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Christmas Parade Costumes

Over the summer, I was part of a small team of costumers that helped build some walk-around character costumes for a Christmas parade at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.

It had been years since I had helped make true mascot type costumes, so it was a fun break from the norm and a good reminder of why I don’t want to do this kind of sewing all the time. Foam, fur, curved needles, and seriously wacky pattern pieces – give me real clothing any day!

Lime-Green-Stretch-Crushed-Velvet

Radioactive looking shiny lime green stretch crushed velvet. Lime green is my favorite color but this fabric causes some retinal burn-in when you look at it too long!

We constructed 2 moose heads that perched high (as in 12 feet high!) atop giant Santa hats, 2 big candy canes, and 2 elves that looked like Christmas tree ornaments. All were based on the designer’s sketches and completed with hundreds of LEDs.

There was lots of stretch crushed velvet and glittery stretch velvet for me to create striped yardage from.

Piles-of-Stripes

Stitching-Stripes

All those stripes are why I met Spray n Bond and we became good friends.

Spray-n-Bond

A little more about that in this post.

I stitched faces.

Constructing-the-Face

Looks a bit like Lady Cassandra. “Thin and dainty!… Moisturize me moisturize me!

I made eyeballs.

Making-Eyes

And I shoved large amounts of foam fabric through a small domestic sewing machine. I was really wishing I had a long arm machine to use for this!

Stitching-on-Yards-of-Foam-Fabric

I had to do some of the sewing standing up so I could see what I was doing over all that bulk!

Moose-Head-Construction

Moose head construction.

Ears-in-a-Row

Moose ears all in a row.

The moose ears made nice bunny ears too. I kind of want some!

Ears

I love this selfie with the ears so much it has been my Twitter avatar since I took it. (I’d use it for my Gravatar too if so many blogs didn’t do circle style avatars – it just doesn’t work as a circle.)

It’s a little weird to have your work stare back at you while you hand-stitch its ear on.

Looking-at-You

“I’m looking at you!”

I have tons more photos, but it’s more interesting to watch video because you can see all of the lights and get a better sense of the size. I was actually one of the test models for the elf costumes in order to help work out some of the awkwardness of wearing them – glad to see that no one was tripping and falling during the parade!

Happily, there were plenty of YouTube videos posted of the parade for me to choose from. (Ironically, the official Silver Dollar City one was not the best and was filmed on a night when not all the lights were working.) So I’ve chosen two of the best videos.

(See timestamps below each if you want to fast forward through them.)

This first one is nice for closeups:

  • 1:14–1:32 Moose heads on giant Santa Hats
  • 2:22–2:38 Big Candy Canes
  • 3:00–3:33 Elves that look like huge Christmas ornaments

And this video is a view of the parade from a little farther back, giving you a better look at the whole 12-foot moose on Santa hats costumes:

  • 0:48–0:59 Moose
  • 2:33–2:52 Candy Canes
  • 3:19–3:42 Elves

This year has been full of Christmas projects for me! And I still have one more to post about next time!

Happy New Year, everyone!

White Christmas Dresses for The Fantasy of Lights

There was a little blood (on the white fur, of course! but easy to fix), a lot of sweat (heavy upholstery fabric is hard to wrangle!), but thankfully, no tears for this build!

I ended up having to sort through 415 photos for this post! Needless to say, I have reduced that number down a little bit. (Click photos to enlarge.)

1-White-Christmas-Santa-Dresses

Back at the end of September, I was hired to build dresses for two identical mannequins for a revamped outdoor Christmas display in Wichita Falls. The request was for something that resembled the red satin dresses with white fur trim seen at the end of the 1954 movie White Christmas.

2-DVD-and-Printed-Screenshots

Luckily, it’s a movie I love and own so I was able to re-watch the end a bunch of times and grab some good screenshots to work from.

One of the mannequins was brought to my house.

I called her Keira. She was about the same dress size as I am – but 6 feet tall! A GIANT Barbie.

Keira-the-Mannequin

Her old outfit was sad and her wig was scraggly. So I threw away her clothes and let her borrow some of mine after a bit of a spa day.

3-Spa-Day

I ordered a swatch of the Sunbrella brand red outdoor upholstery velvet. It ended up being the perfect color and had a decent drape, so I ordered 16 yards (but it seems to be sold out at the moment – not sure if they will restock it, but I hope they do!).

I bought some rip-stop nylon for lining and some white acrylic fur with an olefin backing at my local Hancock Fabrics. I also purchased outdoor upholstery thread, acrylic rhinestones (JoAnn Fabrics), and fabric glitter glue (Hobby Lobby).

I ordered hoop skirt petticoats from Petticoat Junction and the client ordered ice skates for shoes. I bought some red “parade gloves” at a Halloween store (perfect timing of a project!).

