Thursday, March 7, 2013

My (Not-Quite-Awkward) Adventure as a Pin-Up Model

We interrupt your intermittently scheduled costume blogging to bring you something completely different. I celebrated my 30th birthday by becoming a one-time pinup girl.

First of all, I should begin this post by explaining a little bit about my history. In grade school, I was the fat kid. It was a small school, so even if I was simply just a bit larger than the other waif-ish girls, I still ended up being the largest girl in the class. And that's ridiculous, because I was a really active kid. Ballet (biggest girl there, definitely), horseback riding, soccer, softball... Every season I was doing something that kept me in great physical shape. I was just bigger than the other kids. And boy, did that mess with my head. And things didn't improve when I put on the freshman 15+ (and sophomore 15) in college. Up until about age 29, I was never really comfortable with my body.

But then something flipped. Call it maturity, the newfound love of running half-marathons, Saturn in Return, whatever. This past year, I've come to really love my body. It's healthy. It's well-proportioned. It gets things done. I still have those problem areas, of course. Who doesn't? But I've stopped actively insulting my frame. I'm not fat. I was. But I've come a long way. I still have issues accepting my funny ol' face, but I'm working on that.

So to celebrate the fact that I hit a milestone, and because I wanted to embrace this newfound confidence, I signed up to do a pinup shoot with the New York Pinup Club.

I was immediately intimidated. I know clothes. I know how to make sure they look great on a body. I don't know modeling. It's different when it's a costume I'm in, or the hallways of a convention. That's a piece of art I'm showing off, or I can channel bits of the character and be silly. This shoot was going to just be me. In retro clothes/foundations, but me. No characters to hide behind now. There was going to be a wardrobe stylist, a makeup artist, a hair stylist... Usually that's the side of the camera you'll find me on.

But I did it anyway. And these folks made me feel like a rock star. What an ego boost, I swear. Brandon Herman, the photographer & organizer, was wonderful. He was encouraging, friendly... patient... Even if the shoot happened early the day after a major blizzard and everyone had trouble getting to the studio on time.

And you know what? I'm so happy I went through with it. Of course, I found things to critique, but the thought that immediately followed those negatives? "Well, now I know for next time!" Next time? Ask me a year ago, and I would have laughed about doing it a first time!

After this adventure, I would absolutely encourage any woman to do the same. What a rush. I did this for me. I wanted to celebrate being 30, being happy, and have something a bit more lasting than a massage or pedicure. I now have an image that I can look at and say to myself "Dang, girl. What was holding you back all those years?" And I plan to take that energy and pay it forward into every single day I have ahead of me. And to anyone who might be considering doing something similar? Do it. Seriously: what are you waiting for? You might feel self-conscious or intimidated, but it feels so good to break down that wall.

To be fair, I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do with these photos other than plaster them on the internet here.. I certainly have no plans to get them framed and hang them on my wall... Wait, no. You know what? I just might do that too.

Photos by Brandon Herman.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Effie Trinket

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games.

I've always loved The Hunger Games book series by Suzanne Collins, and when they cast Elizabeth Banks in the role of Effie Trinket for the films, I couldn't have been happier. Then the production photos started coming out, and Effie's Capitol couture was just so decadent that I knew I had to make something. It wasn't until Costumer's Guide and Costumer's Closet found the actual brocade at Michael Levine's in LA that I settled on this one. Although, really, "settled" isn't the right word. This costume piqued my interest right from the get-go, and I was so excited Maggie & Loren found THE fabric.

The costume itself actually took about two weeks total from start to finish, which might make it the fastest complete costume I've ever constructed. Rad!

Photo by Patrick Sun. Dragon*Con 2012.

The beginnings of draping.

The Dress:
Is actually a two-piece construction! Well, the way I did it, anyhow. Makes it way easier to get into and out of.

The pattern was draped from scratch, and it's basically a simple pencil skirt with a full, gathered bubble skirt over top. As for the bodice, when I began to drape the pattern, there were absolutely no images of the back of the costume online, and the film was in that limbo between leaving theaters and coming out on DVD. So I made an educated guess based on what I could remember from seeing the movie once in theaters, and then got really lucky! It's a racerback bodice to accommodate the halter-style collar and bared shoulders.

Skirt nearly complete, bodice in the early stages. 
I made the skirt first, since I figured that maybe if I kept procrastinating on the bodice, an image of the back might appear as if from nowhere. Plus, I knew the skirt was going to be pretty quick and easy! The most difficult part was getting a feel for the fullness of the bubble layer. That just ended up being a lot of trial and error. 

