What distinguishes the couture garment from a ready-to-wear piece is the handwork functioning not as luxe augmentation, but as a capability intrinsic to the garment.
Sums up far better why I do stick with my byline. I am not interested is ostentation for the sake of it. I love looking at the tiny, tiny, half mm stitches of vintage garments. Not just because it is aesthetically pleasing but because I know how difficult it is to alter a line of stitches made that way, which means there has to be absolute commitment to the work. You can’t just seam rip, you are as likely to rip your fabric. If not more.
So some of the costume list of this blog post title is buried in several pdfs I’ll try and share over the next few weeks. There is a goldmine of archived tailoring and dressmaking manuals out there, full of techniques half lost. There will be a bias towards construction because it has been so undervalued by the public and by academia alike.
So I will do a proper tutorial including these images as soon as I am able to pull out the alginate- which due to the process I used will not be for a while. If at all.
Alginate, mixing containers, plaster bandages, measuring cups. Also a swimming cap (leaves a clear line in the the impression to help match up sides, also no need to glue it) and a wide straw, split, taped into an oval in cross section to fit my nostrils, cut into small sections.
I am claustrophobic and was alone so I made sure my work room was safe. This meant having my computer/entertainment area away from the work area in case of splashing.
I also played a movie I know very well, has no loud noises and I could use to time. This is to reduce panic related issues while totally enveloped in the alginate. “Okay I will wait to the end of this scene before seeing if it is cured”.
I also put on coveralls but kept a warm layer on underneath. I couldn’t have the heater on due to risk of anything going wrong with it while I had water and had to move while unable to see.
So the main risk factors in doing this are panic related or lack of prep work. So make sure everything is in place and you have a plan for just in case. I didn’t want to waste the product but knew I would if I wound up with the stuff up my nose or in my eyes.
Plaster support/mother, back of head
I started by making a plaster shell for the back of my head and for my face. I knew I could just use the bandages straight on my swim cap and skin if I made sure to use a petroleum jelly. This is the same process I I did for my playdough and plaster mold, but this is far more successful as the plaster bandages cure fast and very light. This shell would then be close enough to use alone if there was no alginate left over.
So I cut long and short strips. I used two long strips to define the line from top of head down sides over my covered ears and to the side of my neck. Then filled in the back, with shorter section across and longer strips vertically.
Plaster support/mother, front of head
The face was going to be another issue. From previous experience I knew I would need the mother to be bigger in all directions but not too big. The volume would be filled with alginate and I didn’t want to waste it. So I looked at my other headcast and realised it was perfect due to the amount of clay on there for the silurian. So I laid up the plaster bandages, making sure to not press it right on the clay. I also made sure to leave breathing holes for my nostrils:
I also knew where my jaw line and ears were so was able to align the edges to match the edges of the back of the mold.
Leave the two parts to dry. While best advice is to leave until bone dry I used mine while still damp as it is Auckland and winter so everything is cold and damp anyway. Also the wetness allowed the alginate to really grip and stay put on the inside.
If you don’t happen to have such a head cast already prepared then it is possible to build up clay on a foam wig head, just measure as you go to make sure you have enough room.
Alginate is a bit like plaster in that it can have a long mix time then suddenly fast gel time. I tested a small amount the day before and decided it was easiest to mix by hand as if I was working with a firm tempora and trying to work out lumps. And you will get lumps. General advice is to get rid of them with a mixing bit on a drill but I found even if it was lumpy like porridge it still worked.
Test straws for nasal comfort. Do this a few times to get used to them. I had to use the largest straw I could find.
I put my tiny pony tail right at the crown as it is easy to see even under a bald cap. This means I can knock it out when I tidy and trim the cast. Then a fishnet hair cap to hold stray hair and also make the swim cap easier to move without pulling on your hair. Finally the swim cap. I trimmed a shallow D out of the front so as to leave my forehead free of tension and reveal a tiny portion of my hair line- I have a widows peak that does make wigs and prosthetics sit lower than they should.
Then petroleum jelly over your face and neck!
You need to work fast! As soon as it gets to the tacky stage start filling in the front of the face and spread from the centre up and to the edges. Work very fast. Trying to get the straws through the holes took me a long time due to a single strand of the strip that caught several times. Blow alginate out of the straw from the plaster side (ie in to the inside) as that is the shortest route out.
Then lean forward while bringing the face mold up to you, with one hand support the mold, with the other wiggle the straws until you find each nostil and then if they are on place carefully press your face in. I also distorted the plaster mold a bit so that it would draw out air trapped inside.
As I had straw problems I wound up with the alginate curing within 30 seconds. Which was great as I did panic a bit and the alginate separated easily from my skin.
As this was my first try and the alginate was already gelling I had to mix an extra cup to fill in the gaps at the side. But it was easy to do and the alginate did self adhere as I did not wait too long between each step. Alginate will not self adhere when cured.
