THE BULK OF COSTUME TAKE-OUT BUSINESS
The bulk of Costume Take-Out's business are rentals for classical costumes such as Pioneer--4th grade, Colonial America--5th grade, Ancient Worlds (Greek, Roman & Egyptian)-6th grade, Medieval--7th grade and Renaissance--8th grade. These are part of California Education Standards for areas of learning for each respective grade.
I love making these costumes. I never get bored even though I have the Pioneer and Colonial Costumes on auto-pilot. What makes them still exciting to create, is the endless options of fabrics, prints, ribbons, laces, buttons, etc. And when I am autopilot, I get the opportunity to refine my technique--for me, super important since I am self-taught.
REQUESTS FOR 'OTHER" COSTUMES
However, I can't grow as a costume designer if I don't challenge my imagination and skill set. So when I get unique requests for Wax Museum or other special learning days at school, I jump at the occasion!
And a request for a Statue of Liberty costume for a 1st grader was a refreshing opportunity.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
My first step in creating a new category of costume for my inventory is doing a Pinterest search and creating a board of pins that appeal most to me.
If you want to check out my board for S.O.L. click here:
On this board, I saved Pins of the actual Statue of Liberty and costumes that appealed to me for many reasons, the coloring, the creativity, the crown, or the folding/draping of the gown.
Really the best inspiration for the costume is Lady Liberty herself!
BUILDING A REPUTATION OF QUALITY COSTUMES
So do I just copy costumes I see on Pinterest?
I use Pinterest images as inspiration to create my own original concepts. In the case of S.O.L., the gown is technically really simple. Anyone can create a S.O.L. gown with limited sewing experience and a light blue, green, or grey sheet.
But growing Costume Take-Out with a reputation of quality costumes which are better in quality and less expensive to rent rather than buying an 'out-of-the-bag' Halloween costumes or a mass-produced Amazon quickie, sheets are not good enough for a rental. As a DIY--yes! Go for it! For me, I had to step it up a notch.
A sure way to elevate a costume feel is through fabric finish and weight.
As I looked through my fabric inventory, teeming with items purchased from thrift stores, estate sales, and sales at Goodwill, months or even years ago, I found a twin bed-skirt begging for an up-cycle.
The bed skirt fabric had a metallic finish similar to the copper patina of a grey-ish, blue-ish, green-ish color of S.O.L.. Amazingly perfect for the gown!
I removed three long rectangular strips from the stiff white under-mattress fabric.
A quick side: I never toss that under-mattress fabric. I hold onto it and use it to line my pioneer bonnets.
The fabric coloring was perfect. You can't see it well here since my skills as photographer are lacking due to rudimentary iPhone photography experience...and yes, you are correct--probably should ask my 15 year old to teach me a thing or two ; )
Content with the spot-on, patina coloring and shimmer, I draped the fabric on my mannequin and realized I did not have enough for a shoulder drape...ugh!
BACK TO FABRIC INVENTORY--A SLINKY GUNNE SAX DRESS?
Bummer. I thought I had found serendipity with that dang twin bed-skirt. I reevaluated my options which brought me back to solid grey satins, and it could have been fine, but just not right. I did not want a smooth shine. I wanted a hammered metal shine.
As a costume designer, I have copious fabric resources...not just from bolts or rolls. Sometimes I'll purchase an outdated bridesmaid dress, evening dress, or even prom dress to re-purpose into something else. My selections--now fined tunned, having learned over the past 2 years-- are based on the color, quality, and on the amount of fabric.
Once in a while, I buy something purely out of impulse like a slinky Gunne Sax dress. Well, the dress did not meet one of my shopping criteria's--'enough fabric'. So I shifted dress from place to place over the past 2 years wondering how the heck I would use it.
And do you know what? The inside of the dress was the exact same patina color as the bed-skirt! You can see below the outside of the dress being bronze. Don't even ask how I figured that all out. I think I just caught the inside color at the corner of my eye when I put it under an Ott light. I mean, really what are the chances that there's also shimmer too? Costume Kismet!
