Sewing

The Making of One Eyed Cat - Part 1

I'm back bitches!!!!

I have been MIA for the last month or so but for good reason, I developed and debuted a new act!  The new act, as you may have guessed, is called One Eyed Cat.  I got the name from the song I perform to, One Eyed Cat by Royal Crown Revue.  The act is something very different to my first act and I am pretty happy with it.  In this post I will discuss the concept for the costume and the making of the gorgeous marabou trimmed mesh dress.

 

Photo & Styling by Jacs Saffioti | Editing by Ruby Corvette | HMUA by me

 

Concept 

The design process for this costume started way back in 2015 when I did a costuming class with the amazing Coppelia Jane.  CJ suggested that we come up with an act to make costume pieces for during class.  I had a few songs I had in mind for potential acts and randomly chose One Eyed Cat.  Obviously, I wanted to go with a cat theme for the act but I also wanted to tap into the early 20th century feel of the song.  I started researching original costumes from the Ziegfeld Follies and found some amazing inspiration.  I also found inspiration in Jean Paul Gaultier's S/S 2011 couture, specifically the dress below.  The design I came up with is ultimately a combination of the 2 below. 

Lina Basquette photgraphed by Max Munn Autry, 1920s

Lina Basquette photgraphed by Max Munn Autry, 1920s

Andreja Pejic in Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2011 Haute Couture 

Andreja Pejic in Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 2011 Haute Couture 

 
One of my initial sketches of the dress design.

One of my initial sketches of the dress design.

 

While I wanted a feline feel to the look I didn't want it to be too literal.  I have a love of marabou and felt that it would be a great material to use to represent stripes of fur.  I was unsure about what colour I wanted the costume to be as I was stuck on the idea that I needed to have contrasting stripes and that the colours had to be based on the actual colours of a cat.  I eventually, and in opposition to the opinion of some ecdysiast costumiers, went with all black.

Some elements of the costume came to me quickly - like the cat nose pasties I came up with in that class back in 2015 - while others took longer to develop.  I had originally wanted cat ears and a cat collar with bell, but it wasn't until I found the designs by Pearls & Swine and Killstar that I realised exactly what I wanted.  As with most projects, the design process didn't end at the sketch book and I continue to tweak and perfect the ideas I have. 

the dress

The dress was probably the first thing I began work on and the one thing that has undergone the most change in terms of design.  I initially imagined this to be made out of tulle.  I bought a pattern from Vogue and a whole bunch of polypop to make a toile.  That toile never eventuated.  I then decided  to pad my dress form and drape a pattern off that.  In the first week of the act development class I did at BB Le Buff's School of Performance  it was suggested to me that I make the dress from stretch mesh.  That was a light bulb moment for me (thanks BB!).  The pattern of the dress ended up being very simple.  Its a tube dress with a zipper down the centre front with a full circle skirt added to the bottom.  The tube dress is made from black power mesh with a open ended brass zipper.  The skirt is 2 layers of netting with marabou trim attached.

pattern drafting

The tube dress pattern was drafted from my measurements.  I wanted it to be fitted and not a literal tube.  I measured around my chest just below my arm pits as well as my bust, waist,  hips, and knees  as well as the length of the dress.  I also measured the vertical distance between these measurements.  These measurements are then halved to make a front and back panel to the dress.  The pattern is drafted as half of this because the front of the dress has 2 panels and the back will be cut on a fold.  You will need to curve the lines between the points so that the dress sits smoothly on the body.  I did this by hand but a French curve would probably be handy to do this.  

 
Capture.JPG
 

You will also need to remove some of the width that will be taken up by the stretch of the fabric.  I'm not sure how to figure out how much to take out but I ended up removing about 6cm and I'm very happy with the fit.  You will need to make 2 pattern pieces from this - one front and one back.  This is to take into account seam allowance.  The back pattern piece will only need seam allowance added to the outer edge of the pattern as the inner edge (or the middle) will be placed on a fold.  I addded a standard 1.5cm seam allowance to this.  The front piece will need the same 1.5cm seam allowance for the outside and enough seam allowance on the inside to enable you to attach the zipper.  I did not add a seam allowance to the top as the mesh fabric does not fray and this edge was to be covered with marabou.  The seam allowance for the bottom was  1.5cm.

SEWING POWER MESH

Once you have your pattern drafted you can cut it out.  Using pins in power mesh is nearly as useless as using them in tulle so pin curl clips are the way to go! (If you haven't already, check out my post Sewing Tulle - Tips and Tricks for further details on this.)  Standard sewing isn't going to cut it with power mesh.  I used a standard straight stitch and a walking foot with foot pressue set to 1 to sew the dress together the first time and everything looked good until I tried it on.  The stitching came apart as soon as I zipped it up.  So I ended up having to sew a narrow ribbon into the seam in order to get the stitches to stay.  I suspect that using a triple strength stitch would have helped as well.  The zip I was able to easily sew in using a straight stitch, although I ended up sewing it in 3 times... The first time I sewed it in so that the pull was at the top when the zip was closed.  Now that would be fine for normal clothes but not for a dress for a stripper.  So I sewed it in again the right way down but inside out.  The pull was on the inside of the dress... Third time really is the charm. 

