Friday, April 18, 2014

Charleston: Flapper dress walkthrough

I was thinking about the first flapper dress that I made; it's pretty, but doesn't scream Twenties when I look at it. I really wanted something that looked like a period costume, with a modern twist. I really wanted to avoid adding more fabric to my stash (it looks like a hamster nest of hoarded fabric at this point!). Luckily I had some black satin that was ideal for this project, and had just enough to make this dress.
Went a bit overboard with the detail, but it looks so pretty.

I started by drafting a simple pattern. Flapper dresses are supposed to be quite shapeless, so I ended up with a trapezoid piece for the pattern. But I didn't want to keep it simple. I wanted a hem with a lot of movement, so decided to make a pleated hem. I altered the pattern by adding a dropped waist, and made the bust a bit curved, like a tank top. I also added bust darts to give it more shape. 
When I cut out the bodice, it looked like this
 Shiny tank top! 
 Next step was creating the waistband and decoration on the bust. First I printed an art deco border pattern, and traced it on to a piece of interfacing. The interfacing for the waistband was just a rectangle, but the bustline pattern had to be altered a little because of the curves. 
 Here's a moe detailed picture. Once I was pleased with it, I ironed it on to the satin.
 Next I painted the waistband and neckline silver. This just involved mixing acrylic paint with fabric medium, and carefully painting the area. I used masking tape to make the edge nice and smooth.
I also had to figure out the pleated hem. I had a limited amount of fabric, so the pleats aren't very deep. To make the hem more interesting, I made it spiky: I was inspired by one of Cyd Charisse's dresses in 'Singin' in the Rain'. Ironing the pleats was not fun: poly satin and irons do not get along, and I actually burnt one piece of fabric. I used a pressing cloth and a piece of card to make the pleats look sharp, and ironed on a low heat. 

 The next step was beading. This was very time consuming. I spent two weeks sewing little black beads on over the silver waistband, skirt, and neckline, bead by bead. I learnt a few important things about beading:

  • Add only two or three beads to you stitch; more than that and the thread is pulled out of shape, and your design looks wonky
  • Knot the thread multiple times to make it secure
  • If you've painted the fabric, you need a very sharp thin needle; a thimble is also handy.
  • Keep cats away. They see the moving thread and they want to play with it, and they will destroy all your hard work.

 Ta da, finished neckline!
 Lastly I added a side zip and bias tape for the straps, and the dress was done.
And then the photoshoot came:

These photos were taken in Valletta near Fort St Elmo. It was incredibly chilly: there was a breeze blowing through the streets, and satin, nylon and feathers aren't the best protection from the elements. I cobbled together a cigarette holder from a chopstick and some paper, and burnt the tip to make it look more authentic (don't smoke, and probably shouldn't after all the asthma attacks I had last year thanks to an allergy to chicken feathers. It did stop, but I'd rather not risk getting it again). 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Twenties Style Satin Dress

There's going to be a Charleston themed photshoot later this month, and I really wanted t try my hand at a flapper dress, inspired by one of Threadbanger videos:

The pattern is very simple: I measured my overbust, bust and hips, and drafted a pattern. Since the dresses in the twenties were not fitted, this was quite simple to do.

I wanted to use cloth that I already had rather than buying new material. I had a look and found this satin material that I found in a bargain bin
Here's what's left of it. I'm not very good at taking progress photos. As you can see, it's satin with an Oriental inspired print. Now that I think about it, it looks like the designer really wanted a kimono inspired print, and didn't know which one to choose - so they put all the prints on the fabric.
I ended up using the blue/grey end of the fabric as the top, ending the dress at the brown scalloped shape.

 I used plain black lining, but to make it look prettier, I made the top part of the lining from scraps of the outer material. There's interfacing ironed on to it for shape.

