Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ruby Slippers Prototype - Sequins

I took advantage of my day off this week and sequined my prototype ruby slippers.  This wasn't really on my costume schedule so to speak, but I've had most of the supplies for a while now and I've been eager to start it (which is why this is up before the post on the first step of Sally Jupiter, which was actually finished first).  This was my first time working with sequins in any way, and the first time I had used a hot glue gun so extensively.

As always, I started doing nothing but research on the originals, then comparing them to what replicas - wearable or not, available for sale or personal projects - were out there and what I thought I could manage.  I was lucky enough to find a photo of the originals on display that included in the shot part of the display notice, which details how and with what materials the originals were made.  I don't know which display it was from, and the photo itself was posted nondescriptly on tumblr.  Another great source was Schrum Studios, which sells very authentic-looking and high-quality replica supplies (if I ever make a screen-accurate pair for display and really put some money into it, I'll probably use their supplies).  Paraphrased in bits and pieces from both sources: The original shoes were plain white silk pumps from Innes Shoe Co. in Los Angeles which were custom-dyed red.  The sequins were burgundy, darker than "normal" or most used today so they would appear the right color on film after the Technicolor process (to my understanding, Technicolor lightened certain colors, so items would have to be made in just the right too-dark shade so they would show up as truly desired on film).  Unlike most (if not all replicas), rather than being applied directly onto the shoe, the sequins were instead sewn onto an overlay pattern, which was then sewn onto the shoe.  The bows were made from red leather, covered with red organza beaded with square red glass "jewels," red bugle beads, and silver-set red rhinestones (called, more formally, rose montees).

For my replicas, I wanted the general shoe shape to be right, the sequin layout to be similar, the finished product to be comfortably wearable and cheaper and more accurate than at least most commercially-available replicas.  Basically, I wanted the right balance of budget to make them look better but remain cheaper than commercial options, but not put in so much time or money that it would cut into my other projects (this being a largely secondary endeavor) or that I'd be afraid to wear and potentially damage them.  Maybe a tall order, but it worked out.

The hot glue gun I was going to borrow never materialized for various reasons so I finally broke down and bought one.  It's a Surebonder high temperature 40 watt gun that uses the standard .44" glue sticks.
It was under $10, and I lucked out finding some cheap loose-in-a-bin 10" sticks which I stored up on for future projects.  So despite my initial hesitation, I don't feel so bad about dropping the cash for it, because I figure the more I get into diverse costuming, the more handy it'll be to have a glue gun on hand (I've already used it for another small project - Sally Jupiter's earrings - since).

The sequins are Wrights 1/4" in plain red (not the rainbow-y sparkly red).
I bought whatever was remaining on the one spool the craft store had, which was I think around 20 yards on a 24-yard spool.  Whatever length I had, I ended up with a little extra after completely covering and trimming both shoes plus discarding a few sections due to mistakes.  The two tutorials I was loosely going by each used about 20 meters total.

For the shoes themselves, I'd been looking for something that was similar in shape to the originals, because I wanted to get mine looking as accurate for cheap as I could manage.  To look the part, they needed to have a slightly pointed but rounded toe, a medium-height curved heel like a cross between a Cuban heel and French heel, and a vamp/toeline that crossed roughly the center of the top of the foot.  For personal reasons, I also preferred something with a non-slip sole, and I needed a slightly larger size than I usually wear for heels in order to fit into them while wearing socks.  Pretty strict requirements, at least for my budget and my store options.  Luckily, that style of shoe has been popular for businesswomen and such in past years, so there tend to be pairs floating around the thrift stores and yard sales here if one looks regularly.  The shoes I finally found are just some plain pleather pumps I got at the thrift store.
The toe and heel aren't perfectly accurate but are still better than I anticipated, the vamp/toeline placement feels good for my feet, the soles are nicely rubberized and haven't slipped on anything yet (knock on wood), and I was lucky they were a size 8.5 (about one to one-half size too big, perfect for any socks).  As a bonus, the surface material was slightly texturized which I thought might help the glue adhere, and the insoles were padded plus there were also added cushion on the heel on the inside.

The tutorials I was following and a lot of the other handmade replicas I looked at glued the sequins around the shoe horizontally, which seems and maybe is easier than what I ended up doing.  But looking at the originals, there is a diagonal to the sequins, with the strings running vertically on an angle.  Despite my better judgement, I ended up doing something like that instead.  Luckily, there are a number of replicas out there using that same layout, so while I didn't have step-by-step directions with that process, I had plenty of finished-product reference photos.