 
Photo & Styling by  Jacs Saffioti  | Editing by  Ruby Corvette  | HMUA by  me

Photo & Styling by Jacs Saffioti | Editing by Ruby Corvette | HMUA by me

 

The skirt

The skirt is a simple full circle skirt.  To draft the pattern you need to do a little maths.  With a typical circle skirt you need your waist measurement as well as the final length of the skirt.  For this design, the bottom of the power mesh section of the dress is essentially your waist.  So to make your circle skirt you take the 'waist' measurement minus 2 and divide it by 2 times pi (or 6.28).  This will give you the distance you need to measure from the corner of your folded fabric to create your 'waist' ('A' in the diagram below).  Then add the final length to this to get the distance you need to measure for the hem of you skirt ('B' in the diagram below).  

 
Capture.JPG
 

Take a piece of netting that will fit half a circle of a radius of B - for me this is a 2m piece of 127cm wide netting.  Fold it in half and start your measurements from the folded corner.  Anchor your tape measure at the corner and measure from that point to distance A. Pivot the tape measure so that you keep marking distance A until you have enough marks to join and make a quarter circle.  Repeat this for distance B.  No seam allowance was needed for the hem as netting does't fray but I did add 1.5cm to the top to allow for attaching it to the dress.  When you cut and unfold the netting you should have a half circle.   Cut out 2 half circles, one for the front and one for the back.  Cut the front one in half to allow for the opening.  I cut 2 layers of netting for the skirt.  You'll need 8m of netting to do this.  To construct the skirt simply sew the 3 pieces together to make one large circle then sew to the dress.  

The marabou

As marabou is expensive and must be hand sewn on which is time consuming ( see The Making of Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' - Part 2: The Gown for my experience sewing 20m of marabou onto my pink gown) you need to have an idea of how much you're going to need before you order it.  I wanted to create an effect similar to the JPG dress above in that the marabou was thicker at the top and bottom of the dress and at the hip and got gradually thinner towards the waist and knees.  My marabou supplier only has 3 thicknesses available, so I needed to make sure my placement took this into account.  Also, sewing non-stretch trim onto stretch material is a pain.  You have to stretch it as you sew and that was just not going to happen.  So I decided to just attach the marabou to the netting of the skirt.  This was a good idea because I actually haven't even managed to finish that. 

Anyway, to calculate the amount of marabou you need you will have to decide on the spacing you want.  I decided on 10cm between each stripe.  So now for more maths.  To calculate the amount of marabou needed you need to calculate the circumference of the circle the marabou will attach along.  My skirt is 70cm long. The 'waist' circumference is 82cm.  The radius of a 82cm circle is 13cm.  So for each marabou circle you need to calculate the circumference by adding the distance from the top of the skirt to the radius of the inner skirt and multiply this by 6.28 (2 times pi).  It's a lot of math but it will make it so that you can order exactly how much marabou you need.  

Example:
To calculate how much marabou you need to attach a row to the hem of the skirt:
- take the distance from the top of the skirt = 70cm
- and the radius of the 'waist' of the skirt = 13cm
- add them together to get the radius of the circle you will place the marabou along = 83cm
- Calculate the circumference of the circle by multiplying the radius by 2 times pi = 83cm x 6.28 = 521.24cm =5.2m approx.
 
Capture.JPG
 

So you can see from my calculations above I needed about 25m to have 10cm spacing of marabou.  I ended up ordering another 10m for my hat and for what I was going to put across the neckline and shoulders.  I ordered a mix of the 3 sizes available (their item numbers are 1089, 1090, and 1091 as per the diagram above).

Sewing the marabou on was not fun.  First it needs a steam as it has been sitting all squashed up in it's plastic bag for a while.  I steam the boas by passing them over the steam from a pot of boiling water with its lid open a crack.  This works well but leaves feathers all through your kitchen.  Black feathers are so much more pervasive than lighter colours and the dye is not colour fast so I ended up with black fingers.  In order to keep my lines straight as I sewed on the marabou stripes I cut a piece of cardboard into a 10cm square and used this instead of a ruler or measuring tape to quickly mark up my lines.  I more or less just tacked the marabou on because I hate hand sewing and would rather have to resew sections later than sew it on extra securely now.  My house was completely covered in black feathers but it was completely worth it.

 
Photo & Styling by  Jacs Saffioti  | Editing by  Ruby Corvette  | HMUA by  me

Photo & Styling by Jacs Saffioti | Editing by Ruby Corvette | HMUA by me

 

In the end I decided against having a marabou neckline and off-shoulder sleeve.  It was so humid when I was rehearsing for my debut that the thought of having feathers (especially non-colour fast feathers) against my skin was not the least bit appealing.  Also I didn't feel like it was needed.  It does however leave a raw edge exposed at the neck line which is a little messy.   It's not noticeable from the stage but I do need to fix it up. 

So that's it.  There's a lot of maths but it's actually a very simple design.  I'm pretty happy with what I ended up with even if it's the lite version of what I had originally planned.  I hope you've enjoyed this post as I'll be continuing this series next week  with the next costume piece, the tap pants. 

xo Margeaux

Sewing Tulle - Tips and Tricks

I have just started developing a new act with the help of BB Le Buff's School of Performance and have therefore been busily ordering and planning and training but, until recently, had done very little sewing.  I started my first costume piece on the weekend - a pair of tulle tap pants!  Sewing with tulle is not fun but I have discovered 3 tricks that make sewing with it sew much easier!