For a brief moment I thought about using the dress as the base of the S.O.L. gown, but problem was the low cut back. Even though the tube dress was long enough to pull up to shoulders for a 1st grade girl to cover the back, I wouldn't have enough fabric for the sleeves.
And no, a size 11 is not a true size 11--even in juniors. This dress is a tight, tight size 4.
Shifting back to the bed-skirt...I decided that as my gown base and Gunne Sax fabric to use as a shoulder drape.
The plan was locked in....finally...now onto sewing : )
SEWING THE GOWN--THE EASIEST PART
I took 2 of the long rectangular pieces to make a 3 panel tube dress...easy...just straight sewing down seams.
The other piece was sewn onto the top of the tube horizontally.
A quick side: this kind of sewing is not technical at all...anyone can do this with a basic stitch on a sewing machine. I actually don't get to do this simple sewing ever--so this was a nice break for me.
NEED TO IMPROVE MY PHOTOGRAPHY GAME
Check back with me in a couple of years to see if my blogging improves! HAHAHAHA! I am missing the step where you can see what the gown looks like before I create the drape. But thankfully you don't need to be too creative to imagine a t-shape dress on a mannequin.
So let's fast forward really fast......
I cut the Gunne Sax Dress into the longest 2 strips I could get out of it.
One strip I tied in the middle to create the knot at the shoulder. The other strip from the Gunne Sax dress, I sewed into an infinity loop, ruched at the shoulder.
I sewed the ruched loop down first, then attached the 2nd loop with the knot down on top of that to created the drape.....close-up below picture. (Also, you can see how closely the color matched to the bed skirt fabric.)
A LESSON LEARNED--TRADE-OFFS
So I loved how the Gunne Sax fabric was heavy and draped. I did not love how the bed-skirt fabric was thin, stiff and did not drape. This gown could have been amazing if it was made of only the Gunne Sax dress fabric.
I am only on my 3rd year of costume design with no formal training. I am learning all about different fabrics and their limitations.
The trade-off here was having the right color and muted sheen, but not the right fabric weight for the dress.
I learned how to compensate for the lack of weight in the fabric by ruching---gathering fabric in small amounts to create folds or draping elsewhere in a garment.
The picture below is pre-ruching of the right shoulder...
placing pins to get the folds just right...
Now we're talking! Super cool! Little placements of fabric in one small corner yields large folds elsewhere...I'm learning : )
And the gown is DONE!!!!
MY 'CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT'
Without doubt, the show stopper of this costume is the crown!
After studying my Pinterest board and looking at the crowns in more detail, I saw that the key elements in that crown are 7 points and the windows.
So unfortunately, nothing on Pinterest really was helpful in creation of my crown. As darling as the paper plate crowns are for kiddos to make themselves, I cannot provide that as a professional costume designer. Nor would foam crowns sold at every corner in NYC could substitute for my aesthetic.
I needed to make something that felt solid and gave off wow factor. Most importantly, the crown had to match the gown, so I had to use what little bed-skirt fabric I had left. What could I use for the base? I am big on up-cycling and re-cycling if you haven't noticed ; )
FINDING THINGS TO USE FOR DIY AT HOME
After a night of thinking--and I can't go to sleep before I resolve the next step of a costume--it came to me! An oversized Izod sun visor I bought a few years ago and never wore.
My thinking was to be able to wear the crown like a headband.
Could a traditional visor work? Probably could. But then it would need to be tightened around the back of the head at the nape of the neck--kinda kludgy. Nah, back to Izod visor--more elegant of a solution
Because the bed-skirt fabric that would be sewn onto the visor was somewhat see-through, I had to attach lining fabric to the headband piece to neutralize the black and white contrast.
GIVE THAT NAIL A TRIM!
Looking at the brim, I could see the shape was not desirable because if I attached the points, I would not have that uniform crest you see in the crown photos.