I studied the Effie production photos to figure out approximately how they draped the bubble bit, and by looking at the flowers for way too long, I realized the whole bubble skirt was actually constructed on the bias. Makes sense: 1- the drape ends up being prettier, and 2- you don't get an endless repeat of flower pattern straight across the hips. I added fullness by sewing netting to the pencil skirt (otherwise the bubble just droops sadly over the hips, and that's just not cute!)

The skirt closes on the side with a zipper in the pencil skirt, and then the bubble has a slit that snaps closed. 

Completed dress.
Finally, unable to avoid putting off work on the bodice, I draped the sleeves and the collar first, then built the rest of the top. The brocade is so flimsy and slippery, I flatlined it with satin coutil. And I carefully studied the real costume to see just how close I could get the placement of the floral pattern. I'm sure no one even cares, but I'm crazy OCD like that. Embarrassing!

It closes up the side with an invisible zipper. 

The belt was made using the 2" belt kit from Maxant Button & Supply Co., and it was a royal pain, since that brocade frays like you wouldn't believe.

The gold contrasting fabric is a beautiful silk satin from Elegant Fabrics in NYC, but it's bit dark. I'm thinking about re-doing the collar in the future.

The Shoes:
Another Costumer's Closet find! $35 on eBay! They are the best cheap McQueen knockoffs, made of horrible beige PVC reptilian material, with a zipper just short enough to make putting them on really uncomfortable. I spray painted them gold, then aged them with black acrylic paint so they'd more closely resemble the actual $1000 McQueen booties.
The real deal: McQueen booties.
The Accessories:
The earrings are vintage button clip-ons that I had in my stash.

For bracelets, she wears a hammered gold cuff with big gems on her right wrist, and boxy amber cuff on her left. I found the bracelets in the cheapo-jewelry district in Manhattan, so I had to do a little bit of improvisation. The big cuff is pretty spot on for what she actually wears, but the other bracelet doesn't really match the screen accurate one at all.

She has a little rhinestone applied on her right cheekbone. I had some AB Swarovski's in my bedazzle bin, so I just stuck that on with eyelash glue.

The socks are semi-opaque pale pink ankle socks I found on eBay.

The hair flower was made with the same contrasting silk satin I used for the collar. The stamens were purchased from Tinsel Trading Company, which is a store to die for. (For anyone who dabbles in millinery, or just wants vintage trims & appliques, I cannot recommend them enough.) I cut out 12 petals in 2 sizes, curled the edges, gathered them on one side, and stitched them all together. Then I added a bow of horsehair to the underside so that I could pin it into the wig.

The Wig:
Was custom dyed and styled by a wonderful friend of mine. I'm so grateful to Kevin for his help, because I am absolutely clueless when it comes to hair. He really went above and beyond, and I could not have done it without him.
Photo by Patrick Sun. Dragon*Con 2012.
This is the first costume I actually went out of my way to have photographed by a pro. Patrick Sun (patcave on flickr) took an hour out of his busy schedule to accommodate me one busy Dragon*Con afternoon, and I'm so, so thankful that he did. It's nice to actually have clear, crisp, (PRETTY) visual proof that the whole ensemble came together, and in a fantastic, Capitol-esque location like Atlanta, no less! I felt completely silly (I'm way better at design and construction than I am at wearing/modeling), but Pat was unbelievably patient and encouraging, and it did pay off.

For more photographs, you can check out: 
Pat's flickr galleries (he's so talented; check out his other con photography!)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Idris "Sexy" - The Doctor's Wife

The Doctor and Idris. "The Doctor's Wife"
Wellllll, I've been wanting to do a Who costume for years, but I tend to like the more period/unique costumes, and nothing on this show has ever really stood out to me until "The Doctor's Wife". That, and - beware, blasphemy ahead - I was really starting to fall out of love with Doctor Who until Neil Gaiman took the reins for an episode. So, needless to say, this costume really piqued my interest on a variety of levels.

At Dragon*Con 2011. Photo by David Skirmont.
My biggest concerns were 1) finding the fabrics and 2) draping that bodice. I think I spent the majority of my time on this build traipsing around the Manhattan fabric district with a bag full of swatches.

Patterns were all draped from scratch unless otherwise noted.

I was chatting with Maggie (Costumer's Guideabout this costume, saying I would love to do it, but was REALLY concerned about two fabrics: the bodice and the lace. Well, in a crazy stroke of luck (and thanks to an AMAZING friend of Maggie's), we came to purchase some of the closest bodice fabric we'd ever find. Drawback was it was an ivory/gold polyester fabric, so dying was going to be a huge pain. I think I test-dyed 6 swatches before getting anything remotely close to what I wanted. Then I dyed the whole yard of fabric. Three times.

