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.

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