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.