Unfortunately, because of the way the fabric was woven, the relief parts of the swirls picked up more dye than the raised parts, so I decided that in order to even out the color, I would have to scare myself to death by painting the whole thing. I did two washes of heavily watered down fabric paint before I was happy with the color. The final color was decided by the beige/turquoise shot taffeta that Maggie found for the bows. The taffetas were just about the only fabrics I didn't dye.

The bodice is a result of two mockups. The most important thing to me was getting the gusset in the waist  and the dart in the bust. I'm happy for the most part. I need to stitch the side panel to smooth out the wrinkles. It's a boned bodice with a heavy plastic zipper up the center back and piping along the bottom, armholes, and neckline. I love how much of a theatrical build it is, so I built it like a theatrical bodice - layers of satin coutil boned with flat steel bones and then flat lined to the bodice fabric.

I cut the lace on the bodice as one continuous piece, then hand-stitched it along the neckline, figuring that when I stitched the bias trim down, it would keep the lace flat. Wellllllll, I was half right. I'm planning on tacking a few stray lace bits down at some point.

Sadly, my dressform is more well-endowed than I am, so if I ever want the neckline to lay right (check those rad gaps around the collar bones!), I need to pad the bodice tatas out.

For the sleeve under-fabric, I knew I wanted something I could dye to match. I also wanted a stretch fabric that would be forgiving when I moved my arms around. The solution was a stretch silk, cut wrong-side-out so that the shiny side was on the inside. I dyed it once, and while the first go-round probably made the fabric color closer to screen-accurate, my bodice fabric was darker, so I took a stupid risk and threw it in another dye bath. Aaaaaand it paid off - praise be to the costuming gods of Rassilon! Of course, I was being super cheap when I bought the sleeve fabric, so I wound up a little short on sleeve length. They should be about 3 inches longer. :-/ I stitched down the lace just around the front half of the armseye so that I'd have full range of motion in my shoulders/arms.

Bows are cut on the bias with pinking shears, then floofed out to show the color along the edges. The thinner ribbons of bias silk are cut with regular scissors and barely picked at with my nails to floof out the fringe color. On the arm, I tacked down the trim at four points so that it wouldn't slide down, but would still allow the under layer to stretch to fit.

Cotton/linen blend fabric. It was originally white with red stripes (kind of like Jack Sparrow's sash). I dyed it twice to get the orangey-salmon color.

I actually bought the ruffle taffetas first, since I figured they'd be more difficult to find. The blue/red was found first after dragging myself back and forth to five different stores, then after I settled on that, I took a swatch around with me (to the same five stores, plus a few new ones) to find a teal/neutral that would look nice with it. Finally ready to find some gray-blue base skirt fabric, I took swatches of the ruffles around to the same stores. Again. It just had to be the perfect grayish-blue silk. Not too shiny, but enough of a shine that in some light you could tell it was silk. I found a color I was happy with, but it was too lightweight to support the ruffles, so when I built the skirt, I doubled it up.

Seriously. Hours of my life. Gone forever.

To get the lovely turquoise/blue trim along the edges of the ruffles, I simply tore them along the complementary color grain, then pulled out the threads until I had a width I liked.

I knew I didn't want an overtly floral lace, just because the lace of her costume is very webby and open. Most likely, it's a French $80+/yard lace, and does not exist in NYC. I spent a week just looking for lace alone. I ended up settling for an open web, heavier, sparkly cotton lace that cost WAY less than $80! \o/ Dyed it a bunch of times, then painted for that weathered discoloration. I also backed it with a tulle net, since too much of the navy skirt was showing through the lace. I stitched the lace to the tulle by hand so that it wouldn't gap and buckle in weird places.

Ugh. That stupid sash. I hate velvet. This is a blue cotton velvet painted to get the brown effect you see in the promo shot. The scarf in the exhibit is NOT the hero scarf. I have ridiculous amounts of screencaps and hi-res breakdowns to back my argument, and will actually try to convince you that the scarf is tailored to lie perfectly over the bustle. If you value your sanity, don't listen to me. I spent way too long working on a stupid detail that only I will ever notice. Proportionally, the scarf is all wrong. If I was 7 feet tall, it would be fab! At 5'8", I need to scale the whole thing down. Maybe before next D*C.

Socks are a heather gray over-the-knee from Urban Outfitters.  Can be found here!
They're thin (like dress socks), so if you need thicker boot socks, I'd double up with an ankle sock.