I started several days prior by temporarily pinning some sequins to one shoe so I'd have an idea of what angles to glue them at and what gluing pattern to use - whether I wanted to do each side separately, or the toe separate from the sides, where I would start and finish, etc.  I ended up deciding on gluing each full side separately, starting at the toe and ending above the heel.  The heel would also be glued separately from the rest of the shoe, and each side of the heel would be glued separately as well.  I didn't leave anything pinned - all the pins came out and sequins came off days before I started gluing.  I also drew a line down the center of both the toe and heel to get an idea of where my borders for each side were.  (I didn't get any photos of this step, as I was making it up as I went along.)

When I got down to gluing, I started with one sequin at the very tip of the toe, and then looped the string up to the next row, then looped the string down for the next row.  Like so:

On the first side of the first shoe I kept an organized pattern of how many sequins I was laying down in each row (1, skip 2, then 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, etc.) but when I started on the second side, I realized the point of the shoe wasn't completely symmetrical (it tilted just slightly in one direction, making one side "shorter" to cover than the other) so I had to change the number of sequins per row.  After that on the second shoe I just put down as many sequins as needed to reach the center line without any numerical pattern.  I just continued that all up the side of the shoe, and did the same on the other side and on both sides of the other shoe.
This next part is a little complicated, because I was making it up on the fly in a moment of panic after realizing at the last minute I hadn't planned it out ahead of time.  I also felt like I didn't have enough hands as it was, and I was home alone, so no real opportunity to take photos or have photos taken while I was holding and finessing everything else.  (Hence, again, no photos of this step, which might have been useful).  To glue down the end of the string in back, I glued up to almost where I wanted the final sequin to lay.  Then I cut the string a few sequins up from there, pulled the now-loose sequins off the end of both the gluing strand and the long spool strand (and saved the loose sequins; important later), and put a touch of glue on the end of the spool strand so it wouldn't ravel in the meantime.  Then I put a dab of glue on the shoe under where the string ended, folded the plain (without sequins) bit of string under the sequins, and pressed the whole thing down.  Trying to cover all the black, I actually overlapped the sequins a little too much on the very last row, and it worried me at first because it looked odd.  But to make things match I had to do the same - intentionally this time - on the other side, and once both rows were up against each other, it looked fine and the extra overlap wasn't really obvious.

I repeated this exact process, minus the extra overlap this time, on the heels: starting with one sequin on the bottom inside center, then looping the rows up and down until I reached the top; cutting and stripping the string; and then gluing the end under and down.  After the heel was completely covered, I went back to the toe for touch-ups.  It doesn't really matter if the toe or heel is done first in this step, but I thought it would be better to let the heel set a while longer before prodding it.  

Even getting the sequin strings as close as I could to meeting at the center of the toe and heel, there were still a few gaps here and there.  On a red shoe it might not be so noticeable, but mine being black it was pretty obvious.  Here's where those extra loose sequins from the cut string come in.  Very carefully, I put a dab of glue over the "bald spots," making sure to get the glue on the shoe material more than the outer sequins, and used a seam ripper to pick up and place the sequins (with the ripper point through the sequin hole) on the glue.  I also used the point of the ripper to kind of layer the loose sequins under and around the sequins on the string.  If all the loose sequins are on top, it makes the gap-covering a little too obvious for my taste - too clearly a separate and distinct line - so I wanted them to blend in more.  I was careful not to get too much glue on the outer sequins or touch the gun directly to any sequins.  Both mistakes will melt the sequins pretty easily and quickly, or even just strip the red coloring. 

The last step - at least for the sequins - was to add a single string around the base of the shoe and along the top edge.  This is optional, based on what gluing pattern is used and how even the sequins are at the top and bottom.  On my shoes, especially because of the diagonal pattern I think, there were little spots of the shoe showing through along those edges.  So starting in the back, I glued a single strand horizontally all the way around the bottom of the shoe just above where the side meets the sole, and again the same along the very top edge.  I tacked down the end of the strings in back using the same technique as before.  At this point, the shoes look like this, recognizable but not quite done:

The next step will be to paint some detracting parts red, and make the bows.

*All photos are property of their respective owners.
*My use and opinion of the products listed are by personal choice and local availability.  I am not paid to use or endorse them.