Then I repeated the process for the back. And while it was still very damp I put the front half on (straws pulled out as there were now nice big holes to breathe through) and aligned the two parts. Then I left the front half rest while the back half cured on my back. it was a wetter mix so took longer to cure. It also stuck to me a bit more than the front.
I used epoxy fibreglass resin. With a mix of West Systems microballoons and colloidal silica to make it to a slurry. I tinted it to a pale pale flesh colour, which has since been taken over by the colour of the microballoons.
I used 600ml of resin and about a cup of filler (1/2 and 1/2) then as it was sluming I used chopped strand filler to press and move the resin up the sides.
I tested drying the back mold and forgot to do this for the front. In fact it was fine. Epoxy is not inhibited by water but it won’t cure through water. So you just need to make sure you don’t move the resin too much on the inside.
Today I separated the parts and there is still some curing to go- I did not speed up the cure with heat as I did not want to lose the alginate cast due to it drying out. In the shade on a cold damp day epoxy is very resistant to curing!
Above mold and cast. with straw stoppers.
Back, wrinkles of swim cap and hail tail and air bubble can be sanded out.
Once the fibres are trimmed these edges will lie closer together. I can see the line of the bald cap so can align where that appears on each half. This also gives me the location for my ears.
My ear casts are still locked in plaster. They are soaking in water and baking soda to break down the plaster.
And don’t freak out when you see your face from the outside! I was surpised how narrow my face is but yeah, those are my eyes, nose and mouth.
Yay! Need to do an equipment must have and equipment would really love list 🙂
But in the mean time I an looking at doing a designer vs Cosplayer: The Red Queen hypothesis in action talk and a proper semi hands on patterning talk.
The patterning would be mainly about the basic engineering and maths with a few “this defies planning so here is what to look out for” bits thrown in. So how weave works and that yes seams have a purpose and despite what pattern drafting books say you can’t just redraw them however you like. Because fabric is not paper. And the body is not able to be mapped in 2D as easily as drafting systems say.
But on the other hand how drafting can save a heck of a lot of time in the planning stages and is a more cost effective start than draping. And you can plan for issues even if you have to tweak or totally change them later. And you can work to scale, oh yes.
I’d kind of like to address the convoluted curves issue of the front of the armscye/sleeve head and seat, because those are not just a pita for home sewing but are often areas that have sacrifices made at the manufacturing level. Like especially the seat seam of women’s trousers. Got that uncomfortable bifurcated look? it’s not you it’s the freaking manufacturers saving money. And it’s incidentally a really really really really strong case for why you can’t just add from one seam to another. This is why!
Hmmm they totally removed the train, I mean totally, which pulls the skirt round the back. But it confirms the sleeve weirdness: the hem is oversewn, overlocked or what but it’s not a turned hem- there is some major fuzzy happening along the edge. Also there are notches on the sleeves. Inside and out.And I was right, platforms Just with narrow heels.
I had suspected but a few images put together really do reveal this quite clearly.
If you watch the Awkward Situation clip you can see how the train skims the ground without folding or dragging. If you watch the edge of the train as she goes up the steps it even catches and springs just like a hooped skirt. If you have ever worn hoops or a cage crinoline with flat steels/plastic it wibbles a bit like a jellyfish.
Note how the front edge of the train stops, it doesn’t just pull like fabric under tension it moves like there is a wired edge. And in movement the edge then springs forward once released from that first step.
Here the train is caught on the last step but this is mainly to show the front of the gown is not also stifened. It does have a fairly deep hem which does has some sort of facing but it still flows. It also looks like Angelina is wearing platforms to add to her height- note how the toes push the fabric out above hem line.
You can also see the wired edge also extends in to the seam where the train is sewn to the gown. This makes sense to help support the full train. Having now made mine it is very heavy indeed.
This then explains why that seam appear to be top stitched or otherwise additionally reinforced in other images.
So I had a look at stills again and they do also support the idea of a supported train. In the still below (screengrab) you can see how the train edge is under a lot of tension, but also there is a mystery “bump” near the join between the leather and shell fabric- it does not correspond with the step or any fabric componant of the gown. This is most likely due to a support underneath lifting off the ground- as she is turning this makes sense.
And in this still you can see a ridge that follows the main curve of the leather. And even where the layers are caught to the support hoop in the 2nd to left panel.
So a U shaped hoop on the bottom of the train and two gently flared strips inside the front edge of the train. Imagine a curvy scoop. To make mine I’ll be making a tube of fabric to tack to the underside of my train. And a wrapped facing on the front edge. Then wrap three layers of plumbers coil with sports tape to insert just before putting the entire piece on. I will have to use temporary fastenings to hold the ends in place so as to be able to remove them for convention safety!
I have also just overdyed a huge metal zip (possibly for a sleeping bag) so I will have a super mega firm fastening that will survive the pull and drag of this train. Then I can cover it with a spine.