My really good friend Marlene, who is a professional film & television makeup artist, was tasked with finding and styling some appropriate wigs that could stand up to the elements.

4-Sitting-Fail

I thought Keira might like to sit down for once in her life. Not sure it worked out so well for her.

Wensley did not like Keira and hated it when I touched her or moved her around. I think she bothered him because she wouldn’t look at him, hehe. (My dress forms don’t have faces so he just ignores them.)

There was growling and barking for many days after she arrived. Just when he had gotten a little used to Keira visiting, the big roll of velvet fabric arrived and he greeted that with the same suspicious “intruder alert!” and I caught it on video:

A package was delivered while Wensley was outside. BIG fabric roll #intruderalert! #jrt #jackrussell #dog

A post shared by Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) on

My husband and our brother-in-law helped me rig a stand for her, and then I was able to start working on a mockup.

5-Mannequin-Stand

My starting point for both bodices was Vogue 2979 that looks like a reproduction of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress (pictured in this old post). But the sleeve caps as drafted were too short and caused all kinds of fit issues until I popped the seam open at the shoulder. (I tried the bodice on myself and had similar problems with the fit, so beware if you are trying to use this pattern straight from the envelope.) I also lowered the underarm curve a slightly like I usually need to do for myself.

6-Sleeve-Cap-Too-Short

Therefore, I drafted my own sleeve from scratch and made it a two-piece sleeve while I was at it. This allowed me to include better elbow ease for Keira’s perpetually bent arms. It also made it so much easier to dress her.

7-New-Sleeve-Draft

8-Old-and-New-Sleeve-Comparison

Original sleeve (left) and new self-drafted 2-piece sleeve (right).

My friend used glossy red model paint to repaint Keira’s outdated ‘80s lips (check out that unbelievably sharp line!) and Keira got her lovely new hair. So much better!

9-New-Lips-and-Hair

The skirts were just basic full circles (but huge! because she’s so tall!) and I draped & drew the cape pattern on Keira. I was really surprised that the upholstery velvet cooperated and did what I wanted it to do for the most part.

I didn’t have enough fur (I bought all there was at the store) to double fold it like I wanted to on the capelet and skirts, so I lined it with some white polyester utility fabric and did a lot of picking to pull the fur out of the seams.

10-Pinned-Darts

Assembly-line dart sewing in my usual way of marking & stitching darts.

11-Circle-Skirt-Cut

12-Quality-Control-Dog

Quality Control Dog inspects my work.

13-This-One-Is-Empty

14-Helping

15-Evened-Hem

16-Samples-and-Machine-Blind-Hem

After making stitch samples, I determined that hand-stitching looked no better than a machine stitched blind-hem. Machine sewing FTW! Much more convenient than sewing miles of circle by hand!

17-Husband-in-Wig

My husband found Keira’s old hairdo.

18-Picking-Fur-From-Seam

19-Attaching-Fur-Trim-To-Skirt

Attaching the fur trim to the skirt. And then starting again for skirt number 2.

20-Trilby-Hat

So I’m hemming the 2nd skirt while listening to Glee Madonna album and I come out to find this. It’s 1983 all over again! I took Keira’s wig off to remove her skirt & my husband put his hat on her head.

21-Springy-Santa-Hat

Husband stikes again but with a silly hat.

22-Draping-the-Capelette

23-Bored

24-Scattered-Notions

25-Bars-Attached-to-Bodice-for-Skirt-Hooks

The skirts ended up being so heavy I had to add bars to the bodices and corresponding hooks on the skirts to hold them in place.

26-Gluing-Rhinestones

27-Rosemary-Mannequin-Comparison

28-Dress-Back-Comparison

29-Fur-Ring-Headpiece

30-Muff

31-White-Christmas-Dresses-Front-and-Back

If you have questions or would like to know about specific details, ask me in the comments. =)

Overall, I probably spent about 3 weeks total on this project but the work was spread out over about 6 weeks. It was a huge build to complete on my own and I was so glad when it was finished! So was Wensley.

32-Emtpy-Mannequin-Stand

“Good, that weird lady who wouldn’t look at me is gone!”

 

Merry Christmas to all, and my all your Christmases be white!

And My Resume Gets More Convoluted

I have so many things to share! This is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge post.

Some of you may already know from talking to me directly or seeing it on Twitter, I no longer work part-time at Fabrique Fabrics. It was fun for the year and a half it lasted and I’ll miss my coworkers, but since it was never really my “career” I’m not really upset about it. (I think everyone who knows the details is more upset about it than I am.) The short explanation is my boss decided to reduce my hours to “none” to save some money, so I’m moving on to other things instead of waiting around.