Boots are Steve Madden "Troopa"s in Cognac. They're shorter and not as light as the real ones, but I knew I wouldn't wear boots that light in my everyday life, so I settled for distressing a darker brown. Plus, they're real leather, and call me a snob, but I will not buy boots in synthetic leather. D: I can't! Leather just weathers so beautifully!

Of course, now as I revisit the link, I see Steve's making them in a really gorgeous "Natural". Curse you, Steve!
Steve Madden "Troopa" in natural.

I. Love. Distressing.

I usually end up going just light enough that it won't ever show in photos. But, hey, you know: better that than going too heavy!

Breaking Down the Fabrics:
Sandpaper. Really, I saved the sandpaper for the boots and the ruffles. When I first looked at the promo image, the ruffles were so beat up, I thought they were actually a brocade. (Went so far as to buy a brocade silk before realizing my mistake. Oh well. I'm sure it'll make a lovely corset!)

I sanded the ruffles once before I pleated them, and plan on going back for another round to make it more visible. I also went in with a blade to rip out some chunks from the edges.

I mixed up a watered-down blue color and two different watered-down browns. The lace and skirt were actually painted separately, then stitched together. The bodice weathering was carefully painted by dipping a sponge in the paint, then painting a paper towel, THEN brushing the painted paper towel over the bits I wanted colored. Again, I want to go back in and go a little heavier with the yellow-brown to balance out the red-brown color that's so prevalent.

Oh god, what else? 

To get the right shape for the skirt, I knew I was going to need a bustle. Originally, I made a quick and easy bum pad, but just wasn't happy with the shape it was giving me. So I caved and bought a pattern. I went with the Laughing Moon half bustle pattern, and I'm so glad I did. It's a gorgeous little piece, and I'm sure I'll end up using it for future projects, too.

Crappy, plastic hard-front curly wig in the color "Espresso" from eBay! I teased it, pinned it, and then brushed my bangs back over the front of the wig. Ribbons are just 2"  wide brown organza tied into bows and pinned in.

A few more pictures:
With the lovely Gen (or as she's known: penwiper)! That K-9 bag KILLS me!
(See the neckline? Gappy! Boo.)

Photo by David Skirmont.
And a few by other folks. Thanks for posting these, guys!

Photo by mistress_mu on flickr.
Photo by (and with!) Mkai26 on flickr. Her hat really lit up. SO stunning!
With a really fantastic Eleventh Doctor! Photo by ellis_belle on flickr.
I wore this both Friday and Saturday at D*C, and I'm sorry to say, you can tell which pictures were taken each day. I just look so haggard after marching in the parade on Saturday! Ugh. Need to go heavier on some of the makeup, too.

I'm also hoping I can find an available appropriately geeky costume photographer here in the city to do a shoot with one of these days. I'd love to get some environmental shots that aren't me being a total nerdtastic ham.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Salty Wenches - Scarlett

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
I worked on Scarlett at the same time as Giselle. It was just easier for me to switch back and forth - it helped me not to get bored while still staying focused on the same project.

Between the two, I had a much harder time finding reference pictures of Scarlett. I just happened to get extremely lucky one day when someone passed along some photos of the girls doing a segment on "Extra!" I was able to figure out what was going on with Scarlett's petticoat, which had been the one piece holding me back.

I had some nasty red poly taffeta lying around that I'd rescued a few years back, so I made the base of skirt out of that. I bought a few yards of silk charmeuse/chiffon striped fabric, and dyed it to match the red poly. Then I made a darker batch of dye and dipped the fabric, slowly ombre-ing the living daylights out of it. I sewed the two layers together and took a deep breath before cutting and tearing away parts of the ombre'd silk to expose the poly underlayer. I think the petticoat is the piece I'm most pleased with.

Didn't even buy a pattern. I just pleated a big rectangle for the skirt and draped the top right on the dressform. It's all hidden by a corset anyway. The fabric itself was custom printed and pattern-wise, it is an exact match to the screenworn costume. However, I do need to go back and tweak the colors and then print the pattern on a lighter-weight cotton rather than the linen you see here. The lace on the sleeves was a remnant of cotton fabric I dyed and cut up.


I bought an ochre linen, made myself a sculpey stamp to match the pattern on her corset, and spent many nights stamping the little flower pattern onto the fabric. The ruffle on top is the fabric cut with pinking shears on the bias, then topped with a velvet ribbon. I bought a cotton fringe trim and dyed that to match, then hand knotted and beaded it. I also made the trim you see along the side of the corset by deconstructing some lace and weaving in the red velvet ribbon.