 

My gown is made of ~11m of tulle!! Photo by KTB Designs | MUAH & Styling by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

 

Sewing machine pressure dial

This is one of the parts of my machine I never paid attention to/understood what it was for.  This dial actually controls how hard the presser foot presses down on the fabric.  On my machine (a Janome My Excel 18W) the dial is on the top of the machine (number 11 below) and is set to 3 as a default.   

 

Image from the out of print manual for the Janome My Excel 18W. Number 11 is the pressure dial.

 

Setting 3 is for regular sewing.  When sewing fine fabrics you can change the setting to 1 to reduce the pressure on the fabric and prevent feeding issues.  You can also use this for when you are sewing stretch fabrics and bulky layers that you have trouble fitting under the foot. 

Image from the out of print manual for the Janome My Excel 18W.

The Walking Foot

Yeah, I'm probably not going to shut up about this anytime soon.  The walking foot, AKA my favourite foot, AKA the even feed foot, will help with feeding issues when sewing tulle and other fine fabrics.  The walking foot has feed dogs which work with the feed dogs on your machine to ensure the fabric is feed though smoothly.  This foot is also essential for sewing with stretch fabrics as well as for pattern matching.  This foot is a little pricey, but is so so so so worth it and will help you with so many different fabrics and applications.

Pin curl clips to avoid slips

This is the real reason I am writing this post.  Pinning tulle is next to impossible.  The pins will slide out so easily and excerise becomes quite pointless and annoying.  I had seen on a sewing blog somewhere someone using plastic clips instead of pins on their fabric, and I happened to have a couple of pin curl clips on my table that I had used for pastie making (I use them to hold the pastie at the overlap while the glue dries) so I decided to try using to pin together 2 pieces of tulle.  Well it worked so well I actually feel excited about it.  Not only do the pin curl clips securely hold the fabric they also have the added bonus of adding weight to the fabric which helps when you're trying to work on very light fabrics on an extremely windy day!

The clips hold the fabric much more securely than pins and reduce the slipping that you can get when you are sewing 2 layers of fine fabric together (something that can be further reduced using tips 1 and 2).  They are easy to remove as you sew and gather up when you're finished.  Plus most of us burly girls are bound to have some laying around the house.  

They are also very easy to re-position .  In the last photo I had pinned the bottom of my tap pant legs so that they were secure while I marked and trimmed them to make them shorter.  I was then able to place the off cut from one leg, with the clips still attached, on to the other pant leg and easily move the clips on the under layer to clip the top layer as well to give me a guide for cutting.  This is because the hinge point of the clip extends past the edge of the fabric. So instead of lifting the fabric to get to the pins you can just un-clip and re-clip with no issues! 

This is a bit of a quick post but will hopefully save you a lot of time and heartache when you next sew with tulle of any other similar fabric.  I look forward to showing you what I've been up to so stay tuned!

 

xo Margeaux

The Making of Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' - Part 5: Props

So after last week's diversion into podcasting, we are back with another installment in the making of my solo costume.  Today we will be discussing the making of the props.  I use 3 props in the routine, all of them are powder puffs and all of them are fluffy and pink and cute and easy to make.  

 

Photo by KTB Design | MUAH & Styling by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

 

The concept for my act and the props is simple, as the puffs get bigger the costume gets smaller!  I had a fairly clear idea of what props I wanted when I started researching them so the process was fairly straight forward.  I did however fall into that trap of most performers of wanting elaborate, beautiful, and inconveniently large props.  I blame Dita Von Teese. Anyway, I started designing a dressing table to use a a place to store my powder puffs as well as a piece of beautiful stage dressing (maybe I should actually be blaming Lily St Cyr).  I then came across this article on Pin Curl Magazine.  The line that was the nail in the coffin for the dressing table was, "If your “prop” is actually set dressing, leave it at home."  The writer then goes on to explain:

There’s a dramatic principle called “Chekhov’s Gun.” The great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov once remarked that if there is a gun onstage, it had damn well better go off at some point, or else your audience will spend the entire time fixated on it.
Likewise, if you bring a prop onstage and just leave it there, sad and alone for the duration of your number, the audience will spend all three minutes or whatever wondering what you’re going to do with it. If you don’t need the prop, lose it.

This sentiment was echoed by Queen Imogen Kelly during a workshop of her's I attended.  The problem of easy transport and set up of the prop was something a was able to design for, but the fact the prop was something I really didn't need was something I couldn't change.

As for the props I did make...  

The largest puff is also the simplest.  It is made from a long pile faux fur,  "Yeti" fur that I got from Spotlight, as well as left over pink satin from my corset.  It's pretty much a round cushion with a strip of satin that forms the typical ribbon handle of a powder puff.  I sewed this 'ribbon' into a bow of sorts to give it a little extra somethin' somethin'.  The filling is a piece of foam I trimmed down to a circle. 

