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