two days, so I just said screw this and pinked the edges. I actually love the look of pinked edges, so it worked out fine. Geillis’ arisaid has no real pleating or draping action going on (she appears to wear it like a toga with a twist halfway through), it just looks like it is gathered at the top (so I basically cartridge pleated one end) into the lover’s eye brooch at the shoulder on the front and just folded flat on the back.

geillis6redaThe lover’s eye brooch was interesting to make. I may do a tutorial eventually if I can will myself to make another one. Not particularly difficult, it was just a bit fussy and involved inadvertently breathing in more hot glue fumes that I should have. (mainly because glueing the pearls took about 5 times longer than I expected) The eye is taken from a portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie (not sure if it’s the exact same one they used in the show, but it looks pretty darn close), and while I wish I could say that I meticulously painted the whole thing by hand, it’s a printed image. But for what it’s worth, I actually think it looks pretty good considering. The frame is made from stacked worbla and handpainted, and covered in pearls of two different sizes. All of the materials I used to make the brooch were leftover from other projects, so again, no additional cost!

The belt is just a cheap-o belt from Walmart. Geillis’ belt buckle is rhinestone encrusted, so the night before we did the photoshoot I popped on few rhinestones to bling it out more, but her belt also has some crescent shaped rhinestones (which I did not have on hand) so I will be adding those on later.

I took my time on this costume (I started it in October and finished it in December, but I completed three other costumes and attended several costuming events during that time period), but am glad to finally had added it to my repertoire. It’s been long overdue!

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Victorian Hufflepuff Cosplay

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This past weekend I was finally able to debut my new Victorian Hufflepuff costume. This costume was heavily inspired by a black walking suit worn by Eva Green in Penny Dreadful. While my original plan was to make the suit for my Victorian Hufflepuff Professor, I can and will be able to also use this suit for Vanessa Ives, Missy from Doctor Who, and even Mary Poppins. It would seem that costume designers really like the black Victorian walking suit. 😉

Below is my brief recap of the process. I doubt there is much to be learned from it other than my self-deprecation as a costumer, but perhaps breaking things down can help other people who are planning to make a similar type of costume.

The Coat

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When I originally started this project, I was thinking that I could make it pretty quickly and that it wouldn’t be a bit deal. I wanted to keep it simple since I was coming off of the madness of making my Lucille Sharpe costume. It didn’t really turn out to be simple, unfortunately. In all honestly, this coat might actually have been one of the hardest things I have EVER patterned. (yes, this made patterning Thranduil’s coat seem easy peasy) The front part was easy enough, but the back part involved princess seams from shoulder to hem, and in the middle the notches for the deep pleats. Deep pleats that need to fall, not squarely, but in a perfect A-line shape. And that must line up perfectly when hemmed.

I think I had nightmares about this.

But it all worked out. After a full month of agonizing, working, agonizing, working to frustration, leaving it for a few days, and then repeating all over again.

 

Ironically, I think I was a little overly enthusiastic in my pleating, because they ended up being a little too dramatically poofy. After frantically panicking and nearly throwing the whole thing out the window, I decided to try sewing each pleat down about four inches. Duh. Crisis easily averted. But I’m still irritated that I screwed them up.

Other things I should have done differently: more interfacing. I tried to go about this project using everything I know about proper menswear tailoring (thanks to my nerd husband who has made period menswear). But despite interlining everything in canvas and interfacing the front inset and collar, I think I could have used more. The collar really doesn’t have the stiffness that I was seeking, so yeah, next time I’d do that differently. I feel like this coat is one of those things that I probably overthought. I probably could have done half as much work and it might have looked better, but overthinking is one of my shortfallings as a costumer.

The Skirt

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The skirt is my late Victorian 9-gored skirt. Eventually, once I find enough of the right fabric, I am going to try to do a tutorial on how to make your own. It wasn’t particularly difficult, but there  was a ton of hand-hemming involved. I kept the hem nice and wide. I know that these skirts are often found totally lined, which makes a lot of sense, but quality lining is oftentimes more expensive than the fashion fabric itself. I saved the expensive lining for the coat instead and did French seams throughout to keep everything nice and tidy.

The Blouse

 

The blouse is self-patterned from muslin that I happened to have in my stash, and is loosely based off of one that I found while googling shirtwaists for some inspiration. It had a similar “V” design down the front in thin rick-rack. I had been throwing around different ideas on how to embellish the blouse, and the usual Victorian lace just didn’t seem right for a Hufflepuff professor. I feel like the Hufflepuff aesthetic is a little quirkier (I mean, we are the house that Tonks and Newt Scamander came out of) and for that reason rick-rack seemed spot-on. I went with medium-sized rick-rack (which is probably not historically accurate but…wizards) and went to town. The buttons are also not historically sound, but I had a whole lot of them leftover from another project so that’s what I used.

I meant to interline the puffed sleeves with some tulle to give them additional structure, but ran out of time (due to aforementioned coat), so that will be a future project.

This was my first time making a Victorian blouse like this, so I know it isn’t perfect and there are quite a few things I will do differently next time. But I don’t think it was too bad for a first.

Overall, I’m pleased with how the entire costume turned out, and while it wasn’t really on my “to-do list” for the upcoming year, I think I’ll probably wear it a fair bit. On to the next project!