Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ruby Slippers Version III (Character Shoes) - Sequins

I started the sequin process as I had on the other pairs in the past.  I marked the center front so I could line up the sequins properly and tested the layout.  I decided to try for making the upper and lower edges flat and even so I wouldn't have to add an extra strip of sequins over the top, meaning I had to be extra sure about how the sequins would fit across the shoe.

Against what should have been my better judgement, I tried a new sequin layout.  I'm really not sure where the idea came from or why it popped into my head just then or why I even thought to go ahead with it.  Instead of gluing all the sequins in one continuous strand, switching directions from top to bottom on each loop, I thought I would cut each strand to the length of the side of the shoe in each particular spot, and then all the sequins would lay in the same direction.  This looks a lot more like the layout on the originals themselves, and I think generally looks prettier.

Gratuitous workspace photo.
First disastrous layout - disastrous, but pretty.
Calling it disastrous is a bit overkill.  The technique did work, and it did look really good.  But gluing down the strings along the top edge was a bit messy and needed more experimentation to be neat and effective, and the whole process took way too long, probably close to twice as long as usual.  It was also completely untested - I'd never made or worn a pair like this so I had no idea how they would hold up to normal wear, not to mention dancing, and I was already worried about how the surface of these shoes differed from the other pairs and if that would affect its durability.  That was all adding up too much doubt for a commission on a tight deadline. 
And yet, despite the obvious problems, I inexplicably kept going.
This was the point at which I stopped doing sequins for a while to give me time to think about it, and in the meantime cut down and sealed - effectively finishing - the bows.  After that was done and I couldn't stall anymore, I pulled off the sequins I had done already and stripped as much of the glue as possible and started over with the old tried-and-true sequining process.  Despite the wasted materials and loss of time, I had to decide in the end that familiarity and the guarantee (not to mention a little peace of mind) it brought was the best course of action this time.  From there on, things were a bit more simple.

I followed the layout from Version II almost exactly.  The straps were a really simple added step: a single strip of sequins was glued down to the strap up to the point where the holes for the buckle began.  The only real difference came down to the heels, which on these shoes were shaped quite differently.  Wrapping them across the heel as usual didn't fit right, so I did the usual layout from the bottom up to a certain point, then cut that strand and glued it down.  From there, I measured separate strips to cover the rest of the heel, as well as a final strip to cover the gap between the heel and the rest of the shoe.  The separate strips were glued on over each other in alternating directions to mimic the rest of the layout, and the final strip laid down over the top.
Prepping for the few final strands of sequins on the heels.
Once all the sequins were (finally) done on both shoes and heels, I colored in the gaps where the tan of the shoe showed through with a red Sharpie of all things.  This was mostly along the bottom edge along the sole, along the inside of the top edge where the outer material meets the lining, on the end of the strap not covered with sequins (where the holes are), and on the areas around the strap and buckle.  I then used the Tacky Glue along the upper and lower edges of the shoes where the edges of the sequins stuck out.  I filled in almost the entire gap area between the shoe and sequins with the Tacky Glue, pressing down slightly now and then as the glue dried to hold the sequins in place and really make sure the glue was getting into all the nooks.  This allowed everything to be sealed better and protected those edges, which were most exposed and most susceptible to damage.  I did this along the entire lower edge against the sole, the entire upper edge, under the sequin strands on the strap and covering the shoe-heel gap, and along the edges of the heel sequins.
Sealing down the edges with Tacky Glue - dry glue on the top, wet glue on the bottom.
At this point once a lot of the handling was done, I went in and touched up the color on the faded sequins with - you guessed it - the same red Sharpie.  Because of these touch-ups, I also had to use a fixative to seal in the ink I added and hopefully prevent the rest of the sequins from fading so quickly.  My roommate has a matte fixative for a variety of mediums that looked okay on the sequins, but because the fading and Sharpie had stripped some of the shine, I wanted a glossy fixative to bring some of that shine back.  I struggled with the local art store, which claimed to not carry glossy fixative but have a variety of other fixatives, including a glossy "spray" which wasn't "really" a fixative but they supposed kind of worked like one (they were also hard pressed to give me any other information, and rather than walk a few feet from the counter to the shelf to look, they advised me I'd have to come in and see for myself what they had and what the price ran - I think I'll find myself hard pressed to do any more business with them).  I went in and looked at what they had and it turned out what they had been trying to describe was a __, which is what I bought given it was my only real choice for something glossy.
Spraying the glossy "fixative."
And yet of course, in the end the glossy didn't look much different from the matte fixative, and maybe it was just my stress and cynicism at that point, but the matte may have even looked better in the tests than the glossy looked on the shoes.  It still did the job okay on a basic level, but it turns out I could have used the matte fixative to begin with and saved myself the money, time, and trouble.  Alas.  After the two coats of spray dried, I roughly stitched down the bows and then used hot glue on the underside.  I don't have any photos of this because I was moving quickly (a little too quickly - I was rewarded with the blunt end of the needle gouged under my thumbnail) but I'll try to take some photos of that step on the second pair to make up for it.