And even more, scroll backwards for images from the meet and greet.
So from the recreation:
The gown is less full but is made from a knit mounted over a more stable fabric. The sleeves have extra details to reflect the original gown (deep wedges/notches at the hem of the front of the sleeves.
The headdress appears all in one and has more sculptural lines on the leather parts.
The collar sits wider, possibly not hooked to the choker, which is what I suspect may be needed.
The choker has a centre front seam.
The fabric is not purple but the lighting was used to make it so- another nod to the original.
The hem of the gown and the train is not as large as the original. Makes sense having just tried to wrangle the back alone….
There are skirt gores and they are similar to the ones in the Game of Thrones Westeros gowns. But narrower! There is a sculpted detail like a tail that covers the top of the gores and appears to go through in the recreation, it appears flatter in the original so may just be butted.
The back has a spine of some sort. Probably to cover a zipper- a good quality metal zipper as per the burlesque corset reblogged the other day 🙂 I’ll attempt a sculpted urethane piece.
Costume is art. The costume can tell a tale all on its own.
So take this gown.
Why? The film hasn’t come out and even based on the leaked script (which I haven’t read) I can’t surely be a fan of either the character or the film yet? Well true, maybe not. But costume is part of the art department and what art does in any form is make you think and feel,
Maleficent’s gown is the biggest Eff You I have seen in film for a very long time. It is on the same level of brilliance as Mina’s red gown in Dracula and Michelle Pfeiffer’s catsuit in Batman Returns. It’s on par with the world building the costumes affect in Game of Thrones- where one costume spoilt me months in advance.
When you design you do not just draw pretty things or interesting lines. You have to think about the character, their mind and spirit and how they are reacting to the world they live in. And how that world responds to them
Catwoman’s catsuit was literally Selina tearing down the life she had built, and had others build around her, and reforming it. She took a practical item (at least in this bizarre world) and made it into a symbol. Her costume says yes you objectify me but I will kick your ass for doing so. You treat me like this? I’ll take that and make you regret it.
Mina’s red gown is another iteration of Eiko Ishioka’s obsession with the raw self. Being literally and figuratively ablated, exposed. It’s hard to think of it as part of the same theme as Dracula’s armour from the same movie, or the foam latex muscle suits from The Cell or the lycra and paint/cord/ink piece from Der Ring des Nibelungen. It’s a concealing dress after all. But the texture, colour and self pattern in the form of organic leaves and striated pleats puts it firmly in place as a reminder that Mina conceals herself in the trappings of the society she lives in. In this gown she is letting herself see who she is and what she feels.
So Maleficent. What makes this gown over all her others so special?
In the world of the movie humans are very much dressed as we expect. At least what we expect from years of what Hollywood has shown us of the past. Which is mostly based on modern textures and materials, foundations and construction.
At the start Maleficent is a child of nature, her clothing is loose and flowing and not made from a drafted, and thus mass produced/industrialised. Even her other gowns seem to flow and drape with little relation to the methods used to create the costumes of humans. She is apart. And clearly so.
The gown she chooses to wear to the christening however is very complicated in structure. It mixes both draping and drafting techniques. It is fitted to the body but does not follow the lines of clothing worn by the members of the court.
Bias cutting alone makes the gown different. Bias cutting is so intrinsically different to even the most complicated multiple panel garment cut on the straight. It shifts and requires exquisite fit and shaping and multiple fittings. It is insanely personal and bespoke.
Maleficent has taken great care to dress herself splendidly for this court. Her fabric even mimics the watery weave of the king’s own robes. But again it is different. The texture is not woven but created by hand, organic and deliberately unable to be copied. A true one of a kind.
Her horns are covered but barely. The threat of nature is present though sheathed.
Her gown is bigger, more sophisticated than any other garment at the court. She outshines everyone. Yet the cut, fabric, and scale clearly single her out. No one could mistake her as being expected or meant to be there.
Her gown says everything her speech does. It says you tell me I don’t belong, well, that’s true; I am more than you.
So this is not only great for learning some basics and learning them well and pretty easily, but it’s a fascinating look in to the past. This is for Ontario schools but I have read some similar books for the US, not so much elsewhere. I suspect that is more due to lack of these being shared on sites like Project Gutemburg.
Speaking of which, I have several hundred manuals to link to, I’ll try and do a master list for my site (under the header construction) because wow, seriously wow. Some of these books explain terminology that we still use. And what has been dropped and why- generally many modern fitting woes are down to trying to force more pieces from a length of fabric. A really good item is here: Yep, that is the title, and yep this is the main cause. If you get a good fitting pair of pants for goodness sake take a pattern because you will want to copy it it over and over again. My Regina bodysuit is my go to for four panel bodysuits.
It’s also a really good example of how you can’t just take from a pattern in one place and put it somewhere else despite what a lot of drafting books might suggest.