 
Photo by David Gatt | Taken at the Bombshells Ball produced by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

Photo by David Gatt | Taken at the Bombshells Ball produced by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

 

The next puff is the long-handled puff.  This puff required a bit more research and design to complete.  I trawled Pintrest and Google image search for inspiration pictures and finally decided on a design.  The base of the puff is 2 pieces of stiffened felt.  I cut them out and then used one for the puff side and one for the back side.  The puff side was easy and made by cutting a circle of fur slightly bigger then the circle to account for seam allowance, snipping the seam allowance, and gluing the fur to the felt and folding over and gluing down the seam allowance to the backside.  The back was much more complicated.  

 
 

I decided on a pleated back that gathered in the centre.  To create this I needed to do some maths.  The first thing you need is the circumference of the felt circle (or circumfernce if you aren't too good at spelling - see below).  From this you can calculate the length of fabric required for the backing by some kind of maths that is beyond me or by doing up a little toile.  I decided on 1.5cm pleats so I marked a piece of paper every 1.5cm and folded it into pleats.  I then divided the length it was before with the length it was after folding into pleats to get the factor I needed to multiply the circumference by to get the total length of fabric required (without seam allowance).

So if I take a piece of paper 19.5cm long and and create 1.5cm wide pleats the resulting piece of paper will be 7.5cm long.  19.5 / 7.5 = 2.667.  The circumference of my circle was 48cm so the length of fabric I needed was 128cm, plus seam allowance.  The width of the fabric needs to be the radius of the circle plus seam allowance - 7.5cm plus 1.5cm outer seam allowance and 0.5cm inner seam allowance.  I opted for a smaller seam allowance for the inner seam to reduce the bulk of fabric after the seam is gathered.

 
puff sketch.JPG
 

Once the fabric is pleated you can straight stitch along the outer seam allowance to keep the pleats in place then stitch the ends together to make a loop.  Baste along the inner seam allowance by using the longest stitch length a the lowest tension then use this to gather the centre.  Tie off the threads to secure.  You can now attach the outer seam allowance to the felt circle by gluing it in place.  Snipping the seam allowance in places will help with this.  Before you completely glue it on, stuff the fabric with some cushion fill.  This will give take up the extra space created by the gap at the centre and give a smooth and cushioned look.  

To cover the gathering at the centre I first tried a satin covered button.  I couldn't find one of the right size so I made one using cushion fill and satin.  It didn't look as good as I had hoped so I instead decided to use a rhinestoned brooch I had.  I hand sewed it on, concealing the stitches underneath.  I was planning on using the same lace that I used on the tap pants and mesh bra to decorate the backing but instead went with a radiating pattern of crystals to go with the brooch

 
 

 For the handle I used a piece of dowel wrapped in the same grosgrain ribbon I used for my corset.  I then glued the handle to the backing with E6000 and glued the puff front to the back using a hot glue gun.  As I used the same fur for this puff as the larger puff, the pile was quite long.  I didn't really like the way it looked so I trimmed the fur a little which was kinda fun to be honest.  I even sprayed it with a little hairspray to help hold  the shape.

The final powderpuff I made was the one for my hair, although I did end up making it again so I guess it's actually the second last puff I made.  I made this one by cutting 2 circles of  and stitching them together with a piece of the hot pink satin from my corset as the ribbon.  I crystalled the ribbon before sewing it in for obvious reasons.  The resulting puff was just too puffy as I used the same long-piled Yeti fur I had used for the other 2 puffs.  I decided to give this one a  haircut too.  I started with a little trim but things quickly escalated and I ended up effectively giving the puff a buzz cut.  This was OK though, for a while.  I eventually ended up redoing the puff with marabou.  To make the new puff I sewed pieces of marabou boa to 2 circles of flat craft foam in a spiral to cover the whole circle. I then glued the ribbon into place then glued the 2 pieces together.  The puff if held in place in my hair with a duck bill hair clip that is threaded through the marabou between the stitches.  This new puff is way better and I love it!

 
 

With all the puffs made the final consideration to make was to powder or not to powder.  I asked Lila Luxx, who I developed the act with through the Headliners Act Development class at the Bombshell Burlesque Academy, how she felt about baby powder.  I'm pretty sure 'terrible' was the response.  And she's right.  Baby powder on a hard stage is an accident waiting to happen.  On a carpeted stage it might be OK, but then I am reminded of a act I saw at a Vanguard Burlesque show at the Wickham Hotel in Brisbane.  If you're ever there look up and see all the spots of baby powder still on the roof and photo frames that line the walls.  I was in the front row for the show  where Jess Whoo, Australia's first drag model, proceeded to fling baby powder everywhere.  I ended up covered head to toe in powder.  I turned to Lila, wiping the powder from my face and said, "I now understand..." *

 

So ends the props section of the series.  Next post will be the last in the series and will cover the Swarovski encrusted pasties and any other little tidbits I've missed

 

xo Margeaux  

 

*This is by no means intended as a dig at Jess Whoo, whose act was amazing.

The Making of Lovin', Touchin', Squeezing - Part 4: The Mesh Bra

Welcome back!  Today's post is about the making of the mesh bra.  Mesh bras were a common and often necessary part of the costumes of the dancers of the Golden Age of burlesque.  They are simple in design and can be simple to make, if you have the right tools for the job.