Because things really came down to the wire after the set backs with the sequin-gluing and the extra steps of touching up the sequin color, I ended up spraying the shoes and attaching the bows the morning of the postal service pick-up.  I cut things so close with the fixative spray, that I wasn't sure there was enough time for the necessary two coats to dry before the shoes had to be boxed up and I almost cancelled the pick-up.  But this was a Saturday and Monday was a holiday and I was already shipping the package a few days late, so I went ahead and packaged them and let them be sent off, just two hours after I had finished attaching the bows.
Up next: the finished product (finally!).

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ruby Slippers Version III (Character Shoes) - Bows

For their 2013 spring performance, the community theatre group local to my hometown is putting on The Wizard of Oz.  I've never seen the musical on stage, but it's no secret that it's one of my favorite films.  Back in July when I first heard about this, and when I had recently finished both the prototype and Version II Ruby Slippers, I told a friend closely involved with the group that if they were interested, I could do the ruby slippers for them.  There are plenty of affordable commercial options but character shoes would be more practical given that this is musical theatre, and if custom character shoe ruby slippers are available somewhere I would expect they'd be pricey or only vaguely similar to the sequined and beaded shoes from the film.  On the other hand, for just the cost of materials I could do to a pair of character shoes what I did to the plain pumps, and then the play would have affordable, wearable, fairly accurate, and theatre appropriate replicas.  

Once things got underway in December, I started the ordering process - I had enough red rectangle gems left over from the previous projects, but I ordered new bugle beads, rose montees, and sequins.  Since using plastic bows turned out to be a mediocre if not outright bad idea before, I got both leather and craft felt to experiment with for the bows.  I also went ahead and splurged on a proper embroidery hoop since I don't have the makeshift one anymore and wasn't very happy with how it had worked anyway.

I made some significant changes with how I approached this project compared to the last two pairs.  Granted, a lot of the basics were the same, but I tended to be more cautious this time around and I did a lot of materials testing before I actually started constructing anything.  The prototype pair for myself was essentially one big test, and Version II was for a very close friend (and currently my roommate) using almost the same process with almost the same materials so there wasn't much risk involved.  The stakes on this project were a lot higher: unlike the other shoes, these were a paid commission (technically, as the theatre group reimbursed me for material cost, though my time was completely voluntary and I didn't make any profit) for a large group of very discerning people; and unlike the previous costuming work I had done for this group, which had been under instruction and supervision of the costume designer or coordinator, this was a solo project resting almost completely on my ability and judgement.  High quality character shoes instead of cheap pumps meant greater waste if something went wrong and a replacement pair had to be ordered, plus a different shape to lay the sequins on and a different surface to glue the sequins to; leather and felt instead of plastic for the bows meant a new process for shaping and attaching them.

I used swatches of the leather and felt to test their reaction to fabric paint and fixative spray, as well as which glue - basic hot vs. Aleene's Tacky - worked best when gluing leather and felt together in various ways.  I also did gluing and sanding tests on the shoes themselves, very carefully on the edge of the inner arch, and decided I had to sand the shoes down a little, removing the semi-glossy surface, to get the hot glue and sequins to adhere better (gluing them to the surface as is wasn't terrible, but there was a noticeable improvement on the sanded surface).  So compared to my usual process and what I had done on replica ruby slippers prior to this, the process for these shoes was a lot more involved.