After spending all that time constructing the dress and corset, I mixed up some watered-down acrylic paint, took the whole thing out back, and sprayed the hell out of it. Sad but true. However, now it has a real gritty, lived-in, dirty wench feel to it, so it was worth it!

They're completely period-inaccurate, but I figured I could fudge it a wee bit, since the skirt is so long.


Horror of horrors - this is a "Peg Bundy" wig! I'm pretty horrible at any kind of hair styling, so I commissioned a good friend of mine who knows a thing or two about wigs to help me out. She's my hero.

One pair of silver and pearl drop earrings, as close to screen-accurate as I could find.

Dragon*Con 2009
Dragon*Con 2010

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Salty Wenches - Giselle

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

I started Giselle back in September of 2008, right after seeing a bunch of my friends' photos from Dragon*Con. They all looked like they had such an amazing time in Atlanta, and I really wanted to become a part of that. A friend of mine - Katy - and I were both huge fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and in particular, the two floozies who smack Jack Sparrow around, Scarlett and Giselle. I knew I wanted to take more than one or two costumes to Dragon*Con, and once Katy agreed to go along with me, I knew which two costumes were going to be at the top of my to-do list. 

I had all of Giselle's fashion fabrics in my stash. 8 yards of pale yellow silk that I overdyed to make the color a bit brighter. 6ish yards of a brocade-like linen blend.

That meant the only things I had to worry about were the strength and lining fabrics in the bodice, the notions, and the trims.

For the bodice, I bought some lace, thin knotted trim, and gray fringe for the neckline, 2 wide laces for the sleeves, and a ton of individual white appliques for the front of the bodice. 

The fringe I sprayed with paint to dull it, then pulled out single strings at random and knotted sections to match the fringe on Giselle's dress.

I started by making the petticoat, and I used up every last bit of yardage I had. I gathered up a big tube of fabric and sewed it right into a waistband, leaving openings at the sides for some false pockets. The ruffle is about 11" wide with two satin ribbons along the bottom.

Giselle actually wears a very simple petticoat with a beautiful chintz paisley apron over top. I decided to forgo the apron and just use the fabrics I had in my stash, since the swirls on the linen provided a great deal of interest.

After the petticoat, it was time to start on the silk robe anglais.

I began with the simple task of knife pleating the skirt and pinned that to the dressform so that I could see how it would look when combined with the bodice.

I used a store-bought pattern for the basic shape of the bodice, made a muslin, and then started reshaping the neck- and waistlines.

Since views of the back of Giselle's dress showed that it laced up the back, I decided to make the bodice as structured as it would be in a theatrical build, rather than a more period-accurate costume. That way, Katy and I wouldn't have to wear layers and layers of period undergarments during a hot Atlanta summer.

I built the bodice with a layer of coutil and a layer of muslin along with the silk fashion fabric. It's fully boned with flat steel boning, and like the film costume, laces up in the back. 

It took me no less than 6 sleeve builds before I was happy with the fit and range of motion. It could still be better, but it suits its purpose.

I made patches out of silk remnants to sew onto the armsceyes of the dress, and put those directly on the sleeves and bodice before stitching the sleeves to the bodice.

Before adding the fringe, I painstakingly cut up the appliques, matching the pattern as closely as I could to the screen-worn costume. Since the appliques are polyester and therefor wouldn't dye well, I decided to paint them with watered-down acrylic paint. After they'd dried, I spent hours hand-stitching them onto the front of the bodice.

Finally, I added the bows, fringe and the sleeve flounces, and attached the skirt.

And then, after everything was perfectly new and put together... I began the terrifying process of distressing the costume.

I'd spent the summer before assisting a designer on the show "Big River", and we'd spent A LOT of our time distressing everything, so I wasn't quite as scared as I would have been if I undertook this on my own with no prior experience. 

I used a combination of sandpapering and spraying with watered-down acrylic, then went back in and darned some areas so it would look like the characters had made an attempt at maintaining their best dresses. I focused primarily on high-stress areas like the armsceyes, shoulders and around the edges of the bodice to match how it looked in the film.

I bought a blonde wig and colored in the roots with a dark brown color, then passed her along to a hair stylist friend of mine, who was awesome enough to restyle a very blah basic wig into a gorgeous 18th-century replica of Giselle's hair.

The shoes aren't anything special: just a pair of "BC Footwear: Mic Check" in clay.

I found a pair of crystal and gold clip-on earrings in a cheapo costume jewelry store that were a very close match to what I could see of Giselle's jewelry in the film.

Scarlett and Giselle made two appearances at D*C: in 2009 and 2010. The first year, Katy wore Giselle, and the second, my friend Cassandra put on the yellow dress!