 

Photo by Greg Elkenhans | Taken at the Bombshells Ball produced by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy.

 

I first learnt to make mesh bras in a class with Coppelia Jane at a burlesque costuming class held at the Bombshell Burlesque Academy.  Patterning the cups is fairly simple with only a few measurements required.  As you can see in the drawing below, you measure the distance under the breast that you want to cover as well as the distance from where you want the top of the triangle to start to the centre of the first measurement.  These  2 measurements are used to make a triangle which forms your bra cup.  Start by folding a piece of paper in half then marking the distance you measured from top to bottom on the fold.  Then mark half the distance across the bottom that you measured.  After cutting out you can create a dart at the centre bottom to improve the fit, although this isn't really necessary if your using a fabric with 4-way stretch.  Adding this dart will decrease the coverage across the bottom of the breast as well as change the shape of the bottom of the cup (see below), so keep this in mind.

 
Cup pattern draftin process including optional dart and resulting change in cup shape.

Cup pattern draftin process including optional dart and resulting change in cup shape.

 

The materials I used to make my bra were stretch mesh and fold over elastic (FOE).  The best place I have found for stretch mesh is Glitter and Dance.  Thy have a huge range of colours available and finishes and will send you  samples for a fee of 20 cents, which you can get back when you make a purchase.  I ordered samples of 4 of  the different pinks available and ended up going with the bubblegum pink.  FOE is plentiful on eBay and is usually sold as DIY hairbands.  The seller I bought from has 42 colours available and free postage.  I got the light pink.  

Sewing the bra was extremely easy.  This partly because of the simple design and partly because of my new favourite thing - the walking foot.  To assemble the bra you simply need to measure the length of elastic you need to both edge the cups and create the straps then pin the cup mesh inside the folded over elastic.  Sew using a good quality polyester thread and the magical walking foot.  A walking foot is a sewing machine foot with feed dogs.  This means that fabric is being feed through by 2 sets of feed dogs - the ones on your sewing machine and the ones on the foot - and therefore goes through smoothly without stretching.  This results in a trouble free sewing experience as well as professional looking stitching.

 

A sample of the super  neat and professional results of sewing fold over elastic and stretch mesh with a walking foot.

 

You can easily purchase a walking foot online or from most sewing stores.  They usually cost around $40-50 AUD but you can get one in a 15 foot kit from Spotlight for $59 AUD.  They are more or less universal however you can be slightly limited in needle position if the foot doesn't fit your machine perfectly.  This is because the opening in the actual foot that the needle goes through may not line up with your needle for all positions and you therefore may not be able to have as wide a zigzag stitch as you want. 

One thing to consider is where your closure is going to be.  This will be dependent on your choreography as well as other considerations.  I needed to have closures at the back to fit with my choreography but many mesh bras were front opening.  I used 2 bikini clips on my bra, one at the back and one at the neck.  These aren't the easiest to open one handed and got stuck in my hair twice on stage, so I swapped them for magnetic snaps.  The magnetic snaps are actually a bit stronger than I would like so I am still on the hunt for the perfect closure.  

 
Photo taken by Cameron Obscura | Taken at Naked Ostrich Burlesque

Photo taken by Cameron Obscura | Taken at Naked Ostrich Burlesque

 

The final touch is the embellishments.  Traditionally, mesh bras had a pastie or applique attached to cover the nipple.  Because I wear pasties underneath that have very large tassels covering the nipple area alone was not enough as the tassel would still be visible.  I decided then to cover most of the cup with pieces of the same lace I used for the yoke of the tap pants.  I hand sewed the lace on in a design I mirrored on each cup.  I then glued on rose and light rose Swarovski crystals as well as some crystal AB as I did on the tap pants.  

Overall I am pretty happy with the result.  The walking foot made the stitching look so good and the quality of the mesh and elastic is great.  I would love to make another mesh bra that is closer in design to the bras of the Golden Age, but I just need to get a good look at one.  I'm really unsure as to what they used for the straps so if you happen to know what it was or a similar product I can use please let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading and I hope you join me again next week!

 

xo Margeaux

The Making of Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' - Part 3: Tap Pants

Welcome to the next installment of  the Making of Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'.  In this post we discuss the making of the tap pants.  If you haven't read part 1 where we discuss the making of the corset or part 2 which focuses on the making of the gown you should stop immediately and go back and read them now (or later, whatever, I'm not the boss of you).  

 

Photo by KTB. MUAH & Styling by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy.

 

I fell in love with the tap pants Evie Libertine uses in her Navy Beat act.  The vintage look and the ease of removal were exactly what I wanted for my act.  I started researching tap pants and came across a surprisingly large number of patterns available on Etsy.  I went with a pattern from Mrs Depew Vintage which turned out to be a great thing because of the sew-along tutorial that is available on her blog.  This blog post is very detailed with 5 posts dedicated to the tap pants alone. 