Because I was still thinking over my options for sanding the shoes and attaching the sequins, I started with the bow first this time.  These shoes are a size 5 whereas the previous two were size 8 and size 7.5 respectively, so the bow template from the protoype was scaled to a size 8 shoe.  The bow on these was also going to be located quite differently just because of how the vamps of these shoes were shaped.  If this was a "normal" shoe I might have scaled down the bow to be more proportionally correct.  But because this is for a theatre production I decided to leave the bows as they are and therefore slightly oversized on the shoes.

I used the same organza as before, though this time I painted it with the red fabric paint from my Marion Ravenwood Cairo Market shoes and sealed it with a different but equally average fixative.  I also placed a piece of red felt under the organza in the embroidery hoop to have a more stable backing.  This beadwork went a little faster that on the previous two pairs.  I completed the beading for one bow in about six hours - but ultimately wasn't happy with the result, so after finishing a much improved second bow, I ripped all the stitching and removed the beads from the first bow and started that one over.  I definitely contribute the use of a real embroidery hoop to how fast and comparatively easily I was able to do the beadwork, but I also contribute my insistence on doing a whole bow in one sitting to how poorly the first bow turned out (and likewise, contribute my forced patience to how much better the second bow turned out).  Embarrassing as it is, I don't really mind sharing my mess-ups:

First attempt on the far left and bottom right; second attempt in the center and on the top right.  This is why we don't do tired in six hours what apparently should be done well rested in many hours over six days.

On the second bow, I also sewed almost every rose montee individually instead of many on the same length of thread.  Sewing many together is faster, but sewing them individually gives greater control to where and how they sit on the fabric and also made it easier for me to sew rose montees on each point as a placement guideline for the rest.  It makes the stitching on the back a lot messier because of how many knots and tie-offs there are, but the back doesn't show in the end and it makes the front look much better so it worked well.

View of the stitching on the back: first bow on the left, second bow on the right.
Summarized progress of a bow.
Both bows beaded.
Once the bows were beaded, I was stuck again.  On the other pairs I had made, the bow was much thinner due to using just organza.  I had also wrapped the organza edges around the plastic bow bases, which I didn't like in the end - it made the edges of the bow wrinkly and bulky and just generally messy.  For this pair I wanted something much neater.  It took a few days of consideration, in between which I started the sequin process (to near-disastrous results - look for the upcoming post).  I finally decided to cut the fabric down close the edge of the beading and fold that under and sew then hot glue it down.  Rather than making bow bases out of leather (essentially a nicer version of the old plastic bows), the beaded fabric would be stitched down to the shoe directly.  The felt and organza was already thick enough that it didn't need another layer like the leather, but even with all the stitching and beading it was still a little floppy.  I figured the glue would help give it some stiffness.

What I actually did to the bows was pretty much the same, with some adjustments made as I was actually cutting and gluing.  I cut the edges of fabric much closer to the beads than I had planned originally - I cut it down as close to the stitches as I could safely get - and instead of tucking them under and sewing/gluing them down, I sealed the fraying edges of the fabric with a little hot glue and sort of smooshed (technical term) just a tiny bit of the edge under (basically a very small makeshift rolled hem using glue).  I also covered the entire back of the bow in a thin spread layer of hot glue to seal the thread and add stiffness.  This approach pretty much did away with any of the bulk around the tricky inner corners of the bow, stabilized the stitches, and added stiffness while maintaining flexibility.

After cutting and sealing.
Despite the initial setbacks and a lot of worrying and trepidation, I'm really pleased with the result, almost to the point of being stupidly proud of this pair of bows.  This is definitely the process I'll be using on all the future pairs I make.

Bow comparison: my bows (upper right), and the original bows as seen in the film (upper left and lower right) and as they are today (lower left).
Up next: the great sequining debacle and the finished product.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Rosie the Riveter ("We Can Do It!") - Completed

Another backlogged post that I started and saved as a draft months ago.  
Still no progress on the Marion Ravenwood Cairo Market costume, still pending a decision about the future of my sewing machine.  But I've had a few other things develop, so I thought I'd go ahead with that in the meantime.