I trimmed it like a fingernail ; )
By trimming the brim, I saw I had 3 layers to attach my points to! Sometimes in costume making you receive a 'gimme', and this was my day : )
But what kind of material could I use? The obvious first idea is always cardboard, but it is subject to bending. I needed something else that was easy to cut and held up if pressed down upon.
Noodling for a bit led me to come up with the idea of using an old plastic place mat I did not use anymore.
Before cutting into a precious resource, I practiced cutting my ideal shape from cardboard, and when I had what I wanted, I used it to trace out my plastic points.
How to attach those points? I held them in place with tight alligator clips and sewed them straight in with my sewing machine. This is one of those times when I manually cranked my sewing machine wheel because if I used the petal and go to fast, the needle would break. I couldn't sew it by hand because there was interior brim plastic, 2 layers of fabric and now plastic points I inserted. By going in manually with the machine--by turning the wheel by hand--I got the power of the machine to pierce all layers and get a nice tight stitch to hold it all in place.
Now time to start making things look pretty. Another technical challenge for me was to make fabric points to place over each plastic point.
After I massaged the fabric into place, it looked good.
For now, looks a little loosey-goosey, but things are about to clean-up and look sharp.
SEQUINS--PROCEED WITH CAUTION!
I needed to make the base for the windows of the crown.
I don't get to use sequins very often in my costuming because let's face it, sequins can cheapen the look of a costume instantaneously if not used judiciously. However, as a costumer, I have not escaped gathering quite the collection of sequins--my favorite is vintage sequins strips.
You can't see it, but in my basket is a wide roll of black sequin. What better use of black sequins would I have than to use it for this crown! The width of the black sequin was exactly the width of the base of the crown--that's costume KISMET!
Things started to look good! Admittedly, I was nervous about how I was going to get a professional costume look out of this endeavor.
I hot-glued the sequins down--the sequin was elastic base so that helped me work the curved shape.
My leftover fabric was dwindling. I needed enough fabric to create the outline of the windows. Yes, that's how little I had leftover--stressing out over window frames.
At this point, it was necessary to sew the finish fabric onto the headband so I could clean up the back of the crown.
I sewed a tube of the finish fabric onto the headband itself. Now I needed to finish the back of the crown and its exposed elements. I attached a panel of fabric to the crown points and the fabric of the headband.
FORGIVING MYSELF--TIM GUNN, PROJECT RUNWAY, 'SAVE'
DEFINITELY not my best finish work. I was in a hurry to get it done. The back was a challenge because of all the 3 dimensional curves--horizontally and vertically, and the additional hump in the back.
I could have seam-ripped it all out and started again, but I was in a hurry to get it done. Seam-ripping is an amazing technique with a nice sharp fresh seam ripper. But I did not want to risk cutting the fabric and not having enough to finish the back. So I had to use my Project Runway, Tim Gunn 'Save' and let this be the one time I did not feel great about a result.
My priority needed to shift to how it looked in front, not in the back. And I can accomplish that!
For a clean border to finish where the sequins and window joints met the points, I hot glued a tube of fabric. Looks a little uneven here, but I was able to hand manipulate the tube fabric later to get a more even edge.
The last step was attaching another tube of fabric to the headband. And it was done!
The finished look was amazing! The feel was luxurious and felt like a quality costume piece--something I was proud to rent out. And the small infusions of sequins? genius! picked up a little sun and gave off tasteful glints!
THE FINISHED LOOK--A HAPPY CUSTOMER
As you can see below, the proportions on the crown worked out perfectly! Thankfully enough fabric for a crown and gown. And truth be known, I have a little extra fabric to make that torch ; )
A quick side: I did not make a torch only because I have to stick to my business plan to only provide wearable parts of costume--ie clothing and hats--no wigs, shoes or props--I would run out of room in my home-based storage really fast and have no room for the wearable costume parts.