 

The Pauline bra and tap pants pattern from Mrs Depew Vintage (https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/Mrsdepew

 

The pattern is a pdf that you download and print.  This is great because you get it straight away, pay less then you do for a paper pattern, and don't pay postage.  The down side is that you have to print it out as several A4 sheets that you then have to tape together then cut out, which really isn't that big a deal.  Because it is one size though you do have to resize the pattern to fit.  This is easy though and explained in detail in one of the blog posts.  If you are wanting details on the construction of the tap pants head over to Anna Depew's blog: A Few Threads Loose

This was probably the most complicated piece I made for my costume.  The reason is that it it the most structured piece I made.  Other than resizing the pattern I made quite a few alterations.  There is a V-shaped opening at the waist in the pattern which serves as the actual opening for the tap pants (see below).  As with most vintage sewing patterns, a highish level of prior sewing knowledge is assumed and therefore there is no pattern for the placket for this opening.  Anna herself advises against using the v-shaped opening and instead advises to simply create  a new opening by drawing a straight line in the center of the v.  Doing this will add 2.5" to the waistline and reduce the complexity of the placket required.  

A section of the pattern showing the v-shaped opening  (between 6 and 7) and yoke (under 11).

I wanted  to maintain a flared shape to the pants so I opted to keep the opening as is.  Also, because I was making the pants tear away the opening was actually going to be extended the whole way through (making the piece 2 individual pieces) so the placket would be fairly simple anyway.  The plackets I made were simply 2 overlapping strips with snap tape sewn on each side.  I sewed the snap tape on to the plackets before I folded and sewed them onto the pants.  This ensured that there was no stitching visible from the outside of the placket.  

The yoke piece is drafted  slightly longer then the pants front it attaches to in order to accommodate the placket.  I found that I had to extend it a fair bit more for the plackets I used.  I did a complete toile of my altered pattern before I started cutting my final fabric, which is party satin from Lincraft.  I chose this fabric because although it is a bit heavy for something like this it was the right colour and finish.  The yoke is made from 2 pieces of the satin with the top one reinforced with a medium to heavy fusible interfacing.  I attached the lace appliques to the yoke before I sewed it onto the pants.  This meant the stitching from attaching the lace was hidden behind a second layer which acts as a facing.  Attaching the lace to the yoke before sewing it had another advantage.  Anyone who has discussed the topic with me before knows my disdain for hand sewing.  Having the yoke unattached meant I could easily machine sew the lace on then hide the mess of crisscrossing stitching behind a facing.

The other alteration I made to the pattern was in the length.  I wanted the pants to be tantalisingly short and show maybe the slightest hint of cheek.  This was obviously limited by the gusset and required the hem be slightly angled.  To add to the flirty hem line I finished them off with a rolled hem using my overlocker.  Fortunately, the white thread I had for my over locker was fine to use and blended in with the pink fabric.   And because I cut the pattern on the bias, another alteration I made, the hem ended up being a wavy "lettuce" hem.  The final touch was to add some crystals in rose, light rose, and crystal AB.

 

Photo by KTB. MUAH & Styling by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy.

 

Overall I'm fairly happy with the tap pants.  They're hella cute and come off like a dream.  I've found that leaving the bottom 2 snaps undone helps with a smooth removal and adds to the cute look of the shorts.  However, I was expecting them to flare more and give more of a circle skirt shape like in the picture.  I thought cutting them on the bias might help the shape but it didn't really make a difference.  For my next pair (for which I have started drafting the pattern for!) I am instead going to base the pattern of a half-circle culotte pattern I found.  That way they will end up looking a lot more like the drawing.  

I recommend looking at the extensive pattern range available on Mrs Depew's Vintage on Etsy and checking out the blog as well.  When it comes to using vintage patterns just be aware that having to resize them is likely and that things like plackets and facings will not be included.  It is better to have a bit of sewing and patterning knowledge before you take one of them on.

 Thanks for reading!  This post is a little more technical then my previous ones but hopefully enjoyable none the less.  Next week we will move onto part 4 which covers the  making of the triangle bra.  Also check out the bonus post to this series published on the Bombshell Burlesque Academy and Events blog.  It's all about the lessons I learnt through the making of this costume.  And while you're there check out the other posts from the inspiring teachers and students of Bombshell Burlesque!

xo Margeaux

The Making of Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' - Part 2: The Gown

This is part 2 of my 6 part series on the making of my costume for my debut solo.  If you missed part 1 where I discussed my inspiration and concept as well as the construction of the corset, click here.  In part 2 I will discuss how I made my most treasured costume piece, the marabou trimmed gown.

 
Photo by KTB | HMUA & Styling by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

Photo by KTB | HMUA & Styling by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

 

As a person passionate about costuming I really wanted to make my own dressing gown.  The Catherine D’Lish gowns are beautiful but they are expensive and take all the fun out of making something yourself.  I researched gowns and robes and peignoirs but was unable to find any patterns that fit with what I wanted.  I decided that I would have to draft the pattern myself.  I am not trained in pattern making or dress making on anything beyond high school home economics, so this was not something that I had experience in.  In my inexperience I decided that I could achieve a gown with the fullness and volume I wanted by simply making a full circle skirt that fit around my neck.  It would of course need some structure around the shoulders and to be longer in the back so I conceived the basic pattern below.  I then made 1:10 toile of the pattern to check it it worked which resulted in the cutest little doll-sized gown.