The "We Can Do It!" Rosie the Riveter is another costume that I had been casually planning on for a while and then sort of just fell into.  The poster was something I had always liked, and always thought would make an interesting and unusual costume that might still be easily recognizable given how often the image has been reused.

J. Howard Miller's 1943 "We Can Do It!" poster for Westinghouse Electric.
United Press International's 1942 photo of Geraldine Hoff at American Broach & Machine Co. in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is believed to have inspired the Miller poster.
Rosie's poster look is pretty straightforward and, by this point, fairly iconic.  She has a red and white polka dot bandana tied up over her hair, and wears a blue work shirt and pants or jumpsuit - as all that's visible is her torso, it's open to interpretation - with the sleeves rolled up and an employment badge pinned to the right collar.  Her nails are painted with what looks like a pink polish, and the rest of her makeup is very subdued: natural lips, fairly neutral eyes, and full outer lashes.  Geraldine Hoff looks essentially the same in her photo, though her clothing looks more definitively like a jumpsuit and she may be wearing darker lipstick.

It all started with a blue jumpsuit.  Though the poster's depiction of her clothing is open to interpretation, as far as I'm concerned if it's the right shade of blue with an open collar (and therefore presumably snaps or buttons up the front) and sleeves that can be rolled up, it's good.  On one of my many thrifting adventures a few years ago, I found a men's blue jumpsuit of the mechanic variety.  
I literally had no use for it at the time, and I wasn't even thinking about Rosie, but it was something one doesn't really come across often and a steal at $2, so I grabbed it.  When I got it home I was pleased to find it was pretty much a perfect fit for me, but even so it sat around unused.

Jump ahead to last Halloween, when I had no plans but ended up going out with a friend that night very last minute.  I almost reused my flapper costume, but feeling lazy and being more concerned with comfort, the idea for a makeshift or generic Rosie popped into my head.  I used the jumpsuit, a vintage (but not red and white) headscarf, a vintage watch pin, and my black paddock boots, plus false lashes and some red lipstick and red nail polish.  I wouldn't say the costume was a great success - outside of my family, only my friend and her parents verbally recognized and appreciated it.  But it did push me to think about putting together an "art accurate" version based directly on the poster.

Just a few months ago, I started actually looking into finding and acquiring the other pieces I would need.  I was lucky to have the jumpsuit, since that would have been potentially one of the priciest pieces of the costume.  I figured I would reuse my paddock boots since the poster didn't give anything to go by and they looked accurate enough for the time and job.  All I really needed was a red and white polka dot bandana.  Simple enough, right?  Wrong.  I was actually surprised how difficult it was to find a plain ol' red and white polka dot bandana.  The majority I found on eBay and even Etsy were shaped permanently into headbands or were the wrong size or reversed colors or made of too-sheer material or strangely expensive.

While doing another search on a whim sometime later, this time just through Google I think instead of an a specific store website, I found Rosie's Daughters.  They have a store on their main website, as well as an Etsy store at RosiesLegacy.  In addition to the perfect "art accurate" red and white bandana, they also have a variety of other Rosie-inspired products.  Of particular interest to me was their replica employment pin.  I hadn't even really thought about an employment pin.  It's a detail of the poster that doesn't really come to mind when visualizing the image.  But having one would make the costume that much more accurate and their interpretation of it was too good to pass up.  I ended up ordering just the bandana and employment pin for now, as that's what I need the most for costuming purposes, though I plan to get a few more things at some point (including the blank posing poster).  I won't go into the specifics of the items or the store here, because I'm already working on a product review post for it.  But essentially, both the bandana and pin are as close to perfect as I can imagine and I'm extremely pleased with both so far.


Since I ended up with all the pieces by early October, I considered debuting Rosie on Halloween.  It was a close choice between Rosie and the flapper costume I wore several years ago, but in light of comfort and originality, Rosie tipped the scales.  A few friends and I also decided we wanted to go to the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor on Halloween since they were allowing costumes that night and none of us had gone before.  Because of that, I thought I'd play up the creep factor a little and do a vampire or zombie take on Rosie.  I ultimately decided on zombie.  I colored some small lengths of embroidery thread black with a marker to make stitches for my wrist and arm but later scrapped these in favor of stitches drawn on with waterproof eyeliner.  I also repurposed an old white washcloth as a work rag and added "grease" smudges with the black ink washed off my hands while coloring the original stitches, plus added a "bloody" handprint with my red fabric paint.  