 I faced the lining and main dress right sides together and sewed around the neckline, snipped the corners, then turned it right sides out and ironed it to death. I then finished one armhole with bias tape. The other one didn't get finished until I sewed in an invisible zip.
 The next step was the hemline. I wanted to try using the brown curved shape as the hemline, so that it would have a scalloped appearance. I cut off the excess, used watered down glue to stop the edge from fraying (if you do this, be careful. don't get the glue on the rest of the dress, because you will ruin it. And you will cry). Since this fabric is super slippery, I placed tissue paper under the material to make it easier to slide through the machine, using a tiny zigzag stitch to finish the edge.
Here's the finished dress. I'm not sure how 'twenties' it looks, but I'm pleased with how neat it looks. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Wayward Victorian Carnival Costume

CARNIVAL is here! It's a big thing in Malta. Really big. The capital city is flooded with huge parade floats, street stalls and people in costume for 4 days. I went yesterday with some friends. The day before, I realised I didn't have a costume (though actually if I'd thought about it I could have worn the Amanda Young costume. Stupid stupid :( ), so I decided to put one together.

I love Emilie Autumn's style, and so I decided to put together a wayward Victorian inspired costume, partly inspired by this costume that Emilie Autumn wears:

I made a corset, though honestly this is more like a mockup than the real deal. This was made in a hurry for today, so I only spent around 12 hours working on it. This is not my best work. 

The corset is quite wrinkly. That’s because I used interfacing on the white material to stop it stretching, but the material is trying to peel away from the interfacing under stress. 
The plastic boning is also not working. This is a fashion corset and not meant for tight lacing, which is why I used plastic. I’ve had good results before, using plastic ties (you find them around furniture boxes or six packs of water). The kind I used this time is just too flimsy. It buckles under stress, which is another reason why the corset looks so rumpled.

I also had problems sewing the boning channels. I am terrible at sewing the channels neatly: they always seem to get wrinkled or misaligned, or they’re too narrow. The bias tape is also wonky, though it doesn’t show too much.

Since I used only materials that I already had at hand, I don’t feel too badly about this corset being unsuccessful. This is something I would definitely like to try remaking, ideally using more durable materials such as coutil or cotton twill. It’s difficult to buy metal corset bones in Malta, so thick cable ties will have to suffice. It might also be worth adding a waist tape and busk closure. 
 The rest of the costume is just clothes I already had, such as the jacket from Late but Lucky, a steampunk style skirt, lace gloves, a feather fascinator, boots, thigh highs and a random flower hair clip. 


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brave: Carnival Photoshoot

I was lucky enough to go to a photoshoot a week or two ago. The photoshoot was for people in their Carnival costumes, but I thought I should wear my Merida costume, because I had no nice pictures of it.

Courtesy of Mandy's Photography and Taylor's Photograph, I now have several beautiful photos of my costume.

Merida is one of the best Pixar/Disney characters to date. She's bold and brash, rides and shoots like a badass, but she's kind, and smart enough to learn to put her mother's lessons into practise, and to compromise by the end of the film.
The photoshoot was in Ta'Qali National Park. This is one of the few large green areas in Malta. There's a pine wood next to this strange modern structure. If you have your back to all the buildings, the forest looks very wild and mysterious. I was really lucky that there were two photographers and only six people in costume, because I managed to do a lot of poses and the photographers got a lot of photos. 
I really wanted to use all the natural scenery for the photos, which meant a lot of leaning against trees and bushes, and climbing trees (I needed a leg up: this dress is not the best for climbing! How did Merida manage to get up that cliff?)

My wig was a bit of a pain, because it kept falling into my face. I'm so grateful that the photographers were patient and didn't mind me arranging my wig; they even helped me get my hair out of the way, or untangle it from trees (sometimes it got stuck in rough bark or pine sap)
I'm really happy with how my makeup turned out. i got up early to apply it. Most of my time was spent trying to paint my eyebrows orange. It involved glue, spirit gum, a lot of foundation, and orange eyeshadow. I was partly successful, as you can see in some of the photographs. i went with a natural makeup look; just enough to hide any spots or shadows. It took longer to apply because I couldn't use my middle finger properly-my new cat bit me and the finger was very swollen. You can actually see a plaster on it in some photos.
Merida's costume is great because it's very iconic: you can figure out straight away who I am cosplaying, even without the props (though they really pull the whole cosplay together). I actually used a very similar pattern to how dresses were constructed in Medieval times. It's basically a rectangle that goes over the head, with triangle gores to make the skirt wider, and tailored for a better fit. It even closes with laces at the back. Admittedly, it is difficult to get in and out of because of this, and it would be smarter to just add a size zip.