 
Sketch 2.JPG
 

I started by drafting the pattern using pieces of butcher’s paper sticky taped together on my lounge room floor.  This was to prove too exciting a prospect to my normally gentle cat who attacked the paper several times leaving rips and claw holes all over it.  As anyone who has made a full circle skirt will know, this takes ~a lot~ of fabric.  My pattern pieces ended up very large and all up I ended up using about 10 m for stretch tulle to complete the gown.  I obviously wanted a full length gown but was limited by the width of the fabric.  This particular fabric is 156 cm wide (I used the polyester stretch tulle from Spotlight in pale pink).  I started by going with this as my gown length but after trying it on with the corset on top (which shortens the gown significantly) I realised that this was not going to do.  

The gown pieces were sewn together and a 56 cm gap was left open for the sleeves.  Figuring out the length required for the sleeve opening was a bit of trial and error and ended up being a lot more than anticipated.  I had originally thought 25.5 cm would be enough.  The sleeves themselves are half circles with a diameter based on the desired length.  I chose an elbow length sleeve which is practical yet visually pleasing.

 
sketch.JPG
 

During the design process I was hesitant to add an extra tier to the gown as I felt it would be too similar to the popular Catherine D’Lish gowns.  The fabric width however necessitated this.  I did some maths to calculate the length of the bottom hem I needed to attach the tier to then multiplied this by the amount of gathering I wanted (I went with 1.5 x gathering, meaning a 1.5 m length would be gathered down to 1 m).

So…

The outer circumference of the 2 half-circles I used to construct the gown was 3.9 m and 4.5m

Multiplied by 1.5 that gave me a total length of 12.7 m

The width of the fabric is 1.56 m and the desired length of the tier is 0.35 m

So I cut 9 strips of fabric 0.35 m long to make the lower tier.  No here’s where things got interesting (read: a little silly and pretty frustrating).  I sewed each of the pieces together to make one long piece which I then sewed with 2 rows of basting stitch and gathered by hand.  I did buy a ruffler foot and a gathering foot with the intention of using them to do this but it wasn’t immediately easy to use the ruffler foot to I decided to just gather with the basting stitch.  So I gathered the tulle together into this behemoth of fabric you see below.

I then started to loosen the gather in order to fit it to the bottom of the gown.  I didn’t get very far along before thread snapped… All the gathering ungathered and I almost cried.  So, after I gathered myself, I then I decided to take apart the long piece of fabric I had just sewn together and deal with the pieces individually.  I didn’t bother to even try to unpick the stitching because this is next to impossible with tulle so I just cut along the seam.  I then basted and gathered them individually.  I gathered each piece so that it was 1 m long then attached it individually to the bottom of the gown.  I overlapped the pieces slightly (about 1 cm or so) but they are not attached along the sides otherwise.  With the volume of the skirt and the gathering it’s next to impossible to see that they are not attached along the edges.

 
Photo by Greg Elkenhans. Taken at the Bombshells Ball produced by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

Photo by Greg Elkenhans. Taken at the Bombshells Ball produced by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

 

With the gown completed it was time for the trim.  I ordered 20m of the medium marabou from Photios Bros in light pink.

Sidebar: Photios Bros has great prices and range and wonderful customer service.  And while you can view their range online you will need to call them, they don’t do online sales.

If I ever meet Catherine D’Lish I will ask her how she attaches the marabou to her gowns.  The only method I could find other than hand sewing was to use a wide zigzag stitch over the core and then pull out all the feathers that are caught in the thread and lying flat.  This seemed like it would take as long as hand would and was likely to result in tulle and feathers getting caught in feed dogs and under the needle plate so I opted for hand sewing.  I took a day off work and sat and sewed from 8am to 10pm only taking breaks to eat and go to the doctor for my medical certificate (I chucked a sickie).  I got most of it done that day while watching Mommie Dearest, Gypsy, and both volumes of Nymphomaniac.  I needed another 6 hours to complete all the hand sewing.  I then used left over tulle and marabou to make a simple belt with pompom ends. And, et voila, it was finished!

 
Photo by Cameron  Obscura | Taken at Naked Ostrich Burlesque

Photo by Cameron  Obscura | Taken at Naked Ostrich Burlesque

 

All up I spent over 24 hours making it and over $150 on materials so you can see why these gowns are so damn expensive.  I am extremely happy with the outcome however I’m not sure I’d make one again unless I can figure out a faster way to attach the marabou.  If you have any tips I'd love to hear from you in the comments section!

Please come back next week to read the next installment which focuses on the tap pants.

xo Margeaux

The Making of Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin' - Part 1

Being an avid fan of burlesque and costuming, I am always delighted to read anything on the topic.  I am especially delighted when someone goes into details of how they achieve their finished costume projects.  In the spirit of this I am going to show you how I made my costume for my debut act - Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.  As this involves many different pieces it will be split into a 6 part series.  For part 1 we will focus on the act inspiration and concept as well as the construction of the corset.  