My roommate is much more adept at makeup than I am, so I enlisted her to do my zombie makeup which she and I decided on through a number of tutorial videos and movie screencaps. 

Hair done, initial Rosie and zombie makeup done, pre-retro makeup.
I later toned it down a little by removing the chin shading (which on a round-faced person like Rosie or Geraldine is cute, but on my pointy chin made me look like a certain illiterate and manly Disney villain) and blending the neck a little more and putting some light powder over it.  I thought it might be too dark originally, but afterwards seeing how it faded throughout the night I almost wish I had just left it alone.  Beyond that I just did my normal makeup - foundation, powder, and filled in eyebrows - before the zombie stuff plus some basic retro makeup - black winged eyeliner, false lashes, red lips - after.

My roommate on the left as a vampire Professor Umbridge (Harry Potter), our friend in the middle as a sexy fox, and my zombie Rosie.
Sexy fox, me, and another friend as Beaker (Sesame Street).
The costume went over a lot better than I expected - since I wasn't really expecting anything.  The highlight of the night was some guy coming up and asking if he could take a photo with me.  I even did the poster pose.  Runner up for best moment of the night: when a very tall, semi-drunk, scantily clad woman told me how awesome my costume was and that mine was way better than the Rosie who got called up for the costume competition (consolation: the contestants were chosen by random drawing, not by quality).  We also went to a bar down the street from our apartment later that night, and my costume got some kudos there too - the Binder Full of Women in attendance especially liked it. 

Given that this was just Halloween and not something like a convention - literally the only other times/places I've had strangers ask to take a photo of me in costume - I wasn't expecting any recognition or attention.  I had picked Rosie in order to be comfortable and historically fun (plus, since Dark Harbor is ship themed), not necessarily to be fashionable or conventional (I've done the sexy nurse for Halloween and I'm mostly over that) or completely Halloween relevant (though that is why I put a zombie spin on it).  I kind of get the feeling, though, that it maybe wouldn't have happened if I'd dressed like a flapper or whatever else.  As prevalent as it can be in popular culture, Rosie still isn't something you see as a costume too often, at least compared to more traditional choices (I've only ever seen two other than mine in person - one at SDCC and one at Dark Harbor, both of which were modified and improvised rather than literal interpretations).  So maybe being historical and unusual was catchier than I would have thought.  It just goes to show, history is always a winner. 

Overall I'm really happy with how Rosie turned out.  It's the most comfortable costume I've worn in years, apparently great for Halloween while also being relevant (pop culture) for conventions, and is just generally great fun.  I'll definitely be wearing it again, and it's bound to become a really great fall-back and alternate costume.

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

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ruby Slippers Version II - Bows and Sequins

These have been finished since last summer, but for whatever reasons (namely, not having the opportunity at the time, and being busy with other things and projects since) I never posted anything about them.  This isn't very in-depth, just a little something I wrote up around the time I made them.

Having finished my prototype pair of Ruby Slippers, I began a pair for a friend.  Because the shape of her shoes was a bit more accurate, and because I was able to implement some improvements in the construction process I learned while making the prototype, hers actually came out better (which is, being a commission, as it should be).

Rather than sequin each side individually, I started at the toe as before but sequined across both sides of the toe.  When I reached the toe line (the top of the center front), I continued up just one side of the shoe and secured the string in the back, avoiding the accidental overlap from before.  I then went back down to the toe area on the other side where the sequins ended and began gluing again, disguising the end of the string so the seam wasn't visible, and continuing up that side to the back and securing the string again.  I did the same on the heel, gluing across both sides of the heel in one step instead of doing each side separately.  This made the pattern more even and removed the step of gluing in loose sequins to cover the gaps, which made for a more uniform finish.  I painted the sole and gaps around the heel and top of the shoe the same, and also made the bows the same way.  I also used all the same materials as the prototype pair.

Hopefully in the next few weeks I can do a proper photoshoot with my roommate (as these are her shoes) to get some nice shots of the shoes completely finished.

* All photos are property of their respective owners.