Let's talk props. I love having props for a photoshoot, because they help me to act more like the character, and give me something to do with my hands. At the steampunk photoshoot a few months ago, I didn't have any props and had to mess around with pine cones and leaves to give my hands something to do. Props make everything better!
The bow is a children's plastic toy. I wrapped it in masking tape and painted it brown, and wrapped vinyl around the middle for a grip. This bow is obviously non-functional, even with a tightly-strung bow string, but it looks pretty good.
The quiver was a very lucky find. We had a bamboo tube quiver at home, complete with arrows. It looked like it was inspired by Amazon tribal or Native American culture, so I covered it with vinyl to make it more accurate. The vinyl came from an old coat; the coat is very big, and i've used it for so many costume. The bracers and armour on my Wonder Woman costume are actually made of repainted pieces of that vinyl. 
Anyhow, I covered the bamboo quiver with vinyl, staining it with shoe polish to get a tan colour. I also made a belt using an old broken belt and more vinyl. The belt and quiver are mostly held together with hand sewing and Bostik glue. It's surprisingly effective. 

I also re-fletched the arrows. To fletch an arrow, you basically cut a feather in half along the 'spine' of the feather, and glue the feather pieces to the top of the arrow (I used Bostik). 

You can find the photographer's at these links:
Taylor's Photograph:
Mandy's Photography:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Aristocratic Dress Part 2

And I'm baaaccck! 

Sewing the dress took longer than I thought it would, mainly because I had to add a princess seam to the front of the bodice. I made the pattern slightly too big for me, so had to take in the front by 5cm (!) to make it fit nicely. 

Once I had the bodice pieces cut out and sewn together, i added the plackets and ruffles.
Each ruffle is three times the length of the bodice. This creates an enormous ruffle. Both ruffles are actually sewn on to the left hand placket. I thought this would make them look more even when the dress is fastened. The ruffles are very fluffy, so I may go back and press them down gently.

On to the sleeves. I used a puff sleeve pattern, and altered it to make it wider at the bottom, and long enough for my arms. I didn't take any pictures of these steps, which is a pity, because I'm very proud of the sleeves. 


Each sleeve is finished with a French seam. The gathers at the wrists are actually created with elastic inside a casing. The casing is made by sewing a wide ribbon to the inside of the sleeves. I used turquoise velvet ribbon; you can't see it from the outside. I bought this ribbon when I made a Giselle cosplay and I finally had a chance to use it. 

The skirt part of the dress is actually three circle skirts sewn together to make an enormous black doughnut. I used French seams to hide any raw edges.

Based on tutorials and guides that I have read (I highly recommend Rufflebutt's tutorial, to get this type of skirt to be very ruffled, horsehair braid is a must-have. I bought some from ebay; however, I bought very wide braid. This meant that after I sewed it on, I had to stitch it down at the top to prevent it from flopping forwards. I was able to do this on the machine (just as well, because I would go mad if I had to do this by hand). I sewed at least three metres of skirt hem. It could be neater, but I'm not going to redo it just yet. Must breathe!
Very wide horsehair braid

I gathered the huge skirt and sewed it on to the bodice. This took a lot of concentration, because the skirt kept bunching up as I sewed, and I had to move it out of the way to stop the wrong parts of it being sewn to the bodice.

The final step was adding buttons, button holes, and a collar. The collar is just a ruffled strip of cloth with a button hole. I sewed it on by hand. 

This is the finished dress. It took about three weeks to make, on and off. I'm rather pleased with the result.