On to more exciting things (and LOTS of links)…

  • Something I worked on last summer will finally be on display at the Dallas Arboretum for the holidays! The 12 Days of Christmas exhibit is “an elaborate collection of life-size Victorian gazebos filled with the charming costumed characters made famous by the beloved Christmas carol.”** You can see it for yourself from November 16, 2014–January 4, 2015. Since the opening was delayed a year, I’m looking forward to remembering what I did. I can’t wait to see it installed and share some photos (and possibly video) once it opens!
  • I helped make some youth circus costumes back in May. Lots and lots of tiny appliqué (spandex on spandex) and ruffles… and thread! I really blew through the thread on this project:
Circus-Costume-Appliques

Circus costumes with detailed appliqué designs and what the trashcan next to my machine looked like halfway through.

And here’s a teaser video of this year’s show, in which you can see some of the costumes in motion:

  • If you will be in San Antonio this weekend (September 26-28), you can see some of the fun costumes I helped build this summer in the opera The Fantastic Mr. Fox put on by the new Opera San Antonio.
  • More of my summer sewing work will be in a Christmas parade at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri this year.

Hopefully, I will have more photos of both the opera and the parade to share later. (I’m crossing my fingers that someone will post a video of the parade on YouTube at some point!) Update: Post about the parade.

  • If you will be in Dallas, TX anytime now until October 5, go see the Oscar de la Renta exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. It’s fashion inspiration! I went and took a ton of photos a few weeks ago, so if you aren’t able to see it yourself, I promise a detailed blog post about it soon. Here’s a teaser:
Oscar-de-la-Renta_5-Decades-of-Style

Oscar de la Renta – Five Decades of Style exhibit

Recent freelancing has suddenly gone from “absolutely nothing” to “I’m booked into the beginning of next year!” Such is my career.

Keira-the-Mannequin

Meet Keira, one of the mannequins I’ll be making a custom dress for. She’s had a hard life and it’s time for new hair and better clothes.

  • Then it looks like I’ll be finishing out the year working at The Dallas Opera. They have a few new costumes to build. =)

And just because I’ve been looking for a place to share a couple of great costuming videos, I’m going to include them here.

I found the first video because of the second one. It is a really nice overview of what it’s like in any professional costume shop – whether it’s opera, theatre, dance, or film – when there are costumes to construct and fit. “Recreating a Tutu” at the New York City Ballet:

And if you have the time to watch (it’s over 26 minutes long), the following is a truly fascinating video on how a ballet pointe shoe is made (teaser-not-quite-spoiler: inside out!). If you don’t have time to watch it now, come back and watch it later when you do! I promise you will enjoy it.

They use some cool sewing machines and do an amazing amount of the work by hand. And to think that all shoes used to be made this well! “What’s in a Ballet Shoe”:

** What my husband/editor read at first glance: “An elaborate collection of life-size Vulcan gizmos filled with charred costumed characters made famous by the beloved Christmas carrots”  ??

Just One More Sleep ’til Christmas!

It’s Christmas Eve… so how about one more post for 2013!

What kind of costumer would I be if I didn’t dress my dog up for Christmas?

Wensley makes a cute Christmas card. It’s the Jack Russell in him. =)

You may remember last year’s card, which was his first. We didn’t try any dress up then because we didn’t know how he would take it.

This year we pulled out the Santa hat we had for our last dog and I shortened the elastic a bit to fit Wensley.

My good little Santa dog sits well on command this year. =)

We only pulled out the front window tree with its plastic ornaments this year (I’ll do battle to protect the special glass ornaments on the bigger den tree from the dog next year).

The front window tree is an iridescent white tree with colored lights.

I love how it glows like a beacon at night!

Coming up in future posts (in no particular order): the details of the Wonder Woman cape build, some handmade Christmas gifts I stitched up, pattern testing results, and a giveaway.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May you all have wonderful holidays with good friends & family!

See you next year!

A Custom Style Christmas

Every year, my husband and I design our Christmas cards using a simple photo that always involves our dog.  I usually come up with the concept and he helps me execute it.

This year was the first year we’ve had Wensley for the Christmas card, and we weren’t sure he would be as easy to photograph as our last Jack Russell, who was an old pro at our crazy photo shoots.

Well, Wensley was amazing, and I managed to get the exact photo I wanted by take 7 or 8!  Lots of treats were given (so he was well paid) and he had so much fun playing the new “game” that he wanted to keep going long after we called it quits.  (I think 100 photos is more than enough, dog.  But thanks!)

UPDATE 10/17/13: This card is now available for sale in my Zazzle store. Can be customized.

So to my online friends whose physical addresses I do not have for sending cards, here’s a virtual version of this year’s card:

Card Front
I tied some red ribbon around our green storage ottoman to use as the “gift” prop.

Photo Inside Card
Wensley stands & sits on our ottoman all the time because he’s not allowed on any of the other furniture, so this was an easy shot to get.

