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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.