 
Photo by Greg Elkenhans | Taken at the Bombshells Ball produced by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

Photo by Greg Elkenhans | Taken at the Bombshells Ball produced by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

 

Inspiration

For me the act starts with the music.  The music for this act (Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ by Journey) may not seem like it lends itself to a pink boudoir theme, but that’s exactly what I imagined when I listened to the song.  My first inspirational image came courtesy of the mega babe Rebekah La Recherche’s Instagram feed.  The photo below was taken by Sherbet Birdie and really encapsulated all I wanted for my act.  

Sidebar: I keep all my inspiration and any tips I find in ~secret~ Pintrest boards so that I can easily go back to them wherever I am.

Concept

As this was my debut solo act I wanted to keep things simple.  I decided to go with a classic-themed boudoir style act with powder puffs.  Pink was the only choice.  For the costume I wanted a luxurious boudoir set with a dressing gown and underwear set.  I decided on tap pants because of the vintage style and ease of removal.  I went with a triangle bra for this reason as well.  As far a props, I wanted to start with a small powder puff and build up to an over-sized puff for the finale.

 

Sidebar: I now understand how wrong I was about equating classic with simple.  Classic burlesque is one of the hardest things to do well.  Also, burlesque in the Golden Age wasn’t just about gowns and boas, there was a lot of incredibly creative acts utilising many and varied props (but that’s another story altogether).

The Corset

 
Photo by KTB Design | HMUA & Styling by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

Photo by KTB Design | HMUA & Styling by the Bombshell Burlesque Academy

 

I have made a few corsets.  They’re not particularly hard to make but they are incredibly difficult to perfect.  I based this corset off a pattern I made in a Bombshell Burlesque Academy course taught by the amazing burlesque costumier and icon, Coppelia Jane.  It was the first corset I ever made and still the best.  The pattern was drafted by wrapping my body in cling wrap then duct tape.  The duct tape was wrapped tightly to mimic the reduction required in the final corset.  The duct tape ‘corset’ was then marked at the centre back and centre front and divided into 12 equally -sized panels.  It was then cut off and the panels cut out and transferred to paper.  It was constructed of 2 layers, an outer satin layer strengthened with heavy fusible interfacing and a drill cotton lining, and internal boning channels. 

 My first attempt to make the corset for this costume was a bit of a disaster.  I chose a fairly light-weight satin as the outer layer and a beautiful printed rayon as the lining.  The thing about corsets is that they require a fabric of a certain weight to work.  Even though I used heavy fusible interfacing on both layers (I tried the non-fusible kind but it just wouldn’t sit flat) I couldn't get the 2 layers to match when I stitched them together.  I learnt that for this type of corset, with internal boning channels, you need to use fabric of a specific weight.  There is a concept called turn-of-cloth which basically means the more layers you have the wider the outer layer needs to be to account for this extra bulk.  Each fabric has it's own turn-of-cloth and I think that the fabrics I chose had such a difference between them that they couldn't work together without some extra finesse. One way of finessing the fabric is roll-pinning (were you drape the fabric over a rounded surface like a dress form or tailors ham then pin the fabric) but this is something that I haven't yet attempted.

The easiest way to fix the corset was to start again.  I purchased the same fabric I used in my original corset - party satin and drill cotton from Lincraft.  Party satin is surprisingly heavy weight for a cheap satin and is available in many colours.  I redid the corset in these fabrics and unsurprisingly they went together much easier.  I am however not entirely happy with the finished product.  The busk is too short, which was due to me reusing a busk from another failed corset of a different length.  This made the top and bottom gape open in an unflattering way (see photo below). 

 

Photo by Cameron Obscura | Taken at Naked Ostrich Burlesque

 

I also had a lot of trouble with the boning slipping off it's caps, busting out of the channels, and stabbing me.  I also mysteriously decided to use spiral steel boning in the channels where there was the most reduction and straight steel in the others.  This resulted in a ~very~ strange shape.  I also somehow missed putting boning in the same channel on both sides of the corset and then put 2 pieces of boning in another 2 corresponding channels.  How I managed to do this I do not know.  I have since shortened the corset to match the length of the busk and replaced all the boning with straight steel boning.  I also recapped the bones with a more generous amount of electrical tape.

 
The corset as it looks now  and the mystery of the missing boning.

The corset as it looks now  and the mystery of the missing boning.

 

These changes have vastly improved the corset, however I am still not entirely happy with it.  I feel like it doesn't quite reduce evenly across my body.  I have put this down to fabric selection.  While the fabric I used is a heavy satin without stretch I suspect that the satin I used in the first version of this corset was either not party satin or the black party satin is simply heavier.  I have gone back and checked the leftover pieces of fabric and there is definitely a difference in their weights.  There was a large amount of time between the 2 purchases so quality could have changed during that time.  Any how, I am considering remaking the corset or adding additional boning to improve the overall shape.

Finally, the boning has again slipped it's casing again and made it's way through the fabric.  I have ordered some steel tips from Sew Curvy (where I also bought the incredibly well colour-matched and high quality ribbon for the corset lacing) which I will be replacing the tape with.  I also ordered the Sophia corset kit which I intend on making in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned for the blog post!

So there you have it! Corset making can be challenging but is something that most people can do.  If you can sew a straight line you can sew a corset. Just make sure you have the right materials for the job and you are wearing your patient pants! 

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Making of Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'  - The Gown.

xo Margeaux