Inside message:

Merry Christmas!  from the Wilkersons

“Oh, that birth forever blessed,
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race,
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face
Evermore and evermore.”

                        Of the Father’s Love Begotten – hymn stanza 2

Card Back
We usually use a funny photo or outtake on the back, but we decided on something normal this year because it was the first time some of our friends & family would be seeing our new pup.

And here are two of my favorite outtakes that were not included in the original card:

“You want me to do what? You’re crazy.”

Most people know JRTs are fast, but here’s some proof.

Have a wonderful Christmas holiday, everyone!

Poor-man’s Stained Glass Window

I love stained glass, and if I had all the tools I had access to when I was in college, all my windows would be decorated with the real thing. But for now, I will be cheap and fake it. =)

Here’s a super easy project for a quick Christmas decoration. No sewing involved but I wanted to share.

You only need four things: tissue paper (in various colors), a pencil, scissors, and double sided tape. (Cardboard for template is optional.)

I chose three colors of tissue paper – red, green, and lime.

I don’t remember why I first thought to do this to decorate our back door for Christmas. Maybe that was the year we lost our fence in a windstorm and I thought it was a good idea for privacy.

I made a cardboard template to fit in the rectangles of the window frame and traced it onto the tissue paper. Then I simply cut out the tracings, and with a few very, very tiny pieces of double-sided tape around the edges, fastened the colored panels carefully to my window (on the inside).

I kept the bottom left open for the doggie viewing-hole & because I didn’t want to cut into a whole new piece of tissue paper for just 1 panel.

During the day, I have a fake (but pretty) stained glass look to my back door. And at night, it’s extra privacy and glowing color on the outside.

Cleanup is easy. All I have to do is rip the paper off and throw it away when the decorations go back into storage.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Retro Style Felt Ornaments

It’s December, so my husband and I have been pulling out all the Christmas decorations. I have a retro 1950s style kitchen and I try to keep my kitchen decorations in line with the theme.

When I was born, my grandmother made me a felt Christmas stocking. I’m sure it was one of those stocking kits similar to what they still sell today, but she made it over 30 years ago – so it has a simplicity that the more modern patterns lack. Just felt pieces, sequins, and beads. I hang it on one of the upper cabinet doors in my kitchen.

My childhood Christmas stocking

On the long row of cabinets, I hang one felt ornament from each upper cabinet handle.

I designed & crafted the six ornaments in various shapes that I found in retro graphics or wrapping paper patterns. In order to attach them to my cabinet handles, I attached two pieces of ribbon on the top of each instead of a loop. That way I can just tie them on with a bow.

Making the ornaments is quite simple – I just started with a basic shape and then cut tiny pieces free-hand and hand-stitched them on, adding sequins here and there. Once the front design was finished, I cut a plain piece of felt for the back and stitched around the outer edge of the entire thing (remembering to insert the ends of my ribbon at the top edge).

A little project like this is great for scraps and it is good hand-sewing practice. (I would have loved to do something like this as a kid!) Sometimes it is just nice to do a craft that doesn’t really involve much planning or patterning – you can just cut and start sewing, making it up as you go. And if you don’t like how it is turning out, you can start over without wasting much material. =)

The reason I thought to make my retro kitchen ornaments is kind of a long story.

A number of years ago, I was working as a costumer on a low-budget TV movie/webisode series and we had a large pile of felt fabric scraps leftover from one of the webisodes that required some costumes made from felt (in the script, the mother character was making costumes for her daughter’s school play).

Since it was just before Christmas and the workdays on set were long (and often boring), I kept myself busy by creating some hand-sewn ornaments out of the felt scraps and a few sequins that I had in my personal stash.

I created 15 unique ornaments for some of my fellow crew members and a few of the actors – it was a completely free way to give personal Christmas gifts and I had a lot of fun making them. A couple of my closest crew friends even joined me in the craft and made some gifts for their own friends & families.

Some of the ornaments are inside jokes and others just represented an interest/job of the recipient. I sketched the more detailed ones and then traced the shapes I drew onto the felt before cutting & sewing.

I gave each ornament inside a hand-delivered Christmas card, and something like this would be perfect for mailing inside a card because they are flat and light – they might not even cost extra postage (you’d have to weigh it to be sure though).

Everybody who got an ornament was thrilled – especially since each one was so personal.

The most detailed ornament was of the Yellow Submarine from the Beatles’ Album cover:

I made this for a guy who is a major Beatles fan, and his reaction to the gift was probably the most amusing – he was so astounded that I made him something so in line with one of his favorite things, he was worried that his girlfriend would be upset that it was his “favorite gift ever!”

And the Hippo was my favorite:

Because who wouldn’t want a Hippopotamus for Christmas?

Related posts:

A Handmade Felt Rose

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